Thursday, May 21, 2015

An OSR Debate; The Setting, The Rules

The recent release of the White Star RPG has started a discussion about settings and rules. Tenker weighs in  with two posts, here and here, and there is some excellent comments attached to both. Even my friend Tim of Gothridge has some good thoughts on the matter.

What I would like to point out is that what came first in the world of tabletop RPGs were the campaigns, notably Blackmoor, Greyhawk, El Raja Key, Tekumel, etc. The rules came afterwards. From reading Playing at the World, Hawk & Moor, and other accounts back in the day, the focus was on one thinking of doing something interesting first, and then figuring out the rules to make that happen.

And based on my own experience in the late 70s and 80s, that pretty much the natural way of approaching it. Rules are important as they enable the whole thing to be a challenge rather than just some elaborate daydream or break apart on the "Bang you're dead, no I am not" issue.

The importance of DnD and other published rules is that they show what possible. My first encounter with the DnD rules ignited my imagination in a way no other game had to that point. Compared to the Avalon Hill and SPI games I owned, classic DnD was a uninteresting wargame. But it was perfect for exploring worlds that only existed in my imagination with the virtue of being able to do it in the time and budget of a hobby.

In my view White Star and many of the other OSR games are not innovative examples of game design. But where they excel is in exposing words of imagination in a way that makes people go "Yeah I can see how that done." and inspires them to realize their own worlds. Again within the time and budget of a hobby.

I will say that while I appreciate and respect settings like Tekumel, Spears at Dawn, and Arrows of Indra. They are not really my cup of tea. My preference is for bog standard fantasy world but with depth; Harnworld, Ars Magica, or the old Thieves' Guild from Gamelords. I think we only scratched the surface of the interesting adventurers that can be set in such worlds.

In short we need both and that it is all grist for the mill in coming up with adventures and campaigns for our players.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Delving into AD&D: Everything you want to know about First Edition Combat.

Gary Gygax wrote some great prose in first edition ADnD. But there were sections where things were not so clear. One of them was how initiative is supposed to work in combat. Luckily a couple of years back a guy named David Prata wrote A.D.D.C.I.T. which lays out the entire first edition combat in detail backed by footnotes.

It may not be the definitive interpretation of ADnD combat but is certainly one of the most complete. For me personally after reading it I finally got what Gygax was getting at in the 1st edition DMG.  The two key points are

  • The initiative number is the segment when the OPPOSING side gets to act. So if Side A rolls a 5 and Side B rolls a 2; Side A starts their combat round on segment 2 and Side B starts their combat round on segment 5. Thus for side A any spell that takes 2 segments or less can be cast safely. Three segments spells will be simultaneous with melee combat. Any longer casting time spells run the risk of being disrupted by Side B.
  • Weapon speed, and all the rules about multiple attacks with weapon speed only come into play when initiative is tied.  So when Side A and B both roll a 4 then weapon speeds are compared and it may be possible that if the weapon speed is low enough the wielder of that weapon will get multiple attacks.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Manor #8 is for sale

Just a bit of a remainder to say that my friend Tim of Gothridge Manor has Manor #8 out for sale. It contains nice set of grappling rules as well as tips on torchbearers among other goodies.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The White Star, White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying.

Sometimes it is the harder to write something good when you are shooting for brevity and simplicity. Even Gygax with original Dungeon & Dragons didn't get it right the first time. It took Holmes Blue Book DnD and and refined in Moldavy/Cook version before Dungeons and Dragon got the presentation right.

Written by James Spahn, White Star adapts the original Dungeons and Dragons (1974 edition) to science fiction. Mechanics wise there is not much there, but that was goal. To open up the classic tropes of science fiction using the straight forward mechanics of original Dungeons and Dragon routed through Swords and Wizardry, White Box edition. And James does a hell of a job. Everything drips with the love of the genre. His adaptation of the original mechanics to science fiction is spot on. And he manages to pull off a hat trick with retaining 100% compatibility with Swords & Wizardry White Box.

And it been generating buzz all over the OSR especially by Tenkar over on Tenkar's Tavern. I am seeing announcements for supplements popping up like this from the Greyhawk Grognard. I think it warranted based on what I read.

What are the highlights of the products in my opinion there are several.
  • He treats starships as monsters/characters with AC, hit points, etc and I am impressed with how it reads. 
  • He retains 100% compatibility with Swords and Wizardry.
  • Does a great job of including what you need to run Star Wars style space opera campaigns.

So what bad about White Star? Well if you are not interested in content creation then pretty much the only support the rulebook has is for Star Wars style space opera campaigns.

But I don't view that as a problem in the long run. Because just about the whole thing is under the Open Game License. So while James has opted to present support for space operas the path is open for other folks to jump in with support for other types of science fiction.  Also while it has no explicit planet creation or starship creation rules it looks pretty straightforward to just make up stuff with the examples in the book. It just that easy with the ODnD style mechanics.

I will complain that chapter two, Character Creation, was declared product identity. I get that the campaign stuff involving his setting is product identity. But I don't see the point of making the classes product identity. But then again the whole thing so straight forward that it is easy to see how to make your own.

