Friday, July 19, 2019

Classic D&D, Weapons.

My friend Chris over on Clash of Spear on Shield talks about Sling damage versus Large creature. Particularly how sling damage increases versus large damage and how he finds issues with that idea.

Which leads to a wider question of the consequences of the different options for modelling weapons, injury, and armor class in various editions of classic DnD.

Recap
In Chainmail man to man combat the odds of an opponent be killed was found on a chart cross indexing weapon versus a specific type of armor. You roll that number or higher on 2d6 and the target was killed.

This element was not in the original release of the 3 LBB (Little Brown Books) but worked it way in with the release of Greyhawk. There it was presented as a weapon versus AC chart. Using the chart would result in a modifier (or not) to your to-hit roll if you were using that weapon versus that armor.

The chart is derived from the man to man chart in Chainmail. Basically that was a 8 or better to hit was a +0 modifer and the rest were calculated from there. Although Gygax tweaked the number as it doesn't quite line up with the man-to-man chart.

Greyhawk also saw the introduction of variable weapon damage where each weapon used a different dice and/or modifier. Along with a different set of damage for large creatures.

Finally in ADnD we see weapon length, weapon space requirement, and weapon speed factors. Weapon length explicitly defined how far an opponent can be attacked, and weapon space defines how small of a space a weapon can be used effectively. Weapon Speed factors only came into play if initiative was tied and could result in multiple attack for the wielder of the weapon.

The State of the Mechanics
Not all of these mechanics found their way into people's campaigns. Either back then or today. Of these varying weapon damage is the one that is most commonly used. A different set of damage versus large creatures is not found as often. Weapon Length is sometimes a factor especially if the weapon is clearly a polearm meant to be used in the 2nd rank or further back. Weapon space requirements is also run on an ad-hoc basis.

Weapon versus AC may be a little less popular than Weapon Speed Factor but not by much. Both are are generally not used. Weapon vs AC involves yet another chart lookup, and Weapon Speed Factor was part of a initiative system so poorly understood that there are two separate interpretations and  multiple page documents to attempt to explain them.

My Take
So when it comes to my Majestic Fantasy Rules, my reasoning was a follows. The core of combat is the to hit roll versus Armor Class. It bundles actual contact with overcoming the armor into a single roll and an essential part of how classic editions work.

I think varying weapon damage is the way to go. Injury is caused by force. Force is determined by mass time acceleration. Different weapons have different masses and are designed differently to channel that mass into force. So varying the damage dice for different weapon is a good way to model this without getting overly complex.

Because damage is a result of force, which equal mass time acceleration, it doesn't make sense to me to vary damage for large creature. Instead a more straight forward method to give them more hit point or hit dice to represent their increased mass. Luckily classic DnD is consistent with this with the various giant versions of creatures so I don't have to do any work in this regard.

As for weapon speed I prefer individual initiative where everybody rolls 1d6 plus bonuses. High roll has the option of acting first. The classic weapon speed mechanic has little relevance for me as it tied tightly to the ADnD initiative system.

While I think that Weapons versus AC is one chart too many, I think the concept is sound. Different weapons are designed differently and some are more effective than other against certain types of armor. Despite the abstract nature of classic edition combat, it at level that I think a light touch would be add something to combat.

 I opted to handle this by noting any special bonuses in the description of the weapon. For example maces gets +1 to hit versus opponents wearing chainmail or gelatinous creatures like ochre jellies or black puddings.

This method allowed to add other interesting attributes to weapons with a similar light touch. For example an axe can be used to pin a weapon if the opponent fails their saving throw. Something I learned from reading how axe were used throughout history. Typically this is followed up by a blow from the shield or a takedown after grappling with the opponent.

You can read my take with the either of the following two free downloads.

The Majestic Fantasy Basic Rules
The Majestic Fantasy Equipment Rules

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

D&D 5e Essential Kit.


What it is?
A boxed set available only at Target for starting out with DnD 5th edition. Includes rules, aides, and an adventure.

The Details
The rules are far more complete than the DnD Starter Kit. They describe five character classes Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard up to 6th level. An addition are rules for sidekicks which clearly not only play the role of traditional hireling but also as additional adventuring companions for smaller groups. The rules go into how to level sidekicks. There are three categories of sidekicks; Experts, Spellcasters, and Warriors.

