Mongol Home

Mongol Home

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Contest ends

The Celtic themed short adventure contest ends, not with a bang, but a whimper. I got a single entry for it was all, despite the many questions I was asked.

No worries, we can do another sometime when things are more settled.

I have had a lot going on during this quarantine, I lead a great Klingon house now (Kurkura, the line started by late KAG founder John Halvorson [Thought Admiral Kris epetai-Kurkura], and thus the oldest line in Klingon fandom), I started a classic Battlestar Galactica costumed fan club (currently on Facebook and Discord), and I have watched a lot of TV.

I am currently watching season 2 of Netflix' Korean zombie show “The Kingdom”, which of course makes me want to play some AD&D Oriental Adventures. It's a seriously cool show, best zombie thing I have seen since the early seasons of “The Walking Dead”. I put it off for a long time because I hate to watch things subtitled, they require my full attention, so I can't multi-task. Now I have the time, and I am glad I started it.

My late sister's birthday was yesterday, so I thought quite a bit about her. Today is my mother-in-law's birthday, we haven't spoken a lot since Mona died, but I sent her a birthday greeting, and got a response; so that got me thinking about Mona again. Truly, she's never far from my thoughts, my house is full of reminders of our life together, but this was in a more active way.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The State of The Great Khan Today

I am not going to lie, this has been an odd month. I started the month on fire with a renewed zeal for blogging, gaming and all the historical themes for old school D&D that I love. We entered our quarantine, which has sucked. I had a couple of recent deaths hit close to home, one was a kid that grew up in my tiny neighborhood, younger than me. The other a friend, and something of a mentor, older than me, but not what I'd call old. I am a little amused that my definition of “old” keeps changing as I age. In July I'll be 51, when I was a teenager 30 was old, now it seems like you need to be maybe 80, at a minimum, to qualify.

I am sliding into depression. I have had a tendency towards depression as long as I can remember. I am a Gen-Xer, so we're a little more open about talking about this sort of thing than say, the Greatest Generation, but not really much; Millennials and Zoomers are a lot more keen to share what we'd consider weaknesses. I take a little comfort in knowing that I am not alone, and it has touched the lives of great men like Winston Churchill (not really an opening for a debate on Churchill, he was a complex individual and a product of the British empire at it's height).

The short adventure design contest. There are six days left in the contest, and I assumed a general quarantine worldwide would make it a wee bit more popular. Maybe it's because I never announced prizes? Maybe because I failed to get sponsors like in contests past? I have received a single completed adventure and perhaps a dozen or so inquiries about the parameters of the contest itself. Several people have stated that they'd love to enter, “if they have the time”. I could extend the deadline, I could cancel right now, but I don't think either would help. I've extended the length of a contest in the past to allow more time for entries, and it didn't really work. Canceling seems like admitting failure.

The Klingon Assault Group, a Klingon centered costumed Star Trek fan club I have talked about before here on the blog, lost it's founder, John Halvorson (AKA Kris epetai-Kurkura) on March 26th. He was also the founder of House Kurkura, of which I was a member. He was the friend and mentor I mentioned above, and the reason I had the KAG logo with the black line through it as my Facebook profile picture. Last Saturday I was selected from among the Kurkura to lead the House, the oldest in KAG. This has drawn a good deal of my attention for the last couple of weeks away from gaming and any other pursuits. I pray I am up to the task of leading them, and that I might honor John's legacy in doing so. He was a lion of a man, may he rest in peace.

As far as gaming goes, I am having a hard time moving online. My internet connection gets really spotty pretty much every evening, I am having trouble keeping Roll20 and Discord working at all. I am also having focus issues with running things on Roll20, and I pretty much hate using the maps there. I have tried playing in a couple of games since the pandemic started, to get my sea legs back, as it were; but the quality of my internet connection has prevented me from really participating. I cannot wait to get back to face-to-face gaming, and I really hope my group sticks together after this is over.

My overwhelming feeling about setting things up on Roll20 is that, if I am going to go to this much effort to set up the maps, why wouldn't I just make it a Neverwinter Nights module? I ran the Norseworld server for like 18 months before catastrophe struck there. I spent days creating new areas while the kids were in school and Mona was out of the house, the kids would playtest/stress test new stuff when it was ready, and when te bugs were worked out I'd add it to the server. The added bonus was everyone got to play there. I could run as DM or play a character. I didn't hate that.

Not seeing people has made me start to miss people I haven't seen for years along with the ones I still see regularly, old friends I fell out of contact with for one reason or another, people I used to game with especially.

