Thursday, April 30, 2009

This is how you do it: New York Red Box

Just ran across this site. From what I can gather, it's a wiki for not one but two B/X campaigns being run by a group of NYC gamers (as well as other stuff - so far I can see pages for a White Box campaign and a Traveller campaign). There are articles about things like house rules, rules and procedures cribbed from other editions/games, settings, campaign logs, individual PCs, and pretty much everything else. Lots of good stuff on hexmapping. Some of the articles are "bloggish," with sections cut-and-pasted from various rulebooks and musings as to their possible application in the game. Overall, these folks have really taken the B/X toolkit and made it do whatever the hell they wanted it to do, which is awesome. (There's even a "mission statement" to this effect on the homepage, with a link to Matt Finch's "A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming.") There's a forum, which I haven't reall poked around on yet, but overall I get the impression of a bunch of guys having a blast exploring the old school landscape, and bringing the gospel to the masses. I like.

NEW YORK RED BOX

DYA

SOME INFLUENCES PART II

Part II of this.

The art of Jim “The PCs are SCREWED” Holloway
The art of Frank Frazetta
The works of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee
The works of Robert A. Heinlein (not just “Glory Road,” but all of his works – in particular the concept of “pantheistic solipsism” introduced in “The Number of the Beast” – and, yes, all my campaign worlds have an axis on the Burroughs continuum)
Dark Tower (the Milton Bradley game, not the Judges Guild module or the Stephen King book)
Endless Quest books (particularly Circus of Fear and Under Dragon’s Wing)
The 1977 Rankin/Bass adaptation of The Hobbit (screw you, I like it)

DYA

GNOME-ON-A-ROPE



Flower, the trap-springing gnome-on-a-rope, was a PC in the first “real” D&D game I ever played in. (Not 100% on the name, but if it wasn’t “Flower,” it was something like it.) He was played by the 12 year old brother of one of the older players, who was (and remained for years afterwards) completely nutso off-the-wall hyper, and he played his character much the same way. His PC was basically the slave of the party MU, and he was led around on a rope tether (which he was constantly straining against to reach shiny things and levers). When the party would come to a suspicious-looking section of corridor, the party meatshields would heave-ho Flower down the hall, and then proceed to drag him back by his leash, springing any traps he bounced across along the way. At the time this treatment seemed somewhat harsh (albeit hilarious), but looking back now, the trouble his PC would’ve gotten in were he not tethered to the party would probably make a few 10’ pits seem like a walk in the park.

Here’s to innovation in dungeoneering!

DYA

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

STEAL FROM THE BEST, OR "WANDERING LAVATORIES"

Poking through the archive of Amityville Mike's frequently-awesome blog, and I dug up a neat little morsel of FUCKING AWESOME. Check it out.

The Wandering Chamber Table

This is SO going in my DM pack. Hell, after I run out to this interview, I may just sit down at home and whip up some plug-and-play random dungeon nodes.*

DYA

EDIT: * I did.

LYCKANTROPEN THEMES

I’ve never been entirely comfortable with mundane weapon immunity in D&D. (Silver to hit, magic to hit, etc.) I appreciate the intent, and there’s definitely something special about the palpable dread an experienced player group experiences when they realize that they can’t even scratch the things they’re fighting. However, it tends to result in cartoonish situations, especially with lycanthropes. Having these creatures be just flat immune to damage seems to conjure images of two-handed sword blows just bouncing off without messing up their fur – even if you accept the abstraction, it tends to nag a bit. For me, at least.

That said, I do want to maintain the nastiness of these creatures, and a certain degree of invulnerability is inherent in their nature. The rationalization I’ve always made for were-creatures’ immunity to mundane weapons is that the wounds simply close as fast as they’re inflicted, rendering the blow moot. This line of thinking has usually led to the conclusion that, if you get one of these creatures pinned and have a big hacking blade handy, you can still remove the head and kill it. Not strictly within the letter of the rule, but it’s always seemed like an appropriate sop to fantasy realism.

