Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Answering Twenty Questions about my campaign

 Wayne Rossi reminded me that I have been meaning to do this for a long time.

1) What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
See here. Shorter version - you're Catholic.

2) Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
Any true town or larger has places to get gear. You begin in Ekull, a city on the frontier so prices are decent.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Review: Captain America Civil War

This is not a "full review", which involves me watching a film 5-12 times, but more of a 'pocket review' [meaning I watched it once].

SPOILER HEAVY!!

The Nuts and Bolts
Direction: The Russo Brothers. Did well with Winter Soldier, although I am amazed their careers survived You, Me & Dupree.
Writing: Markus and McFeely. Pretty much have only written for the Narnia series and the MCU as a team.
Production: A large team, but I am focusing on Bell and Woebocken. Bell is a line producer for the MCU and Woebocken is a pro for years.
Music: Henry Kacjman, whoi mainly does superhero and action films.
Cinematography: Trent Opaloch who did Chappie and District 9.
Editing: Ford and Schmidt. Ford has more experience (his One Hour Photo work was great) and Schmidt is pretty much an MCU guy.

The Good
Acting: Chris Evans had to carry the acting on this one and he did a yeoman's job of providing the emotional content without being melodramatic. Downey did a solid job portraying Stark as wracked by emotions to the point of being untrustworthy in an understated manner. Olsen and Bettany had a little side movie going on that was done well, if point on. Everyone playing an avenger showed up and read with conviction.
Paul Rudd and Tom Holland were a ton of fun. They knew why they were there, they knew what was expected, and they delivered.
Chadwick Boseman was better than I had expected and did a great job of portraying a man with dual missions.
Action: The fights were fun. The use of powers was fun. Car chases, aerial chases, fistfights, etc. - a nice amount of well-delivered action.
Camera work: Opaloch was especially good with the crowd scenes and was very good with cameras for dynamic work.
Production: Sets, locations, props, costumes, etc. were all great.

The Bad
Editing: The Matrix showed an entire generation of film editors a very important lesson - when you shoot melee like the 1980's you get confusing jumbles but when you shoot melee like classic Shaw Brothers wuxia movies you get compelling action sequences that can carry great emotional weight.
The people involved in editing this film never learned that lesson.
Great fight set pieces were cut so rapidly and jarringly the viewer had to fill in and figure out what was happening. As a result the fights had less emotional impact.
Camera Work: Dialog was bog-standard two camera work akin to a 1980's sitcom far too often. During fights individuals were so tightly framed it was hard to tell what they were doing, let alone who they were fighting.
Directing: I was taught that underacting/wooden acting is the fault of the actor while over acting is the fault of the director.
I found some faults with the directors.
The directors had a weird combination of taking 'show, don't tell' too far (how many times did we flash back to the exact same thing in 1991?) for motivating events and then doing info dumps in a tell not show way for plot critical information. It is like they were in reverse film land, or something.
Writing/Plot: First, they take one of the most iconic of Marvel's villains, Baron Zemo, and turn him into a weaker version of the rather forgettable villain from The Peacemaker. His motivation is obscure until the very end and then? It is ridiculous. We have no idea how this obscure third-world soldier somehow broke codes that the CIA, NSA, and SHIELD couldn't, nor how he tracked down super-deep HYDRA agents, nor how he was able to place a massive bomb well within the security perimeter of the UN while also placing an EMP device at just the right spot at just the right time and also assassinate and replace a well-known man and then slip into a secure facility  WITHOUT a disguise and use his real name on security footage with no one noticing while alone with one of the most wanted men on the planet to manipulate some of the smartest men in the world to hate each other (despite saving each other's live multiple times) to have them travel to an obscure place in the middle of nowhere after he needlessly kills supersoldiers to stage a fight for...
I can't even write about how effing ludicrous the backstory of Helmut Zemo is, anymore. But it boils down to this,
"Obscure nobody from nowhere with no powers, no support, no agency, and no money can predict exactly how a bunch of people he has never met will react to information they might never encounter so well that he can manipulate the entire planet into doing his bidding and no one notices."
  It is the sort of plot a 12 year old dreams up for his first attempt at fan fiction, then discards when he is 12 as 'childish'.
 So the plot was horrible. Actively, objectively terrible.
 And elements of the film were as bad or worse.
  The United States Secretary of State shows the avengers some video to show them how bad they have screwed up. What does he who them?
1) The Hulk jumping around fighting an invading alien armada intent on conquering the entire planet.
Who is expected to feel bad?
  The avengers, who literally saved the entire world during that encounter.
2) The helicarrier fight from when clandestine terrorist organization  Hydra came within minutes of taking over the entire world using technology given to them by governments that were compromised by Hydra and that almost prevented the Avengers from saving the world by manipulating an oversight group to stop the avengers!
Who is expected to feel bad?
The avengers, who defied the corrupt oversight group, revealed the compromised government actors, and saved the world from slavery to Hydra.
3) Footage of Ultron preparing to cause an extinction-level Tunguska event that would destroy all life on earth using alien  technology from the invaders in clip 1 and technology from the international terrorist group in clip 2. The event was disrupted by the avengers saving all life on earth.
Who is supposed to feel bad?
The avengers, who ignored the calls of various pressure groups and governments that tried to stop them so they could (again) save the world.
4) Footage from the beginning of the movie. A team of terrorists led by a high-ranking member of that same terrorist group from #2, attempts to steal what appears to be a bioweapon of incredible lethality and rather than be taken prisoner detonate a suicide vest to kills scores-to-hundreds of innocent civilians and potentially release the plague. Scarlet Witch is able to channel the blast away from the crowd bit it still kills many innocent people.
Who is supposed to feel bad?
The avengers (especially Wanda) who demonstrable prevented terrorists from gaining a potent bioweapons and saved scores of innocents from a suicide vest.
I am going on a bit, but the point here is that we are expected to believe that the ENTIRE WORLD is so enraged by collateral damage that the overwhelming majority of people want to strictly control the handful of people that saved the entire world three times in 6 years and are SO UPSET that one of them did not completely stop a suicide bomber to the point that any one of them that does NOT submit to government oversight (which has already been PROVEN to have been compromised in the past!) will go to prison?!
...
...
...
As my oldest son pointed out during the movie,
"Anyone who ever took a course on morals, ethics, theology, or philosophy would have ended the movie in 1 minute."
Or, as son #3 opined,
"If I show footage of a gendarme kicking down a door at the bataclan theater I can blame the police for the Paris attacks?".
The stupidity was bad in many other places, too.
A) Based upon a blurry photo a terrorist attack is blamed upon the Winter Soldier and a 'shoot to kill' order is issued immediately even though the investigation cannot have properly begun yet and with the governments of the world being aware that the Winter Soldier was a brainwashed Hydra asset.
B) The Head of State of a UN Member nation chases down and fights with a known assassin who is wanted for multiple crimes, is the focus of an international manhunt, and when the assassin is apprehended the police also arrest the head of state?!
C) Wanda Maximoff, a foreign national, is held in the avenger's compound against her will on orders of a private citizen (Stark) for fear of 'bad press'? That is at best false arrest and at worst kidnapping and threats with a weapon (Vision is a machine) which could put Stark in prison for life.
D) A group of people, one of whom was never an avenger (Ant Man) are involved in a brawl. He (who was never incited to sign the accords!) is placed into a secret prison along with the 'bad' avengers without any form of trial and they are put there not by the UN, not by Interpol, not even by the Department of Justice, but by the US Secretary of State(!) personally(!!) and then interrogated by a civilian (!!!) Stark. I don't think Sokovia would be too pleased with Wanda being treated thusly by the US, do you?
The sad thing is, I only watched this movie and I could go on that much longer about the idiot plot, the plot holes, and the shabby, third-rate writing.


The Fun
Marisa Tomei: Back in the '90's RObert Downey was in a RomCom called Only You with Marisa Tomei - the two of them flirting on a couch was a nice shout-out to that.
Alfre Woodard: Downey also made a movie in the '90;s with Alfre where she played, essentially, his conscience. She sorta' does that in this film, too.
Comics: Too many, from the spidey signal to the birth of Giant Man!

Bottom Line
A deeply flawed movie that is still fun to watch.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

How I Prep For Games

  I mean, naturally, 'other than write the adventure and make maps'.
  If we have a quick pickup game, I don't do all of this, but for any game scheduled in advance - I do!

  Once the players tell me which characters they are taking on the adventure I go through my notes on each character to see if there are any hints, hooks, etc. I need to drop. Will Ember recover another lost memory? Will Brigid's sword tell her some lost bit of lore? Will Thorin's bracelet give him more orders?

Monday, December 12, 2016

What Is Going On With Magic?

I clearly remember a certain moment in 1980. It was about the 12th of August. I was at the desk in my bedroom working on an encounter and going through the various 1e books. Shine A Little Love was playing on the eight track (jealous?). I was taking notes on a sage when POW!
  "What is going on with magic?"

