Category Archives: AD&D

Secondary Skills

From a discussion at 1st Ed AD&D on FB, this was way back on January 1st, 2016 and I never got back to this draft to post it until now.

The actual discussion thread.

Who allows characters to actually use secondary skills?

If you do, how much do they add to the roleplaying experience?

If characters can make items of the quality of this very cool cup, do you allow them to have the potential to be enchanted?

Lastly, what magic would you have this cup hold?

My thoughts:

Decades ago, in my brother’s campaign, he had me roll percentile dice to determine the level of skill my new character had as a bowyer. I rolled 100. He ruled that with the proper tools and materials and time, that skill level could make bows with a non-magical hit bonus of +1, +2, or +3. This also meant that they were of a quality to be made into magical weapons. Not many adventurers have the time to devote to regular crafting, especially if they are magic users.

Of course, this character, a half-elf fighter/cleric/magic user does not have the intelligence to use 6th level spells, so he can’t enchant his own magic bow. However, he might be able to make a holy bow as a cleric…. Hmmmm….

Latest Order From Wayne’s Books

I was perusing Wayne’s Books and found that he had a World of Greyhawk play copy and a Gamma World 1st Edition play copy.

1

 

2

They may not be perfect, but they are the last two things from my original collection that I had really wanted to restore. I last talked about my collection here. Having the iconic maps by Darlene is the best part. I also love the art by Trampier in the 1st edition Gamma World.

Wayne also had two play copies of the Player’s Handbook, so I picked those up, as I wanted a few more for the table. I now have 5 table copies, plus my OSRIC Player’s Guide.

3

He also through in a Dragon # 71 and Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

4

John Carlson – An Email Interview – 100 Sessions DMing AD&D on Roll20

I play in a weekly AD&D online game on Roll20. I have mentioned this before, most recently a couple of weeks ago when we hit session 100 and two years of play. Our DM, +John Carlson writes the blog, Dwarven Automata. He agreed to an email interview where I picked his brain about running a game on Roll20 for 100 sessions. This is the second interview posted here.

In my last article, about hitting session 100 on Roll20, I got a few responses on G+ that there were some that had lasted as long, and one that was over 200 sessions!

Last night was session 103, and John sent me his answers to my questions. I was flattered that he found it fun and was ready for more questions. I’m not sure what else I might ask, but I find it interesting and helpful to learn how other GM’s handle that role.

Some of my questions were spurred by conversations we have waiting for all the players to join the Hangout, such as the one about Cons.

I have two questions that are now standard questions for all future interviews, about having women players and women GM’s. This was spurred by an interrupted conversation about it with +Satine Phoenix at Gary Con VIII. I am hopeful that she will soon have time to respond to my questions for an email interview. I am interested in continuing that conversation.

What was your start in gaming?

My first experience with role-playing games happened when I was around nine or ten years old (in the mid-1980s). It was during school – perhaps a half-day – and the teacher said that when we finished our work we could talk quietly. There was this kid, Scott, who sat behind me and he asked if I wanted to play a game about adventures with magic and dragons he learned from his older brother. It sounded good, so he made some paper chits with numbers and had me create a quick character (probably a fighter).

It was a very short game. My character started on some foggy moor outside a village and soon ran across a terrible creature with greenish skin that kept coming no matter how many times I hit it – its wounds simply knit back together. While Scott kept reminding me I had a lantern, which seemed to me like an odd detail to fixate on while being clawed to death by an unstoppable monster, I had my character run for the hills. Not being nearly fast enough to escape, my character climbed a tree and hoped for the best. Scott continued to mention that lantern throughout all this, which was getting really annoying. Eventually, the creature found me and tore me to pieces.

I don’t remember if Scott explained what a troll was or why the lantern was important, but it didn’t matter. Even with that character’s brief and tragic experience, I was hooked on the concept of role-playing games in general and Dungeons & Dragons in particular. Shortly after that, I picked up the full set of first edition AD&D books and convinced my friends to play the game with me as Dungeon Master. Our group occasionally grew to ten or twelve players (including Scott), but the core of it consisted of four and I was almost always the DM from day one.

When did you first DM?

That’s pretty much answered above – sometime around nine or ten years old in the mid-1980s using the first edition AD&D rules (as interpreted by a kid that age with no background in RPGs). All things considered, I did a decent job from the little I can remember. I was pretty quick at eye-balling a situation and assigning probabilities to outcomes, had a decent recall of the rules, and knew instinctively that making fair judgments and keeping things moving was more important than being 100% correct.

Our group transitioned pretty seamlessly into second edition AD&D when that was released and played consistently through eleventh grade with a short break occasioned by hormones and the desire to “be cool” in eighth grade. There was another member of our core gaming group who tried to DM – a smart fellow who ended up going to Harvard and becoming a lawyer – but he was a bit of a rail-roader and the other players took great delight in running his campaigns off the tracks. In contrast to that, my trick was to roll with whatever the players did and make it look like I had anticipated their choices from day one by weaving the consequences of their actions into what was planned ahead of time.

What other RPG’s have you played?

I have played surprisingly few RPGs that are not Dungeons & Dragons. A member of our gaming group in high school tried to get us into the Marvel RPG, but no one else was really interested in the superhero genre (or comic books, for that matter; we were oddly focused nerds). At some point in the 80s, I picked up the MERP core rules because of my love for Tolkien, but that went nowhere because of the overly convoluted tables for resolving combat.

More recently, I tried Metamorphosis Alpha in the game you ran on Roll20. Besides that, my knowledge of other systems is mostly theoretical from reading rulebooks – probably the non-D&D system I would be most interested in running is Kevin Crawford’s Stars Without Number, although that has a lot of similarities to basic D&D underneath the hood and perhaps shouldn’t count as a fundamentally different system.

Do you still play regularly? If so, what RPGs do you play? Do you play online, like with Roll20?

