Saturday, May 31, 2008

What Was OD&D?

So over at, Xaos opines that 4e is "OD&D done right." Xaos really means BECMI, but that's a tangent no relevant to this post. Clavis123 comes in to set the record straight, pointing out all the details where the divergence could hardly be greater.

Then James_Nostack counters:

These are all excellent points, but it doesn't go to the OP's argument that 4e hits the OD&D design goals better than OD&D did. (I presume by his reference to "master and immortal" play that he really means the Mentzer BECMI stuff, rather than what the old, old, old, old people call OD&D (the three little brown books released in 1974 by Gygax and Arneson).

That version of OD&D - the Three Little Books version - is a complete mess which is practically unplayable without house-ruling everything under creation (whether this is a bug or a feature depends on who you ask). But more importantly, it promises adventure reminiscent of Tolkien, Moorcock, Howard, and Vance - and does absolutely nothing to support this play. Gygaxian D&D, like D&D 3.X (and I suppose 4e though I haven't seen it), is its own distinct niche of the fantasy genre.

It's certainly legit to point out that the sacred cows of "Gygaxian D&D Fantasy" are missing in "D&D 3.5 Fantasy," and (apparently) even more are missing in "D&D 4e Fantasy". So that these are two very different sub-genres of "D&D Fantasy," the way Bronze Age comic books are very different from Modern Age comic books.

But if the 4e design spec is to accomplish what the Gygax & the other designers were going for, thru different methods, complaining about the absence of the sacred cows could miss the point of the 4e design.

The questions are:
1. What was the ideal sought by the early designers?
2. Did the early designs hit that goal?
3. What is the ideal sought by the 3.5 or 4e designers?
4. Does the 3.5 or 4e design hit that goal?

This is what we regulars at refer to as "Old Geezer bait":

1) "We made up some shit that we thought would be fun".
2) "Yes."

Specifically, as I've said several times.... Brown Box D&D was explicitly, DELIBERATELY designed to be "Here's some hit charts, a saving throw matrix, some suggested monsters, magic, and treasures. Add imagination and go apeshit."

"What was the game about?" What did you WANT it to be about? Okay, THAT's what it's about!

And yes, first level characters should be FRAGILE! You started with 1 HD at first level, and most monsters did 1 HD of damage.

Surviving to second level was a game in itself, and one that as experienced skirmish-level wargamers, we relished.

All that weird shit in the equipment list... 10' poles, iron spikes, jars of oil... They wer'nt there because Gary put them there, they were there because at one point or another we tried to buy them.

Then follows an interesting breakdown on earning XP and advancing levels in Moldvay Basic, where OneEyedMan breaks down the numbers on a nest of goblins:

Well, each goblin was worth 5 xp. The leader is worth 35 xp, and his bodyguards are worth 20 each. Each golbin carries 2-12 electrum (1-6 gp), which means that each is worth an additional 1-6 xp. The lair itself, with treasure type C, averages about 1000 gp in value, possibly much higher if you roll good for jewelry (13,612 gp value maximum).

So a full 60 goblin lair is worth, totalled up, between a minimum of 438 (60 goblins, 2 bodyguards, 1 leader, and 126 ep) and a theoretical maximum of 14,625 (60 goblins, 12 bodyguards, 1 leader, 12,000 cp, 4000 sp, 4438 ep, 4 1000 gp gems, and 4 1800 gp peices of jewelry).

Assuming I counted right, of course.

For a party of 8, that goes to between 55 xp (you got hosed) and 1828 xp (thief, cleric are up to level 2, everyone besides the elf is getting close, and the elf is sulking and tossing dirty looks at everyone else).

Then follows a discussion of the difference between outdoor and dungeon adventuring.

I have to say, I think 4e might be closer to OD&D played with the Chainmail rules in its focus on tactical combat. Outside that, I really don't know either version well enough to say, but the treasure packets, lack of henchmen and followers, and absence of a stronghold "endgame" do seem to make 4e a very different game from any version of D&D before 3.0.

Another 4e Reading Blow-by-blow

Mxyzplk is reading through the 4e PHB, with lots of commentary. He's clearly a fan of 3e is having strongly mixed reactions to what he's reading.

Reinforcing the Wave

So Odyssey takes my tweak on this idea for magical, time-sensitive doors, and expands it into a full system for a dungeon, noting the different sorts of players who will get a kick out of playing with the different aspects of it.

Broges in the Dungeon

Noisms takes a break from campaign building to contemplate how to infuse a Planescape campaign with a bit of one of the Trollwife's favorite authors, Jorge Luis Borges.

I swear, sometimes you guys make me feel like an illiterate clod. ;)

Fixing 4th

James over at Kill the Wizard First has cobbled together some houserules to undo what he sees as overkill fixes in 4e. There's a lot of interesting stuff here. I'm especially enamored with his condition tracks idea to replace the missing save-or-die effects. Stuff like that tempts me to rewrite the spells for my Moldvay/Cook/LL hack, but that's probably more work than I really want to do at this stage. Still, when I take what I learn from that and apply it to my homebrew rules, you can bet something like those tracks are going to show up.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Penny-Arcade & PVP vs. The Keep on the Shadowfell

Yep, Scott of PvP and Mike and Jerry have played some 4e. But they got to play it months ago, with Chris Perkins and Andy Collins, and they recorded the sessions:

We spent an entire Wednesday playing 4th edition. Chris Perkins and Andy Collins came down from Wizards to be our official DMs and run us through “Keep on the Shadowfell.” The whole time, four microphones were recording our every word, die roll, hit and misses (there were a lot of misses). Mike and I sketched as we played and didn’t get one stern look from behind the game screen for it. This experience was a double honor for me, because it was Mike’s first time playing Dungeons and Dragons EVER. I was there for his very first roll of the D20. It was a very proud moment and it’s all captured on Mp3. If you’ve never played D&D before, these podcasts can give you a good idea of how quickly and easily you can get into the fun. If you’re a veteran to the game, like Jerry, the podcasts will give you your first sneak peek into the new game mechanics.

The first chunk is available as an mp3 for your delectation now on the WotC site. But snag it now before it, too, vanishes in a mysterious cloud of pixel-dust.

UPDATE: I just finished listening to this, and it's a nice little introduction on how to play the game. It helps that the guys are entertaining to listen to and know very little about how to play the game.

Converting Classic Adventures to 4e

Todays Dragon feature is an article by Mike Mearls on converting older adventures for use in 4e games:

4th Edition's scale of 5 feet to a square can lead to cramped, tiny encounters if you directly convert maps from older editions. Before you run an adventure, sketch out each dungeon or encounter area on graph paper and see how much room is available for maneuvering. Ideally, even when the party and their foes are locked in melee there is still space for creatures to move around the battlefield and threaten either side's back rank.

Large and Huge creatures present trouble, since they usually took up less space as miniatures in older editions of the game. If you have the time, draw encounter areas on your battlemat or set up Dungeon Tiles. Place the miniatures for the encounter on the area, along with minis for the characters, and see how crowded the area is. Big creatures need a lot of room to maneuver. Try to avoid situations where a single fighter or paladin can either lock down all of the monsters or set it up so that only one Large or Huge creature can make melee attacks against him.

He also takes a look specifically at the minotaur caves from B2 - Keep on the Borderlands and the entire steading of the hill giant chief from G1. (Be sure to swing by to snag the nice map of the upper floor of the steading, if for nothing else.) You'll need to log in to read this article, but Dragon is still, for now, free to the public.