Possibly related is that I have sought out the things I used to love, comfort TV and books, to pass my time. I am currently running through the classic 1978 Battlestar Galactica as my obsession du jour. I was pretty deep into it's fandom back in the 1990's. I wonder why it never got the cosplay fandom that Star Wars and Star Trek both got? I remember as a kid I thought those BSG uniforms were the coolest, and I really wanted to order the Colonial Warrior jacket out of Starlog when I spotted it.

No hate for the new Galactica, if that's your jam, mine will always be the original though. Man I loved that show! BSG taught us how to swear without swearing, with words like “Frak” and “Felgercarb”, which was useful when I was 9 years old. I built those models as a kid, and I was terrible at building models. I owned the Viper toy, and it fired it's missiles. I remember BSG being as big as Star Wars had been the year before, maybe bigger, because it was on every week with new episodes.

Let's not forget the absolutely epic score either -

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Contest Update for April 1st

We have 15 days left to this contest. The Celtic theme, which seemed so popular in the poll, has apparently stymied the creativity of many of you, so I have loosened the restrictions and opened the contest up for any short, TSR era D&D edition Compatible adventures. Now adherence to the Celtic theme will grant bonus points for an entry, but is not required.

I am a little concerned that I have only received one entry thus far, but since there have been a myriad of questions concerning the contest, I remain hopeful that we will meet some minimum threshold for this to be considered an actual contest.

I have been told that we should avoid sending out physical prizes as long as the plague still stalks the land, so I will instead give DrivethruRPG gift certificates. I am thinking the prizes will be proportional to the number of entries received, the more entries, the greater the value of the prizes, and the number of prizes as well.

I don't think it makes sense to give more than a single prize for fewer than ten entries, and I don't think a single entry even constitutes an actual contest. So I am thinking a single small prize when we reach five contest entries.

I have heard from a few of you out there that you would write something for this contest, but you've never written an adventure before, or you've never written anything for other people to read. My advice is be bold, everyone starts somewhere, and most of us have this kind of anxiety over whether or not it's going to be “good enough”. The worst thing that happens is you fail, however you define failure, and failure is a great teacher.

Anyway, good luck, and I hope that you all receive some inspiration to write and adventure for the contest.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Just write Something

unrelated Erol Otus art

You know what? This corona virus related out of work time is pretty stressful, so I am going to open the contest up to any adventure, and just give bonus points for adherence to the Celtic theme. So if you all want to write any style or type of adventure, feel free. Any of you that voted for another theme as your preference, write an adventure in that theme, or no theme at all. 

All adventures are welcomed here. I am now thinking I will look towards gift certificates at DrivethruRPG as prizes, as I am told that parcels should start being kept to a minimum for the duration of the pandemic crisis.

In non-contest related news, I am going to be running my Stonehell Dungeon campaign on Roll20/Discord starting Thursday evening at 6:00PM (EST), let me know if you'd like to join.

Keep yourselves busy during this difficult time, but take care of yourselves.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Gaesatae Class for B/X (OSE)

Starting as far back through the mists of time as I can, I am creating a class for the Celtic Adventure Challenge Contest in hopes that it may inspire some more of you to enter. To be honest there isn't a whole lot known for sure about the Gaesatae. Polybius tells us the name means “mercenary”, but it literally means “armed with javelins/spears” in Gaulish, and is a cognate to the Irish Gaelic Gaiscedach “Champion”. You can learn that from wikipedia though, I just looked it up there as a refresher myself. I am making them an alternate take on the Fighter class, one that eschews armor other than a shield and helmet (maybe). They appear to have been a pan-Gaulish warrior movement, similar in nature to the Norse Jomsvikings, but with more evidence of their actual existence. It's partly a warrior society, partly a religious cult, so I'll be adding a few religious bits there too. These are the “naked” Celtic warriors that struck fear into the hearts of the Romans.

A few cultural bits might be useful going into playing this class, so, in no particular order of importance we have-

Head Hunters. The Celts are head-hunters, they take the heads of important or valiant enemies as trophies. They would preserve them and bring them to feasts and talk to them, there was also a trade in prestigious heads.

The Torc. A torc is a neck ring, and it has some religious significance to the Celts, they were known throughout the Celtic world and were important enough to a warrior that he would rather not go into battle without it, even non-Gaesatae warriors wore them, and it is said would put them on before armor or weapons in an emergency situation. They were generally made of as precious a metal as the warrior could afford, examples have been found in bronze, copper, silver and gold (although primarily bronze and gold); and as ornate as possible. It is also possible they were used as a form of currency. In any case, every Gaesatae should have one.

Fearlessness is somewhat religiously motivated. Celts were said to be fearless in battle because they were certain of their afterlife. An account I read spoke of warriors making deals to pay back debts to each other in the next life if they died in battle. Their fearlessness is such that they accidentally disrespected Alexander the Great when he asked them what it was such great warriors as themselves feared, expecting the answer to be some idle flattery like “you alone my lord”, instead they answered that “they feared only that the sky above might fall”, which is to say “nothing really”.

