Saturday, October 8, 2016

Day 2 of 30 Days of Dark Sun

Do you like the concept of Preserving or Defiling better?

I have to go with Defiling.  Really, that's how Dark Sun got to be a desert.  Once again, I had very little true knowledge of the pulp classics like Conan or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.  However, something about the drawback to magic use made sense to me.  I instinctively knew magic use was dangerous and now I had a mechanic for it.  It also gave a dichotomy to magic users, who I always felt were too carbon-copy.  Would I have ever played one?  I don't know; I never was big on magic users in general.  It would have been interesting; unfortunately, I was the DD:  Designated Dungeonmaster.  :)

Day 1 of 30 Days of Dark Sun

So, October 2016 marks the 25th anniversary of the Dark Sun setting. That means I was 16 and in the Fall of my Junior year. Over at athas.org, they're running a #30DaysofDarkSun celebration with 30 questions about your favorite aspects of Dark Sun. Of course, I'm late as usual, so I'm going to try to catch up and keep up.

What is your favorite setting element of Dark Sun?

I mean, good night! Probably the best way I can articulate this is the alienness of the setting. I was familiar with Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, and Ravenloft; all 3 of those are fairly interchangeable. Dark Sun was none of these. It was a revelation to me that you could play D&D in a completely different way. Surprisingly, it foreshadowed my interest in pulp; my only knowledge of pulp at that time was probably H.P. Lovecraft (from my love of Stephen King). There was something primordial about the alien world of Dark Sun. The concept of a desert planet as a fantasy setting seemed brand new to me and most likely reminded me of Tatooine. The requirement of psionics was so cool to me; I was basically a sci-fi guy and I loved the setting's reliance on it. And the take on races was great; obviously I was not familiar with Arduin's phraints, but thri-kreen as a playable race again seemed to key to my sci-fi background. All of these really interested me and caused me to buy the box set at the first place I found it.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Marvel Character Creation

So, having purchased the Marvel Super Heroes RPG for the last time, I decided to use it.  One of my goals is to provide gameable content for every post here.  Without further ado, let us make a character!

First off, origin.  I rolled a 72, which makes our new hero a Hi-Tech Wonder.  That's cool; Iron Man is one of my favorites.  Now to generate his primary abilities.  Fighting 41 (Good), Agility 62 (Good), Strength 08 (Poor), Endurance 61 (Good), Reason 91 (Excellent!), Intuition 97 (Remarkable), and Psyche 11 (Typical).  The Reason roll is really good; I was surprised by the Intuition roll and if I had rolled a high Psyche, I might have gone more of the mystical route instead of scientific.  As a Hi-Tech Wonder, Reason gets increased two ranks to Incredible.  Secondary abilities of Health (27) and Karma (67) are just math problems; I remember not liking that initial rank numbers are on the bottom of their respective rank, but now I see more of the rationale behind it for new heroes.  For initial Resources, I decide to roll (92) to improve it from Typical to Remarkable.  Popularity starts off as 10 and I choose a secret identity, so 5/5.

Now for Powers.  I roll a 74, which gives me 4 initial Powers.  I've decided to just roll for categories and then pick the individual powers.  I roll a 34 (Energy Control), 99 (Body Alterations/Defensive, yes!), 15 (Movement), and 67 (Distance Attack).  That's a good spread to start with; let's start with Body Alterations/Defensive.  Taking Body Armor is a no-brainer; as a Hi-Tech Wonder, all of my powers will be rolled into this suit of armor.  For power rank, I roll a 78 (Incredible).  Now to modify my Fighting (56) by one rank, Agility (66) by one rank, Strength (94!) by four ranks, and Endurance (71) by two ranks.  Also, I can lower my Agility by one rank (Typical) to increase my power rank by one (Amazing).  My Health while wearing my armor is now 76.  For Energy Control, I've always liked Gravity Manipulation and I roll a 94 for an Amazing rank; I get one Power Stunt and decide to increase weight on targets at the Amazing rank, making it feel like 50 tons!  For Distance Attack, I choose Darkforce Generation, another personal favorite, and roll 72 for an Incredible rank attack.  Finally, I choose Lightning Speed for my Movement power.  I roll a 46, but the power must be at least Endurance plus one, so it's Incredible.  I also get to use it for Agility FEATs.