So what about Star without Numbers the current leader of sci-fi roleplaying in the OSR. Star without Number is a great RPG, however for me it sits where OSRIC does in relation to Swords & Wizardry. While pretty much the same game, Swords and Wizardry lays out the foundation of of Dungeons and Dragons in a way that OSRIC doesn't. Swords and Wizardry not OSRIC was the game that fired up my imagination enough to figure out how to adapt my Majestic Wilderlands from GURPS to a variant of classic Dungeons and Dragons.

White Star inspires me in the same way. I can see what James is getting at and how I can adapt it to what I like about science fiction. And yes I have something to adapt. While it doesn't have the pedigree or the play behind it as the Majestic Wilderlands, it is something I been working on for a long, long time.

Mankind has reached the stars only to find… Earth

Birds flying under distant skies, fish swimming unexplored seas, and dinosaurs ruling unknown continents. On a hundred words there are the children of Earth. Children from an Earth of sixty-five million years ago.

Now man has outgrown his cradle and traveled into the black, wondering who and what scattered the seeds of Earth throughout the cosmos. Mankind is forging a new life among the stars but old fears and conflicts still threaten. The year is 2425 and this is their universe, the Majestic Stars.

Monday, May 4, 2015

My take on Wishes for Swords & Wizardry (and other editions of D&D)

I just finished writing up the Wish spell for my take on ODnD and Swords and Wizardry. The Wish spell has been a "problem" for DnD editions since it first appeared. And the number of ways of dealing have been varied.

My take is that unless it is granted by a malevolent being, like a demon, I will generally not try to screw the player over on the wish. However I do keep in mind it is just a 9th level spell so its power (or the ring version) is not infinite. In general I judge consequences of  wishes on how well they fit in with the reality of the Majestic Wilderlands. If it looks like coincidence to an observer, then it will be granted without fear of side effects. More improbable result to the outright impossible results in "bad" things happening to the person making the wish. For me, my preference is to whisk them to an alternate reality where their wish is seemingly granted. Taking them out of the campaign for a long time if not permanently.

So after thirty years the time as come for me to somehow take what I do and write it up as a rule.

Magic-User, 9th Level, Range: Unlimited, Duration: See below
The Wish spell enables the caster to control the fundamental nature of reality. Unfortunately the more drastic the change the greater change of a backlash occurring that plunges the caster into an alternative plane of existence.

The safest use of a Wish is to cast any known spell except for another Wish. There is no chance of a backlash with this use of a wish. Also the caster can wish for unknown spells with effects similar to the ones known. For example a spell that acts just like a fireball except it is an explosion of ice and cold. Likewise there is no chance of a backlash with this use of a wish.

A wish can be used to alter reality. Using a wish in this way can result in a backlash. There are three broad categories a referee can use as a basis for deciding the odds of a backlash.

Coincidental, if the result of a wish can be explained as a lucky coincidence by an observer, the caster will only suffer a backlash by rolling a 1 on a d20.
Improbable, if the result of a wish would be viewed as highly improbable by an observer, the caster will suffer a backlash by rolling a 10 or less on a d20.
Impossible, if the result would be viewed as impossible by an observer, the backlash is automatic.
Outside of an effect similar to an existing spell, Charm Person, etc. Any wish effecting the free will of a sentient individual results in an automatic backlash.

The referee can assume that the hypothetical observer knows about the various uses of magic spells. The categories are deliberately made broad due to the flexibility of the spell.

When a backlash occur, the caster is sucked up into an alternate plane of existence. If the caster makes his saving throw at -5, he will find his way back in 4d5 years.

If the wish is successful the caster is mentally drained and is unable to cast spells for 1d4 days.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Some Interesting RPGNow Numbers, the 2014-15 Edition

In February of 2014, I did an analysis of RPGNow/DriveThruRPG Sales Figures based on order numbers. While Order numbers are not an accurate indication of absolute sales, they should be a good proxy for relative sales. For example seeing if sales increase by 20% or 100% over a previous year.

Blackmarsh puts me in a good position to look at the order numbers as somebody orders a copy of the PDF nearly everyday, 5,581 copies as of April 30th 2015.

Here are the figure up to 2013.

For 2014 we started out at Order# 5394233 and ended with Order# 6654344. For 2014 over 1,260,111 order were handled in some manner. This is a small increase over 2013's figure of  1,196,729.

How is 2015 shaping up?

For 2014, the number of Orders handled to May 1st was 462,252..
For 2015, the number of Orders handed to May 1st is 580,603.

Look 2015 will see an increase over 2014 continuing the trend of increasing sales at OBS. Undoubtedly one factor driving is the fact that OBS (the company behind RPGNow/DriveThruRPG) keep expanding it range of products. It now includes physical books, small posters, and cards. Another is the impact of PDF sales of TSR/Wizards products.

The only downside seems to be the fact that sales of iPads and other tablets have seemed to have flattened somewhat. But on the other hand larger smartphones are coming into the picture and just about every manufacturer, especially Apple, has had increased sales.