UPDATE: And now the article is gone?!? Not sure what's up with that. Er, if it comes back, I'll let y'all know. :/

D&D 4e Sold Out Before it Launches?!?

Well, ok, it's getting its second print run before release, which is almost as good. WotC may have a winner on their hands. It'll be interesting to see how the rest of this year's releases compare.

UPDATE: Mearls offers some context and James Mishler has more on what's being said, and what it probably means.

No Need to Kill the Wizard First

James has posted the first installment of his review of 4e:

Before I move on to the details, I can save some readers a lot of time: 4e is “balanced” because they just removed a huge number of options. 4e characters just don’t do as much as 3e characters. They can’t. The rules aren’t there. Once you accept that, it’s a pretty fun game, but coming to it from 3e is a cold and bitter shock, especially if you play 3e at the high end of optimization like I do.

He's got the lowdown from the perspective of someone who has mastered 3e, and it's not exactly pretty, but it is very interesting. And don't get annoyed when you see he stops after character creation. What he's reviewed so far makes up a good half of the book.

No, I'm serious.

No, I'm not kidding. The character class section takes up a giant chunk of the book, since it includes all their powers and abilities. And that includes spells.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Forbidden Knowledge!

Clearly, the Greyhawk Grognard has been sniffing some of Mr. Mishler's black lotus, for he has peered into the future, clearly daring the forces of darkness, and perused the blasphemous tomes of 4e!

Or maybe just shipped early.

In either case, he's not entirely thrilled with what he's seen:

Oh, you can speak in character, but the final effect comes down to the roll of the dice. Put the "challenge the player" concept in the ground, it is dead.

He's thinking about a more thorough review; I, for one, would like to encourage GG to screw his courage to the sticking point, gather some friends and give the game a whirl, and then post all the gory details to his blog for the edification of the rest of us who are too cheap and lazy to do such a thing ourselves.

I Would Sell Haga to a Slayer Such as You?!?

James Mishler has posted his rules for black lotus in D&D. He gives it a wonderfully pulp, sword-and-sorcery vibe:

While sleeping under the fumes of the black lotus, the sleeper has terrible nightmares. For the uninitiated, these seem nothing more than horrific dreams; the reality is that a part of their spirit travels forth unto dark planes, strange realms of time and space, and there witnesses terrible events, past, present, and future.

I'm always hesitant to add another stat I or my players need to keep track of, but there's some very fun, atmospheric stuff here. I'll certainly be giving it a careful review for use in my Moldvay/Cook/LL hack.

Old School and Ylfe-shot

You can get a peek at Greyhawk Grognard's attempts to give some new players an old school AD&D experience, as well as what "old school" means to GG in practical terms:

This brief thumbnail sketch, I think, demonstrates what I'm trying to achieve in this campaign and how I'm getting there. I'm trying to give the game as much of an "old school charm" as I can, and I'd say it's working. We have the greater-evil-behind-the-bad-guys theme that the early Greyhawk modules used so well (hill/frost/fire giants in turn controlled by drow), as well as the non-monolithic nature of evil (the drow riven by internal rivalries and beset by their own external foes in the underoerth such as the illithids). We have the "old reliable dungeon crawl" close to hand in case the PCs get restless and decide to simply go kill things and take their stuff (in their case, they very properly saw the potential to gain treasure and experience in the dungeon to improve their chances of taking on the bandits and the witch). We have the gee-whiz factor of completely new and unknown magic and powers; my witch isn't to be found in any rule book or magazine article. There were also a number of very memorable NPCs (I tend to do different voices for my NPCs, so that's a lot of fun for me). Plus, I tried to introduce more than a little humor in places (the succubus secretary, a faerie dragon named Flibber who ended up joining the party as an NPC, etc.) and was not too uptight about introducing the occasional anachronism (the devilish attorney, for example, used an intercom and had a modern office tucked away in an interdimensional space). I was very consciously not trying to maintain a "pure" setting so much as a "fun" one, and I think my players (none of whom had played AD&D before) are really liking the approach.

Also be sure to check out the witch spell ylfe-shot.

Kill the Wizard Reviews the Keep

James has posted his review of 4e/Keep on the Shadowfell over at his blog, Kill the Wizard First. He gives us the good, such as:

This is the first time that the idea of hit points as tactical abstraction has ever really seemed built into the system. Partly it’s because hp totals were very swingy — something would hit for a pile of damage, then an equally large pile would be healed. Anyway, it worked.

He gives us the bad:

I can’t lie to myself any more: it plays like a videogame, and that’s that. It’s fun, don’t get me wrong, and I think it will make fantastic con or beer und pretzel games. But the rules don’t seem to have much depth to them — most of the classes seemed pretty similar, with the major difference being whether you called your ranged attack “crossbow” or “magic missile”.

And he gives us the ugly:

Well, here’s an issue that will be resolved when the actual book comes out: it’s a demo adventure. It’s slightly missing things like item prices to spend your loot monies on.

All in all, I get a strong "meh" vibe from him. I'll be curious to read his thoughts when he's finally got the entire game in his hands.

How to Open Doors in 21 Days

Odyssey has a neat idea for doors that only open at certain cyclical times, say, whenever a moon is full. It's a neat idea that could by tied into other cyclical mechanics (lycanthropy springs to mind). It's a great idea for the entrance to a Five Room Dungeon, since a door that can only be opened once every hundred years or when both moons and the sun create a three-way eclipse is a great way to keep a dungeon "pristine" before the PCs have a chance to explore it.

I'd be a bit careful with this notion in the middle of an adventure, however. You probably don't want the PCs twiddling their thumbs for a month or two waiting for the moons to be right before they can continue on their quest. That sort of thing just begs the players to get distracted doing something else, while your poor adventure languishes, abandoned. But it's great for megadungeons where you want to save some areas that can only be touched at specific times, offering an inducement for the PCs to return. As Odyssey says:

This would work best with large dungeons, or if you otherwise had a reason to return to it over time. Then the dungeon would cycle through different areas being open; the players might even need to complete some task or puzzle in one area to get further into another.

You could also have a door that's open at all times, but where it takes you depends on something like the phases of the moon. The more full the moon is, the deeper the level you enter when passing through the door. Only when entering when the moon is new can you find the lich's hidden pocket-dimension, and actually face your arch-nemesis.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Compare and Contrast: Monster Books

In the wake of James Maliszewski's review of Monsters of Myth come these comments from Naxuul about the 4e MM:

So a friend of mine got the the three corebooks in the mail today and she was kind enough to let me look through the MM, knowing that i'm a huuuuge monsterphile who's first RPG book was the 2E MM. I didn't look through it too thoroughly but the stuff I noticed:

-They weren't kidding when they said they were pruning powers. Pretty much the only Demon who isn't just smash-and-slam is the Glabrezu, even the poor Marilith was stripped of every ounce of magical capability. The Devils are no better. Heck, creatures defined by magical/psionic capabilities like Mind Flayers, Rakshasa and Aboleths are now much more reliant on melee attacks, which is just bizarre to me.

-There are virtually no descriptions of creatures, just illustrations. Also, information is very sparse. You get some basic info for knowledge rolls, combat stats and typical encounter groups. This IMO leaves a huge flaw in the usage of creatures: how to use them before combat starts. For example old Blue Dragon had lots of illusionary abilities, not for combat purposes but for trap setting and hiding it's lair. Now it's just what it can do in combat. Likewise alot of creatures who are supposed to know rituals(Hags, liches etc) have no information on what they would know.

