Tuesday, June 28, 2011

One Page Design Philosophy

Some time ago, the One Page Dungeon was the rage amongst all the OSR bloggers. I must admit that I find the concept intriguing. As fun as flavor text can be to read in an RPG book, I don’t think that “read aloud” sections of adventures actually work in gaming sessions. If I have to read anything more than a few sentences or a short paragraph to my players, I notice their eyes glass over. Worse still, they often miss key information, simply because reading verbose prose aloud is not a very good way to rely fine detail. Emotion, maybe, but fine detail? No.

What I like about the One Page Dungeon more than the template itself is the idea behind it. Namely, anything you have to use as a referee of a roleplaying game should be presented as clearly, concisely, and quickly as possible. That’s why monsters in older D&D are easier to use than 3.5. No matter how well designed the statblock, it still takes a certain amount of brainpower to parse all those ability scores, attacks, skills, feats, spells, and powers.

I plan to adopt this kind of One Page Philosophy to my own game designs. Whenever I write up new material for use in my home campaign, I will try to keep things as short and clear as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to eliminate all the fluff from my world. In fact, I think the end result will be better because I will have to choose my words carefully.

I wish professional designers would do the same. I read a lot of RPG books for entertainment, a practice in which I suspect I’m not alone. It’s very rare, however, that I sit down and read them as I would a novel, from cover to cover reading each word. Instead, I flip around, reading a portion here and skimming a portion there. Naturally, I miss a lot doing this. If a book is heavy on description and flavor text, giving me minute details about the inner workings of the campaign world, I often get bored and move on to another section. The author would probably have conveyed more information if he had simply written less, since I would have been far more likely to read and retain it.

Perhaps I’m the problem here. Maybe I suffer from some kind of ADD related to AD&D. I don’t think that’s the case, though. RPG books are not novels and they shouldn’t be written like them. Imagine a cook book that begins each recipe with a one paragraph introduction to each recipe, explaining the history of the food. You might be really interested to learn how German Chocolate Cake got its name or who invented the Cobb Salad. If the same cookbook devoted entire pages to food history, however, you’d be far less likely to read it, let alone use the thing in the kitchen. Cook books are for cooking, just like RPG books are for playing roleplaying games.

It would be foolish to slavishly adhere to this idea, never writing more or less than one page about anything. The One Page Philosophy is meant to be abstract and flexible. If you’re writing about something important, say a guild that is central to a setting, then you should probably devote more to a page to its description. However, an author should still try to limit the information to small, easily digestible sections. Maybe the history and motivation of the guild fit on one page. The stats of its leaders and typical members fit on another. Plot hooks and information about the guilds’ dark secrets finish things on another.

I will see what I can do to keep the One Page Philosophy in mind in my own writings. I have a lot of stuff sitting on my harddrive that I eventually want to post up here. Before I do so, I will have to edit out a lot of needless fluff make sure my writing is as interesting and precise as possible. I think the end product will be much better for my efforts.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Wonders of Your World

There is a really cool scene in the Fellowship of the Ring in which the heroes, floating down the river Anduin into Gondor, pass two giant marble statues. These are the Argonath, a pair of statues carved in the likeness of Isildur and Anarion. The statues mark the northern border of ancient Gondor and serve as a visual warning to her enemies as well as a reminder of Gondor's might.

The Argonath aren't essential to the plot; they're little more than scenery, but the statues serve another purpose. Their presence reminds the viewer (or reader) that Middle Earth is an old world with thousands of years of history. The Argonath show us that Gondor was once a much larger and more powerful nation. They also tell a little something about Gondor's culture.

A GM would do well to include such man-made wonders in his campaign, for many of the same reasons that Tolkein included the Argonath in his book. They make the world feel more alive; they're interesting to view, experience, and explore; they give a sense of history to the campaign; and they can teach the players something about a society.

For inspiration, here are the classic “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.” As a bonus, I've included a few wonder entries from the different incarnations of Sid Meiers Civilizations computer games. Some of these are not “wonders of the world” in the traditional sense, but they were important developments nonetheless. Remember that your own ideas don't have to be as large or obvious as the pyramids.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

The Great Pyramid of Giza: The tomb of the Egyptian Pharoah Khufu. The pyramids themselves are impressive icons, and the Great Pyramid is largest of them. It was one of the largest structures of the ancient world, it has lasted for thousands of years, and it is houses the tomb and treasures of Egyptian kings. There is also the matter of how it was built, a question that still remains unsettled among some modern scholars.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon: King Nebuchadnezzar II constructed this wonder of multi-leveled gardens for his wife. The gardens, complete with a complex irrigation system, was notable for its architecture, design, and the beauty of its lush plants. The fact that they were built in the desert climate of what is now Iraq adds to the Gardens' appeal.

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus: 120 years in the building, this grand example of Greek temple architecture was destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again. Antipater of Sidon, a poet who helped create the concept of the 7 Wonders of the World, said of the Temple: “...but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, 'Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.'”A mystery cult, called Amazons by some ancient scholars, may have been associated with the Temple site in its early days.

