Monday Pointers January 20, 2014

D4: Interesting ideas from the first 15 years of roleplaying (1974 to 1989)
It is good to see people looking at the games of the era that are more obscure now (and even then). What is really interesting is I can only think of one game in the past ten years centered on one of those ideas. Necessary Evil is an explicit “play supervillians” game although even then the tone is different from Super Villians. I’m with Lowell (who writes Age of Ravens) that a retro-Reagan era game designed along the lines of Year of the Phoenix would be a near must buy.

D6: Play On Target
Speaking of Lowell Francis, I’ve been listening to this podcast (where he is one of four hosts) lately. It’s perfectly size for my commute and very interesting. The two genre episodes, for Horror and Supers, were especially interesting.

D8: Geoffrey_of_Monmouth, RPG Designer
Despite being familiar with Geoffrey’s idea of Britain being originally founded by Trojan refugees in his History of the Kings of Britain from my SCA days I never once though, “wow, this is a great idea for a campaign”. You know what, it is. I especially like his separation of adventure which reminds me of fantasy does have reality

Let’s Read Influential Aricles: Believe It or Not, Fantasy Has Reality

The second time I read an article in a gaming magazine that change how I viewed RPGs it was about the reality of fantasy. While it might seem odd today (or maybe not) in the first decade of D&D realism was a large concern. This isn’t surprising in context as board wargaming had a huge realism fetish in the years just prior and D&D culture was still largely part of wargaming culture. Realism was the driving thought behind a lot of games at the time. It was a heated topic in the letters column of The Dragon. Even Gygax wrote columns on the issue.

Into this mix came an article in The Dragon #40 by Douglas Bachmann entitled “Believe It or Not, Fantasy Has Reality”. However, in contrast to most of the realism articles which dealt with sword weights, the problems of the cube-square law for giants (a multiple issue letter war believe it or not), and similar concerns Bachmann addressed a different kind of reality. He advanced adherence to mythic realism instead of the reality of contemporary fantasy novels or pulp greats like Howard. He was more interested in those who inspired Tolkien and the works of Joseph Campbell. In fact, the article was the reason at the tender age of thirteen I tracked down The Hero with a Thousand Faces and tried to read it.

Brief Outline

The article is in ten parts: Introduction, Home Areas & Wyrd Areas, Game Objectives, Honor, Character, Oaths & Vows, Legends & Dooms, The World Pattern, Adapting for AD&D and Concluding Remarks. The introduction stakes out Bachmann’s claim in contrast to Gygax’s recent remark that he did not believe in the “stuff of farie”. He contrasted it to Tolkien’s remarks about fantasy as an objective excessive realtiy. He then moves on to introduce Campbell’s theory of the Hero’s Quest as the pattern for understanding the reality of fantasy. In a brief outline of the steps in the quest he makes a remark which seems prescient of both the second edition’s path and the OSR’s reaction to two decades of it:

It is my contention that we need to incorporate the Quest Pattern into our game playing in order to enrich our games by relating game activity to the objective reality of Faerie. Without the Quest Pattern, we are playing “sword & sorcery” games, with it we may achieve “High Fantasy.” Very briefly restated, the pattern is as follows: 1) The hero leaves his everyday world, 2) successfully encounters a guardian at the crossing into the World of the Dark, 3) journeys through a strange land and has strange encounters or tests, 4) undergoes a supreme ordeal, 5) wins a reward, 6) journeys back to the everyday world, 7) recrosses the threshold, and 8) brings a boon which restores the world. The object of this Quest Pattern is twofold. The first object is the transformation of character in the hero, and the second is the restoration of life in the hero’s world

The emphasis is in the original. The path the rest of article took, however, is much more a path not taken by later games than a forecast of more quest oriented D&D.

Home areas and wyrd areas is about the division of the world into the everyday world and the strange world of adventure. It is the cornerstone of the first and last parts of the quest pattern. He argues for a clear division both of the areas and of the kinds of games played them. The former is a land of governments, law and order, crops, and other mundane items. He argues it is essentially the place for a historical style game. The later is the land of mystery and wonder. It is the site of a magical quest game. The last paragraph provides rules for only gaining experience while leaving the wyrd and provides a short chart on possible loss of earned experience based on being on horseback, having an escort, being in flight, and plan old luck.

