Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sandbox / Old School - High Level Games?

I enjoy reading the session reports various people post to their blogs. Usually they're short, sweet and interspersed with interesting posts. I've only been sucked into reading their big brother, Campaign Journals, a few times:

The Storm Crows - High level storypath 1st ed romp through G1-3, D1-2, and a couple detours. These guys are numbskulls but hilarious to read about.

Tales of Wrye - High level storypath 3.5 Excellent example of character growth. War and planes as high level content. It's also a great story.

Melan's Fomalhaut - Low level sandbox OD&D? Sword, Sorcery and Rayguns! (no monkeys yet, sadly)

What I've not encountered is higher level (9-10 plus) sandbox or old-school/retro games. Also, I've read here and there at old-school haunts that low level play is preferred by many of that ilk. Several abhor the latter letters of BECMI. Then I found out that my current campaign inspiration The Western Marches only went to lvl 6-7.

I'm curious, does sand box not lend it self to high level? Do OD&D, clones, simulacra and the style of play pushed by the old school mainstream break down at high levels? Do campaigns / players just start over after a certain point? Can anyone point out some good campaign journals that demonstrate the opposite (high level sandbox or high level AD&D?

And apropos to nothing I find my self in total agreement with the Pundit.

The Miscellaneum of Cinder - A Review

What's it?
A compilation of randomness from the awesomely bizarre mind of Jeff Rients. 36 saddle-stitch pages in the fabulously old school 5.83" x 8.26" format, purple cover, b&w interior art.

I'm loath to list the contents as a goodly part of the joy to owning such a book is exploring its pages. But here's an example of the type of chart What are the Goblins up to? one might encounter within. Don't fret if that particular table didn't grab you. Jeff has crammed a diverse range of topics into this supplement. And with a product like this it's not unreasonable to expect that 50% of the content isn't something you'd immediately use.

Is it worth it?
First I'm not gonna judge the value of someone's original creation. As far as I'm concerned all creative endeavor is priceless. Below I'll consider the product's utility.

The PDF costs one dollar. If that amount of expenditure gives you pause you need to get a job. Otherwise you should probably buy this purplish pdf. [Edit: Wanted to make it clear that I in no way fault Mr. Rients for the pricing. I'd guessed it was probably the lowest possible price with Lulu (which Jeff confirms in a comment below). Paper costs money. My point below was that sometimes it's worth paying for despite hard logic saying it's not economical. And this little booklet has little to do with logic and everything to do with passion.] On the other hand the print booklet at $5.50 is probably not worth it considering you can get 100+ full sized pages of Fight On! for ~$10.00. But you don't buy something like TMoC cause it makes economic sense. I bought it cause it's fecking rad to pull a plum tome from my white box, contemplatively peruse its pages, after a moment exclaim "Yes, yes, here it is the 'Froggish demon-god Weirdoes of Chaos' chart, and gleefully roll some dice to the chorus of groans from hapless players.

It's purple!

I wants it!
Along with many other interesting bits of the Old-School Renaissance you may purchase your very own pdf or print version of The Miscellaneum of Cinder at

The challenge
In his introduction Jeff dares us to blur the line between reader and author (one old-school virtue I'm ecstatic is making a huge comeback). So, from my current 3.5 campaign a table extracted from the program I wrote to generate K'jore Death Guards (think Paladins of Chaos).

Chaos Powers (roll once per 4 levels)
1 "Discord" (target shaken)
2 "Contagion" (target contracts "Taint")
3 "Entropic Repulsion" (living matter can't approach within 10')
4 "Dictum" (as spell)
5 "Anti-magic Ray" (1 target nullifies magic 1d4 rnds)
6 "Anti-magic Sphere" (5' radius)
7 "Storm of Vengeance" (as spell)
8 "Prismatic Spray" (as spell)
9 "Slow" (as spell)
10 "True Strike" (+20 next tohit)
11 "Pandemonium" (Summon K'jore 2d4 beasties)
12 "Taint" (4d6 damage to any grapplers)
13 "Dimension Door" (as spell)
14 "Blacklight" (as spell)
15 "Wall of Turmoil" (wall of elemental Chaos)
16 "Dimensional Maelstrom" (stops Teleport/etc)
17 "Mini-Mayhem" (baby Beholder familiar w/ 4 stalks)
18 "Regeneration" (5hp/rnd)
19 "Baleful Regeneration" (2hp/per creature w/in 30')
20 "Reverse Gravity" (as spell)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Appdx M: Inspirational Music - Hawkwind

[Whole idea shamelessly stolen from Zeta Orionis] I blogged about Heavy Metal Music and RPG's in the past. Hopefully I'll continue(or start) that theme and not devolve into just "Music Norm Rocks Out To".

