Monday, March 18, 2019

Powered by GURPS: Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2 & Game Reprint


The Powered by GURPS: Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2 kick starter just funded. What people may not know it is also to enable a reprint of the Dungeon Fantasy RPG boxed set. Granted it is a bit pricey at $95 however if you wanted one stop to get into GURPS, the Dungeon Fantasy RPG is your ticket, now with more monsters.

I realize many appreciate relatively rules-light RPGs these days. However the virtue of GURPS that is is a well designed system where things you want do as your character have a one to one relationship with the mechanics. There very little in the way of abstraction or fiddling with mini game mechanics. And when it comes to character customization GURPS is still without peer.



Also check out Douglas Cole's The Citadel at Norðvorn kickstarter which is a viking themed Dungeon Fantasy setting.


Friday, March 15, 2019

So about OD&D presentation and style.

There long been a thread of thought that ODnD is poorly written and organized. When criticism is charitable it a result of ODnD being Gygax's first attempt at writing about a tabletop roleplaying game. When it not it because Gygax's ability as an author is also being criticized.

So this came up again in a forum that I participated one. To date the general gist of my response has been
Part of ODnD are uncleanly written but as a whole it is a work of genius and a lot of what is unclear is a result of Gygax writing for the miniature wargaming hobby as it existed in the early 70s.
But this time I got thinking that I never really dug into many of salient. So I decided this time I would look at ODnD with fresh eyes.

Men and Magic

The crucial section is on page 5 of Men & Magic titled Preparations. Here at the first Gygax summarizes and outlines everything he going to talk about.
The referee bears the entire burden here, but if care and thought are used, the reward will more than repay him. First, the referee must draw out a minimum of half a dozen maps of the levels of his “underworld,” people them with monsters of various horrid aspect, distribute treasures accordingly, and note the location of the latter two on keys, each corresponding to the appropriate level. This operation will be more fully described in the third book of these rules. When this task is completed the participants can then be allowed to make their first descent into the dungeons beneath the “huge ruined pile, a vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses.” Before they begin, players must decide what role they will play in the campaign, human or otherwise, fighter, cleric, or magic-user. Thereafter they will work upwards — if they survive — as they gain “experience.” First, however, it is necessary to describe fully the roles possible.
Breaking it down we see this involves
  1. the referee must draw out a minimum of half a dozen maps of the levels of his “underworld,”
  2. people them with monsters of various horrid aspect
  3. distribute treasures accordingly
  4. note the location of the latter two on keys, each corresponding to the appropriate level.
  5. Explicitly states that the above will be more fully described in the third book.
Then
When this task is completed the participants can then be allowed to make their first descent into the dungeons beneath the “huge ruined pile, a vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses.”
But
Before they begin, players must decide what role they will play in the campaign, human or otherwise, fighter, cleric, or magic-user. Thereafter they will work upwards — if they survive — as they gain “experience.”
Then for the remainder of Men & Magic, Gygax outlines how how characters are defined, and some of what they can do or have like equipment, combat and magic.

It is in the details where writing for his expected audience of miniature wargamers is most evident. He assume that his reader has experience running or playing other miniature wargame campaigns. That they are familiar with the idea of initiative, and combat turns. That what needed to be spelled out are details to make it work at the level of the individual character. One method is the alternative system. Another is how to integrate with Chainmail, a rule system that he know many of his potential customers already have and are using to handle not only medieval melees but one and one combat as well.

Another part where his intended audience comes into play is that he doesn't offer anything like skills or general action resolution. Because he expect his audience to do the same thing they do in the miniature wargames they play. If something comes up that isn't covered by a rule or a chart, then you go back to first principles and reason it out based on how it  worked in life or in the case of fantasy in various movies and books. Something we know was common from the recent work documenting the early days of wargaming and tabletop roleplaying.

Gygax is consistent in spelling out the unique parts of the D&D rules, the parts that his fellow hobbyists would not know.

Monsters & Treasures

Then after Men & Magic, he launches into Monsters and Treasure. Which important details about two of the elements he outlined in preperation
  1. Monsters
  2. What treasure monsters have
  3. The available treasures.
The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures

The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures is where the rest of what outlined in preparation is broken down and reinforced by examples of play.

