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Thursday, March 8, 2018

20 Questions for Lost Atlantis



  1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
    Your Cleric worships a pantheon of gods, although he might be more dedicated to one, such as the Special Priest of Jupiter, this isn't monotheism, all of the gods are important.
  2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
    Neptune City is it right now. It is currently the only civilized settlement on the entire continent.
  3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
    Neptune City again.
  4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
    Chief Arcanist Quintus Flavonius Dava, attached to the headquarters of the 9th Legion (Legio IX).
  5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
    Currently it's looking like Tiberius Virius Congrio, Dwarf, Veteran of the 31st Legion, current riverine explorer.
  6. Who is the richest person in the land?
    Tough to say, but most likely the Proconsular Governor of Atlantis province, Gaius Quinctius Flamininus.
  7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?
    The temple of Neptune Atlantis, near the port is your best bet, although the temple of Mars and Bellona in the forum is popular with soldiers.
  8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
    Currently your only chance here is going to be the temple of Neptune Atlantis.
  9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
    The Ordo Arcanum is the most common place to learn the arcane arts. They maintain libraries in most major cities in the empire, and have a school in Alexandria.
  10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
    Pickings are slim in Neptune City right now, and it's your only shot, but more people are arriving every day.
  11. Where can I hire mercenaries?
    Neptune City, but there aren't any real organized bands there (yet), just individuals willing to sell their swords, or occasionally a small band of friends. They are all mostly legionary or auxiliary veterans, former gladiators or just desperate men willing to do what they can to strike it rich.
  12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
    Not yet, currently it's the pre-Wyatt Earp old west here.
  13. Which way to the nearest tavern?
    Tenkar's is right inside the west gate, on the south side of the gate. It's the most popular with explorers and treasure hunters currently. Ferria's is just off the docks and is popular with sailors and dockworkers. The “Golden Goose” is at the foot of Patrician's Hill, and is popular with the wealthy.
  14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
    Currently rumors fly of a Giant Crocodile near the area being cleared by the municipal slaves.
  15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
    No, not just yet.
  16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
    Absolutely, there is an arena in Jupiter City, across from the olive grove, and a Gladiator School (Ludus Gladiatorum) has opened near the south gate, next to the Spanish quarter.
  17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
    There are more factions in the empire than you can shake a stick at, the most reviled secret faction is the Temple of Set. The most admired is the Ordo Aquila. Neither are proven to actually exist, because they are secret societies, but the rumors and lore surrounding them make for compelling conspiracy theories.
  18. What is there to eat around here?
    Mostly fish and other seafood, and grain products. Almost all of the food in Neptune city is still imported from the empire proper. People are raising chickens, ducks and geese in the city, but they are mostly used for their egg production. One unpopular entrepreneur has brought over a cargo of pigs to raise for meat, and they keep breaking loose from their pen and wandering around the city. Fishing boats bring back a decent catch every day though, and the municipal slaves are slowly clearing and draining the land around the city with the aid of the corps of legionary engineers to start raising crops. There is a pre-existing olive grove in the city limits, but it hasn't produced a crop yet, and it will be a very small crop. The governor is desperate to find better farm land for crops and the grazing of sheep and cattle.
  19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
    This is Atlantis, lost magic and technology are just waiting to be discovered.
  20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
    Only everywhere, who dares wins, eh? It's a booming, gold rush economy here, look how much Congrio's crew pulled out of the swamp yesterday.
Any other questions?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Name Your Poison




I am currently running a Roman themed AD&D (1st edition, heavy on the house rules) game on Roll20. I am giving serious thought to also running an OD&D (or Swords & Wizardry Whitebox) game there too. I am thinking of giving it a Norman/Crusader theme, kind of roll out with extra medievalisms, like jousting, maybe eliminate non-human characters so everything “other” is special and supernatural. Write up a bit of a culture packet, like I did with the Romans and see how that goes. I don't even know if I'll add Thieves.

The real kicker is that I think I might do it as a megadungeon campaign. My Roman themed “Lost Atlantis” campaign was decided, by player vote, to be a hex crawl and I'd kind of like to run some dungeon delving too.

I think I'd like to run jousting tournaments and stuff too. Maybe I'll have players make their characters like in Mike Davison's Flailsnails Jousting Tourney book.

I guess the point here is that I have a lot of time on my hands these days, since Mona died, and I'd like to fill it with some gaming. Pick either game, or both.