At the end of high school the pressure of college admissions (I went to a very competitive high school) brought an end to our gaming group and I stayed away from RPGs for the next ten years. I went to college, married a wonderful woman, had some kids, and started graduate school to study medieval English literature (an academic interest that grew out of my earlier fascination with Tolkien). I thought about joining a college gaming group, but didn’t have much free time. Or at least that’s what I told myself – looking back, I did find time for a lot of single-player CRPGs like Baldur’s Gate, Planescape, etc., so perhaps it was a bit of academic snobbery and the need to keep up appearances as a serious scholar.

Fortunately, my wife was a casual gamer (tabletop and video) – she had actually tried playing with a group at our undergraduate college before we met, but did not have a good experience – and eventually got me playing D&D again. She moved with me for graduate school and took a job as a public middle school teacher for gifted students. When I picked up the third edition D&D books to check out the new system, she suggested I run an afterschool group for her students. I did that for several years before earning my PhD and getting a job in academic publishing.

Unfortunately, my job in publishing led to a pretty itinerant lifestyle with frequent travel that made running those afterschool games or finding any other in-person group almost impossible. That’s about the time I discovered and backed the Kickstarter for Roll20 (or rather Tabletop Forge, which was combined with Roll20), dug out my first edition books, and started playing and running games in earnest again. After a while, my travel schedule calmed down and I now run an afterschool game at my wife’s school in which my oldest son plays in addition to my online campaign.

Do you do board games and card games, or only RPG’s? 

My whole familywife and three kidsare pretty dedicated gaming nerds and we have a decent collection of board and card games (although we probably all spend more time and money on computer games). We have two full-size bookcases of games including Catan, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Legacy Risk, Small World, Five Tribes, Lords of Waterdeep, various Munchkins, etc. When our schedules aren’t too crazy, we host tabletop gaming parties for some of the neighbors and teachers from my wife’s school.

Do you play any video games? If so, what games? Which is your favorite?

Video games (especially CRPGs and adventure games) were what I occupied myself with during that decade away from tabletop gaming and I have continued playing in the years since – heck, I had a Steam account within a week of the system going live in order to download Half-Life 2. I won’t list all the games I play or have played because that would be an incredibly long and boring inventory (I currently have hundreds of games between my Steam and GOG accounts). My favorites, though, include Planescape: Torment, the Witcher series (especially the third game), The Longest Journey, the single-player KOTOR series, Baldur’s Gate (really all the Infinity Engine games), the Ultima series (especially VII), Tie Fighter, Deus Ex, and the old SSI gold box D&D games. Currently, I’ve been playing a good bit of Darkest Dungeon, Elite: Dangerous, and Euro Trucker 2.

You mentioned that you have never been to a con, after our last session, do you ever think about going now?

I wouldn’t go to a convention for myself, although it might be fun to bring my sons to one. My first reaction when exposed to large crowds is to retreat inward, so those kinds of gatherings are not likely to bring out the best in me. In addition, my preferred gaming style involves a slow burn where events take on significance in retrospect as the campaign progresses – not something one is likely to find in those modules and scenarios suited to quick convention play. Seeing my sons enjoy such an event might make it worth attending one, though.

Are you surprised at the longevity of our weekly game?

It only surprises me in retrospect since week-to-week it just seems natural to show up Wednesday nights and run the game whether its session ten or session ninety. I think there are a number of factors that have helped the game last this long:

  • A core group of dedicated players (both experienced and not) who serve as the institutional memory of the campaign, bringing new players up-to-speed and making sense of the weekly madness in terms of the overall setting. This basic stability has made it possible for the game to survive several changes to the player roster.
  • A sandbox campaign design in which the only plots are those of the party’s enemies and allies that evolve over time and react to the changes the group makes in the game world. This also helps with the changing player roster since no PC is essential and no particular adventure hook needs to be followed or completed for the world to keep turning.
  • A very consistent schedule so that everyone playing knows that every week (excepting maybe one or two DM vacations per year!) we will have a four-hour game session Wednesday night at 8PM EST. My experience with other Roll20 games is that scheduling inconsistency and last minute DM cancellations kill player dedication and foster the attitude that skipping games without good reason or prior notice is fine.
  • A well-organized G+ community for the campaign with player written summaries for every game session and other documents to provide an ongoing record of the party’s triumphs and setbacks. This encourages the players to think about and anticipate the game between sessions.
  • A steady drip of information about the game world and its peculiarities delivered not via exposition or any other info dumps, but through the party’s interaction with the world’s factions, civilizations, and dungeons (i.e., the slow scratching away of the trappings of a generic fantasy setting to find the gooey center of weirdness underneath).

Do you ever get bored or burned out by it?

I don’t get bored or burnt out with my campaigns, although certain combinations of players (especially in my afterschool groups) can be tiring. Of course, specific activities in-game where the results are foregone conclusions can bore me in the moment (e.g., enemies trapped in web being slowly turned into pin cushions by archers); also, I tend to spread out my preparatory work since too much map keying or NPC creation in a single sitting can leave me itchy to move on to something different.

It’s likely that my feelings about the campaign owe something to its sandbox nature – it’s hard to get bored when I don’t know exactly what the players are going to do week-to-week and how those actions are going to impact the evolving plans of my various NPCs and factions. I can say that the idea of walking a group of players down a narrowly defined adventure path sounds like the stuff of nightmares, although I wouldn’t knock anyone who enjoys that style of play. I’m sure that just reflects my own weirdness, much like my complete inability to run a module or campaign setting written by someone else.

Do you play in any other online games on Roll20 or other outlets?

As I mentioned above, there is the Metamorphosis Alpha game that you were running last year on Roll20. In addition, there have been a couple of first edition AD&D campaigns run by other players in our Wednesday game – both first-time Dungeon Mastering efforts that I found particularly enjoyable. The thought that playing in my campaign has inspired others to try their hand at running a game is a flattering one and probably the best compliment possible for a DM. That same element of teaching and inspiration, given that the middle schoolers are almost all first-time players, is probably why I have stuck with the after school D&D club for so many years.