The aides include a doubled sided poster maps of the Sword Coast around Neverwinter on one side and the village of Phandelver on the other. A set of cards that are mostly magic items but also include initiative tracking, condition tracking, sidekicks, and quests. There is a referee screen, and six character sheets.

The adventure, Dragon of Icespire Peak, takes place in and around Phandelver much like the Lost Mine adventure in the starter kit. In general it is a set one session quests combined with tables to determine where the adventure's antagonist, Cryovain, a young white dragon, is at when the party travels.

The quest structure comes off a bit like a video game however it also a structured sandbox. It start off with two quests available on the "job" board in Phandelver and then goes from there. The quest, the town descriptions, and the random tables governing the dragon all point the party to a confrontation with the Cyrovain and the conclusion of the overall adventure.

Honestly for something that trying to get a novice going, this adventure is well down for a potential sandbox adventure. If the referee doesn't get it right away the quest structure will keep things going in a way that fun and feels like progress is being made. For referees that want to branch out there is enough in adventure and the boxed set to do so.

I will say that most of the adventure location are fairly fleshed out. Many are  complete small dungeons or adventures.

Yeah but I am not a novice
While a bit pricey as an expansion, this in conjunction with the Lost Mines adventure found in the Starter set makes for a very nice campaign. With two primary antagonist and a wealth of locations to explore nobody is going to feel railroaded or hemmed with the combination.

And the digital
DnD Beyond is the official digital platform for D&D fifth edition. There is a lot not to like about the business model as it could "go away" at any time because all their content is hosted on their server. Thus when they go away, the content will go away.

But the app and website make looking up stuff convenient on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. Very convenient as I been finding out.  Enough so that there may some merit of doing something similar with the various retro-clones of the OSR.

The DnD Essential Kit comes with two codes. The first allows you to buy the 5e PHB on DnD Beyond at half price, the second gives you the Dragon of Icespire Peak for free.

In playing around with this, I learned that you can add the DnD 5e basic rules to your app or account for free. With the Dragon of Icespire Peak adventure you get a substantial peak of how the functionality of DnD Beyond works.

Like looking up specific spells, abilities, or classes, I can quickly zero in on a location within the adventure. With the website I can also pull up images of not only the keyed map but also a player version that I can save and use with Roll20, Fantasy Ground, or print out for the table.

For example the map for a mine adventure

DM Map                                             Player Map

Overall I was pleased at the functionality and convenience but it definitely optional. My recommendation is to try the Basic Rules and above adventure if you get the Esstentials Kit and see if it is for you. I opted to get the PHB for half off as I know I would use it. I just got a smartphone and it proving far handier than I thought it would be. This just adds to the functionality of the device.

Wrapping it up.
I consider the Lost Mine of Phandelver one of the best DnD adventures ever made.  The Dragon of Icespire Peak isn't quite up to the level of the Lost Mine however it function very well as an expansion to that adventure.

The Essential Kits does way better on the rules presenting levels 1 to 6 of five different classes in conjunction with the various packaged aides. I would recommend this for anybody starting up with tabletop roleplaying.


Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Points of Light Borderlands and the Scourge of the Demon Wolf

Recently I was asked this question about combine two things I written, the Borderland setting from Points of Light and Scourge of the Demon Wolf.
Hey Robert, I've been reading Scourge of the Demon Wolf and it occurs to me I might want to attach it to a side of the Borderland setting from your Points of Light book. Do you have a quick thought about how you would staple the two together?

The Borderlands
For those you don't know Borderlands is one of four hexcrawl formatted setting in Points of Light. It depicts a time period when the Bright Empire was torn apart in a religious and political civil war. A conflict between factions supporting Sarrath the God of Order (Lawful Evil) and Delaquain the Goddess of Honor and Justice (Lawful Good).

In the setting the civil war has been going on for a few years. Parts of the region are divided between the faction, parts are devastated, and parts are neutral just trying to hang on.

The Scourge of the Demon Wolf
The Scourge of the Demon Wolf centers on a manor village terrorized by a pack of wolves. To adapt it for Borderlands I drew a map and recommended the following.

1416 is the Beggar Camp
1615 is the sacrifice site
1617 is the Bandit Cave in a bluff overlooking Cailly River and the swamp.

