Wednesday, November 30, 2022

New Project - New Direction

In my last post, I spoke about a book. This book will be the kernel of how I present my campaign world to others. When people start new campaigns, they compartmentalize the world to limit the scope of what the DM has to present to the players. For example, they start with a small town and perhaps a dungeon or keep then expand to larger ideas. It is a good bit of advice for gamers, however, there has always been an inclination to have a roadmap to a larger world and events.  Maybe you don't start large and go larger, but making a whole world (a good-sized continent) does require some sort of roadmap. 

In this case, I am starting with a massive idea and breaking it into chunks that might not be obvious from the outset. The main idea of this campaign setting is romanticism. The Peninsula of Plenty has many locations, cities, towns, kingdoms, and other places that will be described in detail by an in-universe author name Magarven the Mad.

Magarven, although crazed, has a pretty good handle on what is happening in his world. It is an era of peace and prosperity at the largest level, which does not preclude mysteries and conflict at a local level. For the most part, this campaign world has left the medieval age behind. He has stumbled on the idea of describing what is happening with imperfect information. Or more correctly, information he has not validated but wants to be true. He is operating from his ego over his guts. He wants fame for bringing knowledge to the masses. He doesn't see any possible harm because he believes this one volume of books accurately describes the world. It does but only poorly.  

You might guess correctly that I am a history major. This process occurred in various parts of the world back in the 18th century and peaked in the mid-1800s. It spread from Europe to Russia and to both North and South America. This was not exactly a peaceful era, but romantics often portrayed it as such. This was really not a good time to take a romantic perspective or a good place to evoke powerful emotions. Emotion and feelings took precedence over logic and facts, which had a dreadful effect on historiography and the natural sciences of this era. People were basically making their own rules and creating their own version of history which was radically different from reality. As all of this was taking place, things were falling apart. 

In writing as he does, Magarven is actually sending people with torches and weapons to marvel at the wonders of a world made of powder kegs. 


While akin to a hexcrawl, it places the characters in civilized danger. There are patches of wilderness here and there but the real problems lay just outside of cities and towns. Obviously, many of the bits of wilderness and hinterlands were left empty on purpose and as a result, play off of the wildness found in the so-called civilized bits. 

In this world, it would not be too surprising for a country fair to cover up a coven of witches or a massive clambake ending with a sacrifice to a dragon. A vampire could be the mayor of an idyllic village. Or a lonely abandoned boathouse is a gateway to the underworld. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

New Project - Meet the Author

I have started a new project, a deep dive into my campaign world. My campaign setting is a small part of a single continent. I never saw much need to expand it much further. What it lacks in size it makes up in depth. 

Virtually all of the races found in the D&D game books appear in this one place. However, some are just visitors to the main continent. 

I have many oddball characters running around. One of them is Magarven the Mad. He is a Drow in the same vein as 1e. He is obviously evil (or chaotic) and were it not for his flaws, he would be dangerous. Early in his life, he made a name for himself as an adventurer. He loves fame. He will do anything in pursuit of it, including casting himself as a heroic explorer. 

The reason I mention him is, he is the author of a handbook to my game world. In reality, I am modeling this book on many of the works produced in the 1800s by romantics touring Europe in search of something... romantic. Except, this Handbook is written by a madman. 


This project will be a two-parter: The Handbook of lore and background written from an in-universe perspective, plus the second matching book of adventures and events that DM's can plug into their world. The Peninsula is divided into many nations and city-states, so a game master is free to carve out a tiny piece of their map to plunk one or more of my bits. 

As you can tell, Magarven (and myself) have grandiose plans, as this book is "Volume One". As I work on this, I will share little bits of lore and perhaps a mini-adventure or two. 

I plan on making it my first item for sale on DriveThruRPG. As a flesh out bits, I will share them now and then. If it seems well received, I might even attempt to do a print copy instead of PDF. 

Let me know what you think. 

New Game, Same Players

 Twenty-eight days. Soon to be twenty-seven.  It's gonna go fast, maybe one will be done before I post.

I have a new game, Old School Essentials, a newish take on the old B/X rules. There have been a few changes, such as invalidating the statement "comes with 31 illustrations, charts, and tables". There are a lot more than 31 illustrations, plus a twist on the old rules to incorporate ThAC0 and/or ascending armor class which limits the charts to just essentials.  

Well, the artwork is fantastic, so I guess I can take the good with the bad. I might not miss my to hit charts and tables. 

I can see it already, this should be almost exactly like B/X but I want to try it out on myself before I inflict it on my players. You know, to look smooth and polished. 

I diced up a half dozen characters, plus one because I can't properly count. I made one of each of the basic characters and one extra cleric. And hit my first hitch. Clerics don't heal at the first level. Do I homebrew that away or keep it? 

