Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rolling ability scores

James Maliszewski made a post about ability score generation. These days, I favor the 3d6-in-order method. You could give players the option of using an inverted bell curve to satisfy their inner min-maxer without out resorting to any sort of point-buys or dice swapping:
Dice Roll (3d6)Ability ScoreProbability

Friday, August 27, 2010

Two word NPC's

Telecanter solicited two word NPC's, so here's my list:
  1. charitable poacher
  2. professional bather
  3. narcoleptic tollkeeper
  4. cannibal crofter
  5. lovelorn bugbear
  6. muscular lacemaker
  7. gossipy limner
  8. daydreaming veterinarian
  9. myopic watchman
  10. cutpurse sawbones
  11. prophetic maidservant
  12. thrill-seeking copyist
  13. crippled stevedore
  14. obsessive-compulsive oil merchant
  15. palsied gemcutter
  16. pyromaniacal lampwright
  17. careless butcher
  18. deaf sperviter
  19. sweaty phrenologist
  20. prosaic dreamreader
  21. be-gilled oarsman
  22. impatient tallyman
  23. meticulous surveyor
  24. prudish midwife
  25. cursed barber
  26. wereboar swineherd
  27. troubled wellsinker
  28. decorous fence
  29. excitable philosophe
  30. delusional publican

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Trading on design

In a reply to my post from yesterday, Scott of Huge Ruined Pile (who himself recently penned something of an apologia for nostalgia) predicted a move to "more modern-looking" OSR products. There's good design and bad design. Good design is aesthetically appealing and functional. In the case of game covers, the function is to communicate the nature of the content. What is the game about? Is it the sort of thing I would like? Here are a couple of current Swords & Wizardry products: The design of both these products effectively communicates what they're about. They're fantasy adventure games, with an old-school flavor. I also find them aesthetically pleasing per se, apart from the nostalgia factor. The boxed set has a clean, balanced design which does its job even when considered in isolation from the 1974 box. Granted, most of the people buying these products are familiar with the earlier works they reference. But that's true of any package design. You sell an unfamiliar product by creating associations in the minds of consumers. Leaving aside whether they are good or bad design (relative to the S&W covers or on their own), what associations do these "modern" Frog God Games covers evoke? These covers capitalize on a design aesthetic that was popularized around 2001 with the boom of 3e products. No doubt the designs create the desired associations in their audience. My concern is that—however much we would like to see Swords & Wizardry realize the volume of sales 3e publishers saw—the design aesthetic of the Frog God Games products would less effectively communicate the appeal of S&W than the existing Mullen cover. If you think the Swords & Wizardry packaging is derivative (I don't—it's nostalgic but not derivative), is it better to jump from one derivative design to another derivative design of slightly more recent vintage? I don't ask that rhetorically. (In case you haven't seen it, the art for the new Swords & Wizardry cover is shown in my last post.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hmph: Frog God Swords & Wizardry

It's a good thing if an old-school game can get broader distribution with a new publisher. On the other hand, the Frog God press release seems a little tone deaf:
"We won't sell you hand drawn maps and clip art laid out by amateurs and posted up on Lulu.com as a cheap book that you look at and discard."
And speaking of tone, I've always felt that Peter Mullen's art strikes just the right note for any old-school gaming material. Frog God Game's new S&W cover—not so much: I mean, it's nice and all, but to me the new cover art says "d20-era Call of Cthulhu" not OD&D. UPDATE: Mythmere (Matthew J. Finch) comments on the "by amateurs and posted up on Lulu.com" statement.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Superstitious dungeoneers

There's a good post on Dungeons and Digressions about superstitious dungeoneers, which I'm linking to here so that I'll remember to use it later. These are my favorites: 8. A torch that touches the ground means someone will be injured or killed soon. 9. A bell heard underground is, well, not good. 10. At least one coin should always be left behind when treasure is recovered. 11. If you see a bat you should change your weapon. 22. If someone’s head gets chopped off near you, you should kick it far away lest you suffer the same fate. 25. Knock three times on a shield after discussing someone’s death. (I'm also a fan of the index card posts.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

