The Dunedain

The Dunedain

Saturday, April 18, 2015


Swords & Wizardry appreciation day has just passed. Along with Labyrinth Lord I think Swords & Wizardry gets the most retro-clone love. There has been a Basic Fantasy RPG appreciation day, and I am a big fan of BFRPG myself; I own in print everything they offer.

But wasn't OSRIC the first retro-clone? Why doesn't it have a special day? If it does, I have never heard of it. OSRIC emulates 1st edition AD&D, and that's what me and most of my friends were playing back in the day (mostly, there was some bleed through from other editions).

To be honest, I forget that OSRIC exists a lot. Part of my retro-clone addiction is finding the editions that I didn't play (OD&D) or only played a bit (Holmes, B/X). I still have all of my 1st edition AD&D books, so I guess OSRIC wasn't a priority to me, it was only as I was putting together a list to catalog all of my retro-clone purchases and rounding them up to keep them together that I realized I didn't actually have a hard copy of OSRIC. I have since rectified this- I ordered a copy from Noble Knight Games, it'll be here probably on Monday.

So why no OSRIC love from the OSR community at large?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Which version of D&D do I like better? How about you?


I have consistently second guessed myself while I run (A)D&D games for my group about which version (or retroclone) I like better for play. I range between the simplicity and adaptability of S&W Whitebox and the complexity and completeness of 1st edition AD&D (sometimes including “Unearthed Arcana”, but rarely anything later). Sometimes I decide a particular retroclone looks like it'll be good for what I want to play- I just started playing S&W Complete for instance, or I'd really like to play “Lamentations of the Flame Princess” (and so would a couple of my players) sometime soon.

I guess what it comes down to is that I like the adaptability of the early edition stuff based on OD&D and it's semi-gonzo SF additions to our standard fantasy fare. I like the simplicity and lower power level of OD&D, B/X and their clones. I have written a few rules sets now using S&W and B/X as a template. However, something in my head keeps dragging me back to 1st edition AD&D (or Labyrinth Lord+ Advanced Edition Companion- more on this later). I suppose it's because that's my old default. When I was just starting to play AD&D was just arriving on the scene and B/X wasn't quite here yet (I actually started with Holmes Basic).

Now, the power creep/edition (larger HD, more powerful magic items, more special abilities) is what pulls me away from AD&D towards OD&D or B/X. The absolute familiarity with (and perhaps even mastery of) the rules set is what drags me back. My D&D formative years ran from 1980-85ish, AD&D OA makes it under the wire, and UA slips a bit in sometimes, but my core system has always been PH, DMG and MM.

I guess the power creep is something I never noticed before the 3e era, probably because my default system was 1st edition and I never really looked at it objectively compared to the Holmes Basic and Cook/Marsh Expert sets. 2Nd edition was largely the same as 1st, only with a lot of inconsistent or unused (I am looking at you weapon vs. AC) rules being either tossed or overhauled. With this in mind, perhaps I should be playing either LL-AEC or straight 2nd edition AD&D, but I can't fully commit to either of those systems because I know 1st edition, with all it's warts & weirdnesses, it's Gygaxian purple-prose (a feature, not a bug- it immeasurably increased the vocabulary of pretty much everyone I knew), I have it practically memorized, even after all these years and anything I don't have memorized I can find in seconds in the book- no lengthy searches or game stoppage, and I know how to house rule it without breaking it in any way. Plus, I own multiple copies of all the books (including the premium reprints I got cheap on Ebay). I have given away complete core sets to my players that don't have them (another feature of Ebay- when I feel I am running low on extras for my table, I can usually find them really cheap there), and each of my kids has gotten a complete core set+ OA. My wife came with her own set.

