athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
So, this came out of a discussion on Google+.

Long story short, there's the Traditional D&D Endgame: you reach name level, you build a keep, you pacify the surrounding wilderness, and you retire to enjoy the fruits of your labors. This is in keeping with D&D as a metaphor for the Christianization of Europe, which may well be how Gygax saw it.


First, I don't think that's the way the endgame goes down in actual play, and second, that's not the way the story ends in the myth that D&D actually is, which is, I think, a little different.

I hope we can mostly agree that D&D is an American myth. It's the American myth, in fact, which is the Western, and which kinda resembles the Christianization of Europe in some ways: it's about carving order and domesticity out of the howling wilderness, about taming the frontier. So far, so Gygax.

But after he's made the town safe again, the Man With No Name doesn't settle down there and plant a garden and get married and get old and die. Oh no. Instead, he leaves again; in fact, he's driven out, because there's no role for him in the society he has created.

This gets right at the heart of the core paradox of American self-identity: we have this myth of the rugged frontiersman individualist. And that's great, but it's no way to run a civil society, so the society comes with its own baked-in distrust of itself right in its founding myth.

Now, there's a high-falutin' phrasing for how the D&D endgame really goes down, which is just striking out for ever-more-distant horizons:

"The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die."

Tennyson's very pretty, But "Ulysses" isn't all that appropriate for a quintessentially American myth.

So, I think the best phrasing for the D&D endgame is, well, of course it's found right where it would have to be:

"But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before."

DCC Dryad

Sep. 10th, 2012 11:02 pm
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
So, we just played the followup to The Tower Under The Stars. Here's my take on the Dryad:

Dryad: Init +0; Atk Tentacles +2 melee (1d4 + grab), Digest auto (1), Charm (DC 12). AC 19 (trunk exterior), 10 (dryad-fruit), 8 (interior). HP: 5 per tentacle, 20 (fruit), HD 15d8 trunk (must kill trunk to kill creature). MV 0, Action 1d20, SV Fort +6, Ref n/a, Will n/a. AL N.

The Dryad is basically a giant pitcher plant. It's about 70 feet high; the trunk is 20 feet in diameter. Branches start about 20 feet up. In form it resembles a very fat weeping willow with a platform of broad, flat leaves atop it. On top of those leaves is what appears to be (from a distance) a beautiful, naked woman. When the tree hears/feels large creatures approaching, it dangles the woman atop the leaves and makes her dance. Viewers must make a DC12 save or be charmed; if charmed, they are compelled to get to the woman.

The woman-thing is actually bait-fruit. It is kind of mushy on the inside, about like a mango, and smells of orange flowers and cloves. It probably tastes awesome.

The willow-frond-like appendages hang down in a ring about ten feet outside the trunk; they can grasp anything from five to fifteen feet from the trunk. There are hundreds of these tentacles, but only one will attack a creature at any one time. If a creature is grabbed by a tentacle, it does 1d4 damage initially, and then the creature must make a contested strength check against the tentacle's strength of 17 (+2) to avoid being grabbed. A grabbed creature takes no further damage, but is lifted thirty feet into the air after one round (standard falling damage applies). After two rounds the creature is over the leafy platform (no damage, but see below); after three rounds it is partially lowered into the dryad's digestive cavity. On the fourth round the dryad drops the creature into the cavity, causing 1d6 of falling damage, and see below for digestion damage.

The base of the tree is ringed by six large knotty sphincter-like openings. Anyone really determined can push a hand, spear, or whatever into one. See below for digestion damage. There is a notable smell of vinegar around the base of the trunk (this is actually digestive acid), and a conscientious search will turn up 1d6 gold pieces, as well as small bone fragments, outside the sphincters. The trunk is easily climbed (DC 5), as it is very knobby and burled. It takes four rounds to get to the lowest branches, and from there only two more rounds to get to the platform.

Once on the platform, anyone who approaches the woman will trigger the big, flat leaves to collapse inwards. Anyone on the leaves must make a DC14 reflex save, or fall into the digestive pit, taking 2d6 damage (plus digestion damage below). Once the pit has collapsed, the bait-fruit will be pulled upwards, and the charm DC is reduced by two. If the fruit takes damage, anyone who sees it happen will realize that there can be no bones or organs inside the "woman", and rather than spurting red blood, she oozes green sap; that is good for another two points of charm DC reduction.

Anyone in the pit takes one point of damage from the digestive acid per round. However, the acid will eat armor first; it reduces armor protection by one point per round, and only when the armor is no longer protective does the acid begin to eat the character. A character can cut his way through the side with a piercing or slashing weapon; it takes 25 points of damage to cut a hole large enough for a human, dwarf, or elf to squeeze through; 15 for a halfling.

If the creature is killed and cut down, or if it is somehow persuaded to void the contents of its digestive pit (perhaps through a timely Acid Cloud spell), a further 2d12 gold pieces will be found in the (acidic) sludge. Anything that is not gold or glass is dissolved over time; every few weeks, the tree will spit out a mass of (white, polished) bone shards.

For a more challenging encounter, allow the tree to move 5' per round, and give it a +2 2d10 Root Stomp. Its Reflex save, if it's mobile, becomes -4 rather than automatic failure.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
Humanoid races basically per _Savage Species_.

Very little healing magic other than Liquid Courage. There will be intoxication tables, random vomit tables, and vomit miscibility tables.