Starting from the first page.
  1. Gygax describes what he meant by levels of the "underworld" and give examples. (pg 3 to 5)
  2. Offers details on distribution monsters & treasure as well other things that can go into the underworld as well as tips for keeping things fresh throughout a campaign (pg 6 to 8)
  3.  Gets into the logistics of handling characters exploring the Underowold including encountering Wandering Monsters ( pg 8 to 12)
  4. Give an example of play. (pg 12 to 14)
  5. Presents an alternative to the Underworld the Wilderness. Like the details for an Underworld, he discusses how they are setup and the logistic of handling character exploring a wilderness.
  6. The above also touts the board for Outdoor Survival game by Avalon Hill as a useful aid as well as how to use it. Which to me echos the inclusion of Chainmail in Men & Magic.
  7. Then gets into constructing castle, undoubtedly something of interest to his player and his audience. (pg 20 to 21)
  8. And since we are on the topic of castle, he now talks about the troops and men a character could hire as well some of the logistics of being a lord. (pg 21 to 24)
  9. We now talked about castles, and troops lets talk about warfare in general including rules for stuff you wouldn't have (not found in  Chainmail) like aerial combat and naval combat. Again another example of where he writes for his audience. (pg 24 to 33)
  10. And since the last thing he wrote about warfare naval combat, here are some ideas for naval adventures (page 24 to 36)
Finally wraps it up with
There are unquestionably areas which have been glossed over. While we deeply regret the necessity, space requires that we put in the essentials only, and the trimming will often have to be added by the referee and his players. We have attempted to furnish an ample framework, and building should be both easy and fun. In this light, we urge you to refrain from writing for rule interpretations or the like unless you are absolutely at a loss, for everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way! On the other hand, we are not loath to answer your questions, but why have us do any more of your imagining for you? Write to us and tell about your additions, ideas, and what have you. We could always do with a bit of improvement in our refereeing.
And of course


Wrapping it up
To me the above looks like a reasonable way of presenting something as novel and different as DnD was at the time. The most serious issue, that it written for the audience of miniature wargamers  resulted because the idea outlined in preparation proved so compelling that it expanded far beyond it intended audience. One that didn't share the experiences and assumptions of miniature wargamers of the early 70s. This resulted in novices to the hobby confused about aspects of ODnD.

In addition Gygax could have written a better explanation with some of the unique details of ODnD like spell memorization.

It is evident that Gygax recognized these issue given the Holmes Basic D&D was commissioned within two years of ODnD release. Then later followed up with B/X DnD, BECMI, and ADnD.

But after looking at it again I feel the presentation is solid and explains fully the most important and unique concepts that made D&D different from the miniature wargame campaigns of the day. Concepts that propelled DnD and tabletop roleplaying into their own category of gaming.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Citadel at Norðvorn Kickstarter

Douglas Cole over on Gaming Ballistic has just launched a Dungeon Fantasy Kickstarter. A mini-setting called The Citadel at Norðvorn. If you like viking themed campaigns and his last adventure, Hall of Judgement this should be of interest. 

This also continues the setting that Doug has been building through his Dungeon Fantasy and Dragon Heresy products. I am interested in seeing where he goes with this as the format of the product builds partly on his experiences with my Majestic Wilderlands campaign.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Keyed City State of the Invincible Overlord PDF

Since the fall of 2018 Steve Wachs of Red Pub Games has been working on a new version of the City State of the Invincible Overlord PDF. This version has the text of original entries formatted as notes on the map. Just hover or click over a named location and the text will appear. This will be useful a quick reference if you use a laptop, tablet, or mobile device as a referee aid during a session.



Steve put a lot of work into this. The original CSIO has several hundred entries of different location. In addition Steve spearheaded a community project to come up with description of previously undescribed locations.

For example the Misty Passage Saloon in the village outside of CSIO.

Cronyn Wildhair MU, NG, LVL:4, HTK:9, AC:9, SL:5, STR:13, INT:7, WIS:15, CON:14, DEX:10, CHA:13, WPN: Dagger

Dolmay the Mouser, bartender, FTR, N, 3 LVL, 16 HTK, AC 9, Dagger; Zahra Brighteyed, cook, TH, NE, 3 LVL, 12 HTK, AC 9, Dagger; help Cronyn.  They may all (20%) be off adventuring for 1-4 weeks.   Skeleton crew runs in their absence.  Frequented by Caravan Drivers, Fighters, Merchants, and Sailors, NA 4-24, 1-4 LVL.  Specialty is fried fish and ale, 2 gp.  425gp, 687sp, and 2 Ioun Stones in Catoblepas Head mounted above bar.  Disturbing it causes it to fall, 2d6 crush damage. 

Rumor: The ship The Briny Beholder, laden with golden treasure, ran aground south of River Torn and north of Sea Rune.  All attempts at recovery have been thwarted by Giant Crabs.

Everybody who has gotten a copy of the PDF of the CSIO map will have their file download updated.

All that Steve asked for are physical copies of the CSIO and Wilderlands material I produced and that it be released free to the backers of the CSIO project.

