Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas to me.

Special thanks to the probably spambot new "follower" of this blog who chose the delightful penis photo to represent himself. Just the sort of holiday cheer my front page needed.

He's gone now, but happy holidays the other 99 of you non-penis posting regular readers.

More updates after New Year's.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Still alive.


Let's just say that a series of personal and health-related crises has been giving me one hell of a time. I haven't been gaming or thinking much about gaming.

This will change. Hopefully soon. In the meantime, I hope to make any of you reading this aware that I haven't quit the hobby or this blog. Updates will be forthcoming.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dice Dice Baby

So I got some new dice:

This is the Q-Workshop "Classic Elven" set. They also come in an inverted alternate opaque color scheme (white with black lettering) and a transparent one, but this one just happens to go well with a black leather dice bag I have.

I've wanted to pick up a set from Q-Workshop for some time, since I love the idea of somewhat "fantasy looking" dice, but readability was always an issue. Frankly, some of their stuff is ridiculously busy by my standards, and there's no way I'm going to sacrifice basic readability for anything.

These, in addition to costing less than half what their more gaudy sets do (due in no small part to using so much less packaging, I suspect), manage to look cool with no loss of functionality.

If you're looking for a well-made set of dice that are both affordable and eye-catching without being over the top (stone, metal, more convoluted than somebody's "tribal Celtic" tattoo), I'd highly recommend this one.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What are these strange...urges?

First off, hello to all the new readers! I can't believe I'm coming up on eighty now. Unexpected, but very welcome.

Anyway, as those of you who've read the older posts around here already know, I started gaming with the chance find of a badly-scuffed but fondly-remembered copy of Moldvay's Basic D&D rulebook that I chanced upon at a thrift store in 1990 when I was twelve years old (no box, though, so I missed out on the Keep, dice, and crayon).

My first point of contact with "the hobby" (as opposed to the few friends I played with in my small mountain hometown of Big Bear, CA) was when I began reading Dragon Magazine in 1991.

So why reiterate all this now? Because just the other day I pulled issue Dragon #175 (my first!) off the shelf for a nostalgic re-reading and I found myself paying more attention to the ads than to anything else. Specifically: The ads for play-by-mail games.

I've never actually played a PBM, and I suspect that their popularity was very much on the decline even back in 1991. Case in point: Personal computers and email were apparently becoming widespread enough that these very same Dragon issues also had ads for the earliest large online RPG games, like the original Neverwinter Nights.

Still, one ad for Flying Buffalo's Heroic Fantasy in particular brought back cool memories. A group of adventurers charging what looked to be a giant cat-bear monster erupting from a pile of skulls. One of the adventurers, amusingly, was a tiny topless (!) female pixie creature wielding a pencil-sized spear. The text promised "...a play-by-mail game of magic and mayhem; where you control a party of humans, elves, dwarves, fairies, leprecons, ogres, or even a troll or giant." Younger me was intrigued, but sadly also cash-strapped.

So I decided that I was going to Google Heroic Fantasy, just for the fun of it. Maybe I'd find some message board or blog posts from old players reminiscing about the game and I could get some idea of just what I'd missed.

Turns out Heroic Fantasy (now in it's 28th year) is still around! At least if Flying Buffalo's website is to be believed. I've finally got a chance to read the rules and the concept is one that's really tough for modern me to wrap my brain around. It's sort of like a multi-player computer game, except you don't own the computer. Instead, you mail the guy who does a listing of what characters you want to run and what you want them to do and then he plays the game and mails you back to tell you how it went. That's just...bizarre.

Bizarre, but still somehow intriguing. Like a time portal to a bygone era of gaming.

Long story short, I'm considering giving it a try. One turn a month. Hand written. Stuffed in a real paper envelope, affixed with real stamps, and dropped through an honest-to-goodness mail slot.

Now that's old-school!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Interesting Tracy Hickman quote.

Courtesy of former TSR/WotC fiction editor Phil Athans.

"It is true that the story was the foundation of Dragonlance and came out of the personal desire of both my wife [Laura Hickman] and myself to use role playing games as a medium of storytelling. You have to remember that at the time adventure games were largely of the ‘kill the monster, take its treasure, buy more weapons to kill bigger monsters’ variety. We wanted to introduce meaning into gaming through story."

