Friday, September 30, 2022

Classic Gaming

I've been in a bit of a mood lately. A nostalgic mood. I've been recalling the games I enjoyed in my youth, looking back on fond memories of chess and backgammon and mahjongg. This nostalgia bug bit me a bit over a month ago: I decided that I missed having one of those tournament-style chess sets with the roll-up board and the large, weighted pieces—like I used to have in middle school. (My old one was sadly destroyed long ago.) And so I bought a new one:

And then things started to spiral.

I figured, now that I have a nice tournament-sized chessboard, I ought to have some nice tournament-sized checkers to go along with it—oughtn't I? While American checkers (or English draughts) isn't the most exciting game in the world, I do enjoy the more challenging game of Turkish checkers, depicted here:

The thing about Turkish checkers is that you need sixteen pieces for each side—half again as many as a typical game of checkers, and one piece more on each side than even a backgammon set will provide. Since checkers of this size are mostly made for backgammon players, they naturally come in sets of thirty (fifteen white and fifteen black), so I needed two sets if I wanted to enjoy Turkish checkers (or any of its variant games that require more pieces, such as Dameo and Croda). 

Well, once I had the checkers, naturally, I needed a backgammon set too. The problem was, for the life of me, I just could not find a rollable backgammon mat (like the chess/checkerboard pictured above) large enough to accommodate these large tournament-size checkers which were ostensibly for backgammon games. Oh, sure—I could find expensive suitcase-style backgammon boards aplenty, naturally. But nothing rollable and portable in the same way as that chess mat.

So put in a pin in that for a moment.

In the meanwhile, it occurred to me that as much as I enjoy Western chess, I enjoy xiangqi (Chinese chess) quite a bit more. I already had a couple of nice xiangqi sets, but was there a rollable xiangqi mat that I could use with my new set of big tournament-size Western chessmen? There sure was:

(Pro-tip for anyone who wants to play Chinese xiangqi or Korean janggi with Staunton-style chessmen: you totally can, as long as your set has extra queens. Just use queens for cannons; and use pawns for both soldiers and mandarins. Since the soldiers can only ever move forward or sideways, and the mandarins can never leave the king's castle, it's impossible to ever confuse them.)

At this point, a few new thoughts occurred to me. First off, if I now had both Chinese chess and Korean chess in this still surprisingly portable kit, could I not quite easily add shogi (Japanese chess) and also a set for playing go/weiqi/baduk (and its cousin games, like gomuku, renshu, and pente)? Well, go was easy enough:

Mats like these (with the full 19 × 19 grid on one side and a smaller 13 × 13 grid for shorter games on the back) are a dime a dozen online. But a roll-up shogi board was nowhere to be found; so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I got my hands on some halfway decent koma with Western markings on them (you can't use Western chessmen for shogi because pieces can change sides in Japanese chess!), and then I simply drew the required 9 × 9 square shogi board on the back of my tournament chessboard:

Of course, now that I had a 9 × 9 grid featured in my ever-expanding game-kit, it made sense to pick up some extra black pawns so that I could also use it for playing king's table (tablut, also known somewhat erroneously as Viking chess or Celtic chess):

And, once I had taken the step of drawing on one of my new chess mats, well, it seemed a little thing to draw on the other one that had a blank back—hence my addition to the back of my xiangqi mat of a board for playing nine- or twelve-men's-morris:

Not the deepest game ever, by any means, but I also have fond memories of playing this one as a kid.

But at this point, I was beginning to despair of finding a decent backgammon board—until I remembered that amongst my several old Chessex gaming mats, I had one that had long ago been ruined by the hasty and accidental application of dry-erase marker to one region of it. I had thankfully and prudently kept the remains of this ruined mat, just in case I might ever need some gridded vinyl—and now, I found myself in need of some.

The mat in question used a 1½" grid, which proved ideal for drawing backgammon points of just the right size to accommodate my heretofore troublesome 1¼" checkers:

It works like a charm! (And it looks quite charming too, if I do say so myself—a backgammon board with character.) But with this side all done up, what to do with the other side of the mat, gridded in 1½" hexes? I considered Chinese checkers, but ultimately, I decided on hexagonal chess instead:

Hex chess merely requires that each side have an extra pawn and an extra bishop: no big deal.