But then I think about sub-classes, particularly Fighter sub-classes, which irritate me; why should a Fighter not be the best at fighting? Every other sub-class loses something, or at least fundamentally changes something, from the core class to make up for gaining their new abilities, not Rangers or Paladins though, so what's up with that? It's not that I hate the idea of Rangers and Paladins, and I get that it's harder to get the stats to be one of them and that they level slightly slower, but they still make better fighters than Fighters do, and that's what irks me. I don't take issue with creating a new subclass for the purposes of playing exactly the character class that you want to play even, I've made them in the past and I probably will again in the future. I am pretty sure that was the impetus behind the design of every AD&D sub-class. Think of them as customized class options for your role-playing needs.

Now, Labyrinth Lord +Advanced Edition Companion is a game that plays functionally identical to my experience with 1st edition AD&D, my only real problems with using it as a go-to system are that I already own multiple copies of AD&D and it's B/X based, which means that I need 2 rulebooks and have to ignore a bunch of stuff from the first.

I guess what was trying doing here was get all of these stray thoughts down where I can see them and mull over my options, what it has, apparently, done was talk myself into running 1st edition AD&D again, with the option of using retroclone ideas as house rule options. Thanks for reading, I am still open to suggestions and differing opinions, because I will, most likely, go back and forth on this for the next day or so before I run something for my oldest daughter Ashli and her boyfriend Rae who are coming to visit this weekend.

Now some other stuff that's been on my mind- if you were going to run a single adventure for three to five players and had access to pretty much every adventure published by TSR for Holmes Basic, B/X, BECMI and 1st edition AD&D what would you run? I am missing a few from the end of the era, but I have most of them. I was thinking something tournament style, that'll give the group focus and a sense of urgency, plus they won't have to worry about losing a beloved character because these types of modules usually have a bunch of pregens included. I was also thinking something a little higher level, because we never get there in campaign play and I think that they might enjoy playing characters at level 9+ for a change. Not The Tomb of Horrors though, that's a straight out meat-grinder and I've seen parties with all experienced players die in the entryway.

Also, I was thinking about other game systems recently, especially the ones like GURPS that pretty much mandate during character creation how you are going to role-play your character and that's one of those things I've never actually seen the need to have enshrined in rules. Some people think that alignment is unrealistic and too much of a straight-jacket to your role-playing, in my experience these are the same people that want to see at least part of your character creation include at least some options for deciding how you must role-play your character. GURPS has a bunch of these, off the top of my head I can recall codes and berserkerism and addiction as role-playing options that grant you some tangible character creation bonus with a few rules on how you must then play your character as a trade off. I am not a huge fan of point-buy systems in general anyway, I kind of like some randomness in character generation and I don't think all PCs should be created equal (but with the option for a master min-maxxer to really work the rules to make a Frankenstein's monster of a PC).

I am also not a big fan of skill systems, I never saw the point. The way I see it, if you want to do something, you ask your DM if it's possible and he figures out whether or not it's at all possible and then determines how it should work. I guess it helps if you have some sort of background, like the secondary skills in the DMG; although those work best for humans, those are some tables that could use a redesign based on a PC's race, the region they come from (or where the campaign starts) and maybe the general tech level. I guess they'd be best tailor made for every DM's campaign world. Not that I don't use skill systems where appropriate, just not a fan. This is likely because of 2nd edition AD&D's poorly thought out and ill-named Non-Weapon Proficiency system, which, while optional, was both over used and miss-used in my experience, all the while being extremely unnecessary. Yes, I realize that the 2nd edition system is a direct descendant of the 1st edition system which premiered in my beloved Oriental Adventures book, it's just that I am that contrary. Also, I hate that system and have eliminated it in my upcoming retroclone Samurai!, wherein I replace them with a set of backgrounds that grant you the ability to do certain things. But generally speaking, if you can give me a halfway decent reason why you should be able to do something, I usually let you. I base this on the fact that I can speak, read and write English, and to a lesser extent, French and Spanish. I can swim pretty well, do math (even some higher math) and all the other stuff I learned in public schools and just living in rural upstate NY. Usually, no matter how well I min-max a character, there is no way I can come close to what I could do even when I was a teen-ager, much less as an adult, and on top of all that, I am a pretty decent fighter, both armed and unarmed, and an ordained clergyman. That's right folks, I am dual-classed...

