Thursday, September 24, 2009

About The New Campaign (Or "GM ADD Strikes Again") [CZ:UW+WG13/1e]

When I stopped posting a few months back, my main campaign was my B/X homebrew sandbox. Sketchily detailed fantasy city-state with attendant a-wizard-did-it megadungeon below, Wilderlands-style hexcrawl areas in the surrounding hills, forests and swamps (using the Known World map from the Expert Set, but ignoring the Mystara stuff). One of the nice things thing about this campaign is its portability - I can run it with just one binder, no bookshelf required. Since I was running a lot of games out of my house, that was huge. However, my gaming time sorta fizzled around May, and I wasn't running games for a while.

Right when I got some free time to game again, a few things happened at once. I got some of the guys from the band hooked right around the same time several players from my old group became available on weeknights, so I suddenly had a double-handful of players. The GM of the BFRPG / Castle Zagyg game I was playing in abruptly suspended the campaign, and I'd been sitting on a brand new (unread) Castle Zagyg:Upper Works boxed set since the winter con season. And I needed a good excuse to clean out the Nerd Loft (incidentally, where my big table and AD&D / HackMaster shelf reside). A recipe for GM ADD if there ever was one.

So now we're on the fourth or fifth session of AD&D First Edition, using CZ:UW and Joe Bloch's WG13 as Castle Greyhawk, placed 2-3 hours' walk to the east of the Free City of Greyhawk (ignoring Yggsburgh and all TSR-published versions of both the City and the Castle), with the '81 folio and '83 boxed set versions of the World of Greyhawk campaign settings for background. I'm keeping most of the background material from the pre-'85 modules (I've got most of the 1e-era stuff) but ignoring most of the other Greyhawk material and changing whatever strikes me at the moment. I'm using lots of anecdotal material from the Lake Geneva campaign (pulled from forum posts and interviews on the net) for inspiration, but I'm not worried about canon or any aspirations to "authenticity". From what I can tell, the key to running a Gygaxian campaign is not obsessively parroting details from the game he ran, but rolling with the punches and thinking on your feet to see what kind of game you can come up with.

The group itself is a blast: Three players from my first long-term campaign (all hardened AD&D vets), three complete D&D virgins (the guys from the band - all 3 have played plenty of PCRPGs, including Baldur's Gate, so they're picking up fast), and rotating assortment of other folks - I'm seeing anywhere between 6 and 9 folks turning out every week. (It occasionally strikes me that I'm a lucky bastard - all I ever read is tales of woe from guys trying to get 3 players at an OAD&D table on the same day, and I'm almost to the point of turning good players away.) Running a group this size is an interesting challenge, but using a caller (and loudly-rolled wandering monster dice) is keeping things pretty smooth.

In keeping with my understanding of the original campaign, I've thrown alignment restrictions to the winds, so of course the guys immediately seized on playing an eeeeeeeeeevil party. In practice, they're not going as apeshit as I expected them to - it may be that, over the years, I've impressed upon them the repercussions for out-of-control PCs who Get Caught. (Hahaha...) They're plotting the betrayal of good-aligned adventuring parties, terrorizing small farming hamlets, abusing hapless hirelings, and indulging in the occasional good-natured inter-party assassination bidding war, but nothing that would arouse the wrath of the gods (or the guard) so I'm letting them play it out. All parties involved are half-expecting the whole thing to go down in a bloody PC-on-PC TPK at some point, but so far they're actually more or less working together.