So with all of this now accomplished and collected, was my portable tournament-size classic gaming kit now complete? Well, almost. I figured, I might as well add some other favorites to the pile. I already had some mahjongg playing cards—they're certainly not as nice to play with as actual mahjongg tiles, but they're handy and convenient and easy to transport—and to these I added some domino playing cards and some poker dice, as well as a few fresh packs of standard playing cards:

But the crown-jewel of this game set—the pièce de résistance—is another set of playing cards, one that I had printed just for the occasion. Naturally, it's a tarot deck—I do love playing tarot games—but this one is special, because it uses bridge-size cards (basically impossible to find anywhere; the vast majority of gaming tarots are either full-sized French jeu de tarot decks, while what few American gaming tarots you can find are always personal vanity projects that wind up using poker-size cards for some baffling reason that I cannot fathom . . . why, why, why would anyone do this for a game where  you have to deal out most of a 78-card pack to all the players!? . . . this is why bridge-size cards exist!!!). The card backs and the front designs for the suit cards (pips and courts) and jokers are all taken from American Civil War-era style poker deck designs, except for the cavaliers, which, along with the trump cards, take their design from the Tarot de Marseilles—an art-style astonishingly well-suited (no pun intended) to a deck like this, as the tarot trumps and the poker face cards actually wind up looking pretty nice together!

All told, I'm extremely happy with how these cards turned out—the quality is top-notch. The cardstock and the finish are as nice as Bikes or even Bees, and the print quality is excellent, nothing fuzzy or pixelated anywhere.

So… that's my new classic game kit, all fully assembled and ready to take anywhere that anyone might want to play a game. Here it is all bagged up and ready to go:

Have chess set, will travel. For some reason—likely the sheer multiplicity of games involved—I find this even more satisfying than a well-assembled D&D kit. And coming from a grognard like me, that's really saying something, boy-howdy. ■

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Compiling a D&D Spell Compendium — Where to Begin?

This is kind of a big project I've set up for myself, going through all the core AD&D 1e spells and doing my own conversions to OD&D/BECMI standards. But where to begin? Do I flip open Unearthed Arcana, where I can see that there are no fewer than forty 1st level magic-user spells alone? (And that's not even counting all the cantrips, my goodness…) Start with affect normal fires and work my way down the list?

…I think not. A better idea would be to begin with the core spell selection that developed out of the OD&D editions, particularly since this will form of the core of spells that I would always allow in a campaign. The "common" spells that most casters already know to exist — the spell "canon" (not unlike that of Vance's Dying Earth setting). The converted AD&D spells, meanwhile, are intended to be the rarities — the odd bits of magical treasure left lying about for magic-users to discover by happenstance, to add just a little hint of spice and variety to a campaign. So I need to have a solid foundation first — a core from which to work outward.

For the sake of this project, I'm going to treat the Rules Cyclopedia as the foundational document (as I'm so often wont to do). It is, after all, the final edition of OD&D. It's not without its flaws; some changes were made between the BECM boxes and Cyclopedia which are undoubtedly errors. (Notably the clerical version of wish.) But there are thorough errata documents out there for the RC which already compile such information. For now, I wish to focus in on the spell lists found in the Cyclopedia: the 117 magical spells and the 84 clerical/druidical spells. These will form the core list that sets the standards I'll be converting the AD&D spells to.

Dan Collins has a long-running series of blog posts known as "Spells Through the Ages"; the information in these posts is extremely valuable to my project, since I'll be doing much the same sort of comparisons, looking at every version of every spell and then deciding on what a D&D-based standard should be and bringing all of the AD&D spells into line with that standard. Thus, it may be the case that many of my posts that follow will be treading over much the same ground as Delta — but I'll be coming at this from a different perspective. Delta is interested in playing LBB OD&D and looking to later versions of the spells as curiosities, or to AD&D as a potential source of errata/clarification for the original intent behind the spells as they appear in the booklets ad supplements. For example, his reading of the spell durations (given in "turns" or "melee turns" originally) is that this should mean what we now call "rounds" — 1-minute AD&D rounds, to be precise. Whereas my intent here is to treat the preservation of spell durations based on 10-minute dungeon turns by Holmes, Moldvay, Cook, Mentzer, &al. not as an error but as a deliberate choice (and a very good one, since it foregrounds dungeon exploration rather than combat as the fundamental activity of play). Thus, I will be needing to convert the AD&D spells, with variable durations based on rounds, variable ranges, and sundry caveats and drawbacks, to the D&D system's fixed durations based on turns, fixed ranges, and any drawbacks left wholly up to referee discretion.