-Solo creatures are very rare in it. Outside Dragons you could probably count them on two hands. Creatures you'd expect to be solos, like Titans and Aboleths, given their previous D&Dness are just Elites.. or not even that. Not that hard to change, but it did pop out at me.

-Some of the creature levels are really odd. Why do Drow rank-and-file start at level 15?

-The new Elementals suck something terrible. Really, they look like Everquest/World of Warcraft elementals. It's just so terrible boring rip off. Also they're all mixed elements now.

-I really like the new giants. Especially their art, which is just great. The Fomori are lacking a titan though.

That's all I can think of right now to comment on.


This does sound rather surprising, especially the magical issues. If this is, in fact, accurate (I haven't seen the book myself), it's an interesting choice from the designers. I suspect their response to such issues would be something along the lines of, "a monster has whatever non-combat powers a DM needs it to have." Which begs the question, why bother with a monster book at all? Why can't the monster also have the combat stats the DM needs it to have?

Very odd. I get the feeling either Naxuul is missing something, or I'm confused about what the 4e MM I supposed to do for DMs.

Stuff I Missed

A lot of good stuff has gone out on the net, some while I was taking a break from blogging for the holiday, and some since then. It's like the holiday gave everyone time to recharge their batteries.

Check out this great idea for monsters by Noisms:

These two different lines of thought have merged with another parallel line in this post I wrote, on Doppelgangers, and given me the idea for a small group of Doppelgangers who were created centuries ago by an evil archmage for some purpose or other. That archmage long ago died, but the Doppelgangers live on, still trying to perform the tasks - assassinations, spying, arson, theft - that he set for them even though they know that he is dead. They do this simply because there is nothing else for them to do and they know no other way to live; the desire and ability to create, to love, to enjoy, is not in them; it is not why they were created.

The Chatty DM has a review of Wii Fit over at Critical Hits.

I may have to start calling this blog the "Why to Read Sham's Blog" blog. He's got another interesting post up about how he plans to integrate henchmen and "entourage" play into his imminent campaign.

James Maliszewski has posted a review of Monsters of Myth, a monster compendium done by the same guys that brought us OSRIC:

Monsters of Myth is an important book. Besides being packed with 128 pages of new monsters for use with, as it says on its back cover, "First Edition-compatible games," it is in many ways emblematic of the possibilities and pitfalls that lay before the old school gaming community in general and the retro-clone movement in particular.

Be sure to check out the comments for a running discussion on publishing and licensing for old school RPG stuff.

Finally, Mr. Raggi has brought Lamentations of the Flame Princess out of the dark with a clean, white background, and to celebrate has a wonderful review of great black-and-white art from back-in-the-day. If you're a middle-aged gamer, it's a wonderful jaunt down memory lane. If this is your first time seeing some of this stuff, it's a great chance to experience art you might not otherwise get to see, and read a bit about what makes it exemplary.


Been a while since you've seen the sun?

Dr. Rotwang has some thoughts on that:

Seriously. I'm just not that good at picturing landscapes. I'm terrible at it. They just don't...they don't occur to me, see? I feel like I should be thinking that this-or-that place in my game setting should look like this forest or that gorge, or what-have-you, but...I don't.

And it bugs me.

I've been trying harder lately, but I wonder if the culprit is unfamiliarity; in other words, that I don't get out much. Well, not into nature, anyhoo. I wonder if I don't think so quickly in terms of "nature looks like this", when I'm GMing, because I don't go look at it a lot.

I was lucky to have the chance to join a Boy Scout troop that went camping every month. I got to see a lot of nature, from sprawling dairy farms to cozy youth camps. I was even luckier to have cheap parents who insisted on camping rather than staying in motels when we drove long distances. (And the apple doesn't fall far from the tree lemmetellyou...)

And I was always thinking D&D. Maybe because we were always doing cool D&D things in scouts, like archery or map reading or hiking with packs. Some of the older guys ran wild, Monty Hault campaigns, with stuff cribbed from Gamma World and later Star Frontiers mixed in with their magic swords and staves of the magi. We didn't do that much when I got to be one of the older guys, but I remember sitting up late one night while the guy I was sharing my tent with and I read Dragonlance novels by flashlight.

So yeah, there was a lot of me thinking, "this is where the goblins live" and "this would make a great place for the evil baron's army to camp", and "yeah, ambush right here". The hard part, of course, is describing these scenes with enough energy and personality to make them really pop for your players. Nature can be so intense and broad in the amount of sensory data it just floods you with that it can be tempting to do the same to your players. Paring that information down, while putting them in that place is difficult. The keys, I think, are first to be brief. Five quick sentences at most. More than that, for me, and eyes begin to glaze over. Second, hit at least two senses. Honestly, for outdoor settings, you should probably be hitting four. Forests are full of smells and sounds, and they can shift every handful-dozen feet. Birdsong is common, and any wind makes the trees whisper to one another. Everything has a smell, from the loam underfoot to the gurgling stream dancing alongside the trail. You're always being touched by something. In the forest, the sunlight pierces the canopy of leaves in discrete shafts, patches of warm sliding across you as you walk. In the open, there's the sun, and sometimes the wind, either cooling relief in summer or biting assault in winter. And if you're really unlucky, there's the army of ants swarming up your leg when you stopped to rest in the wrong spot.

A Strong Opening

Purchases of the 4e core books gift set (which includes all three books in a slipcase) are off to a roaring start, at least at Amazon. Getting all three books for the price of two is, I'm sure, a very attractive offer. I'd say this bodes well for the brand and the hobby, though I'm curious exactly what sort of numbers are necessary to reach this level of sales.

WAR Does Elric...

... dungeon-punk style.

If fishnets, black nail-polish, and way too many metal studs, rings, and buckles makes your blood boil, don't click this link.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Maps, Maps, and More Maps

I love me some good maps. While I've been taking a sorta-vacation from blogging, the intrawebs have been awash in new maps.

Ok, maybe not "awash", but we've got three good ones for you.

The first is from WotC. It's an excerpt from the 4.0 DMG about the sample village, Fallcrest. We get a nice, full-color map, a history of the town, three keyed areas, and the stat-block for a well-to-do tiefling merchant.

Judging by the forests, especially the woods growing dangerously close to the castle (areas 8 and 9), it appears that this is a fairly fertile valley. As such, I'd assume those fields are growing grains of some sort. In that case, Fallcrest needs a mill. I'd suggest putting a water mill at the smaller falls (area 21) or putting in a mill-pond and water mill in the area of ruins between 21 and 23.

The next to come from Sham's Grog 'n Blog:

OK, so I’ve got a new toy. Rather, I should specify, I had my computer literate and all-around wonderful Wife show me how to actually USE her scanner. I think I’ve discovered a new tool that will keep me busy rooting through my gaming closet and posting images.

The first isn't really from his closet as it's a new project: a map for his Spawning Grounds of the Crabmen for the Fight On! megadungeon project. Sham's an excellent cartographer with a good clean hand. While the tunnels of the crabmen twist and turn over and under each other, Sham's depictions make it easy for the DM to know exactly where everything is in relation to everything else. His lines are so neat and fine, I suspect he's using a mechanical pencil, 0.5 or 0.7 at a guess. There are some odd bits that I can't decipher, such as three short tunnels near the center, with horseshoe-shaped entrances at both ends and odd, wavey lines between them. Otherwise, it's easy to understand what Sham's trying to communicate.

