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.

Monday, October 15, 2018

My Barrowmaze Campaign: The Overworld

I figured it was high time got around to posting this.

My weekly, Saturday-afternoon Barrowmaze campaign is now in the middle of it's tenth month of real time (and its second year of game time). Party members' levels range from 1st to 6th, with the higher level characters all in the hands of the most frequent and longest running players.

But I also wanted to put up a map that I'd just finished recently, depicting how I slot the Barrowmoor into Eastern Karameikos:

(It's a very large image, which should hopefully counteract the sloppy handwriting and make at least some of the landmarks' names legible.)

I figured that I'd need a wider map soon, as the player characters (although still having only explored the tiniest fraction of crypts under the barrow mounds) are starting to grow in wealth and influence to the point where they might wind up traveling further afield. They've heard rumors of monsters massing the far north, and the Castellan Keep (you know, the one on the borderlands); and they've even had a couple of run-ins with Bargle, evil wizard extraordinaire, and cruel lackey to Baron Ludwig Black Eagle (whose lands are still off the western edge of this map, but which the PCs might very well travel to before this campaign wraps up).

Setting this campaign in Karameikos has been, on the whole, a positive thing. It does sometimes take the focus off the local area and the back-and-forth between town and dungeon; but players crave that variety. Same thing every game, week in and week out, would inevitably wear thin. That said, I'm still leaving the pace of this game, and where they go and what they do, entire up to the players. I've no idea how long the campaign will continue to run, where they'll eventually visit, or what they're going to do.

And, tellingly, I myself can feel the first stirrings of gamer ADD setting in. Ideas for other campaigns, for big dungeons with more depth and variety than a big crypt full of undead. A strong desire to back to playing one of my own systems, particularly Engines & Empires. The life of the campaign at this point, if I'm being honest, probably depends entirely on how long I can stay interested in it. So far… I'm holding on. But it's touch and go.

The Final Boss

Submitted for your consideration:

Chaos, King of All Devils
HD: 40 (140 hp; Acc +12; RS 10)
VN: −4
XP: [hp + 40] × 1.5 (avg 270)
MV: 4
DG: 15d
AP: 10
The “final boss” of a Retro Phaze VI campaign is usually some kind of terrible arch-devil. Chaos is but one example of such a monster, since each campaign world must naturally have its own ultimate villain. Chaos resembles a gigantic, gold-scaled fiend with clawed hands, cloven hooves for feet, and bat-like wings. He is the manifest embodiment of evil, hatred, and destruction, the very antithesis of life, order, and weal in physical form.
Terrain Affinity: Flying.
Master of Magic: Chaos has a unique level of spell ability, being able to cast every single spell in the game (black, white, and reversed white) twice per day each.
Summoning: Chaos can use an action to conjure two demons, two devils, or one of each, both of which will stay and fight for Chaos for the remainder of the battle. This costs Chaos 1 Action Point.
Withering Demon Breath: Chaos has a terrible breath weapon with range 1–3 that inflicts 24d damage on all targets, who may resist at −2 for half. The breath weapon has spread 1 if Chaos spends 1 AP to activate it, or spread 2 if he spends 2 AP. The damage inflicted is magical, Dark, and non-elemental, like the reversed white magic spell Unholy.
Immunities: Chaos is immune to all forms in instant death magic (Banish, Death, Kill, and Scourge), poison, and petrification.

(And because Chaos is a boss monster, marked with "•" and a title, it's explained in the rules that he has two actions per initiative cycle, each and every round… nasty. You're going to need a large party of high-level characters to take this guy down!)

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sigh. Bandwagons.