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Play Report #2 - The Sky Fell

See the initial set up here.

  After recovering in the nearby town (not the closest village! We needed resupply as well as healing) we returned to the mine complex.

  While investigating a previously-ignored spur we encountered a troglodyte chief and two sub-chiefs - the two half-orcs (the wife and I, in a fun game) formed the front line with the secondary fighters in the second rank with spears/military forks. It was a tough fight, but we prevailed. My cleric/fighter had to rotate out of the front to get healed up!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Play Report: The Sky Is Falling

  I get to make a play report!!

  The party:
  Me: Michael, a LG half-orc fighter/cleric 2nd/2nd
  The Wife: Tsarina, a CG half-orc fighter 3rd
  Son #1: Torvald, an LG dwarf fighter/thief 2nd/3rd
  Son #2: Wallach, an NG half-elf fighter/mage/thief 2nd/2nd/2nd
  Son #3: Ferenar, a CG half-elf cleric/mage 3rd/2nd

  Son #4 DMed

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Capsule Reviews by Genre

  Inspired by a talk with the sons last night:

Review
1) We meet the protagonists, and they are Good
2) The antagonists are bad and do bad things to the protagonists
3) Training montage
4) The protagonists gain vengeance
Genre: Kung-fu

Review
1) We meet the protagonist and he is Good, if Flawed
2) The antagonists are bad
3) Escalating action encounters
4) The protagonist wins in a final showdown
Genre: Action

Review
1) We meet the protagonist, and he is Bad
2) The secondary characters are also bad, the antagonist is Worse, and everyone does bad things
3) Betrayals happen
4) The protagonist kills the antagonist
Genre: Film Noir

Review
1) We meet the protagonists, and they are Good
2) We meet the antagonist, and he is Not Good
3) Musical Numbers and gunplay
4) The protagonists prevail, and sing
Genre: Singing Cowboy

Review
1) We meet the protagonist, and she is Nice
2) We meet the antagonist and he is Handsome
3) 50 minutes of miscommunication
4) The protagonist and antagonist kiss
Genre: Chick Flick

Review
1) We meet the protagonist and he is Smart
2) We meet the antagonist and it is Dangerous
3) Science!
4) The protagonist prevails
Genre: Sci-Fi Peril

Review
1) We meet the protagonists, and they are Wholesome
2) We meet the antagonist and he is Greedy
3) Let's put on a show!
4) The protagonists prevail
Genre: Andy Hardy/Shirley Temple, etc.

More to come!

Worldbuilding: The Rhythm of the Year

  This time of year can be tough for my family for reasons that will seem a little odd to most people.
  It is because of the calendar.
  You see, to us it is not the Christmas Season, it is Advent. We don't put up ornaments or lights or a tree until December 24th. Then we go to the Vigil Mass for Christmas. Then the Christmas season starts and we celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas until Epiphany, then we take down the tree but leave up the lights until the Christmas season ends with Candlemas on February 2nd. I finally take down the lights on February 3rd.
  Why?
  We're Catholics with traditions from the Old World.
  In the liturgical calendar the beginning of the new year (for the Church) is the beginning of Advent. Advent begins on the Sunday closest to St. Andrew's Day (November 30th) which is the 4th Sunday before Christmas, of course. Advent is traditionally a time of penance and fasting in preparation for Christmas, almost a sad time as we reflect on why Christ had to manifest. Once Christmas actually arrives then we celebrate, decorate, and play Christmas music.
  Why is this hard? Look around! For almost everyone else the Christmas music starts the afternoon of Thanksgiving, the tree and lights go up the weekend of Thanksgiving. The music stops on December 26th and the tree and lights come down around New Year's, if not before.

  No, this is not about me telling you that you are doing Christmas wrong. You aren't. You just have a different calendar.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Play Report: Castle Amber - into Averoigne

 Part one and part two.

  Spoiler heavy for the module and for Clark Ashton Smith stories!

  The party had woken up in Averoigne with their pack animals, riding and war horses, and soon learned that they had been sent back in time from 1250 to 1100.
  Since their characters were from the region (or had lived there) the hints they had from the chateau were enough for them to create a plan and begin executing it immediately. They first headed straight for a Potion of Time Travel and encountered the bishop's men. After some serious roleplaying and zero combat (a ton of fun with PC assassins having tense faceoffs with local cultists, and the like) they were able to trade a magic item for a potion and leave. They then encountered people looking for the Beast of Averoigne. The party had already found the aftermath of a slaughter by the fell creature, but they found nothing.

Rolemaster Unified Playtest Report: Skills Check

  Recently I ran the party through a short adventure to check the use of skills in RMU. The party:
  [All 4th level one-shots]
  JR - Rogue
  AJ - Thief
  ST - Paladin
  NH - Ranger

  The scenario was very cookie-cutter because - playtest. Villagers were asking for help because locals were vanishing near the stone circle atop a mound deep in the woods. I set it up to require a lot of tracking, searching, stalking, hiding, opening locks, reading old documents in foreign languages, Lore checks, etc. There was enough combat (mainly created undead and a low-level evil Channeler) to keep it interesting.
  We also used the newer version of initiative from the ICE Forums (thanks to the forum members for all their help!).

  Feedback-
  JR - "Using skills was smooth, intuitive, and didn't break the flow of narrative. The newer initiative system was much better. With the open structure I can also see collaborating with the GM to make "new" skills, too, without wrecking balance."
  AJ - "I didn't spend any time at all 'looking at the sheet for the solution': I wanted to sneak up on a guy; I rolled; we moved on. Easy."
  ST - "I agree with AJ - this didn't turn into 'something on your character sheet solves the problem'. With maneuver rolls and such it was very easy to just say 'I do x' and resolve it quickly."
  NH - "Rolemaster was always my favorite version of 'RPG with skills' and RMU is solid in how it presents them."
  Me - With a quick GM screen I threw together in 20 minutes it was easy as pie to resolve combat plus maneuver plus skill usages at once. The flow was smooth and the pace was fast. Loved it.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Play Report: Castle Amber Second Session

  Report on the first session is here. I have notes on how I changed the module to include creatures from Spelljammer, Star Wars, Traveller, the Elric series, and more in that entry.

  We left the heroes in the interior garden after a girl with golden skin had given them a silver key.
  The party continued down the path, careful to never leave it (especially after watching the trees tear a bear in twain. They ignored the squirrels with golden acorns and saw the goat-man tell the terrible troll that his big brothers were right behind him. At this point Son #3 used his 18 Charisma and leadership abilities to convince the troll that a richer, fatter adventuring group would be along any moment.



From Another Writer: My Five Favorite RPG Covers

An idea given to me by Samwise7

In no particular order, my 5 favorite covers to RPG books and such.


  Not just from nostalgia, but from the concept of making sure people knew how awesome a game could be with a cover.


  "So, what are characters in an RPG supposed to do?"
  "look!"


  A fun, evocative cover that has always been one of my favorites.


  C&S is pure nostalgia


  And of course the cover that launched 1,000 adventures. Simple, direct, and awesome.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Magic Item of the Week: Bartlebee's Bastion Bag

Bartlebee was an adventuring mage famous for his vast arcane knowledge, his poor constitution, and his tendency to be attacked while sleeping. He eventually crafted an enchanted sleeping bag that was so handy his fellow adventurers cajoled him into making more.
  The bag is made of a woolen rug folded over and sewn along the 'bottom' with frog fasteners along the long side; a person lays within the rug and fastens it closed. The person is warm and snug but may open the bag very quickly in an emergency.
  If the command word is known once fastened the bag will drift up  8' off the ground and enter a dimensional pocket very similar to a Rope Trick spell. The interior is shielded from wind and rain but allows the person inside to hear what is going on around them and to see through a 2' x 2' one-way window that looks down from where their head rests. It takes 2 segments for the bag to rise and enter the space.
  Note: if a ceiling or other obstacle blocks the bag from rising to a full 8' it will still enter a pocket space as long as it can rise at least one full foot from the ground.
  The space will be within a few degrees of the ambient temperature, but the bag itself is enchanted to make its occupant comfortable if the ambient temperature is between 111 to -11 Fahrenheit.
  If the occupant of the bag is awake the bag will exit the space in 30 minutes. If the occupant falls asleep within 30 minutes the bag will remain  in the space for 8 hours of until 5 minutes after the occupant awakes, whichever occurs first. The bag may be used no more than once a day (from sunrise to sunrise) and no more than 3 times in a week (a phase of the moon).
  The bag can hold a creature of up to the size of a large half-ogre but is generally limited so that only a single humanoid and its familiar/a single small animal can be in the space along with a single large, loaded backpack.
  When the bag 'turns off' it takes 2 segments to exit the space and float down. In a rush, the occupant can unfasten the bag and leap out in a single segment - the bag and any gear will fall to the ground immediately if this is done.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Play Report: Castle Amber

  Every Halloween we pick a classic module and run through it as a one-off, non-campaign adventure (usually - I fit the Hidden Shrine into the campaign). The players make holograms (i.e., 'above first level characters') and off we go.
  This year the selection was Castle Amber.
  Castle Amber is one odd module: the opening might as well have been made by CSX because it is railroad all the way. Then after a castle/dungeon crawl opening it turns into an overland sandbox where the party could spend months looking for items that allow them to return to a dungeon and finally escape the railroad open.
  You have really high level NPCs doing odd things for no clear motive and random encounters include a Shape Changed gold dragon as set dressing. There are two new intelligent humanoid raced. No, three. No, maybe four. Are the creatures made in vats golems? Are they a new race? Does each version count separately?
  It is set in the real world but in a fictional part of France during the Medieval Period, sorta'.

