Monday, September 12, 2016

Finally Done With Constructs (well, that took longer than expected…)

So school starting up again has thrown something of a monkey-wrench into my hopes of getting the Engines & Empires Core Rules written in a timely fashion.  I'm taking Special Relativity, Nuclear Physics, and Discrete Math this semester (along with a couple of labs) and could graduate this December (but I'm probably better off tacking on one more semester to finish a mathematics minor, alongside taking the GRE and applying for grad schools).  Anyhow, that means that all of my me-time is once again reduced to nil, and so I can only do a bit of game writing when I can squeeze a few minutes between work and class.

Work… oy vey… have I mentioned that I'm a pollster, and this year Donald friggin' Trump is running for president?  No?  Okay, well, we'll just leave it at that then.  Suffice it to say, I used to have faith in humanity.  Not so much these days.

Where was I?  Ah, yes—game book.  So now that my game has bona fide robot stats governing what kinds of atomata techs can build (and this is way easier than a mage making a golem, naturally), the tech class and its inventions are well and truly complete, and pretty darned cool if I do say so myself.  So now it's onto the Fae category, which is always interesting.  And confusing.  Which is good, because you don't want to impose too much order and classification on what are essentially Chaotic spirits.  But who knows how long this chapter will take?

Faes, Humanoids and Giants, Planars and Elementals, Plants and Oozes, the Undead.  Of all these categories, Humanoids is a pretty big one, but Planars/Elementals is positively huge.  Plants are easy; Undead, there's only like a dozen of those.  Fae are sort of a middling-sized category, depending on how deep into the lore I want to go here.  (Honestly, not that deep… yeah, I'm going for a general sort of "fairy tale"/English and Celtic folklore vibe, but that's another argument for not directly statting up too many specific kinds of faeries—they need to be mysterious.)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Chimeras are more interesting

At least in writing this section, I got to flex my mythology chops.  And, of course, E&E gets to have its own unique take on dragons and werewolves, which is fun.  With this section out of the way, I now move onto Constructs—which is already half done, because the never-finished, never-published "Supplement I" to the old Engines & Empires edition had an entire chapter on automata.  So all I really have to do is write up golems and such.

Anyway, if you want to take a look at E&E's chimera chapter, here it is.

I feel like I'm finally over the hump here.  Once I get Constructs done, then it's just Fae, Humanoids (and Giants), Spirits & Elementals, and two rather short (if necessary) sections—Plants/Oozes/Fungi and the Undead.

Now that I'm done with boring old animals, I'm really having fun with this again.  Monsters rule!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Normal Animals are BORING.

WAAAAAANNNH… (whiny moans)… just bloody indexing the animals took SO LONG!

Like that mediæval monk wrote at the end of a hand-copied text of Aquinas's Summa:

Explicit secunda pars summe fratris thome de aquino ordinis fratrum predicatorum, longissima, prolixissima, et tediosissima scribenti: Deo gratias, Deo gratias, et iterum Deo gratias.
[Here ends the second part of the Summa of brother Thomas Aquinas of the Order of Preaching Friars, the longest, wordiest, and most tedious thing ever written: thank God, thank God, and again thank God.]

That's how I feel right now,  and I'm only finished with the second of eight monster sections.  The next part (chimeras, dragons, and magical beasts) is ALMOST AS FREAKING LONG.

What have I done… dear God, what have I done!?

UPDATE: Okay, the animals section is all paginated and illustrated now.  It's done, dead, in the grave, in the can, fini, I wash my hands.  Now to Deal with Dragons™.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

E&E Excerpt: Abominations

At long last, I'm finally making some headway through the dull slog that is "Monsters: Normal Animals".  I guess that's why I want to be an astronomer and not a zoologist.  Anyway, in the meantime, enjoy the first completed monster section from the revised edition of E&E: abominations (pdf, 205 kb).

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Alignment: more fundamental even than a player's choice

I haven't posted anything in a while, so I thought I'd drop back in on the ol' blog with a quick update.