There was another fun campaign I played in for over a year on Roll20 – around the same time that our game began – that started with second edition rules and switched over to fifth edition after that ruleset’s release. That game focused more heavily on tactical combat than my own games, but it was nice to broaden my horizons in terms of what is possible with online play. In fact, the implementation of maps with line-of-sight and lighting effects in our campaign stemmed from things I learned playing that game.

Are you in any regular in-person games as a player or DM?

The only regular in-person game I have right now is the after school group for my son and his classmates. That campaign has run for almost two years, with frequent hiatuses to accommodate my work travel and school vacations. It’s quite a different experience from our Wednesday night games even though I am using the same campaign setting and house rules – the impetuousness of inexperienced players ensures strikingly different responses to the same situations when compared to more experienced players who are both cautious and accustomed to the conventions of tabletop gaming. Seeing these kids discover through trial and error the best practices for dungeon delving (i.e. , listen at every door, never split the party, always check the mouths of gift horses for traps) is great fun, as is being their introduction to RPGs and (hopefully) inspiring them to start building their own campaigns.

How many women players have you had in all of your games?

My childhood group didn’t have any women, although that might owe something to the fact that I attended a high school that was all boys. Since then, there have been quite a few women players in my games, but still a definite minority overall. Our own Roll20 campaign had one female players who stayed for ten or fifteen sessions towards the beginning (first-time player whose prior RPG experience was of the MMO kind) and there have also been a dozen or so in my after school club over the years. I suppose it would be fair to count my wife, too, since she played in a game I ran for my sons, so the total is probably just under twenty woman players. In practice, though, I haven’t noticed any real difference in play-styles between men and women so this is not something I bothered to count before.

Have you ever had a woman GM?

I have never been in a group with a woman DM, although there has been at least one female player in my afterschool group who went on to run her own campaign in high school. She was one of those players who you know will run their own game from the first day: a quick study with the rules, interested in the process of running a game, and full of setting ideas.

I like the scripts and other things you have shared on your blog. How long until we get to see some of the promised PERL scripts?

My intention is to have those posted soon. The holdup has been the last major script I wrote to prepare for our Roll20 campaign: it allows the user to generate the entire population of a city district using some of the demographic assumptions adopted in D&D supplements during the third edition era (there wasn’t too much official information along these lines prior to that). Unfortunately, that particular script uses versions of both the leveled NPC and commoner generation scripts as subroutines I have since improved and published on my blog separately. Ideally, I would like to tweak the district generator to use the most recent versions of those other scripts before publishing, but that involves combing through the code and remembering how it fits together.

At this point, I’m leaning towards just posting the current version of the district generator with a note explaining its limitations and my own decision to stop using that particular tool in favor of building up the generic NPC population of a city on-the-fly as gameplay progresses. Once I do that, I will publish the source code for all the PERL scripts on my blog for others to tinker with as they wish.

What does D&D mean to you?

This is not an easy question to answer without resorting to something glib – in fact, part of the reason I don’t grow bored with Dungeons & Dragons is that the game’s meaning to me is not a static idea. Sometimes I see it as a simulation engine that allows me to model both mundane and fantastical events, resolving their outcome through a combination of logic and random chance. At other times, though, it strikes me as a multi-faceted outlet for creative energies of all sorts, allowing one to dabble in illustration, improvisational drama, fiction writing, fantastic architecture, and other artistic endeavors. Perhaps it is ultimately that tension created when one explores the chaos of imaginary creations by imposing the rigid logic of mathematical formulae that fascinates me most. Such work is a Sisyphean task in which the reward (i.e., fun) comes from trying and failing and then trying again while sharing that experience with others.

THOUGHTS

This was a cool exercise and helped me learn a bit more about someone I have known online for over two years and would know his voice anywhere. But I don’t know what he looks like, as we are audio only for our Google Hangouts to improve performance. John is an interesting guy and has areas of knowledge and experience that make him a great storyteller. He has intricate descriptions and leaves us wanting more. John doesn’t do funny voices or make noises to move the story along. He role plays NPCs plainly, almost flat sometimes, but the content of what they say is relevant and fits the situation.

One of the players has recorded the audio of several sessions. John commented that he doesn’t like the sound of his own voice. I think most of us have that issue. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with his voice.

I find myself being curious of one thing, what would it be like to play face to face? Being able to see his facial expression and body language would contain a lot more information. I think that after this long, I can tell from certain pauses and intonations a lot more than I would otherwise.

We use a theater of the mind style and early adventures the players did the mapping, but for quite some time, John has used the lighting features to reveal the map. This has sped things up and saved time trying to figure out the map.

I like John’s presentation with the breadth and depth of his world. I have learned a lot from him. I appreciate his way of making it work, and have learned some things from his interpretation of AD&D. He welcomes questions and explains where he is coming from. If we make a good point, he changes his mind. Be we have had rulings I did not agree with, but it is his game, and we move on.

A couple of times I have asked for the page in the DMG he used to make certain rulings, as I had no recollection of his interpretation. Sometimes, the way my brother and I, and our original group did things is nowhere near the way John does it. I find that I could be a rules lawyer without too much prompting*, but don’t like it. I hate interrupting play. It takes our group far to long to make decisions about actions. We’ll spend an hour of our play time arguing about how we want to do something. It is role played, not necessarily with voices, but with the attitudes and motivations of our characters.

I look forward to many more sessions, not necessarily with the same character, unless we survive our current predicament….

*How many have the guts to admit that? I think that is yet another argument for fewer rules and the players not needing to know the rules.

Ogre Island and The Black Crate – My Saturday Session at Marmalade Dog

Here is my promised follow up post to my write up of Marmalade Dog 21, about the AD&D session I ran using a scenario from my campaign.

Urman the great is an archmage who has a stronghold on Ogre island. He sends adventurers to get information and items from the ancient city that is overrun by ogres, pirates, and other things. In this scenario, the rumored black crate, was on a ship caught in the same storm that nearly took the ship the players were on. The black crate is a large steamer trunk that agents of Urman send special items to him. He hires the newly arrived party to go and retrieve it. He gives them a magical lock that will return the crate to him. It has been magically hidden, so he can’t just find it himself, and being an archmage, has other things taking up his time.