For those who haven't gotten the map or the PDF use the following link.

City State of the Invincible Overlord, Color Map
remember the PDF option for print is  free so pick Print+PDF not just print.

Wilderlands of the Magic Realms
This should be coming out in late February/early March. I will be including some of the underwater and sailing rules and encounters found scattered throughout various Judges Guild supplements. The Wilderlands of the Magic Realms and Wilderlands of the Fantastic Reaches have maps that are dominated by oceans and seas.

In addition there will be an extensive list of open content monsters as the last two Wilderlands booklets incorporated creatures from the later supplements of the original rules. And many of these creatures don't have open content equivalents or are found in less well known sources.


Thursday, January 31, 2019

What is the best OSR system for RPG novices?


One forum I frequent is the RPGPub. Recently a question was asked,

What is the best OSR system for RPG novices?

I gave some system recommendations and then I realize I been looking at the answer to this question wrong.

Given that nearly all of the various editions of  classic DnD and OSR retro clones are of comparable complexity. Especially in what you have to do get a campaign going. The answer is all of them and none of them.

Why?

Because system doesn't matter, it all depends on the referee being a good teacher and a good coach. So use whatever system that works with the way you think and operate and focus on learning to teach and coach.

I throw in coaching because in sports the athlete is expected to execute strategies and procedures that are mostly in real time. A good coach not only explains those strategies and procedures i.e. teach, but guide the athlete through them the first few time until the athlete is able to do them. Afterward the coach will help the athlete practice to improve their skills in regards to whose strategies and procedures. Much of this occurring in real time with the athlete doing whatever their particular sport requires them to do.

While not as physical, the interplay of the players describing what their characters and the referee making a ruling often by using a printed system of rules means there some overlap what you do to teach a beginning athlete and a novice to RPGs.

So hence, focus on being a good teacher and coach. As for the rules use whatever works for you as a teacher and coach.

The OSR logo is by Dyson Logos

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Keeping track of the OSR and Old School Gaming

The popularity of Google+ for the OSR meant that blogs took a back seat for many. Now that Google+ is ending, blogs are making a come back. One things that developed for blogs in the last couple of years is a type of software called a Planet. Planet software aggregates the feeds of the member blogs to allow people to track many related blogs at once.

Alex Schroeder has an interesting website that been around a long time and combines elements of a blog and a wiki. Recently he setup a planet called Old School RPG Planet that now has several dozen OSR and Old School related blogs feeding into it.

The site has links to explain how to add your blogs to the feed and the purpose of the site.

One of the nice things about the OSR and the current state of independent publisher that the Do it Yourself attitude often lead somebody somewhere to come up with a decent solution to a problem that the community faces. So kudos to Alex for taking the initiative on this and hope that it continues to be a useful tool keeping the connections within the OSR and Old School gaming in general alive.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Those pesky D&D Saving Throws

Take a look at this chart

This chart continued in one form or another up into the release of DnD 3rd edition when it was replaced with Fortitude, Reflex, and Will saves.

I apologize for not rememberin= where I first read this, but it was pointed out that if you look at the original saving throw chart a pattern emerges.

You will see see that for all classes save versus death ray/poison are clearly better than save versus staves/spells. It not unreasonable to suggest that given the severity of save or die that Gygax opted to give his player a significant (10% to 20%) break at lower levels.

It appears that Flesh to Stone occupied a middle ground between the two. An effect that takes a character out of play but there is a way to restore them to full functionality (Stone to Flesh).

That wands were considered an advantage compared to memorized spells and thus easier to save against  And finally that a dragon's breath was more easily resisted by a fighter than a magic-user/cleric.

Looking at the original saving throws categories this way lead to a straightforward procedure on determining what category to use.


  1. Use Staves/Spells
  2. Unless it is something more easily resisted by a fighter than a cleric or magic user then use Dragon Breath. 
  3. Unless it is a Save or Die effect or something similar then use Desth Ray/Poison. 
  4. If it is a incapacitating effect that is reversible then use Stone.
  5. If it anything but a Save or Die effect and it comes from a wand use the All Wands save.


I still prefer Swords and Wizardry single save with specific bonuses but I appreciate the original saving throw system better now that I took another look.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Let's talk maps!

The Baseline
How much time and money are you willing to devote to this?

Cartography isn't just about finding the right software but also about obtaining the right equipment. For example for myself I use CorelDRAW ($500), a Canon scanner ($70), and a Wacom Bamboo ($60) tablet. 

To do what myself and others do with cartography you need the scanner and tablet especially if you plan to integrate hand drawn artistry. 

Going free and using alternatives will mean that you will have to compromise in some manner in your capacity to produce maps.