Find me on Facebook here - https://www.facebook.com/wdowie

Look to my gaming Discord server here - https://discord.gg/jYCvjPY


Keep in mind that I am a "theater of the mind" guy, so I rarely use minis in person on a real tabletop, I have yet to even try on Roll20.




Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Lost Atlantis

So I started a new (heavily house ruled) AD&D campaign, a mini-setting, part of my larger "Garnia" campaign setting. I call it lost Atlantis. I am running it as a "cloud" or"West Marches" style game. I asked all my friends (and family that play D&D) what kind of a game they wanted and they picked Exploration over Mega-Dungeon, so that's the focus.

Originally it was supposed to be an in person, local game, but it's like herding cats to get everyone's schedules to mesh, then we had bad weather cancel our only two scheduled games, so I opened it up to the possibility of online play via Roll20 and Discord, that gave me some more possible players, people I used to play with that had moved out of area and such.

I found a couple of other guys that are local through a gaming meet up.

We played a few times and I felt a little more confident. I don't use minis most of the time at home, so much of Roll20 is wasted on me, but it does make for a good dice roller and a repository for character sheets and the various documents I have written for the setting, which is, basically, the Roman empire discovers a new continent, where there never was one before. It's got a bunch of other accretions from my roughly 35 years of DMing in this world, but that's close enough to start.

I mention this now, because I am probably going to keep sharing stuff like my "Schrodinger's Adventurer" rule, which is now a house rule in the game, and also in case anyone want to check it out. We're playing tonight at 7:00PM. I'll be there sometime before 7:00PM (eastern US) to assist with rolling characters.

Here's the Discord link for voice- https://discord.gg/jYCvjPY

Here's the Roll20 link for the rest - https://app.roll20.net/join/2998862/sQwuRg

There is also a Facebook group for the game, which is used for scheduling (until I figure out a better way), as a secondary repository of campaign documents, and for talking about the game. Find it here - https://www.facebook.com/groups/260202304516526/


I still kind of consider my online game to be a beta, so I am slowly rolling it out for public consumption, but loyal blog readers should get the beta pass.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Schrodinger's Adventurer Rule


An alternate take on death and dying in D&D.



Essentially, when a PC or named NPC drops to zero or fewer Hit Points he is in a state of being neither dead, nor alive until we check on him, usually after combat. As soon as he is checked on (an action that takes a round for one PC), or the combat ends (Perhaps due to a TPK or the party's retreat from the battlefield),  the PC (or NPC) then makes a Save vs. Death to see whether or not he (or she) has shuffled off this mortal coil. The save is made at -2 if there was no one checking (this assumes that the person checking is acting as a combat medic/first responder, binding wounds, doing first aid, mouth to mouth, whatever). If the save is successful, the PC is unconscious at zero Hit Points and rolls on table A below; if not he is dead.

Table A-

1. Nothing happened, just got knocked silly somehow.
2. Roll 1d6 1-4 Gnarly scar, cool story, maybe a free drink every now and again, chicks dig it. 5-6 Gross scar -1CHA.
3. Head wound, make a Saving Throw vs Death for ½ effect, save at +4 if wearing a Helmet,  roll a d6 1-2 lose 1d4 INT, 3-4 lose 1d4 WIS, 5-6 lose 1d4 CHA, save again in a week, failure makes it permanent. Can be fixed with a Restoration spell.
4. Picked up a limp -25% movement rate, Save again in a week to see if it gets better, then again in a month, if it isn't better then, it never will be.
5. Broken limb, Roll a d6, 1-4 arm/hand, 5-6 Leg/Foot. Roll a d6: 1-4 dominant side, 5-6 off side, takes 2d4+2 weeks to heal.
6. Lost a body part, roll on table B.
7. Never heals right, -1 CON, natural healing is at 50% of normal from now on. Can be fixed with a Heal spell (50% chance), or a Regenerate spell (100% chance). Either way a rest of 2d10 days is necessary before full function is restored.
8. Mortal Wound, PC may be healed magically, but health will continue to decline losing 1d4 CON per day until 0 CON and death, or a regenerate spell is cast. Some kind of organ damage or internal bleeding or something.