B/X Companion initial impressions

The mailman delivered my B/X Companion a few minutes ago. The cover art by Brian DeClercq is beautiful. It has a nice old-school feel without being a slavish imitation of Erol Otus's B/X covers. The book is 64 pages in length, not counting the table of contents and index printed on the inside cover, and formatted in two columns. It's 8.5" x 11" saddle stitched, so it's slightly taller than the B/X books. The book covers levels 15-36. Of course, demi-human advancement is capped below those level, but the book includes material useful for all classes, such as information on domain rulership. As one might expect, the greatest number of pages are occupied by new spells, monsters, and magic items. There's also rules for siege combat, a new Bard class, and adventuring on other planes. I'll post more about the B/X Companion again after I've spent a couple of weeks with it, but the my initial impression is that it's a good buy. I'll leave you with this example to wet your appetite:
"Craft Device: this is the thief's ability to construct elaborate traps of mechanical nature. Cost and time to construct will need to be decided by the DM (similar to construction of magical devices). Thieves use these devices to protect their hideouts, though they may build them for others at a price. Failing the craft roll by more than 10% means the device was not constructed correctly, and all the time, money, and components are wasted. Failing the roll by 10% or less indicated the thief successfully created the device, but is himself the first victim of the device as he sets off the trap!"

Abilities for general task resolution (2/2)

Yesterday, I wrote about a mechanic I found in the Ready Ref Sheets for resolving extraordinary character actions. If, instead of using the uniform distribution of a d100, you use bell curve probabilities by adding d6's, you can tune the odds without resorting to +/- bonuses. Higher ability scores are relatively more helpful with this method, and you can use the mechanic to resolve both ordinary and extraordinary actions.
A fighter with a 15 strength want to roll back a large boulder. The referee decides that it's a quite difficult task, so the player must roll under his strength using 6d6. However, if the character spends a turn digging dirt from under one side of the boulder, the referee can let him roll 5d6 for his next attempt.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Abilities for general task resolution (1/2)

While thumbing through my Ready Ref Sheets, I noticed this mechanic for resolving extraordinary actions attempted by characters:
"At judge's option, a player may attempt a task, and be successful if he rolls the ability being tested as a percentage or less. For example, a Fighter with a Strength of 15 attempts to roll back a large boulder, rolling a 14% he would be successful."
This is a fun mechanic, because by changing the unit of dice from 3d6 to d100 it puts the difficulty of the task in perspective for the player. But there's an easy way for the referee to tune it according to the difficulty of the task without resorting to +/- percentage modifiers. I'll talk about that tomorrow.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

B/X Companion

JB of B/X Blackrazor finally has his B/X Companion for sale. My copy is in the mail.

Carcosa author reviews LotFP

Geoffrey McKinney, author of Carcosa, posted a review of Lamentations of the Flame Princess to the OD&D Discussion forum. He likes it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Which dialect of Common do your PC's speak?

There's an interesting post over at Language Log about linguistic diversity in pre-historic Europe, which could have significant implications for anyone running a game in a world without large, culturally homogenizing nation states.
"The basic fact of pre-state language distribution is that no single language can occupy, for more than a few centuries, an area too large for all its native speakers to communicate with each other regularly. The reasons for that are simple and obvious. All languages change, slowly but steadily, over time. Each change originates in a small part of the speaking population and spreads outward through the speech community. [...] Many changes either spread through the entire community over two or three generations or are suppressed by social “stigmatization”; some are accepted by some parts of the community but not by others, creating “dialect” differences within the broader speech community. But if parts of the speech community cease to communicate altogether, or communicate so rarely that they have no incentive to imitate each others’ speech, changes cannot spread from one to another; different changes will accumulate on either side of the linguistic barrier, and within a thousand years, at most, a single language will have become two or more. [...] Thus in pre-state communities every language spread automatically results in language fragmentation. Of course not all the fragments survive; pre-state language communities sometimes gradually abandon their native language and adopt the language of another community with which they are in intimate contact...."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wandering monsters: frequency and uniqueness