"Too wild and ugly for the rock & roll mainstream"

Watch what Moorcock, yes that Moorcock, has to say about Hawkwind in this 9 part BBC documentary.

Hawkwind; a little space fantasy, a little electro dystopian future, and a lot of drugs. Gets my vote for best Space Rock Band of all time and space. Although, honestly most their lyrics don't do much for me RPGwise. An exception would be Silver Machine -- "It flies sideways through time." Nice bit of recursion in the chorus too. Here it is live:

Also Spirit of the Age
"I am a clone, I am not alone
Every fibre of my flesh and bone is identical to the others
Everything I say is in the same tone
as my test tube brother's voice
There is no choice between us,
If you had ever seen us,
You'd rejoice in your uniqueness
and consider every weakness something special of your own
Being a clone, I have no flaws to identify
Even this doggerel that pours from my pen,
has just been written by another twenty telepathic men,

It's more their style, the atmosphere their art lives in. Each of these titles is the seed to an adventure:

"Warrior on the Edge of Time"

"The Fifth Second of Forever"

"The Wizard Blew His Horn" - also lyrics

"Kiss of the Velvet Whip"

"Sleep of a Thousand Tears"

"Star Cannibal"

"Wastelands of Sleep"

We Took the Wrong Step Long Ago and lyrics. One would be hard pressed to find a better theme song for a post-apocalyptic or dystopian campaign.

Hawkwind is often far out spacey and trippy.

Listening as I often do while writing up stuff for games I become enthused and filled with ideas. As if some of the copious acid they dropped finds its way into me via their music.

Finally, album covers are sort of a lost art. I could see these giving adolescent Norm the same sorts of thrills and bursts of creativity that early D&D art did such as B1 & B2.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Nature is weirder than anything in the Fiend Folio

As a cynical young kid looking at my otherwise awesome Star Frontiers SF1 - Volturnus Adventure module I thought the Roller(pictured below) was the stupidest, most retardedly "never could evolve" creature I would ever see. I felt insulted that the author expected me to dumb enough to believe in this
Little did I expect that later in life when I was just as cynical but not as sure "I knew everything" that through the Internet, specifically Wikipedia and Google Image Search, I would discover creatures just as stupidly retarded and some more so. The kick in the nuts being these creatures actually existed, had actually evolved right here on my little blue marble. Touché Nature, I shalln't bet against you again.

Everyone knows about the Platypus, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed, egg laying mammal, its venomous leg spurs and electrolocation (finds prey by electric field).

And also probably about my little friend the Star Nosed Mole. An extradimensional invader from beyond if I ever saw one. Was this the original inspiration for the Elder Gods. What is that, 15%/10% Claw/Tentacle by body weight?

I must admit my absolute favorite is Hagfish Slime!

"When captured and held e.g. by the tail, they secrete the microfibrous slime, which expands into a gelatinous and sticky goo when combined with water; if they remain captured, they can tie themselves in an overhand knot which works its way from the head to the tail of the animal, scraping off the slime as it goes and freeing them from their captor, as well as the slime."

I'm certain that aquatic orcs raise Hagfish as disgusting defenders of their kelp bed homes. Probably have a couple Goblin Sharks around too. Oh they start off just looking a bit odd. Then they gets scary as hell once their Alienesque retractable jaw launches at you. After that encountering Buzzsaw Sharks would be a relief.

Of course this is merely the first step in a watery arms race with the aqua elves, prancing about on their sea-unicorns. But if this video with annoying music is representative the Lords of Chaos have already conquered the seas.

Next time your megadungeon gets invaded by giant ants model the interloper's nest after these real Pogonomyrmex Badius homes (warning lots of words, scroll down for pics)

Sucker footed bats, furry yellow crabs, samurai headed crabs, this monster crab, actually I don't have time to list all the weird ass crabs.

Some creatures don't look all that other worldly, but their behaviors sure ain't right. "After the female wasp lays her eggs and follows through with pollination, she dies, allowing the fig to consume her corpse!" BTW did you know goats climb trees.

The bizarre of the bizarre are definitely prehistoric/extinct animals. I challenge you to spend an hour or ten surfing round next time you're at a loss for something unsettling to subject your players to.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Of Giants and Gangstas

The Internet is a weird place.