Table B-

1. Fingers (or toes 10% chance), 1d4 fingers lost (75% chance on dominant hand side).
2. Hand (or foot, 5% chance), 75% chance on dominant side.
3. Arm (or leg) 75% chance dominant side, 75% chance below the elbow (or knee).
4. NOT THE FACE! Eye (50%), nose (25%) or mouth (25%), All of these leave a scar, with the eye it's got a 50% chance of being gnarly. Eye leaves you with a loss of vision to one side and a lack of depth perception (-2 to all ranged attacks until a Saving Throw is made, thereafter -1), loss of the nose always is gross, as is the loss of teeth from a mouth hit until the teeth can be regrown or false teeth are acquired.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

This Year

This year was devastating for me. My wife Mona, the love of my life, and my partner in all things, died on September 13th. Everything else pales in comparison. My kids lost their mother, her parent's lost another daughter. I lost my best friend, the only person who really understood me, the only woman I ever really loved.

I have tried and failed to adequately write about Mona since she died, she deserves to be written about, but I can't make it work yet.

I am told that in a few more months things will become marginally better for me, but it's hard to see right now.

I moved back up to Oswego county, the snowiest place on earth. I plan to start a new D&D campaign in the next few weeks, if I can find players. I need to find something to keep me busy, and I have tons of material from prepping my last campaign down in the Valley. We had just started playing when Mona died. She played the night she went into the hospital for the last time, it was the second session of the campaign, and the first had been a character creation, "session 0", that was a Friday night. If she hadn't gone into the hospital we'd have played my "Jigoku" campaign the next day, Saturday; we'd played 1/2 a dozen sessions of that one. Her character was a Mongol princess there, initially leading troops in their invasion of Japan, I think if that game had continued, if she hadn't died, it would have been truly epic, and one of the best characters Mona ever played.

Yesterday marked 15 weeks since my Mona died and it still doesn't feel entirely real to me, I am lost without her.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Setting the stage-

I just sent this out to the Facebook Group for my new West Marches style campaign.

Setting the stage-

Fort Augustus is the “safe town area”, it is the only remaining imperial outpost here in the wilderness, it is a port. The fort proper is on an island in the mouth of the river, the town itself clings to both banks of the river, nearest the fort. Beyond the buildings of the town are fields, pastures and orchards belonging either to small holders or owned by great-holders and worked by a mixture of hereditary serfs, indentured servants and convicts. The area is, in general well patrolled by imperial soldiers.

History-

The better part of a millennium ago, this land and all the land further east, belonged to your ancestors. There were many petty kingdoms of man, elf, and dwarf. Those kingdoms fell to a tide of beast-men and their demon overlords, your ancestors became refugees who eventually fled westward across the sea to the safety of a new land. Those refugees, united in their purpose to create a new home for themselves settled and civilized that land, creating the empire.

Nearly two centuries ago the empire sent an exploratory expedition to their old homelands, they found that they had become a wilderness, full of danger, but ripe for reconquest and resettlement. This proceeded fairly quickly, the surviving peoples had lapsed into barbarism, but many welcomed the empire, at first. Eventually, after a number of incidents, there were some native uprisings against the empire. The threat of savage tribes of bestial humanoids was omnipresent as well, still, conquest and settlement continued unabated.

Almost a century ago the emperor was assassinated, and died with no clear successor. The ensuing civil war lasted for over eighty years, with short, intermittent periods of peace while alliances shifted and forces gathered and regrouped. The colonies were largely abandoned to their fate. One by one they ceased to exist, except Fort Augustus.

Within the last decade the new imperial house consolidated their power and chose to once again pursue the colonization and conquest efforts of their predecessors on the imperial throne. A viceroy was appointed for the colonies and rapid settlement was encouraged, with many inducements, such as free transport, and free land. Ex-soldiers and mercenaries were given tracts of land as payouts for their services. Various noble houses have been granted vast tracts of wilderness for their cadet branches. Large sums of money have been offered to skilled laborers. Many imperial soldiers have been transferred to duty at Fort Augustus, then mustered out of service while there. Many have chosen exile to the colonies as preferable to life under the new regime. Transportation of convicts to the colonies has become a common punishment for many petty crimes.

However you got here, you are here now.



