Sunday, January 14, 2018

No time to write, so have a picture of dice

First week of the semester is over and I'm already swamped.  I wanted to finish writing up that series of campaign creation posts from November.  I wanted to start reviewing 90s "Challenger Series" D&D products.  (Still do.)  I have a half-finished review of Barrowmaze that I started on the day it came in the mail—I need to find the time to finish that.  But I'm also in two masters-level English classes and General Relativity right now; I've got applications to PhD programs going out, I have to take a couple of GREs, one of them very soon; and I have a comprehensive exam coming up that I have to pass to finish my MA.  (Oy vey.)

And on top of that, my gaming group is back together and I'm running Barrowmaze for them using the Rules Cyclopedia and GAZ1: The Grand Duchy of Karameikos.  It's a full plate!

So anyway—when I get the time, I'll talk at length about Barrowmaze and about the campaign that I'm running with it, and how I've fit everything together (it does work when set in Mystara!), but in the meanwhile, I've also decided to try and run this campaign with the minimum possible amount of "kit" to schlep between home and the game-shop.  I'm still on that minimalism kick apparently: I have the two hardcover books, my DM screen, a folder with the character sheets and other papers, a small pencil-case, and these dice:

I can't recall the last time I tried to run D&D with so few dice, but something about it feels primal.  Like I'm recapturing the days when polyhedral dice weren't plentiful and we gamers didn't all have tackle-boxes overflowing with the damned things.  Just a close approximation of the five dice that would have come in the Basic Set box (but I find a second d6 to be more useful than a d4: it actually rolls; it's not as dangerous an implement; a DM has to roll 2d6 all the time for reactions, morale, and initiative; and a d4 is effortlessly emulated by halving a d8 roll).

Ordinarily, I'd have a large Crown Royal bag filled with many d6s and d8s, a couple of d2s, d3s, d4s, d5s, d10s, d12s, d16s, at least 3d20, and a percentile die, a d24, and a d30.  All carefully selected so that no two dice of the same type are ever the same color.  And… well, that's kind of a pain to manage.  And I also want to try and get away from fetishizing (as we gamers so often do) what are really nothing more than some simple random-number-generators.

I've found that the five dice shown in the picture above are all I really need to referee a campaign with all due efficiency and simplicity; and so I'm going to try and carry through a whole campaign this way.  We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

D&D 2018: How I Wish I Could Roll

I finally have a bit of vacation between semesters.  No work and no school between Christmas and New Years, and it's glorious.  I'm sure once it sinks in, I'll find myself pulled in five different directions trying to decide which writing projects I want to catch up on.  But for the moment, I find myself just thinking about D&D.

Not Engines & Empires or Retro Phaze, none of my own clones or OSR games or adventures that I have in the works.  Just D&D.  I haven't properly run a role-playing campaign of any sort in several months now, and I'm seriously missing it.  I also know that for at least the next four or five months, I probably won't have the time to start up a new campaign, not with both a comp exam and a GRE on the horizon.

So all I can do is dream, and I keep on dreaming of running a more-or-less plain vanilla, straight-up, by-the-book D&D campaign, with no steampunk or other sci-fi weirdness added in.  None of my own alterations to the lore or any of my usual peccadilloes and affectations.  Something classic: knights, castles, dragons, all that jazz.  Something that leans into the traditional mix of Tolkien, Gygax, and proper medieval fantasy.

…Of course, for me, "by-the-book" would never be quite that.  I'm now so used to handling attack rolls and saving throws with a "roll low to succeed" mechanic that I don't think I could do it any other way.  And I sure as hell have no desire to go back to three or five saving throw categories when just the one will do.

But this insatiable yearning that I'm feeling (which still, after a number of days, has not abated) has gotten me wondering: what is the bare minimum I would need to do to run something quite close to recognizable, rules-as-written D&D?  Something that the groggiest grognard would have no quibble with if he were to sit down at my table and roll up a character, no questions asked?

In other words, what about D&D can I simply no longer abide, and what can I still stomach?  And this is what I came up with: I call it Dungeons & Dragons 2018, the absolute minimum set of changes I have to make to OD&D to make the game playable in accordance with my present-day sensibilities.  Take a look, and comment below!

And, hey, since I've got three weeks to wait until my copy of Barrowmaze Complete arrives in the mail (hey, it was on sale, and now I have Christmas money!), maybe-just-maybe I'll get to take these rules for a test-drive in the near future after all…

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"The Last Jedi" Teeters on the Edge of Pointlessness

I saw Star Wars VIII last night (words that I never in a million years imagined that I would have to string together), and at the end of it I didn't know to feel.  It's taken a full night's sleep and most of a day to process my reaction.  Eventually, I decided that I would have to see the movie again to decide how I really felt, and in that moment I found that I didn't care to bother.

That's my ultimate verdict on The Last Jedi: aggressive apathy.

I'll put the rest of this post below the fold, along with an implicit spoiler warning.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

1d6 + 1d8 + 1d20: The Universal Dice Roll

Sometimes I have these moods or kicks where I decide that I want pure minimalism at the game table: one rulebook (or no rulebook), no screen, no mat, no miniatures, and the smallest possible number of dice.