Instead of the Baron of Westtower as giving the mission I recommended that role be given to Count Travlin of Darcion. Instead of the baron's huntsmen in the stocks, it's Sheriff Melan of Saurton in the stocks

The Church of Mitra in Kensla would now be a Ecumenical Imperial Church of the four Gods with the statue of Delaquain removed. The personality of the priest remains the same. The bailiff that was killed was an agent of Divolic and an adherent of Sarrath and there is little love for him in the village.

As an added wrinkle Count Travlin is looking for leverage against the Mages of Order of Thoth in the Golden House in order to enlist their aid for Duke Divolic in the civil war. However would be more of a bonus as Count Travlin is not aware of the supernatural nature of the Demon Wolf or even the Demon Wolf exists. If made aware of the full circumstance Count Travlin would provide a handsome reward as the information would provide considerable leverage over the mages.

An alternative start is that a cleric or paladin gets a call from Veritas, Thoth or Delaquain. From the call the party starts with knowing that it has something to do with the Sheriff Melan of Saurton being thrown in the stocks in Darcion. Since the stocks are in the public square the party could question the sheriff which will lead them to Kensla and the adventure.

Once again the party will have to decide what to do with the information about how mage are connected to the Demon Wolf. Except this time they are nominally the "good" guys.

Finally a start I didn't mention earlier was that the characters were sent by the Duke of Stoneburg to Darcion to investigate why Sheriff Melan was thrown in the stocks. It would be similar to the above but without the religious overtones. Since the Duke has the support of the remnants of the old imperial church and the still loyal priests of Thoth and Veritas. The resolution of the adventure could be the foundation for an alliance between the Duke and the mage of the Golden House.


Click to Expand

Wrapping it up.
As a general note, all the Points of Light setting and Blackmarsh are part of the same loose background. Although set in different time period. Borderlands is the earliest time period depicted set during the civil war that ripped the Bright Empire apart. Wildland represents the aftermath after the collapse of the empire. While Southland and Blackmarsh are set in later centuries during the rise of the Grand Kingdom.

The settings of Points of Light II are also set during the Grand Kingdom period. They focuses on the expansion overseas to the New World of the setting and the colonial rivalry between the Grand Kingdom and the Ochre Empire.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

A D100 OGL Carol

Appreciate the feed back on a A tale of two OGLs. During the various discussions I reviewed the various D100 based System reference Documents that Mongoose put out.

And there is an issue.

A recap to understand my next point.

Mongoose has released open content for a RPG using d100 mechanics in three products.
  • The Runequest System Reference Document. 2006
  • D100 II System Reference Document, 2011
  • Legend Core Rulebook, 2011
In the Open Game License Section 7 reads
7. Use of Product Identity: You agree not to Use any Product Identity, including as an indication as to compatibility, except as expressly licensed in another, independent Agreement with the owner of each element of that Product Identity. 
You agree not to indicate compatibility or co-adaptability with any Trademark or Registered Trademark in conjunction with a work containing Open Game Content except as expressly licensed in another, independent Agreement with the owner of such Trademark or Registered Trademark. The use of any Product Identity in Open Game Content does not constitute a challenge to the ownership of that Product Identity. The owner of any Product Identity used in Open Game Content shall retain all rights, title and interest in and to that Product Identity.
The issue
Per section 7 not only you can't cite compatibility with a trademark, since trademark are also consider product identity, a strict interpretation means you can't use the trademark as part of the text. Since Mongoose lost their license to the trademark Runequest they can't grant a license to use it as part of open content.

The Runequest System Reference Document
Fails the compatibility test by having Runequest as part of the title, and fails the use of product identity test by referencing Runequest numerous times in the text.

The D100 II System Reference Document
Does not mention Runequest at all until Section 15. Which also the very last bit of text in the SRD. D100 II SRD cites three release by Mongoose. The Runequest System Reference Document, the Runequest Companion System Reference Document, and the Runequest Monsters System Reference.

Shades of Gray vs Crystal Clear
The reason to make this distinction is that if you want to publish something using open content without the advice of attorney then the open content has to be crystal clear. A major point of the OGL is make it easy for people to understand they are allowed to use.

The first SRD, the Runequest System Reference Document, clearly has issues in whether it crystal clear to use it open content. The second one, the D100 II System Reference Document, was a lot harder a call on.  It Section 15 "using Product Identity or citing compatibility" as Section 7 state? 