Sunday, July 23, 2017

Happy Birthday

Today is my birthday, I am 48 years old today. I was a little surprised to see I share a birthday with the original Traveller RPG and Holmes Basic D&D, both of which apparently turned 40 this weekend.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Thank You All

I am humbled by the support of the OSR community for myself and my wife Mona in our time of need. Since being made aware of her gofundme for her expenses, the OSR community has helped to push us over the 2/3rds mark, meaning we'll get to pay off all of our impending bills.

I probably waited too long to ask for help, we lost our house in late 2014 after she'd been out of work for about 9 months, too sick to do much of anything. Our youngest was still in high school then. We moved to Mona's hometown, from mine, after the end of that school year. Ember suggested it, so her mom could be around her family and oldest friends for her recovery period, despite the fact that she would be spending her senior year of high school in a new school. I love the house we are renting now, it is very nice, but it's not the same as the one we owned.

I have been selling my gaming stuff on Ebay since just before we moved to keep us afloat financially, but the cherries of the bunch are long gone, so that's more or less dried up. I've held a few things back, for sentimental reasons or because I still use them, and I've picked up a few bargain priced items in this time too, often for resale.

I am saddened by the fact that her art career was just starting to pick up during her initial recovery time. Richard LeBlanc held a couple of pieces in Petty Gods for her when she had her initial surgery and the complications kept her in the hospital for weeks. This led to her collaboration with Timothy Brannan, although she was already sick again by then.

Anyone that won a contest I held here, or requested a refrigerator magnet from me probably got an envelope that had been “Mona-ed up” by her, usually a dragon or something drawn on the envelope.


In light of this newest news from the oncologist yesterday, where we were told the odds were not in her favor and the option to just stop treatment and focus on her comfort was discussed, and she chose rather to fight, even though it would probably shorten her remaining lifespan, I would like to ask everyone to keep her in their prayers, if they are the praying kind, and I'd like to thank all of you for rallying to her cause.

Here are some pieces of her art- 

These first two she did for "Petty Gods"



The next three she did for Great Khan Games




She has always loved to draw mermaids


And Fairies


The odd dragon here and there


And a Valkyrie



And a photo of the lady herself, during her initial recovery in 2015




Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Go Fund Me for Mona

Since I am doing this, I figured I should probably reach as wide an audience as I can. I have set up a gofundme for my wife Mona's ongoing expenses related to her cancer here. Please donate if you can, and share the campaign. I won't go into all the details here, I have detailed the progress of her cancer in the gofundme, but I will point out that she is one of us. Old school. Her and I met at a D&D game in 1990. She has been my constant gaming companion ever since. She has more published OSR cred than me too, having done all of the art for Great Khan Games and she has a couple of pieces published in Petty Gods.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Rest In Peace Richard Hatch

So I’ve had a day to think about the passing of Richard Hatch. Like most men my age, when I was a kid I watched Battlestar Galactica and I loved it. My dad loved it too, so it was one of those few things we did together that we both enjoyed. Apollo and Starbuck were my heroes back then, probably moreso than Han and Luke or Kirk and Spock; partly because they were on every week with new episodes. In the days before VCRs being commonplace that was pretty important. I loved Battlestar Galactica so much that I subscribed to the Marvel Comic series. I learned to draw the ships and the cylons. I bought every magazine I could find that had articles about the show, I got the paperback sized Marvel graphic novel and the photonovel, I collected the trading cards. I begged my parents for the Viper toy for Christmas and they came through, I was the only kid I knew that got the viper. I bought the model kits, and I am bad at model building, always have been, but I spent a long time making them and they turned out OK. I even bought the crappy, sub par action figures.

Later on, in my teen years and into my early twenties I gamed Battlestar Galactica. A friend of mine bought the FASA BSG starfighter game, we played that fairly often. I adapted the AD&D rules set, with help from Boot Hill and Dawn Patrol, into a BSG RPG. Later on I did it again with GURPS. I never forgot BSG and I kept on loving it. I bought a bunch of the novelizations I’d missed when I was younger, they made decent source materials.

Close to 20 years after the brief run of Battlestar Galactica I found myself on the internet, a lot, before that was really a thing people did, and I discovered Battlestar Galactica fandom. I knew a few people that fondly remembered the show from 1978-79 before the internet, but when I sought out information back then I found that there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of devoted fans. People who loved the show like I did. I dove into BSG fandom with both feet and that is how I “met” Richard Hatch back in 1997 I think. I can’t remember how it came about, it was either through one of the BSG mailing lists I was on at the time, or on AOL, it doesn’t really matter I guess. I was a little suspicious that he was who he said he was at first, then a little starstruck I guess. I was trying to be cool, but it always made me feel something, honored maybe, perhaps excited, whenever he’d comment on something I wrote, or addressed me directly. We emailed back and forth a few times, after a while, and had one brief, awkward phone call. We lost contact, I broke the contact I guess, but it wouldn’t be long before he was back in the game and wouldn’t have had a lot of time for that kind of personal interaction.

