Friday, December 27, 2013

Experimental Swords & Wizardry Complete Character Sheet

Developing low tech character sheets is a great way to explore user experience design. For such a foray, I chose to create a sheet for Swords & Wizardry Complete. It's very much an experiment and a work in progress.

One goal is to provide as much affordance to the player as possible, all the way from basic through expert. The sheet should help introduce new players to the game while remaining useful as their S&W expertise grows.That route runs through simplicity, more specifically, the ability to customize the core sheet by hand.

Old school games like Swords & Wizardry tend to see a lot of house ruling. The character sheet has to have flexibility built-in in order to accommodate things that may not be anticipated during development. Also, can one sheet be used by all classes as-is while fulfilling all the necessary functionality?

As the designer, I'd like the sheet to look like something more than an artifact of play at the game table. If it could be seen in the game world, it should look like some interesting document from a dusty old stack. But I don't want it to explicitly look like it's been designed as such.

Whew, that's a serious set of self-imposed parameters. With them in place it was time to get cracking.

I sat down and sketched out a general design idea that had been bouncing around in my head for some time. That idea arranged the attribute list in a circular pattern in the middle of the paper. In about an hour, the first iteration was put together on the computer and landed at the gaming table ready to roll. It felt pretty good, utility was evident, but not everything felt right. It was clear that the attributes needed reordering. At first, I thought that I could simply distribute the list clockwise or counter-clockwise, and I'd be off to the races. It looked great, but once the secondary bits (max hirelings, HP mod, etc.) were grouped nearest their respective attributes, the sheet felt awkward. On top of those things, some of the key design elements simply weren't good enough to support the overall concept.

With a game session under my belt, I set out to improve the design with a second iteration and that's where the project is currently at.

WIP Swords & Wizardry Complete Character Sheet

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

New Eldritch Kickstarter Stretch Goal

Oh, cool.

Dan has revealed a new stretch goal - a Shaintar adventure for Eldritch.
Sean Patrick Fannon of Evil Beagle Games has agreed to pen a bonus adventure for the Eldritch RPG in PDF format upon this Kickstarter reaching the goal of $4500. Yes, this is in addition to the free adventure I'm throwing in, AND in addition to the online character and monster generator at $4500.  
He will write a short work set in the world of Shaintar (roughly 20 pages), showcasing Eldritch RPG's flexibility and adaptability to other worlds. It will also serve as an excellent introduction for fans of Shaintar to introduce the world to their players, regardless of game system. This extra adventure shall be granted to all pledge levels from $15 up! 
C'mon, let's get this thing done!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday, October 21, 2013

Torchbearer arrived!

My copy of Torchbearer arrived on Saturday. And wow! I love it. The Pete Mullen cover is fantastic. The overall production quality is higher than the already high marks set by BWHQ. The book itself feels great in the hands. Now it's time to light some torches and embark on adventure for loot!

Pics to come.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Eldritch RPG Kickstarter

I'm glad to see that Dan has launched the Eldritch RPG: Revised Edition Kickstarter campaign. It's a heck of a good game. The exclusion of monsters, traps, and treasure in the original book did ding it a bit. Even so, we've had a lot of fun with Eldritch. The Kickstarter will set things straight. I liked it enough to create my own character sheet, so no empty rah-rah-you-should-back-it! stuff here.

After our first spin, here's a look at some of what I said about Eldritch:

The combat was very rapidly resolved and very, very descriptive. It's an interesting take not to roll to hit but to roll to see how much "potential harm" the target must mitigate. As points were whittled from the various defense pools the narration flowed.

The game has structure but isn't rigid.
As GM it feels okay to wing it which is nice. But the system doesn't force that kind of style. It just doesn't feel like you're going to destroy the session by accidentally making things too difficult. I'm lovin' it.

Magic doesn't often play a large role in our games, even when it's so-called traditional fantasy. But that doesn't mean that we don't like a little fantasticality.

Desperately Althea and Jip run from the orc hunting party. They find an outcropping of rocks where each is large enough for trees to grow on top of. The climb is difficult and Althea makes her way to the top while Jip hides in a crevice and the situation becomes a siege with the ranger defending the top of the giant rock.The orcs chop down trees and use them as makeshift ladders to scale their way to the top. By one and by two they push themselves atop but are mowed down by accurate bow fire even in almost complete darkness. Finally a single orc makes his way to Althea and is about to strike when the rest of the orc hunting party arrives. In that moment the thief scrambles to the top to help his friend. 
The chieftain who is an NPC challenges the PC ranger for initiative and wins. He lobs a gas globe filled with sleep gas to the top. It shatters causing the ranger and the remaining orc to lose consciousness. The gnome thief gets woozy but stays on his feet and scrambles down the back side of the rock and watches from a bear den the mistreatment and shackling of the ranger. 
The sleep gas had 2D12 effect and the targets had no chance of getting out of the radius reducing both the orc and the ranger's resilience to zero. They were out. 
Immediately the orcs got down off of the rock with the shackled ranger in tow. They began to set up camp in a shallow cave using cut trees as lean-tos to cover themselves from the coming day's sun. 
Jip the thief used cantrips (1 spell point each) to make the sound of small animals moving through the woods to draw the dogs off while he used another spell to call hundreds of carpenter ants to pull the shackle keys out of the cave and into the sun so that he could sneak up and take them in hand himself. 
From there he freed his friend and they barely got away with their lives; wounding the orc chieftain enough for him not to want to stick around as the sun became too much for him to bear. 
All in all, the magic system was VERY easy to run and adjudicate. We didn't run into any snags. It felt right.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