The new edition of Engines & Empires has become somewhat bogged down in the monster chapter, probably because I set myself up with too much to do.  I had wanted to keep things slick and simple, but in researching old-school monsters, I kept running into old favorites and thinking to myself, "well, how could I not include that?"  And my original intent—to only include proper fairy-tale and mythology monsters, and dispense with Gygaxian weirdness—got sort of sidetracked, by pure alphabetical chance.

You see, I wanted to divide the monster chapter into sub-categories: animals, humanoids, constructs, undead, etc.  And I decided to tackle them in alphabetical order.  The first heading?  It wound up being "abominations, eldritch horrors, and monstrosities".  This is the chapter that includes all the truly weird stuff: aliens, Yog-Sothothery, and yes, all those Gygaxian "fuck you, because dungeon" monsters.  So on the one hand, at least the Gygaxian weirdness is siloed off into its own little section (and I probably won't put most of these monsters on the random encounter tables, because I want to preserve that very special "basic D&D ain't AD&D" feel); but on the other hand, they're there in the book in case they're ever needed (I certainly used them quite a bit for the Shade Isle campaign, and I'd rather not have to lug around the Creature Catalog and Advanced Edition Companion all the time—the whole reason I'm doing this is to get back down to one book).

But as I was going through these monsters and their stat write-ups, something else occurred to me: early on, I decided that for this new edition of E&E, alignment wouldn't be a big deal.  I would just dodge the whole question of whether it was a moral philosophy, a description of character behavior, or a "side" you pick in the great cosmic battle, and just make it sort of there in the background, a fundamental description of a creature's nature.

In other words, by definition, the alignments mean…
• Law is that which pertains "to gods and men".  It is the alignment of the gods who run the cosmos, their direct servants (angels), humans who are not magic-users, and anything else that is the direct creation of human society, like robots and automata.
• Neutrality is anything which is natural, but unencumbered by affectations of human society or religion (ordinary plants and animals, in other words); or anything that bridges the gulf between the natural and the supernatural (human mages and all demihumans, by definition; and also elementals, for cosmology reasons).
• Chaos is everything else: if it's monstrous, supernatural, unnatural, or in any way out of the ordinary, it's Chaotic by definition, even something like a mindless ooze.  Demons are of chaos, but so are fae, because they're of magic, not of the natural world.

This fits in well with both steampunk's magic vs. science theme, as well as the inspiration I've drawn from Beyond the Wall (heavy as it is on the Chaotic-ness of fae).  Part of what inspired this is the fact that I recently read through both a lot of Elric novels and Three Hearts and Three Lions, and I like Anderson's take on Law and Chaos much better than Moorcock's.  One the one hand, reading Moorcock really turns on the lightbulb with respect to understanding where so much of AD&D comes from (time after time, you just keep going, "oh, that's where Gary was getting this batshit crazy idea from!"); but on the other, it's just so complex and tiresome… it's a very specific bit of world-building, and I want nothing to do with it.  Poul Anderson was just telling a romantic fairy-tale, more or less, and that's what I'll go with.

So the up-shot of this is that alignment is predetermined by your choice of race and class.  A human fighter, expert, or tech is just plain Lawful, period, end of story; and a human mage or a demi-human is Neutral, boom, done.  Frankly, I like any excuse to take alignment out of the hands of the players, because there are just entirely too many players out there who like to use "I'm Chaotic!" as an excuse to play a jerkwad.

No, Timmy, you're not Chaotic, your character is just a jerkwad who hasn't been caught yet.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Ghostbusters 2016: Not Bad At All

Saw Ghostbusters last night.  As expected, it couldn't live up to the original—nothing could, of course.  Also as expected, the fact that it was a reboot rather than a sequel was inevitably disappointing; but then, what else could it be?  Ghostbusters II ignored the existence of the Real Ghostbusters, so it's not like any movie that came out this decade would ever, e.g., acknowledge that Extreme Ghostbusters existed.  A true sequel was never going to happen anyway, so… 

So what we got was best possible alternative.  A reboot with fun characters who had good chemistry.  The film isn't anywhere near as witty as the original (but then, who could ever match Bill Murray?  Although Kate McKinnon sure gets some goddamn props for stealing this new film in the same way Murray stole the original).