The common sense answer is doesn't violate either provisions. There is an issue that the presence of the three citations means that the open content of the D100 II SRD is based on part on the open content of three documents that Mongoose no longer has the license to give permission to use. Thus tainting the open content of the D100 II SRD despite it not using any of Runequest or Glorantha IP and being Mongoose's original work. 

However luckily for fans of D100 RPGs, the open content of Legends has none of the above issues. And with the core rulebook having been expanded with the open content of the "Legend of" series, you are not missing out on anything found in 

Gore and OpenQuest
The Gore RPG by Dan Proctor along with OpenQuest and OpenQuest II by Net Newport both cite one or more of the Runequest SRDs. In the long run they may to be fixed by only using the open content of the Legend RPG. 

Wrapping it up
Upon reflection, if I was in Chaosium shoes I would have an issue with the original Runequest System Reference Document. Trademarks are valuable and with it being part of the title in the text would cause numerous issues with dealing with third parties.

I think complaining or taking legal action is going out on a limb with the D100 II SRD. Runequest not referenced in the title or the main body of the text. The only part where Runequest makes an appearance is in Section 15. Going after folks that used the D100 II SRD just make Chaosium look like bullies.

I recommend for future projects based on the D100 mechanics is to use the open content of the Legend Core Rulebook, and to the various Legend of  line for additional content. That way it is crystal clear. 

If you have any doubts then please consult an IP attorney. However just be aware you may have to walk them through what open content and what open content licenses are. IP attorneys first instinct is to give advice that either protect your material to greatest extent allowed by law, or to protect from any possibility of lawsuits. 

The key question I found to be useful is "This is my understanding of what this means, and this is what I want to do. I am correct? Or am I missing something?". I consulted with an attorney prior to publishing as Bat in the Attic Games as I was starting out as a licensee of Judges Guild and also using the open content of Swords and Wizardry


Monday, July 1, 2019

A tale of two OGLs

Once upon a time Wizards of the Coast released the Open Game License and made the text of the D20 System Reference Document open content.

And the hobby and industry had a fit. At the same enthusiastically embracing it. Since then a variety of RPG material has been released as open content. Along with those that have negative view of the use of the Open Game License.

That dynamic is still in play in the hobby and industry.

Traveller and Cepheus
In 2008, Mongoose release Mongoose Traveller. It was accompanied by a System Reference Document, and a trademark compatibility license. Along with a license and outline of the Foreven Sector that was part of the Third Imperium setting. The Foreven license allowed 3PP to create content for the Third Imperium as long it was set in Foreven. The Traveller SRD was expanded to include material from Mercernary and High Guard.

Then in 2016, Mongoose released a 2nd edition of their Traveller RPG. It did not have any open content under the OGL. In addition both the traveller compatibility license and the foreven license were sunset.

It is important to note that Mongoose didn't and can't sunset the open game license for any open content they released.
4. Grant and Consideration: In consideration for agreeing to use this License, the Contributors grant You a perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license with the exact terms of this License to Use, the Open Game Content.
In the place of the compatibility license and the Foreven License, Mongoose worked with Onebookshelf to setup a Community Content program for Mongoose Traveller 2e 3PPs called the Traveller Aid's Society. Moreso this program open up the entire Third Imperium setting for 3PPs.

The restriction was that any works could only be published on the site, and once published they have to part of the site forever. They could be removed from sale but you couldn't pull the work and sell it elsewhere even with the Traveller IP scrubbed.

A problem was found in the license that all OBS Community Content program share. A clause stating that any derivative work also can only be posted to the site.  This meant that if Gypsy Knight Games had posted their Clement Sector setting to the TAS site, their setting IP was forever locked in to the Traveller Aid Society.

This was unacceptable to most of the Traveller 3PPs in 2016 when the program was created. At first the various publishers continued to use the Mongoose Traveller 1st edition SRD and removed the compatibility logo. Similar to what happened when the D20 Logo license was sunsetted by Wizards.

Then in the summer of 2016, Jason Kemp created a Traveller clone called Cepheus. Some of it is his original work the rest is material culled from the following list.