So I won't be starting with affect normal fires after all; the proper place to begin is with charm person. Very quickly, the canonical list of 1st level magic-user spells is as follows:

1. Charm Person
2. Detect Magic
3. Floating Disc (a.k.a. Tenser's Floating Disc)
4. Hold Portal
5. Light
6. Magic Missile
7. Protection from Evil
8. Read Languages (a.k.a. Comprehend Languages)
9. Read Magic
10. Shield
11. Sleep
12. Ventriloquism
13. Analyze (a.k.a. Identify)

Already, I can see that I've got my work cut out for me; some spells even have different names in AD&D. (I'm ignoring Chainmail for the moment, wherein light is called wizard light — the name was doubtless changed because the spell is shared by wizards and clerics in D&D, and so it made no sense to keep the original name.) Anyway; moving on. Charm person, as it happens, is probably the most complicated of all the 1st level spells in the game. Even in D&D, there is a whole section of rules devoted solely to helping the referee adjudicate charm person. So that's a spell that doubtless deserves a whole post of its own; let this one stand as a mere introduction only. Until next time. ■

Monday, July 4, 2022

Descent; Immortals; and AD&D Spells

I've been meaning to write about a few separate topics lately, but I don't really have the time to give each the treatment that they deserve. So this post will be (yet another) aggregation of unconnected shallow dives. 

It's the 4th of July, and I'm spending the first quiet morning I've had in a while composing this post about games and shit, only to realize that it's the first Independence Day that I've experienced in my thirty-eight years of life where I've felt truly helpless in the face of the inevitable — that democracy itself could very well be on the verge of crumbling in the USA. Recent SCOTUS rulings stripping away the rights of citizens to bodily autonomy, to freedom from religion in public schools, to security in their persons and their liberty from undue search and seizure and police harassment, even to the right of state and local governments to protect their citizens from armed violence — all of that is nothing more than a tiny appetizer compared to the horrifying main course, which will come when the SCOTUS hears Moore v Harper, which will in all likelihood uphold the so-called "independent state legislature" doctrine and give state legislatures — most of them so gerrymandered that the politicians pick their voters and have no need to fear being booted for their chicanery — total carte blanche to overturn popular votes and simply send the electors they choose to Washington during presidential elections. In other words, the end of democracy in this country.

I hate to think that it's possible; I hate to be alarmist. And yet, I can't see it playing out any other way. Five ultra-conservative justices on the court — all of varying legitimacy and criminality — are going to rule to uphold the constitutionality of this anti-democratic doctrine, because it is their purpose for being on the court. They will hand perpetual power in this country to one party, and that will be that. The GOP will take that power and run with it, wholly unable to pull itself back from the brink of open fascism. The kind of power that — real talk of realpolitik — does not willingly cede power.

And after that, I have no idea what happens next. Internecine violence, I suppose. But without the north–south regionalism that (for example) enabled the American Civil War, things will probably look a great deal more like the Troubles that afflicted Northern Ireland. Either that, or ruthless civil oppression. Or continued bread-and-circuses apathy. Probably a combination of all that and more.

This got a lot darker and more depressing than I'd expected when I first sat down to write, but that's kind of where we are right now.

• • •

Where was I? Oh, yeah, games. This is a gaming blog. You'll forgive me if some of the wind has been sucked out my sails just now; I had been meaning to write about this topic while I was still full of nostalgia and childlike enthusiasm. I recently rediscovered one of my favorite old PC games, the "six degrees of freedom" first-person starfighter shooter, Descent. If you were a PC gamer in the late 90s, you were definitely aware of Descent. In my case, my family's first Windows 95 PC (a Compaq Persario) came with a shareware copy of Descent: Destination Saturn (which was the first half of the full release — 15 of the game's 30 levels). 

