Category Archives: Advice/Tools

Page Number Notation For Spells

I read somewhere a good suggestion to not the page number of spells for each spell a spell casting character uses.

In AD&D, to save space, the magic-user spells refer to the earlier cleric or druid spells of the same name. Plus, the DMG has more information on some spells for the DM to consider when ruling on spell effects, etc.

I’m playing a magic-user in the first session of a new DM’s campaign, and decided to write down the page numbers. Then I realized I needed notation for spells of the same or similar name on an earlier page, and then recalled the DMG pages for some spells.

Being a player that is also a DM, I thought of the simplest way to do this would be Spell Name p. ##&##/##. For example, the first level magic user spell, Charm Person, would be p. 65&55/44. The magic user spell is on page 65, and refers back to the druid spell Charm Person or Mammal on p. 55, and the DMG p. 44 has a blurb on it.

Read Magic is a spell that is unique to magic users and there is no mention of it in the spell section of the DMG, so the notation is p.68/0.

The question is whether I can remember the notation when it comes to play time.

I have the PDF’s of all the manuals, so I will copy and paste the descriptions so that I’m all set. If I mislay a printout or file, as long as I have my character sheet, I’ll have the exact page number all set.

I think I’ll need more than one session of play to know how well it works.

Multiple spells and spell level tracking could do with simplification.

OSR Is Good/OSR Is Bad

I saw some headlines that indicate there’s another argument on the internet about the OSR. Again?

To which I present this little “poem”.

OSR is Good, OSR is Bad

OSR is Happy, OSR is Sad

OSR is Joy, OSR is Mad

OSR is Fun, OSR is Glad

OSR is three little letters that don’t give a flying #$%^# if you like them or not.

If you like OSR, tomorrow will come.

If you don’t like OSR, tomorrow will come.

If everyone agrees with what is the OSR, tomorrow will come.

If no one agrees with what is the OSR, tomorrow will come.

I don’t get why some people live to stir the pot, kick the anthill, mountain climb molehills, and pick arguments when they have thin skin and long toes.

Games are supposed to be fun.

If you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Translated Wrong

Today, over at OSR Today, for Table Tuesday, they had a table about being translated into another existence.

When I read the title, I was expecting something about language translation.

It got me to thinking, so I came up with the following:

How close did the language “expert” get their facts? Was it a rush job? Are they not as skilled as they claim? Is the translator under the thumb of someone opposed to the party? Any reason you can think of for something to be wrong.

  1. Direction wrong. Varies from exact opposite direction, to slightly off, such as North-North-West instead of North West.
  2. Structure/Location wrong. Instead of a castle it is a hovel, instead of a dungeon it is a cave.
  3. Size wrong. Instead of a huge ancient red dragon, it is a young adult dragon. Instead of a hill, it’s a mountain, or a mountain range.
  4. Color wrong. The evil wizard wears blue robes instead of black robes.
  5. Name wrong. The name of a person, place, or thing is off just a little. Jan instead of Jane, vial instead of vile or viol (I played with a guy in high school who rarely grasped the difference.), H2S04 instead of H20, etc.
  6. Wrong race. Hobgoblins instead of goblins, ogres instead of pixies, make it good. Wyverns instead of dragons, etc.
  7. Wrong alignment. The person who has the information they need is of a different alignment. Perhaps it is the big bad himself, as yet undiscovered by the players, and only the big bad knows how he can be stopped.
  8. Wrong generation. They need Junior, and not the decrepit Senior. Or they need the skilled senior, and not the ineffective Junior.
  9. Wrong map. The translation might be spot on, but the translator either goofs and give you the wrong map, or is of ill intent and gives them a map to a very bad place.
  10. Scope wrong. Numbers are involved and they are a few orders of magnitude in the wrong direction. The fabulously huge treasure of gold and jewels, is a big sack of copper coins and some cheap garnets. Or the small patrol is actually an army.
  11. Language wrong. The translator is confused by a similar script of a branch language, but various vowel and verb form changes have any translation with the translator’s knowledge being wrong about everything.
  12. The next map the player’s find already has a translation on it that they can read, but it is wrong in one or more of the above points.

I think this is an interesting idea, and I’ll see about adding to it in the future.

