Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Handy Game Tool: Macro-Enabled (N)PC Sheet Character Sheet

Glimcogworks, on DF, posted an Excel spreadsheet character sheet that's really handy.  Most new forum-ites open up with a post of "hey, how you doing, I'm just getting back into D&D after a 'X' year absence and I'm really glad to have found your site" or some such.  Glim just dropped this sheet off and sped away like a he was making a link-n-run. 

And it's a nifty sheet - probably near enough to the holy grail if you are a late 1E period gamer.  It automates all the calculations, and plugs in appropriate tables such as weapon vs. AC and the to-hit matrices. 

The further you get from the 1979 DMG, the percentage of a 1E hardback that will see use in my game becomes smaller, so its nice that areas of the sheet such as NWPs are optional.  All I need to know to have a complete NPC sheet are the stats, class and any weapons known.  Pretty sweet for a gift horse I wasn't expecting when I swung by to check out DF's 1E forum.

Highly recommended!  Grab it and, if you like it, say thanks to Glim for sharing his work.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Descriptions Done Right

Many people are probably already familiar with the way bat describes his new items at Ancient Vaults & Eldritch Secrets.  bat has a stable of recurring characters who use his new items in action scenes, following with game info.  For an example read this spell, which I think is pretty nifty mechanically, too.


Every once in a while you run into a method or process that works so well it subsequently seems the only right way to do something.  And yet to adopt it feels like copying something distinctive and personal, unlikely to equal the quality of the originator.   Thank you and damn you, bat. 


I'll probably just plod along with my Ed Greenwood pastiche.

Arms of the Forge: Braeran's Stilleto

Braeran's Stiletto
Damage: 1d3/1d2 + Special
 
Braeran was a petty crook and mugger in the city of Gnore who tried to pass himself off as an assassin, if he encountered someone from the Spice Quarter making discreet inquiries about contracting a Shroudsman. If the target were a resident of his own Hemp Quarter he would take the job and attempt to complete it, although his methods were unsophisticated. If the target resided in a quarter where Braeran had no access, and no association to gain it for him, Braeran negotiated a price in bad faith and then attempted to kill his employer upon receiving an initial installment for expenses. He had considerable success, mainly due to his blade which he had taken from the belt of a drunken sailor he had assaulted and robbed.
 
This small dagger's hilt is made of silver, wrapped in leather. The pommel has been worked into the shape of a small frog, with an open mouth. The piece is a rendition of a species native to the jungles to the north of Gnore. Its head is on a swivel which allows it to unlock and slide, allowing access to a small cavity which can be filled with liquids of the bearer's choice. On the guard is a small carving of two daggers lying horizontal, opposite ends, across a six pointed star. Pressing down on the star causes the contents of the chamber to evacuate through a deep groove that runs down the center of the blade from its tang to the tip; typically this is used to inject poison from the hilt chamber into a wound.
 
As the blade itself is not coated in venom there is no chance for observers to "notice" the same, and possibly be swayed by the use of poison to risk involving themselves by notifying the nearest watchman. The weapon is not enchanted in any way, and gives no bonuses to hit or damage.
 
Braeran eventually grew careless, as is wont to happen when enjoying illicit gain without consequence, and the Brotherhood of the Shroud became aware that someone using this distinctive blade was impersonating their members.   In a stroke of luck, Braeran found out his secret was compromised, although he mistakenly thought the Shroudsmen also know his identity. To escape, Braeran signed on as a hireling to a newly-formed adventuring group that was willing to purchase his exit stamp at the Quarter gate. The group, who called themselves Magan's Men, have not returned to Gnore for three seasons.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Spell Research of Varying Utility: Alne's Ankle Snapper

Alne's Ankle Snapper (Evocation/Necromancy)

Level: 1
Range: 1"/Level
Duration: Instantaneous
Area of Effect: One or more creatures in a 50 square foot area
Components: V, S, M
Saving Throw: Special


Alne was apprenticed to a minor wizard that secretly experimented in the necromantic arts, unbeknownst to nearby villagers - or Alne, prior to entering his service.  Experiences during his training left Alne with an intense phobia of skeletons; particularly their tendency to implacably pursue their quarry without hurry.  The first spell that Alne researched allowed him to escape from skeletons that were otherwise resistant to his dagger, and typically encountered in quantities exceeding that able to be brought low by Magic Missile.

Alne's Ankle Snapper creates offset jaw foothold traps (resembling those used in trapping bears or other large animals) made of magical energy at a rate of 1/level, up to a maximum of five.  These traps will streak away from the caster, at ground level, attacking designated targets.  Skeletal undead of less than 3 Hit Dice get no saving throw; other skeletal undead and living targets get a saving throw to avoid the effect.  Affected skeletal targets take 1d3 damage and lose their foot at the ankle bone due to the strength of the trap-jaws.  While they are able to pull themselves along the ground with their arms at a movement rate of 1", this usually allows the caster to escape at will.  If the undead are instead attacked, a counter-attack is only possible if the undead wins initiative.  Otherwise, the attacker can attack and retreat before the undead can react. 