Oh, man, Descent. This was my first FPS game, the way that Doom and Duke Nukem and Quake and Goldeneye were first for so many others. (Half-Life was the second FPS game I really got into, but that was a couple of years later and a story for another time.) To this day, I have never forgotten the feeling of navigating that Pyro GX fighter around zero-gravity mines, shooting up Drones and Hulks and Lifters, deploying the classic loadout of five different primary weapons — Lasers, the Vulcan Cannon, Spreadfire, Plasma, and Fusion — rescuing hostages; gathering up the blue, yellow, and red clearance keys; taking out the reactor and then racing for the mine exit to escape before time runs out everything blows all to hell.

Though I always wanted to play through the sequels as a kid, I rarely managed to get my hands on one long enough to make significant headway through it. I had friends who owned Descent II and Descent 3, but I never played either of the Freespace games, and Overload didn't exist back then. But now I've got the complete series, I've finished the first Descent and I'm rapidly making my way through the sequel. I'm looking forward to experiencing D3 again and playing Descent Freespace and Freespace 2 for the first time. But above all, Overload has full VR support, and that's just gonna be a hell of a thing…

But the real reason that I bring this up, naturally, pertains to D&D. Only after playing through Descent again after so many years am I realizing just how formative it was to my understanding of dungeon level design. Descent levels (much as in Doom &c.) not only require keys to navigate, they're also full of secret areas that can only be found by shooting or touching walls — and unlike other FPS games of the era, Descent takes full advantage of the three-dimensionality of its mines, with layouts and secret rooms and passages that are often unexpectedly "above" or "below" the player's default perspective. I've always taken that sensibility into account when drawing dungeon maps, and it really helps with the essential interconnectedness of megadungeons. More on that subject soonish.

• • •

In the most recent update to my Original System Kitbash — my OD&D/AD&D mashup house rules, which are now "v2.2" — I've gone and added a conversion of the Immortals rules that owes more to Allston and the 1992 set than to Mentzer's 1986 gold box. In either case, though, I've reined in the abilities of such characters somewhat, limiting ability scores to 25 (as in AD&D) rather than 100 (as in the D&D Immortals rules). I have, however, kept the structure from Wrath of the Immortals, where the number of levels an Immortal PC can move through is a reflection of the number of levels available to mortal PC classes. Since, in my OSK rules, all human characters are limited to maximum experience level of 18th (as in 1st edition DragonLance), that means that my version of the Immortal character class also has 18 levels (though said levels are nominally labeled 19th through 36th, to reflect their actual status relative to mortal characters).

Instead of sticking exactly to the rankings of Immortals given in the gold box and carried forward into Wrath — Initiate, Temporal, Celestial, Empyeral, Eternal, Hierarch, Old One — I've tweaked things a tiny bit, replacing the Initiate tier with two lower rankings, "Ageless" and "Demigod." In my opinion, this allows for a smoother transition between mortal adventuring and Immortal plotting and scheming, by providing some bridge levels which are, effectively, "Immortal adventuring," where the player can get used to having an Immortal PC while not yet taking up the full responsibilities of being any kind of deity.

The way I see it, in a game like D&D, where the players are constantly striving to get stronger and stronger, the different levels and tiers of power had best have an organizational principle behind them, to help structure play — to make it clear what the player is supposed to be doing. For regular experience levels, this is provided by the transitions from one set of rulebooks to the next — dungeon adventuring during Basic levels (1st–3rd), wilderness adventuring at Expert levels (4th–8th), setting up a stronghold at Name level (9th), ruling and expanding that dominion above name level, and then perhaps taking on some world-shaking quests, exploring the planes of existence, or questing for immortality at the highest levels. 