For my Talents, I roll an 81 for three.  I decide to choose these and go with Engineering, Physics, and Repair/Tinkering.  I roll a 21 for Contacts, giving me one, which is the organization I work for or own; I decide it's Business World, giving me Incredible Resources to draw on and it's my company.

So, here's what we've got:  a genius business owner in a suit of armor that makes targets heavier, shoots black bolts, and moves at 105 MPH.  What if the Darkforce is a little less specific?  What if our character developed a device that replicated a black hole?  With the recent discovery of gravitational waves, this seems really cool.  By manipulating a micro black hole, he can increase gravity and lash out with singularity spears; he also alters space-time to achieve high speeds.  Thus, I give you Cygnus X-1, named after the first black hole to be observed.

Leonard Cooper, MEng, PhD, started his company with a grant from Stark Industries. Based in San Francisco to research singularities as a power source, Dr. Cooper used Stark's arc reactor technology as a starting point.  Following information gleaned from the invasion of New York, Dr. Cooper was able to create an aperture into a micro black hole and capture the Hawking radiation in 1-second microbursts.  Unfortunately, there was no effective way to channel this tremendous energy into a directly usable source for consumption, but it did have certain side effects when released, such as gravitational anomalies.  Dr. Cooper created a "gravitational lens" that allowed for controlled release of energy and built a suit of armor around it to channel the energy.  He learned to use the energy to increase local gravity, accelerate to fractions of light, and channel tangible black matter.  Following Stark's example, he became Cygnus X-1, Dark Star of the Bay Area.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

MARVELous Memories

If memory serves, my true introduction into roleplaying games was 1986.  That would have made me 11 years and in 6th grade, which matches a lot of what I remember.  My soon to be best friend in the whole world was 2 years older and was heavily into RPGs, including AD&D, Star Frontiers, and even Battletech!  But he was also into a game I had vague familiarity with:  Marvel Super Heroes, the first RPG I ever bought.  To really date myself, I bought it at a KayBee Toys in the mall.  I remember pouring over that Advanced Set box, trying to understand it all.  I got character creation fairly easily and had a ball with random generation of tons of characters.  The rest was a little more complex without someone to bounce off of.  Soon thereafter, I was invited into the inner sanctum of my older friends and fully initiated into RPGs; we had some great D&D and AD&D campaigns (including Temple of Elemental Evil), but the MSH campaign is still probably my favorite.

Eventually, I wore my books out.  They were falling apart and I had moved on to things like Vampire, Star Wars, and Champions.  I really can't recall what happened to that first box set; I may very well have gotten rid of it around my first marriage in 1999.  But eventually, I remember missing it.  Oh, I had bought the Marvel SAGA when it came out, and actually played it with my first wife and a friend.  But I missed my old, first love.  As luck would have it, sometime during that time period between my first marriage and divorce, I found a used copy that was damn near flawless.  Complete, intact, barely used.  I can't remember the price, but I know it was not much; probably between 10 and 20 dollars in the early 2000s.

Then, I met my second wife.  Sometime after we got married, probably during moving in together, I realized I lacked the space to keep all these wonderful childhood books.  So I purged; HARD.  Gone were the AD&D books I first bought (orange spine PHB, DMG, and Fiend Folio); all of my Fading Suns books (basically everything ever published); and so much more.  And gone too, was my precious first love:  Marvel Super Heroes Advanced Set.

Until now.


The box is not in as good a condition as my previous one, but there are no tears.


The books are dang near flawless; a little aging, some rust on the staples, but they really don't look like they were read much.



Pretty sure this is the original map, which was meant to be connected to the map in the Original Set.


All of the standups are here, uncut.



And the character cards, uncut!




And this little blast from the past....But wait, I think I see something else under there!


And this!


That's right; I got the two rulebooks from the Starter Traveller box (another casualty of my purge).  No, no adventures or maps, but really, these two books are sufficient to run Traveller forever.


