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On Being Old School
Last night I discovered an excellent free PDF entitled A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming. It's a bit lengthier than I expected (13 pages), but easy reading through out, with a fair bit of scripted GM/player interaction examples. It's broken down into three parts, first some general points, then a quick list of player tips, and finally a lengthy section of GM tips.

I think it's completely awesome, and if I could I'd have any player of any old school game I'm running at least read the first two parts. Here's one of my favorite quotes:

The players can describe any action, without needing to look at a character sheet to see if they 'can' do it. The referee, in turn, uses common sense to decide what happens or rolls a die if he thinks there's some random element involved, and then the game moves on.

The subsequent pit trap example of this is OK, but I think the ninja jump example gets it more spot on. This happened at a recent lunch time game, where the party stood atop a huge tor, beset by zombies on the only traversable part. The fighters formed a combat line, and the MU held back to throw daggers. After running out of daggers the player said 'I look around for rocks to throw at the zombies'. Fair enough, I decided being a tor there should be ample throwing-sized rocks, but throwing them is a bit less powerful than using a sling, so they'd only do d2 damage. Everyone was satisfied, and we moved on with the combat. There was no delay of asking 'do you have the throw skill' or arguing over how much damage thrown rocks might do.

However, I think this underlines a very important factor that must be present for old school gaming to succeed: complete trust by the players in their DM. Old school writers love to use the term 'referee' instead of DM, which I think implies his role as an impartial arbiter. However the fact that he's controlling the opponents could easily lead to the perception that in other areas he might consider other motives when making rulings. I think it's important that the GM remain impartial, and that the players be able to trust him enough to do so.

OK, gotta go grab some lunch before our next lunch session starts.
July 8th, 2009 - 11:22 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

Orcs is Funny
Awesome comic commentary on the question of orc alignment:

July 7th, 2009 - 01:16 pm | Comments (1) | PERMALINK

Gaming Paraphenalia
So, here's a collection of photos of gaming related things I've been meaning to post but never got around to. They were piling up, so I figured I'd post them in a batch like this.

First up is my copy of the Holmes edition boxed set. This came in the mail quite a while ago, but there was a little hitch that had to be worked out. The box was shrink-wrapped and in amazing condition. It was even better than my Moldvay expert set, not a single break or tear anywhere, only slight wear on the corners and some old tape marks on the back.

However, when I tore off the shrink wrap and opened it up, I was a bit surprised by the contents. It included one old version of the AD&D DM's screen, one copy of the D&D Monster & Treasure Assortment (Set 1, Levels 1-3), and half of a set of Dungeon Geomorphs. While kind of cool in how old these items are, they were clearly not what I was expecting. I contacted Troll and Toad about it, and they told me they unfortunately did not have a replacement. I wasn't surprised, when I looked on their website this was the only Holmes set they had up there. They said I could return it for a full refund, or keep it and they'd refund half the money I paid. A quick spin on Ebay showed that there were no sets available, but a few places that would sell me the book for about the same price as the half refund, so I went with that to try and re-assemble the set from pieces. I even bought an old printing of B1 to finish it out. Those eBay purchases have not yet arrived.

In the meantime, I'm most impressed with this old AD&D screen. It comes in two parts, the first is two panels and the second is four. It's nicely laminated and in amazingly good condition. I can't imagine playing with a full six panels of portrait screen, though the interior of the two panel contains the psionics charts so I imagine many people didn't use it. On the other hand, the exterior of one of those panels is the same Trampier art included on the front of the original PHB without the overlaying text, which I happen to agree with the Grognard is a pretty sweet piece of art. I took a full sized scan of the thing if anyone wants it (warning, about 50 MB).

OK, next is my hard-cover copy of Labyrinth Lord. At first blush I wasn't horribly impressed with this retroclone of Moldvay B/X, but I'm coming around. I think if any of my lunchtime players ever decide they need to have a book, I might recommend using this. It would only take a few minor tweaks to bring it fully in line with the original books. I've had the PDF for a while, but I hate reading lots of text on the computer screen (but clearly I don't mind writing it.) When I saw Lulu would do a hard cover print, I couldn't resist. It's actually pretty good quality, and I love that the size and feel of it is pretty similar to my old 1e books.