I figured that I would have to set up something similar to make Immortal PC levels playable. But for the actual tiers of play and what they're like? For those, I've taken inspiration from — where else? — the Dragonball universe. It just seems to make the most sense to do that, since the Dragonball setting actually has a surprisingly clear-cut and workable hierarchy of deific beings which would actually lend themselves quite well to properly-scaled tabletop play. Think about it for a moment: the first immortal being we meet in the series is Master Roshi, who drank an Immortality Elixir, making him ageless. He's not a god (even though one of his hyperbolic titles is "The God of Martial Arts"); he can be killed. Piccolo Daimao actually did the deed, after all. But he won't die of natural causes. He's like a Taoist immortal or a Highlander immortal. 

The next tier up are semi-divine beings like Master Karin (the literal, actual god of martial arts in the DB universe; although Karin is more of a demigod really) or Popo. Then the gods who serve as guardians of a single planet (like Kami and Dende), or who serve a limited function (like King Yemma overseeing the afterlife). Then Kaiō-Sama (i.e. King Kai), who oversees one quarter of the galaxy, along with the other three Kaiō (each of which is tied to a cardinal direction—North, South, East, West), who are all subordinate to the Daikaiō (the Grand Kai) who oversees the whole galaxy, and then the Kaiōshin (Supreme Kais) who serve the same function but for the whole universe, overseen by the Daikaiōshin (Grand Supreme Kai). And then above them are the poorly understood eldritch beings that oversee the whole multiverse (the angels, the Grand Priest, and Zen-Oh the Omni-King).

According to this scheme, in a tabletop game, "ranking up" each tier of immortality would broaden a PC's sphere of influence and responsibility, essentially giving them an ever-widening sandbox full of schemes to plot, crises to avert, fires to put out, and borders to defend. Depending on how you like to flavor your fatasy, of course, you can always replace planets and galaxies with worlds and planes, but at a certain point I think the distinction becomes too blurry and inconsequential to matter. 

The point is, like alignment, this structure (if anticipated) can be worked into the very foundations of a campaign world to make it workable. I've really been thinking a lot lately about how I would go about creating a wholly new campaign setting based on the assumptions that I've built into my game rules from the ground up, and I'm coming to an interesting conclusion. At the very least, I need a megadungeon that can be accessed from at least two different geographic regions (one aligned with Law and one with Chaos), and I'm thinking now that for the sake of sustaining a truly long-term campaign, one that could facilitate years and years of play, each separate dungeon level would need some kind of portal to another world, suitable to adventuring in a different genre. For example, if the dungeon itself is situated in a typical sword & sorcery milieu, we could have portals on the upper level that lead to slightly similar worlds — chivalric medievalism and Renaissance pirates and Bronze Age or classical antiquity — while deeper levels have portals to ever more different settings. Steampunk, noir detectives, mecha anime, groovy 60s spies, four-color supers, you name it.

In fact, I have named it. "The Dungeon of Doors." Or maybe one nearby culture (let's say the Chaotic one) calls it "The Dungeon of Doors," and the other (Lawful) knows it as "The Labyrinth of Keys," and only when the right elements and objects are brought together do the portals open…

Well. At any rate, now I know what the basic shape of my next campaign world is going to look like. Exciting times.

• • •

Before I can get to work on drawing up that dungeon — or, indeed, getting back to any of the other projects I have sitting on the back-burner, waiting for attention (how many are there now? The Fiendish Temple, Shade Isle, Shining Armour, some kind of suitable replacement for Retro Phaze, and at least a couple of other mini-games that I want to put together when I somehow find the time), I've decided that I have to take care of at least one small thing first. I need to go through the spells in AD&D and do a proper conversion to Basic D&D. Not all of them, of course — I'm not talking about going through the Priests' and Wizards Spell Compendia. That would be madness. Just the 1st edition spells, which appear in the PHB, UA, and maybe at some point in the future, OA.

I need to do this, because I miss some of AD&D's iconic spells. As much as I love the limited spell lists of the D&D game — and I do dearly love the finite twelve magic-user and eight cleric spells per spell level of D&D — can you really call it D&D at all without the likes of Tasha's Uncontrollable Hideous Laughter, Mordenkainen's Magnificent Mansion, Leomund's Trap, Otiluke's Resilient Sphere, Serten's Spell Immunity, etc., etc., etc.? The Gygaxian character of these and other AD&D spells are what give the D&D game its special identity. So I need to convert them, and I need to go about it my way.