I’ve wrestled with these issues somewhat while working on my current campaign, but I didn’t expect anybody to run into a lycanthrope for a good long while, and so had put them on the back burner. Last night, sure enough, the party ran into were-rat territory and I was obliged to think about them pretty damn fast.

What I’ve come up with, as a (tentative) compromise, is this: Non-silvered weapons do only half damage to lycanthropes (well, were-rats, at least – I’ll deal with the other types individually), and the wounds from these weapons heal at 1hp a round (even past the point of “death”). Their skeletal structures are also remarkably resilient, so that a player attempting to decapitate a downed rat-man must bring it down to a full -10hp (while getting past the resistance and still regenerating) before the head can be fully removed. Otherwise, the foul creatures will continue to regain 1hp a round, regaining consciousness (and mobility) at 1hp.

In practice, this worked pretty well. A bit more book-keeping than I usually like to do with a monster, but were-creatures should be pretty rare, so it’s not like it’ll come up all the time. You end up with a 3HD monster that has (effectively) the hp of a 6HD monster, and regeneration on top of that – pretty damn survivable, but possible to overcome with a concerted effort. 3 ratmen ambushed a fighter-heavy 6-man party (all 1st level), and it was a pretty close thing – one ratman permadead, one downed but escaped, and one never below half hp, only breaking off combat once the other had fled. The party had one member incapacitated and lost better than half their total hp – they definitely learned to respect the little grey bastards. This was against only 3 of them – I’m hoping that, after this experience, they’ll know enough to run should they bumble into a full-sized patrol, but if not, their next PCs might. ; )

Speaking of were-creatures (and RE: this post’s title), this morning I found myself sick to death of the Slough Feg CD I’ve been OD’ing on, and all the other metal stuff in my car besides. I randomly dug out the one mellow CD in the car at the moment: Ulver’s “Lyckantropen Themes.” Laughed at the appropriateness considering last night's session, and gave it another spin. Without going too much into Ulver’s career-long musical self-reinvention (check them out on Wikipedophile if you’re curious), this is the original soundtrack to Lyckantropen, a Swedish werewolf movie. It’s 10 tracks of dreary, dreamlike atmosphere based around a single 3-note piano riff, and (since it’s an Ulver release) it’s damn near perfect. In addition to being a good listen on its own merits, this CD makes an amazing dungeon soundtrack – it’s alternately laid-back and tense, with lots of barely-heard background sound. I use it on the regular.



Give it a listen, why don'cha?

DYA

POST-GAME REPORT: WHICH WAY JUMPS THE FROG

It should be no revelation to anyone who’s GM’ed more than a game or two that you can’t predict what players are going to do (or where they’re going to go). The best (and only) way to guide their movements short of laying down the rails is to selectively skimp on prep-work. If you’ve left a corner of your dungeon level bare of detail, they’re going to zoom in on it with player sonar and start digging around in it. They’re like fucking ferrets – they get into EVERYTHING (and tend to smell weird).

Accordingly, when I lovingly re-drew, detailed and re-stocked two sheets’ worth of dungeon levels last night, I practically FORCED my guys to flee the area like so many suspiciously-well-armed refugees. They got through a door I didn’t expect them to get through (and which may be replaced with a stronger version in the near future by a pissed-off landlord), wandered down several hundred yards of unpleasant, single-file (and barely sketched) corridor, whomping vermin and deftly avoiding every potentially gainful distraction I put in their path until they finally wandered into a real fight (and got banged up enough that it was time to make for the surface). No hard feelings, though – I can improv when I need to. It’s like jazz – it’s dungeon scat. (Actually, no, that sounds horrible, it’s nothing like that. Don’t Google that term, either.)

FWIW, I actually like having areas that were developed during play. I do stuff I wouldn’t normally do when I’m pressed for time, and let things get into the game that otherwise (were I sitting at home, unharried by bloodthirsty players), I’d overthink and try to rationalize. Frankly, I tend towards the realistic, the well-reasoned, and the explainable in my designs, and this isn’t always a good thing. The weird, random, unexplainable shit is where a lot of the wonder of the dungeon comes from, and going “off the map” tends to draw some of that into the overall fabric. Can’t be a bad thing.