What about Henchmen, Hirelings, and other Retainers? I swore by them in the early days of playing D&D, not so much for the extra swords in the fight, but for handling the mundane stuff like carrying the light sources or acting as bearers for the loot we found, but we usually had a couple of “special” guys too, usually a Thief hired on to open locks and search for traps- oddly enough, even when we had Thieves in the party. You can't be too careful in the dungeon. Later, as the games started having more overland and wilderness type adventures, we started having people just for helping out with the horses (and staying with them while we went into dungeons) and some extra muscle to help out with guarding our camp. Now it seems like even the people I played with back in the day avoid them like the plague. I can understand (although not agree with) the notion that Henchmen are experience point and treasure leeches, but what about the ones that only get paid a pittance and don't get a ½ share of experience points? Plus it makes Charisma less of a dump stat if they are included in the game.

What's the deal with people not liking (A)D&D for more pure role-playing type game sessions? There's nothing stopping you from going all thespian with a D&D character, as a DM I actually will give an XP award or some other type of bonus as a reward for good role-playing, it's within my purview as DM. But some players insist that there is something inherent about D&D in particular that stunts role-playing. I don't get it. Sure D&D evolved from wargaming, and there was a certain wargame mentality to the role-playing by association. I don't hate that to be truthful, but I think that it is making less of the game than it can be. That said, there are some things that I can't stand to role-play like, say, buying equipment or any other mundane, somewhat boring task. Who wants to role-play mucking out stables or brushing down their horse? I don't, not as a player and not as DM; some stuff can be glossed over pretty easily and we don't lose anything by doing so. You probably want some real interaction the first time you meet the duke though, and maybe a bit when you are invited back for dinner. These role-playing vignettes are a great opportunity for mini-information dumps as a DM and I think that players and DMs alike should grasp the opportunity to try their hand at being more of a thespian. The exchange between DM and players there can lead to some really cool ideas for your campaign heading down the road.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Work Slowdown at Great Khan Games

I figured I might as well let everyone know that Great Khan Games release schedule has suffered a massive hit. I was doing a routine upgrade of my operating system and it went terribly awry, resulting in the loss of a great deal of work, ranging from "in final editing" to "just barely started" statuses. This has consumed my free time, in large part, for a couple of weeks now. I had a D&D based Star Trek game pretty much ready to go, I was just waiting on some art and making the decision whether or not to release it as a Star Trek game (for free) or to alter it a little bit into a Star Trek-esque game and make it PWYW. I was leaning towards free. Samurai was at about 50%, B/X WW2 (a working title) and 'Nam were at about 80% and Vikings and Legion were at 25% or less, but I have been making great strides with my D&D based games before the accidental destruction of my work. I really hate to rewrite stuff completely, so fixing the problem has been slow going. I also like to bounce from project to project as ideas strike me, rather than concentrate on just one at a time- it's how my brain works. I had another character class ready to go, and didn't have any part of it saved anywhere else, so that's a downer too.

So, anyway, that's where I've been. Great Khan Games isn't going to have anything new until at least next month, depending on inspiration and ambition striking. I'd planned to have something new every other week or so after I launched with the PWYW Steppe Warrior class, but that's not going to happen now. Mea culpa, but stay tuned for some more stuff, we aren't going to let this stop us.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Better late than never

This is very much in keeping with the spirit of this blog.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Steppe Warrior Class

I feel like I should put this link here too-

This is a newly edited version of the class I presented here a couple of years ago, and the inaugural "product" for Great Khan Games. I have plans for more stuff, that is not older content, in the near future.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Friday, January 16, 2015

Changed my Blog Title Back

Returned to Ramblings as it were.