Exhibit A. Image depicting the relative sizes of various giant skeletons.

I found Ex A. doing Google image searches for "fantasy solider burial" and decided to save it to my collection of "Fantasy flavor and inspiration images." Thinking the source site might have other interesting images I decided to check it out.

Exhibt B. Source of image

I expected a RPG site or fantasy site, or maybe even a skeptics site detailing how giantism is limited by lung/heart capacity and bone strength or similar scientific non-sense that is meaningless to someone with pointy ears and that channels arcane forces into bolts of lighting.

I did not and could never of imagined that image came from a gansta rap forum discussing how the Nephilim (<- cool game btw) were giants spawn of satan that got wiped out in Noah's flood. Or something like that, I mostly just looked at the pictures.


Shopping Spree

I ordered Fight On! #4, KnockSpell #2, and Miscellaneum of Cinder from at different times recently. They all arrived today! Then I heard from Chgowiz that Fight On #5 had been released. So, I had to order that. Just flipping through KnockSpell #2 was enough to convince me to toss KnockSpell #1 in my cart. Eldritch Weirdness Compilation: Books Three to One was in my cart from some earlier aborted spree. Three more tomes of old school goodness!

Then I hear that Hackmaster Basic, which I've been greedily anticipating* for some time, is open for pre-orders.

Some chat about all that.

* I really dig much of the style/attitude/camp of HackMaster, but, damn too many rules. I've longed for (even started outlining) a rules-lightish version. HMB might not be it but there'll be inspiration in there for me to steal. ~$20.00 for 196 pages is a deal these days. Art alone is probably worth the price. Wonder if James considers their style the old school aping he scorns. Personally it invokes a particular old school style but includes distictive HackMaster "The players are getting totally slaughtered" theme.

Oh, and I'm trying to buy Carcosa but it's a pain. Why can't there be Lulu version. [my paypal is dead/forgot pass/something :(]

Not to mention I'm writing this on my 1 week old 28" widescreen LCD. Which is freakin huge when you're head is only 1-1/2' away. Even at 1920x1200 fonts big enough for an old codger like me to read. $300 shipped!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Links O' Houserules

Pretty much any houserule by Jeff Reints is freakin awesome. Esp including any and all random tables. Here's one on XP rewards and what they really should be rewarding.

For crusty grognards there's Philotomy's OD&D Musings and this forum post on Counter Spelling which probably needs a little work but the spirit is spot on.

Less of a house rule and more of a full rule set it gets honorable mention for having the best set of art!

Shields Shall Be Splintered! is the houserule that got me interested in house rules again. It also addresses one of my pet peeves, that a shield is worth only +1 AC! If you've ever done any actual sword and shield combat (even as a kid with a garbage can lid and a plastic sword) you know a shield is a hella of a lot better than a +1!

Click the image to read an interesting article about accurate reproduction shields and weapons at A most excellent source of Viking Age history, life, arms and armor. Well worth exploring.

D&D Style Hit Points are an abstraction of luck, skill, stamina, etc. But at some point your luck runs out, your skill fails, you get exhausted. Then it gets real. This is were the dandy knights offer quarter and barbarians chop off body parts. I like the idea of RoleMaster criticals but the mechanics are too much. I also prefer D&D's wear them down then make a blood fountain from their jugular to RM's if they get crit on first swing and roll 66 game over man. But I really dislike D&D's "nothing but a flesh wound" until you hit 0 hp, then it's dead or unconscious and dying. So, I'm all for creating a division between the wearing them down and the giving them scars.

Old school solution Death & Dismemberment. A d20/3.5 new school solution Wounds & Vitality. I've been very happy using the later in my home campaign. It brings a sense of risk and fear of death to higher level players. It's a big deal when they start taking wound damage.
Draining levels is too much record keeping and lamely "meta". I've converted level drains into attacks that bypass vitality and go straight for wounds. Which I think nicely simulates the undead or whatever sucking the life out of you much better than level draining ever did. They are very, very deadly though.

Strange Magic is built ontop of the RoleMaster magic system but the concepts can be extracted in whole or part to houserule most any system. It's actually three plus systems Essence(what D&Ders might call arcane magic), Channeling(divine magic), Mentalism(very loosely psionics), plus Arcane and Hybrids. Including guidelines on concentration, magic perception ala Sauron detecting Gandalf's use of magic, and real game play experience. "noise created by Essence use made the party very hesitant to use any Essence magic. The fact that I was willing to have the bad guys come hunt them down once they gave away their position made them more cautious about spell use."