What's more, they're actually succeeding. [CASTLE ZAGYG SPOILERS TO FOLLOW] They've made the trip to the Castle grounds a few times now (over a couple weeks of game time), in which time they've made a cursory exploration of the lower and middle courtyards, successfuly penetrated the dungeons (huh-huh, "penetrate"), and made inroads to Level 1 (the Store Rooms). Nobody's died yet (to my utter consternation), although they've had several close calls. They've had skirmishes with various humanoids in the Ruins level, and driven off the gnoll minions of a rival evil cleric (who they then seriously murdered to death*). (The party currently contains 3 evil clerics, so clearly they were protecting their job security.) They've managed to secure a defensible (if somewhat nightmare-inducing) refuge from the predations of the undead. The party MU also managed a neat little coup - they scored a few magic items by smart (and lucky) play, gave them to the MU, and he netted enough XP to go from level 1 to the cusp of level 3 in the space of two games. This, and the plate mail they liberated from the cleric, should give them a decent toehold on survivability, and it's looking like this batch just may make it over that 1st level hump.

Here's the line-up as it stands now:

Grishnakh Skuthne - Half-Orc Fighter 1
Baldermir Von Bizmark - Human Fighter 1 (on the cusp of 2)
Vladimir - Human "Fighter" (Assasssin) 1
Gozher the Gaucherion - Mountain Dwarf Cleric (Abbathor) 1
Mordis Pitborn - Half-Orc Fighter/Cleric (Incabulous)
Rudger - Half-Orc Fighter/Cleric (Fuck if I can remember)
Vas Deferenez - Half-Elf Fighter/MU 1/1
Treg Kerelius - Human MU 2 (on the cusp of 3)
Alberoth (AKA Dingle) - High Elf Thief 1
Falatious Bowlhard - Grey Elf "Thief" (Assassin) 1

Currently they're on level 1, just having won the fight with the gnolls (I'll be giving them the results of the room-loot next session.)

More on last session later.


* Man, speaking of players messing up a perfectly good plan. Gnolls, 4th-level cleric with hold person on tap. Rough situation for a 1st level group - unless the friggin' F/C PC on point wins initiative and drops a darkness spell on the enemy priest (who then obligingly fails his save like a good little xp-container)(grumble grumble). Tough to cast PC-party-fucking spells when you can't see them. *grump*

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Basically, I waste him with my crossbow. [Sort-of HackMaster Basic Review]

So, I got to try out HackMaster Basic today. My overall reaction would be more or less "fuck yeah."

I should preface by admitting that it was a pretty stellar and Hack-appropriate group, so the target audience was firmly in place. The player group consisted of: Dale (who runs the monthly-or so HM 4th Edition game I play in, and who hosted), Tyson (he'll be joining Dale's regular game next week), and myself (with a BTB HM4 campaign on hold and a HM4/AD&D hybrid campaign in early prep stages). GMing was Charles Brown, who's authored a couple Kenzer HM modules (Dead Gawd's Hand comes to mind as I write this); Chuck's a pretty active HackMaster booster in the local gaming scene.

I was ready to be fairly critical, sitting down at the table - I play HM4 for the AD&Disms, and tend to cross-pollinate the two systems pretty freely, so the news that HM5 wasn't going to be AD&D-based was a downer for me. Overall, new HM material is only useful to me as far as it's easily converted / ported over to my heavily-customized AD&D engine. That said, I was also licking my chops anticipating what cool rules I could steal for my HM4 game.

Come to find out that, while it may not strictly be "1e on crack" like HM4, it's not that damn far off. It sure as hell isn't d20 (and it's a far cry from World of 4craft). From AD&D, we still have "6+1 stats" (the familiar 6 along with "Looks" subbing in for Comeliness), and the super-granular stat bonus charts from HM (most bonuses and penalties start below 9 and above 11), but the functions of these scores has been shuffled around. Strength no longer provides a bonus to hit, however both Dexterity AND Intelligence do. Similarly, Dexterity provides a defensive adjustment - as does Wisdom (!). (The dumb fighter, as both Dale and I would learn, is not nearly as effective in HM5 than in previous editions.) Score generation is more flexible now - you have the option to take six-in-a-row, swap two scores, or arrange to taste - but you earn big Build Point bonuses by taking the more restrictive options (25 for swapping, 50 for taking it like a man). Scores can still be increased by cashing in Build Points (5 fractional points per BP as opposed to 25 in HM4). I rolled decent Dex, average Str and Con, and abysmal everything else. I decided to play a dwarf fighter. (When all was said and done, I was able to buy the Str and Con up to respectable levels, but everything else stayed crappy - I ended up with a 3 Charisma.)