Next time, though, I’m gonna be ready. My goal, as of late, has been to provide myself with a handy “DM pack” to run Zent-Mer with – something that, along with a red book and the map, will be all the material I need for a long session. Inspired largely by Kellri’s Old School Encounters Reference, I’ve been distilling any number of charts and lists into an information-dense 8.5”x11” booklet. Next addition: A selection of small dungeon “nodes,” straight outta Appendix A (1e DMG), ready to plug in and stock when the ferrets get loose.

DYA

PS: Oh, yeah, they got into a fight. More on that in a few – I’m still tossing around an on-the-fly rules hack I stumbled into last night, we’ll see if it sticks.

PPS: Another thing, going back one more link in the inspiration chain from Kellri’s book: No DM running Classic D&D should be without a copy of Monster & Treasure Assortment. Such a simple idea, such pure DM gold when you’re running on the fly (or stocking in a hurry).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

D&D IN METAL, OR “WITHOUT WARNING, A WIZARD COMES WALKING”

Maybe it’s just because I grew up at the right time, or got turned on to both a bit earlier than what might be the norm, but D&D and metal have always gone together for me like peanut butter and Satan. I mean chocolate. But, really, what personifies the heart and soul of E.T./Reagan-era AD&D more than a bunch of denim-girded teenagers listening to Ride the Lightning and slaying their way through the Deities & Demigods? White hi-tops and Chessex golf ball d100s and bong hits in the basement. I can see it now.

And it’s easy to see metal’s influence on D&D’s players (and, arguably, metal’s album covers on D&D’s artists), if not necessarily on its initial creators. (Not sure Gary was much of a Slayer fan.) Fantasy permeated the music of proto-metal bands such as Black Sabbath, King Crimson, and (as perhaps best articulated by superfan Brock Samson) Led Zeppelin.

“Listen to those lyrics, man. That song's about love, and longing... yes, and hobbits. Look, it's a metaphor!” – Brock Samson

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (yes, caps are necessary) brought fantasy- and history-inspired bands like Iron Maiden, Saxon, and Grim Reaper to US orc massacrists. New York power metal pioneers Manowar rocked the full barbarian garb and sang about swords and shit.

Perhaps most telling is that both were at the center of the ‘80s moral panic craze. (Start one today!) Apocryphal stories of devil worship, drug use, human sacrifice, and naked boobs on album covers (or Monster Manuals) were traded over Twinkies and Tab at countless PTA meetings, and the moms and pastors of America got organized (and annoying). Our multifaceted and finely-nuanced culture was undoubtedly enriched by the addition of backwards Ozzy and Priest records and super-well-researched Chick tracts. (Blackleaf – NOOO!) Of course, all of this, in reality, contributed to more cross-pollination between the two camps than before. “If you already think swords and demons and pissing off your folks are pretty cool, then here’s another hobby for you!”



And then at a certain point, the pendulum started to swing the other way, although it’s tough to pinpoint exactly where. Bathory (and sole member/multi-instrumentalist Quorthon) came out of Sweden with a raw, thrash-influenced sound (almost single-handedly creating the genres of black metal and, shortly after, Viking metal). The lyrics were clearly influenced by the folk tales and legends of the Norse people, but I think it’s tough not to see a good bit of Gygax’s touch in songs like A Fine Day to Die and One Rode to Asa Bay. There’s a certain longing for adventure in Bathory’s music that rings damn familiar to me, and I’m pretty sure that’s why.