A questionnaire worthy of a BuzzFeed clickbait listicle is spreading like a virus through the OSR blogosphere yet again. Isn't that just so very typically hivemindey? (And quelle surprise where it comes from, mais non?) But I just can't help myself, either. Fully aware that this is a grotesque exercise in masturbatory pablum, here's the list, and here we go:

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:

Grognardia. J.M. discussing Dwimmermount. He drove home that long stretches of empty rooms drive tension, which is awesome; that sometimes, whole sessions go by with no treasure found and no XP earned, and that's okay; and that a mega-dungeon should have the seeds planted early on of puzzles that can't be solved for a long, long time, only after lots of exploration (his example being a solid stone wall that became a door only under a very specific phase of the moon). That's still just plain fucking badass.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Retro Phaze VI and Monster Stats

Right now, I'm deep in the weeds revising monsters, and expanding the monster list to add some tactically interesting beasties, as well some classic critters that should be very familiar to 8-bit and 16-bit console fans. I'm reminded of when I was slogging through E&E's huge monster chapter, and just how much I love monster lore. It's fun as hell, tweaking these iconic bits of mythology and folklore to suit the specific purposes of each game.

But on that note, I also thought that I'd post a quick note here on how I'm going about making the monsters easier to run during the game. First, an example of the old Retro Phaze stat block. For the sake of comparison, I'll use the basilisk as my example:

Clean and simple, sure, but it does make the typical rookie mistake of mixing flavor text with mechanics. In the revised edition of Engines & Empires, I made damned sure to split those up, having each monster entry consist of the stat-line, the description, and then bullet-pointed mechanics.  The revised basilisk does the same (keeping in mind that the below text is as-yet unformatted for publication, so the stat-line is more of a "stat-column" at the moment; so far, I haven't quite decided how I'll make it pretty whet it comes time to do the formatting):

HD: 7 (24 hp; Acc +3; RS 6)
VN: 4
MV: 3
DG: 2d + poison 2
A basilisk is a huge, gray lizard that looks like a giant chameleon covered in feathers made of stone. This creature is slow to move and act, but it is still widely feared for its petrifying gaze and venomous bite.
Terrain Affinity: Caverns.
Petrifying Gaze: Instead of attacking, the basilisk can gaze at a target at range 1–2; the target must roll resistance or be turned to stone.
Poisonous Bite: Any creature bitten by a basilisk must roll resistance or else become poisoned (strength 2).

This time around, the monster's tactical capabilities are clearly marked, and they use codified language that applies uniformly across all monsters, fitting of a tactical skirmish RPG. "Poison 2" for any monster that has it means a poison that deals 2 damage per round (or turn or day, depending on whether the party is in battle, in the dungeon, or on the overworld) to the victim. "Terrain Affinity: Caverns" also has a clear definition shared with all other cave-favoring monsters, that rugged terrain in caves hinders basilisks less than other creatures (specifically downgrading rough terrain and difficult terrain in caves, ordinarily costing 1.5 and 2 points of movement respectively, to 1 and 1.5 for a creature with the affinity), allowing a basilisk to still make 3 squares per round across a field of pebbles and scree, or 2 squares over boulders and talus and low stalagmites.

Note also that the gaze mechanic (and this is also going to be true of lots of awkward, holdover-from-D&D mechanics) has been seriously simplified. Now it's just a special attack on the part of the monster, and it uses the monster's action if it's activated. No quibbling about who's looking where, or what the penalties are for fighting while averting one's eyes. That matters in D&D, but it doesn't matter in RP6. Driving home, again and again, that this is a "combat as sport" game where you win by engaging with the mechanics rather than subverting them.

Old-school D&D, as many have said, is "combat as war". You beat a basilisk in D&D by bringing a mirror along and making it gaze at itself, so that you never have to fight it fairly in the first place. If I wanted another game like that—well, I'd just play D&D, and then I wouldn't need Retro Phaze in the first place, now would I? Rather, Retro Phaze is supposed to work like a slick, simplified, and hugely streamlined 4e, only with no sign of anything like a character "build" for a thousand mile radius. (Hence the elimination of the Rogue Talents class feature; they were only put in the old edition to cover up some dead levels, but they were always a betrayal of my "I hate feats!" principles.) You beat a basilisk in this game by making sure that all of your characters are carrying SOFT potions, and laying sufficient smack-down to make the monster run out of hit points before it petrifies all of you. Simple as that.

