Saturday, December 31, 2011

How did I end up with Roger E. Moore's magazines?

I'm not sure if Roger E. Moore sticks out to me from among all the Dragon writers in my early years with D&D because 1) he wrote the articles that meant the most to me, 2) he was one of the most prevalent contributors to the mag, or 3) I liked (Sir) Roger Moore so much in Live and Let Die that anybody with the same name must be pretty cool.

Some of my favorite REM articles from Dragon (in chronological order) were:
Be a Two-fisted Fighter, #68, 12/82
Caped Crusaders and Masked Marvels, #69, 1/83
The Ecology of the Mind Flayer, #78, 10/83

There's also a nice overview of Moore's Astral Plane article from a few weeks back at Grognardia.

So imagine my surprise when (not having thoroughly checked my "new" old issues of The Space Gamer at the store) I got my "new" old issues of The Space Gamer home to find that the stickers on the "protective mailing covers" had the issues addressed to one "Roger E. Moore" of Kentucky.

So how did they get from Louisville, Kentucky to Rockwall, Texas? Hmm.

Friday, December 30, 2011

d30 Feature of the Week: Bell-curved No. Appearing (WM)

This week's d30 Feature is taken from the upcoming d30 DM Companion, and features bell-curved results for the most common ranges of the "number appearing" determinations for monsters (particularly wandering monsters.)

To download a free PDF of today's chart from MediaFire, click here.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Space Gamer 47: Special D&D Issue?

A new indie used book store has popped up on my radar and I seem to have hit the mother lode yesterday. While I'm just finding the store, it seems to have been tucked away for some time, which means a lot of its gaming materials are older. Long story short, I scored a slew of Space Gamer and Ares magazines from 1980-82 including Space Gamer 47, a "Special D&D Issue."

The article of particular interest to me from this issue was the article by Aaron Allston and Ronald Pehr entitled Remedial Roleplaying, described in the TOC as "Getting more out of role-playing than just bashing monsters." The article launches by presenting a scenario in which 20th level lawful good characters plot the downfall of innocent merchants and 1st level guards, then pointing out the circular process rooted in original D&D... "To become a better and richer character, you must get experience points; to get experience points, you must kill things; the more things you kill, the better you will be able to kill things. Oboy!"

In January of 1982, that's probably how most of us were still playing. I know I was. In fact, I commented just last night to my co-conspirator David Welborn that my high school gaming group was guilty of devolving into a weekly death duel using whatever newest ruleset someone had brought to the (gaming) table. Granted, we played a LOT of supers games (Champions, V&V, MSH) so that may have something to do with our mindset, but even my weekend D&D campaigns with friends weren't really campaigns at all, being nothing more than one-off dungeon crawls.

Now here we are just about 31 years later, to the issue date, and we're now all very familiar (from our own collective experiences) with the precepts put forward in Mssrs. Allston and Pehr's article (and I'm paraphrasing here): 1) a world exists above ground where every locale and NPC should be unique, 2) encounters should have rationales that extend beyond the walls of the dungeon, 3) keep treasure low and prices high to force the effects of economics on the characters, 4) use background/social status to influence gameplay (see "WELL-ROUNDED RPGs" below), 5) secrecy = paranoia and conflict, 6) talents = more interesting characters (again, see "WELL-ROUNDED RPGs" below), and 7) "This is Your World!"

The final section (7) is the most textually economical section of the article, considering it is the richest in terms of what makes an interesting game. And while we're all quite cognizant of the points made, sometimes we have to be reminded so we can live them as the mantras of role-playing:
- it's your game world, not the game author's
- the rules are guidelines, not laws
- experience should be given for experience, not mindless slaughter

I think one of the most interesting facets of the article is it's D&D-centric view (rightly so, given the issue of the mag is a "Special D&D Issue,") while referencing other systems (particularly C&S, TFT, and RQ) in regards to adapting their systems for social status and talents to D&D. When you compare D&D (of the time) to many other games that encourage the role-playing (sometimes even more so than the fighting), D&D begins to appear uniquely one-dimensional. In En Garde!, social climbing is de rigueur. Chivalry & Sorcery not only wraps social status into every character, but also provides a set of fears and phobias to add character depth. If you look at the 1e D&D DM guide, as broad as the content seems to be at first glance, it's all about setting (climate/ecology, government forms, inhabitants, tariffs/taxes/tolls, monster population and placement, et al.) and offers little beyond the goal of "populating the world with monsters and magic shops." Granted, there are some secondary skills and social status information in there, but I think this sentence best sums up the attitude of D&D as a hack'n slash game over true role-playing... "When secondary skills are used, it is up to the DM to create and/or adjudicate situations in which these skills are used or useful to the player character." The example that then follows is how an individual with the armorer skill could tell the quality of a piece of armor, or a repair. How dry is that?

- an article about physicians in Traveller
- new SF weapons and a scenario for SJG's Killer
- a review, designers notes and errata for of Heritage Games' Barbarian Prince
- 9 pages of capsule reviews (none of which are directly D&D-related)
oh yeah... I almost forgot...
- Kimberant's Tomb, a D&D tournament adventure

Is that what makes a "Special D&D Issue?" A fairly generic GM article that references the flaws in D&D and a leftover module from Texcon, a convention held in Austin (home of SJG.) Hmmm? Do I smell a conspiracy?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Illustration of the Week Bonus Edition: SK1 Back Cover

From the upcoming module
SK1 The Mysterious Mist of Foxpond,
an introductory BX/LL OSR adventure
for characters level 1-3.

This is the back cover image from the module I've been working on. As I've edited the module to be BX/LL specific, I've changed the "OE1" module number to "SK1" (a reference to a name within the storyline.) Also, as if you couldn't tell, there's a cult involved.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Illustration of the Week: Retro Redraw

Among my recently unearthed gaming items from 1981/2 was this incomplete drawing of some... beast (I think I was trying to cross a mind flayer and an umber hulk?) I've gone ahead and redrawn it (this time, to fruition) and the fruits of that labor appear below.

