Saturday, December 22, 2018

Retro Rundown #1: Chainmail

"I am waiting for you, Vizzini. You told me to go back to the beginning. So I have. This is where I am, and this is where I’ll stay. I will not be moved."
—Inigo Montoya

I. Introduction and Welcome

Welcome, one and all, to the first installment in my new blog series, the "Retro Rundown," wherein I'm going to read and analyze… pretty much everything old and D&D.

It struck me yesterday that if I'm going to stand up and declare myself a post-Old-School-Renaissance old-school gamer, it would be helpful to figure out what that means.

Like what Eddie Izzard said about Queen Elizabeth I and the Church of England:
The Protestant faith was different. That started, um, uh, well, probably around a similar time, but that was about Martin Luther, this German guy who pinned a note on a church door saying, “Hang on a minute!” But in German, so, “Ein Minuten, bitte! Ich habe einen kleinen Problemo avec dieser Religiones.” (He was from everywhere.) So yeah. So, and, uh, so the Protestant faith was sort of tacked, you know, on by Queen Elizabeth I a bit later. “Oh, principles! Thank God! We’ve got some principles.”
It's good to have some principles. Formulating them can be tricky, though. There's a lot of nonsense floating around, particularly within the OSR. It's no secret that I despise the Finch Primer and the whole notion of "rulings, not rules." It's just so incredibly, wrongheadedly ahistorical—or so my intuition tells me. Maybe I'll discover otherwise by actually going back to the texts.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Aloha 'Oe to the OSR

I know, I know. Overly provocative title. I'll explain below.

*          *          *

I have three concurrent gaming-related projects going on in my life right now. Surprise, surprise, it's the same three as ever.

1) Dungeons & Dragons. Despite losing a few weekends here and there to school and holidays (including this upcoming weekend, naturally), my Saturday D&D campaign has continued to be fairly steady and consistently enjoyable. The player roster has changed as players come and go, but we're only just now reaching the one year mark, and still no player has surpassed 6th level, and still they continue their slow crawl through the Barrowmaze. (They've explored maybe 20% of it, tops.) 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Hit Dice, Reloaded

In my last post, I described a somewhat radical house rule for hit points—one that I would inevitably become leery about actually implementing, once I'd thought through the many implications of how it would change player behavior.

At the same time, though, I'd also been pondering the best method for rolling up old-fashioned, static hit points. And I think I've settled on a system I can live with.

Just rolling them straight always has the potential to cripple a character. If a fighter rolls a couple of 1s, 2s, or 3s on gaining his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th experience levels, that's an unrecoverable handicap. So some form of re-rolling is a must if one demands that dice be rolled (and I do). Re-rolling all the hit dice at each level is a pretty good way of keeping the characters just above average; but there also has to be some recourse if the re-roll is low (characters should always gain at least one hit point with a new level). So, taking all that into account, the ideal method would have to be:

• Max hit points at first level (bog standard house rule)
• At levels 2 through 9, when a character gains a level, their hit points go up by +1 (clerics, thieves, and magic-users) or +2 (fighters). Then they re-roll a number of hit dice equal to their new level (adjusting each for Constitution, as normal), and they keep this roll if it's greater than the old, just-incremented hit point total.

I wrote a bit of code to test this method out, and it seems to produce results that put characters where I want them to be, while still being variable. 9th level characters wind up with hp totals ranging from a couple of points below average, to upwards of ten points above (for very lucky fighters), with the smaller hit dice being proportionally less swingy (to be expected).

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

I've been thinking. Thinking about hit points.

The standard way to do hit points in classic D&D is to simply roll your hit die and adjust it for Constitution at every experience level, 1st through 9th. What you roll is what you get, and if you keep getting bad rolls, tough noogies. Some or even most DMs will amend this to allow player characters maximum hit points at level one, but otherwise there isn't much call (or need) in old-school games for different procedures like you see in WotC editions—taking the average or a roll if it's higher, re-rolling 1s or 2s, etc.

The thing is, though, no player ever finds it fun getting stuck with a low hit die roll, just as no player ever particularly enjoys getting level-drained by a spectre. That shit ain't fun, and I'm not some kind of macho old-school dogmatist here to tell you that you must implement harsh rules or else you're doing it wrong.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Annual Reminder RE: this thing we call "OSR"

Every once in a while, the OSR ties itself into an existential knot. "What are we? Who are we? What are we doing here? And what is it all for?" These questions burp up to the surface of the inter-blog-o-socio-media-sphere-i-web from time to time.

