Monday, May 28, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Decalcomania Carcosa

A recent odd74 thread pointed to La Planète Sauvage as inspiration for Carcosa. That reminded me of a page I recently stumbled across about Max Ernst and decalcomania. Decalcomania would be a great technique for Carcosa art.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A cursory review of Dungeon Crawl Classics

The first thing I notice upon unpacking DCC is that the book is huge and heavy—almost 500 pages of thicker-than-average paper. The second thing I notice is the extraordinary quantity and high quality of old-school art. You've probably already heard that many of your favorite old (Jeff Dee, Russ Nicholson, Erol Otus, Jim Roslof) and new (Stefan Poag, Peter Mullen) old-school artists produced illustrations for DCC, but it still takes one by surprise to find large illustrations on at least every other page.

I haven't mastered the DCC rules yet, but I see a lot I like.

The character funnel, where each player starts with several zero-level characters and sees which one survives, is something I'd like to try at the start of a campaign. I'm not sure how often I would use it for the same group of players, but the funnel is robust enough to be more than a gimmick.

The spell system is different than the one in D&D. When I hear about new magic systems, I always remember and repurpose that Churchill quotation about democracy: D&D Vancian magic is the worst magic system except for all those other magic systems that have been tried from time to time. That said, DCC's magic looks like a lot of fun, and the increased magical unpredictability fits the tone of the game well.

DCC is light on stock monsters (though not so light as Lamentations of the Flame Princess). The monster section begins with advice to the referee about customizing and creating monsters. This is only one of a number of design decisions that show DCC is intended for the kind of gamers who already have a few twenty-year-old monster collections on their shelves.

And even though I'm hardly an RPG newbie, I'm not sure I'll jump into DCC as a referee. Unlike a lot of gaming material I buy only to read, I would actually like to play DCC at some point. Unfortunately, I won't have enough time in the foreseeable future to learn the game well enough to run it myself. That, I suspect, will be the pinch for DCC: the audience is experienced gamers who have enough time to learn a new system and the inclination to do so.

It would be very cool if Goodman Games themselves or enthusiasts they recruit ran regularly scheduled games at cons and online for people looking to get a feel for the game in action.

I have one or two nitpicks with the book (the line art should probably have been reproduced at 1-bit color depth to avoid "fuzziness", it's Edgar Rice Burroughs not Edward, and where the hell is C.A. Smith?), but none that seriously affects my enjoyment of the book or its utility.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

Heraldry and bogus heraldry

The International Heraldry & Heralds site is pretty interesting, particularly the bit at the end of the page about identifying bogus heraldry. Also the bit about abatements of dishonour.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Murder in Tibet’s High Places

The Smithsonian Past Imperfect history blog is always interesting. A few weeks ago it posted a story about Tibet's Potala Palace, which included this:

The palace itself made an evocative setting for a murder mystery. To begin with, it was ancient; construction on the site had begun as early as 647[....] The structure that we know today mostly dates to a thousand years later, but the Potala belongs to no one period, and the complex was still being expanded in the 1930s. It’s really two palaces: the White, which was the seat of government until 1950, and the Red, which houses the stupas—tombs—of eight Dalai Lamas. Between them, the two buildings contain a thousand rooms, 200,000 statues and endless labyrinthine corridors, enough to conceal whole armies of assassins. Only a few of the Potala’s many chambers, the first Westerners to gain access to the complex learned, were decorated, properly lit [...] illuminated solely by smoldering yak butter.

Add a few Mi-Go and abominable snowmen, and you've got a nice little setting. You can even use the AD&D monk class without too much compunction.

Friday, May 4, 2012

When 1 GP does not equal 1 XP

From the OD&D FAQ in Strategic Review #2:

Valuable metals and stones, however, are awarded experience points on a 1 gold piece to 1 experience point ratio, adjusted for circumstances—as explained in D & D, a 10th level fighter cannot roust a bunch of kobolds and expect to gain anything but about 1/10th experience unless the number of the kobolds and the circumstances of the combat were such as to seriously challenge the fighter and actually jeopardize his life.