Yep, it certainly did just get better.  As I told my wife, this is the last time I'm buying this.  All of this was acquired for the paltry sum of $35.00.  Sometimes, the gaming gods smile on me.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

EPThursday - This Time, It's Personal

So, I’m going to try to do some recurring posts.  First up, I will designate Thursday as Empire of the Petal Thursday or EPThursday.  I will attempt to recount the exploits of my Wednesday night games run by +James Maliszewski 

Last night, we were in the clan house of the Iron Pillar clan.  Seven of us, four warriors (Chuminish, Kurukkemish, Komesh, and Viruish), two priests (Komish and Cherekelmir, my character) and a magic user (Ka’uleggish), had been invited to dinner with the head of the clan, ChusĂșnish.  This clan house appeared to be in some sort of parallel dimension of death; coincidentally, these Iron Pillars are worshippers of the Five-Headed Lord of Worms, Master of the Undead, Guide Into Darkness, the Demon of Decay.  So yeah, we kinda got what we asked for last night.

While we were waiting for dinner to begin, we investigated more of the surrounding area.  We discovered that based on the spatial geography of where we were, the town we originally came from should be nearby.  Unfortunately, when we arrived, we discovered rubble as if tanks had rolled through the place.  Surprisingly, there were no remains and some of the buildings were not in the original town we had left.  Upon discovering nothing fundamentally useful, we returned to the clan house to await dinner.

Upon arrival, ChusĂșnish began to parlay with us as his undead servants entered.  Braziers were lit to help alleviate the overpowering stench of death and decay; unfortunately for us, the smoke began to accumulate thickly and we all had to save vs poison or begin coughing.  The dark lord then unleashed his minions upon us!  We fought 10 skeletons in the hazy chamber.  This was our first combat since beginning play almost weekly since after Christmas.  My dice were very hot; Cherekelmir hit one skeleton each round and rolled maximum damage for each.  Unfortunately, our warriors could not hit the broad side of a barn with a baseball bat.  Komesh was reduced to one hit point and Kurukkemish and Komesh were trapped in one corner.  However, Ka’uleggish dashed to the doors in the nick of time to begin the process of ventilating the room.  As the haze cleared, we spotted an undead leader of the group commanding the skeletons.  Kurukkemish and Komish charged across the room to the leader; Kurukkemish missed and prepared to meet his doom.  Fortunately, his brother Komish did not miss as he stabbed the rotting thing with his halberd and returned it to the land of the unliving.  I healed Komesh and we began to sweep and clear rooms.  We came up empty handed for the first two flanking the dining hall and moved toward the southwest, to investigate a room we had found to be empty earlier.

When Chuminish opened the door, he saw a woman kneeling on the floor, staring at the opposite wall.  She spoke to him and when he approached, he discovered she too was undead!  I believe this is when he uttered the best line of the night:  “Is there a skeleton in my face trying to murder me right now?”  The woman zombie tore into Chuminish viciously, reducing him to 0 hit points.  I believe it was Viruish who finally struck the killing blow, but our friend was shuffling off his mortal coil.  Both myself and Komish had previously used our cure light wounds for the day, but Cherekelmir did not let that stop him.  I kneeled beside his still form and prayed to Bulkh, asking for Chuminish’s return.  Ka’uleggish provided a blasphemous tome we had found earlier and we offered it as a burnt sacrifice to Bulkh.  As the gods would have it, Chuminish did rise from the ground, but he was now…changed.

Monday, February 29, 2016

What Is The OSR Worth

Something I find interesting but by no means scientific.

I have seven books sitting in my cart at Lulu and I'm itching to use the LULURC code, because 25% off is great, but free shipping is amazing.  Now, I don't want to buy everything in there, because it still ends up being a chunk of change.  So, how do I decide what to buy?  As with most things involving money, I turn to math to help.

My definition of value for this purpose is simple; what's the best bang for my buck?  For a simple equation, I looked at the number of pages versus the dollar amount.  What am I paying per page?  I know there are various counter-arguments (art cost, layout/editing cost, softcover vs hardcover, size differences), but good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week.  Also, I have included 2 hardcovers into this simple sample of seven.

