Great Khan Enthroned

Great Khan Enthroned

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

In Memoriam

Last Thursday my best friend Darryl's dad, Big Darryl, died. His death was not unexpected, but it still came as a blow to me. A week has passed and I still haven't figured out just what kind of tribute I want to write or how to write it, so bear with me, I may ramble some.

Big Darryl was a friend, a mentor, and a father figure to me which seems more important to me than just mentioning that he was a gamer. He was a gamer though, a wargamer first, an RPG gamer second. He was a smart guy, a trait he shared with his oldest son Darryl, and he was the first older smart guy I ever met that liked the same things I did. His son Darryl was, and is, my closest friend, which is how I met him when I was 13 or 14 years old. I spent about half of my weekends at his house through the entirety of my high school years, and we played a lot of games. Dawn Patrol, Speed Circuit, Star Fleet Battles and Axis & Allies were favorites there, possibly because they were more accessible to the other neighborhood kids that came over to hang out while we were there, although it's not like he ever coddled anyone when it came to gaming. Big Darryl's favorites were probably Wooden Ships & Iron Men and Flight Leader, I'd guess.

He had a lot of games. I thought it was normal for adults to have a small room dedicated to their hobby, my own dad does, he's a model railroader. He had tons of games we never actually got around to playing, some we only played once or twice, mostly wargames, but he had a pretty extensive RPG library too, pretty much everything ever printed for FASA Trek, but I don't remember ever getting past the character creation stage there. Multiple editions of Boot Hill, that I don't recall ever playing with him, the James Bond RPG, Star Frontiers, Top Secret. I guess it'd be easy to say he loved Science Fiction, he had a great library of Heinlein and Asimov and a bunch of other old school SF writers. He seemed to really love Star Trek, although he had occasional rants about the Next Generation.

He was a veteran of the US Air Force, he'd lied about his age, enlisted at 16 and was famously stationed in Morocco, where he apparently ate dog. He was a pretty damned good chess player. During the time I knew him, he worked as a manager for the service departments of several different automobile dealerships, an over-the-road truck driver and, lastly, a school bus driver for a head start program. He loved cars and airplanes, I went to more than one Warbirds show with him. He knew, with an encyclopedic knowledge, pretty much everything there was to know about any topic that caught his interest. When we played Dawn Patrol, he would tell us about various WWI aces, with Speed Circuit it would be Grand Prix drivers. He was a master strategist and an excellent tactician and he pulled no punches when he played against us boys, it made us better gamers. In his latter years, after we started gaming again in the months before my sister died, he took a little longer to play his turn, and he occasionally forgot some rule or other in a game we hadn't played in fifteen or twenty years. Darryl and I had gotten better, he had declined a little, it made for a more even game, but it was a little sad too. Back in his heyday he was a character too, his epic fits of temper when the dice screwed him over were a legend, one that created the warning for new players both to not be alarmed and by no means should they laugh. The man took games seriously.

He hated D&D, the way that only a true fan can hate. He worked for years on his own fantasy heart breaker RPG, an ill-conceived Frankenstein of a system that Darryl and I were occasionally forced to help Design, write, and playtest, with small success that would usually send him back to the drawing board and on another round of scrounging through the rulebooks to other RPGs for bits to cannibalize. He was a master of DYI and house-ruling, it took me decades to realize Dawn Patrol was actually a fairly simple, fast-paced game for instance, once you stripped away the accretions of his rules tinkering. The last game I played with him, I think, was the Legend of the Five Rings RPG (1st edition), it was fun- he embraced the unique setting and there weren't any of his anti-D&D tirades.

I hadn't seen him for a couple of years now, my own issues with depression and anxiety, particularly after the death of my sister, combined with the fact that he moved to Pennsylvania meant we fell out of contact again, which had happened before, more than once.

I miss him. I wish I'd taken Darryl up on his offer to go with him to visit his dad in PA at least once. I guess I just always figured we'd have the time to hang out at some point in the future.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Pair of Meditations on OD&D

I have been thinking a lot about the game, as it is played now, even by us OSR types, versus how it was played at the beginning. This led me down a couple of similar, related paths regarding the origin of the game and the expectations of it's players.

These days D&D, and RPGs in general, have evolved into two distinct categories. I do not claim that one style of play is superior to the other, I merely observe that there are two camps. They are not mutually exclusive of each other either, though groups tend to fall with a majority of players in one of the two camps and rules systems have developed to play to the advantages of both styles. I also do not claim that the camps are opposed to one another, they simply are.

The first category of RPG takes the RP part and expands upon it, to the near exclusivity of the other parts of the game, essentially making the experience a directed improvisational theater performance. Some D&D players do this, most everyone in the “Storyteller” type games is doing this. I have found this type of game to be generally too abstract and often too linear. I like to make the story for myself, reacting to the world around me, even as it reacts to my actions; I don't like to be locked into a pre-plotted narrative.