In Norway, while second-wave black metal pioneers Mayhem were still evolving their signature sound, the members of Old Funeral were running around in the woods ‘til 4 in the morning whacking each other with swords and tackling the Temple of Elemental Evil. Count Grishnack (later Varg Vikernes) would leave Old Funeral to form the vastly influential black metal project Burzum. Vikernes acknowledges the influence T1-4 had on the covers of his early records, and how playing AD&D and MERP would influence the concepts that led to Burzum. ("A Burzum Story, Part I")



Meanwhile the remaining members of Old Funeral would found Immortal, whose lyrics mostly deal with a a frozen, wintry hellworld called Blashyrkh.

Blashyrkh mighty be your name victorious a kingdom we made
with strength and pride all the way you are at the heart of winter
The statue watches the kingdom your giant wings make all beneath
I'm staring forth the raventhrone I know I'm at the heart of winter – Immortal, “At the Heart of Winter”

You do the math.


90s power metal act Blind Guardian would bring a number of innovations to the genre, but they also wore their nerd influences on their sleeves (with songs about wizards and elves and an entire freakin’ Silmarillion concept record) and name-check Dragonlance in their lyrics. Bolt Thrower created a dirge-y, grind-influenced death metal sound, but the band were also gamers in the UK – Warhammer players – and managed to work out a deal with Games Workshop allowing the band to use Warhammer 40K art for the cover and 40K concepts in the lyrics on their debut album. US folk/power metal outfit The Lord Weird Slough Feg (shortened to simply “Slough Feg” as of late) take their name from a character in the very metal 2000AD comic Sláine(featuring the exploits of the Celtic barbarian of the same name), while their lyrics deal with a number of gaming-related topics (with song titles like "Troll Pack") - hell, they actually have a Traveller concept record.




Finally, Richmond, VA’s Battlemaster are purely gaming metal. Their debut record is entitled “Power Word: Kill,” and has a big’ol d20 on the front, song titles from their releases include “Dungeon Crawl” and Undermountain.” Swedish-style melodic death with lyrics about critical hits, mind flayers and liches. No fucking around, here.



I’m skipping a million other bands (look up Battlelore for a laugh sometime), but you get the picture.


Speaking of D&D in metal, I’ll be running tonight for a couple of guys in the band (one of which has played already – once – and has apparently been practicing on Baldur’s Gate II, hahaha) and some other assorted Worcester ruffians. Finishing one-page template version of the main Level 1 hub today, and laying out my DM pack so (in theory) I’ll be ready for whatever they throw at me. Should be a blast or several.

DYA

Monday, April 27, 2009

SOME INFLUENCES (AKA APPENDIX N+)

One for the road before band practice.

Here are some things that should be considered central influences on Zent-Mer (and I should keep in mind while brainstorming):

The '81 editions of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic and Expert Set, by Tom Moldvay and David Cook, respectively
The Wilderlands of High Fantasy
Nethack
Colossal Cave Adventure
Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord
Final Fantasy I
Dragon Warrior (AKA Dragon Quest)
Ultima 6
Steve Jackson's Sorcery!
The works of Robert E. Howard (Conan, among other mightily-thewed heroes)
The works of H.P. Lovecraft (Cthulhu Mythos and Dreamlands stuff in particular)
The works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
The works of Fritz Leiber
The music of Black Sabbath
The music of King Crimson
The music of Varg Vikernes
The music of GWAR
The art of Erol Otus
The art of David C. Sutherland III
Thundarr the Barbarian
The Venture Bros.

I'll add to this later. Obviously, the extent to which these influence the actual campaign varies, and some are there for a mere handful of ideas, or even a general tone. Some are there because they go well with smoke-filled basements. YMMV.

DYA

D&D IS OUT OF PRINT FOR GOOD

AND I COULDN'T BE HAPPIER

*ahem*

Suppose I should quantify that, some.

When I say that D&D is OOP, what I mean to say is that the game I (We? Maybe yeah no?) grew up with, the game that brought us things like 10' poles, 10' corridors, and gelatinous cubes to clean them, is currently alive and well - it's just living under an assumed name, or rather, a slew of them. OSRIC. Labyrinth Lord. Swords & Wizardry. Basic Fantasy RPG. And let's not forget trailblazers like HackMaster and Castles & Crusades, nor a slew of other quality products being produced for free, by talented, dedicated hobbyists, all of which have done more to keep the traditions and legacies of our hobby alive than the folks who, technically speaking, hold the deed & title. (BTW, let's all be grateful that T$R never thought to copyright the ampersand back in the day, or none of this would be possible.)