  • High Guard System Reference Document, Mongoose Publishing
  • Mercenary System Reference Document, Mongoose Publishing
  • Modern System Reference Document, Wizards of the Coast
  • Swords & Wizardry Core Rules, Matt Finch
  • System Reference Document, Wizards of the Coast
  • T20 - The Traveller’s Handbook, Quiklink Interactive
  • Traveller System Reference Document,  Mongoose Publishing.

Runequest and Legend
In 2006, Mongoose released Mongoose Runequest after licensing the trademarks and Gloranth setting from Stafford's Issaries. This too was accompanied by open content under the OGL and a trademark compatibility. It represent Mongoose first major stab at doing this outside of their previous work with the D20 SRD. In 2010, a 2nd edition was release along with as updated system reference document.

After losing the trademark and Glorantha IP license in 2011, Mongoose scrubbed their rules of any Glorantha IP and released it as the Legend RPG. There was no system reference document as the text of the entire book was declared open content. Mongoose also expanded the amount of open content for the RPG through the Legends of ... series of book.

Meanwhile, the authors of Mongoose Runequest II formed their own company Design Mechanism and licensed the Runequest trademark and Glorantha IP from Stafford. Coming out with Runequest 6th edition in 2012.
Edit: I was made aware that Design Mechanism never licensed the Glorantha IP. There were plans for Adventures in Glorantha but the deal fell through.

But the story doesn't end there. In 2015 Chaosium runs into trouble. Stafford, and Peterson two of the original people involved decided to return and take a active hand in the business. A new team was formed. With Stafford's return, Chaosium regained the license for Runequest and Glorantha. The license with Design Mechanism was sunsetted and the two authors were forced to rebrand as Mythras.

What happen with Traveller
At first there was a bit of a uproar among the Traveller hobbyists, however this was quickly settled by Marc Miller when he authorized the creation of a Cepheus Engine subforum on the official Traveller forums. While not quite an official stamp of approval, Cepheus now had a place within the Traveller community. 

Cepheus compatible material has continued to expand and cover quite a bit of science fiction unrelated to the Third Imperium setting. Both Mongoose Traveller 2nd edition and Marc Miller's own Traveller5 continue to be worked on and have fans among the hobby. In short the Traveller hobby is thriving in a variety of areas.

What happen with Runequest
Despite losing their license Pete Nash and Lawrence Whitaker continued to release material for Mythras. They both well respected for the quality of their work. 

There are few people using the Mongoose Runequest/Legend Content like OpenQuest over on D101 Games. But third party based on the three SRD that Mongoose released are scattered among different tags and are often mixed in with other system like Zweihander. From reading the various related forums the 3PP using open have not be embrased by BRP hobby.

In fact Chaosium is actively discouraging people from using any of the release by spreading uncertainty and doubt. This is from their FAQ.
Q: Is there a System Reference Document (SRD) for Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest, Magic World, the Basic Roleplaying system, Pendragon, or 7th Sea?
A: No.
Q: Can I rely on the Mongoose RQ SRD to publish material?A: No. Mongoose’s license for RuneQuest was terminated in April 2011. At that point, Mongoose lost all rights to continue using the RuneQuest trademark, or to create and publish material derivative from the previous copywritten material, or to issue any sublicenses based on that agreement. Since Mongoose no longer had any rights to RuneQuest, it has no ability to issue a third-party license to that material (which is all an OGL is). 
Everything up to the last sentence is accurate.  The problem is that Mongoose didn't release anything as open content based on the trademark and Glorantha IP they license. Mongoose created that themselves undoubtably relying on their knowledge of IP law and their attorney to come up with a system that was similar to that of the original Runequest and Basic Roleplaying System.

That they had right to release under any license they choose and did so as Legends RPG. The entire text of which is open content.

Chaosium compounded this by posting this on their official forum.
To the extent someone has made an original work that is not legally derivative of Chaosium's IP, of course they have the right to do with it as they will, including issue a perpetual OGL. That's the WotC OGL - WotC owned D&D outright and could do with it what they wanted, including issue perpetual third party licenses. However, Mongoose's license for RuneQuest was limited in duration. You can't license to others more than you actually have. So when their RuneQuest license was terminated, any licenses they issued under that license died with it.
Edit: I wrote further on the details of the various Runequest SRDs in A D100 OGL Carol

Wrapping it up
For a long time the dynamics of 3PP with Traveller and Runequest was the same. There was a dominant publisher or two that the majority of hobbyist looked to for new material. There a few 3PPs but most labored in the shadow of the dominant publisher.