Finally, you can see my home-made turn counter. This is the outcome of Crazy Idea #2. I printed 35 cards, counting turns 1-35 with times printed on the bottom starting at 6:00/12:00 and running up to 11:50/5:50 in 10 minute intervals. The idea being that you flip it back to 1 at the end, and four full iterations can represent a full 24 hours. It follows the original rules a bit closer than I was originally thinking, and while it's missing that certain je ne sais quoi that using dice has, I think it's eminantly usable. We'll see how it turns out when I try using it in a real game.

OK, clearly the problem with saving all this crap up is that it leads to a super long post. But I'm sure you guys are all pretty used to my verbosity by now.
July 4th, 2009 - 09:25 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

Index Card Dungeons
I was at Staples today, and discovered that they sell index cards with graph-paper grid on it. It seemed so interesting, I couldn't resist buying a pack. I wondered how big of a dungeon map I could put onto a single card. When I got home, I just sat down and doodled out a quick map trying to use the entire card. This is what I ended up with.

Actually, I'd say the size is just about right for a quick one-off dungeon. I got about a dozen rooms in there, and some good twisty coridors. And it was super easy to draw the dungeon -- a full blank sheet of graph paper can be a bit overwhemling but I had no trouble filling this little card in.

Hmm, I think I'll have to stock it now.
July 3rd, 2009 - 04:29 pm | Comments (3) | PERMALINK

Lunchtime Meta-Game
OK, this should be the last post about this stuff today. Given the frequent absences, and the hope of other folks having interest (we even had another spectator at session #3), I thought it might be nice to come up with some system that handles a fairly irregular player base. Here's what I came up with, and emailed out to everyone in the office:

As many of you have noticed, a few of us have started playing an old school D&D game (using the Moldvay Basic edition, c. 1981) during the odd lunch hour. I am now officially opening this game up to anyone that wants to play. It's very casual, no commitment, anyone can drop in and out of the game as they please. I will run a session any day there is enough interest (3-6 players) and I don't have any other conflicting plans. It will be up to the players, however, to drive this scheduling. Players are therefore encouraged to plan ahead, both in terms of in-game goals and out-of-game scheduling. The current group of players is attempting to play regularly on Tuesdays, but there seem to be enough absentees that they could always use a little extra help.

The setting and a few rules of play have been formulated around supporting this style of scheduling and fluctuating player base, and follow at the end of this email. Anyone interested should see me, and I will provide you with a character creation booklet that will walk you through character creation without the need of any other material or books, except for a few dice (which I can also lend you). You might also want to talk to some of the current players to find out what they've already discovered in the game.

Setting: The Roads of Emoria

Many centuries ago the land was dominated by the mighty Empire of Emoria. Highly organized and skilled in the craft of sorcery as well as many traditional crafts, the Emorians built a mighty empire filled with various public works including most notably an intricate system of roads. The Roads of Emoria are all that remains of this once-great empire, which vanished centuries ago for mysterious reasons, though rumors abound of lost cities and crumbling ruins in the uncharted portions of the map. These roads are still used today, and retain some if their innate enchantments which seem to ward off the horrors that lurk in the darkness beyond.

New Kingdoms have risen, with castles and towns forming along these ancient roadways. The roads, where they are maintained, enable trade and travel between lands that would otherwise be impossible. Some roads though lead out into the mysterious wilderness, and it unknown just how far they extend and whether their enchantments have withstood the passage of time.

The brave and the curious travel the roads, seeking out ancient unexplored regions and the riches supposed to be left behind in the lost civilizations of Emoria. Some return with great wealth and stories of amazing adventure, but far more never return at all.