Which got me thinking:

How sad that they probably meant well but simply couldn't understand that "meaning" in gaming can only be collaboratively constructed from the bottom (individual players and GMs) up, never simply decreed from the top down. Indeed, the fact that Hickman was apparently unaware that campaigning not of the "kill the monster, take its treasure" mold had been alive and thriving at countless gaming tables across the world for years before he made this statement evinces a startling degree of myopia that went on to handicap his subsequent designs severely.

It's really a fundamental misunderstanding of the entire nature of the medium. A tabletop RPG writer can, at best, hand the players a solid set of tools and a bit of good advice. If you try to build the whole house for them, it will only ever be your home. And they'll sense as much.

That's just the sad part. When you throw millions of dollars behind a misunderstanding this basic, that's where things get tragic. TSR finally learned this lesson when they found themselves forced to sell all their assets to Wizards of the Coast in the late 1990s.

After the sting of the tragedy fades, you move onto the bittersweet ironic amusement phase. In this case, that means the ability to do just what this post is doing now: Look back on how a simple bit of mistaken but well-meant idealism gone out-of-control toppled a once invulnerable titan of the fantasy gaming hobby after little more than one decade in earnest practice.

Which leaves one where? Sadder but wiser? I would hope so.

Hickman, continued: "In practice, however, it became a ‘chicken and egg’ sort of issue. The game was being developed ahead of the story—which actually adversely affected the story itself."

Ouch. Nevermind...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Oh, man! I haven't thought about these in ages!

I only ever saw one issue of this back 1992 at a chain bookstore in the Inland Center mall in San Bernadino. I'd completely forgotten about it until tonight. The Acaeum rules.

Now I wonder how I can find myself some copies. eBay seems to be no help at all.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Imagining D&D, courtesy of Grognardia.

James Maliszewski at Grognardia asks "When you think about Dungeons & Dragons, the cover of what product comes first to mind?"

For me, that's easy. It's the first D&D book I ever owned, read, and used. Although I'd argue this particular cover pretty much perfectly depicts the game under any circumstances.

Runner-up? It has to be the Player's Handbook. No contest. And if had to ask "Which one?", you're probably at the wrong blog.

Anyway, to make up for boring you all with the two most obvious choices ever, I'll close with some of my favorite Dragon Magazine covers from when I was first getting into the game. These are pretty much guaranteed to be unique choices, since most of the Dragon nostalgia is focused on its early years. I imagine a lot of old school players weren't even reading Dragon during the 90s.

For me, the best covers were more than just portraits. They had a great in media res quality that made you feel like you were looking through a window into a fantasy world where something marvelous was happening. And they practically forced you to ask questions. Who are these people (and/or creatures)? What are they doing? What do they want? What is this place I'm seeing and what would I find if I could visit it? Certainly, I've gone back and read many great Dragon issues that pre-date my early 90s start in the hobby, but these are some of the covers that I'll always remember best.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Defending psionics.

AD&D psionics. Everybody either hates the hell of them or never used them (or, paradoxically, both). But not me. I think AD&D's is a very solid, very usable psionics system and I'm here today to tell you why.

Could it be that I was a counsel for the defense at Nuremberg in a former life?

Anyway, psionics in Dungeons & Dragons certainly pre-date their most well-known appearance in the first appendix of 1978's AD&D Player's Handbook. I, however, do not. Therefore, I'll be focusing on AD&D in this post. That being said, if somebody out there has additional relevant insight into how these systems differed in TSR publications that predate the PHB, that's fine with me. Comments sections are there for a reason, after all.

Let's jump right into it, shall we?

1. Psionics "don't work."

I hear this one a lot. The psionics rules were somehow either incomprehensibly convoluted or completely illogical and simply didn't function if you attempted to run them as written.

Wrong. AD&D psionics are actually quite simple. Everything from calculating a character's chance to be psionic, to determining a psionic character's overall strength, to allocating psionic powers is as straightforward as any other aspect of character creation.

The effects of the various powers are as clearly explained as those of magic spells. No more so, but certainly no less.

Psionic combat is a simple matter of cross-referencing two values on a chart and applying the indicated results, the same as regular physical combat.

2. Psionics are "unbalanced."

This misunderstanding is a lot more understandable. The psionic character gets all these special powers for nothing, right?