His second map is an older thing:

Antholerin was a long running campaign, centered around multiple levels of 'undercities' which led, eventually, to the Deep Down, my version of Arduin's Great Wyrm Road, or the Underdark. The lowest reaches of the Deep Down were drawn out on a hex map, ala D1-3 inspired by Gygax's map, with keyed hexes. Devil's Throne was one of those hexes, in this case the hex directly under Antholerin.

This one comes with a short key explaining what the major features are. His work is not quite as clean on this thirteen-year-old map, but it's still easily legible.

I look forward to seeing what further treasures Sham is able to dig up from his gaming closet.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Why I Can't Play the Newest Branches of the D&D Tree

Troy E. Taylor over at Gnome Stew has posted a summary of Pathfinder's streamlined NPC creation process:

Seven steps to a fully-statted NPC

This is a quick summation of the Pathfinder process. Throughout, DMs can refer to charts with the numbers and information to plug into the NPC they are creating.

1. Basics

This is the concept for the NPC, including whether you’ll be creating it from the NPC or character classes.

2. Ability Scores

This also has been simplified. There are two tiers of NPC score arrays, basic and heroic. And you refer to a chart based not on the class, but the role, the NPC is going to play in the encounter, such as melee or ranged combatants, divine or arcane spellcasters, or skill-focused characters.

3. Skills

Skills are assigned normally, though there is a chart that gives you the skills by class at a glance.

4. Feat selection

This has been streamlined in that there are lists of suggested feats depending, again, on the role of the NPC (such as finesse, unarmed, mounted, or two-handed fighters, for example). The feat lists are alphabetical, so you still have to keep prerequisite progressions (such as the fact Point Blank Shot comes before Far Shot) in mind.

5. Class features

Here you have to refer back to the class descriptions.

6. Gear

This could well be the most useful chart in the process. Instead of a overall gold piece amount for NPCs to play with, the value of gear is categorized. For example, a heroic NPC at third level has 1,200 gp total, of which 350 gp goes toward weapons, 600 gp goes to armor and shields, none for magic yet, 100 gp for alchemy items, as well as potions, scrolls and wands, and 150 gp for mundane gear.

7. Details

Which here means double checking bonuses and modifiers and filling out descriptive details, too.

And these are the stats of a 3rd level "sergeant at arms" from adventure A3 - Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords: (AC5, LVL 3, hp 18, #AT 1, D 2-8, bow 1-6). That is followed by a brief note informing us that the sergeant and his men are "armed with broadswords and short composite bows and wearing chainmail", all of which could have been deduced from the stats.

The moral of the story is this: I don't have a few hours to stat out NPCs between gaming sessions. After the adventure has begun, I really don't have five minutes to lovingly hand-craft a new NPC I wasn't expecting to need tonight.

Or maybe I'm just lazy. Take your pick. ;)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Phoenix has Landed

And is sending home pictures of Mars.

Orcus Reviews 4e

A few folks have received copies of the 4e rulebooks. Among them is "Orcus" over at Necromancer Games, one of the first companies to announce plans to support 4e with 3rd party products. He's posted a quick review of 4e over at the Necromancer Games message boards. He likes what he sees, but he thinks others may quickly be turned off:

They are startlingly unashamed in the changes they made. This is where the books, at first glance, will bother people who are predisposed to not liking 4E. The books dont at first glance seem "comfortable and similar and familiar." They used a new layout and new organization. Looking back on all the PHBs since the first AD&D PHB the format has been about the same. This one changes it all up. And that first impression is a bit startling. Plus, some of the new stuff is front and center. Heck, dragonborn are the first player race. The first bit of art in the book, starting from teh first page, is a dragonborn. That is new content. They dont try to ease you into it. I have said in the past, they didnt just kill sacred cows, they hung their carcass in the store windo--but I think this is a good thing. If you are going to make changes, dont %+%+* foot around the issue, jump in and do it. And that is what they did. I firmly believe that if people want to not like 4E, there is enough there on first glance to support their fears, BUT once you look past that first layer, you will see this is not only D&D, its is better and better organized and all the changes are improvements.

I probably won't be reviewing them 4e since I don't plan to play it anytime soon. By the time I might get around to writing such a review, the conventional wisdom will have already spoken definitively on the subject.

Hobbit Chat

A transcript of the online chat with Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Torro has been posted over at Weta's website. There are a number of interesting tidbits, including a hint that I was wrong about how the movies will be broken up. I suspect Trollwife will be thrilled by what del Torro says about Smaug. Here are some other interesting comments:

KenshinIV What are the chances Ron Perlman will be voicing Smog?
Guillermo del Toro At this time the voice of Smaug is down to a very few choices in my head and I have a completely specific one, Ron has a good chance but I have other plans for RP... we will see...

Eriol So what age rating are you aiming at?
Peter Jackson Hi Eriol - the rating will be the same as the Trilogy, PG13 on both movies
Guillermo del Toro An intense PG-13...

Yetzi did you start casting for the 13 dwarves?
Guillermo del Toro Nope- no catsing has started yet.
Guillermo del Toro Casting- I mean... BUt some people have thrown their helmet in the ring.
Peter Jackson Hi Yetzi - no casting has commenced and won't until the scripts are written. We have had chats with one or two ofthe LOTR actors however but the casting will be driven largely by the writing and it is impossible to cast 13 dwarves without knowing their personality and characters. We anticipate we won't be in serious casting mode for these movies until well into next year.

WetaHost 10- Hi there, thanks for giving this opportunity. my question: will Alan Lee and John Howe be on board again? I really admire their work. good luck for this project and have a lot of fun.
Guillermo del Toro As aI said, I had a marvelous lunch with John and Alan in London a few days ago and we all got very excited as we discussed my ideas on Smaug, Mirkwood, etc They are most definetly back!
Peter Jackson Impossible to imagine it without them!

WetaHost 8 - I always thought creating Gollum would pose a great artisic challenge to the artists whose job it would be to adapt the Lord of the Rings. With the Hobbit I believe Smaug will pose one of the great challenges. Now we have all seen dragons in movies. But for the Hobbit I personally am excepting nothing less than unbelievable . Were will you go for inspiration? What styles will the art dirction look at? Personally I can see a lot being done with the setting from Pan's Labyrinth. Thank you and good luck to you all.
Guillermo del Toro This is a big one-- Allow me to quote form my random responses at…

I am a big Dragon fan. I've said it before- And I was fortunate enough to be born a Dragon in the Chinese Horocope...

And although its always impossible to agree on the "greatest" of anything, I bring forth these two as the main film contenders for that title: Eyvind Earle / Disney's Maleficent dragon ( a triumph of elegance of color and design) and Vermitrax Pejorative from Dragonslayer.

In my opinion, every other design has borrowed heavily from these two. I plan to create something new and groundbreaking.

Smaug should not be "the Dragon in the Hobbit movie" as if it was just "another" creature in a Bestiary. Smaug should be "The DRAGON" for all movies past and present. The shadow he cast and the greed he comes to embody- the "need to own" casts its long shadow and creates a thematic / dramatic continuity of sorts that articulates the story throughout-

In that respect, Smaug the CHARACTER is as important, if not more important, than the design. The character will emerge form the writing- and in that the Magnificent arrogance, intelligence, sophistication and greed of Smaug shine through-

In fact, Thorin's greed is a thematic extension of this and Bilbo's "Letting go" and his noble switching of sides when the dwarves prove to be in the wrong is its conceptual counterpart (that is a hard one to get through, Bilbo's heroism is a quiet, moral one) and the thematic thread reaches its climax in the Bilbo / Thorin death bed scene.