It was always clear that experience awarded for defeating monsters should be adjusted downward for monsters significantly weaker than the player characters, but this seems to suggest that the experience for treasure should likewise be reduced for treasure acquired too easily. Page 85 of the DMG seems to suggest the same:

Convert all metal and gems and jewelry to a total value in gold pieces. If the relative value of the monster(s) or guardian device fought equals or exceeds that of the party which took the treasure, experience is awarded on a 1 for 1 basis. If the guardian(s) was relatively weaker, award experience on a 5 g.p. to 4 x.p., 2 to 2, 2 to 1, 3 to 1, or even 4 or more to 1 basis according to the relative strengths.

Adjusting the XP for treasure ratio does not appear in Holmes or Moldvay, nor in Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, or OSRIC.

It seems a little fiddly to use, but I'm still surprised I never noticed this before.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Champions of ZED Kickstarter!

D.H. Boggs of Hidden in Shadows opened a Kickstarter for Champions of ZED:

Champions of ZED is the first and only complete edition of the world’s first fantasy RolePlaying game! Champions of ZED weaves together the scattered ideas and intentions of authors Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, including revisions drawn from Dave Arneson’s lost manuscript. [...] The overriding goal in preparing Champions of ZED has been to harmonize the creative genius of these two men, minimize the input of others, and reset to zero the world's greatest fantasy game, as only an inquisitive and careful editor can.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Annotated OD&D

Continuing my annotation of the OD&D booklets (previously), I've accumulated these notes on the Forward of Men & Magic. As always, I'd appreciate your corrections and additions.

  • The OED dates the stock phrase “once upon a time” to 1385 or earlier. By the time of the first English translations of Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen, “once upon a time” acted as a clear signpost to establish a story as fantasy or fairy tale.
  • Gygax started the Castle & Crusade Society in 1968, as a local chapter of the International Federation of Wargaming. Rob Kuntz and Dave Arneson joined.
  • The Great Kingdom eventually evolved into Greyhawk.
  • The C&CS newsletter Domesday Book published the first account of Arneson’s Blackmoor in July of 1972 (issue 13).
  • Greg Scott played in Arneson’s 1969–70 Napoleonic campaign. Allegedly, unhappy with the switch from Napoleonic to fantasy gaming, Scott played a nasty and expensive prank on Arneson. In retaliation, Arneson immortalized Scott as the “Egg of Coot”, a reviled villain in Blackmoor. Some have erroneously speculated that the Egg was a gibe at Ernest Gary Gygax. The Egg of Coot was first mentioned in the Domesday newsletter in 1972.
  • Gygax remembers that “...as the members began to get tired of medieval games, and I wasn’t, I decided to add fantasy elements to the mix, such as a dragon that had a fire-breath weapon, a hero that was worth four normal warriors, a wizard who could cast fireballs, [which had] the range and hit diameter of a large catapult, and lightning bolts, [which had] the range and hit area of a cannon, and so forth.”
  • Between 1912 and 1948, Edgar Rice Burroughs, best remembered as the creator of Tarzan, wrote nearly a dozen planetary romances featuring the adventures of American Civil War veteran John Carter on a fictive planet Mars.
  • Robert E. Howard published seventeen Conan stories in the pulp magazine Weird Tales from 1932 to 1936, and is widely credited as the father of the swords & sorcery genre.
  • L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt collaborated on a series of stories between 1940 and 1954, in which psychologist Harold Shea journeys to a parallel world where magic works and earth’s myths and legends really exist. The tales of de Camp and Pratt are less well regarded today than the others Gygax cites.
  • Fritz Leiber published numerous tales of the thief Gray Mouser and the northern barbarian Fafhrd between 1939 and 1991. Leiber coined the term “swords & sorcery”.
  • Gygax and Donald R. Kaye founded TSR, Inc. in 1973. Kaye created Murlynd, one of the first characters to delve in Gygax’s Castle Greyhawk campaign. Soon after founding TSR, Kaye and Gygax brought in Brian Blume as a third partner. Kaye unexpectedly died of a heart attack in 1975. Following Kaye’s death, Melvin Blume, Brian’s father, bought Kaye’s share of the company. TSR, Inc. was re-formed as TSR Hobbies.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

OD&D monster saving throws

This is from the FAQ in the second issue of the Strategic Review:

Saving throws for monsters are the same as for the appropriate type and level of man, i.e. a balrog would gain the saving throw of either a 10th level fighter or a 12th level magic-user (the latter based upon the balrog's magic resistance), whichever score is the more favorable for the balrog.

I've always assumed monsters of a primarily magical nature save only on the magic-user table, but it looks like they should get to use whichever save is better in the circumstances.