  1. Each session will begin and end either at a civilization along one of the roads, or on the side of a road. If the players cannot make it back to a road at the end of a session, the DM will roll on the dreaded Tables of Calamity to see what becomes of the characters as they race to find a way back to civilization.

  2. The time between each play session will represent at minimum 1 week of game time, and will be extended by one or more weeks due to either the passage of more time during play, or at the request of the players (eg. the players wish to wait extra time in town for one or more of their members to recover from past wounds.) Players who were not present at the previous session can therefore be assumed to have journeyed down the road on their own to meet up with their comrades at the beginning of the session. Players who will not be present at the following session can declare that they are returning to the nearest civilization along the roads, with the expectation of being at the appropriate location at the start of the next session they can attend.

  3. Upkeep of 1 ration/day will be charged of all players at the beginning of each session for the amount of time that has passed since the beginning of the last session their character was present at, instead of expending rations during the course of play. The DM may at his option move the calendar back some weeks if none of the current players were present at previous sessions. Players who have returned to town during that interval may buy rations as needed at this time, but those who have remained on the roads must pay in carried rations (those recorded on their character sheet). If unable to pay, the character must roll on the dreaded Table of Want and Neglect. All of this may be organized over email correspondence prior to the actual play session.

One of the artists complained that email was way too verbose. So I sent him the following:
July 2nd, 2009 - 09:03 am | Comments (4) | PERMALINK

Lunchtime Game Session #3
This session happened two days ago, and brings us to the current state. We had only three players (both Thief and Fighter now absent), but we also had a new body interested. I set him up with a character creation guide and set him on his way while the rest of us got to playing.

The players returned to the old manor house and explored several rooms, finding only a longsword stashed behind some old wrecked furniture. They then stumbled into the main hiding place of the bandits. They had made so much noise the bandits were well aware of them, and laid in an ambush. However, the elf was being reasonably careful in the lead, and so I just gave them straight surprise rolls. However, the bandits ended up surprising the players and the elf took a nasty sword hit.

I should point out that I am using crazy idea #3, and rolling on critical hit charts when a player is first brought to 0 hp. A second hit after that will always kill them. The cleric had bad luck, and ended up having his head maimed by the snake which amounted to a quick death anyway. The elf, however, made it out with just a broken arm. No more bow use for the elf, and he's at -2 to use his sword left-handed.

At this point the new guy has his character ready, so I introduce him as a captive of the bandits. They've got him tied up and in their own boat, along with much of their ill-gotten gains. My written material called for 6 bandits plus their leader to be here, but I decide to be nice and have the leader off making arrangements with their fence.

The bandits had heard the players bumbling about the manor, and started loading up their boat to get the hell out. So we have two bandits loading a boat, four laying in ambush, a captive, an elf with a broken arm, and a cleric and magic user standing behind the elf. So what do the players do? Continue attacking naturally. Sigh, one of these days I'll get some players who are clever enough to realize when is a good time to run away.

The new guy tries three rounds in a row to break his bonds, but it's not working. I'm rolling a very slim chance of success, but I'm still rolling, so I guess he's assuming eventually he'll get lucky. This is behind a screen though. I think he's just having a little trouble adapting to old-school style and instead of trying to think of something clever to do, relying on mechanics and luck.

Amazingly, the elf despite his broken arm kills two bandits. The magic user casts light into the eyes of one, blinding him, and again I decide to be nice and have the bandit freak out and run around screaming that he's blind rather than continue fighting with the penalty. Another bandit stabs the magic-user, taking him to zero, and again rolling a really harsh roll on the critical table (stab through the heart, instant death). The remaining three bandits fail their morale, and the new guy with urging from the others flops himself bodily out of the boat as the two bandits loading push off. The last remaining bandit surrenders, and the party now has a prisoner.

Unfortunately at this point we're over time and all have a meeting we're supposed to be at, so I rush through getting them out of their with their dead companion, prisoner, and rescued new friend. They make camp by the side of the river to try and figure out what to do next and we all get out of there.