The head is the seat of “personhood”, this may be the motivation behind head hunting.

All right, the bullet points about the Celts and their culture done, I guess you can see why the Romans saw them as barbarians. We have inherited much more of the Roman attitude than the Celtic one about most things in our culture.

Completely untested, and no doubt with balance issues, I present the Gaesatae

EXP Table
Level                         XP                                       HD        Class Ability
1                                 0-2,250                               1d8              A
2                                 2,251-4,500                        2d8
3                                 4,501-10,000                      3d8              B
4                                 10,001-20,000                    4d8
5                                 20,001-40,000                    5d8              C
6                                 40,001-90,000                    6d8
7                                 90,001-150,000                  7d8              D
8                                 150,001-225,000                8d8
9                                 225,001-325,000                9d8              E
10                               325,001-650,000               10d8
11                               650,001-975,000               10d8+2
12                               975,001-1,300,000            10d8+4

A – All Gaesatae have a base encounter movement rate of 45'/round when unencumbered. The Gaesatae has a natural unarmored AC of 8. The Gaesatae gets double the normal bonus to AC from DEX (13-15 +2, 16-17+4, 18+6). When the Gaesatae lands a killing blow on an opponent, they immediately get another attack on an opponent within their weapon range, up to as many opponents as the Gaesatae has hit dice.

B – Gaesatae base encounter move goes up to 50'/round unencumbered. When a Gaesatae defeats an opponent of equal or greater level/hit dice and takes a round to remove it's head as a trophy, they cause fear as per the 1st level Cleric spell. This only applies to humanoid creatures with heads, creatures that are immune to fear will be unaffected. Natural AC increases to AC 7.

C – Natural AC increases to AC 6. Base encounter move increases to 55'/round unencumbered. 1d4 1st level Gaesatae approach to become apprentice/followers, treat as retainers with a base morale of 10.

D – Natural AC increases to AC 5. Base encounter movement rate increases to 60'/round unencumbered. The Gaesatae now causes fear (as the 1st Level Cleric Spell) in all opponents of 4HD or less within 120'.

E – Natural AC increases to AC 4. May establish a Stronghold and attract followers of appropriate classes (Fighters, Gaesatae, Druids, Bards).

Gaesatae must have a minimum STR 12, DEX 12 and CHA 9, they have no Prime Requisite and do not receive XP bonuses.
Gaesatae can use any weapon, but they eschew the use of armor other than a shield and helmet. They must be unclothed save for wearing a torc to use any class abilities. Gaesatae save as Dwarves of equivalent level.

I suggest using this generator for names here

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

I Am The Historical D&D Guy

I am the historical D&D guy. I realized that today after watching Jason Graham's FB Live video this morning, and I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me before. I went to college for history, it's always been a passion of mine. My living room is encased in book cases, most of which are filled with history books (most of the rest are RPGs). On some topics I have a better selection of works than the universities I attended.

My wife Mona used to say that my D&D campaigns come with homework, and it was only half a joke.

When I prep a new campaign I almost invariably read some kind of history, even if it's just a “daily life” kind of a thing. I create new equipment lists as a matter of course, keeping the gear to a specific time and place that fits my historical/cultural theme, and there is always a theme, whether I planned it or not.

Sometimes my stated goal was to immerse the players in a campaign setting modeled on a historical culture completely. I started doing that before the 2nd edition AD&D HR series arrived on the scene, my first “Viking” campaign predating the Viking Campaign Sourcebook by maybe a year or so, I don't remember when it came out, but my Viking campaign started in September of 1990.

I can't stop myself from making pseudo historical settings. My longest running D&D setting “Garnia” (created circa 1982, long before I went to college and studied this sort of thing) was essentially a “what-if” you took groups of people from earth and planted them on a fantasy world. It started with ancient Celts, a pan-Celtic religious movement really, started in northeastern Gaul by a Druid Seer that saw the coming of the Romans and the destruction of their culture and way of life. In the late 1990's I ran a campaign set on earth during that time, the PCs were essentially early converts to the cause, being from the tribe where the Druid resided, the Boga-Treveri (who I made up as an offshoot of the historical Treveri tribe). They wandered Gaul attempting to unite the tribes into a single nation to avert disaster, as well as spread the word to the rest of the Celtic nations. I don't remember all of the characters now, and the campaign notes are long lost, but I do remember one of the PCs was a Druid that studied under the Druid Seer that had made the prophecy, another was a half German warrior bard.

