Showing posts with label IRL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label IRL. Show all posts

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Step One Complete - Most Ads Removed

As promised in my previous post, I have deleted a bunch of ads. Nearly 75 of them. It was an annoying process of hunt and peck. This group was from Rakuten Advertising, a company I never really jelled with. The ads featured images that were good, but the image size was always too large for my website. 

Next up is AbeBooks ads. I have to target the code for the links which is an interesting tactic. 

It's kind of liberating not having to think about ads. 

I have added two more items to the "cut and trim" list. I'm going to kill my Anchor and Locals.com accounts. I really don't need locals and it is very unlikely that I go back to podcasting. It was a COVID Crisis moment. You know the bit where you personally believe you are having some sort of existential crisis but on further reflection, it doesn't exist? 

COVID=Threat or Danger.
I ran out of podcasts in the middle of an epidemic=not worth thinking about.  

You see how that doesn't make sense, so off it goes. 

Maybe... just maybe, I will revisit podcasting someday. 

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Taking Stock - Part Two - The Reality With a Preview of Things to Come

As you can probably guess, I am really excited about Old School Essentials. It's an OGL product and they have a handy instruction page right here. So this year, I will be looking at all of my products and reworking them into OSE-type products. 

Two of my works are perpetually frozen because they are too specific or too generic: 

1. The Hex Pack is too generic to rework in any meaningful way. It is what it is, a pack of colorful hex templates. It cannot change much, if at all. Unless someone asks me to change something, I won't. 

By the way, this title was changed based on feedback from a single person, so by all means, mention your needs. I do like feedback.

2. My Character Sheet for AD&D is linked specifically to Unearthed Arcana. The charm is that it's a scanned image of a character sheet created in the 80s. It is immune to change. 

Because they cannot change, I gave them their own little corner to the left side of the blog. 

That leaves my other 4 works that I would like to revamp. These are the two rule-agnostic mini-settings, Kobold's Folly and The Compass Rose Inn. These two don't have to change so I have also given them a less prominent spot on the left. I would like to flesh them out into actual modules for OSE. 

My first book should also get the OSE treatment, Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners. Ironically, it was written before I saw Old School Essentials. The professions listed in it are almost a verbatim match for the list that appears in those books. Realistically, it just needs editing down and to conform to the ability check mechanics as per those rules. Easy to say, but a rather lengthy project in execution.

The last title, The Swashbuckler Character Class bothers me. I am tempted to delete it. It is too heavily based on AD&D 1e, it is less than useful for B/X. Altering it would be like polishing a turd. 

I also have a couple other ideas. First, I am going to sit down and play some games. I have OSE, Battletech with some nice figures, and a couple of others I would like to feature here. Assuming I can get in the swing of this, I should have time to produce other content. 

Second, I have recently acquired a 3d printer. I need to learn how to produce models using it, mostly to supplement my games, but also to produce products to sell.  I might be doing terrain, robots, cars, characters, etc. I have no idea what I am doing, so we will see what happens.

Speaking of other content to sell, my OSE campaign will feed into a completely new project. 

Currently, I am reading a series of books called: A Handbook for Travellers in Northern Italy. It comes in 3 parts, northern, central, and southern Italy. Not only is it in the public domain, but it was also written in a strange time period before Italy unified into a single country. It was published in the mid-1800s, so it was only accurate for a decade or two. The editor goes out of his way to mention the publisher indirectly and never mentions his name or the names of the writing correspondents. 

This gives the whole thing a very odd but familiar vibe. Here are 3 books about a place we all know with passing familiarity, but it gives details that are not current, accurate, or even the whole story. On purpose... Probably because the publisher and editor realized the world was changing too fast to be a useful reference and didn't want to slap their names on it. They hide this with an air of humility.

It sounds like a D&D module. Theoretically, all modules exist within your homebrew campaign world with references to the goings-on of people who you don't know, but also theoretically exist in your campaign world. 

I hope to use these three books as a framework to produce modules and a campaign book for my homebrew campaign. It would come in two parts, a lore book which is directly modeled on those old handbooks of Italy, and the campaign book which would reframe the lore into specific modules and setting details that DMs with find useful. 

The funny bit is this stuff almost writes itself. Where the real-world handbook is cloaked in humility to sell copies, my version is written by an evil, selfish person working on heavy self-aggrandizement. As a sample, I offer the preface of this work: 

Volume One

PREFACE TO THE SEVENTH EDITION

═ ═ ═ ═ ═ ═ ═ ═ ═ ═ ═ ═

The length of time that has elapsed since the first publication of this (1274) Handbook has made many additions and alterations necessary.  The extension of roadways, trails, and ferries in several nations of the Northern portion of the Peninsula, important changes in the distribution, and descriptions of several Routes became indispensable. Some new Routes have been added. 