So you might believe until I point you to a little thing called the psionic encounters section of Appendix C of the Dungeon Master's Guide. It turns out that each time a psionic power is used within one turn of a wandering monster check, that wandering monster has the potential to be a psionic one.

And psionic monsters? As per the Monster Manual, they're really, really damn nasty. And prone to target psionic PCs. As written, it's only a matter of time (the chance is a full 25% upon a positive wandering monster check) before some brain-eating nasty rolls up and pulls a Scanners on your psionic wunderkind PC, and quite possibly the rest of his party, too, considering that psionic encounters are rolled on a chart that includes arch-devils and demon princes and doesn't discriminate by PC or dungeon level.

Not so unbalanced now, it is? In fact, the check that the DMG encounters appendix places on psionic PCs is such an outright gruesome death lottery that I don't think I'd opt to run a psionic PC in AD&D even if I could.

3. Psionics "don't fit in a fantasy game."


Seriously, this one has to piss me off the most. Go back and actually read the fiction that inspired D&D. Many of you reading this already have, but it bears emphasizing how the artificial and stifling separation of fantastic fiction into rigid genres is a Crappy Thing, as are its effects on RPG gaming (as exemplified in this sad stab at a criticism).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Grimoires: "Real" magic and what it can teach us.

I've been on a huge grimoire kick lately. Real grimoires, that is, like the Clavicula Salomonis (Key of Solomon) and others. Not originals, of course, but the many commonly available translated editions sold by booksellers and free online (see links throughout this post). Most of these (in)famous tomes first started circulating in the late medieval/early rennaissance period, despite their claims of ancient providence, and offer a fantastic insight into what constituted "real" wizardry in the Western world during the time periods that most fantasy RPG games are based on.

There's some wild and crazy stuff to be found here. The Grimorium Verum will tell you how to invoke the demons Mersilde, who "has the power to transport anyone in an instant, anywhere" and Frimost, who "has power over women and girls, and will help you obtain their use." Plus spells for curing rabies, turning invisible (good luck getting your hands on the human skull), obtaining gold and silver, and more.

The Goetia portion of the Lemegeton even specifies the proper time to summon and bind each demon by rank ("The chife [chief] kings may be bound from 9 to 12 of ye Clock at noone & from 3 [5] till sunset. Marquizes may be bound from 3 of ye Clock in ye after Noon till nine at night and from 9 at nt [night] till sunrising. Dukes may be bound from sunrising till Noonday in clear weather.").

Studying these works and other similar ones has given me quite a few pointers that I can see influencing future fantasy gaming sessions:

1. Magic can be ruthlessly low-down and practical. Perhaps the strongest recurring themes among the spells and rituals in these books are the garnering of sex, temporal power, and cold, hard cash.

2. Magic should really evocative. "Cure Light Wounds" is one thing, but using Key as an example, we can see offhand some most excellent chapter headings:

"Of the Blood of the Bat, Pigeon, And Other Animals."

"How Operations of Mockery, Invisibility, And Deceit Should Be Prepared."

"How To Make the Magic Carpet Proper For Interrogating the Intelligences, So As To Obtain An Answer Regarding Whatsoever Matter One May Wish To Learn."

And then there the spells themselves. Here's an incantation from the section entitled "Regarding Experiments To Be Made Regarding Hatred And Discord":

"Where are ye, SOMNIATOR, VSOR, DILAPIDATOR, TENTATOR, DIVORATOR, CONCISOR, SEDUCTOR, ye who sow discord, where are you? Ye who infuse hatred and propagate enmities,

I conjure you by him who hath created you for this ministry, to fulfill this work, in order that whenever N. shall eat of like things, or shall touch them, in whatsoever manner, never shall he go in peace."

Sure, it's almost certainly a bunch of superstitious hokum, but is it ever cool-sounding!

3. Magic can be really complicated. Some versions of D&D, particularly AD&D, already have certain spells with lengthy casting times, but these books really emphasize how much work being a wizard can be, with rituals that involve specially consecrated knives, swords, robes, parchment, water, seals, amulets, pentacles, etc. Sometimes all of the above and more for a single working! And that's even before you get past the generic stuff to things like exact astrological specifications and the need for a hare slain on the 25th of June or what have you.