I'd like to take just a moment of your time to address a few of them.

1. What is the OSR?

The OSR, or "Old School Renaissance," is a movement within the tabletop role-playing hobby centered on playing, and publishing new material for, the TSR editions of D&D.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Engines & Empires: The Boxer Class

I guess I couldn't help myself. I just love the monk archetype too much. So I've put it back in the game. This little supplemental document I've written up now includes rules for both scholars and boxers, bringing the number of human classes in Engines & Empires back up to the original six.

Just like monks in D&D, boxers are kind of optional and funky, with attribute score requirements, a lower level limit than other human types, and some other quirks. But now the same six classes that appeared in the original Engines & Empires Campaign Compendium (fighter, expert, boxer, mage, scholar, and tech) are available in the Core Rules version of the game as well.

What prompted this?  Well, I was chugging along on revising Retro Phaze, hit the monster section, and then kind of stalled out when the homework started to pile up. (Seriously, I should really be working on homework and papers right now. The workload this semester has become insane.) It's gotten to the point where my Barrowmaze campaign, steadily and surely a weekly affair that I've run for my local game store group every single Saturday afternoon since the start of this year, has moved to a two-week turn.

And this, blast it, has given me space to think. Always a dangerous thing for a DM who suffers from chronic gamer ADD. It makes me long for variety away from crypts full of undead. It makes me want to cook up my own dungeon and put it in my own setting again. I don't actually have time to do the legwork for a completely new campaign of my own devising; but damn it if I can't stop thinking about it. Daydreaming about what sort of setting and what sort of dungeon I'd like to run.

And I realized that for my next campaign, whenever it rolls around, I really would like to try a human-only setting. No elves, no playable demi-humans. Just human characters who are only as interesting as the players make them. (Demi-humans are awfully crutchy that way sometimes. "What's your character like?" "He's an elf." "Okay, but what about his personality?" "He's an elf." "Yes, I got that, but what makes him interesting?" "Elf.") I've really been vibing a more modern-feeling setting, something with a tech level in the Final Fantasy VI through VIII range. And because of that, I think I've felt the need lately to expand the class system in anticipation of such a game. You know, just so that there's more variety available to the players when I tell them that my next game's setting isn't gonna have elves (because there's always that one guy who only plays elves).

I don't know; maybe I'll have changed my mind about it by the time I'm ready to switch games. But for now, it's comforting to have the option.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Engines & Empires: The Scholar Class

The old, Labyrinth Lord based version of Engines & Empires replaced the cleric class with an "occult scholar" class, which was intended as a reference to the origins of the cleric as a Dr. Van Helsing expy. Since the new, stand-alone version of E&E ditched the Vancian magic system altogether, and with it the need for separate arcane and divine spell-caster classes, some of that flavor was lost, somewhat to my regret.

The old, original version of Retro Phaze also had a scholar class, as a stand-in for the red mage or  bard; the new, up-and-coming version of the game moves the scholar from "optional fifth class in the back of the book" to "standard fifth class, right there with the other main four." Calling this version of the character class a "scholar" is something of a reference to the Final Fantasy scholar class, which is noted for wielding books as weapons, and for "scanning" monsters to find their weaknesses.

Well back in January, I decided to combine these ideas and created a "fifth base class" for Engines & Empires, one based on the Van Helsing style scholar. I suppose I just got too distracted to get around to writing it up formally. Plus, I figured that I would wind up debuting the new class in Shade Isle when I got around to writing that. (Turns out, Retro Phaze VI just felt more urgent.) You see, adding a scholar class to Engines & Empires fills a lot of niches that rather need filling. It provides an alternative Int-based class for cultures, settings, and time periods that aren't inclined to use steampunk technology; which means that in a gonzo steampunk setting, the scholar can be an alternative to the technologist for in-game societies that don't use steampunk technology. And in a non-steampunk setting, Engines & Empires can still be used a complete game with a sufficient variety of classes.

But, most importantly, there gets to be a whole class dedicated to monster- and undead-hunting again, and there gets to be a proper "gish" class for human characters now. The link to the (one-page) addendum is going to live on the sidebar of this blog for the time being, but anyhow, here it is.