I have not decided whether you have to roll what kind of drunk you are at character creation time or whether that will be decided at drinking time. The former seems more realistic, but realism is not a primary goal, and not knowing whether you're going to be a funny drunk (+2 CHA, -2 DEX, -2 INT), a maudlin drunk (-3 initiative, prone to fits of weeping, -2 INT, -2 DEX, +1 WIS, -1 CHA) or a fighty drunk (-4 INT, -4 WIS, -2 DEX, -4 CHA, +3 CON, +3 STR) might be fun.

Studded Leather protects as chainmail + shield. Why? Because it's metal, that's why.

Spellcasting will be enhanced if you can name a specific (metal) song that evokes what you want your spell to do. Even more enhanced if you have it on your iPod and we can play it while you cast it.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
So, I'm working on a goofy, episodic RPG, tentatively entitled "Monsters and Metal," which is going to play like an episode of Metalocalypse or that Kiss movie about the amusement park.

All characters will be musicians. Who are NOT BARDS. FUCK BARDS. They all play in a heavy metal band, which also travels around and slays monsters and fights crime, or something.

Humanoid races are encouraged.

It's going to be basically D&D 3.5-ish.

Their spells are going to work like sorcerer spells; I haven't figured out the attack bonus and save progressions yet. This post is pretty much to get something on the table for an initial spell list.

All metal musicians have a set of core spells, and then a genre. A genre picks two spells of the appropriate level (or one lower) from any other spell list; you just have to be able to justify it thematically, and the lists must be made in advance. Although there is only one "Black Metal" genre I'm going to give here, it is of course completely reasonable to have "Black Norwegian Deathcore" which differs from another genre only by one 2d-level spell. Naturally, members of different genres hate each other with the blazing fury of a thousand suns, or, more appropriately, the blind gnawing of a billion necrotic corpse-worms.

Core spells:
0: Ghost Sound
Lullaby (reversible)
Summon Instrument

1: Hypnotism
Lesser Confusion
Remove Fear
Sleep (reversible)
Charm Person (reversible)

2: Hold Person
Hypnotic Pattern
Minor Image
Silence (reversible)

3: Charm Monster (r)
Deep Slumber (r)
Geas, Lesser
Sculpt Sound
Good Hope

4: Hold Monster
Zone of Silence (r)
Repel Vermin (r)
Dominate Person
Break Enchantment

5: Greater Heroism
Mind Fog
Song of Discord
Mass Suggestion

6: Charm Monster, Mass
Otto's Irresistable Dance
Greater Shout
Sympathetic Vibration

...and on to the genres....

0: Flare
Dancing Lights

1: Disguise Self
Tasha's Uncontrollable Hideous Laughter

2: Glitterdust

3: Daylight
Major Image

4: Rainbow Pattern
Phantasmal Killer

5: Dream
Mirage Arcana

6: Permanent Image

0: Mage Hand
Mending (r)

1: Cause Fear
True Strike

2: Chill Touch
Ray of Enfeeblement

3: Magic Circle Against not-very-metal
Vampiric Touch

4: Bestow Curse

5: Cloudkill

6: Wall of Metal
Flesh to Stone

0: Putrefy food/drink
Inflict Minor Wounds

1: Doom
Death Watch

2: Ghoul Touch
Death Knell

3: Contagion

4: Poison
Animate Dead

5: Symbol of Pain
Insect Plague

6: Circle of Death

0: Resistance

1: Expeditious Retreat
Entropic Shield

2: Spider Climb
Touch of Idiocy

3: Fly

4: Shout
Evard's Black Tentacles

5: Teleport
Dispel not-very-metal

6: Wind Walk

0: Ray of Frost
Acid Splash

1: Magic Fucking Missle
Burning Hands

2: False Life
Melf's Acid Arrow

3: Fireball
Lightning Bolt

4: Wall of Fire
Enlarge Person, Mass

5: Cone of Cold
Transmute Rock to Mud

6: Chain Lightning
Flame Strike
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
I went to GaryCon again this year, which again kicked ass. I played a lot of Empire of the Petal Throne run by Victor Raymond, and a bunch of other stuff too.

I also went with a friend of mine, Tracy Jo, who has never been much of a tabletop gamer, but who enjoyed herself and who had a very interesting observation.

First, to set the stage, I've been thinking a lot about a topic that I think I pissed Skip Williams off with. It's this: RPGs are on the cusp of transition from product to folk games. The OSR is dumping fuel on the fire, of course, but it's more generally a symptom of the internet. I know that Google+ is widely derided as a failed Facebook competitor, but as far as I can tell the RPG scene on it is not just thriving, but fecund.

But I think a lot of what is going on--and I have no idea whether RPGing has enough cultural mass to survive this transition--is precisely the transition from product to folk entertainment. We're seeing tons of interesting things that are basically people's hacks of D&D appearing--things The Forge would call "fantasy heartbreakers" but might better be viewed as little pieces of specific-culture folk art: "this is how we play D&D in my neck of the woods."

This is, of course, terrible news if you want to get paid for writing and publishing RPGs. But it's awesome news if you're me, or someone like me, who has a day job, thank you very much, but wants to share the neat stuff I came up with or figured out playing RPGs with other people who enjoy it as a hobby.

So, back to the original point: Tracy Jo points out that this is very much what the bluegrass world is like, and that GaryCon felt to her very much like a bluegrass festival. There was the same thing where the old-and-famous-guard jammed with the newbies, there was the same sense of shared joy in an activity that the rest of the world just didn't get, there was the same family-reunion friends-you-only-see-there thing going on. And both worlds are facing the same crisis: the first generation is passing away. The activity is no longer as popular as it once was, and there's no certainty that it's going to survive the loss of its founders...but there's hope, and there's a younger generation that's also passionate about it, although they may be remixing it in different ways.