The second group embraces the G, and become somewhat gamist about it; meta-gaming and rules mastery are rewarded, most people playing 3.x D&D, Pathfinder, or 4th edition D&D seem to fall into this camp in my experience, which is, admittedly, small. Games that emphasize tactics and have detailed rules systems kind of encourage this, I found this style of play to be too simulationist for my tastes.

So I sat down and read a bunch of blogs about OSR gaming. I read through a couple of different iterations of the D&D rules from the early days, and their modern clones and variants. When I was done doing that I thought about it for a while.

On Player Characters-

D&D started out as a cooperative skirmish scale wargame. Players, at least beginning players, were encouraged to play only one “unit” in this game. One unit being a single individual, the character. Wargamers tend to begin to identify with certain units, or at least they think of certain units with regard for the memories of what those units have done in past games. When there is a campaign game, and units can gain experience, moving up from green, to veteran or even elite status, they care even more. Since early D&D, and presumably the “Braunstein” games that preceded it, adopted this experience system, and the players were identified solely with their single unit, those units developed a life and personality of their own. The game could be played with miniatures, and I am certain it was, in the beginning. That's how I played it when I started out. However, and this is important, it could also be played “theater of the mind” style, with out miniature figures, without a board or table. This opens up a lot of possibilities, you don't need as much space to play, and you don't need to have the “right” unit (miniatures wargamers tend to hate substituting in the “wrong” miniature), to name just two, off the top of my head.

My point here is that the single unit that you play in this cooperative skirmish game, becomes something you get attached to more and more over time, with repeated successes, or at least escaping death. Your character's stats may be written on a 3x5 card, but he ultimately becomes more than the card he's written on. He doesn't start that way though. Gygax is famously quoted as having said “Backstory is what happens in the first three levels”*. Generally as your character gets more experienced he starts to acquire retainers and hirelings, sub-characters whose job is to assist in the success of whatever “mission” the party is on and to help keep the primary character alive**. The player character becomes a “squad leader” as the game scales up, and it generally becomes expected that the trusted, experienced henchmen will become player characters in their own right over time, usually at the death or retirement of the primary PC; and all of this was necessary because PCs never reached the power levels that are common now.

I came to wargames and D&D at the same time- I played my first hex-and-counter wargame one week to the day before I played D&D for the first time. I had no preconceptions of how either type of game “should” be played, so I approached both of them from what my previous board game experiences had taught me, and, in the case of D&D, just what being a kid with a good imagination taught me. The lack of a board was slightly confounding, but I got that my single character was my “piece” or token for the game, and that, if I died, it was game over (a term I was just beginning to see in the nascent video game industry). The more difficult part to wrap my head around was the “play acting” part, that took time.

My original D&D crew also had to be slowly coaxed into having hirelings, and never really took to henchmen at all. I suppose AD&D taught us to regard them as experience point leeches. We did start to really give personality and individuality to our characters though, eventually, as they were played more and leveled up some. I guess we were more or less on point with regard to how the elders of the game had originally played there at least.

So, to sum it up. I think it's possible that we are placing too much emphasis on our player characters, making them too individual, with their own backstories and personalities too soon, jumping the gun trying to make all of our characters special snowflakes right out of the gate, where in the earliest days of the hobby that wasn't really a thing. Both schools of thought in modern gaming seem to have lost sight of what was just obvious in the beginning, for different reasons.

On Alignment-

My second thought was about alignment, which has been popping up here and there across a bunch of blogs, but I never would have understood in it's originally conceived form, if I had not thought about D&D as a wargame. Simply put, alignment has no real morality to it in it's original conception, it's just the faction or “team” your character plays for. Lawful versus Chaotic (Law vs. Chaos), with some neutral parties that could go either way, or they might form their own team and fight against both sides. This “which team does my unit belong to” alignment system makes a great deal of sense when coming at this from a wargaming point of view.

Admittedly, there was some moral component creeping in even at the start (or at least near the start).
This is the alignment chart from the Holmes Basic set, which I think we can all agree is closer to OD&D than it is to either AD&D or B/X.

The moral component, or Good-Evil Axis only really comes into it's own with AD&D, where each of the nine alignments in the spectrum have distinct definitions. Few aspects of the D&D game have brought about more rancor and disharmony than the expansion of the “team” alignment system into the “morality spectrum” alignment system, and we lose an important part of what alignment meant back at the beginning. Holmes Basic was my first D&D, followed quickly by the X half of B/X and AD&D, pretty much concurrent with each other, so my entire concept of alignment was the AD&D style, until now. Now I like the “team” alignment system present in OD&D, that apparently continued, with a slight hiccup in Holmes, through the entire TSR D&D line.

To conclude I want to state that I wasn't looking to declare any one play style superior to the others, but instead to discover for myself what we do differently than the creators of the hobby did. Going back and reading through OD&D, skimming through Chainmail, and reading through S&W White Box and Delving Deeper, but from a wargamers perspective was an interesting exercise. The expectation of what the play experience was going to be is somewhat different than it is now. Regardless of whether the game is more story oriented or more simulationist, new games spend a vast amount of time in character creation, which means that high mortality rates are extremely undesirable. Contrast this with the five or so minutes of character creation in OD&D and it's simulacra, and the concept that the character is just a playing piece and the high mortality rate is no big deal, but you really start to feel it when they have some time invested in them later on.