It was a fun session and +Laura Rose Williams drove from Lansing after a meeting and a birthday party, just so she could play in my game. That was so cool! Her druid decided to cast a spell against some giant spiders they found when they decided that they wanted to go check out the ancient college of magic. She lost initiative, and got bit twice, and failed her save versus one of the bites. That was in less than the first hour of play. Laura said, “What is this DCC?” Which got a big laugh, as many at the table play DCC. I met Laura last year at Marmalade Dog, and we both played our first DCC last year.

Mourning The Dead Druid
Mourning The Dead Druid

I let her use the magic user, who had a spell that ended up saving another player at the end of the game.

I was supposed to have pre-gens ready for the players, but I had technical difficulties. So I had an idea that everyone liked. I hand wrote character templates on index cards. I started with just the random magic I rolled up from the tables in the DMG. Weapons and armor, potions, scrolls, wands, and miscellaneous items.  I then figured out THAC0, number of hit dice, minimum ability scores, saving throws, and base abilities for thief and monk, and number of base spells for spell casters.

These were 5th level characters, and based on the experience points to get a magic user and illusionist to 5th level, the druid and the thief were 6th level. Other than one magic item I rolled that I did not remember being a cursed item, and another that required exceptional strength to use, the others worked out well. I re-rolled those two items. I then had the players roll stats, and if they rolled really bad, would have at least the minimum stat needed for that class. That gave it a bit of customizeability that the players liked. I let spell casters choose whatever spells they wanted. The players really liked the amount of things settled for them, but that they still had a hand in creating their characters. I didn’t time how long it took, and of course, most of the time was taken up by spell casters choosing spells.

With most of the choices they made, and certain magic items, a first level party could have played this scenario and completed it. They avoided combat for the most part, and did a lot of bluffing their way through. Of course, there were several key rolls I made for the bad guys that made it easier for them. One NPC just missed his roll to realize there was an elf and a cleric of the wrong religion present that really made things easier for them.

The players really liked that this was a sandbox scenario, that I didn’t force their hand. I let them go into the college of magic that is abandoned and full of nasty things. They lost the druid to giant spiders and decided to leave. A raging flesh golem crossed their path, but didn’t see them. A different roll, and they’d have had a fight. They just walked past a group of goblins arguing over guard duty, and bluffed their way into standing watch on the wreckage of the ship so they could explore it.

I told them that I didn’t come up with a good name for the wrecked ship, and The Storm Witch was suggested. What a great name! I’m keeping it! The crate wasn’t there, so they managed to go to the tavern that served the pirates and got a lead in the general direction of the crate. It was decided to use the ancient aqueduct system to travel above the city. This allowed them to avoid most encounters, and lookouts and others didn’t manage to see them up there running around.

They had an encounter with a harpy that charmed three of them, but the cleric used his wand of fear to drive off the harpy, and dispel magic to break the charm. They were sneaky and managed to avoid detection until they got in sight of the crate being guarded by 8 ogres. The illusionist used invisibility 10′ radius to get them close enough to use the two potions of ogre control that Urman gave them, and convinced 6 of the ogres to go check out a fight, and those six convinced one of the remaining two to join them.

Then they waited until those 7 were out of sight, and used a wand of paralyzation to freeze the last ogre. They then ran up and attached the lock before  they could be stopped. Goblins ran up and shot them, and knocked the illusionist to 0 hit points before the magic of the lock and crate took them out of range. It was a challenge to grab the illusionist and keep him from falling off without one of the one’s grabbing him also falling. After a string of hilarious rolls of failure to attempt to grab the illusionist, the last thing that worked was feather fall, cast by Laura’s wizard, and they completed the mission and were congratulated and thanked by Urman.

We got done an hour early. This was because they only fought when they felt they had to, and withdrew when the fight was going against them. Had they had more fights, or not been as sneaky, the outcome would have been much different.

I made them give back the index cards, because I plan to type those up and can make templates based on levels. That’s one thing I really like about OSRIC, that it groups all the information you need on a given class into one place. It has every class from the AD&D Player’s Handbook, except monks and bards. AD&D bards are too complex, I will use one of the other OSR bard classes going forward. I will reserve AD&D bards for NPC’s, as they will be rare.

I will write up a separate article on my templates, and have an example that is typed. In addition, a cheat sheet with limitations for each race would be needed. My goal is something small and portable, either index cards, or maybe a booklet with all the information in each.

Marmalade Dog 21

Marmalade Dog 21 was Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, March 18-20, 2016, at Western University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I had planned to attend today and play in the first slot, but I woke up with a stuffy nose and ear, and a sore throat.

We did not have an official OSR slot this year, like we did last year. I have decided that once we find out when Marmalade Dog is next year that I will step up and coordinate an OSR track. The exception is if it is the same weekend as Gary Con. Last year, the convention was in early February, so I asked if they know yet when it will be next year. The answer is that the university tells them what date they can have, or occasionally what dates they can choose from. So such a variable makes it understandable why it isn’t consistent with the month they have it. I live in southern Kalamazoo County, so am only about 20 minutes away from campus.

Normally the deadline for GM sign up to run games, and get free admission, for each day that they run a session, and a t-shirt, is December 31. I didn’t get signed up to run a game by then. In February, I looked and there were some OSR type games, but three sessions the first, fifth, and seventh, did not have any. So I signed up at the website for the first and fifth session, and was not automatically rejected. I never got an email for confirmation that I wasn’t rejected. So last weekend, I went to the website and checked, and my sign ups were on the list of scheduled games. I then hurried up and got ready.

Session 1: 3:00 pm on Friday. As with last year, no one showed up to my game. If things work out to coordinate an OSR track next year, we’ll have to drum up enough players to commit to a first session game.  I ran the same thing for Session 5 on Saturday.