I created Ostschild for a random group of D&D players I threw together, it was set in a mythical kingdom in central Europe, it's king was an elector in the Holy Roman Empire, the entire place colonized by Frankish warriors from the period of Charlemagne to hold back the hordes of the Elf-King who was invading from the Fairy realm in the east. There's more to it, but I did that for a campaign I started as “straight” D&D with B1.

I used to think I was the Oriental Adventures guy, but even there the hodgepodge of D&Dism, fantasy and east Asian culture needed refinement for me. I turned to history to make it happen, then Japanese samurai films, then their historical novels, manga and anime. OA has always been, more or less, feudal Japan for me, probably because of OA1 being such a good sandbox to run. OA1 “Swords of the Daimyo” is set in Kozakura, Kara-Tur's fantasy Sengoku Jidai era Japan analogue.

Most of my D&D games tend to be fairly low magic, more gritty-realistic than the high fantasy that we usually see in D&D. Most of my players avoid playing magic using characters too, I don't know if they are reading subtle signs I am sending out, or if old school D&D just has too great a reputation for being hard on Magic-Users. Like EGG, I assume that people are going to want to play the fighting man, the hero, you know? But I don't think I am projecting my bias onto the players.

Anyway, I am good with being the Historical D&D Guy.

Now, on the contest front- I have already received one submission, and it's pretty good. I do need to add an end date for submissions though, so I am going to say April 15th, Tax day here in the US (and my late sister's birthday), so it's easy for me to remember. Midnight US Eastern Standard time April 15th for submissions, just like taxes.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Poll is Closed – Celts Win!

Cool Todd Lockwood art I found on the internet to set the mood.

I closed the poll this morning and “Celts” was the clear winner among the proposed themes, with roughly 50% more votes than it's closest competitor “Norse”. The people have spoken, so the fairly broad theme of Celts shall be the theme of this short adventure design contest. Given that my long running “Garnia World” campaign has a Celtic theme, these adventures could prove quite useful to me personally, and I hope that they will be equally valuable to the rest of the community.

I am still working on prizes, but I am thinking the grand prize may well be a copy of the green cover AD&D 2nd edition historical reference series “Celts Campaign Sourcebook”. I'll see what else I have here and update you all.

I am thinking I will make the submissions available, after the contest, for free on DrivethruRPG, unless those of you that submit entries specifically ask me not to. I had similar plans for earlier contests, but never got around to it, as I had not set up a publisher account there yet.

Adventures should be short, no more than 10 pages, including any maps or art. Adventures should be compatible with TSR era D&D or their retroclones.
Adventures should have a Celtic theme. I understand this covers a broad swath of history, so I should limit it to ancient or medieval, but I also think it might be pretty cool to see an adventure set in the Scottish highlands around the time of the Jacobite rebellions, maybe featuring Bonnie Prince Charlie as an NPC? So go where your muse takes you, head-hunting Celts vs. Romans in a darkly magical version of ancient Gaul, to King Arthur's knights of the round table, to the Easter Rising of 1916; and that's just historical fantasy, feel free to take us in other fantastic directions with the Sidhe or the Fomorians.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Stonehell Dungeon and an Adventure Design Contest

A cool bit of Erol Otus Art to set the mood.

So lately I have been running an Old School Essentials (B/X) campaign centered around Stonehell Dungeon. We're 10+ sessions in, have had several PC deaths along the way, and about half finished with the dungeon's first level (the north half). I created a pretty half baked new campaign world for it, just a nearby town to rest and resupply at, with a steady flow of Meatshields created help to hire on. Essentially dungeon/town. Kind of Keep on the Borderlands inspired.

I am not going to lie, it's a tad outside my comfort zone, and I keep forgetting to do some standard megadungeon stuff, like track torch/oil use. I also need to start restocking the dungeon some in the cleared areas. I have been running overland/political adventures with smaller locations and dungeons, mostly using AD&D for a long, long time now, and that's how I am comfortable. I am still getting used to the more frail characters in OSE (B/X), and the save or die poisons are somehow also a bit of a shock to me (that's killed a few PCs and NPCs now), despite their use in AD&D as well. Maybe I have been relying on using my own material for too long, and subconsciously avoiding the use of poisons?

I have traditionally preferred to use my own settings and adventures to run games, so running any canned adventure is going to be a bit of a challenge for me. They make me less certain somehow, like I am always thinking I missed or forgot something, and sometimes it's true. I have occasionally screwed up an encounter, or missed a locked door (or added one) or any of a number of other minor things here and there when running other people's adventures over the years. The one page dungeon format works pretty well for me, what with all the relevant information being right there, and being pretty close to how I write stuff for myself to run. That said, my stuff could never be run by anyone else, my adventures are more like notes used to trigger my own memories, and I change things on the fly to fit what we're doing or because I got a better idea in the moment pretty often. Plus sometimes I just make stuff up along the way, I have gotten pretty good at things like turning a random encounter in to something that seems like an important planned encounter, and random lair generation in my head on the fly.