Pretty much everybody in the cast (with the sorry exception of Neil Casey, who played the lame villain, Rowan North) was fantastic in the movie.  McKinnon and Hemsworth rocked the house, but Wiig, McCarthy, Jones were as funny as they ever are.

It leaves me wanting a sequel.  And a new animated series with these characters.  

Not too shabby, considering what else could've been.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

80% done with technology

So in actually working through the descriptions and mechanics of all these inventions, I've had to (as I knew that I would) shuffle them around a bit, combine, split, tweak, re-fluff.  Some have gone up in level, some have come down, and (especially) all the automata have gotten more flavorful names.

(I will say this much: the 2nd edition E&E tech is going to be very good at making robots.)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

E&E 2nd edition preview—1st level inventions

Here's the list of small gadgets, chemical preparations, and full inventions that techs will be able to build in E&E 2nd edition:

And, for your appetite-whetting edification, I'll go ahead and post the list of 1st level inventions right here.  Keep in mind that this new edition uses a copper standard, so most equipment prices are in cp and 1 cp of treasure must be wasted (i.e. not spent on useful things like gear or technology) to earn 1 XP.  The noted encumbrance values (EV) assume the use of that grid-based inventory system I cooked up several posts ago.  All of these 1st-level inventions require 3–4 days of work and 100 cp worth of materials to build; and the tech must pass a successful Int check or else the invention will be flawed and prone to failure.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

I think I've finally figured out dual-wielding

A funny thing happens when you decide that you want to try and make D&D emulate reality, rather than trying to make it emulate video games or movies or novels or whatever.

The "rule of cool" doesn't seem so important anymore, and (even better) the nigh-impossibility of true simulation makes D&D's underlying abstractions make so much more sense than a face-value reading of them would at first suggest.

Take the simple attack.  Whether you use the basic game's 10-second round or AD&D's nonsensical minute-long round, an "attack" is not one swing of the sword.  It's the constant flow of the duel, thrusts and slashes, parries and ripostes.  The attack roll is just an abstraction for out-dueling your opponent, and a "hit" isn't a hit-hit, it's just gaining the momentary upper hand in the fight, pushing your opponent back, catching them off their guard, wearing them down, maneuvering them into opening their defenses.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

E&E 2nd edition progress—50%

• Character creation & classes
• Equipment
• Dungeon & wilderness exploration
• Combat
• Vehicles
• Magic
• Magic Items
• Gadgets
• Alchemy

To Finish:
• Inventions/Gizmos
• Monsters
• Treasure and other "DM's miscellany" topics
• Indexing

The inventions and monsters are going to take quite a long time to work though, but the book is shaping up quite nicely so far.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

E&E 2nd edition—chapter one complete

It's a curious thing, stripping the setting out of a game book and putting a complete set of core rules in its place.

It's also curious having the freedom to invent my own mechanics, and finding that most of the time I'd rather just go with what I know.

Anyway—a complete RPG book needs, what: character creation, items & equipment, rules for dungeon-crawling, rules for wilderness adventures, rules for combat, maybe some notes on vehicles, and then spells, items, monsters, and some encounter tables?

And a lot of that stuff, even from basic D&D, I don't actually use.  I just wing it, or I use a vastly simplified system (like what's found in Retro Phaze—a lot of that may just get lifted for E&E 2).

So with the first chapter done, I have character classes and equipment all hashed out, which puts me at about 20% right now.  I wonder if I'll have this done by the end of summer.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Grid-based encumbrance

I've been rather consumed lately with revising Engines & Empires (yes, a true second edition is now officially forthcoming—and as a standalone game rather than setting for someone else's), and one of the first snags I hit was encumbrance.  I used Delta's stone-based encumbrance in the original publication; since then, I've found that most players just prefer to count pounds.  But there's something so unsatisfying about a "bean-counting" encumbrance system: players scrimp and twist and cajole and wheedle and do everything they can to stay under that first 40 lb. "light encumbrance" threshold… which means that you wind up having a bunch of players who are all running around with exactly 39½ pounds of gear (most of the time; treasure-hoards and bags of holding do alter this equation from time to time).