Anyway, back to Smaug: One of the main mistakes with talking dragons is to shape the mouth like a snub Simian one in order to achieve a dubious lip-synch. .. A point which eluded me particularly in Eragon, since their link is a psychic one.

To me, Smaug is the perfect example of a great creature defined by its look and design, yes, but also, very importantly, by his movement and -One little hint- its environment - Think about it... the way he is scaled, moves and is lit, limited or enhanced by his location, weather conditions, light conditions, time of the year, etc. That's all I can say without spoilers but, if you keep this curious little summary you'll realize several years form now that those things I had in my mind ever since doodling the character as a kid had solidified waaay before starting the shoot of the film.

A big tool is also how and when he is fully revealed. I could give you specifics- beat-by-beat in fact (I'm geeking out to do it), but...

I will say no more in order to save you from ruthless spoilerage (we have a few years to go, you now...?) and increased anxiety.

Let me, however, say that this is actually one of the points I feel most enthusiastic about.

As to his voice- well, each reader has a Smaug voice in his / her head, just like you always do when "hearing" a great character in a book.

I have mine... and it will be revealed in time...

WetaHost 2 - Hello Mr. Jackson and Mr. Del Toro! Thank you very much for this time. My question is one that I think you will hear alot of from many of us...from what material will you pulling the second movie from? I know it'll be great with you two on board, but I am mighty curious. I am a huge fan of both of you and I look foward to more Tolkien films!
Guillermo del Toro The idea is to find a compelling way to join THE HOBBIT and FELLOWSHIP and enhance the 5 films both visually an in their Cosmology. There’s omissions and material enough in the available, licensed material to attempt this. The agreement is, however, that the second film must be relevant and emotionally strong enough to be brought to life but that we must try and contain the HOBBIT in a single film.
Peter Jackson I'm really looking forward to developing Film Two. It gives us a freedom that we haven't really had on our Tolkien journey. Some of you may well say that's a good thing of course! The Hobbit is interesting in how Tolkien created a feeling of dangerous events unfolding, which preoccupy Gandalf. There's an awful lot of incident that happens during that 60 year gap. At this stage, we're not imagining a film that literally covers 60 years, like a bio-pic or documentary. We would figure out what happens during that 60 years, and choose one short section of time to drop in and dramatise for the screen. I'm really interested in how it effects The Hobbit - do we show what happens to Gandalg during his trips away? We'll see. We may well have seeds for Film Two that we'll subtly sow during The Hobbit.
WetaHost Considering that you're stretching The Hobbit into 2 movies can we assume that Beorn will be featured and will not be given the Tom Bombadil treatment?
Guillermo del Toro

WetaHost My question is, when Del Toro has acknowledged his disdain for Hobbits and "sword and sandals" fantasy, how can he do justice to the movie? Why can't Peter direct it himself after The Lovely Bones? He can direct these 2 movies and then direct the 3rd Tintin movie.
Guillermo del Toro Okay- If by “Sword and Sandal” you mean “Sword and Sorcery” I stand by the general lines of my statement in 2006. But allow me to reproduce the following paragraph from and expand it-

Since the age of 4 I became an avid reader and collector of books; manuscripts, pamphlets, first editions, small press or worn-down paperbacks... they all find a home at my library which has grown so cumbersome and obtrusive that I had to move to a separate home from the family one...

For many decades my main area of interest has been horror fiction: Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, MR James, LeFanu, etc and classic Fairy tales and literature about the engines of Myth: unabridged Grimm, Andersen, Wilde, Bettelheim, Tatar, etc

Now and then I indulge in Science Fiction (not hardware oriented but more humanistic things) and thus I count Bradbury, Ellison, Sturgeon and Matheson amongst my favorites.

My area of interest gets much narrower when we deal with another genre... the genre that is shelved under Fantasy.

As a youngster I read Moorcock, Clark Ashton Smith, Lord Dunsany, Lloyd Alexander, Fritz Leiber, Marcel Schwob, RE Howard and a few others.

Nevertheless I was never propelled into an aleatory addiction to sub-genres like Sword & Sorcery or indiscriminate fantasies about magical this or that- Like any other genre or subgenre there's a great abundance that makes it hard to discern when a new "trilogy" or "chronicle" comes from as genuine a place as Tolkien's or derives from genuine fervor -religious or otherwise- like C.S. Lewis' did. But here I am now: reading like a madman to catch up with a whole new land, a continent of sorts- a Cosmology created by brilliant philologist turned Shaman.

As if he grasped an existing universe outside our Platonic cave, Tolkien channels an entire world, weaving expertly from myth and lore. The oustanding virtue is that all this scholarly erudition doesn't reduce his tales to mere Taxidermy. He achieves an Alchemy all of his own: he writes new life in the freshly sculpted clay of his creatures.

I have, through the years become familiar with the very roots of Tolkien's myths and the roots of Fafhrd or Elric or Hyperborea and many a time I have relished the intricate ways in which demonic wolves, shape-shifter and spindly-limbed pale warriors can be woven into those many tales that become, at the end, the single tale, the single saga- that of what is immortal in us all.

In creating Pan's Labyrinth I drank deep of the most rigid form of Fairy Lore and tried to contextualize the main recurrent motifs in an instinctive rhyme between the world of fantasy and the delusions of War and Politics (the grown man's way of playing make-believe) and in re-reading THE HOBBIT just recently I was quite moved by discovering, through Bilbo's eyes the illusory nature of possession, the sins of hoarding and the banality of war- whether in the Western Front or at a Valley in Middle Earth. Lonely is the mountain indeed.

When that statement was made- at different times during PANS LABYRINTH’s promotion, many a time I made the distinctive call to say that althought I had not read Tolkien outside THE HOBBIT I had been fascinated by the Trilogy films. A statement that I already had the chance to make in 2005 when PJ, Fran and I met about HALO.

So, no, generally I am NOT a “Sword and Sorcery” guy or a “Fantasy” guy- By the same token, I'm not a sci-fi guy but I would make a film based on Ellison in a second- or on Sturgeon or Bradbury or Matheson. I'm not into Barbarians with swords but i would kill to tackle Fafhrd and Grey Mouse... and so on and so forth... I'm a believer but not a Dogmatic.

Allow me to put a final, finer point to our discussion. The aesthetics of HELLBOY II are completely Pop and color-saturated, much more comic book / modern than I would ever use in THE HOBBIT but- I spend two years creating a world of Fairies, Elves, Trolls, etc

Two Years. A career / creative decision that precedes any inkling of THE HOBBIT. I wrote the script years before I met with PJ or Fran. In other words I dedicated the last 6 years of my career (between PL and HBII) to create Fantastical world inhabited by Fairies, Fauns, Ogres, Trolls, Elves, etc

In that respect- I guess I am a Fantasy guy when the particular world appeals to me. Back in the Jurassic Period (1992 / 1993) when CRONOS won the Critic’s Week at Cannes I was referred to as an “art house guy”- I followed that with a giant cockroach movie that proved successful enough to spawn two sequels and allow me to co-finance THE DEVILS BACKBONE which send me back to being an “art house guy”. Then I did BLADE II and people thought of me as an “Action guy”- PJ went through a similar mercurial career with HEAVENLY CREATURES, BAD TASTE, DEAD ALIVE, etc I squirm away from a tag and I hope I can avoid being just a “Fantasy guy” after PL, HBII and H…

I do the tales I love (regardless of what shelf Barnes & Noble classifies the book under) and I love the HOBBIT.