I send out XP later, and it amounts to a whopping 24 XP each. I even gave them full XP for all 6 bandits, figuring they 'overcame' all of them. I think this group really needs to come to grips with the fact that the real XP is all in treasure, and that fighting against nasty odds really isn't helping them at all.

Well, I'm hopeful eventually they'll figure it out.
July 2nd, 2009 - 08:50 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

Lunchtime Game Session #2
One thing I should point out about Session #1 that I forgot to post: we did all this in the company lunch room, where there's a lot of foot traffic. We talked about playing somewhere else next time, but for character creation we didn't care much. A lot of people hovered curiously, and some even stayed to watch the first 20 minutes of play. Visions started to come to me of having a mass of people interested and turning this into some kind of West Marches style game. Anyway, on with session #2.

The thief was absent, but the others decided they would pursue the original plan without him. We also learned the Fighter would be out for the next two weeks after this. We played in a closed meeting room, and nobody came to watch. My visions of too many players to accommodate were quickly vanishing.

The players proceeded down the road, and discovered on the opposite side of the river where the attack occurred was an old dilapidated manor house. Figuring the bandits were likely within, they sent their guide home (so much for our first hireling.) The players then spent half the session figuring out how to get across the river. Eventually they sent the elf and magic user across, the elf leaving behind his armor, and the two managed to find an old rowboat near the manor (amazing luck here, I only gave them a 5% chance of finding it).

The then managed to enter the old place at the worst spot, and were attacked by a giant snake (4 HD!). They managed to kill it, though it took the Cleric out in the process. I'm surprised it only took one of them down. They dragged their lost friend out of there, tossed his body in the boat, and made their way back to town.

They got some XP out of this, given the monster was such high HD and they only had to split it between 3 players. The only real treasure though was the armor and weapons of their fallen comrade.
July 2nd, 2009 - 08:39 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

Lunchtime Game Session #1
So, we've actually had a couple sessions of the lunchtime D&D game so far. We're still working out the kinks of playing for such a short period of time, but I'm hopeful it will work out. We'll need a few more sessions under out belts to know for sure. I'll write a post to sum up each session so far.

The first afternoon we got together was devoted mostly to making characters. I had five players, and they rolled up a Cleric, Fighter, Thief, Magic User, and Elf. Out of these, both the Cleric and the Thief had but a single hit point, and the Elf only two. My predictions for their success were not good, but I figured we'd just roll with it and make new characters if need be.

Of the five players, two had prior experience playing old school D&D back in the day, one is a roleplayer with a strong preference towards character development over hack-n-slash, one is almost a complete neophyte, and the last one is a complete neophyte (never played an RPG in his life). Sadly the last one was also the Cleric with 1 hp. It took about 40 minutes to make the characters, which I think is not bad considering most had little clue what they were doing and needed help. In the last 20 minutes, they interacted with a few folks in the starting town and picked up a couple rumors.

The rumors they found were as follows:
1. The river road has become dangerous to merchants who travel it, being the frequent pray of bandits.
2. A small village to the north is having trouble with goblins, and the local authorities have thus put a bounty on goblins.

Keep in mind that this is a sandbox, and that there's a ton more stuff out there. These two rumors they picked up by random chance, the first because they went to the tavern specifically to look for such. The second because they went to the Steward of the Keep to ask what kind of reward they might expect for taking care of said bandit problem. Unfortunately, the party seemed hell-bent on following the very first lead they came across, and uninterested in talking to locals more. We'll see how this bites them in the ass later.

So the party made plans to travel the river road in search for the bandit raiders. They even managed to hire an assistant to one of the recently hit merchants to show them the location. I was excited that we may be seeing our first hireling so early in the game.

And that's all we got done for session #1.
July 2nd, 2009 - 08:29 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

Map Scales
Modern RPG maps, regardless of system, all seem to have the same problem: crappy scales. More often than not they're written in some unit of measurement equal to so many miles, or leagues, etc. The problem is, the actual distance between two points is not at all what gamers want to know, what they want to know is how long it takes to get there.