  Castle Amber is very famously based on some of the short stories of Clark Ashton Smith and Zelazny's Amber series. The comet, beast, colossus, fictional French region, and more are Smith. The pattern, magical cards, odd family, and more are Zelazny.

Spoilers for books and the module Castle Amber follow!


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Magic Item of the Week: Puissance Weapons

  These were technically invented by my kid sister in 1979 when she was 9 years old.
  Puissance weapons look like a well-made mundane weapon. They are always melee weapons and if they are capable of being thrown their magical effects do not including throwing.
  A Puissance weapon grants the person wielding it proficiency in that weapon. A cleric may use a lance, a mage a scimitar, etc. Note that characters forbidden to use certain weapons for religious reasons may still refuse to use puissance weapons! 
  There are limitations because the sword is 'pre-programmed' so benefits you get from already knowing the weapon do not apply.: a monk using a puissance weapon does not get his extra damage; a fighter with weapons specialization or higher using a puissance weapon will not get bonuses to hit and damage; etc. 
  The most common weapons are swords but virtually any melee weapon may be a puissance weapon.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Crazy Ideas - How Far Am I Willing to Go?

  I am working on Tiny Kingdom (an adventure set in the garden of a mad arch-mage where the characters are just an inch tall) and updating The Book of Seaward (my book of house rules) and prepping a 2nd edition of Far Realms (my rues supplement for the OSR). I am also talking with the kids, playtesting Rolemaster Unified, rebooting a Champions campaign, starting a new business, and dealing with 4 family birthdays in just 15 days.
  So last night I was re-reading Hackmaster 5th because I have absolutely nothing else to do with my time and remember how much I like how they did the fighter/knight/paladin thing. Son #3 was getting some NPC classes (from my book Far Realms, an excellent stocking stuffer, if you'll forgive the hint) when we started talking about NPC improvement. One of his PCs has a hireling, a mercenary spearman, who has been to Skull Mountain 3 times and lived through it all. He and I agreed that this guy has done enough that he is no longer a 0-level merc, but a level 1 Man-at-Arms and can advance to at least level 2
  Son #1 joined in, asking about his 4th level Man-at-Arms, who is fairly tough and has been through the wringer. Son #1 asked,
  "Let's say he drank a potion of super-heroism, grabbed a +2 axe, and brought down, oh, a fire elemental. Could that be enough to transform him into a 4th level fighter? A 3rd level fighter?"
  We also spoke about the DCC 'funnel'; we've only glanced at borrowed rules and never played DCC, but the idea was interesting - can the schmoes of the NPC world become PC classes through Great Deeds?
  Then Son #2 came in with some of his work on Tiny Kingdom and his suggestions for some custom classes for the mice men and bumblebee knights and Son #4 asked if we should just break down and put a mini-retroclone section in front of Tiny Kingdom so it can stand alone; after all, with a bunch of new classes....
  But I said there are not just a lot of great retroclones already, the OD&D/AD&D books can be had, now, so if I am going to make a game, it will be different and new.

  20 minutes later we had this;

 It can be hard to see, but it is an advancement tree for the fighter classes. All start as Men-at-Arms and then you can either stay a Man-at-Arms or move on to Woodsman, Warrior, or Nobleman. Warriors can go on to be Weapons Masters; Woodsmen can be Weapon masters or Rangers; Noblemen can be Cavaliers; etc. It would be similar to the old Palladium RPG but you could move up, down, or sideways, as with hackmaster 5th. Men-at-Arms fight less well and have fewer HP, but a lot more mundane skills. Others trade skills for HP or fighting or special abilities. 
  The other 'big four' classes would have similar trees:
  Allowing players to mix, match, and customize their PCs.
  
  Again, this was back of the envelope stuff from last night - thoughts?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Adding to Appendix N: Clark Ashton Smith, the Beast of Averoigne, Castle Amber, and Horror. A scattered bit of writing.

There will be spoilers for Clark Ashton Smith tales and for the module Castle Amber within - be warned!!

note: written late and editing will be done in a day or three.

  Every Halloween I run my players through a classic module. This year it is Castle Amber.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Movie Review: Shin Godzilla

Ultrabrief Capsule Review:
Number of theater-wide chuckles: 2
Number of theater-wide laughs - 3
Number of theater-wide 'wow!'s - 2
Number of theater-wide 'daaaaaaammnn's - 1
Ovation at the end? - yes, not standing
Out of 5 stars? - 5

full review below

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Magic Item of the Week: The Shadow Bow

  The party just got one of these in the loot from the second level of Skull Mountain.
  Shadow bows come in ally types of self bow and are always enchanted at least +1 Their unique power is that any arrow fired from the bow is Invisible until it strikes its target. Because the arrows are unseen in flight defenders have and Dexterity-based improvement to armor class reduced by 2 points and monks have a -4 to deflect the missiles.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Let Me Add Something on How To Add More People to the OSR

  Over at Tenkar's Tavern the host has written about how to add players - play in public.
  He's not wrong, but he's missing something.
 
  See, he's talking about playing at a store aimed at us and bringing in people who play Pathfinder, 4e, and other things.
  That's great! Bring them in! But there is more.

  I have mentioned how my son started a new game with total newbies. Well, their tenth game is next week and there are now 5 regular players and they are recruiting more, all of them fresh to RPGs. That, to me, is even more critical than exposing people who play other games to the OSR - bringing totally fresh blood to RPGs in general.

  And it doesn't just have to be teens.

  Think about how long you have been playing RPGs. Now, in that time how many of your non-gaming friends and co-workers have you tried to 'bring in'? I have asked co-workers, classmates, and relatives. My most daring was either the guy sitting next to me on a 6 hour greyhound bus trip or a girl I met on a blind date on our second date.
She and I have been married for almost 25 years, now, BTW.
  I have had a lot of success bringing people into RPGs just by asking 'want to come over for game night?' and not saying anything else. I make sure I have a wide range of games - HERO system, Star Wars, Marvel Super-Heroes, Traveller, and (of course) AD&D. We talk to them about the movies and books they like and then pull out the game that seems most apropos. That date? HUGE Star Wars fan, so it was WEG's D6 Star Wars. These days it is easy to start with the LotR or Hobbit movie franchises or Marvel, but it all works.

  Another thing Ii do these days is have stuff ready to email them - PDFs of OSRIC, character sheets, party log, and a simple free adventure module. As a family we buy those Pound O' Dice packs as needed so we can hand them a set of dice, too.

  Yes! Play in public! But also talk to the people you know.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Return to Skull Mountain - After the Second Session

  Follows this report.

  The party:
  JL - Brigid, 6th level human Barbarian (custom class)
      Byron, 5th level Cleric henchman
  JR - Seeker, 4th/6th elven Magic-User/Thief
      Kaspar, 3rd level human Scout (custom class) henchman
      Marion, 1st level human Bard (custom class) henchman
  AJ - Starfalcon, 5th level half-elf Ranger
  ST - "Clint", 5th level human Paladin
      Willem, 5th level human Hedge Mage (NPC class) henchman [at base camp]
      Arthur, 5th level human Man-at-Arm henchman
      Akio, 3rd level human Monk henchman
      Baldric, 1st level human Fighter henchman
      Meritus the Tall, 1st level human Cleric henchman
      Spearman hireling [at base camp]
      Healer hireling (custom) [at base camp]
  NH - Thorin, 3rd/3rd half-orc Fighter/Thief

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Return to Skull Mountain - Brief After Session Report

  Today's session was after a non-combat session about the sage and the stars.
  Today the characters were

  JL - Brigid, 6th level human Barbarian (custom class)
      Byron, 5th level Cleric henchman
  JR - Seeker, 4th/6th elven Magic-User/Thief
      Kaspar, 3rd level human Scout (custom class) henchman
      Marion, 1st level human Bard (custom class) henchman
  AJ - Starfalcon, 5th level half-elf Ranger
  ST - "Clint", 5th level human Paladin
      Willem, 5th level human Hedge Mage (NPC class) henchman
      Arthur, 5th level human Man-at-Arm henchman
      Akio, 3rd level human Monk henchman
      Baldric, 1st level human Fighter henchman
      Meritus the Tall, 1st level human Cleric henchman
      Spearman hireling
      Healer hireling (custom)
  NH - Thorin, 3rd/3rd half-orc Fighter/Thief

  Willem, the spearman, and the healer stayed in the kitchen/hall area of the Entrance behind a barricaded North Door in a base camp with food, equipment, components, holy water, etc. They had a horn to signal if attacked.
  The party proceeded directly to what they are calling the Pilgrim Doors and unbarred them. The went down the stairs beyond and soon emerged into landing area dimly lit by magic. Starfalcon sensed a secret door, so Brigid (the toughest fighter) opened it and began to enter. When the green slime spattered onto her armor Byron yanked her back and Clint burned it off with his Flametongue. As they were checking her for damage Clint thrust his Flametongue into the secret passage and watched the green slime seep into cracks in the floor.
  They began to explore the passage when Akio noted a skeletal figure in plate & mail armor and a bardiche stalking them. The skeleton was killed in short order.