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia: A 40 foot statue of ivory and gold depicting the king of the gods. The statue was so massive that one scholar proclaimed that it would “unroof the temple” if it were to stand up. Legend says that when workers came to disassemble it and bring it to the Roman Emperor Caligula, the statue let out a peal of laughter so powerful it destroyed their scaffolding and sent them fleeing in terror.

The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus: An enclosed tomb nearly 200 feet in height built for Mausolus, a governor of Persia. Four different sculptors created the carvings that decorated the large tomb's corners, and statues and bas-reliefs decorated the whole of the building. Renown for its aesthetics and architecture, the Mausoleum is also a monument to love and grief. It was built by Mausolus' widow (who was also his sister) after his death and meant to serve as a tribute to her late husband. The name Mausolus has carried on into modern times as the world Mausoleum.

The Colossus at Rhodes: A 100 foot statue of the god Helios, built to celebrate the city of Rhodes' victory against an invading army. The statue was the largest of its kind in all of the ancient world. Its imagery captured the imagination of Shakespeare (in Julius Caesar), the designers of D&D (as a monster), and the designers of the Statue of Liberty.

The Lighthouse of Alexandria: The lighthouse, at upwards of 400 feet tall, towered above all other structures on earth. Indeed, it was centuries before man was able to build anything larger. Its light shined out a warning guide to ships for hundreds of years, and the last remnants of the lighthouse stood until the year 1480; nearly 2,000 years after its construction.

A Few “Wonders” from the Civilization Computer Games

Moai Statues: Strange monolithic human statues carved from rock on Easter Island. Thought to represent deified ancestors, the Polynesian people that carved the heavy statues transported them all around the island, sometimes bearing them over several miles. The tallest known Moai is over 30 feet tall and weighs a staggering 82 tons.

The Great Wall of China: Not a single wall, but a series of stone and earthen fortifications built to protect China's northern border against barbarian incursions. The entire wall, taken as a whole and including all its branches, stretches nearly 4,000 miles.

Royal Library of Alexandria: Built in Egypt, the Great Library was the most significant collection of written works in the ancient world. Its goal was to collect all of the world's knowledge. As ships came into the port at Alexandria from both the eastern and western world, scholars at the library would gather any books from their cargo, make copies for their owners, and keep the originals. According to legend, the scribes were so skilled at this, the books' rightful owners often didn't even notice that they were receiving copies. No modern record of the library's contents exists, but it is likely that it contained tens of thousands of individual works collected on hundreds of thousands of scrolls.

It should be easy to take a few of these, add a fantastic twist, and then use them to spice up your own campaign.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Found Gamers

I'm running solo playtests of the upcoming DCC RPG on weekends here on post. Since I don't have a gaming group to speak of, I run everything myself; the player characters and the monsters. Last time I ran things in the comfort of the post library. For a change of scene, I decided to play in the food court today. As I was sitting there, rolling Game Science dice and scribbling notes on a piece of loose leaf paper, I looked at the table across from mine and noticed a bunch of percentile dice surrounding this:

“Are you guys playing the Marvel Superheroes Roleplaying Game?” I asked.

They were. Not only did I chance encounter a trio of gamers, but they were playing the last game I expected to see anyone playing over here. I've been searching for a month for people playing the most likely games: Pathfinder, 4E, even Warhammer 40K. But Marvel Supers? From 1985? That's unexpected. It turns out, one of the three players (one was even a GIRL!) does run Pathfinder. Emails were exchanged. They pointed me to a Facebook gamer group. I know there are gamers in the military, they're just hard to find. I'm glad I stumbled onto these three, even if I'm not a Marvel player.

We made small talk for a little while, which served to remind me that I think about this hobby and know more about it than anyone I ever meet. They've never heard of Labyrinth Lord, Mutants & Masterminds, the OSR, retroclones, DCC RPG, DCC Adventures in general, or Icons. I'm puzzled how someone can play Marvel Superheroes since 1985 and never even catch a whimper about M&M. People, I don't search around obsessively for information about games. Hell, I'm not even actively playing or even living in the United States right now. I learn about these games just by being involved in the online community of RPG players.

Oh well, at least I found some more gamers. Maybe I'll roll up a random superhero next Sunday.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

In the Year 2000...

I've gotten off the d20 band wagon. It's kind of sad, in a way. As silly as this sounds, I think I was literally one of the earliest adopters of D&D Third Edition. Way back in 2000, I was an active reader on Eric Noah's Unofficial D&D Third Edition News. I can still remember the excitement of those times. If I think hard enough, I'm mentally transported back to the radio station where I worked as an overnight DJ. During down time, I'd surf onto Eric's site and read snippets of the upcoming 3E. I remember how new and different it all felt. Reflex saves, Base Attack Bonuses, Feats...all that stuff that is part of the gaming lexicon now was exotic and new.