Near Misses – Thieves

I had an idea for thieves picking pockets from an experience prior to my last game at UCON. The idea coalesced as I was in that dreamy, glad to be sleeping state before I woke up this morning. (I’m off all week; so I got to sleep in today to recover from both low quantity and quality of sleep the last few days.)

As I have mentioned in at least one other article, my Dad was a locksmith and I was drafted to help from the time I was about 13 until I went off to college. Dad gave me my own basic set of lock picks. I thought it would be fun to plop them down at a game, if I ended up running a thief.

I was getting stuff out of my bag, dice, paper, pen, pencil and other things so I wouldn’t have to keep rummaging in my bag during the game and slow things down. I was wearing many layers, including a jacket sort of like a hoody with out the hood. It has packets inside next to each outer pocket.

I put my picks in my pocket, or so I thought. I felt both sides of my hand feel fabric, so I thought it was in my pocket. I had just placed something else in that pocket and realized that I was about to drop it between my jacket and shirt instead of my pocket, so I corrected. I then checked and my picks weren’t there, so just as I was getting ready to bend down to get them, +Laura Rose Williams says, “Here, Larry, you dropped this,” as she hands it to me.

This morning in my dreamlike pre-wake state, this idea hit me, and I can just see a thief picking someone’s pockets and rolling 1 or 2 under what they need. So from now on, I will rule that a thief doing this, gets what they were after, or at least something, and they “pocket” it. Some kind soul will see them drop it and come up and give it to them in full view of all around. The “FUN!” will then ensue.

I did not play a thief as planned, +Laura Rose Williams wanted me to play a wizard along with her, which I did. So I got out my picks after the game to share what I was prepared to use as a prop.

CSIO Kickstarter – October Update

I got the CSIO Kickstarter October update in my email yesterday.

As has become usual, it is good news/bad news.

The good news is that the player maps and minis seem to be on track.

However, the bad news, while not a health crisis involves two complications.

First, their webhost GoDaddy is dropping support for SharePoint and Outlook, and did not warn them it was coming, so they have a short period of time to the new email platform. I did a quick google search, and it appears that the issue is Microsoft dropped support for some features of Sharepoint and Outlook, and are forcing people to Office365, or priced it so that GoDaddy had to force them, is more likely.

That GoDaddy waited until the last minute to tell them, I have no idea, never used GoDaddy. But my experience with Microsoft products in a web environment 15+ years ago convinced me not to use Microsoft products for my personal projects. I have no choice about using them in my day job.

Second, in addition to the unexpected time sink re-doing their website, one of the people working on the CSIO Book [the part I backed], has quit after a month of no progress. Here’s a quote on that, emphasis mine:


We’re fleshing out the final two chapters of the CSIO portion of the book dealing with Crime, Punishment, Manumission, and other rule variants. This should be completed within the next couple weeks and then we can run over the Thunderhold portion, then start the final layout. End of November may be cutting things close. We want this out before the holiday season madness. On another note, the person responsible for mining all of the stats to put in a spreadsheet for checking has quit after a month or so of no progress (Bob III will probably have to pick up that load).

So it may yet be out this year, only a year late. I suspect that it will slip into early next year since one person strung them along for a month.

I think this is a prime reason not to launch a Kickstarter until the book is ready for layout. That is, the text is written and through all the various drafts, and been proof read and edited. Even a revision of an existing book, especially something as big as a city, can’t just be done quickly.

The other lesson to take away is, don’t let people drag you down. If the people who are supposed to do the work are not doing the work, cut them loose before it drags down the entire project.

Most people were worried about how the miniatures add-on/stretch goals would kill this product, and the thing that is dragging it down is the centerpiece.

Another example of how to do a Kickstarter is the B/X Monster Reference Index, which ends Sunday, October 4th, and I expect to have before the end of October. This is someone who does lots of Kickstarters one after the other, but the product is ready to go. It is more of a pre-order system, and stretch goals/add-ons are done in a way that make sense and don’t interfere with the weight of the project to skew the costs of international shipping. This is an example of finding a niche with a product target that is easy to hit for quality and on-time delivery. By creating satisfied customers and maintaining the quality of responsiveness to questions and suggestions, and delivering ahead of the promised delivery date, +Peter Regan has customers that will back most, if not all of his Kickstarters.