The Adobe in the room.
Adobe Creative Suite is a $56.17 a month subscription and give access to all of the Adobe software. Back in the day I felt software subscription was for the birds. And still do when it comes to some applications like CorelDRAW (which I buy the upgrades for rather than subscribe) or Microsoft Office (which I only upgrade every other version). 

However Adobe Creative suite is so extensive compared to the price it is too good of a deal to pass up given the fact that Adobe software is THE standard. That most of the pro tips and aides are written for adobe in mind. I use it mainly for Indesign and Acrobat. Which is vital for me to publish with print on demand because it far easier to get the files into the correct format required by the printer.

But... but.. it is subscription, you will get shut out of your own files. Yeah but like most things reality is more complex when it comes to media rich documents like maps, layouts, etc. It doesn't matter if the software is free, licensed, or subscribed because whatever software you choose the final document will be locked into its format. A format that all but impossible to transfer to another comparable software.

What more important in this situation is to build of a library of graphic elementrs, fonts, clip art, symbols, fills, and keep those in easily transferable formats like text, svg, jpg, pngs, or tiff.  This way it doesn't matter what software you are using, you "library" comes along for the ride.


Drawn using CorelDRAW
Profantasy
By far the best dedicated RPG mapping software is Profantasy. It not free and rather pricey if you get the full suite. But it is capable and packed to the gill with numerous features does not only help you make RPG maps but RPG maps in different many styles, including handdrawn. Including styles that allow you to replicate the style of popular cartographers like Mark Schley.

The major downside of Profantasy is the fact it is built on top of CAD sofware which give a higher learning curve than equivalent mapping programs or graphics programs. Fundamentally CAD software operates on the idea is that you give a command and then select the objects that the command will work on. While Adobe, Inkscape, and most of the other operate on the idea that you select the object first and then pick the command. 

Both methods are equally capable but going the CAD route means there is a learning curve because of that difference along. 


Drawn using Profantasy

Paid versus free​
The major things I know of that impact cartography are

Most art or symbol purchases come with the common sense provision you can't the sell the art yourself as part of a package. I.e. competing directly with the source where you bought the art in the first place. 

Software like Microsoft Office often come with a student/home edition that restrict commercial use that is cheaper. The only solution is to use something else and compromise or pay for the commercial unrestricted version. 

Stock art library, like Adobe, have specific license that one needs to read. The good news those stock art libraries are not that critical for RPG cartography or publications. 

What what is good and free
If you not going to go with Adobe or a mainstream package then what the next best alternative? There is Inkscape and GIMP.

Inkscape is a vector drawing program that duplicate much of what Adobe Illustrator and CorelDRAW does. It is more than capable of drawing the kind of maps I draw and with work can draw maps in other styles as well.

GIMP is a bitmap drawing program that duplicate much of what Adobe Photoshop does. It interface is known to be quirky but it is backed by add-ons and utilities written by thousands of users over decades.

The above two in combination with a scanner and a tablet are able to do 80% to 90% of what Adobe, Corel, and other paid software can do.

And the rest
Most of the other mapping software out there are useful but tend to focus on a particular styles. There is a wealth of options if all one needs is to make something for their hobby. But for those who want to take the next step they are all compromised one way or another.

Doing by hand
Keep in mind many cartographers draw by hand, scan in the image, and then maybe do a few steps on the computer like placing a key or border. It can be quite effect like the work done by my friend Tim Shorts over on Gothridge Manor.

Graphic Library, Graphic Library, Graphic Library
The key to making cartography fun and not a chore is building up a decent graphic library. A collection of graphic elements,  one can use for fills, borders, text, symbols, etc. For example the Vintyri Project has many free to use (in both sense of the world) graphic elements.

The Cartographer's Guild
The Cartographer's Guild is the by far the best resource to learn about mapping using software on the internet. By people who use a variety of software and styles. 

Wrapping it up
There is no right answer to work best for one's situation. However thru hard won experience, I concluded that to do professional work you need professional tools. You may get away with using less capable tools if you have a particularly style and focus for your cartography. But if you want o be able to any type of map then there is no real substitute for program like CorelDRAW or Adobe Creative Suite,

However for the hobbyist who is really into maps, then Inkscape, GIMP, a scanner, and a tablet along with browsing through the Cartographer's Guild  will be more than enough without taking a huge chunk out of your wallet.


Drawn in Inkscape

Link to all my mapping posts.(including some inkscape tips)

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Future that was promised

Look like we are going to get part of the future that science fiction said we would get. It not a rendering but an actual test article that will do VTOL tests in SpaceX's Texas launch facility.