On Swords & Wizardry Complete Hardcover

Last Sunday, I ordered the Swords & Wizardry hardcover direct from Frog God Games. It arrived today, the following Saturday. Talk about service.

I've been playing S&W for a few years, starting with the WhiteBox and Core books from Lulu. When Complete was released back in 2010, for me, it jumped to the front of the S&W pack where it was competitive with other games that I like such as Castles & Crusades, feature-wise anyway.

While Complete saw a lot of play at the table, I didn't feel compelled to get the physical book. Then along came the S&W Kickstarter with the Errol Otis cover. Oh, boy. Barely. Held. Out.

I was hoping that the book would show up at my local game store. No such luck. Finally, I asked if they could get it in. Nope. So, off I went to the Frog God website and placed my order.

A year after the Kickstarter that tempted me so, Complete was finally on my doorstep.

It exceeds all expectations.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Project Code Name: Roll A D6

A big part of why I like Swords & Wizardry so much is that it's a great baseline for hacking, for making it my own. On the other hand, I find approaches like the Siege Engine in Castles & Crusades pretty nifty. So, we set out to put together a check system using the venerable D6 in sync with the spirit of S&W itself.

The mini-project has been dubbed "Roll A D6."

The default assumption is that the GM leans on RAD6 when it looks like a situation could go either way, 1D6 with a 4+ target. But how in the world does that scale? Here's how...

Assign a level to the challenge at hand. The guideline is, at what character level is a 50/50 chance appropriate? Subtract the active character's level from the challenge level and you get the challenge's target number modifier. Add this modifier, plus or negative, to 4.

Here's the formula:

Modifier = Challenge Level - Character Level

TN = 4 + Modifier

How about an example?

Dresan, a 1st level fighter with 17 (+1) strength is attempting to roll a huge rock out of the doorway of a crypt. Deemed by the GM to be a 3rd level challenge, a 6 (3 - 1 = +2 TN modifier) must be rolled in order to succeed. That target number of 6 is softened a bit by adding his +1 attribute bonus to the roll.

How has it been working for us?

So far, so good. RAD6 is pretty nifty at the table. The system also works for 0-level henchmen acting as a skilled work crew. So, of course, the handling of PCs working together is a breeze. Opposed checks are simple. And best of all, sometimes a D6 is just a D6. There's no need to tinker with surprise or even the opening of doors if you don't want to. Or maybe, deep in the citadel, the majestic golden door of the bandit king is a challenge while all those preceding were not.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Castles & Crusades is Incomplete?

When I first ran into this thread over at the Troll Lord's forum about Castles & Crusades being incomplete, I thought the original poster was a bit off his rocker. But I began to think about the subject a bit.

I went back and looked at the 4th printing of the players handbook (I own 3 copies of various printings) and noticed something. I've been a fan of C&C for a while now but, other classic fantasy games, Swords & Wizardry in particular, have tugged at my sleeve.

Was it because they seemed simpler? I don't think so.

Because they were newer than Castles & Crusades? No, though that might explain why I checked them out in the first place - continued discovery.

Was it because they seemed to better encapsulate the old school D&D experience? Yes.

Wait a minute. Castles & Crusades covers all of the bases of my early gaming experience; all of the classes, experience points, combat and hit points, and saving throws. So how can this be?

One of my other favorite retro-games is Swords & Wizardry. What makes it different from Castles & Crusades? After looking at the two games side by side, while ignoring historical targets, I found Swords & Wizardry's presentation design to be more explicit.

As part of their presentations, both games urge GMs and players alike to make the game their own; house rules, rulings, imagination, and all that. Those are things right up my alley.

As far as character creation goes, both S&W and C&C are pretty great. Both provide excellent class selection options.

But Ah!  Here's where we get a little peek at the mentioned explicitness. Swords & Wizardry presents us with a 'Weight and Movement' chart for indoor, underground, city, and cross country movement. It's short and sweet and right to the point.

Castles & Crusades uses a couple of abstract terms (encumbrance value and encumbrance rating) to manage weight carried. If you don't use those bits of abstract indirection it's easy to miss pages 47 and 48 - Encumbrance. Even if you didn't toss them out and read every page related to encumbrance you still have to digest a couple of pages of text in order to fish out meanings and the impact on movement. Even after that you're left to extrapolate the other movement contexts. Oh, wait. You can find where they are explained on page 136 in the Castle Keeper section - in text.

