Thursday, April 7, 2011

Because It's What I Like

So - I debated about posting this. Decided to anyway.

Last week, James over at Grognardia posted an article about "cheating-methods" for rolling up characters. It's just the kind of observation that makes Grognardia the king of the OSR blogs on the "who's got more followers than who" thing that somebody has been tracking (what does it say if your blog isn't even on the list?***). But as I read the comments (and as I just checked, people are still not done commenting on this subject) a light bulb went off in my head.

I play 1e AD&D (with smatterings of B/X and 2e, plus houserules) not because I think it's the best system for roleplaying, not because it's (almost) the original, or the codified "right way" to play D&D. I play it because it's the system I learned and so it's comfortable.

All this "the right way to roll up a character" nonsense is just navel-gazing. There is no right way to do any of this stuff. There's the way I like to do it. Period. Someone nailed it in the comments to the "cheating methods" post when they said "if it's in the rulebook, how is it cheating?" Ah...but it's not in the rulebook I prefer (LBB, Holmes, Cook/Marsh, whatever) - plus it's optional so, yeah, if you use the "alternate methods" your a low-life lying cheater. Neener-neener. Every time a rule war breaks out on forums or in blog comments I just don't care. Do it the way you like to do it. But how can anybody really be wrong? Why are there so many freaking retro-clones? Because everybody has a "way I like to do it" - you will note that there are interpretations in every single one of them - even if it's for "legal reasons" - some things are left out (that's not how I like to do it), etc.

It's the same reason that I run Windows PCs instead of Linux or (heaven forbid) a Mac. It's not the best OS, it's not even necessarily a good OS - but it's what I learned and I don't want to learn the "better, newer, shinier, whatever"... So, yeah, 1e isn't the best set of rules*****, it might not even be a good set of rules. But I know it, so I play it (somewhat modified to make it...better).

I like bits and pieces of other systems - MERP has some cool stuff, Ars Magica rocks, I like some of what I've read even in the Post 2e D&D stuff (heck, I quit buying 2e stuff when all that "options" stuff started flowing - too complicated, too much for me to have to learn to play the freaking game).

So, yeah, a bunch of what blogs post, what Dragonsfooters and Knights and Knavers and the lot post... I just don't care. If I even see BtB in a post, I quit reading.

Because I play what I play because it's what I like.

***I know there's precious little on this blog that anyone wants to read, so I don't really care - if I did this post would be called something like JAMES M AT GROGNARDIA IS COMPLETELY WRONG or whatever. Blogging is, in essence, self-gratification anyway, I'm not sure I want the whole world watching me...

***** I know - the BEST set of rules is [your favorite edition here] with, of course [your house rules here]

Monday, April 4, 2011

Grey Watchers

I posted this on Dragonsfoot a few days ago - hoping for some feedback to see if this creature works. I was needing a non-evil, non-aggressive undead creature for a crypt adventure to act as guides and potential guardians (to set the traps if the PCs don't accomplish a certain task before they wander about the tomb complex). Still looking for feedback. Does the description make sense? Am I Missing anything? So, anyway, here it is:

Grey Watchers
TYPE: Supernatural (Undead)
FREQUENCY: Very rare
MOVE: 9”
% IN LAIR: 100%
TREASURE TYPE: Nil (see below)
NO. OF ATACKS: 1 claw (as F1)
DAMAGE/ATTACK: see below
See description
SPECIAL DEFENSES: non-corporeal only hit by +1 or better weapons
LEVEL/X.P. VALUE:IV/240+4/hp

Non-corporeal, non-evil undead which have been created to accomplish specific tasks. Once the specific task is accomplished, the Grey Watchers melt into oblivion. The task can be as specific or general as the creator desires, though the Grey Watcher will only exist as long as the corporeal body is still intact (see below). For example, Grey Watchers have been set to watch for the return of the great king and announce his arrival (however, since he never returned, they have been posted for 700 years waiting). Grey Watchers are often set to act as guides or guardians for specific areas (with no end given – “guide all who enter this room to wherever they desire to go within the complex” “if anyone without the mark of the Griffon enters the room, set the traps”). Grey Watchers are very limited in the scope of their instructions (given at the most two or three general instructions), as well as the range within which they can work (limited to about a 1200 foot radius).