Game Objectives is about exactly what it says. It contrasts the objective of the quest game, the transition of a youth into a hero and the fulfillment of epic destinies. To this effect he provides three goals: gaining power, popular acclaim, and transformation. He then provides uses for experience: gaining powering in the form of levels, gaining popular acclaim in the form of honor, and gaining inner transformation in the form of character. He briefly touches on the usage of experience in Chivalry & Sorcery to gain each pointing out the uses are mutually exclusive.

Honor and Character provide more details on the gaining (and losing) of each (leaving levels to the game system). Honor represents the ability to resolve problems in home areas non-violently through leadership. It provides a simple, fairy tale like class structure for birth and methods for advancing into the Lesser Nobility which consists of the normal forms of Barons, Dukes, and Kings. A key point is the non-feudal structure because, Bachmann aruges, “nor is the essence of Faerie feudal”. Nobility is something earned not gained by birth. Character, by contrast affects inner characteristics and provides for experience modifiers, encounter modifiers, and the possibility of a destiny. It also aids in the ability to enter the Great Nobility of “the Brave”, “the Faithful”, “the Just”, and so on. Interestingly, disposition of treasure as charity enhances Character but dings Honor in a 1 to 6 ratio.

Oaths and Vows provides a system obligations for characters. It ties relief of the penalties to completing Quests and Geas. The difference in Oaths and Vows is Lesser Oaths affect honor while Greater Oaths and the fulfillment of Vows affect character.

Legends & Dooms are a system of backgrounds and hooks. Legends describe stories told in the world that are believed to be true. They are meant to guide player actions and choices. The story behind that sword driven through an anvil into a stone would be a legend. Dooms are things people are waiting to happen such as the appearance of a King to restore the land. Based on the character stat a character might become attached to a Doom with modifies for moving towards it (positive) or away from it (negative). Finally, a doomed character may only have a quest spell cast on him that matches his doom.

To reflect the attachment of the characters and their action to the world, The World Pattern is introduced. It’s a track of order in the world which, if upset, causes comets, bad weather, famile, and so on. Character actions such as war, spells, theft, and others can move the world to disorder. It naturally moves towards order.

Adapting for AD&D is what it says on the tin. The rules in the article are meant for C&S and this section suggests versions for AD&D. One amusing comment at thirty years distance is “AD&D has a very different feel as one plays, and seems to be amuch tighter, more rigid game system.”

The concluding remarks begin with a restatement of the thesis. Bachmann also points out the honor, character, and world pattern systems can be adjusted to reflect different perceptions of morality. The goal is not to prohibit any action but to create consequences for actions taken.

Fantasy Has Reality Today

As I said, this changed how I thought about gaming. For much of the 80s I tried to implement the ideas in the article with little success. First, I really didn’t get them at the time although I was excited by them. Second, I didn’t have players who would have enjoyed them as a high school and college student. After dropping out of college and joining the Navy I tended to see more traditional realism in the likes of GURPS.

However, this was still the first article I read when I got my CD-ROMs of The Dragon and even today it carries weight. While some games have covered much of the same ground, most notability Pendragon five years later, it hasn’t gotten much attention. The quest focus second edition was more mundane for the most part and provided mostly for the gain of power and to a small degree honor but nothing on character. It also didn’t make them choices so that Rurik the fighter would wind up choosing to become Duke Rurik while his friend Otto the cleric became Otto the Wise and their friend Timon the magic-user become Timon the Enchanter would have experienced the same adventures but gotten different results by choosing honor, character, and power.

Recently when thinking about a set of ideas I’ve called “Fantasy Nouveau” this article kept coming to mind. Fantasy Nouveau is a campaign idea for OD&D centered around late Victorian and Edwardian literature and art such as Lang’s Fairy books, Pyle’s books of Arthur, and Pre-Raphealite painting. I think those inspirations almost demand the inclusion of Bachmann’s ideas or a close relative. I think they could be added to OD&D (in the pure, supplemented, or cloned form) to create a recognizable but still unique game. Based on its sources, I might consider the recently released Seven Voyages of Zylarthen might be a good starting point.

Also, other ideas could be adapted. The later Gloranthian trend to “all myths are true, even contradictory ones” could be added. What if the world pattern and honor systems of a pseudo-historical Europe of 1100 and Middle East of 1100 both worked in their respective areas? Imagine a crusader game where much of the Islam world is wyrd for the crusaders while the kingdoms of Outremer were wyrd for Muslims. Perhaps Outremer would be wyrd for both with the founding of the Kingdoms being conversion from wyrd to home areas (which Bachmann discusses). Missionary success could move the current ruling side’s word pattern negatively and the other’s positively with conversion of the area occurring when they cross.