He was a humble guy, really nice and he made a lot of jokes, often about himself. I got the impression that he was maybe a little shy, and wanted us fans to like him personally. We did. He seemed to love the show he worked on in 1978 as much as us hardcore fans did, it was endearing. He is the one TV star that I ever really had any interaction with. He was a good guy and I’ll miss him, despite not having really spent any time interacting with him since the late 1990’s.


I know he had a decent body of work as an actor, but to me he’ll always be remembered best for his role as Captain Apollo on the original Battlestar Galactica. Rest in peace.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

AD&D back in print



Old TSR stuff has been coming back to life as print on demand products for a few weeks now, but I feel I’d be remiss in my duty as an OSR blogger if I didn’t mention that the core AD&D books are back as POD products now. 1st edition AD&D was where I cut my teeth as a gamer and it’s the dialect of D&D that I speak natively. Sure, I learned on the OD&D variant Holmes Basic, but in less than a year I had the entire AD&D core rules and I never looked back. To this day 1st edition AD&D is my go-to game. Yes, I have many retroclones. Yes, I played 2nd edition for pretty much the entirety of it’s run. 1st edition made me as a D&D player though, so I am pleased to see it’s return to print, even just as a POD product.

I bought the AD&D premium reprints for the Gygax memorial fund- not that that worked out, but I never use those books, they seem to nice to use at the table really. I probably will not buy these POD copies, because I already have multiple copies of each of them, and I would prefer the original covers. Maybe, at some point, they will let you choose between cover variants?

Anyway, here are the links-

Players Handbook

Dungeon Masters Guide

Monster Manual

At $25.00 each, I think they are well priced, provided the quality of the paper and the binding are good.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thieves in D&D

****Note this is a slightly edited version of a rant I went on about Thieves back in 2012, at the end of a longer post about other things. I figured it never got as much of an audience because it wasn't it's own post, kind of lost in the noise, and I've been considering going through and editing for re-blogging some of my older stuff- consider this a test****

The Thief, D&D's biggest jerk class. 

I think I have finally figured out why though. The name of the class says "If you are a player that wants to screw over the rest of the party, play a Thief!". I know Conan was a Thief for a good portion of his career, but a lot of D&D players have never read Conan, or Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser*, or even Thieves World with Shadowspawn, so, even though AD&D doesn't come out and say "Steal from your party", it does mention that most Thieves tend to be Evil and they see things like the drawing of the shirtless Thief robbing somebody at knife point in the 1st edition Players Handbook right under Thieves XP table, or the "There is no honor among Thieves" drawing in the alignment description section of the Dungeon Masters Guide and they assume that's the code of conduct for Thief characters. The Moldvay Basic book comes right out and says it "..as their name indicates, however, they do steal- sometimes from members of their own party". Dr. Holmes states a little more bluntly in their class description "Thieves are never truly Good and are usually referred to as Neutral or Evil, so that other members of an expedition should never completely trust them and they are quite as likely to steal from their own party as from the Dungeon Master's Monsters.". When you couple this with the fact that they have that Pick Pockets skill, what are they going to do? Screw the party, that's what they're going to do. They don't have to, they level faster than every other party member, so stealing the gems or some extra gold so the get bonus XP they don't have to share is just damned greedy, but they do it because they can, the system encourages them to.



Kind of a dick, eh?


So I got to thinking about this, if D&D is fantasy F-ing Vietnam, then Thieves are like the Tunnel Rats, or SF or some kind of specialized warrior minus the name-tag and the Pick Pockets ability; because when you think about it, what else have they got? Find and Remove Traps? That's a pretty awesome and helpful ability to have in a party, very Tunnel Rat-esque too. Move Silently? Also damned handy and kind of militarily helpful, in a stealthy commando style. Hide in Shadows, same thing. Hear Noise, again, same thing. Climb Walls, again, same thing. Open Locks is the only iffy one there, and I can see an argument for it being a militarily useful skill, or at worst, an espionage type skill**. Even their Backstab ability is a pretty bad-ass commando type ability, so these guys could have been called something else (like, say- "Sneak Attack") and saved us all years of intra-party conflict and douchebaggery. 