4. Finally, they all have awesome magic seals that you'd be crazy to not want to rip off for your games if possible. For example:

So if you have the time, I definitely recommend you check these suckers out. Besides, if you don't, I might just have to whip out my virgin parchment, blessed stone and bat blood so I can call on Frutimiere to make you strip nude and "dance increasingly until death...with grimaces and contortions which will cause more pity than desire." And none of us want that. I hope.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

This thing is godlike!

This thing being the Dizzy Dragon Games Adventure Generator.

Best random dungeon generator I've ever seen. If they can also program it to use AD&D encounter and treasure tables, I'll probably marry it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Always use protection.

My miniature AD&D Monster Manual has finally arrived (from Italy, no less) and I now own all of the "big three" AD&D rulebooks in this format.

Now the question is: How can I prevent them from getting all dinged out-of-shape if I carry them around in, say, my backpack?

I need some kind of rigid, solidly-constructed protective container for the set, but what would fit the bill?

The whole stack of three books, by the way, is about two inches wide, three inches long, and a tiny bit less than one inch "deep."


Friday, July 9, 2010

I yam what I yam.

You can call me part of the OSR, you can call me Maurice ('cause I speak of the pompatus of love), you can even call me late for dinner.

Popeye had the right idea. I play classic (A)D&D and I love it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

More controversy! Oh noooooooooo!

Blah blah blah durp fart.

So I guess some random self-loathing gamer guy is pissed because his anonymous friend tried to sell his (the friend's) anonymous product to anonymous "tabletop gamers" and failed because they (the gamers) are cantankerous doodyheads too busy having the temerity to question which products are actually worth buying to bother marketing to. Same old song and dance, new outrage.

So-called discussion rapidly devolves into whether it's okay to criticize WotC and their games in public or if this makes you a bad gamer who's harming "the hobby." No kidding.

Personally, I have to give credit to Corinth for his thread-winner of a post. I agree 100%. The ranter linked to in that thread's first post and the marketing woes of his mystery pal are not my concern. What I want is good stuff born of and presented with real passion by real gamers like me.

Where's my money going now? Fight On! Knockspell, The Dungeon Alphabet, Castle of the Mad Archmage, Stonehell Dungeon, Labyrinth Lord and so on.

That reminds me, there's a new FO issue now...

So forgive me for not being down with the devastating tag-team combination of bitter failed novelists churning-out White Wolf splatbooks for pennies on the word and douchebags with MBAs. Go ahead, guys: Don't make me any more B-movies, videogames, cartoon shows, iPhone aps, or transmedia thingamawhatzits based on (i.e. named after) my favorite RPGs. Really, don't. I'll be just fine. Better than fine, actually. I'll be having a blast. I'll not only have "nice things", I'll have far more than I can ever use!

On the other hand, this does serve as a great reminder of why I've ditched forums for blogs when it comes to my online RPG discussions.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"A Better Game?"

Game designer Sean Patrick Fannon admits that he "apparently touched on a somewhat controversial subject" in this week's installment of his "A Better Game" column for the DriveThruRPG.Com Newsletter.

Here's a quote that I think cuts to the heart of the matter:

The point is for a group of players to work together, via their characters, to achieve goals, overcome obstacles, and enjoy a shared story....

...So why is it so many GMs feel compelled to "make things fair" by penalizing players where experience is concerned?

Seriously, think about it. Your instinct may be that "it's not fair, since Jim's been playing from the beginning and has never missed a session, to let Kyle have the same XP" if Kyle's missed three sessions due to work.

Why isn't it fair? Is Kyle in competition with Jim? Is there really something to be gained by Jim's character having that much more advancement over Kyle's? Does it promote harmony or cooperation in the game? Is there a need to "punish" Kyle for missing the game?

And what about Julia, whose character died last session? Is she to be "punished" for that by having her character come in at half the experience of everyone else? Why? Does this make Jim feel better? I'd argue he might well feel uncomfortable, knowing Julia's already suffered for the loss of a character, and now has to struggle with one less capable than everyone else.

Then there's Matt. He's new to the group and has just joined the game with a new character. If you make him start at some level below everyone else, what does this tell him? That he's less valuable for being new? That the other players are more valued? That newbies are meant to suffer?