Both imges ©2011, Richard Jean LeBlanc, Jr./New Big Dragon Games Unlimited. The reproduction or re-purposing of these images is strictly forbidden except by direct permission by the copyright holder. These images are NOT CREATIVE COMMONS!

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Few More of My Favorite OSR Artists

In my my last post about my favorite 1st generation RPG artists, I was bound to leave off a couple. This post is meant to correct that. Again, in no particular order...

Bill Willingham
Ahem... that's "Eisner Award Winner Bill Willingham" to you. Bill's work epitomized "the Moldvay era" to me, from the dungeon party fighting the dragon in the '81 red book, to the picture of the phanatons attacking that dude on the title page of X1. These days, Bill's as much of a writer as an artist, but if you grognards are feeling nostalgic, Jeff over at Jeff's Gameblog has put together a nice mini-gallery of Bill's D&D stuff.

Jim Rosloff
Roslof's owlbear from the title page from B2 will always be THE picture of an owlbear for me. (And from what I've seen around the interweb, I'm not the only one who thinks that.) And, damn, how cool is that picture of Thor playing whack-a-mole with the Midgard Serpent from Deities & Demigods? James at Grognardia did a nice series of posts about Jim earlier this year after his passing (R.I.P, Jim.)

Rodger MacGowan
I can hear it now... the collective, "WHO?!" out there in the blogosphere. And rightly so, as MacGowan is an oddity on this list (and the previous list) for a couple of reasons: 1) while he did illustrate many of the games he worked on, MacGowan is better know as an Art Director/Designer, and 2) art director types don't usually get too much credit, even when they're as prolific as MacGowan--his art and design graced the covers and interiors of an unmatched list of wargames that number around 300 and include the likes of Avalon Hill's Squad Leader and PanzerKrieg, as well as Yaquinto's Swashbuckler. To me, MacGowan's style, particularly his use of high contrast photo-imagery as well as illustrations that mimic that look, defines wargame graphics of the late 1970s/early 1980s. Moreover, as the art director/designer of the work (a luxury most freelance illustrators don't have), he really created a "look" more so than just creating "art" for the games he worked on. MacGowan is now the editor-in-chief of C3i magazine, where you can find a more complete profile of RBM himself.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

New Oe/BX/1E D&D Monster: White Elephant

MOVE: 12"
% IN LAIR: 30%
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 2-12/2-12/4-32
ALIGNMENT: Lawful (neutral)
SIZE: L (10' tall)
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

MOVE: 120'
ATTACKS: 2 tusks or 1 trample or special
DAMAGE: 2-12/2-12 or 4-32 or see below
SAVE AS: Fighter: 6

It is said that when the gods and demons churned the seas to produce the nectar of life that would make them immortal, nine jewels surfaced. Among those nine were the elephant, a jewel to be preserved and protected. The most precious variety of that particular jewel is the white elephant, a pachyderm that bears both the boon of sacred powers and the burden of responsibility. Too divine to be worked, anyone owning a white elephant must cater to them as royalty. While some see this as a blessing, others see it as a hardship, considering the white elephant typically lives to be 500 plus years old.

A white elephant is able to use the following spells once a day: detect evil, protection from evil, bless, hold persons, speak with animals, cure disease, prayer, remove curse, and dispel evil. A white elephant may consider using those spells for the benefit of others, but only if the person wishing to engage the services of the elephant has first made some sort of offering, and doesn't "ask" the creature directly for his assistance; instead, the "petitioner" must present his/her situation and speak of the benefits of the elephant's assistance if it were to be offered.

If attacked, or if its owner attempts to draw it into service, a white elephant will become ethereal, susceptible only to others in ethereal form (e.g., through oil of etherealness or armor of etherealness. Furthermore, white elephants are immune to the phase door spell.

At its moment of death, a white elephant is capable of granting one wish to its current owner, assuming 1) the owner has taken good care of the elephant while in his charge, 2) makes the elephant as comfortable and cared for as possible during its dying moments, and 3) does not ask the creature directly for the wish.

Friday, December 23, 2011

d30 Feature of the Week: Humanoid Remains Generator

This week's d30 Feature was originally going to be in the d30 DM Companion until I realized the companion had more of a dungeon bent, and this chart felt more "outdoor/wilderness." Consider this a preview for the d30 Wilderness Companion, should it ever exist.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lost Game Mechanic: Tri-color d3 ("What Was I Thinking?")

Every once in a while, I dig something out of my files (sometimes paper, sometimes digital), and think to myself, "What was I thinking?" No, really. I don't know what the thought was, and I'm incapable of reverse engineering my own idea. Such is the case with the chart at the left.
In this case, I do know a couple of things: 1) it was while I was working on the anime RPG concept that developed into StoryCode AG, and 2) it used the tri-color d3s from the game Toss Up, purchased on sale at Wal-Mart a while back.

As far as I can tell/remember, each side (attacker and defender) was rated for some ability from 1-10. Those ratings were then compared on this chart to produce a "target" square. My thinking (based on looking at this chart) is that each side would then roll a number of the tri-color d3s (equal to their rating?), and add the pluses and minuses (a la a Fudge-like mechanic) to produce a "final" square on the chart. The color on that square would then interpret the result (extreme miss, standard miss, barely a hit, standard hit, extreme hit?) based on the action.

The only problem I see with this mechanic is that strong characters (high rating = more dice) have a higher chance of "evening out" their results to ±0, while weaker characters (lower rating = fewer dice) have a better chance of rolling greens (good) or reds (bad) over a "wash" roll (±0.) I'm thinking that the idea here was that an unskilled player is a wildcard, and a skilled player is more adept (hitting more "in the middle" of his ability every time.)