Because of his diligence, if he ever did have a family emergency, he has earned the credibility that we wouldn’t question it. This is a big difference between first time Kickstarters that go crazy with funding and stretch goals and suddenly are delayed by mysterious and uncommunicated illnesses. Many of these have been people with mental illnesses. I am not against people who struggle with their inner demons sharing their efforts with the world. But if you know you have this struggle, do the work and be ready BEFORE launch!

If you are relying on other people, get their part of it before you absolutely have to have it, and cut them loose if they do not keep you in the loop. Be professional about it and hold others to a high standard. One cannot avoid sudden illnesses and accidents, so it makes even more sense to have the work ready to go before launch.

If you have to send something off to printers, make sure to keep up with them and make sure that they will be ready to start once you have the funds to give them the go ahead. Make sure they are a reputable company with references.

Most of all, if it’s your first Kickstarter, make sure to ask others who have done successful ones what it takes.

Except for something else cool by Peter Regan, I’m not backing any more Kickstarters until I start getting my stuff. CSIO [due November, 2014], Grimtooth’s Traps Hardcover [due July, 2015],  Remix Mini [due October, 2015], Marmoreal Tomb [due March, 2016], MA Epsilon City  [due March, 2016], Schlock Mercenary 70 Maxims Book [due May, 2016].

The one Kickstarter for which I have kissed my money goodbye is the stalled in legal limbo D&D Documentary, The Great Kingdom [due July, 2015]. Due to legal mumbo jumbo, no one outside the proceedings gets to know what is doing on until there is an eventual settlement, whether by court decision, or agreement among the parties. I would pay to see both movies, so what’s the problem? Settle your interpersonal crybaby $#!^ and make one movie. I don’t care which. I can live without the $50 coming back. If either side has a GoFunMe for legal bills, they have all the money I am going to give them.

I could never spend another dime on RPG materials or ever order something online and be happy. I’d have more money for other things. I really need to do more to start using all the cool things I’ve bought for RPG’s over the last few years, plus all the accumulated free downloads. There is so much material that I could stop going online and never use it all. I only go online because I like all the cool ideas that others have come up with and how they have used them.

If I spent less time online, I would have more time to make my own ideas bear fruit for sharing with others….

AD&D and Other Editions to 5e Conversion Methodology

A lot of common sense stuff here. If the monster in the module is in the Monster Manual of the rules you are converting to , use that. Other creatures can be substituted for others, or converted by bits and pieces of creatures with similar stats.

The reverse can also work, taking new creatures and adventures from 5e back to older editions or even other systems.


Yes, I Backed Another Kickstarter

I recently wrote that I wouldn’t be backing any other Kickstarters until all the outstanding ones delivered.

That was before I knew that +Peter Regan, of Oubliette Magazine and Square Hex would be offering his latest Kickstarter, the B/X Monster Reference Index.

It is a spiral bound reference with over 500 B/X monsters in a one line format for each. It will come in at 24 pages. For about $6.00 you get one, and less than $5.00 shipping from the UK.

I went in for the pledge level that gets me two of them, with shipping, only about $17.00.

Why two of them? Because I can! Who doesn’t need a backup of one of these?

This is Peter’s 14th Kickstarter! All of them have Funded and been delivered in a timely manner. He obviously has done the work in advance, and is just using Kickstarter to fund. He has a short time frame to get it out the door. He knows his market base and seems to have a laser-like focus to accomplish these projects.

The project already funded today. He keeps any stretch goals within reason, and does good work. This one has a two week time frame to ensure it is delivered before Christmas.

Reading the comments, backers get the PDF and a Spreadsheet, plus the cover will be laminated. Other stretch goals may be a possibility.


Prepping and Running Games Saves Money

I have found that in the last few weeks as I prepare a Metamorphosis Alpha scenario to run at UCon, play test it online with two different groups, and end up with a weekly Saturday game and bi-weekly Sunday game, I don’t have as much time to read and browse forums and find more goodies to spend my money.