If Wizards gets a third party license out for DnD 5e, I bet there will be an explosion of sales as complaints are starting to mount about the how slow the product release cycle is. The OSR, Runequest/Legends, and Fate keep growing as well and each of these games has a lot of third party support behind them.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Gods of Dakar for 5th edition

I find it useful to focus on the religions rather than the deities themselves. I consider religion to be the culture that surrounds the worship of a deity or deities. Because it is a culture it is useful for defining the motivations and personalities of NPCs that the players come into contact with as their characters.

And given the various demands on our day it helps to have some worked out examples to use as a starting point.

Gods of Dakar

Daysha, Fate, Destiny, Female
Hydeth, Physical and Mental Mastery, Male
Sho Dae, Twilight, Shadows, and Stealth, Female
Astrel, Lakes, Rivers, and Wells, Female

The Dakarian religion teaches that no man may escape his fate. Many Dakarian are fatalistic about life. Many travelers will attest that most common phrase among Dakarians is, "It is the will of Daysha". This fatalism often causes the Dakar to take more risks and to be more militant than the other cultures in the World of Eastgate.

Daysha, the spider goddess of destiny and fate, personifies fate for the Dakar. The Demon Wars left the Dakarian people struggling some of the world’s most inhospitable deserts. This struggle caused many Dakarians to embrace Daysha.

Many Dakarians do not actively pursue worship or service with Daysha. They view her as a cruel and uncaring goddess. To outsiders this makes the Dakar appear not as religious. However anyone born in Dakarian culture is always concerned with his fate and will work to ensure his fortune. To one born in Dakar, no one escapes the will of Daysha.

The scholarly arts flourish in Dakarian society due to Daysha’s influence. The scholars are in great demand by those who desire to change or evade what fate has set before them.

Daysha does have clerics and 80% of these are female. Society in Dakarian lands is traditionally male dominated. Women are regulated to a lower social class than their male counterparts and are given fewer rights legally and socially. Daysha would accept any into her service and many women joined. Service to Daysha became even more popular among women when it was discovered that Daysha treated all who served her equally. Men feared Daysha for her power over their fates and followed the dictates of her clergy even if they were women.

5th Edition Notes:
The temples of Daysha are dominated by Clerics with the Knowledge Domain.

Daysha is not the only power worshipped in Dakarian society, others arose when people seek to regain control over their fates. Hydeth is a god who teaches that if one controls his body and mind with absolute discipline, and then one will have control over their fate.

The followers of Hydeth are called the Followers of the Way. The Followers of the Way made their appearance about 200 years ago in Dakarian Society. They developed methods and techniques that lead to the development of the unarmed martial arts. The Followers of the Way have established monasteries to study the martial arts and control of the mind and body.

Along with the development of the martial arts, many of the Followers of the Way developed the mind to the point of that they are able to affect the world and others with the power of their mind alone. Many come to study the esoteric science of Psionics.

5th Edition Notes:
The shrine of Hydeth are dominated by Monk following the Way of the Open Hand, along with one or two Clerics with the Knowledge Domain.

Sho Dae
Sho Dae revealed herself over one thousand years ago. The followers of Sho Dae believe that while all men are predestined by fate the only way to deal with the situation is to laugh and take as much of life as one can. Sho Dae is the patron of thieves throughout Dakar. Followers of Sho Dae tend to be the adventurers, and rogues of Dakarian society.

5th Edition Notes:
The shrines to Sho Dae are dominated by Clerics with the Trickery Domain, there is also usually a group of Arcane Trickster associated with the shrine.

Astrel is the most powerful of a group of demi-gods associated with places and elemental forces in Dakar. When the First City fell to the Demons, these demi-gods fled into the wilderness of Dakar and prepared safe havens for the survivors.

Astrel is the patron of Lakes, Rivers, and Wells. Her clerics protect oasis, wells, local lakes, and rivers from those who wish to despoil or pollute them. Astrel continued to be worshiped because much of southern Dakar is desert where there is very little water. Astrel’s priests have established shrines throughout the region to protect oasis and other water sources. Because of this, Dakarian caravan masters and the nomads give thanks to Astrel when they travel.

5th Edition Notes:
The camps devoted to Astrel are dominated by Clerics with the nature domain, along with Paladins who have sworn the Oath of the Ancient to protect water sources. There is a faction, who lives in the deep desert, dominated by Druids of the Circle of the Moon, and Rangers who are Beast Masters.This faction is far more fanatical about protecting water sources viewing any regular use by tribes or caravans as a source of pollution.

The Nomads of Dakar
Among nomads of Dakar, their shamans worship the old demi-gods of the elements and places and have formed pacts with them. The shaman acts as a intermediary between the tribe and the one of the local gods. The shaman will lead the tribe in the ceremonies and sacrifices that maintain the good-will of the demi-god.

5th Edition Notes:
The temples of Dannus are dominated by Warlocks with a pact similar to the Pact of the Archfey. In place of the Archfey, the warlock deals with a demi-god. The referee should modify the spell list to reflect the focus and personality of the demi-god.

Before I secured a license from Judges Guild to publish the Majestic Wilderlands I was working on a version of the setting that used a new map and all the Judges Guild specifics striped out. I took some of what I wrote for the Greyhawk Gods and adapted to this setting.