I don't think any of this is ground-breaking news, simply stuff that I was unaware of. I may be wrong about the whole thing, this is just what I got from trying to see things from a different perspective as I read through these early D&D books and their more recent restatements. I had a similar epiphany the last time I did this, after I had read a series of blog posts about the post-apocalyptic assumed setting of OD&D with regard to setting and encounter design, and embracing randomness.

* Or five maybe? It's possible he never said it at all, but that doesn't make it a bad sentiment.

** I suppose that makes Charisma seem less like a dump stat, it affects how many retainers you can have and whether or not they stick around; which is important in the “squad leader” phase of the game.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Wee Update

I started writing again, pretty regularly, after I had more or less decided to quit this and start another blog, at least for a few posts, then I went on a communications blackout again. This time it happened because I started writing a post about how using ideas that you think suck when you first have them, or actually using elements of a game that you personally dislike, can actually lead to some pretty cool stuff. I started writing about how I kind of hate Gnomes in AD&D, and then came up with a pretty cool Gnome-based idea for my new AD&D campaign. So I wasn't ready to share it just yet, and I kept on working on it. I also started running a new AD&D campaign, we're two sessions in now, and I keep getting lots of cool ideas that I want to work on, so I have been. Again, something I can't really share just yet. Additionally, the AD&D Oriental Adventures group I started on Facebook a few months back has started to take off a bit, so I have been spending a bit of time making sure I keep up with that, since it's my group, my responsibility. Then there have been a few KAG related things I've been doing some work on, and lastly, but not least, I have another idea for a new (A)D&D campaign that I have been thinking about some, so I am writing that stuff up in my “campaign ideas” document; which I started specifically to document any ideas I wanted to explore for use at a later date- either because I didn't have an active game going, or I was running something else but didn't want to lose a good idea. I've been looking at a lot of “gonzo” old school stuff lately, and it has inspired me. That and Whitestar.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Monks, Monasteries and AD&D

Monks, love them or hate them, are part of the AD&D landscape. They have been around since the early days of the original D&D game, from the Blackmoor supplement in 1975. Ever since then they have been crapping up D&D's (and AD&D's) pseudo-western European fantasy vibe. They yanked them from the D&D line with Holmes Basic (which was really basic) and they weren't in B/X, but they returned there, renamed the Mystic, with the Cyclopedia, maybe BECMI, I don't know, I only ever had the Companion set for that edition. 2nd edition AD&D dumped them, although it's possible they showed up in one of the eight million splatbooks. They definitely made a return as a core class in 3rd edition*, and were/are presumably in 4th and 5th editions**.

I work, mostly, with 1st edition AD&D, so eventually the subject of Monks always comes up. They make decent villains, as the Scarlet Brotherhood, in Greyhawk; and, as such, appear in several AD&D modules set there. Greyhawk is about as close as you really get to an official, core, 1st edition AD&D setting. It belonged to EGG, pretty much all of the published modules are set somewhere in the World of Greyhawk, pre-1985 anyway, and Greyhawk means acceptance of Monks. So does 1st edition AD&D, by the book.

We may not use every single rule when we play 1st edition AD&D, for instance we mostly ditch weapon vs. armor, but it's tough to justify getting rid of a class from the Players Handbook. Assassins are probably the only other class people ever try to ditch, and you have more justification for that- I often run with a “No Evil Aligned Characters” house rule to promote a more cooperative and heroic style of game. But with Monks, we're just kind of stuck with them***, if we're playing AD&D.

It's hard to remove that whole Shaolin Kung-Fu image from them, and that flies in the face of the rest of the AD&D aesthetic. They should be tonsured and live a simple, contemplative life, away from the concerns and squabbles of the secular world, devoted to their deity, in short, another brand of Cleric. I keep trying to find a way to make the Monk Class seem more like traditional European monks, to justify their existence in an otherwise largely Western European assumed setting. Maybe something like Friar Tuck? I know he's not a Monk, but a Friar, but in a pseudo-European context isn't that what adventuring Monk would be?

I don't really offer any solutions to the Monk problem, I just wanted to air my thoughts on the subject a bit. What does everyone else think? Are Monks fine in AD&D? Do they need some sort of reskinning for a more western medieval setting? Do we say to hell with verisimilitude and go with it anyway, because it is a FANTASY world first and foremost?

*which should have been either called 3rd edition AD&D, or like 5th or 6th edition D&D. Does Cyclopedia count as a different edition than BECMI? What about that black basic book from the 1990s?
**I actually own, and gave a read through of 5th edition, but I honestly can't recall if the Monk was present, and I am not interested enough to go look it up.