Anyway, that's what I have been running lately, Stonehell.

I do have a contest coming up here on the blog though, and I am running a poll to see what the theme will be. There's a poll in the Facebook Group running, if you don't have FB just comment here on what you'd like to see and I'll add the votes here to the poll tally. The poll choices are Celtic, Norse, Roman, East Asian (China/Korea/Japan), Mongol, Norman/Crusader, Greek, Egyptian, Gonzo D&D, and “Straight up D&D (No Theme)”. You can also add a category to the poll if you like, suggest it here and I'll add it there too, Voting through the weekend, I'll do the final tally Monday morning; vote for your favorites, but no more than three please!

Friday, March 13, 2020

A world building questionnaire.

I spotted this on the Facebook Group Dungeons & Dragons B/X(Moldvay/Cook/Marsh), posted by a gentleman named Jarrod Crough. I am posting it here lightly edited and with his permission.

A world building questionnaire.

Are the PC's:

Average people rising up.
Exceptional individuals destined to greatness.
The cream of crop...natural leaders and legends yet unknown.

What is the ratio of normal people to arcane users:

10:1 everyone knows a wizard.
100:1 there are a few in town.
1000:1 there are a few in the country.
10000:1 few and far between.
100000:1 rare and unusual.

How many divine channelers (clerics) are there:

Those who dedicate themselves to the divine reap the rewards.
Only the pure and pious are touched by the divine.
Conduits of the gods are rare and mysterious.
There is no divine, white magic instead. AKA the Final Fantasy route.

The PC races:

A. Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling.
B. A plus Gnome, Half Orc.
C. A plus B plus Dragonborn, Tieflings.
D. Anything goes.
E. Just Human. Aka The Conan route.
F. Other:

How does a Wizard learn his craft:

Master and apprentice.
Arcane Schools.
Hard work and experimentation.
Secret societies and covens.

Race as Class or choice:
Race as Class.

How common are Dragons:

Common...seen one fly over head yesterday.
I hear that there is a dragon north of here...couple of weeks travel.
Legends say that Treogg the Red lived in the mountains during my grandfather's years.
You are mistaken, dragons are myths, stories to frighten children.

What is the greatest threat to the civilized peoples:

The hordes of evil humanoids, Orcs, Goblins, and Giants.
The old, evil powers in the beyond.
The foreign power and their foreign ways.
Greed and decadence of the "civilized" people.

Who built these dungeons and ruins, enchanted these items:

The ancient peoples, before the great dark times.
The unknown precursors, be they evil or good.
We are unsure, legends say…

Can you buy magic items:

A. Potions from an alchemist. Scrolls from the scribes. Expensive but needed.
B. A plus enchanters can make some of the weaker items.
C. A plus B plus the great enchanters can make a cost.
D. PC's can make them with the rare materials and time.
E. No you can't.
F. Other:

Honestly I think this is a pretty cool little worksheet, and it asks mostly different stuff then Jeff Rients' did.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

New Contest Here

It's been literal years since I ran a themed adventure contest here, some were super successful (by my standards anyway), some less so. I have a bunch of swag here to use as prizes, I haven't sorted any out, but will probably base them around the adventure theme.

Which brings me to theme. You all know I like to run with a historical fantasy adventure theme. We've done Vikings, Romans and Mongols, just off the top of my head. Should I repeat an older theme? Or come up with a new one? St. Patrick's Day is right around the corner, so maybe a Celtic or Irish theme?

Format should be short adventure, I am thinking just a few pages, but I know some of you need a little extra space to stretch your muscles and really get an adventure out, so maybe a hard limit of 10 pages? Including maps and art.

I guess I'll put a poll up on my Facebook Group I set up for this blog here.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 in review

In 2019 I finished a D&D campaign, started and ran another one until it blew up, then started a new one with a mostly different group of players that is still going. All of them were in different, original settings, although I mostly threw in old school adventures, slightly altered.

I started a board game group, and we are still going, although on hiatus for the holidays.

It's a short retrospective on the year, but I have mostly kept busy, I continue to exist.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

I watched The Phantom Menace (TPM) earlier today. My thinking was that it's 20 years old now and maybe I should look at it with fresh perspective, which was going to be hard, just because of my history with that film.