Next time—if I don't come up with another monster-related post, that is—I should be discussing the latter half of chapter three, which is magical relics. This is another area where the old editions of Retro Phaze were severely lacking in two areas: variety of items available; and a dire, dire need for selling prices. More on that soon.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Retro Phaze VI Update: Chapter Two Draft

Wow, this is exciting. I'm actually making progress here. When I should be studying for mid-terms, but whatever. Apparently I become a productive dynamo of creativity through the selective application of procrastination. Who knew?

Cover Art Mockup
Chapter One Draft
Chapter Two Draft

So chapter two is pretty much the rules of the game. It covers weapons, armor, and other equipment (a much expanded section, now that different weapons have different tactical properties for damage and range), travel, encounters, dungeons, and battles.

Basically, with the first two chapters in hand, you could pretty much play RP6 now, if you're willing to ad hoc the monsters and use the old magic item tables.

Well, that's it for now. I need to get back to prepping for Nuke Con tomorrow, where I'll be running B3: Palace of the Silver Princess using the white box and Holmes Basic! Fun times!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Retro Phaze VI: Chapter One Draft

Well, here it is. Took me long enough, eh?

This should, at least, give my readers (it's a small, highly exclusive club, I'm given to understand) a good idea where things are going. 

The major changes to the rules can be summed up as follows:

• The spell and weapon ranges have been seriously reigned in, to make things work more like Shining Force or Fire Emblem; spell areas and creature movements are scaled down to match.

• The game now features Land Effect, with an impact on both movement and character defense, just like a real tactical RPG! (The final chapter will have lots of advice on making tactical maps with varied terrain using "drop dice"—drop some dice on the table, those tell you where forests and mountains and rivers go—on the fly.)

• The core mechanic is now rolling low on 1d12 (under base TN + modifiers) rather than rolling high on 2d6 (+ modifiers vs. a TN). This makes probabilities way, way easier to deal with. The game still only features d6s for everything else; but the awkward "roll and keep" mechanics are pretty much gone, replaced with plus or minus fixed numbers of pips. These are otherwise still the only dice in the game: 1d12 for task resolution, Xd6±Y for everything else.

• Some of the stats have been re-named, just to make things fit together a little better. The core attributes reflect what each class mainly wants out of them: Fighters and Monks depend on Strength and Discipline, Rogues and Wizards on Finesse and Cunning. And, since the primary task resolution has been flipped around, the "Defense" score is now called "Vulnerability," and it works just like descending AC in OSR games (i.e. no armor is VN 6, leather armor is VN 5, chain is VN 4, etc.).

• And, of course, with the Scholar class made standard and moved into the front of the book, the alternative campaign options are going to have all of those weird Shining Force races and extra Final Fantasy style classes: the alternative promotions for each base class remain Dragoon (Fighter), Geomancer (Monk), Machinist (Rogue), Bard (Scholar), and Summoner (Wizard).

• Finally, there is now an Action Point mechanic that governs all use of multiple attacks in a round. Fighters get lots of them; Monks and Scholars get fewer, but Monks can spend them on counter-attacks, and high-level Scholars on extra spell-casting. Monsters now generally make just one attack per round, but particularly vicious monsters will get Action Points to spend—and certain Boss monsters may have so much Cunning that they act twice per initiative cycle!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Quick RP6 Update

Two things happened the other day that haven't happened in a long time. I don't know if they're related, but I think it's entirely possible that they are.

First, I bought some new pants. They were comfy. Better than the raggedy old bluejeans I'm used to wearing, anyway.

Then, that same day—maybe it was the pants, maybe it wasn't, who the heck even knows—I noticed that I didn't have any writer's block, and I got back into revising Retro Phaze.

To the point where the first chapter of the book (the original version of the game had four chapters; the new one will need five) only needs to have the spell descriptions updated, and then I can say that I've arrived at 20% done with drafting the body text.