***Mostly, I have run a long standing game in a world without any Monks and never had anyone complain.  

Monday, August 31, 2015

RPG a day

Just to keep in practice, but I am doing them all at once, because I am a rebel-

Forthcoming game I am most looking forward to:
I can't really think of any game that isn't out yet, that I have heard of that I want- so I am going to say the print copies of White Star.

Kickstarted game I am most pleased I backed:
I don't actually do a lot of Kickstarters. I got burned by the Up Front Kickstarter, and my disposable income has dropped significantly since my wife was diagnosed with cancer. I am going to say anything from Kevin Crawford.

Favorite new game of the last 12 months:
James Spahn's White Star, hands down.

Most surprising game:
Again, White Star. I was surprised by how much I loved it, and by how inspired I was by it. I have a couple of different settings for it that I am tinkering with, nothing I can publish (copyrighted IP), and I may not end up ever playing in them (too little time, too few players), but I was still surprised at how much this game affected me.

Most recent RPG purchase:
The Spectre King for the Pendragon game.

Most recent RPG played:
Labyrinth Lord, before I moved. I had decided to run a session of Stonehell with the system it was statted for.

Favorite free RPG:
Delving Deeper- but this was a toss up between retroclones. OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry were all in the running too, and maybe on a different day one of them would have been picked, but today it's Delving Deeper.

Favorite appearance of RPGs in the media:
I can't really think of any, odd question, pass.

Favorite media you wish was an RPG:
Falling Skies?

Favorite RPG publisher:
TSR, they gave us D&D. But for extant companies, I am going to go with New Big Dragon Games.

Favorite RPG writer:
E. Gary Gygax, but for living authors I'll pick Richard Leblanc.

Favorite RPG illustration:
Tough call, too many to choose from, old TSR stuff, OSR stuff, other games and companies. I always was fond of Twilight 2000's photo realistic style. “A Paladin in Hell” is certainly evocative and inspirational, as is pretty much anything by Trampier or Otus- in different ways.

Favorite RPG podcast:
I really don't listen to podcasts with any regularity.

Favorite RPG accessory:
What popped immediately to mind was the Kara-Tur boxed set, but when I think about it, I haven't really used it all that much, I used the module OA1 “Swords of the Daimyo” way more. I haven't actually spent enough time using any new stuff to properly assess their utility, but I'd like to say the “d30 sandbox companion” or the “Wilderness Alphabet” .

Longest campaign played:
I'd have to say Tim McDougal's Specularum based 1st edition AD&D campaign from the 1980s was the longest running, and probably the most often played campaign I ever played in. I DMed a pretty long running campaign concurrent with that, mostly 1-on-1 with my next door neighbor Scott Whitmore, but Tim's played more often.

Longest game session played:
A 1-on-1 week long Oriental Adventures sandbox with my friend Darryl Cook when we were 18 I think. I think I was unemployed at the time and he had a week's paid vacation. We holed up in my bedroom at my parent's house and never stopped for more than about 3 hours time to nap, which we did maybe 7 or 8 times in 7 days. We ate at the game table, and only had 2 or 3 15 minute (at most) bathroom breaks. He played a Kensai and kept really good notes about the whole game, I had those notes for like a decade after that. I eventually lost them, probably in a move.

Favorite Fantasy RPG:
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 1st edition, pre-Unearthed Arcana (but including Oriental Adventures). Runners up- 2nd edition AD&D and B/X D&D.

Favorite SF RPG:
West End Games d6 Star Wars. Runners up- FASA's Star Trek, Twilight 2000 (1st edition) and Gamma World (early 1980's edition).

Favorite Supers RPG:
TSR's Marvel Super Heroes.

Favorite Horror RPG:
Vampire: The Masquerade. I lost OSR cred there, but I stand by it, as it brought way more people. especially women, to the hobby. I was in college when it hit and the RPG scene exploded.

Favorite RPG setting:
I am assuming published, so I am going to go with 43AD. I know it's a stand alone game, but it's really just a setting book for Zozer Game's d6 RPG system. Plus, since I worked on it, I am intimately familiar with it- a real bonus. Otherwise, probably a tie between B/X D&D's “The Known World” AKA “Mystara” and EGG's own “World of Greyhawk”.

Perfect gaming environment:
A large table with comfortable chairs, good lighting, a small side table for the GM. Temperature at a comfortable level (AC in summer, heat in winter- these have been an issue in the past), snacks & drinks easily accessible. Nearby bathroom facilities. Bookshelves stocked with RPGs and their accessories are a plus. No distractions nearby- TV, radio, computer, etc. Handicapped accessible would be nice too. Most places I have gamed have met most of these criteria, few meet all.

Favorite house rule:
I don't know if it's my favorite, but it certainly is the most widely utilized among gamers I have played with- the nearly universal natural 20 equals a double damage critical hit. How the critical hit is applied has some minor variation- I double the number of damage dice, then add any applicable bonuses (Strength, Magic), other people just roll the normal damage dice and then double it, some people double bonuses too. Runners up include the d30 rule and “Shields Shall Be Splintered”, but they are forgotten too often at the table, and the 4d6 drop the lowest die x7, drop the lowest total, arrange as desired stat rolling system.