I love it enough to give it half a decade of my life and move half a world away to do it.
Peter Jackson Having directed the LOTR Trilogy, I really felt that I put my heart and soul into dramatising this world and story, only a few years ago. The idea of going back in and essentially competing against my own movies, seemed to be an unsatsifying way to spend the next 5 years. However, I love Tolkien and care deeply about the movies we made. I couldn't bear the idea of somebody else making them without our involvement. Being a writer and producer is the perfect way for me to work here. Guillermo has the ultimate responsibility of directing, and for him it's easier to make these movies feel different, simply because he's not me, and he therefore has an original vision, with new ideas to offer.

Believe me, I thought long and hard about this, and what we're doing here will result in better movies, I promise you. And that's all that counts!

I may be in the minority, but I absolutely LOVE Beorn and I intend to feature him in the films. BTW I also like TB quite a bit…

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Paper Soldiers

This thread at on cheap alternatives to minis points to this great collection of paper miniatures. They're historical, not fantastical, so no dragons or orcs. But you do get a wide array of soldiers from many different time periods, ships, siege engines, and bits that you can use in the art program of your choice to mix-and-match.

The quality can be a bit hit-or-miss, but you can't argue with the price! And the pics themselves can certainly be lifted for use as online minis with systems like OpenRPG.

Apologies for the Light Blogging

I'm afraid the easy parts of my Moldvay/Cook/LL hack have been done, and I'm to the heavy lifting. That and Glen Cook's The Tyranny of the Night are eating up all my fun-time. Next week, I'm looking forward to posting how I want to handle magic in my M/C/LL hack, and maybe a bit about the setting I'll be using.

To Have and to Hold...

Noisms continues to bring the good stuff. The man is just leaking brainstorm-fruit:

Realism and D&D make for uncomfortable bedfellows, as we all know. We probably shouldn't devote too much time to trying to make the game emulate reality. Even so, I've occasionally wondered why more DM's don't include the sort of background flavour events - weddings, festivals, religious ceremonies - that can really add to the feeling that the players really are in a world, not just in a crudely drawn dungeon map.

What follows is an example "encounter": a town in the midst of celebrating the wedding of local celebreties followed by a random table of situations that might befall or attract the attention of the PCs.

Myself, I use stuff like this a lot. My calendars are peppered with special events and festivals. Even if the PCs don't get involved themselves, it's important that world clearly go on around them, and without them sometimes. Special events are also great times for the big revelation. Paizo's first Pathfinder adventure, "Burnt Offerings", uses a local ceremony to bring the party together and start things rolling with a bang.

Friday, May 23, 2008

This is How He Rolls

Out in the middle of the table, as it turns out.

James Edward Raggi IV has posted a long but interesting explanation of how he plays D&D and its simulacra. There's some neat stuff here, a lot of which I agree with, and much of which mirrors my own practice. He's hard-core on following the dice, though:

The dice are God, carrying more authority than any player and carrying more authority than the guy running the game. Just picking up the dice is a sign that nobody at the table knows what's going to happen. No fudging. Ever.

If a "story" would be ruined by an "incorrect" roll of the dice, then we're playing wrong. The story is only apparent after the playing is done. It's not a goal in-game. Sort of. More on that later. But if I want something to happen, then I'll say it happens and not bother with a dice roll. I'm in charge only to the point that I pick up the dice. Then I'm not in charge anymore.

July is Worldwide Adventure Writing Month

So hath Jeff Rients spoken! Er, written, I mean. No web page yet, but it's good to know it's going to happen again this year.

Keeping Track of Who is Doing What to Whom

Over at Dungeon Mastering, a neat little "combat matrix" is demonstrated for keeping track of what's going on in your D&D fights. I've scribbled out similar things, but I can certainly imagine that a more formal design could be extremely useful, especially in those big fights.

Beware the Armoured Terror What Lurks in the Deeps

From Noisms comes Old Johnny, a giant crawfish demigod:

The people living around the lake worship Old Johnny as their god. They have worshipped him for so long, and done so in sufficient numbers, that he has actually become a god of sorts; an unthinking, voracious, alien god, but a god all the same. Old Johnny "knows only his own cold hunger" (Milk's line) and unconsciously wills his worshippers to assuage it. They do this by spreading rumours around the neighbouring lands that there are several giant crayfish, ripe for the eating, in their lake - and all are welcome to try to catch them at a small price in gold. Old Johnny then feasts on the unwitting adventurers, fishermen and thrill seekers who are attracted by these rumours.

He also gives us a bit of detail on Old Johnny's worshipers and their fiendish methods.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Fading into the Myths?

There's a rumor racing around the 'net that Robert Asprin, author of the Phule's Company and Myth books, as well as co-editor of the Thieves World books, has died today.

No word yet on the cause of death. I'll be sure to let y'all know when there's more concrete news.

UPDATE: It appears to be official and true. I'm in shock; he wasn't that old and I hadn't heard he was having any health problems. :/

FURTHER UPDATE: More here and here.

There and Back Again and a Little Bit More

So everyone is getting ready for Jackson and Del Torro's big "Unexpected Party" chat on Saturday, and we're seeing more stuff like this neat "Seven Things We Want From 'The Hobbit'" post. But I think there's some real confusion about what's being done with the two movies that will make up "The Hobbit".

Most people seem to be of the impression that we'll get the entire The Hobbit novel in movie one, and then some sort of bridge story to LotR in the second movie. I could be wrong, but that's not the way I understand it. Instead, what I've been led to expect is a weaving of The Hobbit with what Gandalf is up to every time he leaves, as revealed in Appendix material from the LotR books and Tolkien's notes. In terms of The Hobbit, I expect the break between the two movies will happen either right after Bilbo and the dwarves run into the wood elves, or right after they leave the wood elves. Meaning we won't get much Smaug or the Battle of Five Armies until the second movie.

So what was Gandalf up to every time he left the dwarves and Bilbo (usually just before disaster of one sort or another struck)? He was checking out a mysterious wizard lurking in the southern parts of Mirkwood who went by the ominous title "the Necromancer". These investigations tie in directly to the events of LotR, and will, I assume, be the promised "bridge" between the two groups of movies.


Ripper X, as vengeance for my removing the thief from my Moldvay/Cook/LL hack, is clearly trying to gross me out. Today, it's a discussion of disease and parasites in D&D, based heavily on Mr. Gygax's work in the 1e DMG.

Now, why would you want to include these things in your campaign?

  1. Local color: some places are just overcrowded, hot, humid sewers, and the risk of disease can really help make a place "real" in your player's minds.
  2. Ticking clock: if the disease is wide-spread, the NPC clerics might not be able to help everyone unless the PCs undertake a quest. And the longer the PCs take on the quest, the more people will die!
  3. Added trouble: it's a truism among authors that if you really want to write a great story, after you get your main character in hot water, you drop a rabid badger on his head and watch the fun ensue. The same can be true of your games, so long as your players recognize you're not just dumping on them. (A fine line to walk, in all honesty, but it can really improve your game if your players trust that they will be given a chance at victory and payback.)
  4. More spotlight time for the cleric, without having to resort to undead. Again.

Lamentations of the Gameless Princess

Mr. Raggi says, "Don't be a whiner! Make it happen! Find a group!"