It was a new age in gaming, one that we'd never seen before. The grognards will tell you that the golden age of D&D was the late 1970s, and they're right. The early 2000s, though, was the age where the gap between the game designers and the players all but vanished. The internet was still a fairly new thing back then and it seemed that information about the new D&D was appearing at lightning speed. If Monte Cook came up with a new rule on Monday, you'd hear about it on Eric Noah's message boards on Tuesday.

For me, it was the first time I ever felt such a strong connection to D&D. The open communication, the willingness to address the hardcore fans, to give us information about the hows and the whys of the development process, made a lot of us feel like 3E was our game. TSR had been a faceless corporation with a hostile policy against houserules and fan sites. Wizards of the Coast, at least for a few short years in the early 2000s, embraced the fans. They leaked us information about the game. They not only encouraged house rules, they gave us the OGL so we could officially endorse and sell them.

I was so excited about 3E that my friend and I planned a last minute trip to Gen Con just so we could buy the 3E players handbook the moment it was available. I got mine signed by Jonathan Tweet, Skip Williams, and Monte Cook. Then I got both Gygax and Arneson to sign it. We went to an RPGA event and found that the judges were only vaguely familiar with the new rules. Thanks to Eric Noah's website, I knew more than anyone there about the new game. I started helping people make characters. I felt like an expert. I felt like 3E was my game, like I'd had a hand in creating it. I didn't, but I got to watch it develop.

Alas, Wizards of the Coast isn't what it used to be. How could it? None of the people working there are the same. The world is a different place, too. Paizo and Goodman Games released their entire game rules online for free as a public playtest. Almost every game that comes out now is under some kind of open license. Some of the good things that came out of those early 3E years are still around, but the magic has faded. It makes me sad in a way.

Pathfinder seems like a worthy heir to 3E. As I hear about Paizo's continued success, I can't believe that Wizards basically gave them 3E after D&D Fourth Edition came out. If the rumors are true and Pathfinder is outselling Dungeons and Dragons, then it means that Ryan Dancy's plan worked; no single company owns D&D any longer. The name may belong to Wizards, but the game belongs to everyone. Who could have seen any of this coming, eleven or more years ago?

I miss those early days, right before 3E came out. There was a buzz in the gaming world and a sense of community that I wish we could find again. I know that it wasn't the first time this happened. I guess that means that it won't be the last. Here's to the next gaming high period. It can't come too soon!

Super 8 and Storytelling

I watched the movie Super 8 last night. I enjoyed it, although I thought that it had the makings within it of a much better movie. Super 8 felt like the Goonies mixed with a modern, slightly scarier, ET. I don't want to give the wrong impression; the plots weren't the same, just the feelings. A group of ragtag kids run around in an adult world while scary government agents do X-Files stuff in a small town.

Super 8 is trying to be more realistic than the movies that inspired it, the movies that producer Steven Spielberg made back in the 1980s. The result is more realistic but less memorable characters. The Goonies were almost archetypes. They even had evocative nicknames that reminded the viewer of their personalities: Chunk, Mouth, Data, even Sloth. The characters of Super 8 have normal names. They seem (with the exception of the improbably brave and clever protagonist) like kids you might know. More real? Yes, but less memorable. At the same time, the fantastic elements of the story seem kind of tacked on. You remember how in Stephen King's It, Part 1 was really cool and nostalgic, mostly about the kids? Part one made you feel like one of those kids, It played off of the feelings and emotions we can all relate to having as children, the fear of the dark we all have inside. Part 2, with the grownups, had a big stupid giant spider and was far less satisfying. If you mixed the nostalgia of Part 1 with the stupid giant spider of Part 2, you'd have Super 8. It's a good movie, a solid B, but it could have been an A+.

What was awesome about Super 8 was the retro quality of its storytelling. I'm not talking about the 1970s setting or even the throwback to older Spielberg movies. I'm talking about the pacing and storytelling style of the movie. With four young kids in the house, I've seen a lot of kids shows, for better or for worse. Modern childrens' movies are fast paced with a lot of whiz bang effects. The best of the them have dialogue and jokes aimed at the parents, too, delivered quickly and smoothly right over the heads of the kids.

Super 8 is different. It focuses on the emotions of the story and its characters. It spends time establishing the characters, their histories, and their relationships to one another. It's not in a hurry to do so. Once it gets you there, the movie blows up a train in spectacular fashion. Then, with the kids' world turned upside down, the movie slows down again. The pacing is deliberate. This is a summer movie, to be sure, with explosions and monsters, but it's a summer movie from a different time. Well, parts of it are, anyway. It's wonderful to see a movie that treats its audience, children they may be, as if they're intelligent and capable of becoming emotionally attached to a story. Whether they are or not I'm not sure, but it was deeply refreshing to see a movie paced like this. May it spread to other movies and affect them.