I think this article is worth tracking down and reading today. Maybe it won’t change your game but it will given many people new ideas on the directions they can go instead of just following what the RPG mainstream is doing.

Monday Pointers January 6, 2014

D4 The Other Side kicks over 40 Years Coverage
For me at some point in the past week I hit 36 years of D&D. I bought my first copy of Holmes along with a Gamma World first edition box to get the dice with Christmas money from 1977 at Toys by Roy. They had sold out of the boxed set of Holmes and separate dice during the Christmas rush (huge wargaming culture there). Given my dad drove me to the Parkdale mall in Beaumont, Tx for them it must have been a Saturday (Texas blues laws kept it closed on Sunday back then) unless he was on vacation. That makes my educated guess for my first book on 1977.12.31 and my first game the first week of 1978.

D6: Alternate Undead for Death Frost Doom
Alternate versions are always good to have in your pocket. I just recently started reading Billy Goes to Mordor and suspect it’s going to be in the pointers a bit the next few weeks.

D8: Guitar: the Shredding
Doug at Blue Boxer Rebellion is getting ready to do an interesting playtest. While the setup reminds me quite a bit of Starchildren (not Star Child as I commented) right down to the playing card interface. However, at least from the description, it seems more arena rock than punk (the cover and title were glam but I remember it as feeling punk) and doesn’t have the strong Reagan/Tipper Gore imagery of Starchildren (which seemed a bit out of place in the early aughts anyway).

D10: Imagine We Skin Giant Beavers
Alexis at The Tao of D&D has some interesting thoughts on the potential of the fantastic in an economic system. Given the extensive system he has build (and which I’ve been trying to wrap my head around and implement a reduced version myself) this will be interesting to watch.

D12: Encyclopedic Knowledge
Speaking of implementing an economic system it lead to find you can get the entirety of the fabled eleventh edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica in multiple forms online. Is it out of date? Yes. Is it problematic in some areas, especially to modern sensibilities? Yes. Do those two faults make it the perfect source for real world info to help create locations, cultures, and individuals for your fantasy games? Yes. I have downloaded the entire thing in PDF and text (the later is great for searching for things like how many times the word gold is used).

Monday Pointers, December 16, 2013

D4:Strange Stones Finds Inspiration
Lots of great stuff is at archive.org and Strange Stones has some links.

D6:Off to Venus
Swords & Stitchery and it’s sister blog Dark Corners Of Role Playing also links to inspiration from archive.org but as single items with notes in using them in OSR games.

D8:Obsolete Simulations Roundup
Savage After World is hosting a blog hop for obscure RPGs of any era at the end of the month. You could sign up to talk about your favorite lost RPG.

The Motorhead: A S&W Whitebox Class

If there is a classic example of “better living through chemistry” the Motorhead is it. Using advanced pharmaceuticals, DNA techniques, and nano-tech they can push the human body (including the brain) beyond its natural limits. Of course, when you violate nature there is a price to pay and as the Motorhead up powers more and more their body or mind may simply collapse from the strain.

The Good: Up reaching a level the Motorhead can pick up to his level number in improvements but can pick fewer or even zero. The improvements are permanent. The same item can be picked multiple times at the same level:

  • Improve STR, DEX, CON, or INT by +1
  • Add 1d6 HP
  • Add +1 to armor class without armor
  • Add +1 to saving throws
  • Add +1 to BAB
  • Add +1d4 to HtH damage

The Bad: The human body is still just a human body. After selecting your improvements record their total value (+1 for most, the die results for Hit Point improvement, and the roll of 1d4 for the extra HtH die). When you next go up a level before picking improvements make a saving throw versus death with the total value of the prior level’s improvements as a penalty. The Motorhead is the classic example of living fast and dying young.

The Ugly: However, some Motorheads aren’t that lucky. If you survive the saving throw versus death make a second one with the same penalty. If you fail roll you suffer a permanent disability. Roll d4 and apply the following:

  1. Enfeebled: STR and CON reduced by your new level
  2. Drooling Idiot: INT reduced by your new level.
  3. Fragile: Lose level d3 HPs and your unarmored AC is reduced by your new level.
  4. Unbalanced: DEX is reduced by your new level and you gain a a to hit penalty equal to your new level.