Of course, there's still a game that you can pay money for that says Dungeons & Dragons on the cover, and it has (I'm told) both those things in it, so it's not technically false advertising, but it's kinda like the crappy second Darren and/or Darlene (from Bewitched or Roseanne, depending on which era of brainwash you prefer) - no matter what name they slap on it, all that's needed to put the lie to their claim is the evidence provided by your own two eyes.

Readers of RPGpundit's blog will be familiar with the concept of a shadowy, lurking subsector of the hobby, dedicated to ruining real RPGs so that their touchy-feely substitutions can flourish in the aftermath - and I don't find the notion as implausible as some. What's just as insidious is well-intentioned game designers who don't get it, screwing up the hobby's flagship game to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and depriving kids coming onto the scene of the chance to experience real, actual D&D. Luckily, D&D lives in a safe place where the Monte Cooks and Mike Mearls of the world can't hurt it, going by a double-handful of assumed names, frolicking in a sunny meadow and eating dewdrops. And killing a shit-ton of orcs.

DYA

Rescaling the map - to redraw or not to redraw?

So, as mentioned earlier, I've been in the process of transferring my dungeon levels from 5' scale full-sheet (8.5"x11") graph paper to 10' scale, 30x30 square One Page Dungeon Template sheets. And I'm finding a million places where, had I drawn these maps to a 10' scale in the first place, they would've "snapped" to the 10' grid. I'm on the fence, here - on the one hand, this is the dungeon as I drew it, a few player characters have already wandered through and mapped some areas, and there's no good reason for everything to conform to a 10' grid that isn't there. One could make the argument that to do so is to coddle PC mappers. On the other hand, redrawing it would make things easier on me as a GM in describing distances, and possibly make the whole thing a little easier to read.

In the end, I suspect I'll end up redrawing - as I've gotten away from the need to describe every twist and turn with surveyor-like precision (and in fact started impressing the impossibility of such a task on my players), the need for a micrometer-tight dungeon map lessens. What's more, I've made it a design feature that dungeon levels are subject to periodic re-routing by the Construction Crew (or just regular old magic), so I may as well put my money where my mouth is. I'm willing to bet that players using pre-revision maps will never notice the difference, anyway.

DYA

LAST MINUTE PREP... AGAIN

Oh yeah, I am running a game tomorrow. LOL Suppose I should at least pretend to get ready...

A big part of the design philosophy with Zent-Mer is doing some design work on the front end (lots of customized random charts, cheat-sheets, etc.) to let me run on the fly with next-to-no prep. There's still a ton to do in that department, but let's look at what I actually did do so far.

- Master encounter table, encompassing encounters with nearby monsters (i.e., "LOOK AT THE MAP, DUMMY"), encounters with "cleanup crew"-type monsters (vermin/nuisance encounters), and references to the level-specific tables, as well as calls to "event/dungeon dressing" tables.
- Level-specific wandering monster tables (with a B/X-modified version of the "DUNGEON RANDOM MONSTER LEVEL DETERMINATION MATRIX" table from the 1e DMG attached). Most intelligent entries here have at least one possible faction listed, common encounters(like goblins) have more than one.
- Compiled dungeon dressing tables (mostly C+P'ed out of the DMG). The tables here encompass lost items, inscriptions/graffiti (big nod to Nethack, here), sounds, air, and "weirdness".
- Master rumor table and example rumors. (These are in an extremely embrionic state, but there's enough there I could run a few sessions before using them all.)
- Faction "cheat sheet" done up in Excel. This contains any and all human, demihuman, and intelligent monster factions, and their relationships to each other. Knowing from the get-go that goblin tribe A hates goblin tribe B but pays tribute to Bugbear gang C while hiding from Gnoll band D can be super hella mega useful. Also helps immeasurably with city intrigue adventures. This sheet is also where I flesh out a lot of my random encounters - a nameless group of thieves has a guild to belong to, a group of acolytes becomes cultists of [EXPUNGED BY THE INQUISITION], etc.
- Random leftover stuff, like the "quest/geas" generator from JG's Ready Ref Sheets - great little mission generator, there.