I feel obligated to conclude with a gaming connection. Games, like other forms of entertainment, are products of their times. All too often, in the rush to adapt the zeitgeist of the day, I think that we forget the good parts of the things that came before. The music of today is very different from the music of 30 years ago. Does that mean that all of the music back then sucked and that the millions of people producing and enjoying it were wrong? Obviously not.

The same holds true for roleplaying games. The idea that we've somehow evolved or advanced beyond the rules elements of OD&D or 1E or whatever is absurd. Granted, these games were played over a period of several years, and we have the advantage of seeing how they worked on a bigger stage over a longer timeline. So, it's fair to say that you prefer system X or technique Y. But to dismiss old games simply because they're old, as if games could expire like cartons of milk? That's really, really foolish.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Playtest: Part 2 (The Adventure)

Now that I have the characters, it's time to put them through my pseudo-adventure. As I said before, I'm playing the part of all of these characters. This isn't a real adventure, but a series of planned encounters meant to simulate the sort of things one faces in a real D&D session.

We begin with the PCs just outside the entrance to the Barbarian King's tomb. Dusk is falling, and they know that there are goblins inside. Their plan is to creep into the tomb quietly, hoping to get a jump on the goblins and defeat them as quickly as possible. Before they begin, Dog lights a bit of tinder and gets ready to put flame to his flask of lamp oil. The PCs then creep along the outside wall of the cave before bursting in.

I have the party roll an Agility check, based on the PC with the worst modifier (+0). The result is an 8. The goblins, who are just inside the tomb's entrance, roll an opposed Intelligence check to see if they notice the PCs. I figure goblins are fairly stupid, so I give them a -1 penalty and roll a 9, for a total of 8. The result is a tie. I decide to be kind to the PCs and give them a free surprise round against the goblins.

The PCs burst into the cavern-like opening of the tomb. There are six goblins here, with three standing guard right by the entrance and the others hanging back, whiling away their time doing nothing.

Dog is the first to act. He lights his flask of oil and hurls it at the first of the three goblin guards.
Dog hits and rolls maximum damage of 6, killing the goblin outright.

Bunder draws his longsword and decides to hold back near the entrance to see how this all plays out.

Sirus steps in next, firing a sling stone at one of the two remaining goblin guards.
He hits AC 18 and does only 2 damage, but it's enough to kill the goblin.

Next up is Alfred, who brings his quarterstaff up and attempts to pummel the last remaining goblin guard.

Finally, the group's leader, Squire Tavor, draws his longsword and steps next to Alfred, attacking the same goblin.
He hits AC 18 and then rolls maximum damage of 8. Another goblin dies a painful death.

It's the goblins' turn. Since they've suffered their first casualty as a group they all have to test morale. Their three guards are dead, leaving the three that were deeper in the cave.
I need to roll Will saves for each goblin, DC 11. Two of them fail and one succeeds.

Panicked by this sudden and effective assault, two of the goblins break ranks and sprint for the entrance. Feeling the momentum of victory, the PCs let them pass unharmed. Only one goblin remains.

First, I have to roll initiative. I roll a single d20 for the group and d20 for the goblin. The goblin rolls high and wins.

Steeling its beady red eyes, the monster lunges at a nearby human.
I randomly determine that he attacks Tavor. He rolls a 5 and misses by a long shot.

Dog moves into the room and tries to smash the goblin with his club.
He rolls a 5 and misses.

Bunder is up next. Seeing that the others have things under control, he decides to stay out of the fight.

Sirus, not wanting to fire his sling into a melee, takes a short sword from one of the dead goblin guards as a backup weapon.

Alfred attacks the lone goblin.
He rolls a 4 and misses.

Tavor tries to finish the fight, swinging his longsword furiously at the monster's head.
He also rolls a 4. Miss.

The goblin lashes out at (random roll), Dog. The monster slashes with his short sword and..
He hits! He rolls 1d6-1 for maximum damage. The goblin's blade catches the poor slave right in the gut, killing him instantly. Dog is dead!

It's Bunder's turn again. He can't believe Dog could have dropped so easily. Keeping out of the Goblin's reach, Bunder creeps up to make sure Dog is really dead.
Checking the rules, I note that players do have a chance of helping other PCs who have been dropped to 0 hit points, if they can get there in time. However, level 0 guys don't have this luxury. For them, 0 and below is instant death.

Sirus decides that things might be getting ugly, but he still doesn't want to risk hitting an ally, so he gets his sling ready and waits.

Alfred, fearing this little goblin might be tougher than it looks, tries again to brain the thing with his staff.
He rolls a 2. That's a miss.

Squire Tavor attacks from the other flank.
And he rolls a 2! Damn you Gamescience Dice! You make it hard to pass the blame onto my dice!

The goblin, an evil grin coming over its face, begins to sense fear in its opponents. It attacks Alfred.
It rolls a 4. Miss!