This is good. I’m not broke, and I’m not poor, I just prefer to pay cash for things, and I already have multiple game systems to choose from. Both the books and manuals I have, and many different PDFs. While I like collecting lots of different ideas for tables and how others do things, in the end, if all one does is collect bits and bobs and never runs a game, what’s the point? {I’m also going to attend ConOnTheCob in October, UCon in November, the company holiday party is in Orlando, FL in December – I finally get to go to Disney World!, Marmalade Dog in February, GaryCon in March, etc.]

Other than helping out the creators when I buy things, if I’m not running at least one game of one of the rules I already have, I’m not doing the one thing I have written so often that I want to do.

I struggle with having “enough” prepared to be comfortable. the key for me is determining what is the right “enough” to have. It doesn’t matter the game system.

By jumping in and running Metamorphosis Alpha and having a regular commitment to keep running it, my outlook has changed. The task seems much less daunting, and the myriad of excuses of why I’m not ready yet fade away.

My in person AD&D campaign with my oldest son and his girlfriend faded away when they moved in with me in the months before my granddaughter was born. Preparations for parenthood, and figuring out their new family dynamics have put that on the back burner. Thus the desire to move that campaign online and get it going that way. Starting up with a new group of people do not guarantee they would make the same choices and check out the same things as my face to face players. Once I get a bit more done with my MA online game(s), I will do more to get my AD&D game going online.

This doesn’t mean no preparation, and no ideas for suggestions for players, etc. There needs to be enough of a framework that it holds together. What this looks like will change and adapt, or it should, once players start interacting with the world. I have lots of ideas, but it is what the players do with my descriptions and starting conditions that is interesting. Watching players interact with the world I have presented and seeing them debate and struggle over courses of action, or regret actions taken, just makes the whole thing come alive. This is cooperative play/storytelling at its finest!

So I have dug in and started using all the pads, pens, dice, books, and miscellaneous notes I have gathered. The results are encouraging, and I find that I want more! I have enough ideas to keep things rolling, and the players have their own ideas, so I don’t see burnout with roleplaying as an issue. Burnout is only a threat based on how crazy busy work gets in December and January. [Oh the “joys” of being a support analyst for payroll and accounting software at year end/W-2 time, plus a new set of forms this year for the ACA.]

I don’t plan on participating in NaNoWriMo this year. I still need to write the last few chapters of my novel, so I can start on the second draft/revisions. I know I can do it, since I have over 60,000 words that I wrote last year in November. It’s just a matter of sitting down and doing the work. Like most things in life, the ad slogan, “Just Do It.” fits so well.

I have a lot of different irons in the fire, and without the distraction of all the different TV shows I watched last Fall, Winter, and Spring, I have gotten more done. It’s all about priorities, and making a decision to act on them, and following through.

Well, that’s enough stream of consciousness for now. I think I’ve convinced myself that I can do the running of games online, and that I can handle as much as I want to handle, with all the irons I have elected to have in so many fires. I can save up shows to binge watch on long weekends, or not worry about them at all. I can put as much effort into game preparation as I want, but choose to focus only on preparation that makes the most sense and has the best chance of being used in play. I can also deal with various projects around my 95 year old house, as well as down-sizing a bunch of non-gaming stuff. I like the idea of a simple life and being able to live out of a van. But I’d need most of a semi-trailer right now. My goal is to go through all my stuff and pare it down now, so in X years, when I’m gone, my sons won’t have to deal with it. I like my stuff, but gadgets and things become obsolete or lose their appeal.

NOTE: I wrote this late at night, and made one pass at it, and it shows in all my rambling and additional topics. I’m not going to go back and fix it. My point is in here. Find it if you can. LOL!

P.S. Don’t forget to talk like a pirate today, ye scurvy dogs!

I Ran My First Game Online

Friday night, from 8:00 to Midnight, EDT, I ran my first online game using Roll20 and Google Hangouts.

I have played over 330 hours using Roll20 and Hangouts. I have also run games of AD&D 1st Edition, Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, and others. As with anything, the first time you encounter all the things you don’t know and try to make sense of it based on what you already know.