I'd love to see RPGs become a non-product entertainment choice some people play when they have a few hours to spare, like a rubber or two of bridge. No one buys "Bridge by Hasbro"; a lot of houses have a deck or two of cards lying around, and some tribal knowledge of how to play various games with them. Why should RPGs be different? Maybe someone has a set of books. Maybe they just remember ability scores go from 3-18, an untrained fighter hits an unarmored opponent half the time, hit dice are generally d8s, and work up something from there.

Fundamentally, playing "let's pretend" is never going to die off, and what are RPGs besides "let's pretend" with some not-completely-subjective method of conflict resolution? This, by the way, is to my mind the thing that separates story gamers from old-school gamers. I think both would end up agreeing that narrative is paramount, but story gamers want the narrative to be the result of negotiated choices between the people playing the game (that is, I include the GM there, if there is one), and old-schoolers prefer to construct narratives using dice as divinatory aids: the results of a succession of choices and the one-damn-thing-after-another falls of the dice eventually yield a chain of events which, then, stepping back, you can see forms some sort of narrative structure.

So, hoist a glass to the shade of M.A.R. Barker, or Earl Scruggs, whichever you prefer, and go play something--a game, some tunes, whatever--with your friends.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
I took the opportunity of Secret Santicore to teach myself some Javascript.

First I took my table and implemented it as a Web 1.0 CGI script in Perl; then I ported that to Javascript.

The Javascript version is at and the CGI version is linked from there.

The request was "Spells for door traps, the more obscure the better," so what I did was take the list of spells in Unearthed Arcana and select all the ones I could think of plausible door traps for.

Then I created a choice function. Actually, I created three:

One is straight-up Gonzo: equal chance of any spell, any level, any class.

One is Location-Independent: I assigned a weight to the class choice (15% Cleric, 5% Druid, 70% Magic-User, 10% Illusionist), and then a weight to each spell level (the top-level spell got one slot, the second-from-the-top two, and so on, until you get to the bottom of the list). Then within a class/level the choice is equally-weighted.

The third is Depth-Based. Basically, I rolled a d20 for the Level Of Characters That Should Be Exploring Here, and picked the highest-level spell of the chosen class (same weighted function as in Location-Independent) that a character could cast. Then I applied 4DF to it (4d3-8), capped at top or bottom as needed, and then picked a random spell of that class/level. This sort of approximates 3E Challenge Ratings, really.

Then for each spell, you may need to know the level at which it is cast, so that's the minimum level required for the spell plus 1d6-1.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
For my Vornheim/Gaxen Kane game. Draft 1. Subject to change.

Each time an M-U spell is cast, caster must roll:

SL = "Spell Level"
CL = "Caster Level"

(SL ^ 2) / (10 * ( CL + 1 ) )

Round that fraction to the nearest 5%, and caster must beat it on a D20. 1 is always a failure, 20 is always a success.

If the roll fails, the caster must make a saving throw vs. magic with a penalty of the spell level (so, -1 for a first level spell, -3 for a third level spell, etc.)

If *that* saving throw fails, roll 1d6. The demon powering the spell:

1-3) devours 1dSL from a random ability score
4-5) devours 1dSL maximum hit points
6) confers a mutation: roll on the d100 mutation chart from

We can also use this for "overcasting" ; each time you cast a previously-memorized spell no longer in memory, it is treated as if you added the spell level to the effective spell level.

Thus: you're a first level magic user with _Magic Missile_ memorized. You cast it. That creates a 1/20 chance of something bad happening.

Then, you cast it again: it's now an effective level of 2, so there's a 4/20 chance of mishap. Your third try? 9/20....and your saving throw penalty increases too. can do this for learning and casting spells too hard for you at your current level, as well.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
Players finally got to roll some dice this last session.

I did the old Incredible Shrinking Man thing: at the dinner party, they drank a shrinking potion and shrank down to about 3 inches high. Then there was a kind of weird feast where I was totally ripping off the Mouser-in-Lankhmar-Below bits of Swords In Lankhmar--and then a kitchen fire broke out and the servants ran off to deal with it, and the (shrunken) dinner party was beset by cateagles. These were immature cateagles, really just adolescent kittens. (Cateagles are exactly what they sound like; there are also pigwidgeons in my Vornheim.)

This was intended to be an insurmountable challenge. However, I had established, before they showed up, a little something about magic in this world. We've already decided that black magic--which is to say, traditional MU-stuff (Clerical magic is white) (yes, also cribbed from Lankhmar)--is all done by means of demon-pacts. Well, turns out that demons don't scale (the actual demon at the party, K'k'krallak of the Seventeenth Hell, was unaffected by the potion). So when Ber cast a drying cantrip after spilling her drop of wine all over herself, she was a little surprised when a demon nearly as big as she was showed up, and ate a little of her soul (mechanically, she failed a save vs. magic, and lost a point from a randomly-determined characteristic; in this case, constitution).

But, even knowing that, when the cateagles showed up, she cast Magic Missile. This cost her 4(!!) points of Dexterity when she blew her save (at 1/25th scale, 1d6 per spell level to a random characteristic), but she used a d30 roll on damage. Now, at normal scale, the cateagles each had one hit point. The missile (revealed as a red spiny demon with an unwholesome leer) did nine points of damage, reducing the first (of three) cateagles to a fine red paste. Spark followed suit, but did not use the d30. Three points of damage had the same game effect (well, slightly chunkier red paste), except she made her save and lost no characteristic points.