168 $18.00 $0.11
60 $6.66 $0.11
124 $15.00 $0.12
126 $23.54 $0.19
56 $10.95 $0.20
80 $18.55 $0.23
66 $15.99 $0.24

I sorted them by price per page, which is the price divided by number of pages.  Surprisingly, the longest book is the cheapest, with its main competition almost a third of its size.  The shortest book of 56 pages is the third most expensive per page.  The most expensive per page is the third shortest, coming in at almost a quarter per page.  A quarter per page would have made my senior thesis worth $10; not that anyone wants to read about a priori constructs of the human mind.  Okay, so you've seen some numbers; I'm going to split out the two hardcovers.

168 $18.00 $0.11 126 $23.54 $0.19
60 $6.66 $0.11 66 $15.99 $0.24
124 $15.00 $0.12
56 $10.95 $0.20
80 $18.55 $0.23
Now we can compare apples and oranges better.  In the hardcover category, the longer book wins by a nickel per page.  Does this imply a law of diminishing returns; do authors think the wordier they are, the less they are worth?  Softcover also sees a big gap, with three in what I would call the dime range and two in the two dime range.  Also, the two largest softcover books are in the dime range, while the shortest is in the two dime range.

Does this prove anything?  No; some of this stuff is chart at the table stuff, some of it is adventure stuff, some of it is self-contained game stuff.  Also, don't ask what's what and don't go trying to figure it out archaeologically; none of this is to denigrate any author or what they charge for their work.  Instead, it looks like some of the authors might want to think about charging more for some of their stuff.  I would like more people to think, hey, my creativity does have a dollar amount.  It also makes me wonder how do we price adventures, rulesets, random generators, and the like?  I don't really have an answer; in my world, adventures and random generators are worth $10 and rulesets are $20.  And even that doesn't hold true for me; I just backed an adventure Kickstarter for $20, which may be the new going rate.  I know a lot of that money goes to art, and art is nice, but I can live without a lot of art.  Maps are way more valuable to me, as is a good description that's not read aloud text.  I know other people may be the opposite.

I just wanted to highlight something that interested me and see your take.  If you do publish on Lulu, please let me know what influences your price point.  If you buy through Lulu, what influences pulling the trigger?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Further notes on The Dragon

Yeah, I can get repetitive or obsessive; reading through TD 22 from February 1979, on page 15 is a book review by one EGG.  The book in question:  The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs.  Allow me to quote:  "If the author hadn’t written it several years prior to the creation of D&D, it would be suspect that he was an addict of the game. As I have not read the book until recently, there is likewise no question of it influencing the game. Nonetheless, THE FACE IN THE FROST could have been a prime mover of the underlying spirit of D&D."  A pre-Appendix N review by the author of Appendix N.  I need to do more chronological research into Appendix N; an interesting experiment would be reading Appendix N chronologically by at least publication date, if not composition date.

Some thoughts on reading The Dragon

So, I’ve been delving further into the OSR and its origins.  In addition to acquiring PDFs of original rulesets and adventures, I started reading The Dragon from the beginning.  I learn more and more with each issue read.

I never really had access to the origin of the hobby.  My best friend Courtney was my gateway to most things RPG, although there were other avenues.  When he was the DM, we played mostly 2e, which was a grand adventure through the Temple of Elemental Evil (surprising we were running a 1e adventure in 2e).  He had 1e books and a subscription to The Dragon, but most of that was contemporary with the crossover from 1e to 2e.

Reading The Dragon from the beginning resembles archaeology.  I feel invigorated by my discoveries.  Learning new things about a game I felt I knew thrills me.  I think that may be the beauty of D&D; it is so simple to learn and grasp, but so open-ended as to allow a nigh-infinite number of permutations.  I felt I knew D&D, but I am learning it is like a wadded-up piece of paper; tight, small, but with layers and nooks and crannies.

Quick example that taught me a lot about both 0e and the OSR:  The Dragon #17 has an article on page 32 by Stephen Dorneman about angels in D&D.  “There is a need for beings powerful, yet not omnipotent, who would be in the service of the good gods. And so, in keeping with the Judeo-Christian tradition of D&D, propose the creation of a new class of supernatural beings, Angels.”  Check out what I emphasized in that quote; this is something I have read about on +James Maliszewski's  Grognardia and other old-school blogs.  The traditional interpretation of the cleric is that he is based on Dr. Van Helsing as portrayed in the Hammer films, with a distinctly Christian slant.  The quote also illuminates the cleric as portrayed by +James Raggi in Lamentations of the Flame Princess.