Other stuff-

I have written my own more S&W version of Star Trek, it's not polished and ready for public consumption, but it's more or less playable and I hope to test it soon.

Created a mission based Vietnam War RPG D&D hack. This is another one that needs polishing, but it is playable (provided I am at the table to explain the bits I haven't written yet).

Tossed out both my OA D&D hack and my B/X WW II projects, and started over with some of the design principles I came up with for both 'Nam and Star Trek. Got a complete outline and extensive notes for my OA D&D hack (tentatively titled "Samurai!") and planned a supplement ("Ninja!").  I even figured out what I am doing for art for "Samurai!".

Created a new campaign world for OD&D/S&W Whitebox, as it turns out the implied setting of OD&D is different than it is for AD&D. Both have an implied post-apocalyptic setting, but OD&D is a lot more free and easy with sci-fi elements than AD&D. I actually ran a game in my new campaign setting earlier this month and, while it's reception was mixed, it went OK. I was a little disappointed that the party wasn't terribly interested in the travel brochures from the 4th Reich, and that they decided to kill their tour guide in Helltown, but I have some easy fixes planned for this coming Saturday.

Oh, and I created a new game system entirely, I call it "Simple d20 Mechanics for RPGs or Miniature Battles, including rules for Magic". This one is being looked over by my buddy Darryl in case it needs some rules clarifications or whatnot, he became a professional editor after he and I worked on Paul Elliot's 43 AD. I hope to release it soon as a free download from our newly created collaboration "Great Khan Games" once it's ready I'll provide the RPGNow link.

I have a couple of more ideas in the "brainstorm" phase of development too.

Of course, the trade off here is that I haven't written any of my promised reviews, despite the fact that I acquired even more stuff to review. I recently bought several new OSR products on Lulu, first up will be Full Metal Platemail, but I have been writing more than I've been reading for the last few weeks.

Also- is anyone interested in writing some extensive random tables that are reminiscent of the AD&D OA ancestry tables? I am apparently bad at that and it's costing me a lot of time. Just a thought.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Chainmail Bikini Babes & Hot Elf Chicks

Just boosting the signal, although, according to my stats, I should add Great Helm and Crusader Helm if I really want lots of hits. That said "Chinmail Bikini Babes & Hot Elf Chicks" sounds like it could be an RPG all on it's own. I think it would even fly with my group of mostly female players. It's tag line could be something like "The all fantasy female stereotype RPG". Here is a classic Chainmail Bikini Babe, just so you all don't feel cheated-

Red Sonja

I always liked Red Sonja. When I was a kid, reading Marvel Comics, Red Sonja was just a Female Conan the Barbarian to me, I never understood that she was a negative female stereotype just because she wore the skimpy armor, anymore than I thought Conan might be a negative male stereotype just because he runs around in a loincloth. I guess I just thought that, as comic book characters, they needed to have a unique look to make them stand out from the rest of the characters, and that it might be pretty warm in Hyboria.

And a Hot Elf Chick-


OK, she's a Demoness, but in Elf form.

Besides, I think we can all agree that the Drow have the hottest Elf chicks, just because they are all slutty bad girl stereotypes. That I got right away, but puberty had struck in the interim; and who doesn't like a bad girl?

I was going to post some more mini-reviews here, but I am not feeling it right now. So have a couple of Great Helms (as used by Crusaders) as consolation.

A random thought just struck me, has anyone considered that "Lolth" might just be a Gygaxian corruption of "Lilith"? Is this a new thought? Has everyone figured that bit of linguistic evolution out before me?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

5th Edition D&D- My Condensed Review

OK, I've had some time to look at WotC's latest iteration of D&D now, and I have to say that my reaction is mixed. Not just on the aesthetics either.