In the comments to a Grognardia post about wandering monsters, Wayne Rossi described his wandering monster method, which I thought interesting enough to repeat here. Create a custom wandering monster table for each area. Check for wandering monsters every turn (presumably with a 1 in 6 chance of encountering a wandering monster). If a monster is encountered and killed, cross it off your wandering monster table. If that number on the table is rerolled later, treat it as no wandering monster encountered. However, if a party flees from or otherwise fails to kill a monster, that particular monster is still wandering around the dungeon. It will remember the PC's if encountered later. The only downside I see with this method (and I'm not sure it's a problem) is that the probability of encountering a wandering monster would drop over time, as the table is depleted.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lamentations of the Flame Princess

I had pre-ordered Lamentations of the Flame Princess from Troll and Toad, and it arrived yesterday. It's a nice, hefty little box set. I'll post a review in the next few days.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Stack Overflow for RPG's

Stack Overflow is gauging interest in a dedicated RPG Q&A site/section. Whether they go ahead depends upon how many people commit to participating.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Traumatic Adolescent Background Generator

There's great stuff in Valley of Blue Snails' Traumatic Adolescent Background Generator, but for some reason I find this entry particularly amusing:
1 – Head stuck in a hole in ground for 1d8 days. Something licks your legs periodically during your entrapment.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hirelings: The Master Rigger

Wage: 200 gp per month (more away from the sea) Although it may seem like the rigger of a sailing ship would find little work in a dungeon, their mastery of selecting cables, ropes, pulleys, sheaves, and blocks appropriate for moving heavy loads and controlling sails has numerous applications underground. They can splice long lines, tie harnesses, and construct rope bridges over chasms. The high quality lines preferred by a master rigger will be more expensive than the 50' ropes normally carried by adventurers, and their volume of gear may require 2-3 additional porters. Men with the courage to climb through the rigging of a ship have the will (or recklessness) to follow adventurers into dungeons for the right pay, but they'll always have one ear to the call of the sea. A master rigger is unlikely for join a land-based party for long. Master riggers will only be found in towns with significant sea trade.
Job Cost Time
Splice two lengths of rope (no chance of slipping) Cost of ropes 1 turn
Create a safe humanoid climbing harness from rope 1 gp rope 1 turn
Create a carrying harness that allows several men to move heavy objects by combining their strength 2 gp per carrier 1.5 turns per carrier
Create a pulley system to safely shift a 1 ton load 10' 50 gp 2d4 hours
Build a 50' rope bridge 42 gp 2d4 days
Build a platform elevator atop a deep pit 45 gp + 3 gp per 50' deep 2d12+6 hours

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Excursions from the Megadungeon

Scott at Huge Ruined Pile posted about enjoying both megadungeons and small, detailed modules. I agree. I've started thinking about building my own megadungeon, and plan to include outside excursions for the sake of variety. These will mostly be optional side-quests, although a couple would be required to advance further into the megadungeon. The characters might need to recover an artifact from a remote site before they can open a door to the megadungeon's next level for example. The players get a change of pace, and the DM gets to indulge in building an intricate little adventure site.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sandbox Without A World Map

Over at B/X Blackrazor, in a post about silly hats*, JB wrote:
Commercializing Greyhawk may have been the biggest creative mis-steps Gygax made, assuming the world of Oerth grew OUT OF his original D&D campaign (similar to what Maliszewski has done with the world surrounding Dwimmermount). By codifying it and selling it he said: look this is what you do! Create a whole world with factions and nations and religions THEN try to figure out how "your heroes" fit in! [...] So much easier to create the world a piece at a time, as needed, as the weirdness allows.
I've been thinking about that problem lately: how to have a sandbox game while also letting the world grow organically. The way I imagine a sandbox game, the players point to a hex on a large-scale map, and that's where they go. The obvious way to combine that sandbox style with an only-design-what-you're-going-to-use-next-session game is to have a map with lots of empty space and vague descriptions. But that still entails having a predefined geography. I'd rather my players start the game uncertain of the scope of the world and their place in it. I came up with this type of compass chart as a solution: Players start the campaign knowing the relative distance and direction of some interesting destinations, but they'll have to explore and make their own maps. Such a framework allows the world to grow organically. Another option would be to give the players a world map which you stipulate is inaccurate in many particulars, because of the difficulties in a world where most people rarely travel between the "points of light" in a vast wilderness. * I strongly agree that unusual headgear is a necessary element of any game which hopes to capture that old-school Erol Otus vibe.