Interesting way to organically "enforce" low-magic(rare but powerful) or sword & sorcery style campaign. It has good explanation and in game benefit for using spell foci aka material components. I very much like how arcane power flows from the environment which provides for meaningful high/low magic areas, ley lines, why magic users are rareish and tend to live in isolated towers/dungeons/etc. Similar treatment for divine magic based on prayer, lots of prayer. A player quote: "I could heal that with magic, but that would mean 18 hours on my knees."

I've always liked the RoleMaster three(now four)-way magic system and its rationalization. The mechanics of tracking Power Points and percentile skills isn't really what I want in a game these days. But, these Strange Magic rules demonstrate its flexibility.

Most every Wednesday I'll post a semi-thematic selection of links from my wanderings.
Sham took this "What Fantasy Writer are You" quiz which he found on this blog. It says I'm like some British chick, Mary Gentle. I'm more jazzed that my exact opposite is J K Rowling whom I despise enough she doesn't even get a wiki link. It also says I'm a bit like Sham by way of Gene Wolfe.

11 High-Brow, 27 Violent (higher than 96% of your peers. Ah yeah!), 3 Experimental and 17 Cynical! -- Full Results.

So, I'll jam my Calabash pipe through your eye socket being careful to not get any gore on my tweed jacket, but really, I won't bother cause in the end all action is meaningless.

Fight On! is Friggin Fantastic

Lot bit late to the party but I've finally actually started to read through my copy of Fight On! #3. Holy cow this book is chock full of awesome. $10.50 gets you a 150 pages, you can't hardly buy a game supplement/book/module for $10 let alone one with 150 pages. And these pages aren't half filled with distracting multi-color borders, fake parchment look, large fonts, or fluffy fiction. These pages are densely packed awesome infused with kickassness. It's so good it motivated my lazy ass to post this review on the Lulu page.

The cover art is totally rad as well.

Even though it's "targeted" at old school RPG there's tons of stuff in here for anyone who is past the "This splatbook makes my character Uber!" phase. Interviews, guest articles, cartoons, art, maps, reviews, convention advice, campaign worlds, the freakin 5th level of Hell!

There are dozens of reviews that'll give you details on what's in it. This review is telling you just go get it! Discovery of what bit of utter coolness is on the next page is akin to the thrill of exploring one more hex into the Wilderlands.

Fight On! #4 which I ordered a few days ago is "only" a 122 pages and $10.00 printed. But, I'm sure is just as worthy of praise as #3.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Hunt for Gollum

Everyone knows about this right?

An outstanding piece of fan made video nicely filling in a gap the Big Screen trilogy glossed over. Extremely well done.

A Trailer

I present the Dice-O-Matic

"It is a 7 foot tall, 104 pound, dice-eating monster, capable of generating 1.3 million rolls a day."

With 72,000 stat rolls I should finally get one that qualifies for 1st ed Paladin in a day or two.

Great Gaping Gaps of Non-Posting

Man, I have new respect for bloggers esp those that churn out multiple posts per day. I'm looking at you Grognardia. But all those bloggers there on the right, damn they're awesome.

Well, haven't posted diddly squat for a long while...

After my vacation in January I fell into a deep depression. It happens. 1d2 times a year. During the bad ones I typically can maintain only one aspect of my life and that just barely. I've been struggling to make that one thing be my "new" job (this month is my 1yr anniversary, yay). So, this blog along with a great many other things fall by the wayside. Depression lasted a month or so. Then I got busy. And blogging is hard. It's a big commitment you have to do it regularly. You have to think up and write article series. You have to create a buffer of pre-written entries for when you're too busy or suffer a mini-depression. And you have to read the multitude of other blogger's blogs. All of that is a big barrier to start up again.

A few weeks ago I started rummaging around my blog roll. Clicking an interesting title here and there, replying with a comment or two, checking up on what my favorite bloggers had been posting (Nice that one page take off, which had just hit the scene when I fell off the horse. Glad that "this is a feeling navel gazing" got put in it's place). As I got back into reading all those blogs I felt that itch again, like I got when I started this blog. The itch to post, to add (and hopefully contribute) to the maelstrom of ideas, opinions, conversation. Desire to post my respects for memorial day put me over the edge.

So, here we go again. No doubt posting will succumb to depression again and there's a great gaping gap in this blogs future. The best I can do is enjoy the ride while it lasts.

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