Then we had a fun battle with the smilodon-sized cateagle (which, at little-tiny scale, had 37 HP--it was an 8HD monster). Palalladin realized that fishbones made fine spears, and with some help from the other partygoers (mainly the 9' (or, er, 4-1/2 inch) goblin ambassador, Uriah Thorpwhistle), did some damage to the cateagle. It still should have been too much monster for them, which would have led to Part Two of my cunning plan.

I had that all set up: Lady Görbler enlisted help to knock over one of the spare potion vials, and drank more potion, encouraging everyone else to as well, so they would shrink to be so small the cateagle wouldn't notice them anymore. However, Ber, using a fishbone spear, tipped with shrinking potion, rolled a critical hit on the cateagle and jabbed it in the mouth, delivering the potion to *it*. Whereupon Balin punched it (now kitten-sized) to death.

This was a bit disappointing, as there was going to be an Incredible Shrinking Man battle with a spider at double-shrunk size, but oh well.

It may be a cheesy old cliche, but "shrink the party and then have a battle with small creatures made large and fearsome" was really quite fun, in practice.

The party has also earned the gratitude of Uriah Thorpwhistle and Alice Gradgrind, two of the goblin ambassadorial contingent, and will be accompanying the diplomatic pouch on its journey in our next session. They've found out a bit about goblin economy and trade. My job will be to map Dickensian London onto an inverted-wedding-cake three-dimensional space, and then populate it with GURPS: Goblins (read, Dickensian) characters and plots.

I tried to make them take on the Dark Elf bereaved girlfriend of one of the devoured partygoers, 'cause they need some more muscle, as a hireling. She's all Pam Grier Bad Girl (and yes, Yzonde was dating her just to piss off his parents). The party wasn't having any. At least they did buy a dog (an Avellinish Hound named Edna, from Zak's wonderful random dog table). I hope that it is a quarter the faithful protector that dear departed Gleichmann was. Because no one has more than five hit points, except the dog. She has six.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
Well, it's happened. I can rightly be accused of corrupting the morals of the young, just like Socrates.

See, as our old RPG group withered due to player attrition and apathy, Amy and I happened to attend "Queenfest"--a party devoted to appreciating the music of the band Queen--thrown by one of our old college gaming buddies. This year it was at the house of a friend of his, and that friend lives in St. Louis. With his wife and their daughter, who has just turned 12.

So I'm now running a D&D (well, Swords and Wizardry) game with them and Amy...and (and here's the moral-corrupting part) Amy and I just gave Alex, for her birthday, copies of the first edition PH, MM, and DMG. "Here, kid. Here's something incredibly addictive. Never did *me* any harm!"

So that game:

It's set in Zak Smith's Vornheim. But the nice thing about Vornheim is, it's a city toolkit more than it is a city. So my Vornheim is way different than the D&D With Pornstars Vornheim.

It shares some features: the verticality, the important buildings built like grasping hands, the Cathedral and the Palace, with the square with the Well and the Wyvern in between them. It's on the River of Unfathomable Despair (Vornheim clearly needs some real estate agents for the nomenclature).

But beyond that....

So, let's see.

Street addresses are where you are on the street, counting up from where the street first leaves a bigger street more toward the river, and the number after the address increases from ground level. Posh is higher up. So, "6 Ironstar Way 1524", where Lady Stiella Görbler lives, is very posh indeed. Her tailor, Unvelt Ohn, is at 443 Toad Street 26: the garment district, but a pretty good spot.

Across the river is Goblintown. The human was sent to find out why many elves are disappearing to Vornheim, never to be heard from again. One of the elves came because the opportunities for scholarship were that much greater; one came because he can't marry his betrothed until he's a Person Of Importance in the Church Of Vorn; and the last one came because she was kicked out of her tribe for practicing black magic.

Which is another thing: I've gone the Lankhmar route, where clerical magic is white, and sorcerous magic is black, and all black magic basically involves making pacts with various demonic entities. Low-level spells are really no big deal. But once you start being able to cast heavy-duty spells, there's going to be a lot on the line.

We already have three competing religions: the Church Of Vorn, about which the acolyte's a little disillusioned now that he's come to the Big City and sees how wealth-driven and corrupt it is (my Church of Vorn? Catholicism with a cosmetic makeover; no celibacy and no male-only priesthood, though), the Titivillians, about which my players know nothing other than she's the demon-goddess of fleshly pleasures and scribal errors, and Our Lady Of The Thorns, responsible for the Thornbabies (Zak calls them Thornchildren, but I thought Babies was creepier), worshipped by one of the three elves in the party, and kinda-sorta based on The Lady Of Pain from Planescape, in that even her worshippers would really, really rather never meet her. She's a beautiful and very severe goddess. Druids--who, if we meet any in this game, are going to be my Scary-Ass Dead-Eyed Killer Druids--dig her.

We know that Görbler is a major benefactress of the greenhouse which serves as the cathedral of Our Lady Of The Thorns, down by the river (I'm playing it like the Gardens in Wolfe's _Shadow of the Torturer_, if that helps you place it). When my group was in there paying their respects, she came in, left an offering on the altar, and began taking cuttings from the poison garden. She took a shine to the innocent young cleric of Vorn (name: Palalladin, played by Amy, my wife) and has invited him and his elvish retinue to her dinner party (which is the subject of the next session).