I guess not every D&D Thief needed to be played like a raging douche, they could have been played as though they were modeled on Indiana Jones, he displays pretty much every single Thief skill (including Read Languages that I didn't mention because I was reading them out of the Moldvay Basic book and the Holmes Basic book when I listed them), but sadly, no, he's an Archaeologist, not a Thief (although that's a subtle distinction depending on when and where you are and who you ask); all I know is I'd rather have Indy in my party or a Tunnel Rat from 'Nam than any damned Thief, even if it is Conan. Conan occasionally screwed over his party***.

*I haven't for instance.

**Which brings me to the sad slippery slope argument that Pick Pockets makes for a great espionage type skill too. Maybe it would work if the Class wasn't called Thief and didn't have all of those references towards stealing from your own party and tending toward Evil.

***To be fair, if memory serves, they were usually Thieves that were planning on screwing him over, but you have to be careful about the company you keep. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Not Gaming Today

It always seems like I think and write more about gaming when I am actually gaming less. I guess that makes sense, if I were actually gaming I’d have less time to think about gaming in general. Today I was supposed to GM the new Mophidius Star Trek RPG, but both my wife Mona and my daughter Ember are sick. This should have been the “good” week for Mona, the last weekend before more chemo, we even had an “extra” weekend here because of Thanksgiving delaying a treatment for her. Until her treatments are done it’s looking like we are going to be two weeks off, one week on for gaming, with a pretty good chance of losing the third week too.

Star Trek came as a bit of a surprise this week anyway, we were scheduled to start a new Savage Worlds Fantasy campaign set in my own Garnia setting, but they released the playtest into the wild and they would appreciate getting the results back within a few weeks. It’s not a long adventure, and it seems like it hits all the right rules to test, and teach, the game. In that respect it brings to mind the adventure in the Legend of the Five Rings RPG first edition book.

Working on a new campaign is always handy to distract me from my wife’s illness, so I welcome it. Writing up stuff for Garnia for Savage Worlds is a little weird for me, I easily fall into my AD&D mode there, which makes me want to check out OSR related blogs and such, then lose myself for a while reading about things like the implied setting of OD&D, or Vancian magic, or a myriad of other details about TSR era D&D, especially the early, Gygax era.



I engaged more than usual with the D&D groups on Facebook this week, which made me realize that I have DMed way more than I have played over the years. Made me think about whether Holmes Basic should be counted as OD&D or part of the later Basic line, or should each iteration of Basic D&D be considered it’s own thing? I only recall having two characters of my own for Holmes, an elf I named Elrond- I was a big fan of the Hobbit at the time, and working my way through Lord of the Rings, and a Halfling named Garn- who my campaign world would be named after. Both of those characters were played in my friend Chris’s campaign, which eventually collapsed because of his killer DM/Monty Haul tendencies. Elrond died on his first adventure, killed by a Vampire he encountered on the second level of the dungeon. Garn became a god, after his first successful adventure.

I can only think of four 1st edition AD&D characters I played over the years. Mandark, a Human Fighter that I played in my friend Tim’s campaign from the time I was in 5th or 6th grade until he went in the army when I was a junior in high school. He made 8th level in those years of heavy play. Second, concurrently, was Lodor, and Elf Fighter/Magic-User that I played in non-Tim run campaigns (except for once, and I’m still bitter about that), he maxxed his levels out, 5th/8th I think. The third guy, whose name I don’t remember, I think it was something like “Fredigar”, lost his right hand after his first adventure and I retired him. Lastly, there was another Fighter, named Brennos, who I played in the 2nd edition era in a campaign run by my buddy Steve, who was the OG of old school. Brennos made it to 6th level, then got killed at the end of the last session we played by a critical hit from a goblin’s arrow, when he was at full HP. Still a little bitter about that too, but that campaign my well have been the most sand-box, old school game I ever played in.