This disabilities stack. If you suffer disabilities at levels 2 and 4 and roll a 4 both times your to hit penalty is -6.

In all other respects treat the Motorhead as a normal Swords & Wizardry Whitebox fighter.

The Motorhead is a class for my RiDoR Project

Monday Pointers, December 2, 2013

D4:An unusual item for winter or arctic wilderness adventures
I think this ice disc could get typical paranoid players worked up for a good long time if you played it straight. However, it is interesting to speculate on the magical purpose it could serve or the creature that could create it.

D6:Kicking it Old School
Now if they would only release it on 8 Track Tape.

D8:Art Nouveau Portraits of 1980s Heroines
Okay, they’re not what I’d consider Art Nouveau in the actual portraiture. They are more modern in style with borders inspired on Albert Mucha (compare the portraits at the first link to those at the second). Still, they are interesting and might be worth a pin or two.

Questions When Running OD&D

As I said in my last post I’m considering trying to run some LBB-centric Dungeons & Dragons. If I do it will be (at least initially) pickup games at the FLGS. As such I’m trying to anticipate the most common questions/assumptions I’ll face and have ready answers.

So far I have:

  • I want to play a thief. I have a variety of thief classes for Swords & Wizardry White Box. I’ll ask the player a bit what he is after and use one that matches best or just use the adventurer from Pars Fortuna.
  • What do weapons all do the same damage I have this cool article about weapons effects from Knockspell 05 that we’ll use.

What ones would you ask or expect players to ask?

Did OD&D Forbid Armor for Magic-Users?

Lately I’ve had some interest in actually running straight LBB Dungeons & Dragons and only adding items as they came up in play.

As a result I’ve actually sat down and read my books for the first time since the late 70s (when I ran a weird mix of Holmes, PHB, OD&D (with supplements), and The Best of the Dragon in JHS/HS). Yesterday it jumped out that there is no direct denial of regular armor to the magic user:

Men and Magic pg.6:

Top level magic-users are perhaps the most powerful characters in the game, but it is a long, hard road to the top, and to begin with they are weak, so survival is often the question, unless fighters protect the low-level magical types until they have worked up. The whole plethora of enchanted items lies at the magic-users beck and call, save the arms and armor of the fighters (see, however, Elves); Magic-Users may arm themselves with daggers only. Wizards and above may manufacture for their own use (or for sale) such items as potions, scrolls, and just about anything else magical. Costs are commensurate with the value of the item, as is the amount of game time required to enchant it.

First, the only limitation mentioned on normal equipment is the “may arm themselves with daggers only”. There is a limitation on armor as well but in context you could argue the phrase “save the arms and armor of the fighters” refers only and magic items and not regular weapons and armor. Following up on the elves reference (M&M pg. 8) we find:

Thus, they gain the benefits of both classes and may use both weaponry and spells. They may use magic armor and still act as Magic-Users.

This is an explicit reference to magic armor. Also note they may use “both weaponry and spells” not “weaponry, armor, and spells.” This seems to reinforce the idea that the limits are on magic-items only.

I wondered if maybe the notional that magic-users wore no armor was a carry-over from Chainmail but it does not appear to be the case (pg.30, emphasis mine):

WIZARDS (including Sorcerers at -1, Warlocks at -2, Magicians at -3, Seers at -4). In normal combat, all this class will fight as two Armored Foot, or two Medium Horse if mounted, and Wizards can handle magical weaponry. However, their chief prowess lies elsewhere.

Certainly, Chainmail expects wizards to have armor or the equivalent (perhaps via spells). Regardless, it does not help the argument that OD&D denied magic-users any armor. It does nat appear that armor or any carried item affect spell casting(M&M pg. 19):

Spells & Levels: The number above each column is the spell level (complexity, a somewhat subjective determination on the part of your authors). The number in each column opposite each applicable character indicates the number of spells of each level that can be used (remembered during any single adventure) by that character. Spells are listed and explained later. A spell used once may not be re-used in the same day.

Nothing about somatic, verbal, or material components. It seems that a magic-user would be able to wear weapons and armor and cast spells. It does, however, seem to indicate that each spell may only be taken once in memory so a wizard would only have one fireball, one lightening bolt, etc.

Now, I fully believe Gary always denied armor to Magic-User player characters and certainly did so explicitly in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. However, unless I run across something else in the LBB I think I will allow magic-users to wear armor and use shields in a LBB centric game.