I like to think I'm fairly familiar with SPF and his work, as I'm the only person I know to own not just one, but both editions of his 1995 "Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible", which I consider to be a great introduction to the hobby and a fun read, too.

Still, what I'm going to be doing here is arguing (respectfully, I hope) that he's wrong, wrong, wrong, at least when it comes to classic D&D and other old-school games.

First, we'll start with Jim and Kyle. Is Jim in competition with Kyle? Yes! The philosophy of old-school gaming, so far as most can agree on it, encompasses the concepts of rewarding dedicated campaigning and player skill. The vast majority of the time, players who play both often and well will be rewarded by characters with more personal power and game world influence than those who play only intermittently and/or in a less skillful way that leads to their character's meeting untimely ends more often. This also encompasses Julia and her dead character, I think.

The players may not feel like they're in a serious competition with each other, beyond very successful players enjoying a few extra begging rights, but the notion that every individual player and his or her individual character are, to some degree "in the game for themselves" is a vital one, I think.

It's good to remember how many of D&D's formative adventures involving more accomplished characters were, in fact, solo affairs or involved small numbers of powerful PCs (with NPC henchmen being a wild card in either case). Erac's Cousin's sojourn to Barsoom is one example. Sir Robilar and Mordenkainen's journey to the City of the Gods is another. While it was certainly assumed that sizable groups of less powerful PCs banding together for mutual protection would be inevitable at the start, I don't feel it's correct to say that classic D&D didn't also involve an individualist ethic later on. "Gruppe uber alles" this game is simply not.

Is this fair to Jim? You tell me. If Jim misses three karate practices due to work and I don't, is it fair that I'm ranked a belt higher? I think it is. I think Jim would feel the same way, if he's remotely fair-minded himself.

Is this fair to Julia? Granted, there are a very few rare occasions where player skill doesn't matter in PC outcome. Maybe Julia's PC (being the heavily-armored fighter) was the natural choice to lead the group's marching order in the dungeon and she lost a surprise roll to the giant spider in the shadows and the spider made its subsequent attack roll and she lost the resulting poison save and died. This is a good example of being "killed by the dice" despite making no tactical errors. In these sorts of situations, maybe the DM does grant Julia a break with her next character as SPF suggests. That's fine with me.

More often than not, though, there's an element of player choice. Julia's party might encounter the giant spider and she decides that her fighter will step forward and engage it with his sword then the spider hits then the save fails then Julia is down one fighter.

So is the quoted scenario fair to Julia? Usually, yes, although there may be some rare exceptions.

Finally, we come to Matt. What does a new player learn from starting with a lower-level character? SPF outlines a few possibilities. Here are a few more: That a powerful character is something to be proud of because it must be earned by diligent and skillful campaigning. That playing a powerful character is just much more interesting when you've been with that character through his or her's whole journey. That getting there can be much more than half the fun.

So are you being fair to Matt? I think so, yes.

This is all not to imply that a game where the group is paramount, player skill is downplayed, and cooperative storytelling is the goal (as opposed to each individual player, sometimes working in concert with peers and sometimes not, guiding his or her PC to wealth and power through the vehicle of high adventure) can't or shouldn't exist. It is to say that that's not how the hobby started and more and more of us are discovering all the time that that's not the way it needs to be enjoyed today.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Lost gaming treasure!

I was searching through an old box yesterday that I haven't looked through in at least six or seven years and I found these:

Miniature AD&D rulebooks!

I bought them at a game store in San Angelo, Texas back in 2000 when they first came out. They quickly vanished from the market and are bigtime collectables now. They're unabridged and perfectly readable. Ideal for gaming on the go without a backpack full of heavy hardcovers.

Altogether, I have:

Dungeon Master's Guide
Player's Handbook
Oriental Adventures
Legends & Lore
Manual of the Planes

I completely forgot I had them and assumed that I sold them at some point. Nope!

Now I just need a mini Monster Manual...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Why the thief?

Internet blogs, website message boards, and FRPG fanzines have all been buzzing with some fairly harsh criticism of this venerable class.

The thief, it is said, is simply a bad fit with the rest of the game. Critics claim that making activities like picking pockets and hiding in shadows dedicated thief class abilities creates awkward situations where fighting men, clerics, and magic-users are de facto prohibited (or at least strongly discouraged) from attempting to perform the same feats. My first submission to Fight On!, "The Thief Skill As Saving Throw", was an effort to address just this mechanical dilemma.