Session 2: Friday was 7:30 pm – 11:30 pm. +Forest Ray ran a Swords & Wizardry Complete setting, called Muskets & Magic Users. It was S&W with muskets. We were first level adventurers hired by the town to go stop the pirates who raided their town. Non magic users got issued a musket that did 1d12, that fired once per round. Magic users got a wand of magic missile that had 5 first level spells per day and regenerated its charges overnight.

That was a fun little session, and my magic user used Charm Person to make a “friend” of one of the pirates that was on the raiding party that came into the tavern where we were. This made it easier to find the other pirates in the raiding party, secure their boat, and go out to their ship. We managed to take the ship and go clean out the pirate hideout, then go fight the dragon ship of the pirate queen. It was a fun game.

Forest always hands out goodies for his games, and we each got a bag of dice and a button with the name of his game, and the rules system. Forest came down from Lansing and got a hotel to run and play games all three days. In addition to swag, he brought 3 copies of Swords & Wizardry Complete for reference. I didn’t bring mine as I was already lugging three AD&D Player Handbooks, the OSRIC Player Handbook, and a DMG for my earlier session.

Muskets & Magic Users
Muskets & Magic Users

Charles, who played in one of my sessions of Homlett from last year, and was looking forward to my game Saturday night. He said he runs Swords & Wizardry sometimes. He actually lives in my town, but I lost his number. I put it in my cell so I can’t lose it. We also had a couple, Joseph and Priscilla, who played S&W for the first time and had a blast. They were both experienced gamers. He lives in a town about 15 miles south of me, so we are planning to get together IRL for gaming. She lives about a half hour away in the other direction. We had one other player, and I am blanking on the name. I did not think to take a picture of play at the table.

Session 3: 10:00 am on Saturday, I played DCC’s Frozen in Time as a 0-level funnel, by +Mike Carlson.  Mike came down from Lansing for the day. I played this funnel with him last year. Others had played it, but I didn’t remember most of the key details, so it was like a new adventure. I only remembered things as we encountered them. It was a good time. We had a full table with 6 players. Four of us were experienced gamers with DCC experience. The other two were a couple, Seth had RPG experience, and this was Gretchen’s first roleplaying experience. She had a good time. This couple lives about an hour away, in Benton Harbor, so they are having a challenge finding a group. +Clayton Williams from Lansing and +James DeYonke and his friend Dave, from Ann Arbor, one and two hours away, respectively.

DCC at Marmalade Dog 21
DCC at Marmalade Dog 21

Session 4: 3:00 pm, Saturday. +Forest Ray ran Da Orkz Iz Back, a White Star scenario. I meant to bring my White Star books, but didn’t think to set them out, or put in my bag before I went to bed. This was the first time I had played White Star. Mike Carlson joined in, as did Charles, Joseph, and Priscilla from the night before in Muskets and Magic Users.

Forest & Players White Star
Forest & Players White Star
White Star At Marmalade Dog 21
White Star At Marmalade Dog 21

This was a scenario that needed at least one Star Knight and one pilot with the rest mercenaries. I rolled up a very uncharismatic Star Knight, and we had two pilots and two mercenaries. We were hired to investigate the loss of contact with Altair 6, a relatively new colony. There was no contact with the Star Knight Monastery, the city, and the star port. We found that legendary orcs who were thought to be myth were real, and were working with a couple of Void Knights. My Star Knight couldn’t hit the Void Knight with his star sword. The rest of the party gunned down the other Void Knight and one of the pilots picked up his void knight sword and managed to stab the void knight I was fighting. In another combat, I finally managed to hit something with my star sword. I was much better when I was shooting my blaster pistol.

Da Orkz Iz Back
Da Orkz Iz Back

Session 5: 7:00 pm on Saturday. I ran a scenario based on an area of my home campaign that I wanted to flesh out – Ogre Island and the Black Crate. I will write up a separate article on this.

Sunday has two sessions, Session 6 at 11:00 am and  7 at 3:30 pm.

Session 6: Forest ran Mutant University using the Mutant Future system. I had planned to attend that before I woke up with a cold and no energy.

Session 7: did not have any what I thought were obvious OSR games. I was thinking of playing a game of Fate, which I have never played. Maybe next year.

What I learned from this experience.

  • I need to commit to this local con, since it is in my backyard. As long as it does not conflict with Gary Con or other things I want to do, I will go.
    • If it is the same weekend as Gary Con, I can still try to coordinate an OSR track, for any not going to Gary Con.  I can recruit an assistant to handle things of the actual weekend.
  • Last year, after I saw how much time it took me to get ready to run Village of Homlet, I decided it would have been just as easy to come up with my own scenario that I would know like the back of my hand.
    • This idea proved true. I used the opportunity to flesh out an area of my campaign I had been wanting to do for a long time.
  • People will drive from a couple hours away to come for Saturday. A strong OSR presence could attract a lot more people.
    • Advertising on G+ an other outlets could increase the attendance.
    • Keep the line of communication open with other players from the region.
  • If you run a 6 person game, you get one folding table that is just big enough. If you run an 8 person game you get two folding tables.
  • Swag is cool. Perhaps publishers would provide swag, or templates for GM’s to make their own swag.
    • DCC has some cool stuff with bookmarks, buttons, pens, pencils, and more.

Mark Hunt – An Interview – The Return of GangBusters

I knew +Mark Hunt from G+ and just happened to meet him at +John Reyst’s Open Gaming Store booth. I recalled seeing a post about Gangbusters, but it had not clicked that it was back. Mark has a license to the GangBusters game! I first learned of Mark with his prolific postings of items for White Star. Many know him for his DCC setting Drongo.

Mark was signing a Gangbuster’s box, and it had the look and size of what I remember from 30+ years ago. The guy asked Mark to sign it and I was really puzzled, thinking it was an original boxed set, until Mark explained that it was his game.

We talked about collaborating on some things in multiple genres/rule systems, one of them being Gang Busters! Wow! I haven’t played in 30+ years, so I guess I need to brush up on the rules….

I did a phone interview with Mark on Saturday, March 12th. Before I started asking interview questions, he mentioned that he is good for the next 3 or 4 years of putting stuff out on a regular basis.