I do know one more thing about this chart... I never actually tested this idea. I just put mechanic together because I thought the dice were cool. (No offense to Fudge dice, but... c'mon... they're kind of bland.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

d30 DM Companion Update: Treasure/Traps Section Done

I'm happy to report the "Treasure and Traps" section of the d30 DM Companion is complete!

In this section, you'll find...

Magic Items I: Weapons, Armor & Protective Items - 810,000 unique variants for combinations of type, basic properties, physical description and additional properties

Magic Items II: Scrolls - 18,000 variants for combinations of container, protection and spells (MU, cleric and protective)

Magic Items III: Potions - over 1.45 BILLION VARIANTS! for combinations of odor, color, look, taste, effect, container type, number of uses and type of potion

Magic Items IV: Summon/Control/Command Items - 900 variants for combinations of summon/control items (type of item, type of creature)

Magic Items V: Miscellaneous Magic Items - 30 items of miscellaneous type, use and effect to spice up your campaign/adventure

Other Generators in the Section: Treasure Containers and Protection, Miscellaneous Magic Trap Effects, Poisons, Room Traps, Gems & Gem-centric Jewelry (with GP values), and Elven/Dwarven Jewelry (with GP values)

Given that the next few days lead up to Christmas, I'm assuming I won't be back on this until a couple of days after. The next (and final?) section is the actual dungeon generator. I hope to have an update for you by New Year's Eve (which is when I'd love to have this baby finished.)

And, yes, the top of the decanter is a d30. Thanks for noticing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Illustration of the Week: Another d30 DM Companion Image

Right now, this is the back cover image for the d30 DM Companion, but I'm thinking about saving it in case I decide to do a wilderness/outdoor edition.

Image ©2011, Richard Jean LeBlanc, Jr./New Big Dragon Games Unlimited. The reproduction or re-purposing of these images is strictly forbidden except by direct permission by the copyright holder. This image is NOT CREATIVE COMMONS!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Starmasters Update: Damage/Effects Scales

As I mentioned in my recent Starmasters playtest update, the two keys to the Starmasters mechanics are: 1) an "Action Table" that serves to resolve combat, skill challenges & contests, and saving throws, while seamlessly incorporating critical failures and outstanding successes (a mechanic I'm particularly proud of), and 2) an "Effects Scale Chart" used to handle any sort of "product" in the game, including weapon strength/damage, as well as the effects of skills used in the game (e.g., the effective quality of a forgery or a security system.) The idea being that the only thing otherwise required at the table would be a couple of stats for your skill, ability, or weapon, and you'd have everything you needed at the table.

Well last night, with the help of a little Python program written by my co-conspirator David Welborn, I think we've managed to create a nice, evenly-balanced "Effects Scale Chart." Now, we've just got to start laying in some weapons against the various scales (e.g., "1dA, 2dA, 3dA, 1dB, et al.) so we can get back to the shooting and the blasting and the killing!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

RPG White Elephant Gift Exchange: Who Wants In?

So in a discussion today with my wife about the origin of White Elephant gift exchanges, I had an interesting idea...

If you're like me, you've ended up with rulebooks and the like, mostly orphaned from their original boxes or sets, or that you just don't like or have extra copies of. I propose moderating a RPG White Elephant Gift Exchange wherein:

1) Those interested send me a brief description of the item they're throwing in for the gift exchange (Secretly! Do not post in comment box! Do not send me actual item!) I also suggest that items be in at least a fine or better condition and be "moderately" worthwhile. (Nothing in "poor" condition, stained, ripped up by your dog, colored by your kids, etc.; also nothing like a single character sheet or a couple of throwaway MTG cards; but something like an 18x24 map, or a sheet of unpunched counters might be okay. Be reasonable and be considerate. White elephant doesn't mean "ef all." Also, no copies of originals or printouts of PDFs.)

2) Once the "enrollment" period has closed (maybe Tuesday, midnight CST?), I will create two lists - A) a randomly assigned list of numbers that correspond to "wrapped" (hidden) gifts, and B) a separate random list of names for the draw order.

3) The name on the draw list chooses a number from the (blank) gift list, at which point I will list the "gift" next to the drawer's name and "cross out" the number from the list.

4) The next draw may either "steal" a previously drawn gift, or choose a new (blank) number from the list. A gift may only be stolen twice before it is "locked." If someone has their gift stolen, they must then choose a number from the list. They may not steal from someone else after they have had their gift stolen. (Allowing that creates a much more tedious resolution and takes longer, and let's face it, we don't have that much time before the weekend.)

5) Drawing continues until all have gone, at which point I will reconcile the list, providing the original giver of each gift with the mailing information of the final recipient of their gift. It is up to each original gift giver to then mail that item to it's final destination.

Since I'm proposing moderating this, I will present two options for my participation to be chosen by those who participate. I can either: A) throw a gift in too, but just take the last unchosen number (no stealing for me, wouldn't be fair) whatever it may be, or B) just moderate without participating.

Who's in?

Another Really Old Old-School Artist

In my Really Old School Artist post from back in November, I discussed the work of John D. Batten and how I discovered Batten's work while trolling Wikimedia Commons to find images for use in the layout of The System. Such is also the case with the work of Willy Pogany.

Hungarian-born Pogany (1882-1955) made his way to America via Paris and London. Being in those locales (Paris and London) at that time (just after the turn of the century), it seems only natural that Art Nouveau found it's influence on Pogany, especially since much of the most interesting work in book publishing at the time was coming out of the Private Press Movement. Another great thing about the Private Press Movement (from the RPGer's perspective) is that much of the subject matter was fantastic in nature, including mythology, fairy and folk tales, and the beginnings of what we now know as fantasy literature. (See my post How the Industrial Revolution Inspired the Original Fantasy Game: A Brief Timeline for a bit more info about this.)