The group also--since Palalladin decided to make a little coin shriving people in a bar--has found out about Zorlac's library, since they talked to someone who took a lot of money for stealing his master's copy of _The Clutching Cow_ and delivering it to Maarten Tull.

And in my Vornheim, the group has:
a) gone to Ohn's tailor shop, and gotten a quote of 450 gp for suitable clothing for the party. Which might as well be a million
b) gone to the secondhand shops and found three lemon-yellow satin Snuggies for the retinue, and a red zoot suit for Palalladin, and a half-elf tailor who will alter them for the party. They're just renting the suit, and Palalladin's longbow is the collateral for it.
c) paid a visit to Zorlac, who understood immediately what services the group was offering, in terms of book acquisition from the recalcitrant, and has opined that he sure could use a copy of "Anatomy of the Goblinoid Races", which was written by a Goblin scholar at the University within Gaxen Kane. Since the poor benighted goblins don't have the printing press, no more than a dozen copies are known to exist, and all else being equal, he'd like one of the five manskin-bound presentation copies, thank you.
d) Found that Görbler has been a widow for about ten years, and is known for i) taking a succession of younger, handsome lovers, who never last long, and ii) throws extravagant, themed dinner parties. One was entirely in utter darkness, for instance (Eshrigel was invited, although the players don't know this, and enjoyed a party where she could go maskless), and another one had all the guests given water breathing spells and was a fourteen-course dinner served and eaten underwater.

So play has currently broken off the afternoon before Görbler's party. After that (whatever may happen), the group is planning to try to attach themselves to a diplomatic mission to Gaxen Kane to get access to a book they can steal.

See, the goblins in *my* Vornheim...well, they don't walk on the ceiling. But there's a good reason that the way they talk sounds very backwards to humans. In short, the entire metaphorical structure of their society is based on the idea that down is good and up is bad (and if pressed, I intend to say that their language is like Latin or German where the verb goes at the end, as opposed to Common, which is pretty much English). Almost all of Gaxen Kane is belowground; the aboveground watchtowers are what you get sentenced to when you've really pooched your military career. The goblins in Vornheim? Really troubled sorts. Calling someone a "low-down dirty rat" is a high compliment in Goblin. The earth is the nurturing womb of the Goblin races (this may, or may not, be a metaphor), so dirty is holy. Rats burrow and dig and are sacred animals. Low-down speaks for itself. And the goblins consider all stone and metals rightfully theirs. The surface dwellers have those nasty-ass trees--why do they have to steal stone and metal from the Goblinish folk to build their buildings and make their tools? (If you're detecting some Baum Nomes here, yeah, you're totally right).

Vornheim and Gaxen Kane are at peace, though kind of hostile. Each has an embassy in the other. Vornish diplomats hate it there--in fact, most of the recent ones have been clergy of Titivilla, being punished for their heretical faith. But Vornheim buys mushroom wine, dried fungus, and spider silk from the Goblin Lands, and the Goblins import wooden furniture, textiles, and some grain from the human world. Walking--well, stooping at best, and crawling much of the time--in Gaxen Kane, for your typical adventuring party, is about as hazardous as, in our world, for your basic suburbanite to saunter carefree around North St. Louis or Detroit. It's not instant death, but the odds are good that, pretty soon, something unpleasant is likely to happen to you. To be fair, that's pretty much also exactly what happens if you're a goblin in Vornheim, and you wander out of your ghetto alone.

So far, we're having fun...but we've played two entire sessions with zero combats, which has been kind of weird for me.

[EDIT] Oh dear, he said, in some consternation. Prompted by a niggling little voice at the back of my head, I got down _GURPS: Goblins_--a volume for which I have playtest credit--from the shelf.

It appears that we are not actually playing D&D (or even S&W). Rather, we are playing _GURPS: Goblins_ with a variant ruleset.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
This is a response to Zak Smith's post:

Which is in turn a response to Steve Yegge's G+ post about Platform vs. Product at Amazon vs. Google:

This deserves more space and thought than it's gonna get here. One of these days, maybe.

I come to it from...well, OK, let's put it this way:
1) the group I'm leaving at work to go join Infrastructure was called Platform Engineering
2) I applied (unsuccessfully) for Google SRE
3) I've played D&D for more than 30 years (holy shit, he said, as the realization of THAT hit him)
4) I appear to be obsessed with collecting, reading, and often trying to play D&D variants.

So: D&D is *of course* a platform. It's an extensible framework for building The Awesome on.

The interesting discussion comes from what parts of D&D are Platform, and what parts are Product.

And, you know what? There's actually a canonical legal answer to that. That would be the d20 SRD.

Now of course that only really refers to Type III, but still, that's going to be a useful and not-wholly-inaccurate starting point. The Platform is everything that you could extend with the OGL.

Of course, that's way too big. The Platform as thus-defined contains a hell of a lot of Product. The way I currently like looking at this is the question "What Is The Essence Of D&D?" I remember several months, maybe longer, ago, reading someone's argument in the OSR Blogosphere about: "Six ability scores, saving throws, classes, levels, Vancian magic, abstract hit points, fantasy-melange setting" and probably some other stuff I've forgotten about.

Me, I'd say even that's too big a tent. I'd say that Microlite20 and, especially, Microlite74 ( are D&D...but they have 3 ability scores and no Vancian magic.

And then there are experiments like Terminal Space--or for that matter, Gamma World--that use the D&D Platform to do completely different genres. And given that GW and Boot Hill were TSR games, clearly Gary and Co., early on, saw D&D as a Platform.