2nd edition AD&D had me DMing less often, adult responsibilities and all, but I played in a pretty long-lasting (for the grown-up world anyway) game where I had two different characters, an Elf Magic-User (generalist, no kit) named Celenor, who made it to 6th level before a Drow’s sleep dart killed him with a crit, while at full HP- seeing a pattern here, still bitter about it too; and a Human Fighter whose name I forget. He was a swashbuckler, I made him so he wouldn’t compete with the Dwarf Fighter

Sunday, November 6, 2016

What's on my mind lately...

So, I’ve been thinking about games a lot lately, probably because I haven’t been playing a lot lately. My wife Mona’s cancer has recurred, in her lungs this time, and she’s started chemo and not been up to doing much gaming. We may be looking at one game per month roughly until she’s done with this course of treatment, she goes once every three weeks and it seems to take two to recover enough to do anything. I have, along with my daughter Ember, been busy picking up Mona’s slack, making meals and cleaning and such, more work than I’d expected I guess, and taking care of Mona where and when she needs it, so I don’t really have too much extra time to miss the games themselves, with the extra work involved in prepping the house for a bunch of people to come over, but I have the time to miss gaming.

Months ago my group grew from just myself, Mike and Mona to include Mike’s son Mason, my daughter Ember- who just turned nineteen, and Mike’s adult daughter Marie and her BFF Rebecca, although the latter two have only shown up when Mike was GMing Savage Worlds. Oh, and our occasional guest star Darryl, my oldest friend.

Mike has been running Savage Worlds in a couple of settings- Weird War 2 and a stand alone adventure CRT, but mainly Thrilling Tales. Our latest Thrilling Tales adventure started before we realized Mona was sick again, when we found out we tried to rush to the end before her chemo started, but that didn’t work out. I halted my B/X-AD&D campaign I started with the “Isle of Dread” when I thought we were going to have two more D&D newbies and started running “Keep on the Borderlands”, which turned out to be unnecessary because Marie and Rebecca didn’t show for it, but I figured it would be nice for Mason to have the same shared experience there that I had when I was roughly his age. That turned out to be a blood bath, with multiple near TPKs. Mona missed about half of each session because she was working, and the game ran better after she returned from work. I guess having her there was the party’s good luck charm. Bad luck, poor intra-party communication, planning, preparation and tactical coordination were killing them while she was gone. I think Mason was on his fifth character before we went on hiatus to play the Thrilling Tales game after two sessions. I haven’t seen slaughter like that since that Oriental Adventures game I ran when Ashli was a senior in high school and we had two or three weeks in a row of TPKs.

I did play a board game with Darryl and Mona a month or so back, Supremacy. It didn’t go well. We butted heads over which expansions to use. We had agreed before hand to play with none the first time, but we wasted so much time that we only had time for one game before he had to leave, so he wanted to add a bunch. I did not, as I hadn’t ever played with most of the expansions the last time I played, which was in the 1980s. My thought was that I’d have to essentially relearn the game, and so would he, and we’d have to teach Mona and Ember to play (although Em bowed out before we started), so it made sense to me to take it slow and easy. Also, Darryl and I have a history with this game that has led to acrimony in the past. I once really screwed him over in an alliance against his dad and he took it out on me by making sure that he screwed me over, as hard as he could, in every game we played for the next couple of years. Ultimately the problem was more or less solved only, I think, by us playing Axis & Allies more or less exclusively for several years. The alliances there are concrete, there is no changing sides, we usually ended up on opposite sides, but eventually learned to work together again. The game of Supremacy we played a month or so ago really brought the worst in both of us out again, and we ended up destroying the world on the third or fourth turn. Not the best way to play a game we started as a memorial tribute to his dad.