At this point, Bunder decides he needs to act or risk losing out on the payoff he came here for. He asks if he can try to move around behind the goblin and gain a bonus to his attack, since the creature is fighting two people already. I don't see any flanking rules specifically, but I decide to grant him a +1 bonus to hit for one round only.
 Bunder rolls well and hits AC 17. He does 4 damage, but that's not enough to kill this goblin. The creature is wounded, but it's still fighting.

Sirus again waits. It looks like the others have things handled.

Alfred, encouraged by Bunder's assistance, swings his quarterstaff.
He hits a 6. No luck.

Squire Tavor follows up with an attack of his own.
He rolls a 9. Damn goblin refuses to go down.

The goblin now turns its attention to Tavor. It ducks low, coming at him from a surprising angle.
The goblin hits AC 15. It does 5 damage. Taken completely off guard, Squire Tavor's dreams of becoming a knight die as his life blood runs out onto a goblin's short sword.

Bunder is now feeling desperate. A few moments ago, it looked as though the PCs were going to easily best these goblins. Now things are turning against them in a hurry. He slashes at the goblin's puny head.
Bunder rolled a 1. A fumble! Because he's wearing hide armor, he rolls a d12. He gets a bonus for his Broken Star ability and ends up with a result of 8.

Bunder falls prone onto his back, his arms flailing.

Sirus decides to risk a ranged attack into the melee.
He rolls an 11, -4 for shooting into melee = a miss.

Since he missed, there is a 50% chance that Sirus hits a random ally.
I roll percentile dice and get a 20. Sirus hits Alfred. He rolls 3 points of damage. Poor Alfred only had 1 hp. As the errant sling stone smacks him in the back of the head, the former servant drops to the ground dead. He never even knew what hit him.

[DM's note: This is getting really out of hand. If this were a real adventure, the players would probably flee at this point, especially since the remaining two guys are kind of shady characters. However, its a playtest. Plus, it's just ONE GOBLIN, darn it!]

The goblin leaps toward Bunder's prone form, trying to finish him off.
The goblin rolls a 4, +4 for attacking a prone foe, is still not enough to hit. Bunder just manages to roll out of the way, and the goblin's blade strikes only dirt.

Bunder uses his action to roll away from the goblin's reach and then stand up from prone.

Sirus, now with a clear shot, fires another sling stone at the lone goblin, but misses.
He hit AC 6.

The goblin resumes its attack on Bunder. The monster is convinced that it can win this fight.
He hits a 10. Not enough to penetrate the mercenary's armor.

Bunder, back on his feet, swings his sword toward the goblin, but the monster parries it away.
Hit AC 11. This goblin is wearing a bit of armor.

Sirus draws the goblin shortsword. He would normally be at a -4 penalty, since a 0 level character is only proficient with the weapon he starts with (in this case, a sling). I forgot this rule in the heat of the battle, though, so let's just say that the smuggler's Luck is working in his favor.

The goblin attacks Bunder again, hoping to finish him off once and for all.
Lucky break for the PCs as the goblin rolls a 9 and misses.

Planning to burn some Luck if need be, Bunder puts everything into this attack. He needs to finish this goblin!
Bunder rolls a 14 and doesn't need to use any luck. He rolls a 5 for damage. The goblin, tenacious fighter that it was, is finally dead.

Their strength down to only two men, the PCs decide what to do next. They're not certain that they can defeat any other monsters that might live in this tomb. On the other hand, with the goblins dead and the tomb only recently unearthed, it's likely that the treasure is now unguarded. Greed wins the day. Bunder dons Squire Tavor's steel helmet and, with Sirus the smuggler following, proceeds deeper into the cavern.

As they make their way down the narrow earthen hall that they believe leads to the Barbarian King's treasure, the party stumbles into a trap! Bunder, in the lead, is the first to encounter it: a small pitfall, concealed in the floor. Bunder has a split second to react.
Bunder must make a Reflex save, DC 10, or fall in the pit. He rolls a 10, narrowly escaping certain death.

With the pit trap exposed, the two adventurers are able to circumvent the danger. They finally arrive in a large, circular room. In the center is a stone sarcophagus. Atop of the Barbarian King's final resting place sits his treasure: a golden goblet filled with sweet-smelling red liquid, a small chest of silver coins, and a fine-quality axe.

Together, Bunder and Sirus creep carefully over to the treasure. As Sirus reaches out a hand toward the golden cup, the air ripples with magic. A dark wind blows and, in a puff of acrid smoke, the Barbarian King's long-dead body guards are summoned from beyond the grave.

I roll 3d4 for the number of skeletons that appear: 7

Clad in tattered furs and moldy leather head-dresses, the barbarian skeletons appear in a circle around the PCs. As the monsters move in menacingly, their grave-mouldered claws reaching with murderous intent, the two remaining adventurers have no choice but to put their backs together and fight.

Rolling initiative, the PCs get a 14. The skeletons get a 5. The initiative goes to the PCs.

Bunder slashes out with his longsword, trying to fend off the nearest skeleton.
He rolls a 5 and misses.