I can hear my hypothetical Players grumbling, so I think I keep it as written. I can already picture the first session. The players will dodge and juke every hook and line I offer them. They break into cliques and small groups to go their separate ways. 

The Magic User and Elf will get together and exchange spells because that is what spell casters do. The clerics, realizing they aren't the healers will beg and borrow (but not steal) from the party to get the heaviest armor they can while arming themselves with the standard maces and slings.  The Fighter, the Thief, and the Halfling will wander the town in search of a tavern or inn. 

They will stymie me, the DM, as they avoid the town square where the local lord has criers searching for adventurers. They will also avoid the large Inn in the square where they could meet one of the town guards who would clue them into the threat the town faces. For the same reason, they will avoid the temple, the wandering priest, the wash women, and the boy with the lost dog. 

This is what Players do. I've been a DM for 40 years. I am used to it. They will, on the outskirts of the town wander into the last place serving booze and food and the one I expected them to find as I was presenting moot hooks. 

It's called The High-backed Booth, a magical place that I took from reality. It's a former tavern turned into a Church, just like the one on Transit Road in East Amherst. When you're forced to improvise, it's best when you don't try too hard and just use reality. The world is strange, so why make stuff up? 

In my world, The High-backed Booth is fused with history and magic. It's run by Elder Bruegel, named after the painter. In this magical place, he is the proprietor and priest of the church. The church seems to hold chance, risk, games, and luck in high esteem,. No particular deity is worshipped. In fact, in place of prayer and ritual, storytelling rules The High-backed Booth. The odder the circumstances, the more random or unlikely the story, the better. The congregants pray and worship in the telling of stories.  

The building is as real as it gets, it has a waddle and daub upper floor on firm timber stilts. The lower level has temporary walls made of hay bales. Of course, these hay bale walls are lined with heavy tall wooden booths. The building changes over time as the hay is removed, but not its character. Or characters. 

On this evening, the party finds a strange occurrence happening at The High-backed Booth. Elder Bruegel is there of course, as he always is, but he is pandering to a guest of high importance. The wizened man sits at the center of attention. The drinkers and the worshipers mutter indignantly about him as he is silencing stories with games of chance. They call him the "Game Master". 

It doesn't get more meta than this. Having dodged all of the obvious hooks and lines, the Players will sit at the table with the Game Master and engage in drinking, food, and games in the hopes of receiving easy cash and prizes. 

Every Player wants this for their Characters. Soon, reality and storytelling become muddled as the Players and the Characters take the same bait. It's a card game, played with a strange deck. At first, it seems normal enough, but then it becomes obvious that these are Tarot Cards. After every round, the winner takes one of the Major Arcana in sequence. It replaces one of the Minor Arcana they would receive in the deal. As the Arcana are swapped, the tone of game becomes more serious. 

It's a race. The Fool and The Magician eventually lead to the Judgment and The World in the hands of the Game Master. In fact, the Game Master has been playing with nothing but trump cards for a while all of the Players and Characters only have one or two. And then the final hand is dealt.  

"We are done, you must perform," the Game Master says quietly. 

After a rather anticlimactic silence, the characters all have the sensation of falling. It's not fast or sudden, just a slow transition to the wet, muddy ground. If the Players are hooked, and enrapt with the story so far, I might stand up and slowly tip one chair backwards and gently lower the Player to the floor to demonstrate what is happening.

When they stand up, they are still at the table. All of their chairs sank backwards in the mud. The table, the chairs, and everything they own are between a cluster of willow trees to the north...

and a magical fountain to the south...


As I said before, why make stuff up while improvising? Reality is the best hook and sometimes, it comes with pictures. 

East and west are paths leading to strange buildings, and the players can't resist a good hook provided by the Game Master. They gather up their things, drink the last of their beer from the table, and wonder where the cards and chips went before taking to the path to adventure. 


If you liked this introduction to adventure, perhaps you would be interested in the books that spawned it: 

Old School Essentials Characters, Magic, Monsters, and Treasures on DriveThruRPG. 

Monday, November 21, 2022

Sensory Overload!

 I don't do unboxing videos because I am super impatient. Let's just hop to the first box of prizes. 


It's a t-shirt! 

Next: 


They're a pair of boxed Old School Essentials sets! They were due to be delivered last Friday, but Buffalo got nailed with a couple of feet of snow. I am actually glad they were delayed because I wouldn't have shoveled at all. I would have been rolling characters and planning my next campaign. 

I love the look on Tori's face. 
It says, "Can you believe this crap?"

When you have 1 1/2 dogs worth of snow, starting sooner is better than waiting for later. This is what is called Heart Attack Snow. One shovel load has the heft of several thousand unpainted figures. Not those modern 3d printed figures, but the classic 1970s lead figures. 