Favorite revolutionary game mechanic:
a 3 way tie of good rules from the 3rd edition era- the 3 saving throw system, the critical threat-hit system, and ascending AC. I don't use them but I recognize their excellence.

Favorite inspiration for my game:
History, followed by literature from various historical periods(Norse Sagas, Chansons des Geste), followed by historical fiction (I am a big fan of Simon Scarrow's Macro & Cato series, Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome, and there are several series about vikings I like.), followed by myth, folklore and legend, then lastly fantasy and science fiction literature (I really liked Katherine Kerr's Deverry series, Dorothy Heydt's “A Point of Honor”, Deborah Turner Harris's “Caledon of the Mists” and it's sequels, of course Robert E. Howard's Conan and more). They are all pretty tightly tied together for me. I guess movies and TV are pretty inspirational to me too, HBO's Rome was excellent, History Channel's Vikings ranges from OK to good. Gaming fiction I find next to useless as inspiration, as it is usually pretty uninspired itself. GURPS has some excellent supplements- Vikings, Imperial Rome, Celtic Myth, Middle Ages. There are quite a few books on adventure design that are pretty good whether you use the tables or not- Wilderness and Dungeon Alphabets, Tome of Adventure Design, even TSR's DM's Cookbook.

Favorite idea for merging 2 games into 1:
There's a special hell in which I have served too much time. Genre mashing is sometimes OK, system mashing usually is not.

Favorite game I no longer play:
I could be a smart-ass and say AD&D, just because I haven't got a new game going since I moved, but I'll go with Pendragon instead. I haven't played that since the 1980's. Every now and again I buy new stuff for it, but I never play.

Favorite RPG website or blog:
Tough call, I read a lot of gaming blogs, OSR blogs mainly, and each of them I have a good reason for reading. Commentary, content, or news; they're all pretty important to me in their own ways.

Favorite RPG playing celebrity:
I haven't played with any of them, and I don't know any personally, but I guess I'd have to go with Vin Diesel. The man preaches the gospel of gaming.

Favorite non-RPG thing to come out of gaming:
My marriage. I met my wife because of gaming nearly 25 years ago, started dating roughly 22 years ago and we've been together ever since. Most of my oldest friends I met through gaming too, so here's a shout out to my buddy Darryl- we met at the junior high D&D club in the fall of 1981.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

1st edition AD&D

I don't think it's a secret that my favorite D&D is AD&D- 1st edition, from back in the days when you didn't need to quantify your edition. It seems to me that most OSR folk remember AD&D fondly but prefer OD&D or B/X. They certainly have encouraged me to give both of them a try, and, by and large, I have enjoyed it. AD&D is pretty much where the “power creep” between editions started, I get that, but I still can't think “Fighter” without thinking 1d10+CON bonus/level HP; decades of playing and DMing have drilled this into me. 1st and 2nd edition AD&D. There are, doubtless, other examples, that was just off the top of my head.

I just ordered a “new” 1st edition AD&D book from Lulu- “The Lost Handbook” a compilation of AD&D articles from “The Strategic Review” and “The Dragon”. “The Lost Handbook” is over 500 pages of “new” AD&D material, much of it new to me anyway, and for what isn't it saves me having to dig through my back issues of Dragon to find stuff, probably the best $14.28 I've spent in a long, long time.


I also just realized that I don't actually own a “complete” set of 1st edition AD&D hardcovers. I never owned, and only skimmed through my friend Darryl's, a copy of the “Manual of the Planes”, nor have I ever owned, or even skimmed through a copy of “Dragonlance Adventures”. I understand the latter, I always loathed Dragonlance; but the former was most likely an oversight or something. I was never really all that interested in planar adventures, and, as I recall, it seemed pretty technical. I guess I'll look for copies of both now though, just because I am a perfectionist when it comes to the completeness of my hoard.


That said, I own and have read through a few other AD&D books that I have had pretty minimal use for, “Greyhawk Adventures”, “Wilderness Survival Guide” and “Dungeoneers Survival Guide”. Each of them are of limited utility, in my opinion. I have seen partisans for the two survival guides, particularly the one I like the least, “Wilderness Survival Guide”, to each their own I guess. Maybe it's that I bought these books long after the 1st edition era, all within the last five or six years, so I don't have any fond nostalgia for them.

“Greyhawk Adventures” suffers from little to no use primarily because I don't run a Greyhawk campaign. I like the concept of 0-level characters, but I have never used the rules. I guess the new spells might be OK, again never used them. The Greyhawk deities were of no use to me by the time it was published.