While Grey Watchers have no physical presence (non-corporeal) and can only be hit by +1 or better weapons,they can affect the physical world by expending their own hit points. That is, each hit point they expend gives them one point of strength, for example, or causes one point of damage if the Watcher is able to hit a target. Watchers will expend a single hit point to accomplish relatively simple tasks such as closing a door, moving a lever, pushing an object, even tapping a physical being on the shoulder. More difficult tasks require more hit points expended (moving a heavy object would be adjudicated according to the strength table – so it might require multiple Watchers to move a very heavy object). Grey Watchers regenerate hit points at a rate of one per round, even if reduced to zero (though reducing a Grey Watcher to zero hit points will cause it to return to its bodily remains and regenerate to its full hit points there, at a much slower rate - 1 hit point per day).

Grey Watchers can only be truly destroyed by destroying their physical remains completely (incineration, wish, sending the remains to another plane, etc).

In combat, Grey Watchers will attempt to hit with what amounts to a claw attack. They attack as a first level Fighter. Hit points are expended in the attempt, thus even if the attack doesn’t hit, the Grey Watcher loses the hit points. Only in extreme circumstances will a Grey Watcher attack with enough hit points to reduce itself to zero (in defense of its physical remains, for example). So, a Grey Watcher with 19 hit points attacks an intruder, attempting to hit with 14 points. The attack misses, so the Grey Watcher is reduced to 5 hit points. It might attempt to strike again the following round, though it would probably only attack with 3 or 4 hit points. Reduced to one or two hit points, Grey Watchers will typically attempt to flee and regenerate their hit points before re-engaging with an enemy. Grey Watchers will not willingly return to their corpses, hating the reminder of their cursed existence. They typically try to avoid combat and they will go to great lengths to preserve at least a few hit points.

While Grey Watchers themselves have no treasure, treasures may have been buried with their physical bodies.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Awesomeness of DL1 - Dragons of Despair

Okay - I know, I know, I know - Dragonlance killed D&D. It was that whole story drives the adventure instead of adventure creating the story thing. I get it. I know, Dragonlance is evil.

But here's the thing. I caught the ads in Dragon Magazine when they first started running them - I was a regular at the nearby Waldenbooks at the time and bought virtually every issue from issue 71 on (I couldn't afford a subscription, but I always managed to scrape together enough money to buy an issue each month - I even snagged the Archive on CD deeply discounted at Electronics Boutique years later). Anyway, I read the ad copy and imagined what a great module DL 1 would be - great cover art, a winning concept (featuring adventures against all the evil dragons) - and this mystical weapon called the Dragonlance.

Okay, so the module didn't live up to all the hype (where are the dang Dragonlances, anyway?) and it was a radically different kind of world. But once I read the adventure, I found it to be exactly the kind of adventure format I liked. Some events occurring in the background (the movement of the Dragonarmies) and some events that would just happen wherever the characters were. Things were kind of funneled toward the Swamp Dungeon - which is just as it should be, since that's the climax of the adventure and the lair of the dragon.

But it was how they did it that I liked so much. First off, the maps. From the wilderness hex map (I'll get to that in a minute) to the perspective map of Xak Tsoaroth, they were evocative just looking at them. Second - the backstory. I liked coming in In Media Res on a Dragonman Invasion. I liked the new apocalypse in this post-apocalyptic world. I hated the devaluation of gold - but I liked the lack of clerics (and the kind of quest to re-discover clerical powers).

And since I reopened this adventure because I was thinking about filling wilderness hexes, let me talk a minute about what worked the best for me in this adventure.

The Wilderness

Fully half the adventure is the possibility of wandering around the wilderness. There are 7 events and 44 encounter locations (counting Xak Tsaroth) to inflict on the PCs. Many of them are simply named:

10. Sentinel Gap Walls of granite soar on either side of the narrow canyon floor. A chilly breeze whistles and tumbles between the cliffs.

and some of the areas have more detail. The above is enough for me to get a sense of the place as the PCs visit it.