I love it when he channels Dr. Phil. ;)

Seriously, lots of very good advice here, stuff I forget needs to be repeated because it feels like GMing 101 now.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ain't It Cool News Goes Tabletop

After posting a two-part review of 4e back during the playtest stage, Massawyrm of AICN announces the launch of a tabletop section for the bright orange Mecca of nerd news. In its first installment, he starts with a discussion of Magnificent Egos Miniatures. Magnificent Egos is the sort of company that should warm the heart of grognards everywhere, as they have chosen to forgo the pre-painted plastics that everyone else seems to be embracing, and is sticking with raw pewter. And their range of odd pieces is bound to have something that appeals to everyone. Some have a dungeon-punk look while others will be right at home beside your favorite Ral Parthas. Some are just drop-dead gorgeous while others are just plain bizarre. Some of my favorites skirt the line between cool and disturbing. They also have a range of magical effects, like walls of ice or gripping hands. They carry those nifty Kobolds Ate My Baby miniatures Jeff Rients linked to a while back. I have no idea what the scale any of these are; I'm guessing they're close to the "heroic" 28 mm scale that seems popular these days, but that's just a guess.

After waxing enthusiastic about the minis, Massawyrm then reviews the final release of 4e's core books. Those of you who read his preview from playtesting will not be surprised to hear he's got a generally favorable opinion of the final product. He does mention that the trap design rules from the playtesting docs didn't make it into the final hardback of the DMG which is a shame. If they'd been something really special, they might have convinced me to buy that book even if I never intended to play 4e.

Old School Beyond D&D: The Case for GURPS

Badelaire makes the case for GURPS as an Old School RPG, and I think it's spot on. Here's the part that really does it for me:

* GURPS encourages you to manage your rules as you see fit. You can either run GURPS using the Lite rules (and even play with those to make things even easier), or you can go full-throttle rules madness and buy every supplement you want and incorporate every variable/skill/advantage/power you feel like. The players can either be all over the variables and get as crunch-geeky as they want, or the GM can keep it all "under the hood" and just ask for rolls and do the tweaky bits themselves. This way the game can be played as rules-intense or as rules-casual as you like.

GURPS is one of those systems that just begs for houserules, and lots of 'em! Even if you're using an official setting, you'll want to tailor it to your play style and interests. Be sure to check out the comments for transforming GURPS for more "traditional" fantasy play.

I enjoy the system much more than I get to play it, and it's usually my go-to system for sci-fi play. And being an Austinite, I gotta support the local RPG pros. ;)

Takin' it to the Streets

Over at Grognardia, James Maliszewski has posted an appeal by Dan Proctor of Goblinoid Games for help in getting Labyrinth Lord into retail distribution:

If you support retro-clones and old-school games in general (and especially Labyrinth Lord), now is your chance to demonstrate that support in a loud and unmistakable way.

Key 20 has indicated their willingness to distribute Goblinoid Games products. In order to get Labyrinth Lord into distribution, I need to stock their warehouse with an initial print run of 150 copies of Labyrinth Lord, but this is not an expense I can make on my own without pledges of support from the community I seek to serve.

Check it out, and lend a hand if you can.

Also over at Grognardia, a review of the Esoteric Random Classic... er, Fantasy Critter, uh, Generation Thingy... This thing!

Thar be Trolls!

Hey! 4e art I like!

Ok, it's not exactly unprecedented, and I'm not shocked at all to learn it's by Sam Wood, one of my favorite 3e artists.

Still, it's good to see stuff like this being used, even if it is rather lacking in background.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Playing with Skills

I’ve got my character classes for my Moldvay/Cook/LL hack nailed down. Assuming I leave out the halflings, that leaves me with: fighters, magic-users, clerics, rogues, elves, dwarves, and gnomes. Maybe someday I’ll throw in some half-orcs or half-ogres, but for now that looks like a solid foundation I can build on.

The next topic I want to tackle is skills.

And I got nothin’.

Ok, that’s not entirely true. I’ve actually got too much.

Through most of Moldvay/Cook, if you want to try something, you roll a d6. A 1 almost always succeeds, and a 6 almost always fails. Sometimes, you can get bonuses. For instance, an elf succeeds at finding a secret door on a 1 or 2, while forcing a stuck door is adjusted by Strength.

It’s not very granular, but this system clearly works and can be adapted to anything. And, with the standard stat bonuses listed in the book, your character’s stats can be used to adjudicate anything from swinging from a chandelier to unscrambling the Dark Lord’s cipher.

It’s got two issues, though. First if we assume a 6 always fails, that means failure is pretty common. Clearly, this system was devised to handle tasks of extreme difficulty, things even heroes are not likely to succeed at.

Second, it ignores a character’s level. You never get better at these things no matter what level you rise to. On the one hand, this is very fitting for Moldvay/Cook/LL, since level has a very minimal effect on your character, especially in comparison with other iterations of D&D. And that does keep your character from becoming insanely good at everything. (I was going to say, “does keep your character from becoming a superhero”, but in Moldvay/Cook, a superhero is an eighth-level fighter. ;) )

In some areas, percentages are used, but these are extremely rare. We see them, most famously, in thief abilities. We also see them in the chance of others to detect a hiding halfling. These are a lot more granular, but where we see them, they don’t reference stats at all, and outside of the thief’s abilities, don’t apply levels either.

Finally, there’s the roll-under-a-stat method on a d20. It’s actually called saving-vs-abilities in the back of the Expert book, and suggests modifiers up of to + or – 4 for situation with 1 always succeeding and 20 always failing.

I’m tempted to modify that one with my favorite probability tool, the bell curve. A simple task would require a roll of a single d10; anyone but those of sub-par ability should expect to succeed. A challenging task would require rolling a 2d10. Success would be common, but not guaranteed. A difficult task would be 3d10 while a daunting task would be 4d10. With such a range of possibilities, maybe I could add your character’s level to their stat to get our roll-under target? Eh, probably not; things would get really crazy as characters approached 10th level and beyond.

That last method is still my favorite, but the d6 method is already such a strong part of the D&D DNA that it’s got a lot of tradition on its side.

And then there’s how skills are acquired. One thing that constantly bugs me about most point-buy systems is how impossible it is to make a reasonably competent character. At 16 I could fire a muzzle loader (though with admittedly questionable accuracy), swim, drive a car, pilot a motorboat, program in BASIC and PASCAL, tie any number of knots, read a map, use a compass, calculate the volume of all sorts of shapes, balance a checkbook, read the stock pages, lead certain liturgical rites of the Episcopal Church, build a working radio from a kit, change the oil in a car, identify edible plants, light a fire with a single match, find a half-dozen constellations in the night sky…

Yeah, ok, you get the point. You probably had a large number of skills you could rely on as well. In our games, however, you had to be at least 3rd level or somesuch to come even close to something like that. It’s unusual to find a 3e D&D character who can swim at any level. This sort of thing is silly.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was playing Moldvay/Cook (I think, though it might have started after we added in the 1e AD&D PHB to our Moldvay/Cook games) we added backgrounds to our characters. This started with the title for 1st level fighters: the veteran. That implied that the veteran had been in a war. Which war? What did our veteran learn? Where were his war buddies?

So we added one line (sometimes one word) histories to our characters. Our veteran had fought in the Goblin Wars. Or maybe the Sorcerer Wars. Our thief had been a pick-pocket urchin. Or a pirate. That sort of thing. These dictated what sort of skills your character could draw on. The veteran of the Goblin Wars might be able to speak goblin, or recognize different tribes by their ornaments. The ex-pirate knew how to handle sailing ships, how to navigate by the sun and stars, and how to tie knots.