The point is: whatever that irreducible core of D&D is is *definitely* Platform, not Product. Platformy bits go out at least as far as the borders of the SRD, although towards the edges it's mostly more Product than Platform.

To bring it back around: Platforms by their nature say, "Hey! Go make something cool with this." Products don't, although they may not discourage it either. The OSR, and gamers who dig stuff like the OSR (and, although it will make them vomit into their hipster goatees, I include Forgeites in this) inherently dig Platforms over Products. Sandbox play? Platform. Dragonlance? Product. Vornheim? Some of both. The Zoo? Product. The charts? Platform. The city itself...more Platform than Product.


Dec. 31st, 2010 02:23 pm
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
This one requires a little back-story.

About a year and a half ago, on the last travelling gig I did at my old job, I worked with a colleague a little older than I am, who, like me, had been playing RPGs for a long time. However, in recent years he's mostly moved on to other interests, and he mentioned that he had a box of stuff he would never look at again, most likely, and offered it to me if I wanted it.

I said that'd be great. And then we both mostly forgot about it.

Except that then I got home after visiting my parents this Christmas and there was a big box waiting for me.

For the most part, this box contains what you'd expect it to: a bunch of pretty interesting stuff, some of it semi-valuable. For the most part.

There's one item in it,'ll see it later. Anyway, I have offered to give it back, because, while we're certainly friendly, I don't know that this guy really meant to send me a Holy Grail.

So, here's what was in the box.

First: some 1st-3d ed. D&D books and 3d-ed modules:

A whole bunch of Polyhedron magazines:

Some other magazines:

Murphy's Rules:

A couple of really obscure items. If anyone knows anything about "The Finding Of Morillion" please tell me about it. "You Bet Your Life" is a tournament module from Michicon VIII.

Some classic Judges' Guild stuff; the first edition of the First Fantasy Campaign is pretty valuable:

A closer look at one of the items; third and fourth editions of this are cheap and common, but the "Collectors Edition" first JG edition, I haven't been able to find pricing for:

A copy of Chainmail, Third Edition, Fourth printing. Not particularly rare, but kinda cool:

And then there's the last item.

The one that I am honor-bound to return if the donor wants it back. 'Cause I really don't believe he knew what he was giving me. (EDIT: I do get to keep it!)

Because....well, really.

This was not one of the ones in the Acaeum's registry (I have since sent them a scan). I don't know why Jim Ward, who had nothing to do with this product, signed the cover (except, probably, that it was what the original owner had on him for Jim to sign at Origins 79). (EDIT: Jim Ward ran it for the man who sent it to me, so that's why he signed it. That must've been something.)

But yeah. Try to imagine the shock I felt when excavating that box and Lost Tamoachan appeared.


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to me.


Jun. 26th, 2010 10:41 pm
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
So, today we did The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan. For various reasons we had only three players (Rupert, Keith, and Amy), and, well, it's got three pregens.

We did it straight-up: two-hour time limit, AD&D v1.

This was complicated by a couple of things. First, as far as I can tell, there are only actually stats for Cair the MU/T. The other two, Myrrha and Rhialle, don't have stats. But you can reverse-engineer their levels from their to-hit charts in the module, you can surmise that Rhialle has a strength of 16 from his damage, and then you can have them roll up hit points based on their levels. Which is what we did.

The players took notice of the fact that it was a 2-hour game, and they took "the air down here is poisonous" very seriously, which was nice. In fact, without Aimee around, they played damn near perfectly, dashing through rooms, avoiding pretty much everything (they had a good conversation with the crab and crayfish, though), staying out of combat almost entirely (they fought the 11 zombies that weren't turned by Myrrha, which cost a lot of precious time, and the werejaguar, and at the very end, the amphisbaena). A lot of testing to see where the breeze, if any, was coming from.

However, they missed almost all of the cool Meso-American rooms and things. They just ignored the nereid and went for the door, and they picked up almost no treasure. Basically, they played it straight as a "you have two hours to escape". And I let them climb out the hole in the room with the amphisbaena, because even though the slope won't support them, because, well, the thief is damn good at climbing, and anyway, we had just less than two minutes left.

No party fatalities, although some bad wounding. Some good puzzle-solving, and quite a bit of caution. If Aimee had been there they'd all have died in the room with the giant hermit crab.

What I want to do now is have those three characters recruit a couple of others, and come in from the correct side this time, and do it as a straight-up exploration, in which they will hit all the squidgy horrors they missed when playing it as a dash for the exit.

The module itself...well, it's evocative. The set-piece rooms are very deadly, of course, and generally pretty unmotivated, but some of them are really nicely horrific. Xilonen is very Lovecraftian, for instance, and I really like Tecuziztecatl, the intelligent giant slug. You can run this straight for "this is one-weird-ass mythology, but it's trying to kill you, so you'd better take it seriously," but I can very easily see how it could also be run entirely gonzo. Which would be fun too.

It's a trap-fest, but it's surprisingly survivable if the players treat it as they're told to: touch nothing and get out as quickly as humanly possible. It's only when they start poking things that they get into real trouble.

The module itself cannot make up its mind whether to be a tournament module or a campaign module, and it suffers for it. Would stats for the pre-gens and having them separated into easily-trimmable pages have been too much to ask? The art's great. A lot of fine Erol Otus, and some good Darlene and Dee as well.