  The party soon noted that a huge corridor, 20' wide and arching to 24' over head, seemed to 'box in' a huge space. The 'inner' wall of this corridor was decorated with bas reliefs - the northern half images of followers accompanied by fire elementals and devils as they attacked good places and people, the southern half similar but with ice elementals and devils. The outer wall had rooms and off-shoot corridors and the inner wall had a set of massive doors that seem to give access to the inner area.
  The party decided to clear out everything else before even entering the central space.

  In monk cells they were attacked by a starving ghoul that had been trapped for long years - Brigid and Clint took it down swiftly. In another room they found an Ioun Stone hidden in an ancient bedroll. In one place a section of the bas relief stepped out of the wall and fought them fiercely. After it was destroyed they returned to camp.
  The next day they found a massive statue to a fire elemental with devilish features. Byron Blessed it...
  ...and it exploded into a gout of flame that engulfed the entire party. With henchmen down (negative but not dead) and Seeker one point above zero they retreated to camp again, healed up, and returned.
  In another section they found an abandoned prison with dozens of cells. Beyond that was a large torture chamber - and the undead Headsman and Torturer, eager to fight!
  Brigid went berserk and charged the undead Headsman and his (obviously enchanted) bardiche while Clint closed with the Torturer and his magically-hot branding iron. This was a very tough fight for the party and if Brigid hadn't been berserk they would have retreated.
  The Torturer was tough and his branding iron was doing a lot of damage [1d8+7 from the blow and 1d8 heat]. When Clint was healed by Byron they learned to their horror that magic couldn't heal the heat damage! Brigid fought the Headsman fiercely, but he was almost as tough and his bardiche hurt, although not as much.
  Clint had to swap out with Starfalcon but stumbled (he was using Boots of Striding and Springing) was was out of battle for a round. Even with henchman pouring missile fire in and Seeker causing damage (he prefers to outthink his foes) with a spell (the first time in 2 levels) things were pretty grim!
  After a lot of rounds and a lot of badly hurt party members they prevailed. They checked on last room and found the gear of another party the two undead monsters had killed, then returned to camp.
  Before that happened however....

Thorin as a fascinating character to watch being played. His stats are fun - 17 strength, 16 dex, and a 19 con; as well as a 5 intelligence, 5 wisdom, and 6 charisma. NH plays him as a guileless innocent who happens to be nimble, strong, and tough. He is illiterate but very open, very kind, and very warm-hearted. His low charisma comes from his tendency to not speak, his confusion over all but the most straightforward topics, and his tendency to just appear out of nowhere, staring at you.
 Way back at first level, 18 months ago real-time, I rolled a random encounter and added a bracelet to a treasure haul, amused to see what happened. When the party retrieved everything I rolled reaction rolls for the bracelet for every party member. With Thorin it rolled 100. The bracelet has been worn by Thorin ever since. Why? It appeared on his wrist while he was sleeping and he just - accepted it.
In the many adventures since sometimes NH gets a note that says 'your bracelet tells you not to touch that' or something like it. The player has always had Thorin just do so, never saying anything to anyone. Tonight the bracelet told him to touch Clint and Clint's burns healed (Thorin's had already been healed). When the party asked him how he did that he simply said, "My bracelet told me to" and he went about his business.
At camp they did tests and queries and eventually figured out - Thorin's bracelet is an Agathion. I've been having fun with that for months!

  The party thinks they have just a few more rooms before they enter the central area.
 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Return to Skull Mountain - Clearing the Entrance (for the fifth time)

  In anticipation of the coming Midsummer Night the players took their lowest-level characters up through the Briars to Skull Mountain to make sure the high-level part would have a relatively easy time of it as they brought in a sage of astronomy to use the observatory. The initial party is meant to clear out the Entry Halls and then head back to the town of Esber.

  The party is small, nimble, has no henchmen, and eager to level up. They are

The Wife - Ursula, 2nd level halfling thief
JR - Athanasius, 2nd level human cleric
AJ- Starkiller, 2/2/2 level half-elf fighter/magic-user/cleric
ST- Graystar, 2nd level human wizard
NH- Akira, 3rd level monk with the enchanted punch!
  the party collectively hired 3 mercenaries, all heavy foot, a drover, and a lackey. They remained in camp.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Magic Item of the Week - Bag of Encumbrance

  My oldest son, who is 19, has been running a game of AD&D 1e for a few months, now. All of his players are first-timers who never played before they sat down with him. One of them, Daniel, was having encumbrance explained to him when he said,
"Oh, I get it. Man, I wish I could just... throw encumbrance on an enemy!"
  I love the perspective new players have!
  This led my oldest and I to joke around until we came up with - the Bag of Encumbrance.
  The bag appears to be an unremarkable jute bag full of a strange red-brown dust, about the consistency of fine wheat flour. No matter how much dust is inside the enchanted bag always weighs/encumbers as 5 lbs.
  Once per round the owner can reach into the bag, pull out a handful of the dust, and hurl it at a foe. The dust 'hold together' almost like a snowball until it strikes a solid object and has ranges of 2"/4"/6".Since the dust is not stopped by armor only dexterity and magical bonuses affect armor class.
  Example: Jerczy was doing well, but the enemies were too many. Inghemar reached into her Bag of Encumbrance and tossed the dust at the half-ogre. The half-ogre was in +3 plate mail, normally A.C 0 but only the bonuses mattered - she rolled against A.C. 7.

  Any creature struck by the Dust gains a "level" of encumbrance that reduces their movement rate 1/4th of their unencumbered maximum. A human with a base movement of 12" now has a max base of 9"; if they were already in plate mail and carrying a lot of gear so that they were at a maximum of 4" their new movement would be 1". Creatures with magical movement (such as Boots of Speed) use their magical top speed as their base movement.
  At two "levels" the target cannot fly (naturally, by spell, or by item), swim or effectively jump more than half a foot vertically. When movement is reduced to 0" or at 4 "levels" the creature collapses, immobilized by the magical weight. The magical encumbrance can cause no direct harm, although a target may drown, be killed while pinned, etc.
  Target can drop equipment, remove armor, etc. to reduce natural encumbrance. Even at a movement rate of 0" this can be done at half the usual speed. Regardless of actual encumbrance a creature affected by 4 or more "levels" of magical encumbrance will remain immobilized.

  The Dust will slowly sift off of a target and each 'dose' ceases to affect its target after 2 turns. Wind and water have no ability to remove the Dust but a cup of vinegar will rinse off a dose of the Dust in just 1 segment (up to a quart may be applied as a single action, if desired)

  When the Dust is removed from the bag its magical properties briefly affect the wielder as the Dust is hurled, making its use exhausting. The Dust can only be hurled every other round and if hurled in 4 of any 12 rounds the user must rest for a turn before running or fighting.

 When a Bag is found it has 1d6+4 uses of Dust inside. If the Dust is placed into any container but the appropriately enchanted Bag that container immediately has the full amount of encumbrance of the dust inside. Also, once removed from the Bag the Dust loses its potency after just 3 days.

  Legend states that the Dust is made from a rare ant found only on the Plane of Earth.