The situation with Runequest continues to be like that with the major exceptions of Design Mechanisms and D101 Games. However with Traveller the fiasco with the TAS Programs was a kick in the pant to 3PPs. Provided just enough of jolt to have somebody finally get a legal traveller clone together and release.

I sincerely hope that Chaosium does not take the step of issues DMCA notices. Along with  cease and design notices. On the flip side, hobbyists who are fans need to release that the BRP RPGs that Chaosium rely heavily on their setting IP, Glorantha and Cthulhu. Those settings are a crucial part of their appeal.

While Cthulhu may be public domain, the stuff that makes Call of Cthulhu take on the mythos unique is not. All the things I mentioned about SRD and open license are easiest used for one's own original idea or setting. Otherwise I would talk to an IP attorney if want to so something involved with Cthulhu.

I hope you found this informative. 

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Majestic Wilderlands has gone gold!

It did take ten years but the Majestic Wilderlands has finally achieved Gold status on DriveThruRPG.

As thanks, I am offering the Majestic Wilderlands for $1 over print cost. And half off for the PDF for the holiday week.

PDF Discount $2.99
Print Discount $4.99

The supplement is compatible with Swords and Wizardry and other editions of the worlds first and most popular roleplaying game.









Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Skills, Abilities, Attributes, and Classes in classic D&D

JB over on B/X Blackrazor has posted some strong opinions on ability checks and skills. It stems from the following
 But for the game I play (and, sure, I understand not everyone plays as I do), I feel that a character's class IS the bulk of the character's training...that's where the emphasis should be and ability scores a minor consideration as far as representing a character's "skill."
That is an approach the could work but what going on here?

It about that players can do more than fight, cast spells, turn undead, etc as their characters. They can sneak past a guard, open a locked chest, or weave a basket.

What important is not which is approach is right. It about what works with one's campaign. Because of my circumstances I opted to come up with an ability system.



Abilities
Going back to OD&D 3 LBBs we have three character classes, Cleric, Fighting-Man, and Magic User along with mechanics to handle combat, spell casting, and a few other things like turning undead. But suppose a character wants to sneak past a guard, open a locked chest, or weave a basket for that matter?

 The 3LBBs imply that the player describe what they are doing and the referee makes a ruling based on the circumstances and what been established about the character. This interpretation is supported by this anecdotes from back in the day. However the various anecdotes and few pieces of documentation (like Judges Guild Ready Ref sheets, Strategic Review) display widely varying methods of adjudicating this things. Some use attributes, some use an arbitrary chance, other account for class and level. Some use %, 3d6, or 1d20 roll low or high.

However there are some common elements among those accounts of using 3 LBBs. The most important is that outside of combat, and spell casting, any character can attempt any action. All three classes can try to stealth past the guard, try to open the locked chest, or try to weave a basket. But it up to the referee to decide on the mechanics of adjudication.

One way is to based it primarily on class and level with some modifiers based on attributes as JB does in his campaigns. His post states the reasons why.

I opted it to handle it a different way. My view is that any character can attempt any action outside of class specifics. That some classes are better than other classes at certain abilities. That attributes are important to determine how good a character is at certain abilities. That like combat, and spell casting not every class or individual character is equally adept in these abilities.

The result is the ability system as outlined in my Majestic Fantasy Basic Rules.

Related to this is my decision to ditch the thief class in favor of a series of Rogue classes. What distinguish the Rogue from the Cleric, Fighter, and Magic User, is that they are better at various abilities than other classes. For example the Burglar class in the basic rules is better at climbing, eavesdrop, legerdemain, perception, and stealth.

Because I had no issues with players trashing my setting as they tried to become kings or magnates I to deal with a player attempting a lot of different things. The climb to power required the players to do more than just fight or cast spells. Adventures and exploration were important in my campaign but often they were just the means to the player's end goal of rising to the top.

Wrapping it up
That why I decided to do things differently from JB. Again what important here isn't that you handle this in a particular way but that you think it through, that the result fits what you want out of the campaign, and that it is fun to play.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Harnmanor PDF on sale for 99 cents!