For the spells from the PHB, a conversion already exists, of course, in the form of Advanced Labyrinth Lord / the Advanced Edition Companion. But Dan Proctor erred, I think, in staying too faithful to AD&D. The spell ranges and durations are weirdly out of sync with the core Basic D&D spells. This is especially true of the durations, which are generally measured in 10-minute turns in Basic D&D, vs. 1-minute rounds in AD&D; which leads to Advanced Labyrinth Lord spells having exceedingly short durations measured in Basic D&D's 10-second rounds. And in the case of both range and duration, Basic D&D nearly always defaults to fixed values, vs. values that vary with caster level in AD&D. All of this also holds somewhat true for the druidic and illusion spells converted to Old School Essentials by Gavin Norman; but here, it seems to be more of a grab bag, with some spells brought into line with Basic D&D assumptions, and others left the same as their AD&D versions.

I feel the need to take a different approach. I want to go through all the spells, compare the ranges and durations across all versions much as Dan Collins has already done, at least for those spells which exist in every version from OD&D through AD&D 2e, and then use that to establish a rational basis for conversion — a road map that says, for example, "whenever a spell range is variable in AD&D, the D&D equivalent is that value read in feet and assuming a caster level of 12th," or "when a spell's duration is 2 rounds per caster level in AD&D, that translates to a 6 turn duration in D&D." That sort of thing. (Thankfully, it seems that by putting his analysis up, Delta has already done the hard part for me, for which I am exceedingly grateful.) 

The ultimate result of this project should, I hope, be a fully-converted, printer-friendly set of "spell cards" for every spell that exists in the core D&D game (I'm using the Rules Cyclopedia as my foundation; I don't think I'll be bothering with spells from GAZ/PC sources for the time being), plus D&D conversions of every AD&D spell that does not appear in D&D in some form. This would, for example, leave out the AD&D monster summoning I–VII spells, which already have a conversion in the form of the D&D create normal monsters, create magical monsters, and create any monsters spells. But it would otherwise include those spells in AD&D (the PHB and UA for the time being; I'll get around to OA someday) which were never converted to D&D by any official source. (Some of these, I'm aware, do indeed appear in places like GAZ5, and I'll use those sources to inform my conversions, but I'm not out to catalog every spell from every published source, because, again, that way lieth madness.) ■

Friday, June 17, 2022

More Gemstone Dice

A while back, I posted (without comment) a picture of a set of four stone dice that I had recently acquired. Those four dice — 2d6, 1d8, and 1d20 — are what I'd consider the bare minimum I need to run a game of D&D. But when it comes to comfortably, easily running a game, a set of seven is better. Though it isn't the standard set of seven that gamers everywhere are used to! 

Ideally, I want 3d6 (one die of a different color, so that you can tell them apart when rolling for surprise or initiative), 2d20 (different colors so that they can be used as percentile dice when needed), and the pair of 1d8 and 1d12 (so often rolled together when generating random wilderness encounters). That just about covers all the common situations that crop up while refereeing D&D.

So now my collection of stone dice looks like this:

The color scheme is a little wilder now, but I still like the aesthetic. I'm really looking forward to breaking them in. And yet, I don't have any clue when I'll manage to find the time to revive my campaign or start up a new one. Go figure. ■

Friday, June 10, 2022

"Original System Kitbash": A Major Update to My D&D House Rules

It's been a hot minute since I decided to work my OD&D and AD&D house rules together into a synthesis. I was pretty satisfied with what I'd put together. Still am. But after I learned (thanks to Justin Alexander) that alignment has an actual use in campaigns, I realized that I needed to give things just a wee bit of an overhaul. Make my campaigning assumptions more explicit; reformat things to improve information flow; and give the whole shebang a new title. I've decided to call this "v2.0" of my house rules the Original System Kitbash—because it is, indeed, a kitbash of all the TSR editions of OD&D and AD&D (which all run on the "original" D&D rules engine, pre-d20 System™).