Magic Item of the Week - Bag of Encumbrance

  My oldest son, who is 19, has been running a game of AD&D 1e for a few months, now. All of his players are first-timers who never played before they sat down with him. One of them, Daniel, was having encumbrance explained to him when he said,
"Oh, I get it. Man, I wish I could just... throw encumbrance on an enemy!"
  I love the perspective new players have!
  This led my oldest and I to joke around until we came up with - the Bag of Encumbrance.
  The bag appears to be an unremarkable jute bag full of a strange red-brown dust, about the consistency of fine wheat flour. No matter how much dust is inside the enchanted bag always weighs/encumbers as 5 lbs.
  Once per round the owner can reach into the bag, pull out a handful of the dust, and hurl it at a foe. The dust 'hold together' almost like a snowball until it strikes a solid object and has ranges of 2"/4"/6".Since the dust is not stopped by armor only dexterity and magical bonuses affect armor class.
  Example: Jerczy was doing well, but the enemies were too many. Inghemar reached into her Bag of Encumbrance and tossed the dust at the half-ogre. The half-ogre was in +3 plate mail, normally A.C 0 but only the bonuses mattered - she rolled against A.C. 7.

  Any creature struck by the Dust gains a "level" of encumbrance that reduces their movement rate 1/4th of their unencumbered maximum. A human with a base movement of 12" now has a max base of 9"; if they were already in plate mail and carrying a lot of gear so that they were at a maximum of 4" their new movement would be 1". Creatures with magical movement (such as Boots of Speed) use their magical top speed as their base movement.
  At two "levels" the target cannot fly (naturally, by spell, or by item), swim or effectively jump more than half a foot vertically. When movement is reduced to 0" or at 4 "levels" the creature collapses, immobilized by the magical weight. The magical encumbrance can cause no direct harm, although a target may drown, be killed while pinned, etc.
  Target can drop equipment, remove armor, etc. to reduce natural encumbrance. Even at a movement rate of 0" this can be done at half the usual speed. Regardless of actual encumbrance a creature affected by 4 or more "levels" of magical encumbrance will remain immobilized.

  The Dust will slowly sift off of a target and each 'dose' ceases to affect its target after 2 turns. Wind and water have no ability to remove the Dust but a cup of vinegar will rinse off a dose of the Dust in just 1 segment (up to a quart may be applied as a single action, if desired)

  When the Dust is removed from the bag its magical properties briefly affect the wielder as the Dust is hurled, making its use exhausting. The Dust can only be hurled every other round and if hurled in 4 of any 12 rounds the user must rest for a turn before running or fighting.

 When a Bag is found it has 126+4 uses of Dust inside. If the Dust is placed into any container but the appropriately enchanted Bag that container immediately has the full amount of encumbrance of the dust inside. Also, once removed from the Bag the Dust loses its potency after just 3 days.

  Legend states that the Dust is made from a rare ant found only on the Plane of Earth.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Leveling Up: I Do It Weird

  Thanks to my G+ feed and the great folks on it, I am going to talk about how I do things and confuse the heck out of everyone.

  The topic at hand is leveling up in AD&D 1e and the fees, mentors, etc. The DMG tells us;
"Experience points are merely an indicator of the character's progress toward greater proficiency in his or her chosen profession..."
"The gaining of sufficient experience points necessary [for] a character to be eligible to gain a level of experience but the actual award is a matter for you, the DM, to decide"
  Interesting, isn't it? Gary goes on to outline a system of rating a character and the roleplaying involved and then discusses a program where characters will be out of play for weeks and spend money, sometimes vast sums, to level up. The fun thing? Going from 2nd to 3rd level should typically cost you so much money that you technically should be 4th level already.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Fast Film Review - Blade Runner (Director's Cut)

  It is hard for me to write a review of Blade Runner.
  No, for a funny reason. I picked the director's cut of Blade Runner as my thesis topic for my Film class in college. I've already written about 250 pages on this sucker and I just want to post the papers as PDFs!
  But I recently watched it with my older kids and wanted to write about it, so....
  Quick review follows.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Stranger Things - Episode 6 Review

  Please see the wider internet for general recaps.

SPOILERS THROUGHOUT THIS TIME!!!

General Notes:
Slightly different order.
Cinematography and Editing:  Ives and Zimmerman are at it and it is great. Want examples of how camera and editing work well? Watch the scene where Jonathan is in Nancy's room an laying on the floor. Pay attention to camera angles, lights, and cuts. Now the scene an Lucas' house and how the editing takes us into the story.

Acting: Matarazzo was even better than last episode; the kid is great. Heaton was less engaging and frankly I suspect it is because Dyer was so damn flat; last episode was a head fake, I think. Ryder and Harbour were in Expositionville so they were mainly there to listen to character actor Amy Seimetz to a great job. Catherine Dyer was nicely effective as evil female agent #1, too. Brown had a little more to do and seems to be a solid, yeoman actor.

Directing: Good, especially for a largely Expositionville episode. The cough "teen drama" cough stuff was a mess and we'll talk about the younger guys in full.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Stranger Things - Episode 5 review

Taking my birthday to watch more episodes quickly. Remember, I review but I don't recap; there are great recaps all over.

General Notes:
Acting: Harbour, Ryder, Heaton, and Wolfhard were all good to great. Matarazzo stood out - the kid was great in this one. McLaughlin, Havens, and Keery are great journeyman actors and have good instincts - I really like Havens; the man will be a 'HITG' before you know it. Brown was great in the flashbacks but struggled in the contemporary scenes with how little she has to work with.
  And Dyer. That girl. She had a few good scenes, holding out hope.... Perhaps she is finding her feet, perhaps her issue is direction? Let us hope she isn't just doing a head fake.

Cinematography: I knew Ives was back before I looked at IMDB. His style isn't intrusive (quite the opposite) but it is distinctive; like Lindsey Buckingham on guitar. The cinematography keeps being great and the use of light was very good in this one.

Stranger Things - Episode 4 Review

  There are really good recaps all over, so I only review.

General Notes:
Acting: Harbour is on point this episode; try to imagine how hard it would be to act like you're acting, re-watch that diner scene, and get back to me. He was great. Ryder did a good job of doing the Roy Neary arc of appearing crazy while being aware of more than others. Joe Chrest looks like he might get to be more than 'the dad too tired from work to notice the little things', which is good because he's a solid actor. And, with feeling, Cara Buono is surprising me with her very consistent portrayal.
  Millie Brown keeps doing a lot with a little. Charlie Heaton is actually getting a chance to act and is doing well. Joe Keery put in a journeyman performance and Natalia Dyer keeps letting me down. Watch the scene between Nancy and Steve in the side alley at school; Keery is pretty good. Dyer is using the same performance as when Barb wanted to leave the party.

Cinematography: Drom now on I think I'll just mention when it is NOT great. Tod Campbell did a great job; he had shout-outs to the Searchers and Stagecoach in his use of cameras and I freakin' approve.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

RPGaDay - Catching up! - Character Moment you are Proudest Of

  Hard to say. But I will go with this one.

  In Lew Pulsipher's Tonilda campaign there are two main places of dread: Skystone Castle and Mount Thunder. The party was deep beneath Mount Thunder and already weak when we were hit by an ambush of Pyromancers. After a hard fight they fled and we were out of spells and low on hits.
  And the pyromancers had alerted the Ogre King - the entire tribe was on the way to slay us.
  We could not leave the way we came in, so we had to head to the arch, a long, narrow, stone arch bridge over a vast abyss. When we arrive it is held by a balrog.
  Yes, really.
  I was playing Andune, my then 6th/6th cleric/magic-user. He was at 24.5 hit points (Lew and I both track 1/2 hit points) but had a good armor class and a Mace of Disruption, meaning I had a shot at disrupting him. I was also the only guy above single-digit hit points.
  I read a Scroll of Protection vs. Fire and ran out to fight.
  4 rounds later I am at 6.5 hits and he's going strong. We tie initiative. W have the same dex. Same weapons speeds. Simultaneous hit.
  We both hit.
  I do minimum damage, 2 points.
  He does minimum damage - 6 points.
  I roll for disruption - natural 20!
  The balrog is sent away, I collapse, the party drags my barely-alive carcass over the bridge. We spend 2 hours hiding in a closet to avoid the ogres.

  Andune kept the balrog's whip and put it over the mantle at his tower.

Stranger Things - Episode 3 Review

  Remember, other places have great recaps, so I only review!

General Notes:
Acting: Natalia Dyer is bringing me down, man. The girl seems to have two acting modes - vaguely perky and vaguely confused. David Harbour is doing a decent job of keeping Hopper an interesting character. Winona Ryder was channelling Richard Dreyfus in CEotTK pretty hard, and in a good way. She did a fair job as coming across as 'really obsessed' rather than just loopy. Cara Buono is the hidden gem of acting in the show, BTW.
Cinematography: Continued great use of lighting, movement, blocking, etc. I can only say 'the cinematographer is really good' so many ways.
Editing: Continues the downward slide seen in last episode. The opening editing in particular was a mess, but this might be because the director demanded it. Hard to say, since some of the later cuts were confusing and jarring.
Directing: I was taught that under-acting is the fault of the actor, over-acting is the fault of the director. We are edging up on the director needing to get a grip on his actors. Ryder is doing OK, but Caleb McLaughlin is edging up on hamminess.

SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Short Reviews of Short Stories

A few short bits-
Ted Chiang:
'Hell is the Absence of God' - terse, good pacing, and nonsensical. The plot, such as it is, depends upon the universe that Ted makes being very literally illogical.

'Division by Zero'- the writing wasn't as good as in HitAoG, but still quite good. The central idea is ludicrous. Any competent mathematician knows that math is just a model, a tool, not reality. The idea that a mathematician would be driven to suicide by discovering the Godel was right is is silly as the idea of a cartographer becoming suicidal upon learning a street had been added in Brooklyn.

'What's Expected of Us'- good writing, again. Again, bone-deep stupidity in the idea. The core premise - a device is invented that proves people have no free will; this results in despair, etc. My problem? If humans lack all free will then learning that wouldn't change anything; we couldn't decide anything, after all - we would lack free will. I find it as ridiculous as a man who writes books about the total lack of free will being proud of his test scores.

  I find Chiang to be a rather odd duck - his writing is competent but his ideas.... They strike me as the sort of ideas that stupid people think are profound. Or the sorts of ideas you hear from someone smoking weed.
  'What if God did something we didn't understand?'
  'Ooooh. Deep, man.'

Ken Liu:
'Single Bit Error'- Here because it is explicitly written because HitAoG was written. The writing is yeomanlike, and OK. But the story is nothing more than the statement 'no amount of evidence, direct or indirect, will convince me God is real, not even an angel meeting me face to face'. When I first read it I re-read it because I could not imagine anyone saying something like that on purpose. I think he was aiming for profundity, but each time I re-read it I am gripped with fremdschämen.

In much of recent work that I read, particularly in short fiction, I see a lot of what appears to be an author believing they are saying something profound when they are, instead, revealing their own shallowness of thought. That is the closest I can come to the feeling much of contemporary SF/F instills in me.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

What Do You Mean, 'What Is It For?'?!

  Ah, the internet, where you can argue over all sorts of things. The most recent internet argument I got into was with someone explaining that monsters with a no-save level drain are badwrong and there is no reason to have them other than,
  "...imbecilic blind worship of the past..."
  Uh-huh.
  Of course, I had already pointed out some reason for having such monsters in your game, to wit;

  • Instilling terror in the players
  • Driving quests for spells, etc. to get Restoration
  • To 'throttle' level progression without nerfing XP/raising the bar or railroading players
  Now, I guess I might have just tossed in a link to a past article of mine, but there is that to say and more, so here we go.

What Do You Mean, 'What Is It For?'?!

  Ah, the internet, where you can argue over all sorts of things. The most recent internet argument I got into was with someone explaining that monsters with a no-save level drain are badwrong and there is no reason to have them other than,
  "...imbecilic blind worship of the past..."
  Uh-huh.
  Of course, I had already pointed out some reason for having such monsters in your game, to wit;

  • Instilling terror in the players
  • Driving quests for spells, etc. to get Restoration
  • To 'throttle' level progression without nerfing XP/raising the bar or railroading players
  Now, I guess I might have just tossed in a link to a past article of mine, but there is that to say and more, so here we go.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Personal Note: Me and Stranger Things

  So.... Stranger Things. Set in Indiana in 1983, in a small town. Focuses on kids who play D&D.

  While I moved a lot as a small child by the age of 4 I was back where I was born, Indiana. I lived near Muncie, famed in D&D lore because of Knights of the Dinner Table. But there was a lot of gaming in Muncie, as I recall.
  I lived in al area near the towns of Redkey and Dunkirk, where the downtowns look like this;


this;


this;

and this;

  Yes, that is the entire 'downtown' of four different towns. It looks a lot like where the protagonists of Stranger Things live, doesn't it?

  Here is the view facing south from where I went to high school;


The other directions only vary in that one field is soybeans.

  I was a bit older than the boys in Stranger Things that are hanging out with El and a bit younger than Nancy and her friends - in 1983 I turned 16.

  My AD&D 1e campaign was 5 years old in 1983 and as I recall the party was dealing with a group of evil monks.

  Anyway, I identify with a lot of the characters in Stranger Things because it is, in an odd way, about me and my friends. Sure, archetypes are what they are for reasons, and tropes are useful, yes. But this hits awfully close to home. Very literally.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Stranger Things - Episode 2 Review

  Watched Eps 2 & 3 back to back with the oldest four sons on Sunday night. My wife has decided not to watch a show that features a missing son as a major plot point.

General Notes:
Acting: I wasn't too pleased with Winona Ryder's performance until the scene at her workplace, where she was great. David Harbour stayed great and Millie Brown did a lot with a little. I was impressed by how effective Shannon Purser was and am floored that this was her first acting job - she was great. Cara Buono is really growing on me, too.
  Natalia Dyer, however.... While she may be going for subtle, she is hitting me as wooden.
Cinematography: Tim Ives is on this one and he was great, again. He doesn't distract from the action, but he has excellent framing and excellent use of camera movements; rewatch the scene where Jonathan enters the woods for the first time and observe how he moves the camera. Great stuff.
Editing: Not as smooth as Ep 1. The cuts back and forth about the pool scene were ham-handed but that may be the fault of the director.
Directing: With the sole exception of the pool scene I mentioned above, the direction was solid. Minimalist and effective is what I love and overall, I got it.

Spoilers Follow!!!!!!!!!!


Characters:  Joyce had some nice growth and exposition and her hysteria didn't descend into narm, thankfully. Convincing the audience that you are hysterical without it being funny is hard, but they pulled it off. Jonathan got some great development and the writing and directing gave us an insight into how isolated and lonely he is without a hint of pathos. 
  The three boy protagonists were handled very well, as was El, and they were allowed to be different, emotional, and belligerent in a realistic way. 
Story: The second episode can be hard, and the cutaway to High School Drama made this tougher. The dynamic between the three lads and El grew well, and the development of Mike's role in the cast is coming along well.
  The High School Drama bit is frankly odd. So far the character of Joe is a bit tough to fit into the story in a meaningful way and the drama between him and Nancy is damn near an afterschool special, and not one of the good ones. My sons and I speculate that either the Drama Club transform themselves into last-minute heroes, are redeemed by giving their lives to stop Demogorgon, or are eaten as a cautionary tale, a la the film Halloween. 
  Which means we need to talk about the pool.
  Barb getting snatched by Demogorgon was a nice but. The bad guy is everywhere, watching, and can get you any minute, giving him a real Boogeyman vibe.
  Back to Joyce where lights act up and Demogorgon tries to come through the wall.... Boogeyman, indeed.

Notes: I may need to re-watch, but it appears that the area the kids call Mirkwood is close to the homes of Will and Steve but far from the homes of the other boys. Based on Demogorgon and Eleven, it appears the lab is also in Mirkwood. Is the creature limited to an area? Hmmmm.

References: A ton of them, again. 
  We see a jaws poster. Later blood drips into water and a monster attacks. That was fun.
  The episode title reminds me of The Monsters Come to Maple Street, the classic episode of the Twilight Zone where aliens use fear to destabilize a neighborhood. 
  I mentioned the movie Halloween, above - the antagonist of that series is name-dropped in the episode.
  We also have a shout out to Star Wars and the force.
  Guys in hazmat suits? Double shout-out to E.T. and Hell of the Living Dead!
  The creature at the walls looked like Videodrome and Day of the Dead.
  There were more, too.


RPGaDAY: Best Session of the Last Year

This was a rough one to choose, but luckily I already gave a write up here.

Monday, August 1, 2016

RPGaDAY: Dice

  I prefer dice but I also have two dice rolling programs on my phone and, Back in the Day, I even used (someone else's) Dragonbone die roller.
  All else being equal I like dice in and of themselves. They can be very decorative, they make fine gifts, and they are a physical reminder of the randomness of our largely mental hobby.
So: Dice first, then random numbers.

  I have seldom played diceless, but that's fine, too.

RPGaDAY: Dice

  I prefer dice but I also have two dice rolling programs on my phone and, Back in the Day, I even used (someone else's) Dragonbone die roller.
  All else being equal I like dice in and of themselves. They can be very decorative, they make fine gifts, and they are a physical reminder of the randomness of our largely mental hobby.
So: Dice first, then random numbers.

  I have seldmom played diceless, but that's fine, too.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Magic Item of the Week: Manbreaker

  A few centuries back the evil mage Lohr ruled a vast region beyond the borders of civilization. He forged alliances with a cunning combination of diplomacy, terror, magic, and bribery. One of his coups was winning the aid of a powerful tribe of hill giants. Lohr gave a gift to their chieftain, the mighty war club Manbreaker.The chieftain led his tribe to many victories over his foes, and Lohr's, with this club. It has since become an item of great value to hill giants and it is still used by a chieftain to this day.