I’d say it was the stress of me having to deal with my wife’s cancer and all that entails, combined with the fact that we were pressed for time by the time we got around to playing, and the fact that we actually bickered over which exact version of the game to play before we started, but I think it may just be that the two of us can’t play that particular game together anymore, which is too bad because I have fond memories of playing it as a teenager. It bums me out because Darryl doesn’t play D&D anymore either. He’s been drawn into a more character driven, story focused, role playing intensive kind of gaming, since he started playing with another group in Syracuse maybe fifteen years ago. He associates D&D with D20 era D&D on the one hand, with it’s multitude of skill checks, it’s broken challenge rating system and it’s deep focus on miniatures and tactics on the one hand and the lack of any real, deep role playing we played it with when were were kids on the other; and his mind set goes back to the “chess-master” when he tries to play. He hates Vancian magic, and magic was his thing back in the day, he hates rules too. He’s become a champion of rules-lite games, Mike is big on rules-lite too, but neither of them seems to grok the idea that pre-D20 D&D is pretty rules-lite, especially the pre-1985 variants. The 1981 Moldvay Basic book is 64 pages, Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorer’s edition (the edition I have, and the edition Mike runs) is 188 pages. You might say “But that’s not a fair comparison, it’s not the complete rules”, OK, the Cook/Marsh Expert rules are another 64 pages, an arguably complete game, still much shorter than the 188 pages of Savage Worlds, but, when I suggested that I may run a Savage Worlds fantasy game instead of D&D (mostly so Marie and Rebecca would show for it too), it was immediately suggested that I should use the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion another 160 pages. Now I (mostly) run 1st edition AD&D, so the page count is higher, but I think that my point that Savage Worlds isn’t really rules-lite is made. There are versions of D&D out there that come in at as little as 2 pages- I am looking at you Swords & Wizardry light- so you can trim a lot of fat there.

Some complain that D&D combat is too slow, I haven’t seen Savage Worlds run any faster really, although there does seem to be less bean counting for most NPCs, they are either good to go, shaken or gone, so there is that. The inevitability of using miniatures, rather than the choice, is reminiscent of 3e era D&D to me though, and I have to count that as a minus for the system. I only use minis for D&D combat maybe half of the time, usually when the group has gotten bigger and it’s harder to describe or conceptualize the space and the participants or when kids are playing*.

Skill based systems bug me. This isn’t news to anyone reading this probably, but I really hate making a skill check instead of telling me, the DM, what your character is doing. It makes sense that the kids have a hard time with this, in a video game, if you have the proper skills, things get highlighted or extra options appear in dialogue, or whatever; it bothers me when people my own age or older can’t deal with these things though. I know the argument for the other side- Marlon the Mighty knows how to do tons of stuff that I as a player have no clue about- casting magic spells, picking locks, heraldry, herbs, diplomacy, chatting up wenches, etc., so it only makes sense that I should get a die roll on these, right? Maybe, but it makes the players lazy to be able to JUST make a die roll. Maybe you are bad at thinking on your feet, embarrassed at having to improv on the spot etc., but you should have something in mind when you try to bluff your way past the guard. Not having this idea is the opposite of role playing, it doesn’t help with the immersive story experience that was a stated aim in RPGs.

I keep saying to people, Darryl, Mike, Ember, even Mona (who has heard it all before a thousand times), that the system (or engine) that you are using doesn’t matter. All RPGs are pretty much the same, and universal, you can tell a great interactive story with D&D as your engine if you try. You can have a bogged down, slow moving roll for everything fest with it too. DM skill matter way more than the system you are using. I have tried many RPGs, not as many as a lot of people, but more than most I’d say, and I keep coming back to the one I spent the bulk of my youth playing- D&D, usually with the “A” out front; it’s home to me. I find it simple to modify to whatever my campaign needs are at the moment. I can add and subtract from the rules, and I have a solid idea of what effect each change will have. I know what to modify, and what to leave be. I think in D&D when I design stuff, I have to convert it to other systems when I play them and that’s kind of an annoying waste of my time. AD&D is just OD&D with a bunch of accretions, bits of house rules added on, ideas from people other than Gary and Dave and the TSR band. Everybody started somewhere in the D&D timeline, I started with Holmes Basic just prior to the release of Moldvay Basic- I was actually confused and annoyed that a “new” edition was released so soon after I bought mine- I have never met an RPG player that had not played D&D. A lot of people didn’t play a lot of D&D, having quickly moved to different or more exotic systems, RuneQuest and DragonQuest were apparently popular alternatives at one point, GURPS was big later. Maybe Vampire the Masquerade drew in a different crowd to RPGs that never played D&D, but I never met a White Wolf/World of Darkness fan that had never played D&D. 5th edition D&D seems pretty popular, but it’s not really my cup of tea; I’d probably play, but I don’t want to DM. It has too many leftover rules from the 3e D&D era for me. Also, I hate Dragonborn as a PC race, but I was never a fan of Gnomes either, so your personal mileage may vary.




*This generation raised on video games seems to start at a real deficit when it comes to describing encounters versus showing them on a map/battle board. I should also note that “kids” seems to refer to everyone under thirty. Get off my lawn!