Yeah, sure, the artwork is going to be a different matter entirely, since this time around I am actually going to illustrate the book properly (I know, right?). But so far it's actually been the trepidation over actually going through the rules and re-writing all the descriptions which has been the actual barrier here. Well, that and re-playing as many of the inspirational video games as I can manage in what little free time I have. (Damn, the Shining Force Gaiden trilogy on the Sega Game Gear and Sega CD was astoundingly good once I really got into it.)

So in the next day or two, I'll go ahead and post the revised Chapter One (with the basic races, classes, spells, and leveling rules) right here on this blog for my readers' consideration.

The new Fighter class is pretty badass now. Took me a while to get this one right.

Until next time, sláinte.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Shooting into Mêlée (part 3)

This will probably my last word on this topic until I get a chance to bench-test these rules on Saturday's D&D game, but for now, a summary of how I intend to handle missile-fire generally and shots into mêlée in particular seems germane.  So:

• I'm keeping missile ranges largely by-the-book, such that, e.g., daggers and hatchets are 10'/20'/30', darts and spears are 20'/40'/60', javelins are 30'/60'/90', slings are 40'/80'/120', hunting bows and harquebuses are 50'/100'/150', crossbows are 60'/120'/180', warbows are 70'/140'/210', and arbalests are 80'/160'/240'.
• Range modifiers are as per AD&D (±0/−2/−5) rather than OD&D (+1/±0/−1).  As a general rule, long-range missile-fire is only possible where the ceiling is taller than close range for that weapon.
• Outdoors, the medium and long ranges can be read as yards rather than feet, but it's very difficult to hit a moving target at such extreme ranges: −11 at extreme medium range, and −23 at extreme long.  This means, of course, that missile weapons actually have five range categories, e.g. 50'/100'/150'/300'/450' for a short bow.
• Shooting into a mêlée involves reckoning with both a cover penalty and a slightly increased range penalty: the shot is made at −1 if the target is flanked, −2 if the target is surrounded, and −3 if the target is obscured by a crowd; with an extra −1 at long range (or extreme range, for what it's worth).  Whatever the net penalty (−1 to −4), this is also the chance that the missile strikes another target in the crowd or mêlée instead.  If this happens (i.e. the initial attack roll was a miss because of the penalty), the actual target struck is determined randomly, with the chance that its armor is penetrated equal to 10% × the target's AC for a positive armor class (lessened by 1% per point of AC below 1).

That seems succinct enough to fit onto a page, at any rate.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Shooting into Mêlée (part 2)

During yesterday evening's D&D game, I tried out a test-implementation of a variation on the AD&D friendly-fire rule, with an extra bit of complication whereby ranged attackers could either aim for specific targets at a penalty, or just shoot into the group and hope for the best.  It worked pretty much as expected from a simulationist point of view; but it was indeed on the complicated side from a running-the-game perspective.  Overall, I liked it—it worked—but it was clunky enough that it could use some serious refinement.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Shooting into a Mêlée

Here's an aspect of D&D which has been bugging me more than a bit lately: shooting into mêlée.

Basic D&D doesn't address it, beyond a throwaway line in the '78 Basic Set that flatly forbids shooting missiles into a mêlée involving one's allies.  From the '81 Basic rules onward, it's never mentioned: not explicitly allowed, not penalized in any way, and not verboten either.

Then there's AD&D, where any shot into a mêlée means the DM picking a target at random before the attacker rolls to hit.  I like that this is chaotic and damnably realistic (no degree of archery skill could ever truly prevent friendly fire); I don't like that it means errant arrows from very high-level allies are more likely to strike a friend than wayward missiles shot by nameless henchmen.

Finally there's the d20 system, where you take a −4 penalty when shooting into a mêlée.  As simple and elegant as it is boring and bland.

My Barrowmaze Campaign: Month Eight

This post is a little late, given that last month's final game session took place nearly a week ago.  It happens: life's busy again now that school is in full swing.  (I have no idea what this is going to do to my plans to update Retro Phaze, but c'est la guerre.)  On that account, this is going to be a very brief post, celebrating the fact that as of last week's game, the party turned their attentions away from The Caverns of Thracia and back to the Barrowmaze proper.  But…

Well, I present this for your consideration.  Please don't go below the fold if you happen to be one of my players, because—wait for it—spoilers ahead.