Monday, July 18, 2016

Stranger Things - Episode 1 review

  Yes, yes - everyone else is talking about it. But never let it be said I never indulge in me-tooism.
  Last night I watched the first episode with my four oldest sons. Now, for slug reviews followed by a real review.

General Notes:
Acting: Surprisingly good. The kids were above average for child actors, Winona Ryder reminds us that she is an old pro and turns in a decent performance. David Harbour as Hopper was surprisingly good in the role, and I was expecting that role to be good, anyway. Other nice standouts were Matthew Modine (not a shock, but impressive given his short time in the pilot) and Charlie Heaton.
Cinematography: Impressive. Tim Ives has only been nominated for one cinematography award - he will get more nominations. The camera work was crisp, smooth, and not intrusive. His use of angles, lighting, and movement were great - he has obviously studied Allan Daviau and is a fan of Kurosawa. Want to see how you can use the camera to indicate awareness vs. distraction? Re-watch the scene when a certain young character first enters a diner until they are noticed. Great, subtle, effective use of the camera.
Editing: Like cinematography, the editing is well done. It took us about 15 minutes to catch the subtle color bleaching used in outdoor scenes to make things look... off. The editor keeps the scenes moving and does that hardest of things - the quick cut that doesn't break the flow.
Directing: From the cold open to the last shot the directing was very good. It is hard to keep plot, pace, and interest all moving along in a pilot when there is so much information to share. Speaking of which, the cold open was great and a good example of how to set them up. It reminded me of the better cold opens from the Venture Brothers (yes, that is a compliment).

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Play Report: Fortress of the Death Knight Lord, End

  You can find part I here.

  The background and characters are the same.

Late Play:  The party immediately crossed the mile-long bridge, grabbed the prisoners (using a magical mirror to see if they were illusions, etc.), and headed west to their camp. At camp they grabbed the other prisoners (who had fled hours earlier), their steeds and supplies, and sung north and east to bypass the fortress, then grabbed a few hours of sleep to avoid forced march penalties. Awakening at Noon, they set out for the rendezvous with the Green Parrot, all while debating taking the sea rather than land.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Lord of All Death Knights, Airik, Count of Westergoth, Part II

  This is the tale bards tell around the fire of the first, and mightiest, of all Death Knights.

Play Report: The Fortress of the Death Knight Lord, part I

System:
AD&D 2e with Skills and Powers plus house rules. We use spell points from Spells and Magic, specialized weapon styles of my own creation. No crusaders or 2e S&P monks, but plenty of magic types. I also use my inverted skills chart, found here.

The Adventurers:
Marigold- 6th level Human cleric. Played by the Wife.
        Kugel the Stern- 3rd/3rd fighter cleric Dwarf, henchman to Marigold
Tellon- 6th level Human fighter. Specialized in the falchion. Son #4
        Claron- 3rd level Human fighter, specialized in the spear. Henchman to Tellon.
Neun Hammerfist- 5th/5th fighter/thief Half-elf. Son #3
Drake- 5th/5th Half-elf fighter/mage. Son #2
"Steve"- 5th/4th thief/illusionist Gnome who always uses a different name. Son #1

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Lord of All Death Knights, Airik, Count of Westergoth

  This is the tale bards tell around the fire of the first, and mightiest, of all Death Knights.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Magic Item of the Week: Alarc's Sword

  Found in the catacombs beneath the Castle of Nightmares by the half-orc warrior-priest Alarc, this sword is of unknown origin. Bards have no record of t prior to his discovery and divinations reveal only that it is very, very old.
  After Alarc's death the sword was stolen by persons unknown and has been sighted from time to time in the years since.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Work In Progress: The Summoner

  As my players know, I like having NPCs with non-standard abilities. The idea of NPCs being different than PCs was born of lo, those many Dragon Magazine "New NPC Class" articles. My many years of thinking about NPCs, PCs, levels, and such was summarized in a series of posts that ended with this one explaining why 'good guy' NPCs are largely non-standard. My evil NPC clerics are also very different, as I mention here; in brief, they have fewer spells but access to special powers, like disease touch, or regeneration, or invisibility. I had a few weird PC classes, too, and allowed some from Dragon, like the Archer.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Post Wherin I Commit Heresy

  Some time ago I read the interesting post here.

  The same writer, Lowell Francis also wrote this.

 A fair amount of both lists strike me as common issues (we all want combat to go relatively quickly with little need for a lot of book checks, etc.) and some of it is a well-stated preference (called shots, for example - in a really abstracted combat system they might not be possible in order to make combat smooth, etc.). A few of the items made me pause (why should reloading be a free action? It isn't in Real Life and can be a simple mechanic to offset the advantages of big guns). And others (describing wounds, number of opponents, etc.) are just, well, about the GM and the game and the setting and the adventure and such so....

  But a couple of them caught my eye. On the 'Player' list numbers 12
  'everyone should have someone to fight' 
  15
  'If I'm a magic user, I should be able to dish out damage relatively equivalent to a fighter. Some of those effects will probably be not measured in damage, but in my ability to debuff or disable. I accept that the flexibility of magic means a slight trade off, but I should not be significantly behind other characters. If magic costs mana, I shouldn't tap out in a fight unless I've really pushed myself'
  28
  'I should feel all players have equal opportunities'
  And from the 'GM list, number 2
  'Every player should have something to do in the combat'

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Worldbuilding - How Far Away is the Horizon?

  In both my Blackstone and Patchwork Lands campaigns I made worlds larger than Earth. In the case of the Patchwork Lands the planet is much larger - the diameter of the planet is 16,000 miles, a hair over twice the diameter of Earth.
  Since it is a fantasy world there is a lot of handwaving about gravity, etc. because I am more interested in vastness than the speed of a falling object (plus, there are reasons the gravity is still about 1G). But there is a question-
  How far away is the horizon?

  Here is a math formula
   Square root of[D x H/C]
  D = diameter of planet in miles
  H = height above surface in feet
  C = 5280

  So, on Earth a 6' tall person looking out across the plains would see the horizon as 3 miles away. From the top of a 30' tower (36' total!) the horizon would appear 7 1/3rd miles away.

  But on the world of the Patchwork Lands a 6' tall person would perceive the horizon as being 4 1/4th miles away and from a 30' tower that same person would perceive the horizon as about 10 1/2 miles away.

  Now, I am just eyeballing it here, but this appears to mean the horizon is about 50% "further away" on my new world. This also means things like mountain ranges in the distance can be seen a long way away.
 Here is an example: I created a 7 miles high mountain in my world. Because of the larger diameter the peak should be visible from someone standing at sea level 334 miles away. To put that in perspective, on a clear day if you stand at the summit of Dankova mountain in Kyrgyzstan you can just see the tip of the peak by the Hindutash Pass: this is the longest ground-based line of sight on earth and it is... 334 miles away.
  This was completely coincidental, by the way.
  But ti does mean that from the largest mountain in my main story area someone standing on its summit could peer across the plains between and see that peak clearly because the distance between them is only 500 miles!

  It is always the little things in worldbuilding that surprise me.

Rolemaster Unified Beta Playtest: Profession - the Astrologer

  Back in the day when I was playing Rolemaster twice a month, I played an Astrologer. To me, the Astrologer is a good example of everything good about Rolemaster. Let me explain.
  The Astrologer is a hybrid spellcaster mixing Channeling (what Clerics use) and Mentalism (sorta' like psionics). So it is, in a way a multi-class cleric/psionicist for magic-user/cleric. Another hybrid Channelling/Mentalism class is the Healer.
  The Astrologer has some great 'base spells' (or 'primary class spells') that allow them to communicate over vast distances, use some precognition, do a lot of cool tricks with lights, etc. This makes them an interesting mix of diviner and minor illusionist. They can also throw in a broad range of minor healing spells, invisibility, etc.
  But very few attack spells. They also couldn't wear a lot of armor and they could, potentially, be OK in combat with a single weapon. Maybe.

  But everyone in the party wanted the Astrologer along. In addition to being a decent backup healer he was also really good at things like 'no, there is a troll that way' and 'that stair leads back to the surface' and 'don't touch that, it is cursed'. And the Far Voice spells were great for talking between people hundreds of miles away, Really Big Deal in any pseudo-medieval setting!

  The Rolemaster Unified playtest is a ton of fun and we re enjoying it immensely. But since it is a playtest they are sticking to the core professions. So - I made my own RMU version of the Astrologer:


  This is a bare bones version, but complete enough to play in the playtest!

  Anyone have their own favorite profession they;d like to see return?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Why My Default Ruleset is 1e, or: I Like Your Ruleset, But Not That Way

  I have a lot "in" the OSR: I write stuff to sell to people in the OSR; I write stuff for free I hope people in the OSR read; I chat with people in the OSR and, like any group, I like some people in the OSR, am neutral about others, and find some to be a bit off.  Heck, I have that little OSR logo on my blog, just over there.
  But I think I might be taking that off.