And, of course,

- Dungeon levels. Originally drawn up in 5' scale (because I apparently hate trees and slim binders), now being transferred to "One Page Dungeon Template" format (see the link on the right side of this page) in 10' scale. Big props to everyone involved in this project, BTW - it's really helped me boil down my dungeons to what needs to be on the page.

I actually only have the "rat-whomping newbie level" and a few pages' worth of levels 1 and 2 mapped out so far, but there's enough there to occupy tomorrow's group (nobody who'll be there has been past Level 0 yet). Anybody falls down a chute, I'll pull out Appendix A from the DMG, no worries. The nice part is that the upper levels are nice and familiar to me, now (I've run several parties through them at this point), so they run pretty smooth in my head. Not having to refer to the key when describing a room is a cool feeling - I haven't been able to do that since I was a kid, when I used to run the example dungeon from the 1e Realms set again and again. (I still know the Halls of the Beast-Tamers pretty much by heart.)

So what I'll do in my spare time over the next day or so is to organize what I've got into a "DM's packet" where it's all in one place, and (in theory) that, the B/X booklets and my map binder should be all we need. I'll have a post-game up at some point on Wednesday. (Probably.)

- DYA

Friday, April 24, 2009

Battletroops Squad Record Sheet

I'm now realizing that there are no Battletroops fanpages on the net, at least none that I can find, so fan resources may be a bit hard to come by. I wasn't able to find any Squad Record Sheets, so I whipped up one in Excel. Looks alright.

BATTLETROOPS SQUAD RECORD SHEET

I'm leaving work early today for a job interview - maybe once I get home I can lay out the mapsheets and try it out. Seems like BTroops would be a decent solitaire game (providing you're as easily entertained as I am).

Random FLGS score



Band practice was delayed a bit tonight, so I swung by That's Entertainment in Worcester to sift through the used bin. Pulled out an unplayed and unpunched copy of Battletroops for 5 bucks. I never thought I'd get around to owning this game - it's like tabletop Rainbow 6 set in the Battletech world. Can't wait to try it out.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

MY WORK IN PROGRESS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS


Now that I've abandoned the Known World map as a home for Zent-Mer, I have the happy task of creating a new wilderness map.  I'm weighing how much I want to plan out now, and how much I want to leave to random chance and/or development during play.

On the one hand, planning in advance lets me do an awful lot of "stocking" ahead of time.  Starting play with a fully-detailed wilderness area is certainly an attractive proposition.

On the other, it's a lot of work up front.  It's possible that a more organic approach, like generating "unlocated" hex contents and assigning them as the party travels, could be a good compromise.  Maybe with a few large hand-placed landmarks (like oceans, the big mountain ranges and forests, etc.).

I'm also trolling around trying to round up as many random terrain / hex contents / inhabitation generation methods as I can, in order to compare them and arrive at a solution for my campaign.  So far, the 1e DMG, Kellri's (completely indispensable) CDD#4 Old School Encounters Reference, the JG Wilderlands of High Fantasy and Dave Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign are the main sources.  (If you know of any others, hook it up!)  I also have a copy of the 2e-era "Worldbuilder's Guidebook", which takes a slightly more "top-down" approach than I had initially planned, but still could be worth another look.  (One of the better supplements from this era, for my money.)

Once I come up with an overall system I like, the real fun of actually generating this sucker comes in.  Me and the Ravaged Ruins tables are gonna get very cozy for a few minutes.

DYA

This is a test...