I actually liked that there were ways to get the PCs to one of the Expositors of Plot (the Pegasi will take them to the Forestmaster no matter what they want if they capture them and fly them, the Centaurs will carry them there) because the PCs would be free to NOT capture the Pegasi and, of course, they don't HAVE to go into the forest at all if they choose not to. There just enough detail in the "throwaway areas" that I could probably build adventures in every one of those locales (and might have to, since this is a true old school product with Random Encounter tables). I'm looking at DL1 as my model for hex filling - for rounding out a wilderness area with general descriptions and letting random tables to their thing for the details.

Yes, the plot following got way too heavy handed (really, if a NPC gets killed and he is needed really use the soap opera convention on him? Really?) and the need to follow these particular characters was annoying... But it started off so promising.

So, don't buy any of the rest of the line. But DL1 is, for me, a nearly perfect AD&D adventure.***

***yeah, okay, except the freaking typos and the terrible editing job...but's one of the best.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Adventure Design - layout (MAJOR Castle Thadrian Spoilers)

I randomly pulled an rpg pdf from my harddrive today to give a looking over. It was an adventure from Relative Entropy Games called Castle Thadrian. I snagged the free pdf when it was offered quite some time ago, saved it, and forgot about it. Until this morning when I was looking for something to read.

Now, this isn't really a review of the adventure. It's a good introductory adventure - provides lots of low level challenges. I really like the fact that there are clues to piece together that indicate some history (general Diro's tragic tale), some ongoing plotting (the Baron's scheme) and hooks for an ongoing campaign (the three pieces of the sword). The layout is adequate, the maps are standard fare (that is to say, adequate - I like the style - they look hand-drawn and hand numbered). I'd like more serious art (but that's just me) in the book, but that's hardly a fault. The adventure is written for Engines and Empires - a riff on Labyrinth Lord - though fully compatible with Old School gaming. While there's a bit much "background" and "introduction" for my tastes, I get where the author, Mr. Higgins, is coming from and I think that he accomplishes his tasks generally pretty well (emphasizing the similarities between LL and E&E, desiring the adventure to be more "role playing" than "roll playing" [my words, not his] seem to be his two primary goals - besides writing a solid adventure). All in all an enjoyable read and I'd recommend it (if it's still available - it's not on the Relative Entropy Games Lulu page...).

But here's the real point of this post. I really like what Mr. Higgins has done with the idea of "boxed text" - it's not the old "read aloud to your players" box, it's more a snapshot of the room. I find this to be incredibly helpful and am considering using this style for stuff I'm working on (yeah, always working on, never completing).

This room is the "big last battle" room - the treasure hidden is THE big treasure of the adventure. Mr. Higgins gives us almost a full column of description for this room - but the boxed "snapshot" tells me exactly what I'm getting into - and SHOULD be enough of a reminder (assuming that I've read the adventure through before inflicting it on my players) that when we get to it, I don't have to say, "Um...wait a minute...let me check...uh, what's here?" or whatever and totally destroy any tension and flow we've built up.

This has probably been done before, I don't know, but for me this a strong design element - realizing that I didn't write the dang thing and don't have immediate recall of every room, I might need a little hint to remember that the switch for the portcullis is hidden in the east alcove (room 59, for those keeping track).

More adventure designers need to keep the harried and hurried DM in mind when writing. We simply won't remember (or possibly notice) the three word detail in the 53rd room that sets the giant thingamabob in motion - and if that's really important to the adventure, and we miss it, what happens then? (I know - OLD SCHOOL is to just riff on it and make something up - roll some dice, consult a table, never-let-them-see-you-sweat - but if I just wanted to make everything up, why would I use a pre-printed adventure in the first place?).

EDIT: (oh - and the NEXT post really is a little about hex filling and the AWESOMENESS OF DL1 DRAGONS OF DESPAIR)