If used on living creatures, they also take 1d3 damage but do not suffer amputation. Their movement rate is instead reduced by half for 1 hour/level of the caster, and any subsequent melee is unaffected.

As the traps travel along the ground, They can be disrupted by increases in elevation exceeding 12 inches, or other significant obstructions.  As an example, if cast by a wizard at a skeleton on a dais or stairway the skeleton would not be in danger, although if the locations were reversed the spell would work normally.  Traps can flow around a small to medium obstruction such as a rock without difficulty, but would be stymied by the unbroken remains of foundation perpendicular to its course.  The final determination of whether or not the spell is negated by obstacles belongs to the DM.

The material components are small pieces of iron and bone.

Character Death and the Player Experience

Frank Mentzer over at Dragonsfoot has proposed a new spell for 1E that allows for the reversal of a Disintegrate spell, and put up a poll as to whether or not we feel it would be useful in our campaigns.  Currently opinion is pretty evenly split, although less than 30 votes are registered. 

I'm a "no" voter.  It seems that the tendency over the last twenty years has been to water down, or remove entirely, elements of 1E that slow down or otherwise mess with the life cycle of a PC: level draining; disunified X.P. tables, that featured slower progression through the mid and late levels; save or die; and things that prevent raising a dead character.

Each of those is probably a topic.  But I see this spell as falling into the last example.  As Frank expands in a follow-up post, "Although I'm as prone as any other old-school DM to include Save-Or-Die situations in the game, I find (on the more pragmatic side) that it's more than a little unfair against a PC who can cast L6 and/or L7 spells, i.e. when a player has invested that much time and effort." 

I've seen this time aspect elsewhere expressed in discussing undead as justifiable because (paraphrased) "we don't play as often as we used to, so losing a level takes even longer to regain". 

But why should it matter really what level we're playing at, or perhaps more acutely, whether or not progress through levels is always onward and upward?  Was 7th level more fun than 5th, or is 9th level going to be more fun that 7th?   Does having a PC disintegrated mean that there was some power on the cusp of attainment that is now denied, that as a player would have been new ground to savor in their experiencing our hobby?

Most likely we've played long enough now that there isn't much in the game structure left unused.  But, if you've never cast 8th level spells (and this is a burr in your game experience), do yourself a favor and start a campaign where everyone is 16th level from the beginning.  Don't subject yourself to the lottery effect of surviving to that point from 1st level.  While doing that in 1981 would have been a munchkin move, no extra honor is gained in 2011 by only starting at the lowest levels.  This is a better approach than modifying the warp and woof of the ruleset.

But otherwise, the game is better for players being willing to have a PC die and start over.  Proposals to gimp the game and put bumpers on it so that negative feedback for bad play (or just bad luck) are diluted, do mean that any new players who do come into it will not have the exultation you did when reaching those heights of character levels against all odds.  Because the odds have been cut.  Instead, it will just be another process of foregone conclusion. 

Would you have fell in love with the hobby if it would have been like that?  I know that I wouldn't have, but I also know that it is foolish to project my own experience as being universal.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ex Libris: Vocare Malfeficum

Vocare Maleficum

This workbook, reputedly began by Loran the Maimed a few decades prior to immolation at the hands of a Type VI demon, details the arcane theory behind the Cacodemon spell and aids in its research.

The covers and spine of the workbook are constructed of cold iron covered in Hollyphant hide, which has been dyed in Annis spittle - which doubles as the ink used to inscribe the increasingly fevered observations of the crippled one.  The spine is covered with miniature metal imps; variously posed in rows of three, across its top, middle and bottom.  Its pages are parchment made from larval skin.  In contrast to the content of the tome, which begins in a rather detached and studious tone progressing to verses of inchoate pleadings, the print remains austerely uniform in its perfect construction.  The script is incomprehensible without the application of Read Magic.

There is a catch and leather strap across the book that will cause a poison needle trap to activate from the underneath the imp in the center of the spine unless one of the imps is rotated one-half turn, counter-clockwise.  Which of the nine imps this is changes with each closing of the book, although it is never the imp which houses the needle; when the book is strapped shut the correct imp's eyes will glow red for 1 round.  It is up to the owner to remember or otherwise note the correct imp.  The poison is fatal; demons save at no modifier, but creatures of the Prime Material save at -4.  Onset time is 2 rounds for demons, 1 round for Primes.