Which leads to the next unboxing... 


I picked up a used Elegoo Mars 3d printer. I had it in my hands last week, but knowing that a snow staorm was coming, I wisely left it in the basement until I could get things cleaned up. There are several other pieces to this setup, which I didn't pull out of the box. It also came with a DIY curing tank. 

It's a good thing that it's a three-day week because I will be very, very busy this weekend. 

Monday, November 14, 2022

Raise Shields! Part 1.

Shields lower AC by one in D&D. Or if you like the other kinds of AC, they are a benefit of one. I don't know why people do this THAC0 or ascending AC. It totally invalidates the statement: "contains 36 illustrations, tables, and charts".  

There is a historical reason for descending AC for those over 50 or so. Back in the 50s and 60s, math education changed methods, to "New Math" which is conceptually different from what was taught before. Chances are, if you are under 55, you know nothing but New Math where descending AC doesn't make sense. Older people learned the other way. Ironically, someone reskinned the song "New Math" by Tom Lehrer with My Little Ponies. It makes it look like an objection to Common Core as opposed to what was taught 50 years ago. Click the link and you'll see what I mean.  

Anyway, shields represent a benefit to the holder in all versions of the game. The basic idea is someone has a plank between them and someone with a weapon. It makes things difficult for an attacker. 

I have noticed there is a tendency to homebrew rules to make shields less effective, usually by breakage or sundering them. That's cool, but shields are more of a benefit than consumable. I don't discount the whole "sunder shield" school of thought, but I find spending time reducing a one-point or number difference in effective protection to be misguided. 

If you are willing to accept that shields can and should be smashed to bits, then let us consider making shields more powerful. 

Let's look at what a shield does. It blocks incoming attacks from many angles, and the shield can be used to block or push someone around. D&D gets blocking right and this is also where people become inclined to say shields can be smashed apart. Having sparred with a shield for years, that is very unlikely. It is more likely that you will have the shield ripped from your grasp. 

The second part is pushing someone around with the shield. This is actually fairly easy to do, people naturally avoid having something pushed into their face so they move away from it. Add in other natural barriers like walls or furniture, and you can see the obvious advantage of moving an opponent around without touching them. Let's ignore the idea of actually shoving with a shield for the moment. 

In D&D, there is this basic idea of a "Fighting Man", which can be extended to Clerics, Elves, and Dwarves. These are the guys who get to use shields. Everyone else in Basic D&D either doesn't get a shield or sucks at combat. 

I have a house rule for shield use by people not trained to hold a shield. They hold it in two hands and it gives them a -2 to AC. It is "effective", but they have the thing in front of their face, they can't cast spells, hold a weapon, etc., all of which is the definition of not doing it right. It amusingly ties up an opponent in combat that one cannot win. It is a stalemate until a friend rescues them. 

So if that is doing it wrong, what does doing it right look like? Holding it one-handed so you can stab someone in the face with your weapon. 

Going back to hoplites, they added in the idea of a phalanx. There is a wall of shields with a pokey bit sticking off on the right side and the left side was a wall of shields. In fact, castles and towers use this concept. The stairs spiral to the left when viewed from the bottom. The attacker's shield is on the left where all of the free space is and their weapon is stuck up against the right-hand wall. It's like having a phalanx without the extra people. 

Here is the entry point for changes to combat. We don't want to change the shield's basic advantage of one, I would like to do something different which also supports smashing shields. 

When two or more Fighting Men are side by side, the guys on the right can't be flanked because their shields are in the way. The guy on left can't be flanked because his shield is in the way and the guy to right also has one. The only way to go through is around the far right end where a weapon is waiting. This is a strong advantage without modifying the basic shield rules AND also gives good reason to try and sunder. 

Under these terms, Fighters, Clerics, Dwarves, and Elves can guard a friendly's flank when fighting side by side. I'd qualify that a tiny bit more. Fighters and Clerics can guard any other Fighting Man's flank while Dwarves and Elves can only guard other Dwarves or Elves' flanks. This is due to the physical nature of Dwarves and Elves' fighting style. Dwarves are short and stocky while Elves tend to cast spells in combat. So it makes sense that Clerics and Fighters can fight side by side with any except Elves and Dwarves and have an advantage. Clerics and Fighters are trained to guard the flanks because it's the only good trick they have. The dwarves and elves get an advantage by having these guys next to them, but can't extend the same.

This makes shields wildly more advantageous, while not messing with the AC value of the user. Not being flanked with worth so much. For example, you can't be backstabbed and if one Fighting Man flees (not a fighting withdrawal), then the other eliminates any bonus to strike at the one who took flight. The attack still can land but without the bonus, because someone stuck out a weapon or shield to hamper it. 