Behind him, Sirus dodges sideways and attack a skeleton with the shortsword he stole from a dead goblin. (Recall that I forgot about the -4 penalty).
He rolls a paltry 6 and misses.

The skeletons are up. I decide that there are currently two on each of the PCs, with the others coming up quickly to join their boney brethren.

The first skeleton snatches at Bunder with its claw-like fingers.
17! Bunder is hit for 2 damage. As tough as he seemed, the mercenary only had 1 hit point to begin with. The skeleton finds soft flesh, tearing into Bunder's throat and killing him instantly.

As Bunder falls to the ground, Sirus the Smuggler knows that he's about to die. With nothing left to loose, he braces himself for the incoming assault, hoping he can burn enough luck to turn the tide against the skeletons and escape with his life.

The first of two skeletons attacks Sirus.
It misses with a 4.

The second skeleton attacks Sirus.
It hits, but only inflicts 1 damage. Sirus has 1 hit point left.

Sirus' only hope now is to hit or come close enough that his luck can make the difference. He rolls.
...a 4. Desperate, he burns 6 points of luck, which actually gives him one more than he needed to hit. He rolls a 2 for damage but, since he's using a slashing weapon, it only does ½ against the skelton, or 1 damage.

The blade turns awkwardly off the skeleton's ribcage. The monsters continue to advance and Sirus' luck is running out!

Sirus's Luck is now 5, meaning he's at a -2 to all missile attacks due to his Fortunate Date luck ability.

It's a new round. There are three skeletons engaged with Sirus, with four more circled around the melee. One by one, the monsters claw at the desperate smuggler.

Skeleton 1 hits a 15. That's enough to hit. The skeleton inflicts only 1 damage, but that's enough.

Sirus swings in vain, trying to fight off the boney barbarians, but they overpower him and throw him to the ground. In a frenzy, the monsters tear Sirus apart.

The would-be adventurers are all dead.

There your have it. While not a true playtest, I can say with certainty that the DCC RPG is very deadly for level 0 characters. Had any one of these guys survived and graduated into a full scale adventurer, it would have made for a cool backstory. I rather like the “funnel” method, but it obviously works best with a normal-sized group of players, each running 3 characters or so. I'm sure that a party of 12 would have overcome the skeletons and made off with the treasure.

My first impressions of the game were pretty good. I liked making the characters and things went smooth and simple. I wasn't really getting into anything new, though, as the game becomes different than D&D only when you start running characters greater than level 0. Even then, I'm not sure that there is enough different here to distinguish DCC RPG from standard D&D in the long run. After all, its still fighters and wizards rolling d20 to hit the AC of the same old goblins and skeletons. The new bits, like the spell charts, might be a lot of fun if they aren't too much work. However, what happens when the novelty wears off?

I'm eager to see the final product, of course, and I'll hold off judgement until then. I will say that I enjoyed my little solo playtest. I really want to try this out with level 1 characters so I can test some of the new rules. I feel that its important to create characters using the funnel method that the book prescribes, though. Maybe I'll rerun this mini-adventure a few more tames with the same characters and see if the dice don't favor one or two of them surviving. Whatever I decide to do, I'll be sure to post the results here.

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Playtest: Part 1 (The Characters)

As I mentioned earlier, I'm playtesting the new DCC RPG from Goodman Games. I don't have a gaming group here in Korea, nor any friends to speak of at this point, at least not of the gamer persuasion. However, I do have dice, paper, and a nice quiet library.

For this first playtest, I created a group of characters and put them through a simulated adventure. Basically, I planned out three set encounters that I think reflect the sorts of things that happen in a typical D&D adventure and then put the characters through them to see how the game handled things. I'm not trying to break the game at this point or put it through any kind of stress. What I'm mostly doing is familiarizing myself with the rules to see how they work and how they differ from the versions of D&D that I usually play.

The Funnel
One of the really fun things about the DCC is the way it turns character creation into part of the game. Back in the day, the rules told you to roll up your characters using a very random method: roll 3d6 for each ability score, in order, and take what you got. Now, before you modern gamers dismiss this philosophy out of hand, remember that ability scores were not nearly as important in older D&D than they are in more modern versions of the game. The rules assumed that you were going to end up with an average character most of the time, and that was okay. It wasn't like 3E, where you need a couple of 17s or 18s to “not suck.” A 17 generally meant nothing more than a +2 bonus, which was nice, but you weren't going to vastly outshine the guy next to you with the +0 bonus from rolling a 9.

Also, characters were expected to die. Below about 3rd level or so, the game was highly lethal. Again, this is something that more “new-school” gamers have been conditioned to lament about the older version of the game. There are good things and bad things to frequent character death, points which have been expanded upon in numerous other blogs all over the internet. Suffice to say that I'm convinced that a decent lethality rate can actually enchance a game. Also, please bear in mind that it takes about 10 minutes to roll up a brand new character in Basic D&D, not the hour or so that one would need make a new PC in, say, 3E. So, if your guy dies, just make a new one and jump back in. No big deal.