It's a good look at early AD&D (written for Origins '79), and is very Raiders Of The Lost Ark for something that predated it by two years. Worth taking out for a spin if you want to run something approaching Golden Age AD&D (I'd pretty much put D&DG at the end of the Golden Age; certainly, what came after it was on the downslope: much as I love me some flumphs, Fiend Folio isn't the same, and then, well, the wheels came off and we were in the Wonderful World Of Hit Point and Power Escalation when Unearthed Arcana came along).
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
"Central New Jersey After The Big Whoops" will be appearing in the next Fight On!.

athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)

More lucidly: I played something like 28 hours of RPGs with maybe 50 different people, some of them Very Big Names Indeed, and no one was a douche. I had a great time. I talked game design and sandbox vs. narrative and edition differences and stuff, and, you know what, no one got mad about it.

#1b: Not only are the Gygaxes actually human, but it turns out they're nice humans.

That goes for the Other Big Names. Frank Mentzer, Jim Ward, Tim Kask, Jeff Talanian, Joe Goodman, etc. The thing that I guess I should have realized but never really, really did: these folks really, really like playing games. And they are intensely fun to play with.

#1c: Oh, yeah, it also goes for the people whose names I didn't recognize

Well, we all came to GaryCon because, basically, we wanted to play some RPGs. Turns out that that, if you're not being an Internet Fuckwad, is a much bigger similarity than the Difference Of What Variant You Play.

#1d: At least ONE Catholic priest is really cool.

That'd be Father Brian (Graywolf), who was an excellent man to have holding off the skeletons while I bombarded the Sightless Serpent with fireballs.

#2: I wish I knew who Ken and Ida were.

Everyone else seemed to know them--everyone besides them that everyone knew I eventually figured out who it was (and, generally, which of their books I'd read/not read/loved/hated). But not them. Only I didn't want to look like a dumbass by asking.

#3: New Glarus Spotted Cow is really quite good.

#4: I now own (one of) Luke Gygax's copy of Gods, Demigods, and Heroes, signed by Kuntz and Ward, and by Tim Kask, who edited it...and I got Luke to write "Property of Luke Gygax" in it and Ernie to write "Ernie is king!" above that.

Luke mentioned that it might hurt the resale value. Like I'm gonna sell it. Pfah! That one goes next to my autographed Spawn of Fashan (yes, really).
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
From the very beginning of Clark Ashton Smith's June, 1934 story The Colossus of Ylourgne:

"It was widely thought, among the people of that vicinage, that his departure had been prompted by a salutary fear of ecclesiastical thumbscrews and faggots."

I bet I was supposed to think of the Inquisition, and not the Chorister. Ah well, sometimes linguistic drift brings out the ten-year-old in me. Pardon me while I wriggle and snicker.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)

Cthulhu and the beholder are creations of my friend Tracy Jo Barnwell. The Flail Snail is a Victorian spoonwarmer augmented with pipe cleaners, toothpicks, styrofoam balls, and silver paint.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
....and my submission is in:

It's adapted from Bring Me The Head Of Frank Sinatra!, which I hope to have done later this year.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
Magic Missile is overpowered. Which means I need to start doing more random encounter checks during the night. Our party tends to gun down monsters with MM and then spike the doors and sleep. Now, to some degree this is self-correcting, as the monsters will quite literally respawn in the Flesh Vats, but that's a pretty slow process.

Last session: the party killed Carlotta again and burned her apartments down--included a hilarious critical failure with a stake made from a crossbow bolt and Abbot Yorick's, um, mutilated corpse (to be fair to my players, we had established that Yorick and Carlotta had been lovers, so this wasn't entirely UNMOTIVATED barbarism) . The Assassin Vine was good and shocking to them. Then they waded slowly through the five Wight Barrows and rather cleverly zipped around the Dark Knight using Yorick's flying carpet. They're about to take on the Shadows.

Also, Amy remembered to use the Big Purple d30 for each of her mages, making MM even worse.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
So, last time we played, the party had just descended from level four (Sewers) to level seven (Vats, Library Top) via a manhole in the sewers. Then family drama arose in our group and more than half the table had to leave to go deal with it.

So, yesterday we finally got back.

The hatch in L7 opens up to a very nonthreatening area: the YMCA, basically. There are showers, a cafeteria and a rec room. The cafeteria had a table of dwarves and two tables of gnomes, as well as the ubiquitous Spanish-speaking halfling line cooks and their kobold overseer (this is a running gag in the megadungeon: all the low-level food-service workers are Hispanic halflings, and all of their bosses are kobolds with Outrageous French Accents). The cafeteria also has an orc named Gladys, with rhinestone-studded eyeglass frames, working checkout. You get a plate full of brown glop, green glop, yellow glop, or orange glop for a copper. They were out of orange. They're always out of orange.

The dwarves were wearing miners' outfits. The gnomes were wearing green surgical scrubs.

The rec room has a dartboard, a pool table, a couple of chess/backgammon/checkers sets, a coin-operated beer tap, a fireplace, and some couches. It also had a deeply asleep orc, who shortly had "BALLS" written on his forehead and his hand placed in a bowl of warm water.

Then the party did some 'splorin'. They found the gnomes' apartments, and laid in wait for them. A little fairly unmotivated murder later they had a hideout on L7. A bit more exploring and they had found the Feasthall and kitchens, and, again, did some more murdering and now they have a More Different Hideout. About this time I stopped giving experience for randomly whacking low-level NPCs.

Then, having extracted a level map from one of their victims, they set off for the Flesh Vats.