Combine that with the fact that it's nigh impossible to find solid info on how far someone can travel in a day by foot, horse, or cart, and your map is pretty much useless. Of course the reason for this is that the time it takes to travel a given distance is very subjective. What's the terrain like, what kind of load are you carrying, how long will you be traveling? I suspect a man on a horse can travel much further per hour if he only intends to travel for 2-3 hours than if he plans to travel for 2-3 weeks. Likewise a good road greatly increases speed, while steep hills or mountainous terrain greatly slows things down.

From this we start to see games with crazy rules that try to take all the above into account. Suddenly I've got to launch Microsoft Excel to figure out how long it takes to get from the Shire to the Lonely Mountain. And ultimately, I think we could've fixed the problem right away by simply defining our map using a scale that's friendlier to game terms.

Here's my plan. My map is on a hex grid. I haven't figured out the exact numbers, but I'm thinking that each hex will represent a certain amount of travel time, eg. each hex is half a day's travel by foot. Then I'll assign bonuses, in explicit map scale terms, for things like terrain. For example, on a road you can travel 3 hexes per day instead of the usual 2, while on mountainous terrain you can only travel 1 hex.

For mounted travel, since we're almost always talking about longer (several days at least) travel, it's the same as walking. Perhaps if I want to get extra fancy, I'll allow players to 'push' their horses to travel an extra hex in one day, but require the horses be rested the next day (no travel at all). I might toss in a random chance there that the beast over-exerts itself and dies, just so players don't abuse the system and always push on the last day. This might even allow for a horse-switching system (ala the Pony Express) if there's ever an area where a bunch of towns are all less than a day's ride from each other.

Anyway, this is all probably pretty obvious, and mostly I'm writing it here just to get my thoughts onto paper and out of my head. I'm hoping if I set this stuff up ahead of time, it will just be easy during play.
June 23rd, 2009 - 04:50 pm | Comments (3) | PERMALINK

Campaign Plotting
I've been thinking about a theoretical Basic D&D campaign recently. I suppose it could be the lunch hour game mentioned in my earlier post, or perhaps some other game yet to be planned. I'm trying not to plan for it specifically (don't want to get my hopes up), but just generically what I would like out of a Basic D&D game.

First off, I drew a map. I used the rules from Renegade Crowns to generate some geography, which is what's posted to the left. I used hexes instead of square graph paper, but otherwise it's the rules right out of the book. The next step is placing some ruins, which I've created modified tables for to de-warhammer-ify it. I'm trying to strike a balance between overplanning and having enough to spark my imagination during play. I won't follow the Renegade Crowns rules all the way through (I certainly won't be building the local princes and their domains), but I do want to find a way to drop some settlements (aka safe places) in as well as more dangerous territory to explore.

I'll post more details of this sandbox building experiment as it progresses, but I'm having trouble deciding how much detail to include. I don't want to spoil anything should any of my readers become players! Though if I'm in danger of that, I've likely gone too far in the planning already.

Secondly, I'm thinking about house rules. I will certainly be using the inverted attack rules I posted before. I read this one on Grognardia that I really like:

I know of several referees who only give XP for gold that's spent. This is a nifty idea, as it rather nicely emulates the way that Conan or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser would go on binges of spending after they'd completed a particularly successful adventure -- only to wind up poor again in short order.

It's an interesting twist I think without really breaking the XP rules too hard. Should help keep the PCs poor and thirsty for more adventure.

I continue to be torn about the Thief class. Part of me just wants to do away with it all together. If I do keep them, I want some general rule to fall back on for what happens when the thief fails to opening a lock and the party busts down the door. Sometimes, depending on what's behind the door, it's obvious. But if not, I think I'd like a good 50% chance or so of a wandering monster standing behind the door ready to ambush whoever made the ruckus.
June 22nd, 2009 - 01:33 pm | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

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