Now, we didn’t worry about rolling dice back then. Either your character knew how to do something or didn’t, and if you could convince the DM that it made sense for your character to be conversant in elvish wines or ancient theology, you would be successful in whatever you attempted with those skills.

For the most part, I want to add that to my Moldvay/Cook/LL hack. In most situations, having the skill will give you success. Only in unusual or extreme circumstances should you need to roll. And instead of picking skills individually, you instead describe your character’s background and that dictates what sorts of things your character is skillful at.

I want to add a bit more structure to it this time, however. I’m dividing a character’s youth into stages. First is childhood, which in humans covers birth to seven years old. Childhood is when you learn your first language(s) and the culture of your family and surroundings. The next stage, which I’m calling youth, begins at seven and ends around 14 or 16. This is when you begin to enter the adult world. Urban children would be sent to apprenticeships, noble children would be fostered as pages or ladies-in-waiting to other noble families, and peasant children would join their parents in the fields or among the livestock. This would cover basic education. Adolescence refines these skills. Pages become squires, apprentices become journeymen, peasants might become husbands and wives and parents, with their own fields and flocks.

Describing ever so briefly what your character was doing during these three stages towards adulthood, not more than a single sentence for each, dictates what sort of skills your character has outside of their class abilities. So if your knight (fighter class) was squired to a northern noble, he would know the courtly etiquette from that part of the world, as well as the heraldry of the noble families up there. Your bandit from the Eastern Steppes would know all about horses, the spice trade and how to appraise silks. And yes, your former street urchin probably knows how to pick a pocket and fence the goods.

So, here’s where I am: I have a nicely vague system for figuring out what skills the PCs have. But I’m not certain how I want to adjudicate uncertainty in the use of those skills. Or, to put it simply, how should we roll for success or failure?

Also, should spending more or less time in a “profession” have an affect on skill use? Should spending both your youth and adolescence as a street urchin improve your skills as a pick-pocket? What about older characters? Should there be a penalty for starting a PC at 28 or 35 years old, to counter the greater or broader skill mastery? Exactly how important do I want such skills to be in my campaigns?

I’m not certain yet. Right now, I’m leaning towards rolling d10’s and succeeding if you roll under the appropriate stat +1 per life period spent honing that skill. But I’m not in love with that yet, and it’d be just as easy to apply that +1 to the d6 method.

I’m going to roll this around in my head and search the chat boards to see what others have done.

Photography on the Shadowfell

The folks at Dragon Ave. have posted pics of the Keep on the Shadowfell 4e introductory adventure. We don't get too much detail, but it's not bad looking at all.

Fear the Burning Crane

Yeah, ok, so I'm stretching on these titles. The Fear the Boot folks have an interview posted with Luke Crane, author of the Burning Wheel RPG. You have your choice of formats: the raw "Designers Gone Wild" version, or the censored-for-your-protection version.

Putting You (and Your Loot) Up for the Night

Ripper X continues to deliver the good stuff with Add-In #2: Star Watchers Inn & Depositorium:

The Inn is owned by the famous Wizard “Marcelous the Masterful”, a very business minded individual and head of the Wizard’s Guild, The Magi of the Indicated, which hold regular council in the Inn. Marcelous leaves most of the day to day running’s of the Inn to his apprentices, which there are always at least four. Helga, his wife, has total control of the kitchen and offers a delicious meal for 5sp, her menu varies and always depends on what she feels like cooking that day. The only exception to the rule is on Holidays, the dinning hall always roasts Duck (the specialty of the house), served with all of the trimmings, and includes desert; A fabulous ice cream, which Marcelous himself makes. Needless to say, on all special occasions, the Inn is a very busy place and is quickly becoming world famous!

The Star Watcher’s Inn also offers the service of a Depositorium, consisting of lockers ranging in size that can be rented monthly to keep valuables safe and protected. (25GP for small storage lockers, to 400GP for vaults). Among the Depositorium’s clientele, is none other then the King himself! (Or whom ever rules the nation in your campaign world)

And that's only a taste of the goodies Ripper X has to offer this time.

Playing with Charisma

I mentioned in the comments on my post about the rogue class for my hack of Moldvay/Cook/LL that I was considering the gnome for a class with Charisma as a primary attribute. Here are the details for that:

Since Charisma is the prime requisite, gnomes get a bonus to earned XP with a Charisma score of 13 or more.

RESTRICTIONS: Gnomes use six-sided dice (d6) to determine their hit points. Gnomes can use any type of weapon or armour that has been cut down to their size. Thus, they cannot use two-handed swords, polearms, longbows, or pretty much any other weapon which bigger folk require two hands to wield. They may, however, use short bows and swords. Because of their tiny size, equipment that has been tailored to them costs 75% of the normal price. They must have a score of at least 9 in Dexterity and Charisma, and my not have a score higher than 15 in Strength. They may not advance past the 9th level of experience.

SPECIAL ABILITIES: Gnomes share the dwarves’ excellent savings throws. Because of their small size, their foes who are larger than man-sized suffer a -2 to hit them. Outdoors, gnomes are difficult to spot. If a gnome is hiding, searchers have only a 10% chance of detecting the gnome. If the gnome is not in a forest, but in some sort of cover, even if it’s only shadows, and is remaining absolutely quiet and still, searchers only spot the gnome on a roll of 1 or 2 on a d6.

Gnomes also have a powerful rapport with animals. When a gnome meets an animal who is healthy and normal, double the gnome’s normal Charisma-based bonuses when rolling the reaction adjustment. If the final roll plus adjusted Charisma bonus is 12 or more, the gnome has the option of adopting the animal as an animal companion. Animal companions should be treated just like henchmen in regards to the tasks they are willing to perform and their moral, and no gnome may have more henchmen and animal companions combined then their Charisma score allows for henchmen. The gnome is unable to speak with the animal, but they do share a rapport which allows the gnome to express basic desires to the animal, and vice-versa. For example, an animal companion might be able to express fear, or hunger, or affection for its gnome friend, but won’t be able to communicate that seven orcs were spotted down by the river.

This bond exists between gnomes and all normal animals, reptiles, and birds, including giant versions of normal animals. However, it does not extend to supernatural creatures, even those which are amalgamations of normal animals. Thus a gnome gets the reaction bonus when dealing with crocodiles, giant rats, horses, and sparrows, but not with basilisks, griffons, or pegasi.

Starting at 4th level, gnomes acquire spells from the magic-user/elf list as follows:






























Gnomes to-hit numbers mirror those of fighters.

Here’s the final experience chart:




Hit Dice


























































With rogues, I wanted them to start casting spells at 1st level so there were no questions of why they could suddenly start casting spells after the game started. I’m not worried about that with gnomes because gnomes are fey creatures; the ability to master magic is inherent in them, though like their cousins the elves they also need to use spellbooks and prep spells in advance. (I’m tempted to change that, but not so much that I’ve done anything about it at this stage.)

The other thing I like about this class is how it brings the henchman mechanic front-and-center. It’s an invitation to use those rules, even if you’ve ignored them in the past. On the other hand, it also doesn’t require you to use them for anyone else other than the gnome, and the gnome can quite happily fill out the henchman slots with just mounts and other animal friends who can take advantage of higher moral and a greater rapport with the gnome.

However, there’s a lot of overlap with the halfling. In spite of some really appealing Jeff Dee halfling art, halflings may end up a casualty of my hacking and wind up on the cutting-room floor.