The information contained in the book allow for a +15% bonus to rolls to know the spell Cacodemon.  Additionally, its pages contain the purported true names of four Type IV demons (Morsibus, Calcare, Subigo, and Ultio), three Type V demons (Cruciatus, Proditor and Domitor), and two Type VI demons (Caducus and Imnolo); progressing in power towards the back of the workbook.  It is unknown how many of these names are correct, although at least one is suspected to be incorrect, with this error playing a critical part in Loren's demise.

Against the Giants

So here's the thing about being a DM growing up in a small town.  You might not get to play a lot, if there's not a big pool of people who want to run a game.

I didn't start playing until the school year prior to the release of 2E, so I know that I am on the young-ish side of the OSR.  There was a dichotomy in the product; the books were great, the support material sucked. 

At the time I didn't know anything about the politics of Gygax.  All I knew was the PHB and DMG were like steroids for my imagination.  I could sit and read them for hours, and then go off and make a dungeon for the weekend. 

But whenever I bought a module they uniformly sucked.  And I was more than a little disappointed that whoever was writing these modules was getting paid for what I saw as going through the motions, when I compared back to the rulebooks themselves.

This was 1988-89.  Like I said, small town, so small-town bookstore.  Not a FLGS.  They had some D&D stuff, but it was whatever was current product.  At that time, that meant top-notch stuff like Adventure Pack I, Tales of the Outer Planes and The Book of Lairs II.  My first exposure to AD&D was as a player in the U series, so a drop off in quality was evident.  Dragon was not a part of my life yet, so I was not aware of an impending 2nd edition. 

As mentioned, I was more of a drafted DM at first than a natural one; I wanted to play!  I wanted to replicate the fun I had going through the U series with my mighty wizard Whatever-the-Hell-His-Name-Was!  So when I discovered used product in the comic/game shops of bigger towns I hoarded the classic adventures, but didn't run them for my players. 

Fat lot of good that did me.  Twenty+ years later and I still have never played as a PC through any other TSR adventures.  I've never read them, though I own them all now (and most of them then), to preserve my presumed play experience when I came across a group who wanted to run them.  For various reasons, that hasn't happened.  Most times, 1E groups I was able to join later as a player had all "been there, done that".  They weren't interested.

But a few weeks ago, Stuart was nice enough (and mildly shocked enough) upon discovering my predicament to run a game through if we could find enough players.  As K&KA is not a place with a lot of RPG rookies, I didn't know if four or five players could be found.  But the responses to the thread came in fairly quickly, after two of us had admitted never having gone through the giants series, and it turned out that a fair number of us hadn't.  Once again, something I thought everyone else had done, wasn't true at all.

So we got a Google+ game together.  We've had two sessions so far, and it's been fantastic.  Stuart uses pre-gens, as it's not really a campaign, but I really like my Illusionist/Thief.  We're recording it, but I don't think the recordings are up yet so I can't link to it.  I hadn't used Google+ before, but it's so simple and easy it's like falling down after hitting the Guinness. 

Now I'm hoping that this means I won't be stuck wishing I could play AD&D again, without an outlet.  I see the Constant-Con references, and I'm going to check that out more.  I would really prefer a campaign style where I get to start a character from scratch, and keep the same group together through a succession of adventures.  I don't know if there are those types of games amongst the pick-up style that seems to be the majority there. 

But this technology makes me feel like a game-player, as opposed to a game-reader again.  And I like it.

RPG Consumerism as a Play-Replacement

In the last week or so, I've gotten in a flood of new-old RPG stuff.  Judges Guild mags, KODT, and I bought a copy of CC3 from the Loot sale. 

I love reading it, but I know that I buy more stuff than I can really consume.  But I'm not really a collector, either, since I refuse to get buy anything other than what would be considered play copies of anything. 

So why do I buy as much as I do?

Part of it is the confluence of increased disposable income, increased time alone, and electronic marketplaces available at this point in my life.  Twenty years ago - even ten years ago - I wouldn't have the burgeoning stack of books and magazines I have today.  With a bored click my Internet searches turn up things I always wanted as a kid growing up in a small town that I didn't have the enough money for, or the ability to transport myself to.  

What I haven't had is my old crew of buddies who were always up to running their latest characters through whatever I had bought or thought.

And so far I think a large part of why I buy the quantity of things that I do is as a sort of pacifier, or binky (or whatever they call baby-plugs in your corner of the world).  It keeps the jonesing down.

I wonder how much of the OSR is the RPG equivalent to nicotine patches?  I have no doubt that the material producers are playing, and that many bloggers are playing, but what about the people who buy the new product?  (Or old, for that matter - somebody's keeping TSR (A)D&D prices inflating steadily enough that the collectors/resellers market is healthy.)

How much of the R is based upon unrequited desire to sling some dice? 

Google+ appears to be coming to my rescue, but I'll leave that for another post.