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!

Monday, May 2, 2022

Paper Minis

Probably the polar opposite of my previous blog post.

It occurred to me recently that I have sheets and sheets of these 90s TSR fold-over paper stand-up minis, which I've never punched out and assembled. (I don't have the whole lineup — just the '91 black box, the '96 rerelease of the Classic set, and the Dragon's Den and Goblin's Lair boxes; I'm missing Haunted Tower and the module-sized Character & Monster Assortment.) Mounted on bingo-chip bases with a drop of glue, they're actually stable enough to use! It's just a tedious process, folding and mounting all of them… but, hey, it's easier than painting minis. ∎


Sunday, May 1, 2022

Gemstone Dice


Jasper d20, bloodstone and lapis lazuli d6s,and tiger's eye d8.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Alignment. I get it now.

For many years now, I've run my D&D games without including alignment as a game mechanic. I left it out of Engines & Empires almost completely, and I have often praised Chris Gonnerman's Basic Fantasy RPG for retro-cloning D&D Basic but dropping alignment.

My dislike of alignment stems from the way that all modern versions of D&D (particularly from AD&D 2nd Edition forward) have interpreted alignment, and the way most players use (or misuse or abuse) alignment. That is, they treat alignment as a guide to their character's personal morality, or ethos, or psychology, or even their personality. It is akin to my general dislike of fantasy campaigns that have too many demihuman PCs in them: how often have you seen a player running an elf PC whose personality amounts to, "I'm an elf"? How many times have you seen a player running a dwarf PC whose personality is defined by a bad Scottish accent and all the usual dwarf stereotypes? 

Likewise, how often have you seen a Lawful PC whose one-note personality amounts to self-righteous dickery, or a Chaotic PC whose player clearly thinks that being random and cuh-ray-zy! is a decent substitute for depth?

(This is not, I should stress, anything to do with performative play-acting at the game table. It has everything to do with role-playing in the proper sense of the term, i.e. players running their PCs in accordance with their role — their job — during an adventure.)

In other words, I hate the modern interpretation of alignment as having anything to do with character behavior, particularly when it comes to "Lawful" and "Chaotic" being respectively interpreted as "upright" and "unpredictable." And while the orthodox OSR claims to have a remedy for this — "Just tell players that alignments are factions! Once the players understand that alignment comes from Chainmail, they'll get it." — in my experience, this simply doesn't work. The vast majority of D&D players do not give two shits about Chainmail, and even if you make it clear as day to all of your players that Law and Chaos are two grand, cosmic "sides" in an eternal war, that never dissuades players from treating them as personality types that they can — indeed, ought — to play up in the hammiest fashion they can muster.

And so, I have quietly left alignment by the wayside, and I have left the otherwise ubiquitous "Alignment: ___" field off of all my character sheets, and I have continued gaming in quiet contentment.

But… I think that I have been wrong to do so. And it comes from yet another off-handed comment overheard on a YouTube video. Notably, this recent reading of Men & Magic by Justin Alexander:

(Discussion of alignment starts at 1:11:17.)

As a rule, I'm not fond of these sorts of read-along videos. They usually just frustrate me, because I've already read these texts before, and I don't usually agree with the reader's interpretations and other color commentary. But I decided to listen to this one, just in case I might learn something new, and in fact I did. Justin actually discusses how alignment got into the D&D game in the first place — how Dave Arneson's Blackmoor players actually wound up segregating themselves into "Team Good" and "Team Evil," and how Gary Gygax decided to make things a little more nuanced and literary (and closer to Poul Anderson and especially Michael Moorcock) by changing the opposed poles to Law and Chaos for his Greyhawk campaign (before eventually including both axes in AD&D).

This is another epiphany moment, akin to hearing the old grognards in Gary Gygax's gaming circles discuss how they always had a stable of five or six PCs going at a time, and finally figuring out how 1:1 game-time is meant to work. As is typically the case, when presented with a murky or confusing game mechanic, the route to understanding it comes from peeling away the layers of misinterpretation and misuse and abuse and corruption heaped upon it by forty years of trad-style campaigns (i.e. small, fixed groups of players play-acting their small, fixed groups of PCs through the DM's plotlines) and instead reading the text in the context of a truly old-school campaign — not the superficial OSR interpretation of the old-school, mind, but one that contextualizes everything we can possibly know and have so far discovered about how Gygax &al. actually played in the mid-70s.

(Whole swaths of the RPG hobby, perhaps most especially those segments of the OSR that want nothing to do with AD&D or Gygaxian play, are presently scoffing at the recently-emerged BrOSR wing of by-the-book AD&D players. Say what you will about their bombast and their risible elitism, but at least they're actually playing the game in a manner that I'd call more properly contextualized than the last fifteen-plus years of "rulings, not rules" type OSR gaming.)

Alignments are factions. But more importantly, alignments are factions of player characters (and maybe of players too). This is what makes it all make sense. Alignment-as-personality (or morality or ethos) doesn't work and never has — it's shallow and annoying, and it always has been. Alignment-as-faction is better, but if we're only talking about "grand, cosmic" factions, or factions of NPCs that player characters can opt to join or ignore, it's not really all that much better. Indeed, if the players aren't separating themselves out into factions based on their differing goals and ideals (which is entirely understandable if the campaign has too few players for such a thing to happen naturally), then there are really only two alignments in the game that can possibly matter — "the PCs" and "the DM." It becomes a game of all the players vs. the world. Adversarial, but perhaps also the platonic form of a West Marches campaign, where the players would indeed be wise to always pool all of their knowledge and resources, so that they can best meet whatever challenges exist in the DM's world.

Alignment throws a wrinkle into that picture. It creates teams. If you only use Law and Chaos, or Good and Evil, there are two major teams competing to get that dungeon treasure first. If you use both, there are four poles, four teams — and at any given moment, the team you're on is fundamentally opposed to one of the other times, but could be a temporary ally or enemy to either of the other two. And all the while, the unaligned — Neutrals — can stand on their own or move between the teams, unconcerned with the machinations of the Grand Game. What wonderful complexity this suggests! What tremendous opportunities for interesting gameplay this opens up!

Once again, the picture gets a little bit clearer. Another piece of the puzzle falls into place. It starts with the OSR — XP for GP, "mega"-dungeons, sandboxes, hex-crawls — and then it goes beyond — open tables, PC stables, blorb, the persistent milieu, 1:1 time… and alignment not as cosmic factions, but as something very grounded and tangible and relatable. Player teams. I see it now, and I like what I see. ∎