Most of the document's contents remain unchanged from the prior version. I've just reorganized everything, added a little essay on alignment, made a few minor updates that I've been eyeballing for a while (like adding cantrips and orisons as an option for spellcasting classes, or kicking up the rate of post-name-level hp growth to compensate for how drastically I've slowed down actual level gain above 9th), and—most notably—separated the house rules document and the character sheet into two separate documents. So now, while the house-rules document still has full and complete information about each class, the character sheet backs are going to be redesigned so that only the player-facing information is included. That part is still a work-in-progress, but it's coming along smoothly.

Plus, it's not like I'm in a rush. I haven't been involved in running an actual campaign since January. And I have no idea when I'll have free time… or, like, weekends… to work with again. (Le sigh.)

Anyhoo… the updated documents are, of course, linked in the sidebar. More explicitly:

Original System Kitbash: Collected House Rules for TSR D&D Campaigns

OSK character sheets 

Peruse. Enjoy. Comment. Criticize. And for those of you with actual time on your hands, game on. ■

Thursday, May 19, 2022

I finally found it!

I finally found a copy of The Haunted Tower! So now I have all three of the original full-sized "adventure packs" that were meant for use with the D&D black box!!!

Of course, there's still technically a fifth game in this line — the introductory Dragon Quest game, which plays more like HeroQuest than actual D&D — right down to a board full of doorless rooms that aren't all used during a single quest:

I'd like to find that sometime, if only to have an alternative board available for making up my own HeroQuest adventures (because hellz yeah).

Focusing back on 90s D&D, though, my acquisition of The Haunted Tower means that I can now turn my attention to the Challenger Series adventure modules, of which I presently own only one entry, the execrably railroady In the Phantom's Wake (the others being Thunder Rift, Quest for the Silver Sword, the very fun Assault on Raven's Ruin, Sword and Shield, The Knight of Newts, Rage of the Rakasta, and the ultra-rare but also decidedly not worth collecting The Jade Hare).

Most of these actually seem easy enough to find on Ebay without being unreasonably overpriced. This isn't surprising, since I doubt they're in terribly high demand; I reckon that there aren't too terribly many old-school gamers out there who have more nostalgia for these adventures than for the classic B- and X-series modules. But, hey, that just means I'll have any easier time of it, getting my hands on them! ∎

Sunday, May 8, 2022

More Paper Minis

So in the last few days, I've been sort of head over heels in love with the notion of fulfilling all of my tabletop miniatures needs with simple folded paper mins. They don't have all of the visual appeal of real minifigs, and they don't have the flexibility of faceless checkers and chessmen, but my goodness, are they certainly cheap to make, easy to assemble, and perfectly functional. 

Just as a simple proof of concept, I cut out a blank of what appeared to be the easiest template to work with that I could find online, and to my astonishment—even though I was only using 20 lb. copy paper—the proofs held together without glue. Just a bit of folding, and bam, instant minis.

For scale, the wizard's base is a ¾" octagon, roughly the size of a penny or a bingo chip.
The ogre's base is twice that diameter, 1½", or about the size of a poker chip. 

They're ugly as sin, but they're the kind of thing you could quite literally fold together on the spot, mid adventure, if you really needed to.

So, taking this idea and running with it, I both printed off some sheets of old TSR paper minis and designed a few of my own (just to shore up some missing mini types that I needed—more kobolds and skeletons, and one huge spider). This is still in the "proof of concept" stage, but here are the results:

The three homemade minis on the right are laser-printed on coated 65 lb. cardstock.

On the far left is an actual tri-fold TSR mini of a skeleton (from the tan box—the Classic D&D Game). Center is the same art, but glued together to make a more vertical pawn; and, right, a similar design using the art from the 2e Monstrous Manual (thank you, Core Rules 2.0 CD-ROM!), both mounted on bingo chips for bases. The huge black widow in the back rank is mounted on a poker chip and uses the battle sprite from the PSP version of Final Fantasy.

This is nothing I'll ever distribute, of course, because I'm poaching art from wherever I can grab it online; but it's just such a quick and easy way to make minis that I doubt I'll ever bother with the 3d variety ever again. These things are even a cinch to store (in old game boxes, tackleboxes, or art trays)! ∎

Spooky, scary skeletons!