Right now, I seem to be in one of those moods.  It occurs to me that I could probably get away with running a game of D&D with just a d6, a d8, and a d20, and still feel pretty comfortable—and moreover, rolling all three dice at once, you can get a result for any common die size except for the d%.

I'll give you an example: I've just dug up some dice and rolled them, and I've turned up a 3 on d6, a 5 on the d8, and a 16 on the d20.  This is actually every die roll from d2 through d20!

d2: Read the d6; if it's low (1–3), 1; if it's high (4–6), 2.  I rolled a 1.
d3: Read the d6; some folks like the 1–2 = 1, 3–4 = 2, 5–6 = 3 method, and this "halve and round up" method does indeed seem to be the popular standard; but I find it easier to read the low range as it lies and subtract 3 from the high range—so in my case, I'd say I've rolled a 3 on the d3.
d4: Same as above, but for the d8: read it as it lies in the low range, subtract 4 in the high range.  I got a 1 on the d4 (5 − 4 = 1).
d5: Read the ones digit off the d20 and subtract 5 if it's in the high (6–10) range: I got a 1 on the d5 (16 is read as 6, and 6 − 5 = 1).
d6: Read as it lies, 3.
d8: Read as it lies, 5.
d10: Read the ones digit as it lies, counting zero as ten: I got a 6.
d12: Read the d6 and count the d8 as a control die (1–4 means +0, 5–8 means +6); I rolled a 9.
d16: Read the d8 and count the d6 as a control die (1–3 means +0, 4–6 means +8): I rolled a 5.
d20: Read as it lies, 16.

This could be extended to a d24 using the d8 as the base roll and the d6 as a three-way control die, and similarly to a d30 with the d20 (read as d10) for the base roll and again d6 for a three-way control die; but d% requires rolling the d20 twice.

Anyway, just a bit of fun.  I might have to try this out at my next game session!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Quick Note on Attributes

I've been thinking about attribute scores again.

When it comes to the way that character abilities are handled in D&D, there's some redundancy and misapplication that always bothered me.  It's why, in both Retro Phaze and now Engines & Empires, I've folded the six scores down to four, letting Strength subsume Constitution and having only two mental stats, one for Intelligence and one for Charisma/Willpower.

Losing out on Constitution does mean that there's no way to represent a character who's strong but fragile, or weak but tough; but (hobbits excluded) that's never really a thing that comes up.  With four scores representing, roughly, muscle/toughness, quickness/finesse, smarts/learning, and will/charm, you can still have the strong but slow guy, the skinny but fast guy, the absent-minded or socially awkward genius, and the vapid fast-talker.  Classic (if stereotypical) character types.

It's great for fiction, but it's hardly realistic.  After all, as others have pointed out, "dexterity" as it's portrayed in role-playing games (meaning bodily agility, acrobatic talent, and so forth) isn't really a thing separate from what we'd consider strength or athleticism; and we know from modern psychology that general intelligence (or "IQ") is bullshit, and that insight, perception, creativity, and charm actually tend to correlate strongly with reasoning ability, memory, and whatever ill-defined thing it is that people are talking about when they say "book smarts as opposed to street smarts".

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Shade Isle Cover Mockup

It was high time I got around to working on this.  After all, it's been my most successful campaign and something of a go-to when introducing old-school to new groups.

I won't really begin in earnest until I've finished with Retro Phaze VI, but this project honestly has me far more excited.  After all, it's a hex-crawl, a mega-dungeon, and (let's see here… Diro's Tomb, Bruin Monastery, Melenkar Manor, Ruckberg Caverns, Ezulor Palace, and Rusttunnel Mines… six?) at least six more not-so-mega-dungeons spread out around an island full of plots and mysteries and all kinds of science-fantasy and demonic-cultish weirdness, on top of being a pÅ“nal colony about three bungled steps by a group of adventures away from going to war with the fascist principality across the sea that planted it in the first place.

This might wind up being quite the thick book.  It's not a campaign setting, it's not an adventure, it's an entire campaign.

Honestly, the only think keeping me from working on this before now (apart from the fact that, you know, I really really had to revise Engines & Empires itself first) was a lack of artistic direction.  But now that I've figured out how I'm going to illustrate this puppy… let's just say that this book's interior is going to wind up looking quite different from the Core Rules and the Gaia setting.

And that's all I'll say about it for now.  Ain't I a tease?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Hand Drawn Character Sheet for Engines & Empires

Mapping for NaCaCreMo continues apace; I'll write my next post when I have the region and area maps all done.  For now, a little something else I whipped up:

I can't remember where I found it now, but there's a D&D 5th ed. character sheet floating around the internet which was done in the style of one of Dyson Logos's dungeon maps.  (I don't know if it was actually Dyson's work or not.)  I never used it, but I never forgot about it either.  Then, today, I decided to slap together something similar for E&E.  (I purposefully omitted the Dyson cross-hatching background, though.  I don't have the patience for Dyson cross-hatching.)

But, hey, how I have a nifty-looking sheet that matches up with all my house rules and everything!

(…It looks nicer in print than it does on the screen.)