Remember the build up to TPM? In 1999 I was working as a substitute teacher at Mexico High School (Mexico, NY), and I remember it pretty well. I used to bring stuff with me to read, because they had block scheduling then (80 minute periods) and I always had a free period, plus lunch to kill time in. One of the things I brought with me was a copy of Star Wars Insider, Mona used to buy them for me when she spotted them in the wild, and, since the movie was maybe six weeks from release at the time, everyone, teachers, students, and administrative staff, all commented. America was on fire for a new Star Wars movie.

I remember going to see it with Mona, maybe on opening day, I don't exactly recall, but certainly in the first week; then seeing it a day or so later with my dad. I may have seen it a time or two more in the theater, I am not sure. Mona and I talked about it a bunch, both of us were sure it was a good movie, that we actually did like it, or that maybe we missed something, somehow. I got the movie on VHS and DVD as soon as they were available, although the VHS copy was a gift and only got watched once maybe.

The internet turned into a cesspool of hatred for the movie, and I started to agree with a lot of the criticisms of the film. I hated the whole midichlorian thing, I was annoyed by Jar Jar Binks and I thought Jake Lloyd's acting was terrible. The story itself was convoluted and boring, trade disputes? Really? I cringed at the racist caricatures. George Lucas had done the impossible, he made a Star Wars movie that sucked, although the Holiday Special and the Ewoks movies really should have showed us it was possible.

Even with the crap in them though, there were still some cool scenes in each act of the film. Darth Maul was pretty cool, and his music was awesome. The action scenes were, by and large, pretty decent. I watched the DVD with commentary on so I could see what they were thinking, and it did give me a greater appreciation for their craft, and I could see what they were aiming for.

I dutifully watched TPM before each of the other two prequel films, but I never liked it. I sought out and watched The Phantom Edit, which did make it a better film, and invented the concept of fan edits. I got buried under a mountain of TPM related merchandise, most of which was garbage, just because my mom and Mona's mom both knew I was a huge Star Wars fan, and it was so over merchandised, it all got marked down to next to nothing for the next few years. I think George really expected Jar Jar to be a breakout character, his stupid face was everywhere.

Fast forward to today. I had not watched that movie in maybe a decade, maybe more. Honestly the last time I recall watching it was to show my kids all the Star Wars movies before we took them to see Revenge of the Sith. We're 20 years out from it's release and I keep hearing that people are loving the prequels now, so I figure it's time to give it a rewatch.

My impressions are now that it is less tedious to watch. Dialogue is pretty bad, most of the old complaints are still there, but less now. I figure it's because I knew what to expect going in, setting expectations low made it easier to watch. I cut the actors some more slack than I did in the past, because I have heard what a nightmare it is to be directed by George Lucas, and the dialogue, like I said before, is pretty bad. The biggest new thing that struck me is the CGI, it both held up well in some cases and kind of sucked in others. The CGI droids look pretty good to this day, mostly any mechanical stuff does; the biological stuff though is dreadful. All the fish things in the planet core transit sequence for instance look like crap, the Gungans all look like crap too, even Jabba the Hutt and Yoda pretty well suck. I didn't hate the pacing, the fight scenes were generally good, although I still think that the Jedi/Maul scenes look too choreographed, but maybe that's just me. I thought about it as I was watching them.

I guess, in closing, I'd say that a reviewing of it after two decades, along with the careful consideration of everything I've learned about the film and it's makers and the actors has made me reconsider my overall grade for it. I'd give it a C- these days, which is up an entire letter grade from where I'd've placed it 15 years ago, but down from where I figured it must be back in 1999 after my initial few viewings.

I have been in something of a Star Wars place for a couple of weeks now, thinking about watching the original trilogy and trying to bring back that spark of love I had when I was a kid. I kind of want to play a Star Wars RPG too, or maybe GM one. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Some Recent D&D Thoughts

I am thinking a lot lately about D&D. What I like about it, and what I don't. Me being me, this means old school D&D (or it's clones). I have been giving serious thought to writing my own version of B/X to give to my players, maybe edit down the text only version of B/X Essentials (now Old School Essentials) to add a few sub-systems I like, subtract a few bits I don't. The only downside really is that they'd have to be rewritten for every single campaign I run. Different settings get different setting specific rules, but maybe a core?

I say B/X, because my Ostschild campaign was B/X and it was dead easy to hack those rules, add some AD&D if I wanted, or whatever. AD&D is what my “Colonies of Avalon” and my “Lost Atlantis” games were and I learned there were quite a few AD&Disms I just don't care for. For the last couple of decades at least, maybe longer, I have been hacking and house ruling my games pretty significantly, and I was really the only one that cared about the rules. I was the guy running the game, and my players, which usually included my wife and kids, trusted me to know what I was doing, and mostly could not have cared less about the actually rules. I dropped a lot of stuff over the years I thought was needlessly nit-picky. I pulled in stuff from other editions, or stuff I found online and thought was cool, or just stuff that I made up; not to mention the house rules that everyone just seemed to know from time immemorial. Critical hits on a natural 20 doing double damage, for instance, are so common many people think they are actually in the rules. EGG hated the concept (or so he said publicly, having never played with him I couldn't say), but they were, and are, everywhere. Where did we learn them? Who knows.