With Pogany, like Batten, the works they created do not feel out-of-place at all in the context of an OSR milieu. In looking at the work below, I'm struck by the resemblance of the work of both Russ Nicholson and Jeff Dee. I'm not claiming the similarities are intentional. As an artist, I know that techniques are techniques, and personal style is something that is truly amalgamated from the artists who've inspired and influenced you. (See my Favorite Artists post for a bit more info on this one.)

So, without further ado, please enjoy these selections from The Children of Odin and The Adventure of Odysseus, both by Padraic Colum (The Macmillan Company), as well one other image that I can't quite source (the one of the beggar that looks like a Russ Nicholson drawing.)

In my original version of this post,
the image at left was credited to
Willy Pogany but, in fact, it was done
by Lorenz Frølich.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

d30 DM Companion Update 2: Character and Monster Sections Done!

Here's what I've got so far...

Classed NPC Geneator: Creates 900 Oe/1e base types (about 450 BX)
The “Complete” NPC: Creates 27,000 combinations of traits/personality/quirks
Non-classed NPC Generator: 27,000 variants of Merchants, Traders & Misc.
Added Skills: 30 secondary skills to create more “well-rounded”/unique NPCs
Attribute Generator: quick attribute generation for classed/non-classed NPCs
Character Motivations: 30 character motivations for freelance adventurers

EXAMPLE CLASSED NPC ROLL-UP (Took less than 1 minute)
CL: Druid | R: Elf | S: Female | AL: Neutral | L: 4TH
STR: 15 | WIS: 16 | INT: 10 | CON: 10 | DEX: 13 | CHA: 16
Physical Trait: Scarred | Personality: Mysterious | Quirks: Pyromaniac | Motivation: Duty, Group

The fact that she's a druid, scarred, mysterious and pyromaniac gives me a real sense of who she might be. From the profile, I'd guess that she has the spell Produce Flame but maybe not Protect from Flame. I'm also guessing she belongs to some sort of weird cult (given her background and motivation.)

Monster Encounters Overview: includes a d30-based bell-curved chart for # App.
Monster Encounter Tables: Tables for Monster Encounters by Level (1-9)
Monster Encounter Descriptions: Basic Stats (HD, AC, etc.) for 140+ Monsters and 14 Human/Humanoid types (includes table of monsters listed that appear only in specific rules editions)

I've already got the traps page done and a couple of pages of treasure, but have plans to continue to flesh this out with the goal being "as much depth and detail as possible in as few rolls as possible." Let's face it, when you're at the table and you need something quick, you need something quick. Am I right?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Starmasters Update: Combat Playtest Installment III (or "Going Though a Phase")

We ran another great test of Starmasters combat last night and couldn't be more pleased.

In some ways, the Starmasters combat system is really an extension/culmination of the original combat mechanics I wrote for The System back in 1985 and has acted as a catalyst for refining the current mechanic refinements to The System: Expanded. What it has produced is an elegant combat system that technically only requires two tables for the resolution of any action in the game: 1) an "Action Table" that serves to resolve combat, skill challenges & contests, and saving throws, while seamlessly incorporating critical failures and outstanding successes (a mechanic I'm particularly proud of), and 2) an "Effects Scale Chart" used to handle any sort of "product" in the game, including weapon strength/damage, as well as the effects of skills used in the game (e.g., the effective quality of a forgery or a security system.) Don't worry, old-schoolers, you still get to roll for damage; you just have to do it all with d6s.

So here are the big takeaways from last night...

1) The issues with the phasing (order and interval of actions) is resolved.
Last go 'round, the Üroti's phasing (combat interval as determined by movement rating) combined with his accuracy was absolutely lethal to all who crossed his path (ironic, considering they were meant to be a passive race of healers.) Thanks to a suggestion from my co-conspirator David Welborn, with a simple modification to way phasing is determined (essentially adding 3 points to the way it used to be calculated), action sequencing was much more balanced and more realistic to the compared abilities of the parties involved. (On a side note, the basis for the phasing system and the way action order is determined goes back to the original 1985 rules for The System.)

2) The system really seems to produce what you've come to expect in a "sci fi shoot out."
Think about the beginning of Episode IV: A New Hope. The doors slide open and blaster fire starts whizzing back and forth. Then, every few seconds, somebody takes it and falls to the floor. This system really seems to do that pretty well. With the old phasing mechanic, most action was resolved in just a few seconds (think Peckinpah or Tarintino.) The new phasing mechanic resulted in a more drawn out shootout that actually ended with several of the characters "stalking" each other in the hallways! (It was freakin' wicked awesome!!!)

3) A little armor goes a long way.
The scale for attributes (including HPs) in Starmasters is rather small (1-6) in comparison to most RPGs (e.g., 3-18). It is my belief that one good blaster shot or well-placed sword strike should kill a clumsy, unarmored character. Also, Starmasters began as a 70s wargame concept, so the smaller scale was always in line with that idea. Those things being said, even a little bit of armor (just 1 or 2 points) went a long way in helping both "naturally" armored characters (like the Sluuth and the Zhophek), as well those wearing armor (like the Human) stay alive.

4) We're finally ready to test the optional combat rules (knockout, knockback and shock.)
These should be pretty simple to work through now that the other issues are resolved. I'm particularly interested to see how a well-armored character handles knockback, considering that a really good shot could create a lot of impact (force) without killing the character entirely.

Stay tuned for our next episode, "The Landing Party," in which our faithful heroes take on the deadly Ekeni'qos Bloodbeast and the legendary Thuzzendahg!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Illustration of the Week: d30 DM Companion Cover Image

After a weekend (and 1 weekday) of tables and charts and text and tables and charts and text and table and (you get the idea)... it was nice to sit back and knock out the cover illustration.