Interview Questions

When did you get your start in RPG’s?
Summer 1979. D&D Red Box and Blue Box. One day in Jr. High, we talked about it in the  Lunch room & met up after school.

What games have you played?
Call of Cthulhu, AD&D, probably hundreds since then. Powers & Perils, Champions, you name it, I played it. I have played every year since then. I once played Champions two years straight.

What games have you ran?
I have ran pretty much just about every game. Which helped a lot with game design, you have to play games and know what is out there, if you want to make games.

I’ve been running GangBusters since 1983. I have enough stuff on hard drive to fill a dozen books without even trying.

What games do you still play or run?
GangBusters, D&D, Swords of the Empire, DCC, Basic, Swords & Sorcery, C&C, Call of Cthulhu, and boardgames, just games, our group tries to keep playing.

How many women players have you had in all of your games?
Dozens, our first group had women back in 1979, and 3 or 4 at a time all the way to the present. It’s easy.

Does you wife play?
No

Does it cause problems?
No, she plays computer games, some are RPG’s, just not table top.

What does she think of your endeavors?
She likes it, especially when they start cashing in. I take what I make and roll it into producing the next game.

Have you ever had a woman GM?
Yes, a few. They are just like everyone else.  I’ve played all over the world so I had all the kinds of game masters that you can think of.

You played all over the world because you were in the Air Force?
Yes for six years and it included the1st Gulf War. We used to play Twilight 2000 in Germany back in the 80’s. A game where we go to war with Russia and get stranded in Europe when it happens. We used all the strategies and tactics we knew, and we had more authenticity than most people.

You seem to have an eclectic taste in genres and historical periods, do you find it hard to focus with so many different irons in the fire?
No.

Why not?
I like to read all kinds of stuff. I know a lot about this, this and this. If there is something you need to know, read a book. My dad says, They hide things they don’t want people to know in a book. A game designer should always be reading, and learning more stuff.

You got your start, at least in my experience, of publishing ships, classes, and supplements for White Star. Was that your real start?It was actually Drongo, then Planetary Transmission and some free items for White Star.

NOTE: Drongo is a DCC compatible setting.

I know you have a Napoleonic era game in the works, and other things, what can you tell us about that?
Swords of the Empire will be ready by the beginning of next month. People can follow on the G+ page and watch development of it, and see how it has changed and evolved. I revise based on feedback from others’ comments in the community.

The latest project seems to be a runaway success – GangBusters.
Is that a game you played back in the day?
NOTE: See above, he’s been playing and GMing it since it came out in 1983.

What made you decided to go for a license to GangBusters?
It was just sitting there and I just asked if I can use it and it went from there. If I like it, there has to be others that like it. If I can sell enough and it can pay for the effort I put into it, all the better.

Is it an exclusive license, that is, are you the only one licensed to do anyting with GB?
So far, I’m the only one out there. I’m working on several things, just making stuff work. I can’t go into more detail at this time.

How hard was it to get the license to do this?
More or less I just asked Rick Krebs and he was receptive. I can’t get into any details on that either. There is stuff [other famous IP] that people can probably pick up if they put in some effort to research it. It is not impossible, is the best I can say.

What did Rick Krebs say when you asked him, was he excited?
Others had talked to him and it never went anywhere, so I showed him what I can do and he purchased it and reviewed it. When the writer likes it and says keep doing it, that’s a seal of approval.

Why the twist with the “Weird Tales & Paranormal Investigations?
Actually it existed in the original setting. In Polyhedron magazine, they had an adventure with giant bugs that took over a farm. I did not create it out of thin air, it existed in some shape or form in the original game.
The original game talked about various ideas for how to expand it. All I did was expand it. I read all the articles where they mentioned GangBusters. I am making it modular so you can use or not, or expand or not, cause at the end of the day it is still a game of cops & robbers. If you can’t find an adventure after a night of watching TV, with so many police procedurals that are on now, I can’t help you, NCIS, X-files, etc. Warehoue 13, Thin Man, etc. There is so much that fits.
Me – It’s seeing the connections.
Mark – Exactly. I increased the book size to show what you can do with it. It doesn’t have to be just gangsters. You can do journalists. The Incredible Hulk is about new reporter chasing the Hulk cross country. The players  could be a pool of reporters in an Enquirer type organization.
Me – GangBusters is set in the same time period as H.P. Lovecraft was writing.
Mark – I’m staying away from the Cthulhu mythos, there is more out there than just that.
If you want to play Call of Cthulhu play it, it’s a great game. If you want to go in different directions, play my game. Play GangBusters, there is enough out there to keep you busy

I really like the NPC card decks, what was your inspiration for those?
Old police mugshots. I make cards with mugshots, with enough stats to run. I made the first 18, then another 18, and eventually I’ll have a full deck of 52 cards. Literally take a card and you are ready to play. At Gary Con I passed out cards, and said, this is what stats mean and we were up and running in minutes. NPC’s, bad guys, players, etc. They are small and portable. Once you know the rules that’s all you need. Keep it in your wallet and you’re ready to play whenever and wherever. [See this YouTube video for a sample of the cards.]

Me – They make a great tool for a pick up or convention game for pre-gens. There was a lot of buzz from those who played in the games Mark ran.

It’s been mentioned on the G+ TSR GangBusters Community, that you plan to do a Kickstarter. I know that you have a goal to have everything ready before the Kickstarter and to keep it manageable. How much can you tell us about that?
I’m still working on it. Eventually there will be a box set, hard back book, GM screen, and modules, plus add ons will all be figured out and done. So once we hit our goal and are funded, I will order and ship. I did a test run of box sets, and people are impressed with what I have now. Some have shipped to Spain, England, all over world now. I hope a Kickstarter will help it reach a bigger area.

When might we get wind of the Kickstarter?
Depends on when I get done with something in the background – I can’t talk about it – then preparing for the Kickstarter will start to speed up.