Stuff like this is why it is important to look back; not only can you learn about the origins of the hobby, but also you learn about modern OSR decisions.  By no means am I saying the quote is absolute; it is listed as a “D&D variant” article.  Nor am I saying this is why the cleric is the way it is in LotFP.  What I am saying is it helps me understand more about the hobby overall, which, like all knowledge, is invaluable.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Little About Little Old Me

This is not the beginning, although it should have been.  I have been reading a great deal of Old School Renaissance blogs for a long time now, and decided to get into the mix.  I have had the name for this blog in my head for a while; I knew I needed something distinctive that also said what it was.  I feel the name serves two purposes:  1) I've been working on losing weight for some time now, so the title is literal and 2) I am most interested in re-skinning ideas for role-playing game, specifically OSR, usage.

So, my blog will be about taking ideas (i.e. books, stories, movies, music, etc.) and molding that into something playable.  Obligatory history lesson:  I started playing Dungeons & Dragons at a young age (probably right around 10).  At this point in my life, a lot of my early experiences blend together.  I was probably exposed to Basic D&D and AD&D at about the same time.  I know the orange spine AD&D Player's Handbook, DMG, and original Fiend Folio were my first D&D purchases.  My first RPG was the Marvel Superheroes RPG Advanced Box I bought in a Kay-Bee Toys in the mall.  As far as DMing is concerned, using the beginning dungeon in the back of the DMG(?) was my first experience "behind the screen".  As a player, my longest D&D experience was with 2nd edition when I was in high school.  Often, I have been the DM (or referee, or whatever you want to call it) because I wanted to be involved in a specific type of game or had a specific idea I wanted to explore.  I think this is why the OSR has appealed to me so much.

I played Basic, 1st Ed, 2nd Ed, 3rd Ed, and ran 1st Ed, 2nd Ed, and 4th Ed.  (I did own the three core 3.5 books and some supplements, but never could overcome what follows enough to run or play it.)  In the Basic through 3.5 Eds, my biggest "disappointment" was the relative "weakness" of 1st level characters.  I also observed a general trend of monster bloat, or a great big pile of hit points staring down your 1st level character.  I think when I saw this in a 3rd Ed game, I basically said, enough.  Then, 4th Ed came out.  I checked out the hardcovers in the stores, and said to myself, "Gee, this doesn't look like D&D."

It wasn't until I saw the Essentials line hit the stores and saw a Red Box in Wal-Mart (!) that my interest really got revived.  I started doing some research online and discovered slyflourish.com.  Mr. Shea's website helped direct me how to get back into the hobby.  Around the same time, my son began to reach the age I felt he was ready to at least be exposed to role-playing.  So, I took the plunge and got him the new Red Box and I started picking up some of the Essentials lines around Christmas of 2010.  During 2011, I began to learn the rules and started formulating some campaign ideas.  Finally, my work schedule allowed me to set up a D&D game for my son and one of his friends.  We played the adventure in the Red Box, they made it through a few rooms before a TPK, and we had fun.

Then the 5th Ed announcement happened.  Okay, I thought to myself, I've been down this road of constant new editions, but let me see what it’s all about.  I got in on the first playtest document.  Let me explain a little more about myself:  I am a philosopher and counselor by training.  The first thing I did was read the playtest document as a text.  I remember reading the section about light and darkness.  I’m not for sure about the specifics, but I remember the sentence included “also known as night, shadow, etc.”  Basically, they were naming a thing and then saying it was also named other things.  I found this confusing and a really bad move for rules.  I informed Wizards of my opinion.  The second playtest document came out.  What I had pointed out was still there.  Furthermore, when the PHB came out, I looked the section up and IT’S STILL THERE.  

So I stepped back and began to survey the scene.  I have no idea now exactly how I got where; I think I discovered Grognardia from something on wizards.com.  Regardless, I went down the rabbit's hole and here I am now.  I'll try to post more later regarding what I'm using rules wise and why.