Alright, so I'm getting long-winded here. The point is, as time went on, GMs started to get more lenient with how they let people roll of PCs. That's where methods such as rolling 4d6 – lowest came from. Effectively, what people were doing was hedging the probability in favor of higher stats. What DCC RPG does is makes that same kind of hedging, where you roll a whole bunch of stats until you find a character you like, part of the game. Here's how it works.

The game rules insist that your roll up your character using the old method of 3d6 in order. However, you aren't just making one character. No, players are encouraged to make up to five starting PCs. These aren't the fighters and wizards you're imagining, though. No, these are level 0, classless nobodies. Each player runs a small group of these 0 level PCs at once. Whichever ones survive their first real adventure automatically go up to level 1, where they pick their class and become full-fledged adventurers.

The idea is that you'll be most protective of the character with the stats that you like best, using the others to shield him and help him grab that golden ring and become level 1. If it works, not only will you have a character, but you'll have a character with a built-in backstory of how he survived the odds and became something other than a peasant or a farmer. It's a neat little concept that makes me think of all kinds of fun “level 0” adventures to test out a new character's mettle.

The Characters
With the idea of the funnel in mind, I decided to make a group of 5 characters to run through my little pseudo adventure. The game recommends a party of about 15 PCs, but I thought running that many would be a bit cumbersome on my own. I got some index cards to serve as character sheets (0 level guys are pretty simple) and started rolling. Below is an abbridged version of the characters I came up with. I tried to give each one a little personality based on what I rolled. Remember everything is random, including the PCs occupations, which is what they did before they became adventurers. Each character has a single weapon and a piece of gear determined by his occupation, plus an item and some copper rolled off a random chart.

Character #1
Name: Tavor
Occupation: Squire
Alignment: Lawful

Tavor has been a squire for far too long. When rumors reached him of an ancient barbarian king's tomb recently unearthed by goblins, Tavor thought that his chance to earn his spurs had finally arrived. He scouted the location himself and found it guarded by just a few goblins. Returning quickly to town, Tavor spent the last of his coppers to ply the local riffraff with booze and look for a few men desperate enough to help him. Tavor has assembled a motley group of wanna-be adventurers, convincing them that the goblins will be pushovers, and the spoils will be grand. He just hopes his knightly insticts are correct.

Strength: 11
Agility: 10
Stamina: 12
Personality: 12
Intelligence: 8 (-1)
Luck: 10*
* Luck Roll: Broken Star: Tavor adds double his luck bonus to fumble results.

Ref +0
Fort +0
Will +0

Initiative: +0
AC: 10
Hit Points: 3

Longsword -0 (1d8)

Steel Helmet

Character #2
Name: “Dog”
Occupation: Slave
Alignment: Neutral

The human known as “Dog” was a slave until his master, in a rare fit of egalitarianism brought on by copious amount of wine, set him free. Dog rushed from his master's house, determined to leave before the man regained his senses. In his haste, the former slave was not able to grab much; his only possessions are a flask of lamp oil and a bizarre purple-and-green rock that Dog hopes might be worth a few coins to a wizard or other eccentric.

Dog joined up with this band of would-be adventurers out of desperation. He needs money for food and, besides the muscle he developed digging up artifacts for his master, he has no other skills to speak of.

Strength: 14 (+1)
Agility: 9
Stamina: 10
Personality: 9
Intelligence: 11
Luck: 8 (-1)*
* Luck Roll: Charmed House. Dog's bad luck affects his Armor Class.

Ref +0
Fort +0
Will +0

Initiative: +0
AC: 9
Hit Points: 4

Club +1 melee (1d4+1)
Oil Flask +0 missile (1d6, target must make a REF save DC 10 or take 1d6 damage each subsequent round)

Strange-looking rock
Oil Flask
32 cp

Character #3
Name: Bunder Gray
Occupation: Mercenary
Alignment: Chaotic

Bunder Gray is a man motivated by money and a strong desire to look out for number one. He's been searching for an easy score, hoping to land a job where he can reap a large benefit while letting others do the dirty work, and he's pretty sure that he's found one by agreeing to Squire Tavor's offer.

Strength: 7 (-1)
Agility: 13 (+1)
Stamina: 9
Personality: 11
Intelligence: 12
Luck: 13 (+1)*
* Luck Roll: Broken Star: Bunder adds double his luck bonus to fumble results.

Ref +1
Fort +0
Will +0

Initiative: +1
AC: 15
Hit Points: 1

Longsword -1 (1d8-1)

Hide Armor
Large Sack
23 cp

Character #4
Name: Sirus
Occupation: Smuggler
Alignment: Neutral

Sirus the smuggler owes money to not one but three petty crime bosses. So far, he's been able to avoid their hired thugs, but he needs money if he's going to get his boat back and pay off his debts. He doesn't plan to get his hands too dirty following Squire Tavor's little plan. Sirus will help out enough to make sure the job gets done and he gets paid.