It is all very situational without modifying AC or causing extra die rolls (except if you roll for sundered shields). 

                        

Monday, November 7, 2022

Prepping A New Project

I have a handful of ideas in mind for new projects, hopefully, to offer on DriveThruRPG. This one requires a lot of stippling and some digital magic which means I need to start practicing now. The interesting thing about prepping is the samples I produce as the practice often don't look anything like the imagined project. 

For this item for example: 


Obviously, it is a spaceship in the theme of Star Smuggler. My project requires a fairly large map of a landscape so it is a conceptual mismatch. The other item I am working on could end up as framed art. Again, it doesn't remotely look like a map.  

But there is a method to the madness. I don't want to work on landscapes or maps while practicing so I don't burn out in the middle of a large project where I need to produce a large landscape map. 

As far as digital magic goes, I started this portion last year, before this new map idea came to mind. That was a simple test of my digital abilities, removing and then adding text to a series of extant images. 


These are the tiles for Star Smuggler. The original set came with a series of tiles that required flipping one tile upside down to create a planet. I flipped the images, removed all of the text, healed the background of that text, and added new text to replace the old text. They came out pretty nice, but once I was done, I noticed that my healing of the background image looked different than the original, so I had to repeat the process to get a complete set of matching tiles. 

A lot of people have created their own world tiles for Star Smuggler, but I have never seen anyone use the original art.  You can check out some nice ones on Board Game Geek in the link. These are very slick and modern looking as opposed to the 70s or 80s look of my copies. 

(I'm sorry, but due to the distro notices on this game, I can't share my files. Mr. Sustare didn't get paid for this game but has graciously allowed the above websites to produce digital versions of the game. It seems fair enough to me. If you know Mr. Sustare... maybe you can get us in touch so I can ask permission or give him the files to post. It's not really mine so they need a good warden.) 

So, what is this project? I have a B/X/AD&D campaign world that has 40ish years of history and I would like to see it in print. The first part of the project is the map of The Peninsula of Plenty. It is a vast area that does not lend itself to hex mapping. 

In this world, there are many strange things. For example, there are magical rail lines, newspapers, and consumer-grade magic items. I have reporters, treasure hunters, and historians of great renown populating the world. Magarven is the Peninsula's most outrageous self-promoter believing himself to be all three. Take a look at his Last Polyandrion, a map of a magical edifice of unknown meaning and purpose. 

I imagine that Magarven would very much like everyone to know what a smart and well-traveled Drow he is, so I would like to publish a series of books by him. This series will have an in-universe perspective and would contain 9 or more volumes. The collection is rules agnostic as it will be a traveller's handbook to the Peninsula. 

The reader would rapidly come to the conclusion that Magarven the Mad is not all there. As The World's Most Popular Drow, one who embraces both his heritage and fame, he will do or say anything to perpetuate being a hero when he is not. He is clearly not at fault when his human fans disappear, he has no idea where they went, and tales of sacrifices to Lolth are completely out of bounds. She was never a demon queen. How unfair to speak such untruths.   

The last part of this project would be to create a series of player's or DM's handbooks to account for noticeable differences between my campaign universe and the default B/X/AD&D setting. This would be a series that would stat out major parts of the world described by Magarven's Handbooks. 

I have rambled too much. But let me throw in one last plug. The notebook imaged above is available on RedBubble if you are into such things. There is a really good sale right now, so you can score one for less than 9 bucks. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Lake George Needs a Playlist

I've been quiet for a while. There's been a lot of work and hectic jobs around the house. This weekend, we are taking a day or two to visit Lake George, NY.

That's about 5 hours from here. So, a playlist is in order.

Lake George is one of our favorite places with a ton of history. Typically we go in the summer but I wanted to see it in the fall. They have a ton of great shops, restaurants, and of course, steamboats on the lake.  I have no idea which if any of these things will be open in the off-season. 

We'll find out. 

We need a good recharge moment and that starts with 5 hours of music before hitting the boardwalk. 


I have a feeling we'll need winter jackets over sunscreen. 


Now, it occurs to me that I created a free locals account for these sorts of off-topic posts. I've covered concerts, cooking, travel, art, etc. I should have posted this over there, but then I couldn't share the playlist. 

Anyway, Locals is a sort of place meant for a good paywall. They do have some great content... that isn't mine. My little piece of locals is to guard against a Google+-style collapse of the gaming universe. You can check out "The Map Bag" for free. Locals.com is heavily monetized but I have no intention of using that feature unless the world goes nuts. The aforementioned Bag has nothing to do with gaming but is the big ol' man purse I carry around my books, notes, dice, and games. It goes through life with me.