Monday, July 23, 2018

My Keyboard Endgame

I mentioned this in an earlier post about dice, wherein I found a set that feels like my personal "endgame"—the set of dice that I want to continue using for as long as I play tabletop games.  I had mentioned that the use of "endgame" in this context is a bit of slang that comes from the mechanical keyboard enthusiasm hobby.  In past years, I've posted quite a bit about my fondness for retro computers and game consoles and my efforts to collect them; but I don't think I've discussed keyboards very much, because my interest in the subject is relatively new.

Naturally, in collecting old IBM machines, I've come across my fair share of Model M boards with their legendary buckling spring key switch mechanisms: loud, stiff, and just a joy and a pleasure to type on.  At the moment, I only have one Model M, plugged into a Pentium IV machine that I have running Windows 98:

As much as I love typing on this board, though, I don't use it much with modern computers, because I tend to make copious use of the window key for all the handy shortcuts.

My Barrowmaze Campaign: Month Seven

As the end of July approaches, my Barrowmaze campaign's mid-game looms ahead.  Most of the long-running player characters in the game are solidly 5th level, with one of the longest pushing 6th and a couple of sporadic players and/or demi-human characters lagging back at 3rd or 4th.  Two new players joined the game about three weeks back and rolled up a 1st level fighter and mage respectively, and the mage has already made 2nd level.  The fighter might have as well, except that we had to end this past Saturday's game in the dungeon—not the Barrowmaze, mind, but the Caverns of Thracia.

Cool, right?

Friday, July 6, 2018

My Dice Endgame

So after I found out that Gamescience makes jumbo polyhedral dice, I had to get my hands on a set and see how they looked next to my beloved casino dice.  And as it turns out, the set that Gamescience sells includes a d4, a d8, a d12, and an icosahedral d10; but no d6s.  As if it were meant to be paired with casino dice. (And, after all, why bother making precision d6s with a mold-injection method when the gaming industry already makes far more precise machined d6s in droves?)

So I got a set, and sure enough they're just about the most perfect dice I've ever beheld.  I think this is it—my one true set.  Fans of mechanical keyboards often speak of the search for their "endgame," that one perfect board with just the right size, key height, click sound, physical feedback on a keypress, keycap set, and so forth.  (It occurs to me that I probably haven't written a blog post about my own keyboard collection; yet another note to file away for the future.)  I've found my dice endgame.

As I've mentioned before, when I run D&D, all I need are a pair of differently-colored d6s, a d8, and a d20; and maybe an extra d6 on hand for rolling characters and a d12 for the odd die check involving a 1-in-12 or 3-in-12 chance of something.  This set fits the bill while having the advantage of being large and easy for everyone to read (and I do very much like everyone around the table to see what I'm rolling as I run a game).  The d20 is a "0–9 twice" type, which means that I had to either ink it in two separate colors (making it kind of ugly) or ink it all in white and roll it with a control die; I've opted for the latter option, for now, as it's no big deal to roll a d20 and a d6 together and read the d6 as "+10" whenever the result is odd (as the 1, 3, and 5 faces on a pipped d6 have a dot in the middle of the die face, and the 2, 4, and 6 faces do not—making it a very easy visual shorthand, hardly any different of reading an old d20 with 0–9 twice and a "+" mark on half the faces).

I still don't see much reason to bother using that caltrop d4, though.

Friday, June 29, 2018

On the End of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

I've just finished Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and I have mixed feelings.  Sure, after watching these characters for seven seasons, you can't help but get a little choked up watching them all go their separate ways in the final few minutes of the finale.  Even if in some cases (like Odo and Capt. Sisko) it's for silly reasons and played off as a permanent, heartfelt goodbye when it could just as easily be a temporary absence for both.  Still, that final shot with the camera zooming away from the station while Jake and Kira watch the wormhole from the promenade was a fitting end.