Skills are percentage-based, where the score to hit is the relevant ability score plus whatever mastery dice the player bought in character creation (this more or less directly from HM4), but now we have a whole list of skills that regular people "just have" at a base rate (a nice addition). Also, wherever a skill depends on two scores, the lower is used (where previously they were averaged). I kinda like that - again, makes dumb PCs a little tougher to deal with. There isn't really a dump stat in HMB. With my lower-than-low mental scores, most of my skills were absolute crap. I also took a roll in swimming and one in first aid on top of the freebies.

Nobody played a spellcaster, but apparently there's a spell point system. *shrug* I like my clunky old slots/level Vancian dealie, but I'm sure that's house-rule-able.

Quirks and Flaws: In HM4, these are rolled randomly (as many times as you're dumb enough to ask for), and you earn BPs based on how hard you get boned. Here they don't buy you anything, instead all PCs roll for one Quirk (mental) and one Flaw (physical) (I think). I got "Foul-Mouthed" (like he wasn't gonna be anyway with a 3 Charisma) and "Pocking" (i.e., I got acne scars, -1 to Looks).

Combat: Here's where things get crazy/awesome. First off, instead of ACs and to-hit charts, combat is an opposed test. (Lots of things seem to be opposed tests.) The attacker rolls their to-hit (on a d20, no worries), and adds any bonuses from level, abilities, specialization, talents, magic, and so on. (These are, thankfully, all summed up on the weapon profile - no hastily adding them up on the spot.) The enemy makes a defense roll (d20 if they're aware, d8 if surprised or prone), adding in defense modifiers from abilities, magic, and such. If the attacker wins, the enemy is hit. Shields and weapons both boost defense (if the character is aware and can bring them to bear), whereas armor does NOT - however, both armor and shields absorb damage from a successful hit. If a shield is hit (i.e., makes the difference between a hit and a not-hit), it makes a save against breakage (modified by the damage and shield size). There's also knockback if you score enough damage (not sure of the math, but it happened once or twice). Interestingly, there's still crits, but now you can also roll a Perfect Defense and score yourself a free counter-attack.

Initiative is cascading - everybody rolls once (on a d12!), and then initiative is counted up from 1 (no rounds, the count doesn't "reset"). Attacking adds your weapon's speed to the count, attacking again adds it again. It's surprisingly fluid, and makes high-speed weapons like daggers nice and mean. (Honestly, this is a big change but I think I really like it - HM4 has this weird dichotomy between its round-based initiative (imported almost verbatim from the 1e DMG) and its tracking of movement and non-spell-melee-or-missile actions by segments. This system seems to remedy that.)

We played the introductory module that (as I understand it) is downloadable from the Kenzer & Co. site. To sum up (SPOILER ALERTS): Stuff is missing, go find out who took the stuff and get the stuff back, murdering the stuff-takers is optional. We got to the place, fought some wolves, fought some snakes, defeated a (normal, non-magical) apple tree, talked to (and successfully resisted the urge to murder) an old lady, murdered some halflings (the GM insisted they were kobolds but we had decided early on that the culprits of the stuff-taking were halflings, and wouldn't be dissuaded) ("mountain halflings" my dwarf theorized), and got the stuff. Then the guy wouldn't pay us because he keeps his money in a module that hasn't been published yet (no, really, I'm not making that part up). A good time was had by all, we won at HackMaster.