It has been the Editor’s endeavor to render this New Edition as a complete guidebook of the region that it professes to describe, as Drowishly possible; in doing so, I, Magarven the Great Traveller, must acknowledge my obligation to numerous kind Correspondents, Spies, and those who I have lavishly interrogated on numerous occasions, who have transmitted to me valuable, practical information for the purpose. These lesser people and contributors, second always to me as the Great Traveller, allow the author of this work to claim perfection. I must solicit from those who use THE HANDBOOK FOR TRAVELLERS IN THE NORTHERN PENINSULA, any additions, or forsooth, corrections, founded on personal experience, they may be able to transmit to me or any information generally of a practical character, useful to travellers on the Peninsula. Assuming, of course, that they are more correct than I am. Which is unlikely.  

I, Magarven the Great Traveller, the Editor Extrodinare of this work think that it is proper and just to leave out the name of the author who penned the first edition of The HANDBOOK FOR TRAVELLERS IN THE NORTHERN PENINSULA. That lesser person has had nothing to do with the six subsequent editions, except as regards those portions which were appropriated and rewritten, to an exceptional standard, through the hard work of myself and perhaps the few minor and lesser contributors who I have righteously selected as better correspondents than the original hack.

I warn the reader that any mistakes or misinterpretations of this guidebook must be attributed to the scribes or a failure of the reader’s intellect. As mentioned before, this is My greatest work, a simple and humble Perfection. 

Porto di Nazza, Juno, 1361


2023, I hope will be a very good year. While I doubt I will be able to meet every goal I've listed, having them spelled out will help me attain a couple of them. 

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. 

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. 

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Throwback Post - Products on DriveThru


Yesterday, I shared a throwback post about a cool product on DriveThruRPG called The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Tradition. I really love this particular add-on for B/X or OSR. I've reviewed a ton of books and this one is a favorite. 

It sort of makes me jealous, as I already have my own products on DriveThruRPG. Here they are, in no particular order: 


Swashbuckler Character
Class for D&D and AD&D


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

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

Character Sheet
Character Sheet for AD&D



Kobold’s Folly
Mini Setting

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

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


Of the six, I feel that only two don't need an update. The Character Sheet is a scan from one of my first AD&D campaigns, it's not getting any better so I can leave it be. The Hex Pack is exactly as labeled. It's a pack of hexes. The booklets are laid out for A4 or 8"x11". Again, they can't be improved. 

The remaining 4 titles need improvement. I feel like Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners needs an update specifically for OSE. This book details how to make NPC's with specific abilities or give a regular PC a set of professional skills for that side hustle no one wants. 

These characters are much weaker than traditional PC, they max out at 6 hit points if they are lucky. But if you need armor or buckets or rowers, these are the characters and the book you need. Each profession is limited to level 5. Many classes are based on historical descriptions, so you get a touch of reality with your fantasy characters. Zero to Hero also covers some unusual circumstances such as tools as weapons, improvised weapons and shields, plus it offers a system that prioritizes healing. It's a great world-building title if only I made it more harmonious with the OSR. 

The Swashbuckler character class needs to be completely reworked. It should be OSR compatible but fails. It is too heavily based on AD&D. That needs to change. I am working on a collection of character classes that will form the basis of all changes to this title. Once complete, I will have a seventh title called "The Monomachos" or "he who fights alone". Of course, I will keep the price of the updated Swashbuckler exactly where it is - free or PWYW. 

"The Monomachos" will be a new book that includes The Swashbuckler class and will be good for all types of campaigns, AD&D, B/X, and OSE. Character types will include Archer, Gladiator, Swashbuckler, Handgunner, and perhaps a couple of others. I am uncertain of the price point as I have only started pricing out artwork. 

The last two are mini-maps of specific places that I have used in various campaigns. I would like to use them as the basis of plug-in modules for your campaigns. The Compass Rose Inn is a tavern, inn, and hunting lodge with an attached temple populated with a crazy collection of characters. There are stories to be made and shared here. The Kobold's Folly details the coming of a tribe of almost civilized Kobolds on the frontier of any convenient town or city. They are needly and pesty, but excellent hobellers and shady fences for those who need to unload illicit goods.  

I meant for this to brief reflective post, so let me end this here.                             

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Ah... August

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

We worked in a concert or two and wine tasting. 

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

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

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

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

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

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



Swashbuckler Character
Class for D&D and AD&D


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

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

Character Sheet
Character Sheet for AD&D



Kobold’s Folly
Mini Setting

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

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

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

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Building a Better Shelfie - Part 3

This is the halfway point. Shelf four is all business. 


There are pencils, dice, scissors, and a stapler next to my glasses and some dice I find handy. The cup holds all of my loose change. 

The books on the left are either favorites I like to reread or stuff I need to read. 2010, Sanctuary, How to Make War, and Project Hail Mary are current favorites. The others are things I need to read. On the right are my glasses and a copy of Chainmail which was POD at DriveThruRPG. For less than $8, it was a steal. Under that is a copy of  A Billion Suns by Osprey. I had no idea Osprey made games. Hmm. 

Under that is the book, City by David Macaulay. This is a fascinating read and look, Macaulay's artwork is amazing. I hope to do a review of every one of his books. Back in the 1994, it was made into a 5 show series on PBS. You can buy a copy or watch on PBS or Youtube. 




PBS decided to rename it Roman City. Fair enough, it's about a fictional Roman city. It also improves upon the book by giving a larger scope to Rome's mythology and history. 

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.  


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, 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.