Testing phone posting, here. Maybe I'll have some more game aid type stuff up later. That is all. -DYA

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

STATEMENT OF PURPOSE (SUCH AS IT IS) AND ADDITIONAL BONUS RAMBLINGS

Yeah, it’s another one of these. Like several of you (137 is a number I see a lot), I’ve been lurking about the Old School Renaissance1 corners of this blogosphere 2 thingy for a while now, stealing shit like a madman for my own nefarious purposes and chuckling at the comment wars. Along the way, I’ve come to appreciate the blog format as a way to organize cluttered thoughts (and as a way to brainstorm with other clutter-brained folks and share materials). That, combined with the fact that I need to brush-up on some software stuff (woo-hoo, back in the job market!) have, tragically, led to this. Apologies in advance. (Edit: Apologies number two – apparently I really like footnotes.)

A bit about me, to give you some frame of reference (and pump up the word count): I’m just the other side of 30 as of this writing, and besides rolling dice and playing make-believe I waste my time in music 3 and IT 4. I picked up the RPG bug in the early 90s, just on the cusp of 2nd Edition AD&D. Coming on the scene when I did, we used a mish-mash of 1e and 2e stuff (mixing in some of the Rules Cyclopedia-era Classic D&D material when it made its appearance) – this may have contributed to a certain “system agnosticism” that’s stayed with me to this day. We (“we,” here consisting of myself, my younger brother, and two diaper school buddies) would branch out somewhat into games like Cyberpunk 2020, MERP, Rogue Trader (i.e., 40K 1e), and a few others, but the D&D bug held on pretty tight. My folks are old-school SCA nerds 5, golden age sci-fi readers and Tolkien appreciators, so no surprise there. Eventually, however, the mid-90s rolled around. Magic blew up, Vampire hit it big, and the trenchcoat-and-katana crew took over the gaming scene. I responded by dropped gaming like a hot potato – girls and hardcore bands suddenly seemed a lot more appealing then emoting about my sanguine nyghttyme ayynygst with even pastier and pathetic-er dorks, and there’s only so many hours in a day when you’re in high school.

Some years later (2002 or so, IIRC), I stumbled across a box of Space Hulk minis while helping a friend move. I called him out on his closet nerd status (literally, they were in the closet), we started talking gamer on the way to the liquor store, and by the end of the night I was calling around trying to track down who had all my books and figs – I was hooked. Trolling around for the new 40K rules landed me in a gaming store for the first time in a long minute, where I would encounter something called “3rd Edition D&D.” Incredulous that such a thing existed (last I knew in high school, “that Magic company” had bought TSR, and I had just assumed they would put it in their back pocket and let the license die), I picked it up and had a look. Like a lot of folks, on that first read I was attracted by a number of things that seemed (at the time) like brilliant fixes to some perceived weaknesses of the AD&D engine, some of which I’d been doing for years anyway. Some of it was a little worrying already (dwarf wizards?), but I grabbed a copy, got in a game as a player for a few months to get un-rusty and learn the system, and dived back into the GM pool with a new campaign. Haven’t stopped rolling the dice, since.

The rulesets, on the other hand, have been zooming backwards in time at an alarming, almost Doc Brownian rate. Refereeing two year-long-plus 3e campaigns, I was running into places where the rules didn’t fit the world I was running 6, or where this or that subsystem I remembered from AD&D wasn’t present 7, or where the assumed power curve and “balance-above-all” design philosophy clashed with my ideas of player challenge 8 and campaign longevity. 9 Before I realized it, I had houseruled the d20 interpretation of D&D into what was, at its core, a super-crunchy AD&D. Finally, when the second campaign in a row degenerated into game-paralyzing bloat around level 5 or 6 (and GM prep became a part-time job), I’d had enough. Perhaps, instead of trying to reverse-engineer D&D out of a generic system (something I feel that the WotC designers weren’t all that successful at, and that was frustrating the hell out of me), just playing real, actual AD&D and applying the changes I liked from d20 would be closer to what I was looking for?