One of my players was recently frustrated by the fact that there isn't really any reason to play anything but a Human in 1st edition AD&D. She plays a Gnome Thief/Illusionist and I think has never played old school D&D before. My initial reaction was like “Duh, it says right in the book this is a humanocentric game”, but coming from where she was, I get it. WotC really took a lot of effort to balancing the races (and classes) in 3e (and beyond). AD&D does a pretty decent job at showing the various advantages non-humans get, but is fairly poor at pointing out the disadvantages, and they do not cancel each other out balance wise. In many ways I agree with EGG about the humanocentric game (also in the way he thought that fighters were the class people would want to play).

I have been considering stripping out all of the non-Human PC races. Over time D&D has consistently increased the number of PC races (really species) that are playable. I'd like to go the other way. Elves and Dwarves and Gnomes, if not Halflings, are folkloric creatures and should stay that way. Half Orcs and Half Elves have their own issues, on the one hand species this alien to each other probably should not be able to interbreed, on the other, at least for Half Orcs, it implies a tragic and disgusting backstory of rape.

I might consider creating new classes for human characters that are essentially reskins of the missing demihumans, or I may not. While the B/X Elf gives us a good “Fighting Wizard” class, what do the Halfling and the Dwarf bring?

I would not create the same issues by giving different mechanics to different “races” of humans either. A human is a human is a human, all the same flesh and bone. I might create a different set of skills based on social class, or place of origin, but those are pretty campaign specific. I might even come up with backgrounds a la 5th edition for that, why reinvent the wheel.

I have also been thinking about the class archetypes. In my recent “Colonies of Avalon” campaign the party Cleric has been a particular annoyance to me. I don't dislike the player, I wouldn't play with him if I did, but his character's class irritates me. He has a different view than I do on how Clerics are meant to be played. I always picture them (and as NPCs usually play them) as medieval crusader knights, like the Templars. He plays his character as a support healer, essentially a combat medic. We rarely see anything other than healing spells, which I find sad. Mona used to play this way too, I guess, but at least she fought on the front line, and spells for healing came after combats. I have tried over the years banning multiple preparations of the same spell, removing cure X wounds spells from the game and replacing it with spontaneous healing by removing a prepared spell and getting X number of dice (d6 or d8) where X equals the level of spell you are giving up, giving Clerics spell slots they can use as desired to cast any Cleric spell of the slotted level. Nothing really seems to work with Clerics not just taking advantage of healing spells. 

The other issue with Clerics is their Turn Undead ability. I hate to agree with Mike Mearls on this, but it really is just an “I win” button for Clerics. It takes what should be a frankly terrifying encounter and negates it, which I find both boring and frustrating as a DM. Any encounter with Undead creatures that a Cleric doesn't have a reasonably good chance of simply turning, is probably one the party can't win anyway, and should flee from. I would consider just stripping it entirely from the Class, but taking a core class ability away from it would likely incite player riots.

I have seen some suggestions for fixing either of these issues on various blogs and the rework of the Cleric in “Lion & Dragon”1 is pretty interesting; but the best suggestion I have seen is to simply remove it from the game.

That leaves us with an issue; if people rarely want to play Clerics, nobody wants to play a Magic-User (and why, oh why, couldn't Gygax have named this class Wizard or Sorcerer, or any other damned thing). Glass cannons, one shot wonders. Can't wear armor, poor choice in available weapons, weakest hit points in the game; melee combat is not an option. Only getting a single spell at first level always seems to leave them cowering behind the lines, often wasting good casting opportunities, just because they know they'll be done, absolutely useless to the party the moment they cast their lone spell. Sometimes (depending on the exact system of D&D being used) they will provide some largely ineffectual missile fire.

I have played a single classed Magic-User in every edition of D&D that has been out since I started playing (1981) up through at least mid level, I have been that guy. I could offer advice to the other players, but mostly I was taking cover and providing a little bit of missile fire. 

I have seen games where the party Magic-User blasted through his spell right away, that tends to lead to the ten minute adventuring day.

Fixes? I have seen very few. One suggestion that all Magic-Users get a cantrip or two, non-damage causing, they can cast at will makes them seem more mysterious and magical. It may have been the same place I saw the idea that Read Magic and Detect Magic should just be a class ability, which is useful. I might go ahead and make Identify a class ability (or skill) too. I am not sure any of this makes the Magic-User a more attractive Class to be though.