Now, I had originally wanted to do this all Brave New World or Star Wars Bacta Tanks, with big glass cylinders and gleaming white floors and stuff, but I decided, instead, that there was a reason Gary-Stu used gnomes as his Flesh Vats staff: it's all fleshy and constrictive and you have to squeeze your way through it and everything's all covered in blood and eventually you find the cysts where the replacement creatures are growing.

The party made a halfhearted attempt at killing the vats with some flaming oil and some poisoned crossbow bolts, and although Ruby Red got her face singed by reopening the door while the fire was still burning and that part of the vats was convulsing, she did not encounter any of the Leukocytes, which I'm really looking forward to. They ignore gnomes, I've decided. (It gets very Fantastic Voyage in there.)

Then they took the stairs up to Level five; the stairs open into the Halls Of Bone, and a critical failure on a flaming oil toss later, the party headed back downstairs having killed only a few of the skeletons. A rest-up, a heal-up, and another foray later, they retreated in disarray with at least six skeletons left, and decided to take their chances on Level Six.

This opened out into the Dwarven Mines, where one Charm Person later the assayer was very helpful, telling them to avoid the pudding in the Big Room, and the general locations of Stonybrook Farms, with Mary the Medusa and Zeke the basilisk, the Troll Caves, Edgar's Tower, and the rumor that there was a back door to level five somewhere in the northwest corner.

So the party headed up there, figured out that it was probably somewhere in the rough 40' square that they couldn't get into, busted out their wand of Secret Door Detection, and went in through Aaron Diggory's crypt.

They read the inscriptions over the other 11 crypts, got properly weirded out, and headed up into the center of the Unholy Cathedral on Level 5. A brief but not dangerous fight with the gargoyles ensued, and then the wand was busted out to find the rooms they were sure were in the northwest corner.

This got them into Carlotta the Vampire's lair. I talked up the library and its contents of trashy vampire erotic novels. Then they went looking for the vampire, and very nearly got wiped out. Third-level characters--even six of them--have no business going toe-to-toe with a vampire, even a fairly weak one. However, Aimee's roleplaying (!!!) saved the day. She ran from the combat, back to the library, and told me, "I'm looking for that signed first edition of The Vampire Lestat." Well, one Mind check later--an easy one, because, you know, it's in a glass case all by itself set off with little skull candlesticks--she had it, and ran back to the combat (where two of five people were still standing), tossed the book into the coffin, and tossed some flaming oil onto it.

This caused Carlotta to take a break from slaughtering the party so she could dive on the book and smother the flames, which allowed the party to get enough good hits in that Carlotta changed into bat form (so she could take the book) and tried to get away.

And Aimee saved the day again: she had, clearly written down on her character sheet, the ogre-sized tube of lube she'd looted from Jack and Ennis, the cowboy ogres on L3. Which she squirted all over the bat, which dropped the now-slippery book, and the party actually managed to kill (well, "kill") Carlotta while she was trying to save the book.

I think I might have been overly nice with Level Drains--although they immediately take effect in a combat (and were enough to drive everyone they happened to unconscious), if you kill (or, uh, "reduce to zero hit points") the thing that caused them to happen, then you only permanently lose half the XP in your current level. Mainly because I didn't want to have to replay Levels One through Three again to let the party rebuild their strength.

Then the party found the abbot's kitchen staff, and were about to bust into his private chambers; at that point Amy was nodding off in her chair, so we decided to call it a night. Overall, this was six or seven hours of roleplaying. I had a good time (although it was exhausting), and we saw a couple of interesting-to-me points. #1, correctly incentivizing the players does work--once they realized that murdering NPCs wasn't helping them, they stopped. #2, random bits of stuff will assemble themselves into a coherent narrative if you just let your players run with the ball. I had no plan in mind for what the players might do with the ogres' lube, and I didn't really have much in mind for Carlotta's literary tastes, but Aimee's suggestions made perfect sense in context. #3, your players WANT to creep themselves out. We saw this with the Flesh Vats and the Twelve Named Crypts.
athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
So, while cooking tonight, somehow I got to free-associating on the Spear of Longinus.

So, clearly it's a magic weapon, right? The Nazis want it (well, at least in Castle Wolfenstein 3D, which is, after all, an accurate representation of....uh, anyway). But, you know, it's just a spear that Longinus the Veteran (that'd be a First Level Fighting Man for those of you keeping score at home) poked some crucified dude with to see if he was dead yet.

Now, I'm a big fan of magic weapons in RPGs being rare. I really like the suggestion that All Magical Swords Have Names and Egos Yes Even The Plus One ones.

And I had a realization that--and I would love to know who's done this before, because it's a pretty obvious idea to have--you could have your magical weapons not be "it has the plusses you need to kill this thing," but "it is plus whatever because it has killed this thing."

So you get a kinda Dwarf Fortress vibe going on. Sure, you can have a +1 masterwork weapon that's not magical, just really well made. But beyond that, well, Rockbreaker the club got its name, and its plus, and its ego, from smashing the head of the Troll King Gruthark at the Battle Of Stony Ford 75 years ago. And there's a song about it.

Your Plus Six Sword Of Ogre Decapitation? Well, yeah: it's REALLY GOOD at decapitating ogres. And everyone who's owned it knows that, because after the first couple, the sword started telling them so. It started out as just a couple feet of sharpened steel...but then it became "the steel that slew the Ogre that terrorized the Coldwater Valley," and then things really got rolling. So your magical items become positive feedback loops.

You could maybe even get away with doing this in a game in which magic is only a placebo effect.


athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)

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