I am very much a visual learner. What is easy to pick up on with body language in a face to face game is lost online. While I used a Google Hangout, it was audio only. This was to minimize the number of windows on which I had to focus. This led to my biggest shortcoming as a GM online, missing the visual queues for player involvement. I realized after one player dropped out that I really need a player turn tracker that is implemented fairly and consistently so that each player has an equal share of time.

Two of my players in this session of six players were new to both RPG’s and online play of RPG’s. I was not as sensitive as I should be to their newness to the hobby and this method of play.

This session was a play test of a scenario that I developed for convention play for Metamorphosis Alpha at UCon in November, as I mentioned a few days ago. While I have pre-gens for the scenario, I did not enter them into Roll20. Instead, I let my players generate their characters to give them a sense of ownership. I had a short session with each player to generate their character, and make sure that the technical aspect of using Roll20 and Google Hangouts were worked out before the game. I think this helped with player buy-in, as well as helped us get a head start on building that initial acquaintance ahead of the session.

I learned from play that I crammed too much into the beginning of my scenario, and need to streamline things for the fast style of play that occurs in a convention game. I took a lot of short notes about different things to keep track of what worked or did not and what needs polish, revision, or removal.

At the end of the game, I solicited feedback, and there is interest in continuing the scenario.  In addition to Roll20, I created a private G+ Community for my Metamorphosis Alpha campaign. After the game, I created a poll, based on initial post game comments, to get an idea of when the group would like to play again. Most said that they would love to play next week. That is a great mood booster!

I had a blast! The players had buy-in to the scenario right away, and were engaged. I had a lot of hooks to get everyone involved from the start, with random rolls to mix things up, so that no two players would have the same story. I won’t go into detail, as I am running a second group through the scenario Saturday night. The second group are part of the gang from the Wednesday night AD&D Roll20 game I play in. It will be fun to interact with them in a different way and to see how our DM is as a player.

I was disappointed in myself for letting a couple of players sit quiet for a long time. It is the DM’s job to make sure each player is engaged. With an online game, it is especially important, since it is all too easy for one player to talk over other’s. It is the limit of the technology. I could set up one computer to display the hangout and watch which icons indicate who is speaking, but I find that I focus so much on the rolls, and my notes and maps, that I can’t even keep up with the chat comments players made.

I don’t feel too bad about missing side chats the players had going in chat right in front of me. It is that way in in-person games, but those more easily grab one’s attention. The solution is a system that allows each player a chance to speak. So whether I go by dexterity order, name order, order they show up on the screen, etc. It needs to be done fairly and consistently.

In addition to the poll for when to play again, I also put up a post on the campaign’s G+ community soliciting constructive criticism of my GMing of the session. I pointed out what I knew I needed to do better and what I felt I did well. I invited each player to contact me privately, if they so desired.

One player wrote publicly in response to my solicitation of feedback, “Well said! I can already tell that you are a GM/DM that I would recommend to anyone looking for a good old-school type of game. :)”

That comment alone is wonderful! I have a feeling of accomplishment.  I can’t help but compare myself to other DM.s/GM’s. There are some that I feel are so good that I feel I can never be that good. But when I actually get to play and get into a zone where things are happening in a good way, I know that I am at least a decent DM. I think I will dare to say I am a good one.

I stress too much on needing to be prepared. It does not take much to have enough for four hours of play. Once players are put in the middle of a situation, they go off in directions one could never anticipate.

I think I set the expectations clearly up front. I pointed out that this was my first time running an RPG online, and that this was the first game of Metamorphosis Alpha that I had ran in over 30 years. I did not mean it as an excuse, just to let them know I had a lot of new going on. In the end, other than the time allotment issues for each player, I think I did very well.

I used the theater of the mind style. I had a map of an area and players placed their tokens to indicate who was where. We also used it for marching order. There was another map I had to show them a big picture of the situation, but I did not use all the bells and whistles of working with maps and tokens that Roll20 has to offer. I am a free user, but if I end up with a regular game, I will definitely come up with the money for a subscription.

Some of my players run games on Roll20 and were able to help me get settings right. That was most appreciated!

I learned a lot about the online tools I chose, my scenario and where it needs improvement, myself and my abilities as a GM, and where I need to focus my energies to improve. I can’t wait for next week when the players and I tune in to see what happens next!