Honestly, the whole thing was a bit of a slog, and not anywhere near as good as it's usually hyped up to be.  Sisko was a badass captain—and, man oh man, Avery Brooks sure can give Patrick Stewart a run for his money in the Acting™! department.  And, sure, the Defiant is a cool ship (even if it's no Enterprise).  But I just didn't enjoy watching this series as much as Next Generation.  Sure, it had more ongoing continuity, but not enough to stack it up against modern offerings like Farscape or even Stargate.  And it's left me more than a little reluctant to take the plunge into is primary contemporary competitor, Babylon 5 (not that I've ever managed to make it past the first episode of that show).

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

DM's Bag-o-Tricks: Pipe Cleaner Templates

Here's an old mainstay that dates back to when I was a much younger DM.  I had some time to kill earlier today and figured that I'd put it to good use tying together a new set of spell and breath weapon "area of effect" templates from the kind of colorful pipe cleaner that you can find at any craft store:

They're handy things to have around, particularly if you like tabletop battles, and extra particularly if you like battles involving dragons or magic-users.  The above templates are, starting with the upper left:

The white square in the middle is for 10'×10' effects like web; the red 20'×20' square for bless and dispel magic; the blue 30'×30' for ice storm; the brown 40'×40' square for sleep; and the green 40'×50' rectangle for green dragon breath.

Top right, we have some circular templates—the pink 10' radius for, as you might guess, protection from evil 10' radius and invisibility 10' radius; the brown 15' radius for light and silence 15' radius; the orange 20' radius for good old-fashioned fire ball; and the large black 30' radius for torches and lanterns, continual light, a whole bunch of other miscellaneous spells, and my own house ruled version of turning undead.  The yellow 60' line is, of course, for lightning bolts.

(Side note regarding light: making up these templates just now has reminded me how very easy it is to forget about light sources whenever a combat breaks out in the dungeon.  But even continual light is only a 30' radius; which means that I've been seriously neglecting the degree to which monsters can use darkness to their advantage in a fight.  Well; no more of that, I say!)

Next, cones: we have the 50' cone in green for chimera and hell hound breath, the 60' cone in black for catopblepas/nekrozon and nuckalavee breath, and also black dragon acid; the white 80' cone for white dragon ice, and the red 90' cone for red dragon fire.  And finally, just beneath those, the long, narrow 100' blue line for the laser-like area of blue dragon lightning.

I can't wait to see the looks on my players' faces when I bust these out at the game table this upcoming Saturday.  The party magic-user just made 5th level at the end of the last game session, after all, and he's been itching to sling some elemental attack spells!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

My Barrowmaze Campaign: Month Six

I guess there's still one more Saturday left in June, so there will be one more game session this month, but I'll jump the gun anyway—because the campaign is really starting to take off now.  Three games back, after having slain the great red dragon Moltenclaw and claimed as much of its treasure-hoard they could carry back to town, the players decided to take the rest of the winter off from adventuring and just build up some downtime for training, study, and the odd bit of minor item creation.  (I'm using the Holmes rules for scroll scribing, and something similar for potion brewing.)  I really do appreciate how Barrowmaze structures its dungeon to be explored seasonally, as the dungeon is mostly inaccessible during the winter, when the Barrowmoor floods.  It's an excellent mechanic for pacing out the campaign, and also for leaving long stretches from year to year where the dungeon can be re-stocked if need be.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

I'm Doing Science™ and I'm Still Alive!

Hey, how about that.  I finally got into an MS program, so my study of physics shall continue in the fall.  I'm pretty stoked.

Also, the missus and I have our fifth anniversary tomorrow.  That's pretty great too.

Aujourd'hui, la vie est belle.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

At Last! A Solution to the Wet Erase/Dry Erase Conundrum!

It involves carrying an extra piece of kit to my weekend games, but it works so well that I really can't bring myself to care.