I have posted about the Thief in the past, and I guess my thought on this currently is to go with something like Lamentations of the Flame Princess's Specialist Class, you can do almost anything with them.

In the end most players I know like playing Fighter Classes, as God and Gary intended. I played in an online game last night where we were all Human Fighter types (actually all Human Bushi, it was a White Box Eastern Adventures game) and we were all essentially the same mechanically (weapon choice made some difference) and were differentiated mainly by the way we role played our characters. It was some of the most fun I have playing in a D&D game in a very long time, with the caveat that I rarely get to play D&D, as I am generally DMing.

I rather enjoyed the simplicity and even the lethality of a White Box game, but I am not real sure I could find players for a campaign, nor am I sure I'd like the difficulty set that high for a campaign. B/X seems to be hitting the sweet spot for me right now.

Not sure where I was going with this, I just wanted to get these thoughts down and sorted. It looks like “Colonies of Avalon” is over, the group has split up, and it's mostly my fault, although completely not game related. I want to have friends and play D&D, but my depression and anxiety, especially since Mona died, have made it harder and harder to keep having any social life at all.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Dun Gwyn

There are a couple of things about the setting I don't think I have adequately conveyed during gaming, so I want to clear this up, for the purposes of Blue Booking, if nothing else.

First, Dun Gwyn is small. It's the end of line line (currently) economically and militarily. The dun itself is a quickly constructed motte-and-bailey. Lord Gwyn1, the first and current lord, has no more than a thirty riders at his disposal, although he commands a larger military garrison too. The small temple of Bel2 is located within the fortified area, and has a handful of temple guards. The detachment of soldiers (about 100, it varies because of their patrols along the coast road, and expeditions to the interior) are garrisoned in tents at the western edge of town. The town is a ramshackle of rapidly constructed buildings, half constructed buildings and tents. One of the few buildings in the town is the poor quality inn, “The Lion's Den” that your party stays at while they are in town. It is lousy with fleas and bed bugs, and doesn't offer a lot of choice in it's sleeping arrangements, either barracks style shared multi-bunk room, the common room (where you just sleep on the floor (or on a table or bench) providing your own bedding, or, lastly, the one private room the inn-keeper lives in, but is willing to rent out to paying customers. The food is mediocre, but filling. Most of the merchants are just visiting, this is the last stop on their trade route, after buying and (mostly) selling here, they turn around and head back to the coast. Most of the stuff they bring is for the soldiers.

Recently an influx of a couple of hundred settlers of various backgrounds arrived, and more are likely on their way. The dun, the soldiers and the settlers are causing tension with the local human (barbarian3) population.

Second, Tirnakaur (the colony that you are in) is hot. Think Georgia through Florida hot. It also rains a lot there, pretty much every day. So it's also muddy and wet. The area is not especially well explored, although that will probably become a campaign goal as you guys level up. Levels 1-3 are traditionally focused on dungeons (and despite being largely outside, the Hill plays like one because of the magic in the forest restricting you to various paths), levels 4+ traditionally focus on wilderness exploration type adventures, or at least overland travels to more advanced level dungeons.

Third, the amazing abundance of animals everywhere. Us modern folk don't think about this much, but there are more animals than humans in any place there are humans. I went down a rabbit hole researching horses this morning and wow, are there a lot of different, specialized horses, not just the differences between riding and draft horses, but various types of riding horses for different purposes, and all of the working horses have specializations to their jobs, with very few horses being multi-purpose. That got me thinking about the other animals, almost every household has at least one dog, for instance, or cats, a necessity for keeping vermin down (although not particularly liked especially well, as a rule), any settlement or homestead is going to have flocks of various fowl, mostly chickens, ducks and geese, and cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs; with pigs being the only ones that are raised solely for their meat (although their hides are useful too).

So I guess Dun Gwyn is mostly a smelly barnyard of an unhygienic tent city. Crossing the Shrill to the Hill might actually be safer than the impending cholera and/or typhus outbreak that is sure to occur in Dun Gwyn. Probably the only clean places there are inside the dun itself, like Lord Gwyn's hall or the temple of Bel.

1Lord Gwyn is clearly an old style lord, he keeps his own band of oath-sworn riders, most lords of Avalon have abandoned this practice.
2Bel is also known as “The Great God”, he is the most widely worshiped deity in the Avalonish pantheon.
3These “barbarians” are mostly of a similar ethnic stock to the people of Avalon, speaking a different dialect of the same root language, kind of like the difference between the English of Shakespeare and the King James Bible vs. the modern American English of today. Isolated groups are of different ethnicities, there are also groups of “wild” elves here, they constitute an entirely different “barbarian” group.