Image ©2011, Richard Jean LeBlanc, Jr./New Big Dragon Games Unlimited. The reproduction or re-purposing of these images is strictly forbidden except by direct permission by the copyright holder. This image is NOT CREATIVE COMMONS!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Oe, BX and 1e Class Title Comparison

As I was working on my d30 DM Companion this weekend, I found myself having to deal with something that, while most of know they're there, may or may not use them much in the context of everyday game play. (I know I don't, but I could be an exception.) I'm talking about the character class titles by level from the early editions of THE game.

Interestingly, it's a conceit of the game the clones pretty much ignore, though plenty of folks out there in the blogosphere have suggested naming (like James at Grognardia.) But this isn't about solving/creating a cohesive/final list. This is really about examining the ones from the original editions. I've seen a few people out there asking for a chart that compares them but I couldn't seem to find one, so I've compiled one (FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY!)

In looking at the titles for the 4 main/common classes, here are my biggest takeaways...

1) BX is the most overtly politically correct of all the original editions.

Yes, we all knew it, but someone had to say it.

I assume the creators knew this version might be the most likely to attract a mixed (male and female) audience. Being grounded in the male-dominated hobby of wargaming, it's no wonder the "hardcore" versions of the early game (Oe and 1e) give no nod to the "female" variations of titles like Priest, Enchanter, or Sorcerer (i.e., Priestess, Enchanter and Sorceress, respectively.) But BX either androgenizes them (e.g., from Swordsman to Swordmaster for a 3rd level fighter) or bows directly to the female audience through the "either/or" options (like Priest/Priestess or Lord/Lady.)

2) BX seems to aim toward accessibility (i.e., "dumbing down"), while 1e seems to aim toward detail/academia (i.e., "pretension.")

Look at 1e's 8th level thief title... Magsman. Now, maybe that term is more familiar to some of you Brits out there (being a British slang term for a swindler), but the term obscure enough that its appeal is toward the more well-read. But why add it at all? I mean, it's not in Oe, so where did it come from? And why was it so important as to be added at all when the other thief titles in 1e were simply reordered from Oe. My guess is that Pilferer sounded a little "small" for a 7th level thief. Maybe it works for a 3rd or 4th level thief, but not 7th. What Magsman implies, on the other hand, is something more along the lines of a con man, which seems to be much more in line with a 7th level thief.

Another difference of note in the BX reworking is the dropping of the MU titles Theurgist and Thaumaturgist. This one's a no-brainer. Let's face it, of all of the class titles that ever graced the pages of the early editions, those two (along with Prestidigitator) are the least tongue-friendly. Especially if you're trying to introduce the game to grade-schoolers.

3) The fighting man seems to be either the most fully realized, least debated, or completely uninteresting character class to the various edition writers/editors.

Apart from the Swordsman/Swordmaster adjustment in BX noted above, this is the only original character class where there is no alteration in the class titles by level... through all three editions! The other classes go through (at a minimum) multiple changes throughout (mostly the shifting up and down in levels of certain titles), but only the fighting man/fighter remains essentially unaltered.

4) Of all the titles from all three editions (approximately 120), only one class title (1e's first level thief) has more than one class name.

In the 1e PHB, the title of the first-level thief appears as "Rogue (Apprentice)," with the title Apprentice in parentheses. Given that thievery is a guild system profession, the choice of the title Apprentice seems obvious. But why was it not important/strong enough for 1e that Rogue become the main title for that level, and the title "Apprentice" relegated to secondary status? Was the Apprentice designation so ingrained with players, or so important to the guild idea, that the writers couldn't abandon it? I'm truly at a loss on this one since, by comparison, they generally changed, shifted, altered, removed, and added other titles (seemingly) at will.

5) Of the approximately 120 class titles among the various editions, only one was left blank (assuming you have a 2nd printing or later of the 1e PHB.)

In the early printings of the PHB, the 5th level cleric title Prefect (obviously the intention) was printed as Perfect (a typo.) It was obviously easier/cheaper to take it out than to fix it.* In later printings** that class title was left blank rather than letting the word "Perfect" remain because it was wrong. Now that's irony, folks!

* With a background in graphic design and print production, I can look at the page and pretty much guarantee you this was this case.

In the "old days" (prior to the introduction of post-script in 1984), changing the title would have meant: 1) speccing a new piece of type (from a typewritten page), 2) having that type output from an old phototypesetter, 3) pasting that new piece of type onto the galley/mechanical board for the thief's page (assuming it still existed), 4) making a new sheet of negative film from that mechanical board (which would have taken 2 passes in front of the camera because of the gray bars in the tables), 5) stripping that new piece of film into a bigger sheet of existing film (if they still had it) for that printing signature (which would normally include 15 other pages to be printed together), from which 6) a new printing plate would be made to put on the press. If I had to guess what that would cost in early 1980s dollars, I'd guess somewhere in the neighborhood of one-to-two grand (including new charges for typesetting on down the line).

These days, printing plates for 1 color jobs are generally plastic and are made straight from the digital (computer) file. And they're beginning to get recycled. Back then, the printing plates (being rather expensive, made of metal, and somewhat damage resistant if packed well) were saved and shelved for reprints. If you look at the PHB, you'll notice that the title in question is in a "white" area (as opposed to appearing on a gray background.) This is the kind of "fix" that could easily be done on the existing printing plate by "wiping away" (with a chemical) the word from the old plate (a change that cannot be reversed once made.) More so, it is NOT the kind of change that could have been made to the "gray" areas of that level/title table without creating a white hole in the graphic. Had the word "perfect" appeared in the gray area, I imagine we'd all have copies of the PHB with a typo in it.