  No, not because I dislike the OSR, or the people, of anything like that. Nor am I disillusioned by the OSR - there is a lot of great, creative, fun stuff coming out of the OSR. It is because I am not OSR in and of myself. I am of the actual Old School itself.

  This hit me through two things. I decided to do an actual review of Swords & Wizardry (thanks for the feedback, G+ pals!) and I read in about 9 places in one week 'the OSR began with Castles & Crusades or with OSRIC'.

  I own Castles & Crusades, and a lot of their stuff. I've owned it for a long time, actually, getting plenty of it as it came out. Admittedly, some of that was to find out why the Hell they had Redcaps led by someone called 'the Horned One' since I ran Lew Pulsipher and friends against the Horned One and his Redcaps back in 1988, but still.
  Pure coincidence. Redcaps are creatures of folklore as is the Horned One.
  I also got OSRIC early on and refer to it a lot. heck, I have sent about 50 new RPG players to OSRIC as a resource in the last few years and will continue to do so. Great stuff.

  I also have a ton of the OSR stuff from S&W to Blueholme, left, right, up, and down.

  I also have the complete rules plus splats for HackMaster 4th (2 PHBs because we used them so much). I was an HMGMA member.
  Remember HackMaster? Won Game of the Year at Origins? Was a monster impact and produced the most amazingly awesome GameMasters Shield EVER? They even took the old Combat Wheel from Dragon Magazine and turned it into a real thing that I freakin' own?
  Remember that?
  Yeah, well, in my opinion, that award-winning retooling of AD&D 1e/2e is what started the hard look at OD&D/AD&D/Basic that spawned the OSR.  C&C came out three years after it, OSRIC five.
  This doesn't take away anything from anything in the great work from the creators of the OSR, I think we just need to recognize one fact-

 HackMaster 4th spawned the OSR

  Anyway, one of the reasons I loved HackMaster (in addition to the fact that I have an abiding love for KotDT since it is set in my home town and is about my hobby) was I couldn't get AD&D stuff anymore without mortgaging my kids on eBay. Yes, the Source in the Twin Cities (one of the best FLGS I have ever been in, BTW) helped, but it was still hard. HM was great stuff, readily available, and it took minimal effort to make it AD&D.
 But AD&D is the core system I have used for my hobby since about 1978-79. My notes, rules, house rules, monsters, etc. - all based on that foundation.

  So I use those books. I use that core ruleset.

  "Fine, Rick," you say, "But that means you are part of the OSR."

  Maybe not. I mean, let's look at OSRIC: it is such an amazing clone of AD&D that my house rules work as-is with about 3 word changes and dropping stuff about monks and bards and campaign specifics. My streamlined initiative and combat rules, updates to disease, maintenance rules, special hirelings, new NPC-only classes, spells, PC classes - SNAP! Fits right in, all of it. People that bought Far Realms and use it with OSRIC have given me such positive feedback, it really is humbling.

  But I don't run OSRIC, do I? I run AD&D. If I couldn't get any reprints or PDFs of AD&D books I would have 3-4 hardcopies of OSRIC sitting around, all well-thumbed, with copies of my Book of Seaward (the in-house version of Far Realms) and enjoy it a great deal.

  But I have AD&D 1e and 2e. I have OD&D and its supplements. And too much 3e. And 4e. And 5e. And all of the other rulesets that fill 3 bookcases in my house (not counting my kids' copies, which they keep track of).

  I am also doing the public playtest of Rolemaster Unified and won three version of that system, too. And I think the kids are buying Palladium FRPG right now in the other room.

  In the end this all boils down to two things, one of which I already said in another rant -

 I am always making my own game and just sue AD&D as the jumping off point. 

  The second thing is something that I believe might separate me from being in the OSR-

I am not interested in stripping down rules and mechanics.

  My goal is to make a set of rules and mechanics that allow me to create the game experience I want to pass on to the players. Here is an example - in AD&D there are some nice tools to roll for followers for fighters who become Lords. My charts are more involved with non-combatants, scribes, smiths, etc. More complexity, not less, to better reflect the total followers a fighter would get. 

  Here's the thing, though. That chart, that 'extra complexity' is for me a simplification. Before I made the chart I would sit down and spend a long afternoon working out the types of troops, their numbers, how many blacksmiths would appear, etc. 2-3 hours of solid work. At some point, about 1989 I think, I instead spent 3-4 hours making a series of charts so I could roll raw numbers in a few minutes, then spend an hour fleshing out details, modifying, etc. and - net - save myself time.

  Swords & Wizardry, For Gold and Glory, OSRIC, etc. all meet their aims well - strip down rules to their foundations. But I've spent almost 4 decades tweaking, changing, and adding to the rules. That's why I love HackMaster 4th with its wacky, complex skills and such - it looks like what I saw in the '70's. It looks like a labor of love.

  So keep doing what you like, OSR, and I'll keep making stuff that works with what you like. But my AD&D books will always be the ones most used at my house.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Rolemaster Unified Playtest: First Session

  Today was a brief (3 hour) playtest of the new Rolemaster Unified. The focus was on a quick, simple combat encounter with travel, etc.

Players and Characters:
All are 4th level, made as Legendary.
My Wife: Melinda Rosybranch, halfling (sylvan) Rogue
        Focused on stealth and ambush with locks and traps
        25 year veteran of RPGs, never played any Rolemaster before.
Oldest Son: Timorbatar 'Timor' Khalyn'Ku, human (nomad) fighter
        Horse archer focus with spear and dagger
        All the boys played 6 sessions of FMFRP with me 3 years ago. All are very familiar with all versions of D&D, HERO system, and many more.
Second Son: Shin, human (highlands) Cleric
        Broad mix of spells with good medicine and herbalism skills
Third Son: Ingmar, human (urban) Magent
        Built as a crossbow sniper and con man
Fourth Son: Fen Chang, human (highlands) Magician
        An eclectic scholar and good combat spell caster

Play Report: Fathers' Day Game

My fourth son is starting his own AD&D 1e campaign. The most recent arc involved following a treasure map that leas to - a treasure map! The map we had claimed to lead to a hidden cove that hel a map to the treasure of Qraros, the legendary King of the Pirates from over a century past.

  I played Brother Bertram, a 2nd level human cleric
        Bertram has a valet named Arthur
  My wife played Amelia Daisybottom, 1st level halfling thief.
  My oldest son played Marcus the Mighty, 1st level human magic-user
  My second son played Falafel the Magnificent, 1st/1st half-elf fighter/magic-user
  My third son played A'Madeus, 1st/1st elven fighter/thief

  We had found the map-to-a-map in the warrens under an old cemetery and had immediately set out for the hidden cove it described. After a long trip with essentially nothing but color encounters (tinkers, merchants, gypsies, and a mendicant cleric) we reach the large town close to the map's destination.

  Following the map we soon find an old, old ship in a hidden sea cave. Arthur carried a torch as the aprty explored and, after a short bit of walking, lights were seen in the darkness, far ahead. The halfling and elf, who were stealthy, slipped off to scout
The cave had been almost-sealed by a landslide long before and, cut off from the sea, the water had mostly dried up. At the far end of the massive cave the scouts found an old ship. trapped for long decades. There were torches burning on the top deck and a new ramp led from the deck to the cave floor. No movement was seen. The scouts informed the party and everyone moved to the ship.
  Marcus and Arthur took cover behind some stalagmites and Bertram (who had the best AC and hit points) moved to the base of the ramp and called out, asking for parley.
  Up popped a skeleton and battle was joined!

  I was on fire - for 7 attacks only 2 missed and I got max damage with my morning star 3 times!  I totally failed to turn anything, though.
  Amelia was very effective with her sling bullets, too. Falafel got a Light spell over the middle of the ship right away and the light really dd a great job helping us.
  A'Madeus was amazing with his bow, hitting a lot for a ton of damage.
  Marcus and Arthur ended up is a separate fight versus a freaky owl that injured them both but they eventually prevailed - causing it to turn back into a small figurine (!).

  During the battle a guy in chainmail with a shield and mace popped out of a hatch and really hurt Bertram with a mighty blow. Eventually, though, A'Madeus' arrows, Bertram's morningstar, and a timely backstab from Amelia brought down the evil cleric who had animated the skeletons, although only unconscious.
  Bertram healed up everyone, we secured the evil cleric, and tossed the ship. Total cash was in the 3,000 gp range and the magic haul was a +1 shield, +1 chainmail, 2 Potions of Extra-healing, and a Serpentine Owl. The cleric, skeletons, etc. was enough for everyone to raise at least a level in one of their classes.

  Number Four's narrative is getting very good with his description of the appearance of the skeletons earning praise from the entire table. The pacing was good, the monsters tough, and the overarching plot just starting to peek out, which is a ton of fun.
  The map points us to the entire other side of the continent so we have a ton of travel ahead of us.