The Player's Handbook- I think I have made my opinion on the art in the Player's Handbook pretty clear, not a fan. However, the rest of the book, and I am willing to let the art slide if I like the content, still left me with an over all negative opinion. I mean, I realize this is the Player's Handbook, but 170 pages on character generation? Really? OK, that covers advancement too, but in the 1st edition AD&D Players Handbook it's a mere 38 pages, which is far in excess of B/X's 14 pages in the Basic book. I found myself skimming in a lot of places and had to force myself to slow down, go back and reread sections. That was tedious. Sure, I could just pick a "standard" Dwarven Fighter instead of reading through all the class/race choices (which would save me roughly 110 pages of reading), but then there's a bunch of fiddly stuff (that I will likely forget about as a player, not to mention trying to remember all of it as a DM) before I even get to buying my starting equipment. Now, my caveat here is that I have not played yet, so maybe it will all go easier than I think. My personal bias is also irked by the fact that the tallest Humans are now only 6'4", according to the random table. I am 6'6" and I am not the tallest Human I have ever met. Overall grade D.

The Monster Manual- Not a huge fan of the art there either, but it is an improvement over the Player's Handbook. There is a design aesthetic at work here that seems too homogeneously stylized, but this isn't really new to this edition; just, disappointingly, continued. The stat blocks, ranging from roughly 1/4 to 1/2 page are too much, in my opinion. B/X D&D gave us about 6 monsters to the page, here we might get 2. It's pretty hard to screw up a Monster Manual too bad though, so overall grade C.

The Dungeon Master's Guide- Probably the saving grace of the core books of this edition, the art still didn't appeal to me, but damn, it's a meaty tome. Chock full of real advice that is practically system neutral, I'd have to say it's the best effort on a DMG since 1st edition AD&D- and I loved that one. The overall greatness is diminished by a couple of the things that I find to be anathema to DMing- Tailoring your encounters to your party, and it's ugly cousin; tailoring treasure yields to the party. They are small parts of the book, but they remind me too much of 3e and the reason I quit D&D. They mar an otherwise awesome book, but they are core to the build of the system, as they were in 3e (and, presumably, 4e). Anyway, it's a pretty darned solid book for any GM, but it's weak art and a few later editionisms that were kept drag it's grade down, a solid B.

Other random thoughts-
Backgrounds: I actually thought I would like them, I like the concept, but they left me cold when I read through them. Power Level: Easily as amped up as 3e.

Races: Their proliferation irritates me, but at least it's the DM's explicit say as to whether or not any given race is allowed.

Art: yep, I know, I keep harping on the art. I think they would have done better with LESS art direction. Give an artist a general description of what you are looking for, and let them do it, maybe you take it maybe you don't, but I think that this edition could really have benefited from having different art styles represented. I think too that this edition has taken itself too seriously and has produced a lot of self conscious mediocre art as a result. My wife is an artist, so I have grown, over the years, to appreciate how much of an impact the art has on the product. Early editions mixed it up
with a bunch of different artists, with wildly different styles and levels of talent. Sutherland, Roslof, Dee, Willingham, Otus, Darlene and Trampier (just off the top of my head, and I apologize to the artists I missed and their fans) put their stamp on Gary and Dave's game. Just looking at the illustrations in the Holmes Basic, B/X and AD&D books made me begin to imagine, and still does today. This edition just doesn't. I think it was the love for the game, and the use of their own imaginations that made the early D&D artists so good, they pored their souls into the work. Art is subjective, but I think that these-

are more evocative than this-

So I guess that gives 5th edition D&D a solid C average. My opinion of it may change with play, and again with DMing.

Monday, December 29, 2014

I have some bad news.

So. I didn't really want to turn my OSR gaming blog into a litany of the various woes occurring in my, and my family's lives, but I feel I owe an explanation to everyone as to why I started blogging again and then abruptly quit. I have been thinking about this particular post for about a month, since my wife Mona's “surprise surgery”.