Strength: 12
Agility: 10
Stamina: 10
Personality: 11
Intelligence: 11
Luck: 11
* Luck Roll: Fortunate Date: Luck affects Sirus' missile attacks.

Ref +0
Fort +0
Will +0

Initiative: +0
AC: 10
Hit Points: 2

Sling +0 (1d4)

Waterproof Sack
Rations (1 day)
33 cp

Character #5
Name: Alfred
Occupation: Indentured Servant
Alignment: Lawful

Alfred, once a hopeless gambler, was forced into servitude by crippling debts. He worked for the same man who, until recently, owned the slave called “Dog.” When Alfred's master freed Dog, Alfred followed the slave to keep an eye on him. His goal is to keep Dog alive and convince him to return to his master's estate. Alfred carries with him a stout walking stick and his only valuable: a locket passed down through his family.

Strength: 13
Agility: 12
Stamina: 12
Personality: 15 (+1)
Intelligence: 8 (-1_
Luck: 14 (+1)*
* Luck Roll: Charmed house: Alfred adds his luck bonus to his AC.

Ref +0
Fort +0
Will +1

Initiative: +0
AC: 11
Hit Points: 1

Staff +1 melee (1d4+1)

Staff (Walking stick)
34 cp

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Playtest: Part 0

Goodman Games, makers of the very popular and prolific Dungeon Crawl Classic adventures for 3E and 4E D&D have decided to produce their own RPG. You should click here to read more about the DCC RPG. Like Paizo did with Pathfinder, Goodman Games are releasing an in-progress Beta Version of their rules as a free download. I've decided to throw in my efforts and playtest the game myself, at least to the best of my abilities all by myself in Korea.

If you were are too lazy to follow the above link, allow me to summarize what the DCC RPG is all about. I quote the site:

"What if Gygax and Arneson had access to the Open Game License when they created D&D? What if they spent their time adapting thirty years of game design principles to their stated inspirations -- rather than creating the building blocks from scratch? What if someone were to attempt just that: to immerse himself in the game’s inspirations and re-envision the output using modern game design principles"

Essentially, the designers tried to go back to the roots of D&D, to the books and stories that inspired the game (as shown in Appendix N of the AD&D Dungeonmaster's Guide) and design a modern game that more closely reflects those literary sources. Thus, magic is more random and dangerous, characters are not necessarily super heroes, etc.

If you're interested, feel free to go and download the Beta rules for yourself. I'm not here to review them, at least not in this post. What I'm doing right now is playtesting them, putting the crunchy bits into action and seeing how they play out. I'm sure I'll do an actual review at some point in the next few weeks. Until then, stay tuned for my playtest.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Gamer's Creed

I see little point in "edition war" arguments where one side tries to convince the other that they play a superior form of D&D. That isn't to dismiss debates on the merits and flaws of different games. Nor am I saying that no one should not be able to gripe and complain from time to time. That's pretty much the purpose of most blogs, if I'm not mistaken.

No, I'm against useless debates where one angry fan tries to pass his opinions and preferences off as some kind of fact, as if he's going to convince someone else to change their own feelings via an internet message board. While I've been guilty of contributing to these sorts of ego-driven discussions in the past, I would very much like to avoid doing so in the future.

This got me thinking about other common behaviors that I'd like to avoid, if I can. I thought it might be useful to write these down and that it might be amusing if I did so in a fashion similar to the Soldier's Creed or other such mottos. I already have a manifesto, why not a creed as well?

by Andrew Branstad

I am a fan of tabletop roleplaying games, as typified by Dungeons and Dragons and the games that it inspired, either directly or indirectly.

I enjoy many roleplaying games. I like to play them, read them, and collect them. I think that all three of these activities are a viable part of a hobby that includes many separate but related pursuits.

I believe that there is a shared culture among gamers created by a variety of common interests. I feel that this culture is important to maintain and I will try to build and preserve it through my behavior and actions. I will also remember that games are meant to be fun and I won’t take them too seriously.

There are games that I don’t enjoy. I will not disparage others who play games that I do not like. Doing so creates unnecessary rifts among otherwise like-minded people. I will remember that my opinion is not a litmus test of what is good or bad; it is only my opinion.

I believe that roleplaying game rules were meant to be altered and I enjoy creating rules of my own. The best rules are created through play. Second best are rules developed independently and then rigorously tested. The least useful are those rules that were created in a vacuum.

Most game designers are experienced players and I value their opinions. However, I will not hold the ideas of a designer above those of any other experienced player. No person can be an expert on how to play roleplaying games because there is no single correct way to play roleplaying games.

I believe that roleplaying games are part of a unique hobby that can bring a lifetime of fun. I will strive to teach this hobby to others. I will actively support the games and activities that I enjoy so that they will carry on through subsequent generations.