So, I'll be ordering myself a copy about as quickly as I can manage - it's pretty crunchy, which is not exactly how I prefer my AD&D, but as its own game it's got an awful lot going for it. (I'll be stealing from it liberally, both for 1e and HM4.) And the one-book presentation is a big plus. If you can arrange to sit down at a table for a test-drive, do yourself a favor. Thumbs up.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Attention Vault-Dwellers

Holy fuck, this is awesome:


Wasteland is basically Fallout for tabletop, using a modified Traveller engine. Everything's there - the weapons, the creatures, the whole lot. This is sheer brilliance. I want to run it right away. DAMN YOU, GM ADD!!!1!!11

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Hey, I was gone for awhile* but apparently I'm back**, so here's a random (experimental) house rule to screw with.


I always liked the skill systems in games like Ultima Online or old BBS MUDs, particularly the ability to learn a skill either by in-game practice or by training from an instructor. However, tying skill advancement to repeatedly performing a task over and over again is tricky.

First off, in online CRPGs game time generally equates to real time (albeit at a compressed rate), so advancement by practice is at least limited by the player's playing schedule and/or capacity for boredom. In a pen-and-paper RPG, where real time has an extremely nebulous relationship to game time, there's little to keep enterprising players from simply saying, for example, "I climb the inn wall a hundred times, let's start making skill rolls". How exciting for you and your players. Players should be rewarded for working on skills in-game without reducing play to a MMO-style grind session.

Second, some skills are way, way easier to learn than others. You can learn to build a fire effectively with only a few attempts (even quicker if you're camping out in the cold without a gore-tex mummy bag), while some hunters hunt for several seasons before ever making a kill (especially if they're doing it without a hunting buddy who knows what he's doing).

That in mind, consider assigning a die type to a skill based on how tough it is to learn (small dice for easy skills). Taking examples from the Wilderness Survival Guide, fire-building might have a d4, fishing perhaps a d6. Something like hunting maybe as much as a d8 or d10. On a skill practice attempt, the die type assigned is rolled - if a 1 is rolled, further attempts are made on the next lower die type. If the player gets a 1 on a d4, they have successfully learned the skill.
A player may make only 1 such practice attempt a day in this manner. (Not to say they can't keep trying, but only the first roll counts,). Basically, either you practiced (GM's call on how practice for any given skill takes), or you didn't.

To account for a trainer, a practice attempt could be considered successful on a 1 or a 2. This could be used for a peer trainer (i.e., PC training PC), where perhaps a master trainer could even allow success on a 1, 2, or 3.

Furthermore, in a game where skills are rated by competence (as opposed to binary "you have it or you don't" skills), this system can be reversed to track advancement beyond simple competence. Roll from d4 up to d6 and so on, and assign a skill level to the die type being rolled - maybe d4 = clueless, d6 = novice, d8 = apprentice, d10 = average, yadda yadda yadda. (Could also apply to NWPs that have multiple slots.) You could assign different ratings for different skills if you wanted that degree of granularity.

Keep in mind this is all system-neutral brainstorming, except that it obviously assumes some sort of skill system is in play. I use simple roll-under ability checks in Basic, but I'm considering working NWPs and/or secondary skills (as per the 1e DMG)into my new AD&D campaign - however I'm not a fan of the "proficiency slots per level" system in the Survival Guides. In any case, the above could be used in any game with a similar system. I may use it, or a variant thereof, for LBB Traveller at some point soon.


* Family illness + PC issues + unemployment + new band getting ready to play shows, all teamed up to make blogging (and gaming) the last thing on my mind for a few weeks, there.

** However, a) things calmed down a little bit, b) my bandmates started asking about D&D, and c) the guy running the fucking sweet BFRPG/Castle Zagyg campaign I had been playing in made a sudden departure from gaming, leaving me free to read mine. It was immediately necessary to start a new 1e / Castle Greyhawk campaign. ;) More on that in probably my next post.

*** Also I got a Blackberry so I can post random nonsense as it pops out of my head now, and then I sat down for a smoke, read about rules for catfish noodling being included in an old issue of White Dwarf, and the preceding rule nugget popped out. Yay for the illuminating properties of the halfling's weed.

**** wait, there wasn't even a "***" up there, why did you read that last bit? why are you even reading this?