Back when I started out playing RPGs in 1978, I appreciated Traveller's trade rules. It got a lot done with a simple and elegant design.It had details but not a overwhelming number of them. And it felt right for what it was trying to emulate.

By the mid 80s, I was using Judges Guild Wilderlands and I was wishing for to add details for running estates as several PCs had their own demense in the campaign I was running.

Then came along Harnmanor. Which like the Traveller Trade rules had details about running a medieval manor but presented them in a simple and elegant design. The best part of the mechanics isn't the rules for figuring out the income and budget of the manor, but what happens to the estate and the tenants over the years. It very good at creating challenges that bring running a manor to life.

So right now Columbia Games is having a sale on Harn stuff on DriveThruRPG and Harnmanor is on sale for 99 cents. Even if you don't use the mechanics it packed with information on the details of medieval manor and those who live there. It also include four different manors fleshed out in detail.


Thursday, May 23, 2019

OSRIC now has a wiki

OSRIC, the first retro-clone, now has a wiki available. A useful resource for people using OSRIC to run 1st edition campaigns. You can read the announcement on the Knights and Knaves forum.

OSRIC Wiki

Kudos to PresGas and his team for putting in the time to do this.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Fat Goblins Games is having a huge $1 sale


So Rick Hershey of Fat Goblin Games is buying a house and needs cash so he is having a $1 dollar sales on 95% of the Fat Goblin Games inventory over on DriveThruRPG.

He has a variety of RPG supplements and is an excellent artist to boot. I used a few of his pieces in the Wilderlands of the Magic Realm. This is an excellent deal to stock up on art or just looking for useful things for your campaign.

DriveThruRPG Store
Fat Goblin Games Stock Art

Saturday, April 13, 2019

James Smith of Dreams of Mythic Fantasy passed away


Sadly James of Dreams of Mythic Fantasy passed away a few days ago. He enriched us all with his love of our hobby. More than that he went above and beyond by collecting information about what other folks were doing and letting the rest of us know with OSR News

He will be missed

James Albert Smith Jr (1968-2019)


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Four more Maps! The Wilderlands of the Magic Realm, Revised Edition is released!

I am pleased to announce the release of the Wilderlands of the Magic Realm. This is one of four products covering the eighteen maps that encompasses the Judges Guild Wilderlands setting. This product covers five of the maps as detailed below. The four sets combined will cover a region equal in size to Western Europe providing years and decades of adventuring for you and your group.

Unlike many setting products, the Wilderlands sketches out the overview and history in light detail. Then presents a comprehensive list of local detail in a compact format that is customizable. This eliminates much of the tedious work involved in creating a setting and allows the referee to focus on the campaign and the grand adventures the players face as their characters.

This is presented as two products both in PDF and Print on Demand.

This product is a 48 page Guidebook for the four maps of the Wilderlands of the Magic Realm. The books has an introduction and commentary by Robert S. Conley who has used the Wilderlands as his main fantasy campaign for nearly forty years. Each map is detailed with the following listings: Villages, Castles and Citadels, Idyllic Isles, Ruins and Relics, and Lurid Lairs.

Due to the extensive use of monsters from the supplements to the original edition, this release details 17 monsters and provides full statistics suitable for use with Swords & Wizardry and similar RPGs.

Because the maps for Wilderlands of the Magic Realm are dominated by ocean; charts, tables, and rules concerning water adventures have been included from various Judges Guild publications. A three page summary of the ships presented in Dave Sering's Wave Riders & Sea Steeds are also included along with ship illustrations.

Included with the Guidebook PDFs are letter sized blank map of the Wilderlands that can be used to take notes during a campaign. A PDF with the map legend. A letter size black and white guide to the placement of each of the 18 maps within the Wilderlands. This guidebook covers the Ghinor Map 11, Isle of the Blest Map 12, Ebony Coast Map 13, Ament Tundra Map 14.

Finally a giant sized preliminary version of the master map that I used to crop the individual maps from. With the right printer this can be printed as a full scale map 5 feet wide and 8 feet long. With the PDF you can selectively copy out regions as complete maps that overlap the borders of the 18 maps. After the release of the final set of maps this file will be updated as a layered PDF allowing for custom maps of the Wilderlands to be copied or created.