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Demi-humans and multi-classing

I've been so busy lately, I haven't had the chance to write about everything I've wanted to.  I finally got my copies of the Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures rulebooks (the core rules, plus Further Afield and Heroes Young and Old) in the mail.  I was going to write a full review of them, but then a bunch of stuff happened between school and family, and that's on back-burner now.

One thing that became apparent even on a cursory read-through, though, was that using a conversion of the D&D 5E engineer class wasn't going to cut the mustard—not balanced against the way magic works in BtW.  Likewise, I can't use my own tech class from Engines & Empires; that was written explicitly to be balanced against BECMI magic-users and clerics.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Pontificating on ability scores

When it comes to ability scores in D&D, there are two main tensions at work:

• How do you balance the fun of random scores against the disparity between players who roll well vs. those who roll poorly?
• And, intimately related to this, how much should a good roll or a bad roll impact the character?  In other words, how you balance "scores should matter" vs. "scores shouldn't matter that much"?

The first question speaks directly to ability score generation.  What's preferred?  What's ideal?  3d6 in order ("Ironman")?  4d6k3 ("Gygaxian")?  Soulless point-buy systems?  Group dice (i.e. roll 18d6 to the table and let all the players use this same roll to build their own set of six 3d6 rolls)?  Each has their pros and cons, but a quick run-down of the old-school orthodoxy goes something like this:

Monday, May 30, 2016

Dungeon Cross-Sections (and the clever use of isometry)

So, now that The Shade Isle Campaign has wrapped up, I don't have any qualms about putting up a cross-section for the campaign dungeon, Shade Abbey.  Thus:

But the cross-section doesn't really do this dungeon justice, because the dungeon-levels are not simply laid out east to west; some sub-levels are actually "behind" or "in front" of other levels, in the ±z axial direction if you will (north and south, or in and out of the plane of the page).

So, how to remedy this issue?  Why, isometric graphing paper, of course.  (If any of my current players stumble upon this blog post, kindly avoid reading below the fold while The Heathlands Campaign is still going on.) :-)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

I Love that New Campaign Smell…

…Mmm, smells like fresh mountain pine and the blood of conquered enemies being driven before me.

So, The Shade Isle Campaign ended pretty suddenly, the players more or less unanimously agreeing to epilogue all of their characters' story arcs and retire them right then and there.  I think we were spurred along by the fact that two other players, curious about old-school D&D, were looking to join a game, and so there was little reason not to get a new one off the ground as soon as possible.

The new game is known as The Heathlands Campaign, and I think that instead of trying to "storytime" my game sessions, I'm instead going to attempt to chronicle the act of building a mostly empty and indistinctly formed world up around the game as it progresses.  Since I didn't actually expect to be running the new campaign this week, I just busted out the starting adventure I had ready (Shadows of the Halfling Hall for C&C, if you're curious) and dropped the characters into it with the bare-minimum context—"You all belong to a snobbish gentleman's adventuring organization called the Manticore Club, and as part of your rookie hazing, they've sent you out to this backwater dwarf-village to find some valuable relics—now get to it! …Oh, and by the way, watch out—zombies!"

Thursday, May 19, 2016

My next campaign will K.I.S.S.

It looks as though, at long last, The Shade Isle Campaign (v3.0) is winding down.

The player characters are all 10th level, pushing 11th.  As soon as Deliah (the party sorceress) learned the teleport spell, she used her crystal ball to start scrying distant campaign-villain Prince Svartsen of Dolheim so that she could execute a good ol'fashioned scry-'port-gank.

They've destroyed all of the eyes of Izatu-Bal and used the empowered fiend-bane blade Fyndattr to shatter the Ruby Wall in the Temple of Evil Chaos (in a certain borderlandsy keep-like thing that tends to have such things).  They've brought peace and prosperity to the towns of Sægan, Dwerport, Dämmendell, and Rorgan, and become elf-friends to the Grugach tribe of the Dimmenwald (where Connor now resides as Arch-Druid).