Her surgery was originally intended to stop a copious amount of bleeding. She was transfused 8 units of blood over 2 days and still left the hospital after her surgery dangerously anemic, but worse than that, they discovered and removed a tumor, which was causing the bleeding, and the tumor turned out to be cancerous.

Since then she has been waiting to see an oncologist to find out how bad it is. She finally got an appointment scheduled for Friday, January 9th. The delay has been really driving me crazy, so I can only imagine how hard it has been for her.

She has been super tired for weeks now, and she knows that she will have at least one more surgery in the future, and possibly chemo-therapy and/or radiation following that.

So, that's why I haven't gotten around to writing anything really since around Thanksgiving; well that and moving to the new house. It's been a really slow move, we still don't have all of our stuff here, but at least we own the place we left, so there's no real hurry.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

I recently moved

I recently moved and had 4 days without any internet, it gave me a bit of time to read through some OSR stuff and the 5e DMG. I will most likely be blogging about all of them soon, the list of coming reviews is -

Swords & Wizardry White Box Rules
Swords & Wizardry Complete
Delving Deeper Reference Rules Compendium
"Realms of Crawling Chaos"
"Red Tide", "An Echo, Resounding" and "Scarlet Heroes" (lumped together because they all cover the same campaign setting)
"AX1 - D30 DM Companion" and "AX2 - D30 Sandbox Companion" (same author, similar subject matter)
"The Dungeon Alphabet" (expanded 3rd printing)
"Malevolent and Benign"
5th edition D&D "Player's Handbook", "Monster Manual" and "Dungeon Master's Guide" (complete system)
"VA1 - Valley of the Five Fires"

and last, but not least, "The Basic Fantasy Field Guide of Creatures Malevolent and Benign"

 I thought I should show everyone my new S&W campaign at Obsidian Portal too.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

5e edition D&D: My first impressions

Old School DM                                                          New D&D

I finally got around to opening up my Player's Handbook today and started reading. I had been putting that off for I don't even know what reason, but I figured I'd better familiarize myself with the new rules, as I am kicking off a new D&D campaign (probably) this coming Saturday. I decided to let my players vote on a rules set to use out of every RPG I own and 5e D&D seems to be a front-runner, it seems that some of them want to try something new (my inner grognard protests).

So, my initial impressions-

The art: I can't say I am a big fan, but I am only about 50 pages into the book, so that's one caveat. The art seems dark and somewhat uninspired. Technically the art is only mildly proficient, with many anatomy errors throughout. The subjects of the art range from mildly homely to butt-ugly, with only a few standouts that could be referred to as average looking. There is a distinct tone to the art that speaks to me as having a lack of inspiration among the artists, as though they were art directed to near death. I say all of this knowing that some of my favorite D&D art is somewhat amateurish at best, but in first edition AD&D and it's contemporaries (B/X, BECMI) the art was, at least, inspired; it was D&D fan art, and that made it subjectively good, despite it's technical imperfections. I know that art is subjective, so your mileage may vary. Zak S. was a contributor so why couldn't they have used him for some of the art?

The rules: I went through every phase of the public play-test, so I had an inkling of what to expect. I am not going to say I like everything about them, so far, but at least where changes were made they were either building upon the legacy of previous editions, or they were pretty well thought out. That said, I had an initially good impression of 3e, and I ended up hating it because it was a pain to DM and a playground for rules-lawyers. I have said before on this blog, probably more than once, that I don't like any rules set that takes away the power (and creative spontaneity) of the game master. I am a little gun-shy as a result of 3e, and that's probably why I have had this book for months and not cracked it open before now. All of that being said, I am willing to give it a shot, it still (despite the funky looking Gnomes, Dragonborn and Tieflings) feels like D&D. I just hope it retains the agency of the DM.

Funky looking

Too dark in the book.

See, I didn't even notice the Dwarf until I saw the lighter version

Poor anatomy, at best average looking people, dark and not inspiring.