What is the secret to your prolific output? I ask, because it is an amazing story that just floored me. I was giving you a hard time at Gary Con to slow down because you’re making the rest of us look bad.
Last year was my last chemo – I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and going through treatments. I said to myself, “If this is my last year, I’m going to do what I want to do,” and I literally drove myself to do these games, even if only 5 words in a day. After a year, I had a lot. I just hacked it out piece by piece. “Never give up, never surrender,” as they say. Marks’ wife can be heard in the background: “He’s not going to do anything else. By Grapthar’s hammer….”
To the outside world it appeared like I was cranking it out fast, it seemed like a lot real fast. As they say, an overnight success is ten year’s worth of work. A lot of games that blew up were simmering in the background and no one paid attention until they got done.

You mentioned you were seeking a license to do a game with a big name, and well-know IP, but it fell through. 
Any clues to other IP’s you have your eye on? (Probably not, since you don’t want to spoil it.)
Exactly. I’m always looking for more stuff, but can’t mention them, so I don’t get scooped. If it’s not being used, why not? A Lot of stuff is just sitting quietly. It’s not hard if you do the work and ask. The worst they can say is, “No.”
Drongo for DCC is mine and I can always go and do a BX version. As long as I don’t compete with one of their [Goodman Games] products it should be OK.

Any hints about projects coming up?
Oh geeze, let me look at my hard drive. I’ve thought about one or two retroclones, but will mention those when the time is right. I don’t want it all at once, that is, I want to spread it out. Cloaked Avengers is a new class for GangBusters in the next month, like the Shadow. You can add to an existing GangBusters game with mysterious powers. I’m also working on a WWI alternate history for GangBusters.  I plan to stage so it’s not out all at once, and do one or two adventures to flesh out stuff  I already have.

Joe’s Diner was 6 or 7 pages, then 18, then 32, then I made little booklets. The PDF is automatically updated, so it’s done. The only way to get it in book form is in the boxed set.
Me – That’s a smart way to drive sales.
Mark – Exactly.

Have you seen all the talk about yesterday’s press release about the new TableTop Library site?
Yes. I’m thinking about trying to sell stuff there, it’s one more avenue for sales.

Anything else you want us to know about?
Hit me up on G+ if you see me, and help out get the word out, Swords of the Empire, GangBusters , Fantasy game – no name yet. Everything is just falling into place so fast it is ridiculous. I might have Boxed sets [of the yet to be named and released fantasy game ] at NTRPGCon.

GangBusters boxed sets and T-Shirts, and Swords of the Empire boxed sets will definitely be at North Texas RPG Con.

– – –

Mark is a really nice guy, easy to talk to, and inviting. Other aspiring game designers were asking him to look at their stuff, and he was looking forward to it. He knows game mechanics. Just wjile talking about general ideas, he had an idea for something. Being in his presence, I couldn’t help but be infected by his enthusiasm for games. If we lived in the same town, I’d find a way to play in his games.

Mark is enjoying life and riding this dream of designing games and having a blast while doing it. I expect to hear exciting things in the coming weeks.

Wednesday Night AD&D on Roll 20 – Session 100!

I’ve been playing a weekly AD&D game, Graveyard of Empires:The Islands of Curabel, for two years next week, and also session 100. We missed two weeks for DM vacation, etc. and one when not enough players showed. 100 represents the number of played sessions. I am the only player who has attended every session, with the same character. There is one other active player that has been at it since session one. On session 98, the rest of us thought his character was dead, so the character is “out of play” for simplicity’s sake, until the character can make his way back to us.

This is very cool, to be on the brink of 100 online sessions. All the more because I know that many games fizzle after a while. I would be curious to know how many Roll20 campaigns are still going this long, or longer?

Our DM, John, does Sandbox style. He has set things planned, with pre-programmed events that happen whether or not we take the bait to go do things. We have surprised him with things we chose to do or ignore. He talks about his campaign over on his blog, Dwarven Automata. He has shared his campaign bible, scripts her uses for generating NPC’s, directions, weather, etc. John has also shared DM notes on player write ups. He only recently started this, so only have a few sessions done.

We seem to have the right mix of players who get AD&D and we have fun. I look forward to riding this out and see what transpires.

I’ll be posting an email interview with our DM when it’s ready. In the meantime, I thought I’d post this and test the waters to see how many other games have lasted so long.

What is the longest running Roll20/other online platform game you have played in?

Not Another Awesome Kickstarter! – New Big Dragon’s Classic Edition GM Screen

The day after I listed all the Kickstarters on which I spent too much money*, +Richard LeBlanc launches another one for his Classic Edition GM Screen.

The video says it all, and if you read the details, you will see that he has it all planned out. The layout is done, and he obviously has a sample and verified the weight, as the two backer levels with physical products have postage built in.

The initial level is just the PDF’s at $7, then a jump to $43, and for two of each physical item, $71. Barring humid conditions he plans to deliver the end of April. For someone as well organized and focused as Richard appears to be, I have no doubt that he’ll deliver.

This is how a Kickstarter should be done, all the work of the product is finished. There is UV protection for the screen to prevent/minimize fading.

It is more than just the two piece GM screen, it includes:

  • An 8 page GM reference document of all the tables on the screen.
  • 8 individual card stock character sheets for the 7 main classes and one generic sheet.
  • A spell record sheet.
  • A character record log.
  • A 4 page cleric spell handout.
  • An 8 page magic user spell handout.

All of this is illustrated by images by Arthur Rackham. I assume these area all public domain images, which will keep costs down.

The funding goal is not too large, $4,500, so I suspect it will fund quickly, unless no one really wants such a GM screen. He isn’t interested in stretch goals because he has a product ready to go, and wants it done. More projects should be simple, and at most do stretch goals that fit the overall tone and scope of the project.

$43 seems a bit steep. All the one gets is awesome. I am curious how much this would be without shipping. If it works with all/most original rules and clones, it is a definite plus. I am torn. I want it. The PDF only level is easily affordable, but I also want the physical product. I’ll probably fail my save vs. Kickstarter on this one, but we’ll see. I’ll try to give it a few days.