That being said, I also have little use for, and general disdain for “Unearthed Arcana”. I am a bigger fan of “Unearthed Arcana” than the aforementioned tomes, just because it has some redeeming qualities- new spells and items, demi-human deities although I don't think I have ever seen them in play. I don't totally hate the concept of Hierophant Druids, although I've never seen them in play. I think we can all agree that Cavaliers and Barbarians are an abomination. I am, in theory, favor of Weapon Specialization for single classed Fighters, but I have seen that some OSR people hate it. I can honestly say I rarely use(d) any of this book, probably because I didn't actually own it until, roughly, the 2nd edition era. My friends Darryl and Lance each owned a copy, which I could borrow from either one of them whenever I wanted, so I just put off buying a copy. I did think it was curious that it was given the Premium Edition reprint treatment, if I'd been WotC I'd've likely just reprinted the core three books.

“Oriental Adventures” is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of a book. I love it, warts and all, but I can see why a lot of people don't. This was the only AD&D book I pre-ordered at my FLGS (at least as local as it got for a country boy like me)- the late and much lamented “Twilight Book and Game Emporium” in Syracuse, New York. The rose-colored glasses of nostalgia are in full effect for me, OA rejuvenated waning interest in AD&D, and RPGs in general, for my group back in '85. I have heavily modified the character classes and the non-weapon proficiency sub-system for play over the years, but I still love it and I think OA1 “Swords of the Daimyo” is maybe the best sandbox ever released by TSR.


Aside from OA, I was always pretty much a “core books” kind of a guy, “Monster Manual”, “Players Handbook” and “Dungeon Masters Guide”, sometimes with “Deities & Demigods” added for when religion entered the game in anything other than it's “Yeah, my Cleric has a Deity” kind of a way. “Fiend Folio” and “Monster Manual II” were kind of under utilized too I guess. This probably stems from my introduction to (A)D&D- Holmes Basic→AD&D and the X half of B/X concurrently, and all of them within no more then eighteen months of each other, as I was learning the game. I played D&D for the first time in early 1981 (I just checked, it was the week after I saw the movie “Excalibur” in the theater, which was right after it came out). I distinctly remember “Fiend Folio” being the new book. “Monster Manual II” came out around the same time as “Unearthed Arcana” and “Oriental Adventures” in 1985, so I really remember those being new books, and, while new books had their novelty value, most of us in my neck of the woods stuck to the tried and true- MM, PH & DMG.

I have to wonder what my experience would have been if I'd found that boxed set a year or two earlier, or been introduced to D&D via B/X. I remember finding a book store, after I'd discovered (Holmes Basic) D&D and already moved on to AD&D, where I spotted the original D&D books. It was in a mall we never went to, I tried to hunt down my mom and dad to get them to buy them for me- but when I found them they decided it was time to go. I never saw any of those OD&D books again until I spotted them on the internet. After I moved on to AD&D and realized there was a distinction at all, I had nothing but disdain for Basic. I never owned a Moldvay Basic set until I started reading about how great it was on OSR blogs and grabbed on off Ebay, despite the fact that I freely used my Cook/Marsh Expert set all the time, at least until 2nd edition AD&D came out. The only Mentzer set I bought was the Companion set, and only because it had the War Machine rules that were hyped in Dragon at the time.

Now that I look back on it, that was kind of odd behavior for me. I bought pretty much every TSR boxed set I could afford, when I could find them- “Boot Hill”, “Dawn Patrol”, “Marvel Super Heroes” and their minigames too. I was an early to mid 1980's TSR fanboy, except when my AD&D snobbery kept me from buying into the D&D product line (for the most part, I did pick up a lot of D&D stuff when Kaybee Toys periodically purged the D&D stuff from their shelves, since it was so cheap and compatible with AD&D).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

OK, maybe it wasn't the last blog post.

I have a couple of different campaign worlds I am working on right now. One of them is my 30+ year old world that I have worked on and run games in since I was in junior high- my Garnia campaign. I have worked on it with my BFF Darryl since the early 1980s. We have both run games there. We have both contributed significantly to the canon. Originally I was the idea guy and he was the cartographer, but that fell by the wayside almost immediately when I outsourced several lengthy eras of history to him so we could have back story; which, as I recall, was a bit of advice from an old article in The Dragon. We're older and better at writing now, both of us have taken a lot of college level history. I was a history major with a minor in medieval and renaissance studies. I forget what he did as an undergrad, but I know he was working on a masters in US history at one point. So I have tons of material, mostly in my brain, but a lot of it written out, that I could share. Garnia started out as a pretty generic D&D (AD&D) world, and it still is, but it has a lot of historical baggage added on too. So it makes me feel a little constrained when it comes to creating for it, and I am not sure that a lot of it would translate well to other campaign settings, as it is a heavily Celtic influence world (with a few other cultures thrown in around the world for diversity).

Then I have my new “Shattered Empire” setting that I started writing last December or maybe January. I started writing that world as a more D&D-ish setting for my (then) new Swords & Wizardry campaign. The campaign kind of went on hiatus while my wife was in the hospital and getting radiation, then we moved across the state, so I don't actually have a play group anymore. But I kept right on writing stuff up for it, I was inspired and it's all new and shiny to me. I started writing it up for Swords & Wizardry Complete, used Delving Deeper as another sourcebook for inspiration and played one session of Labyrinth Lord there, so I am pretty sure it works for any OSR game, or the original D&D (or AD&D) game. This was the elevator pitch emailed to my players-

My primary working thesis is that I want this to feel like 1970’s D&D, something I was only there for the tail end of. So I jumped in and did some research on 0e and it’s retroclones Swords & Wizardry and Delving Deeper.