** (Editor's note: the typo existed up through the "true" 6th printing, but the 6th-10th printings were all labeled as "6th printing." Please see comment thread below for corrections on this.)

To download a PDF of the compared titles, click here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Separated at Birth: 1e Monster Manual Edition

Dispater and Hal from Breaking Bad. (Yeah, I know Dispater actually looks a bit more like Patrick Stewart. But I'm a bigger Breaking Bad fan than I ever was of Star Trek any generation.)

The Berserker and San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson.

Asmodeus and (again) San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson.

Dave Trampier's Goblin and comedian Dave Attell.

The Nixie and American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert.

The Night Hag and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien Debate Myths and Lies

In doing some recent YouTubing, I came across this clip from EWTN's "Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings:' A Catholic Worldview" portraying a debate between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien on whether or not myths are lies. This debate was ultimately instrumental in C.S. Lewis's conversion to Christianity.

Tolkien, a devout Roman Catholic, filtered a Catholic worldview into LotR, mostly during the writing of his second draft. This is not always obvious on a literal level (e.g., there is no mention of any sort of "god," much less a one true God in LotR). But, then again, sometimes it is (e.g., the Elvin Lembas bread that keeps its eater full for days). Moreso, the significance and symbolism of Catholic beliefs are woven throughout the characters and storylines, and are quite obvious from a meta view.

For deeper list of relevant resources, please visit The Catholic Imagination of JRR Tolkien page.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Holy Grail of RPG Collecting?

It's not every day you buy something for $2.71 that's worth worth nearly a grand. For me, that day was yesterday. On a seemingly innocuous stop at an indie used bookstore on my way home from jury duty yesterday, I chanced upon this beauty... The Official Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Album... UNCOLORED!!! For those in know, that means the difference between $80 and $1,000. Once the store's $5 price was cut in half via my store credit, the addition of tax put the grand total at two dollars and seventy-one cents!!! (And I thought my $4 purchase of The Official Superhero Adventure Game was a good buy.)

I'm not going to go into too much detail about this baby because it's been talked about in these parts a lot recently by the likes of fathergeek and boingboing, centered mostly around the recent post by monsterbrains (who's scanned and posted the entire thing to his blog.)

The review that seems to sum it best for me, though, is from dungeonskull who states that it just might be "the best encapsulation of an 'old school' D&D adventure ever made." Well, let's see... 1) old EGG wrote it himself, 2) there's a quest for loot with no other heroic motive (like rescuing or saving); 3) it features a "well-rounded" adventuring party (fighting man, cleric, thief, magic-user, ranger, dwarf, elf... you get the idea); and 4) it's got classic D&D monsters like a bulette, a lich, a beholder, an umber hulk, a remhoraz, and Tiamat the dragon. Yup. That pretty much sums it up.

Now I know how Jared feels when he finds a safe in the back of a locker on Storage Wars.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Villains & Vigilantes & Civic Duty

Any of you who played Jeff Dee & Jack Herman's Villains & Vigilantes "back in the day" probably have some of the same fond recollections of the game that I do. First, the FGU ads for V&V in Dragon magazine were all it took for me to say to myself, "I want to own that game." Second, I thought it was pretty decent of FGU to include the game master's screen in the box (Revised Edition, 1982) rather than try to sucker me out of another 5 or 10 bucks later (even if it was in B&W white on a pretty cheap uncoated card stock.) And third, it included the "Laws of the Land," (section 5.5 A), a pretty standard criminal code that helped a high schooler wrap his head around concepts like "criminally negligent homicide" and the differences between first- and second-degree kidnapping.

So what has me reminiscing about learning criminal codes 5+ years before Law & Order started its 20-year run? I have jury duty today. I don't know what it is about me, but I seem to be a magnet for jury duty. No sooner is my ineligibility period over when my next jury summons arrives in the mail. C'mon, man... FUNK DAT! Hopefully I won't have to spend too much time in voir dire, which should leave me free most of the morning to concentrate on additional engines, tables, etc. for my d30 DM Companion.

Oh, and in the picture above (a scan of one of my old character sheets that's been in my V&V box since 1985/6)... I don't remember if the character's name was supposed to be an intentional pun, or if it was just a typo.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Illustration of the Week: Emerald Stinkbug (Starmasters)

Another Starmasters creature.

Image ©2011, Richard Jean LeBlanc, Jr./New Big Dragon Games Unlimited. The reproduction or re-purposing of these images is strictly forbidden except by direct permission by the copyright holder. These images are NOT CREATIVE COMMONS!

Monday, December 5, 2011

New Magic Item: Dagger of Dark Revelation

From the upcoming module
OE1 The Mysterious Mist of Foxpond,
an introductory OE/BX OSR adventure
for characters level 1-3.

This ornate dagger does a base of 1d4 damage, but provides damage and hit modifiers based on alignment: chaotic/+2, neutral/±0, lawful/-2. Additionally, the longer a neutral or lawful character possesses the dagger, there is a chance their alignment will change (to chaotic) without them being aware. Every hour a character possesses the knife, that character (regardless of alignment) must make a saving throw (vs. spells) or be unable to resist the urge to use the dagger to kill the closest living sentient being (friend, enemy or otherwise.)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

d30 Companion Update

It seems I'm well underway toward having the d30 DM companion ready in the next couple of weeks! This is no mere compilation of a bunch of numbered (1-30) lists of conditional encounters. These are, in most cases, either 1) true "engines" for creating as much variety as possible in as few rolls as possible, or 2) d30-based mechanics to SIMPLIFY AND SUPPORT the role of the DM/GM.