That aside, the arguments of the anti-thief camp are quite compelling. It’s the proposed solutions that leave me cold. The most common prescription is either radical re-design of the entire class from the ground up or elimination of the thief class altogether.

What’s the problem with these options?

Well, you see, I like the standard thief. Lots of us do. This is because the class as written presents a unique challenge. A fighter that fails to sneak past an orc sentry can fall back on his considerable martial prowess to save his bacon. The magic-user has even more options due to his repertoire of spells, from the subtle (Charm the orc) to the simplistic (blast him with Magic Missiles). The potent cleric can draw on both brute force and arcane might!

The thief has no fallback options. He gets by with his wits and larcenous expertise or not at all. This unique approach (and challenge, as the thief is arguably the most difficult class to find success with) makes the thief a favorite of many, and it's precisely what I think a lot of the class' critics fail to appreciate. I, for one, am at a loss to explain how eliminating this singular way of confronting (A)D&D's many challenges could possibly benefit the game.


Monday, May 3, 2010

The gold standard in demons and devils.

Wikipedia sez:

"The Dictionnaire Infernal (English: Infernal Dictionary) is a book on demonology, organized in hellish hierarchies. It was written by Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy and first published in 1818. There were several editions of the book, but perhaps the most famous is the edition of 1863, in which sixty-nine illustrations were added to the book. These illustrations are drawings which try to depict the descriptions of the appearance of several demons."

I first came across many of these awesome illustrations in the Time Life coffee table book Wizards and Witches, part of their Enchanted World series released in the 1980s. This was the heyday of paid tv advertising, and Time Life was famous for "get the first book in our new twenty part series free"-type offers. As a kid, I would always stay up late watching tv. Johnny Carson, original Star Trek reruns, Night Flight, and cheesy-sleazy horror and kung-fu movies were all favorites. During the commercial breaks, I'd be busy ordering whatever free crap I could. Including, at one time, a copy of the Book of Mormon. Hell, free is free!

Today, I found out that the Dictionnaire Infernal illustrations and English text are available online in PDF form here (very small download, about 2.8 MB).

If you've never experienced these, now is the time. These images and words will always be what comes immediately and vividly to my mind when the subject is demons or devils and if they can't inspire some epic old-school fantasy gaming encounters, I don't know what can.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

New magic-user spell: Spellcheck

Yeah, I know, har har. Working title only, folks.

Anyway, this is just part of my recent musing on "counterspells" in (A)D&D.

Spellcheck (Enchantment/Charm)
Level: 3
Range: 12"
Duration: 1d3 rounds +1 round/two caster levels (round down)
Area of Effect: One spellcasting creature
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 3 segments
Saving Throw: Neg

The target of this spell must be a single spellcasting creature. "Spellcasting" in this case meaning that the target casts pre-memorized spells in the fashion of a cleric, magic-user, or other regular PC class. Innate spell-like abilities alone are not sufficient, nor is magic item use and neither of these functions are impaired in any way by Spellcheck.

If the initial saving throw versus spells fails, the target must attempt another save versus spells each time he or she attempts spellcasting during the duration of the Spellcheck. Failure indicates that the spell in question is not successfully cast and is expended without effect.

This spell's material component is an iron padlock, which can be any size (even downright miniature), so long as its design and workmanship permits it to function. This item is consumed utterly upon casting of the spell.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A one-page magic system for Fudge.

Not D&D-related as such, but I ran across it on my hard drive and thought I'd share. My goal here was to create a complete fantasy magic system for Fudge that I could fit onto a one-page player handout. I succeeded, but haven't managed to get any new Fudge games off the ground since. Enjoy!

Freeform Fudge Magic

Magic is a supernormal power. It costs two gifts per level in objective character creation terms. Purchasing Magic once gives the magician a Magic skill at Poor. Each additional time the power is purchased, Magic skill increases one level, up to a maximum set by the GM (Great is recommended). This skill is used not only to determine spellcasting success, but also as the active trait in most opposed rolls involving the magician's magic (an attempt to resist a successfully-cast mind control spell with a Willpower roll, for example). Magic skill is nonexistent by default.