What I came out of that with was that 0e was just as much about science fantasy as it was about swords and sorcery, there are Androids, Cyborgs and Robots on the monster lists. Gygax, Arneson and crew didn’t limit themselves to just standard fantasy fare. “Expedition to the Barrier Peaks” was not a fluke, it was fairly standard for the game at the time. So too was the almost forgotten art of the (mostly randomly designed) mega-dungeon.

There is a strong “Arthurian” vibe to the overland encounters. Randomly you will almost certainly be challenged to a joust by some knight or other noble, just to prove yourself. There is an entire separate rules section covering jousting, something pretty much lacking from later editions.
Robert E. Howard’s “Conan the Barbarian” was a much larger influence than Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”; all Gygax seems to have lifted from Tolkien’s work were the Hobbits, Ring-Wraiths and Ents. Honestly, pulp fantasy and sci-fi elements are practically exuded from the games metaphorical pores.
Early D&D was set in a post-apocalyptic world, not necessarily post-nuclear holocaust (although it could be), but like a fantasy version of Europe in the period immediately after the fall of the Western Roman empire.

In retrospect, my own style of DMing tends to amplify the weird, post-apocalyptic tone of early D&D.
So I started working on a campaign world that would reflect these ideas and I first came up with the city of Dusk, then Helltown. Here, in this setting, you will find Sir Thomas Mallory, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, an abundance of pulp era science fiction and a curious bit of actual history. Feudal lords and noble knights abound in the rural areas, evil priests and sorcerers scheme everywhere, the cities are invariably decadent and corrupt, noble savages batter the ramparts of civilization, but so too do armies of Undead, and the lands between the civilized areas are untamed, howling, primeval wilderness filled with nature spirits, savages, monstrous creatures and demonic hordes. “

Would you play a game in this setting?

Anyway, it's been a lot of fun to write stuff for, and I think that stuff I wrote for this setting would need not too much tweaking to fit most people's campaigns. So the only thing stopping me from starting my new blog now is lack of a cool name. I am wracking my brain to find something that says something that reflect both my personality and the flavor I am going for. No more ramblings; concise, content oriented, OSR.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Final Blog Post?

I have finally entered the end stages of moving to my new home in Waverly, NY. This has been a long and somewhat tiring process that involved staying for nearly a month at my in-law's house while we waited for our new house to open up, followed by 2 trips back to Oswego county to get our stuff from storage. We still have some stuff up there at the property we own, but it's all stuff I can wait another couple of weeks or so to get. The important stuff is here, and we're slowly unpacking it and setting things up properly.

I haven't had any of my gaming stuff until now, nor have I had my computer set up until recently, so I haven't worked on anything game related (or played any games) for some time. I have been kind of itching to write something, right before I moved I banged out a bunch of character classes for Samurai! (my AD&D OA homage).

I have also been thinking about retiring this blog and starting another, more focused blog. I have a couple of reasons for this- 1st, this blog hasn't seen a lot of action for a few years, since my sister died and I'd hate to have it just be me coming back every 6 months or so to try and restart it. 2Nd, I am at a different place in my life now than I was when I was writing this blog. I had 3 kids at home, a semi-regular gaming group of fairly consistent regular players and I'd been living in the same area for the better part of my life. I was still kind of active as an SCA heavy fighter. Now I have 1 kid at home full-time, and she's going to start college next year. I don't have any gaming buddies within easy driving distance, and I really only know my wife's family here (and not all of them- I discovered that my mail carrier is my wife's uncle, her father's younger brother, today when he dropped off a package). I am much more focused on creating gaming content than I was before, most of my old blog posts are reminiscing about the good old days, seeing what cool stuff I got in the mail and after game reports.

I am thinking about having a new blog that is really heavy on the game content, stuff you can take and drop into an existing campaign for the most part- magic items, encounters, NPCs, locations, etc. I have a lot more experience writing now than I did then and my lovely wife Mona is on-board to illustrate anything I write up. I might start a 1-page zine like Christian even, although I haven't decided yet. I mostly want to get some content flowing through my blog so I can try new stuff out before I polish it up for release through Great Khan Games on DrivethruRPG/RPGNow. I also have some new campaign ideas I'd like to present for people to use since it doesn't look terribly likely that I'll be DMing anytime soon. I hate to see good ideas go to waste.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Today's Sohei


Sohei are warrior monks who often serve as soldiers and guards for large monasteries. Sohei are less mystically inclined than Shugenja, but make up for it by being more martial by far. Sohei may wear any armor and use any weapons. A Sohei must have Strength and Wisdom scores in excess of 13. A Sohei must be Lawfully aligned. A Sohei receives bonus spells for high Wisdom as if he were a Shugenja.