So far, here's what's prepped. (BTW, each of the following takes no more than 1 page!):

- Classed NPC Generator: (810,000 unique NPCs in 4 x d30 rolls)
- Non-classed NPC Generator: (810,000 unique NPCs in 4 x d30 rolls)
- NPC Attribute Generator: (slot based, for classed and non-classed NPCs)

- Gem & Gem-centric Jewelry: (27,000 unique items in 3 x d30 rolls, including g.p. value)
- Elven & Dwarven Jewelry: (900 unique items in 2 x d30 rolls, including g.p. value)
- Magic Weapons, Armor & Protective Items: (810,000 unique items in 4 x d30 rolls)

So far, this section only includes outdoor encounters with humanoid remains (900) and markers and signs (30). But those two (combined) take up less than half of a page!

I'm hoping to have the entire book ready for press by December 16th. Planning on a printed booklet of 24 pages plus cover (8x10.5 - and yes, printed; not PDF) that will sell for an introductory price of around $3. That's less than the cost of most PDFs! (Look... I'm old-school, like an old-fool. I love my iPad, but prefer paper in my hands at the gaming table.)

Next update to come next weekend.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Combat Mantra of the Day: "Resolution, Not Simulation" (Starmasters Playtest Update)

Ran my first Skype combat playtest last night with my co-conspirator Dave Welborn. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised, both the refinements in the system AND the moderately seamless play via that fancy interweb thang. Unlike the more nebulous "loose action" (role-playing intensive) aspects of gaming, Starmasters combat benefits greatly from being able to visually track 1) movement, facing and distance on a hex map, and 2) initiative/action turns (moderated in "phases," per the image at the top of this post.) Screen sharing worked well enough, though I was on the sending end; Dave would have probably preferred a bit more resolution in the image.

The thing that has kept us grounded as we've tested is our mantra for Starmasters combat, "Resolution, not simulation." We sometimes, in our fervor for trying to resolve every issue that comes up, focus on creating added mechanics rather than simplifying/generalizing the ones we already do have. We have, so far, been pretty good about keeping an old-school approach in creating mechanics the GM can interpret based on our examples, in lieu of creating volumes of rules to answer every situation. I can see how the AC system of D&D (resolution) was a simpler alternative to Chainmails "rules for medieval miniatures (which began more, relatively, as a simulation.)

Last night's playtest took place in a more complex "battlefield" than last week. This time around, we used a building interior with more walls and doors and passage areas, compared to the more open/landscaped battle area from the last playtest. It seemed to make it a more offensive game, where characters were more intent on getting shots off and positioning themselves strategically for cover, rather than relying on defensive moves (like dodging and diving.)

We did seem to resolve the off-target issue for "area of effect" weapons. We used a mechanic similar to Starmasters' "range indexing" (in which a character's ACC affects his overall range with a fired weapon, scaling distance penalties to the character's ACC); Dave had already come up with this mechanic as of last playtest, but this round proved it in practice.

We need to refine the added mechanic for fumbling/stumbling (if a character tries to do too much in one phase.) The mechanic is good; the method for determining odds needs to be tweaked. Too many characters dropped their weapons too often.

Next up... moving from the "every man for himself" free-for-all, and moving to a "team vs. creature" mode. The plan is to arm and armor the team heavily, but put them up against some nasty alien creatures. I can't wait!!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

27,000 Different Magic Items in 3 Die Rolls!

This week's d30 Feature allows you to generate 27,000 different magic items in only 3 die rolls! (The die does, of course, have to be a d30.)

I've tried to structure the charting to provide as much theme development as possible, while still trying to offer some variety. I didn't want to just randomly assign different properties so that you have a schizophrenic magic item whose origins would be hard to ascertain. So two disclaimers: 1) the items are limited (in these charts) to weapons and armor, and 2) the chart is a little open to interpretation (which I believe these kinds of charts should be.) As an example to the point of interpretation above, during roll 2 (in which the type is chosen), the categories are a bit general (e.g., "humanoid" and "fire-breathers.") My suggestion is, once a GM has discerned all the properties, he/she should feel free to refine them based on the other properties.

Here's a couple of random sets of rolls examples of the vast variety possible:

Roll 1 = 26: item type = scale mail
Roll 2 = 12: basic properties = +2 vs. cold-using/dwelling
Roll 3 = 5: additional properties = +2 save vs. paralysis
You can see how that item as a nice overall theme going for it. And completely random. Now, just fill it in a with some sort of appropriate name (like Draconian Armor of Warmth) and you've got yourself a moderately unique magic item.

Roll 1 = 3: item type = (head) band
Roll 2 = 26: basic properties = +3 vs. humanoids*
Roll 3 = 15: additional properties = +1 WIS
First off, I swear, the headband that provides +1 WIS was totally random! Now, the +3 vs. (all) humanoids is a little strong, so let's go with just orcs, and customize a bit so the WIS bonus is only given to clerics... Voilà! An clerical band of protection from orcs.

NOTE: This set produced the following rolls: 17, 13, 18. I think that because these numbers were so close together, it becomes a strong test of whether these tables work or not. So let's take a look, shall we?
Roll 1 = 17: item type = small shield
Roll 2 = 13: basic properties = +2 vs. giant class
Roll 3 = 18: additional properties = detect type, 100'
I'm seeing this as a Dwarven shield of giant protection.

Now, I'm not saying all of the results will make complete sense. For example, if Roll Set C (above) had produced a 3rd roll of 14, the shield would have granted it's bearer a +1 INT bonus. At first glance, I'm not sure if that makes complete sense or not. We need to put those properties in the right context... so... given that the shield is small, and INT is a prime req. for thieves, which is a typical class for halflings, maybe under those circumstances it becomes a halfling shield of giant protection.

Okay. I'm thinking this works pretty well.