They've slain Anarxis the dragon, who turned out to be the Frankenstein-esque creation of a sad, mad alchemist, one Massimo Grigio, who was pining for the hand of the dwarf-queen Zirabeel of Ezulor and needed a means of eliminating all her other suitors and admirers.  A plan which backfired spectacularly, of course, since it led to the death of the queen and the fall of the dwarf-kingdom a century back.  But with Anarxis dead and his treasure-hoard claimed, the dwarves are now restored to Ezulor, and their kingdom of old will grow strong again.

Most of Shade Isle is downright civilized now.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Update on my playing card design

So this is a fun little bit of arts & crafts.

For a long time, I've wanted to be able to design my own playing cards from scratch, but drawing every pip by hand is extremely tedious.  I did it once; never again.  The natural solution would be instead to use rubber stamps and permanent ink.  But, even after having looked everywhere, I could never find a set of rubber stamps in the shape of the common card-suits.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Jeu de Tarot: 15th Century Old-School

My favorite card game of all time is Tarot.  It's a deceptively simple game, especially in its basic form—no bidding, no partnerships, none of the mandatory over-trumping that characterizes standard French Tarot (the form of the game most players are familiar with).

A pack of Tarot cards consists of seventy-eight cards: the suit cards (the four common suits:  ♠  ♣) with fourteen cards in each suit—A (low), 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Knave, Knight, Queen, King (High) and the twenty-two trump cards or tarots (numbered from 1, low, to 21, high, plus the zero-trump, the Fool).

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Risus Bench-Test? Resounding Success.

Finally, finally got to play this.  How did it work out?  To make a long story short, pretty darned good—and not, as near as I can tell, by any virtue singular to the rules.  The rules work well enough.  They're functional.  They have their good points and their flaws.

But mostly, they're simple and straightforward enough to just get out of the way most of the time and let me ref the game.  That's their greatest virtue.  (Incidentally, I like OD&D for the same reason—but Risus does it better.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Farscape Rewatch Review #0

Now I'm going to start something.

I've been meaning for a long time to go back and re-watch my favorite sci-fi series (indeed, my favorite TV series) of all time—Farscape—front to back, not skipping any episodes.  Many a time, I've binged my way through the whole series as quickly as possible.  Sometimes I skip the slower episodes, if they're not hitting me; although, I do notice that if I don't skip any episodes, I still enjoy watching the series' poorer offerings.  But never have I slowly watched my way through it, one episode at a time, thinking critically, analyzing.  Others have, but I haven't taken a crack at it yet.  I want to, and hopefully I'll (a) have the time and (b) manage to use this as an excuse to actually write something interesting.

But first.

Monday, March 21, 2016


Okay, at long last, it's looking like next weekend I'll finally get to try out my Risus dungeon-crawling hack.  Next Sunday is both Easter and my birthday, so family is going to dominate my usual game-day; but the Saturday prior, the bulk of the gaming group can still get together.  Just not the whole group, so continuing D&D is out for this weekend.  The perfect opportunity to run a one-shot.

Now, my objective here is to essentially bench-test Risus and put it through its paces, to see how it fares as a dungeon-crawler RPG.  I've long held the opinion that OD&D is the best system there ever has been or will be for this sort of game, precisely because it wasn't designed around the idea so much as organically grown.  Rules were added as needed, no more, no less, the end result being a perfectly functional (and also fairly sleek and trim) little dungeon-heist wargame.

Monday, March 14, 2016

More English than Tolkien

I haven't posted here in a while for a couple of reasons.

• School's nuts.  Quantum II, EM II, and Astrophyics (which is fucking awesome and kind of tears it; when I go to grad school, it's gonna be for cosmology or astronomy).

• I've been very heavily back into writing fiction again (yay!), which produces a high all of its own which is very different from refereeing an RPG.  When you run an RPG, it's like being up on stage for a few hours—you're under constant pressure to think on your feet, to perform, and the adrenaline buzz gives you "DM's high".  Spending a day cranking out a story chapter or a screenplay, on the other hand, feels very much like running a marathon—and the feeling that accompanies finishing it is indistinguishable from "runner's high".