Enter HackMaster. It was 1e and 2e, mixed together like we used to do in the old days, with just enough 2.5-era crunch to make the combats comically brutal. It was a breath of fresh air, especially the mock “killer GM” stance (after the touchy-feely player empowerment I had seen in 3e, this was chicken soup for the GM soul). The High Gygaxian tone and heart-on-the-sleeve homages to the classics was completely infectious, inspiring me to re-explore the systems I grew up with. In no time I’d stumbled across the Dragonsfoot forums, and I’ve been wandering down the winding paths of our hobby’s golden and silver ages ever since. 1st Edition AD&D, 3 flavors of Classic, retroclones like OSRIC, LL and BFRPG, and the OD&D / Judges Guild stuff – pretty much everything except my native 2e (which I still haven’t found a real use for, besides the Montrous Manual and Worldbuilder’s Guidebook), I’ve been exploring it all, picking up ideas and influences along the way. (Having a hell of a time, too.)

Currently, I find myself attempting to catalog a burgeoning B/X (’81 Moldvay Basic / Expert) megadungeon, with a rapidly-filling city above and a pretty sparse wilderness area surrounding – that will, in theory, be the bulk of what I talk about here. The whole thing was initially put together as a means to introduce D&D tropes and concepts to the uninitiated, and to provide a framework for the B/X rules to be explored; that’s shaped its development so far, and those will continue to be my goals. However, it’s also becoming an experiment in sandbox play, organic setting generation, free-form world design, and in “world programming” (i.e., shaping the world via custom random generation charts, and the exercise of rationalizing those results into a coherent whole). I’m going to try and use this format to further those ends, hopefully making the whole process more fruitless (and less painful) for me. Maybe you get some mileage out of it too, who knows? (Yeah, me neither.)

Besides all that, you’ll hear about my other campaigns (past and present), other systems, general old-school gaming stuff, music, nerd culture, the occasional psychotic rant. Whatever comes to mind. I’ll also try to assemble a collection of links to old-school / sandbox resources (as much for my convenience as anything else), and host the ones I come up with myself. (I spend an alarming amount of time generating custom game aids.) There may be pretty pictures, I don’t know.

Anyway, here’s this. Check this space soon for more.

DYA

1 I love that somewhere along the way we’ve picked up proper noun status.
2 Worst. Word. Ever.
3 Black and folk/Viking metal in particular – you’ll probably see posts relating to that here and there.
4 As noted above, half of the purpose for this blog is to give me an excuse to bone up on applications I need a refresher in – MS Office, Photoshop, HTML, etc. – as well as give me a chance to get familiar with RPG-specific tools like Campaign Cartographer, Hexographer, Tablesmith, etc.)
5 Fun fact: My mom apparently won an archery contest while dressed in full renaissance noble dress, and while 6 months pregnant with me. She says she was never a better archer than when she was pregnant – it did something to her balance. Go figure.
6 An increasingly canon-lite Forgotten Realms based not so much on the 3e set as on the 1e/early 2e Realms I ran back in the day, with an assload of my own additions. First real frustrations with canon overload are HERE.
7 Terrain and weather generation, domain-management stuff, henchmen and hireling interactions, the freaking reaction and morale rules… and on and on and yeah. So. Yeah.
8 One of the weaknesses I see in the CR system is that a smart, cautious, AD&D-trained player group (which I was both blessed and cursed with) will steamroll over CR-appropriate encounters. (Seen it time and time again.) Challenging them effectively without resorting to a Tucker’s Kobolds-type situation every time means they fight way over their assumed EL, and the resulting XP glut completely breaks the level ramp.
9 Particularly the problems inherent in designing a large dungeon under 3e rules – the party levels so fast that it can’t clear (or tame) much of a largish dungeon level before it’s “powered up” to the point where they can’t be challenged by the other threats present on the level. Fucking with the power scaling was one of my earliest (and biggest) issues with 3e.


EXCUSE THE MESS

Development and layout quite obviously in progress. (Check out the nerdy parchment theme they have in the default templates. Very "thatched roof cottage.") (Edit: Yeah, I changed that.)