The second product is a set of four maps:  Ghinor Map Eleven, Isle of the Blest Map Twelve, Ebony Coast Map Thirteen, Ament Tundra Map Fourteen. When ordered via print on the demand they are printed in two overlapping halves each on a 12" by 18" poster. In addition each map is presented as a 22" by 17" PDF file.

The maps have been redrawn from the original in a color style. Instead of the distinct symbols of the original maps, terrain has been drawn as a  transparent fill and vegetation represented by colored areas. This allows both terrain and vegetation to overlap. Representing more accurately the complexity and diversity of the Wilderland's geography.

This release will be followed by the Wilderlands of the Fantastic Reaches covering the last four maps of the Wilderlands.

A preview PDF

The Wilderlands of the Magic Realm Guidebook

The Wilderlands of the Magic Realm Color Map



Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Figuring out the scale of Viridstan's Map

One of the mysteries of the original run of Judges Guild products is the scale of the map of the hexes on the City State of the World Emperor.


Nowhere on the above the map or in the text of CSWE is how big each hex is and has remained a minor mystery for the past 35 years.

Recently I realized that the city map to Tarantis is drawn in a similar style to CSWE. While it doesn't have hexes it does have a scale.

So I superimposed a section of Tarantis on top of CSWE and resized Tarantis until the main street, alleys, and building look comparable to the same on the CSWE map.


I then made the Tarantis map transparent and moved the scale over on of Viridstan's hexes. And viola! It looks like each hex is 120 feet.


While my works is an elaborate guess it makes a lot of sense. It unlikely to be 240' feet, but it could have been 60 feet. Or the 60 yards of the Thunderhold Map. Making the scale 120' would make the size of the building comparable to those in Tarantis.

If I ever get around to drawing the City State of the World Emperor that the scale I will go with.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

So about The Fantasy Trip

I got my Fantasy Trip Legacy box on Friday. Then the next day I got a email from SJ Games saying it shipped. Looks like they really got this Infinity thing nailed down tight.


So when I opened the box and removed the plastic the above is what I got. All I got to say that is one monster box. I also picked up pocket box version of Melee/Wizard. It thicker than the original but it also nice quality cardboard counters instead of the stiff paper version of the original. I think anybody who want Melee/Wizard for a wargame is going to be pleased with the pocket box version.



I then opened the box.


It nice how they made the inside box lid a function aide in it own right. It can be used as a drop table to generate a random dungeon.

Removing the cover sheet and the contents we get.


As for the packing, note they cleverly put two finger wholes in the The Fantasy Trip Mega Hex lid. This made it super easy to pull out from the bottom. 

As for the rest, you get the paper boxed set of Melee, Wizard, and Death Test. A very sturdy referee screen. A expanding file folder style organizer, two poster maps, In the Labyrinth main rulebook, reference book, and Tollenkar's Lair adventure.  Along with dice, a deck of pregens, and pads of character sheet (two sizes).

It was exciting to open this up and look at each item. Definitely felt like I got my money worth even though I didn't get the "Get it all" level.

The poster maps


The referee's screen along with the map and book for Tollenkar's Lair


The front of the referee's screen

The remaining leaves of the front of the referee's screen.

Finally some of the cards with pregenerated characters,

Overall I think this is a outstanding product for a RPG. Steve Jackson and his team did a great job with this. One of the best part going forward is there are multiple entry points for people to try out the system before deciding to buy into the line.

Wrapping it up.
Right now I am in the midst of preparing Wilderlands of the Magic Realm for publication. Once I get that done, I will setup some of the counters and megahexes and do a run through of the system.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Some days this hobby of ours makes one go WOW!

So Douglas Waltman has been busy lately.


I am just simply amazed. Douglas talks about wanting to bring it to GaryCon in this facebook post.
B1 Search for the Unknown has been one of my favorite modules for years. I first encountered it when I got the Holmes DnD boxed set in late 1977. 

The best part of was the dungeon layout with a constructed complex above and caverns below. It has a lot little touches I liked; the fact the upper level felt like something two high level adventurers (Roghan and Zelligar) would make. That the bottom cave level had a back exit that opened to a cliff ledge. The long opening corridor with the magic mouths. And of course the cat in the jar, the room of Pools and the mushroom room.

For more B1 (and B2) goodness there is Goodman Games' Into the Borderlands

Way go to Douglas! Your work is simply amazing.


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)