Experience Points                            Experience Level                      Hit Dice
0-2000                                                            1                                    1d8
2001-4000                                                      2                                    2d8
4001-7000                                                      3                                    3d8
7001-13000                                                    4                                    4d8
13001-24000                                                  5                                    5d8
24001-48000                                                  6                                    6d8
48001-85000                                                  7                                    7d8
85001-150000                                                8                                    8d8
150001-350000                                              9                                    9d8
350001+                                                        10                                   10d8

Sohei Spells by Level-
Sohei Level                                               Spell Level
                                                                   1 2 3 4 5
1st                                                                                    - - - - -
2nd                                                              1 - - - -
3rd                                                               2 - - - -
4th                                                                                    2 1 - - -
5th                                                               3 2 - - -
6th                                                                                    3 2 1 - -
7th                                                               4 2 2 - -
8th                                                               4 3 2 1 -
9th                                                                                    4 3 3 2 -
10th                                                             5 3 3 2 1

Sohei abilities-
At 1st level a Sohei may designate a “chosen” weapon, with which he will receive both a +1 to hit and a +1 to Damage when using this weapon. Starting at 2nd level a Sohei may meditate, entering a state of deep concentration in which he refocuses and regains his energies. 1 hour of meditation is as restful as 2 hours of sleep, and as such a Sohei may go without sleep for as many days as he has levels, provided he has the opportunity to meditate for at least 4 hours per day. While meditating a Sohei is oblivious to all but the most extremes of heat and cold, hunger and thirst do not affect him. He is, however fully aware of his surroundings, and thus suffers penalties to neither surprise or initiative rolls. Starting at 3rd level a Sohei, through his religious training, practice and meditation, may once per day, for a period of 1 turn (10 combat rounds), enter a combat frenzy. During this frenzied state the Sohei adds +1 to his initiative rolls, +1 to his AC, gains 1 extra attack per round, increases his movement rate by 3”/round, gains an additional +1 to his attack, Damage and saving throw rolls. Additionally the Sohei can dodge or deflect missile weapons on a successful Reflex save. Starting at level 5 a Sohei can fight on well past normal human endurance- beyond the 0 hit point threshold fighting into the negatives until he reaches either a negative hit point total exceeding his Constitution score or -10, whichever is greater, for as long as there are enemies present to fight. Note that this may well cause a Sohei to die as he strikes the killing blow on his last adversary. Starting at 6th level a Sohei receives a commission from his monastery to command a detachment of from 10-30 novice Sohei (Level 1). They are his to command and train to further the political and religious ends of his monastic superiors. Casualties among them will be replaced over time, unless the entire detachment is lost, in which case the monastery will have lost faith in the PC Sohei's ability to command and/or train troops properly. Every level after 6th (7-10) the Sohei will receive 1d10 more novice Sohei. These Sohei are considered followers for all purposes, and are fanatically loyal troops.

Sohei have certain religious restrictions they must adhere to; they are forbidden to eat meat, or indulge in excesses of certain behaviors, such as drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, gambling, etc. The exact details of each Sohei's religious restrictions will be determined by the DM.

Sohei may come from any social class/caste but are not required to roll on the Family, Ancestry or Birth Right tables, in fact it is very common for Sohei to forsake their familial connections in favor of devotion to their monasteries. Sohei do track honor normally though, as their behavior is a reflection upon their monastery.

As a design note, I am deliberately limiting all of the classes in Samurai! (my OA simulacra) to level 10. I am also deliberately leaving the higher level/Domain game aspect out of my player supplement and saving it for my DM's supplement. I am consciously starting the “Domain” game on a smaller scale at the middle levels, and scaling it upwards to it's best (most prestigious) point at level 9. I have also decided to just max all of the classes out at 10d(Hit Die Type) instead of 9dx+? Depending on class. While I am using the 1st edition AD&D Oriental Adventures book as my primary inspiration, I am not slavishly adhering to it. I am producing these classes currently to be “more” compatible with AD&D/OSRIC, but I am trying out some new, original stuff here at home and in my notes waiting for some testing. For instance I have added a skill system based on the roll of 2d6+skill# vs. target difficulty, but it's not ready for prime time yet. I also have replaced the original, somewhat odd Birth Rank table with a straight 3d6 roll which indicates your family's general wealth and position in this somewhat Confucian Caste oriented society. This also is still being tinkered with, mostly with regard to how it affects starting equipment and money.

As I noted in my last blog post, I am also in the middle of moving, so I am trying to type some of this stuff up from handwritten notes, and stuff that never even made it to the paper from my head, so I don't lose or forget anything. I lost the several years worth OA stuff I had completed earlier this year when I accidentally overwrote (formatted) my hard drive and had not bothered to keep too many (or any current) back-ups. This doesn't bother me as much as I'd've thought just because it let me take a new look at things, and decide to make some different design decisions with the rewrite.