As I've run my Barrowmaze campaign these last few months, I've waffled between different methods for playing out battles on the tabletop.  Chessex Megamat and wet erase markers?  But I hate wet erase anything: it's messy, and one doesn't always have water and paper towels handy.  D&D Adventure Grid and dry erase markers?  Well, it's a step up from the Pathfinder flip-mats that will never, ever lay flat no matter how many times you flatten them, but even WotC's nice and thick new folding grid doesn't quite lay perfectly flat, making it close to perfect but still just off-kilter enough to be annoying.  Plus, it only comes in 1" squares.  Not very flexible, even if the dry erase is super convenient.

Monday, June 11, 2018

My Barrowmaze Campaign: The First Five Months

Last Christmas, I treated myself to a copy of Barrowmaze Complete.  Along with it, I managed to rekindle my interest in running D&D, reassemble the larger part of my old gaming group, and resuming gaming after a hiatus of several months!

Barrowmaze Complete is really quite a beautiful book.  The orange spine immediately evokes memories of the later-period AD&D 1st edition books (Unearthed Arcana, the core books with the Easley covers, and so forth).

And tonally, Barrowmaze is very AD&D in style, funky Erol Otus cover notwithstanding.  The region (the Duchy of Aerik), the villages of Helix and Bogtown, and the dungeon itself are all just dripping with Gygaxian flavor.  Bogtown, especially, is so reminiscent of Nulb that you half expect to see priests of Elemental Evil traipsing through the streets.  It's all very gritty and low-fantasy, very swords-and-sorcery.

In fact, Barrowmaze draws quite a bit on AD&D and even (to a certain extent) expects DMs to use it with Labyrinth Lord and the Advanced Edition Companion.  The campaign includes advanced spells, items, and monsters; and more than a few NPCs are multi-classed or dual-classed or have a sub-class like paladin or ranger.  I worried, at first, that there would be a certain tonal mismatch between Barrowmaze (and its very Gygaxian implied setting) and the straight-up basic D&D that I intended to run.

A Quick Post on Ghosts and Gold

Much of the nonsense that's kept me busy this past month is at last starting to dissipate.  I've applied to another grad program (here's hoping I get in), mostly finished cleaning my apartment after many months of neglect, and I just gave Engines & Empires another once-over for typos.  Probably didn't catch 'em all, but there are always a few every time I go over it.

Between doing that minor revision (which should, hopefully, segue me back into working on Retro Phaze VI again) and continuing to run my Barrowmaze campaign, I've noticed two interesting things about (A) treasure and experience points and (B) the undead, as I've implemented their life-drain ability.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Pontificatory Miscellany

In an effort to kick myself out of "panicky student" mode and back into "regular writer and blogger" mode, I've decided that I need to do a bit of catching up and cleaning up.  Thus, I shall now endeavor to wrangle together a list of all the topics and projects I've either recently addressed, had no chance to address in the last four months, or mean to focus on shortly.

Let's get started.

Dice: Last post, I talked about the possibility of the DM rolling all the dice as I run my Barrowmaze campaign.  I got the chance to try that out last night.  I liked it; I don't think it bothered my players too much; but in the end, I'd have to say that it didn't actually have any measurable impact on the speed of play.  So things will almost certainly go back to normal next week.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

I have time to write again! (Yay!) But first, let's look at the dice again.

So after a harrowing final semester of exams and applications and long papers and much nail biting, barring some unforeseen bureaucratic hiccup, I should have my MA degree in English at long, long last.  (I've also been roundly rejected by physics PhD programs everywhere, but that just means that I have to finish an MS in physics before moving on in that field.  Guess I'll be sticking around Omaha for another couple of years after all!  At least that means my D&D players might actually finish exploring the Barrowmaze…)

Anyway, summer is here and for the first time in precisely ever, I don't have anything school-related hanging over my head.  No theses, no comprehensive exams, no graduate qualifying exams, no applications, and not a bare jot of homework.  Feels good, man.

Just a job search, but that's nothing new.

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.