To download a free PDF of today's chart from MediaFire, click here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Starmaster: Captain Crane Simpson, Squad Leader, Investigation Team, Code Alpha

Like most humans, Crane had no memory of her first birthday. Nor her second. Nor her third. Neither did she have any recollection of Terran Unification Day, though she was five at the time, and her grandmother made 1,000 cookies in honor of The One Thousand, and the entire floor of their domo tower smelled like perlant chips for a week. These are the kinds of things that most humans remember. But Crane wasn't most humans.

Crane's first memory, as clear as any crisp deciduous morning, was of the porcelain fingernail at the tip her left index finger stroking a thin line up that warm shaft, the sweet smell of the afterflux seeping from the chamber and up to her thin, oval nostrils, and crawling it's way up her nasal passages and burring itself deep into her hippocampus like a hungered Thuzzendahg. After all, it's not every day a girl fires her first Stermer blaster.

She'd come by it honestly. It had been her father's before he died liberating the Ekerats on what is now New Callisto. And it had been his father's before he granted it to Darmon Jr., Crane's Father, on the day he enlisted in the Terran Exploration Corps. It was Crane's mother's wish that Crane never find it but, as these things go, fate trumps desire every time.

It was fate that brought that blaster home with the remains of Crane's father and put it in the hands of Crane's mother, Ophelia. And it was fate that brought Crane to live with her grandmother when Ophelia died from a blood parasite. And it was fate that drove Crane deep into the far corner of her grandmother's closet where she found the burled Fellwood box, engraved with her great, great, grandfather's initials, and heard the voice of destiny calling to her from inside.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Illustration of the Week: New Starmasters Creature

Another of the creatures from Starmasters. This one is, as of yet, unnamed.

Image ©2011, Richard Jean LeBlanc, Jr./New Big Dragon Games Unlimited. The reproduction or re-purposing of these images is strictly forbidden except by direct permission by the copyright holder. These images are NOT CREATIVE COMMONS!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Look Back: Games Inside Books That Aren't Technically Game Books

THE BOOK: The Book of Medieval Wargames
THE GAME(S): The Joust, The Tourney, The Melee, The Battle

The title of this book by Nicholas Slope is a little misleading if your a gamer as a bit more than half the books is just a history of knights, chivalry, heraldry and medieval warfare done in a sort of "light" version of a Time/Life Books kind of way. But, per the title, the most interesting part of the book are the four "board games" (Harper Collins's words) and I think both Harper Collins and the author realized that; the book actually includes a full-color, three-dimensional "pop-up" medieval joust diorama, chance and hazard counters, stand-up player counters, and player stat cards. IMO, the coolest mechanic is from "The Melee" game, in which each player chooses to defend either high, middle or low, and attack either high, middle, low, or attempt to disarm, then roll for their attacks. It's a very nice mechanic for resolving sword and shield combat. For example, if you choose to disarm and your target attempts to parry, you automatically disarm them.

THE BOOK: The Complete Book of Wargames
THE GAME: Kassala

From the editors of Consumers Guide and Jon Freeman comes this tome (285 pages) featuring information and reviews for over 150 of the most popular wargames on the market in 1980, including data on publishers, prices, playing time, packaging, game scale, size, balance, key features, playability, rules, realism and degree of complexity. There is a chapter on RPGs (I'm planning a future post on this chapter) and a chapter titled "Computers ad the Future of Wargaming." The book includes Kassala, an introductory wargame portraying a battle between Christian Ethiopians and invading Moslems in 1541. Since these styles of wargame have a rather "limited", situational- and geographically-based ruleset, many enthusiasts will tell you this game still holds up. You just don't get actual cardboard counters or a color gameboard; you have to copy the black and white art for them out of the book.

THE BOOK: The Complete Guide to the World of Lone Wolf & Grey Star: The Magnamund Companion
THE GAME: Dawn of the Darklords

Okay, in all fairness, anybody who knows Lone Wolf should really have expected this (a game inside the book, I mean.) After all, this is the "world companion" book to a series of gamebooks that used a simple action resolution mechanic as part of a "choose your own adventure" combat format. The solo adventure in the book is just a stripped down version of what was inside all of the actual "novels." For tabletop miniatures enthusiasts, the book also includes instruction on modeling Magnamund and building your own "fantasy buildings," skyriders and fantasy fleet.

BTW, Lone Star author Joe Dever has offered to allow some of his books to be downloaded free on the internet, so give a visit to Project Aon. (Aon is the universe where Magnamund and the other planets in the setting are located.)

THE BOOK: Dicing with Dragons
THE GAME: Fantasy Quest solo adventure, FQ1: Eye of the Dragon
YEAR PUBLISHED: 1982, 1983, 1986

There are a bunch of different editions of the book (mine is the 1983 Plume paperback pictured at left), but I assume the game inside stayed the same. Check out The Fighting Fantasist's post for info on this one.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Samurai in Space

So the other day when my co-consipriator David Welborn and I were testing the Starmasters combat system, the only minis I had handy were some Reaper Minis samurai figures from the mid-to-late 90s designed by Bob Charrette. Coincidentally, Dave's been testing the mechanics (Starmasters shares some basic combat mechanics with The System, The System: Expanded, and my new d30 project Magic, Men, Mutants & Machines) to see how they work to simulate Samurai battles. It was never an intention to specifically include any sort of Samurai genre into the Starmasters setting, it just so happens that the various playtesting is overlapping. That being said, as part of our planned Starmasters playtesting this week, Dave's anxious to see how the system works for some actions specific to Samurai combat (particularly a riposte action.) On the other side of things, I'm now inspired to work in a Samurai pastiche to one of the Starmasters alien races while trying to keep the obvious influnce Japanese rather than Jedi. (After all, everybody knows Star Wars is really just a rip off of Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress.)

Just a reminder, Starmasters doesn't use a d30. I just had it handy from testing the d30 sytem, and felt like including it in the picture because it looked cool.