Whenever a magician wants to cast a spell, the GM will assign a difficulty level to the desired spell based on its proposed effect, from Poor all the way up to Legendary and beyond (the GM can also disallow a proposed spell entirely, of course, if it seems inappropriate). If the spell’s difficulty level is not greater than the magician's Magic skill, a Magic skill roll is attempted on 4dF.

If the Magic skill roll is below the difficulty level, the spell fails to work.

If the Magic skill roll matches the difficulty level exactly or exceeds it by one, the spell succeeds and the magician temporarily loses one level of a health-related trait (Constitution, Stamina, Strength, etc) specified by the GM, representing the stress of imperfectly channeling powerful and unpredictable magical energies. Lost health levels return at a rate of one per hour of uninterrupted rest and a magician that drops below Terrible falls into a coma, waking-up only when health regenerates to at least Terrible again.

If the Magic skill roll exceeds the difficulty level by two or more, the spell succeeds and no health is lost.

Any Magic skill roll of -4 always fails and inflicts one level of temporary health loss (as above) from fatigue, as well. Any Magic skill roll of +4 always succeeds and never results in fatigue. There may also be further positive and negative consequences of -4/+4 results, if the GM so desires.

Fudge points may be spent on magic-related rolls as is standard for other types of rolls in the campaign, unless the GM rules otherwise.

Most spells can be cast during a single combat round, but magic item enchantment (see below) typically takes much longer, as can spells that the GM's deems to be too powerful or esoteric to be usable at a moment's notice.

The creation of a magical item can be treated as a spell with a lengthy casting time requirement (days, weeks, months or even years) and required material components. In addition to calling for a more difficult Magic roll, more powerful items should take longer to craft and require more rare and expensive components. Components are typically consumed in the enchantment attempt, whether it is successful or not.

For specialized magic potential, such as fire magic or demon summoning, allow the magician to purchase levels of the Magic skill at half normal cost (as gifts rather than supernormal powers). Magic skill rolls requiring multiple specializations are usually based on the lowest of the applicable skills.

For non-tiring magic, substitute another trait for "fatigue" purposes that isn't tied to physical stamina (Mana, Power, etc). Such a magician would probably not have to worry about falling unconscious once this power reserve was all tapped-out, but would still be powerless until it regenerated to at least Terrible again.

Some types of magic include restrictions. Examples include the need to use magical words and gestures, the need to possess specific material components like a mage’s staff in order to cast spells, and even potential insanity. These may be assumed to be an inherent part of the Magic trait or treated as separate faults, depending on the GM’s preference. The GM may even remove the freeform aspect of spellcasting and require magicians to choose their spells from a finite list of specific effects or retain freeform magic while making it more difficult to use than such “formula” spells (-1 or more to Magic skill rolls when creating a new spell on-the-fly).

With a little tweaking, this system can also be used to portray other extraordinary powers, such as psionics.

Friday, April 9, 2010

On "production values."

I stopped by the RPG section at a book store on this last Monday. Pretty much all WotC and White Wolf, as always. Something about the very look of it just seemed so wrong.

The books were so glossy, so colorful, so lavish that they were just viscerally ugly somehow. Garish and tacky, like a rhinestone-studded cowboy hat (or a painted whore, to be perfectly vulgar).

One word kept coming to mind as I scanned this tableau of flashy, expensive, soulless corporate refuse: Decadence.

Is it just me?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

An odd realization on the way to defining "real D&D."

So I'm thinking again, as I sometimes do, about how I define "classic D&D" or, to put it less diplomatically, "real D&D." That is, editions of the game that I consider worthy of the Name and playable without reservation.

It seems that there are three very specific rules that appear both in every single "real D&D" iteration and in none of their lesser aspirants:

a) Alignment language

b) Encumbrance measured in coin (cn) units


c) The designation of one player as the party caller

These three traditions all dropped off the map completely in the post-Gygaxian era and haven't been seen since.

I can't think of any other long-standing rules that vanished so cleanly from the published game at exactly that junction. How about you?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

One year ago today...

World's Smallest Car to Meet Gumball Obama at Ripley's NYC

Just curious if I'm the only one who compulsively reads all those "X years ago today..." posts.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The recent "controversy."

Porno is probably the one thing I love more than D&D.

Calm down.