It would be neat to see a screen only option that includes the PDFs of everything. I’m not sure I would use the character sheets, and it wouldn’t be hard to print the spell lists from the PDFs. I wouldn’t want to write on those fancy sheets. If they were dry erase compatible, then I’d definitely use them.

*Is it possible to spend too much money on RPG materials?

UPDATE: See this article on The Dilemma of Pricing Kickstarters, by Richard LeBlanc, of the above mentioned KS. Very insightful. Those planning their own KS should pay attention. He plans a FAQ on top of this article.

Magic Item – Artist’s Pencil, Pen, or Brush

A continuation of articles in the vein of marionettes and mimes.

The artist’s tool, whether a pencil, pen, or brush allows the artist to draw anything they can imagine.

The ability to draw functional/believable/recognizable items is granted by this item. If desired roll d% to gauge the artistic skill of the user for the remainder of the time they use this item. Low being child-like, and high being skilled or masterful.

Doors or openings drawn on dungeon walls do not guarantee an empty room on the other side. If a wall only has an expanse of solid stone indicated on the map, a room of sufficient size to hold the user and any companions is created. However, such random rooms have a chance to be populated from one of the creatures on the wandering monster charts for the level, either as per the dungeon key, the monster manual or other source. Roll for a random encounter as per the rules or as indicated on the dungeon key.

Such a room may be exited by the prior door, or a new door drawn on the wall. If it is again on a wall with only solid rock beyond repeat the procedure. A room exists as long as it is populated. Once the last creature leaves that room, it fades in 1d6 turns. NOTE: There is a 10% chance that such a room contains a door to a random location in the dungeon, or anywhere in the multiverse. Be creative! HINT: One of the locations for one of the One Page Dungeon Contests is good!

Items are of temporary duration, i.e. a single use or number of rounds or turns as specified by the DM. For example, a key drawn for a lock will only be good for that lock. Some DM’s may choose to rule that a new key must be drawn each time a lock is used.

A weapon or armor, such as a sword and shield may be used for one combat, one day, or one adventure, at the DM’s discretion.

Items can be drawn on any surface, even mid-air, such as a wall.

Magical pigments enhance the duration and effectiveness of magical brushes. Likewise magical inks do the same for magical pens.

The DM can rule there is a set number of uses or a way to maintain its effectiveness.

Cursed Artist’s Tool – These items cause the bearer to become obsessed with some hidden knowledge and they cannot stop their writing of long passages of prose, poetry, and equations. If they stop to eat they will draw the meal they need. If they stop to sleep, they will draw the magical chamber with a guardian to protect them.

Woe be to those who disturb the writings and so forth of the artist! this will cause him or her to not trust the one(s) to do this, and treat them with disdain or send drawings to deal with them.

If any try to take the tool from them, they grow enraged and resist with the strength of an ogre and the dexterity of a master thief. Anything they draw or paint to assist them in continuing their efforts will last until they are destroyed or the curse is removed.

Items drawn such as weapons will animate and defend the user while he or she continues their search for the truth. Each item drawn takes one round, and takes action on the following round.  If the artist is attacked successfully mid-drawing, the object has a 50% chance of being malformed but still helping the artist, or a wild and malevolent creation that first defends the artist, and if all are slain, then going after the artist to retrieve the tool and take it to some random location in the multiverse. NOTE: One of the locations for one of the One Page Dungeon Contests is good!

The artist will insist that they are on to something. The DM can plan the seed or allow the player to suggest something. There is a chance that there is some kernel of truth to this quest for truth. If the player convinces others that there is meaning and they go in search of glory or treasure, let them.

The type of crazy the artist has is player’s choice, calm, quiet, and brooding; Jack Nicholson in The Shining; crazed and wild eyed and excited, or raving etc.

Variation on Cursed Artist’s Tool – Instead of the mind altering version, this version causes any item drawn to benefit opponents of the bearer, a la Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.

Magic Item – Beret of the Mime

After yesterday’s spell and magic items, I have the idea of mimes.

The item is a beret that when worn requires the wearer to not speak to gain its benefits. Upon wearing the hat, they will know its requirements. NOTE: Some berets are accompanied by white gloves, and the most impressive items are a complete outfit of beret, white gloves, black and white striped shirt, black pants, and black shoes. If a complete outfit, the wearer must wear the entire outfit for the item to be effective. If only a hat or gloves, the wearer may wear armor. If a magic ring is worn, and they have a hat and gloves or full suit, they may wear only one glove….

The player will have to speak only to describe the actions of the player, or better yet, act them out!

Instead of using a bow, make a great demonstration of drawing and shooting a bow, and the imagined missile(s) become real and do real damage. These are magical items with a plus based on how well the player describes or mimes their actions. The damage will be a die based on how well they describe their actions. Minimal effort d4, good effort d6, really getting into it and drawing a powerful bow with fine arrows d8.

The mime beret allows the bearer to mime any action.

If they are being charged by a huge foe, like a giant or an army, the bearer can mime raising their arms as if there is a huge barrier now erected before their foes. This barrier will likewise limit/protect friends on the correct side.

When food and water run out, they can mime eating and drinking motions and satisfy their needs.

If they are injured, they can mime sewing up their wounds, binding them, or merely wiping them away.

They can mime loading and firing a ballista or siege weapon, or drawing a sword.

If the player can “sell it” the DM can allow it. Damage, healing and other effects in game are at the DM’s discretion.

For example, mimicking prayer for divine intervention will give an added chance to their normal roll based on how well they sell it. If a diety has not been specified prior to the attempt, a random diety will be attracted by the petitioner.

If the wearer speaks without first removing the beret, its operation is interrupted for 1d12 rounds after speaking stops.

Cursed Beret of the Mime – The wearer is trapped in a box every morning until they mime pulling a key out of their pocket and opening the door. The first time they put on the hat, this box immediately appears. Speech is prohibited, the wearer can make no sound. NPC’s will automatically understand the mime and go along with him or her, but fellow players will have to figure it out for themselves. The hat cannot be removed without remove curse.

Over time the face of the wearer of the cursed item will become more and more pale, until it is white, while the lips will redden.