Even if we ignore the parts of  Complete that can be found in the Castle Keeper's Guide, it still feels like Swords & Wizardry is more encompassing.

I really don't want to go on leading a reader into thinking that I think that Castles & Crusades stinks when that is not the case at all. In fact, after combing through C&C to make this comparison I was struck by how complete the game really is. Some of that has got to be on me. Holy moly, I've been playing it off and on since 2007!

I think combat in Castles & Crusades is made more interesting with its concise list of general combat maneuvers outside of the class specific options.

Did you know that in Castles & Crusades, in the first round of combat, longer weapons/larger creatures get to act first even if they didn't win initiative?

How unarmed combat in particular is handled is downright excellent.

Class and a Half multi-classing is flat-out elegant.

The Siege Engine is nifty. Don't like the numbers? Tweak it to your liking. Or do something like I did, add a FATE inspired option to add a little oomph. Don't worry, the wheels won't fall off.

It isn't a copout when I say to get both Castles & Crusades and your other favorite retro-game. They both have a lot to offer. I also don't think I'm wrong in saying that the C&C players handbook could use a scrub and tightening up.

The Trolls were early movers in the retro scene and, when you're first, that can become more evident over time. Things have changed and I want to see the Troll Lords prosper. They're doing things right with their string of successful Kickstarter projects so it seems silly to point out weakness isn a core product, especially considering how the guys have been able to control costs. But from my experience with new gamers, when left on their own, they found it easier to get up to speed with Swords & Wizardry versus Castles & Crusades. I didn't see that coming. Was it because my earlier experience with D&D blinded me to it?

In retrospect, I shouldn't be all that surprised. I feel like I got a better handle on the nuances of Castles & Crusades itself by reading Amazing Adventures.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Preordered Numenera and Some Thoughts

Even though I was following development, I wasn't planning on getting Numenera but, a thread over at TheRPGSite changed my mind.

With the FLGS preorder, I received the PDF for free. I'm only about half way through character creation so I can't comment too much about the book at a whole but, wow. It's impressive.

The first thing that has stood out to me was, of course, the art. It's great and fits the theme of the game very, very well as it is extremely evocative.

Monte's opening short fiction perfectly sets the tone.

The next thing to stand out for me was the game design aesthetic. It's right up my alley: 3 main character archetypes, 3 attributes/test types, etc.

While working my way through the book, I'm imagining running D&D with the system. I'm also seeing Wuxia type action. That jumped out at me when seeing the Glaive (fighter) tiers.

Well, back to reading.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Going With Class and a Half

For the upcoming campaign, I've been sifting through bits for options. I'm pretty sure that I'll be using Weapons Mastery from the Rules Cyclopedia. From Castles & Crusades, I think I'll port over Class and a Half. It's the best multi-classing option that I've ever seen. Pick a primary class and a secondary class. Mash 'em up and go.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Swords & Wizardry with Weapon Mastery?

I've got a game brewing and I think that I'm going to use Swords & Wizardry Complete as the base but sprinkle in some spice. The most potent being Mentzer Weapon Mastery.

It looks like the first thing to do would be to re-scope Weapon Mastery from 36 character levels to 20. Other than that, it looks straight forward.

Heck, in a way, S&W Complete's Fighter sort of provides a hook to WM's enumerated abilities through the parry maneuver.

I also think that a character sheet update is in order.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Finished Reading The Rules Cyclopedia


While I didn't originally have the book back in my fist go-round with D&D, I did have the series of boxed sets, I'm reminded of why we had the approach to the game that we did. Compressing the expansiveness of basic into your head all at once is quite a task.

Even though I found some of the sections a slog, underneath things like where we're told about the correctness of having a certain amount of magic items by so-and-so level and what-not, there lies a really small and malleable core -  Red Box!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Surprised by the D&D Rules Cyclopedia

By the time that the D&D Rules Cyclopedia hit the streets in 1991, I was drifting away from the hobby and completely missed its release. Besides, late in my first gaming epoch, I was playing very little D&D and was mostly focusing on other "more advanced" games.

Being curious, a few years ago, I bought the Rules Cyclopedia PDF when it was first put online by Wizards. It had a technical glitch that prevented it from rendering correctly in my PDF viewer. That, unfortunately, likely colored my perception of the book itself. After giving it a few quick flip-throughs, I just wasn't impressed by what I saw. What was all the hubbub about, bub?

Fast-forward a few years. I've churned through as many different retro-clones as I could get my hands on; settling on Swords & Wizardry. It's a fantastic game. Beyond the nostalgia, I've come to really appreciate D&D.

Spurred on by (re) discovering AD&D 1st edition through the reprints, I couldn't contain my curiosity when the Rules Cyclopedia showed up over at D&D Classics.

I'm only about half way through reading the book but, already, I've been struck by how modern (and complete) it feels. It seems that a lot of the things seen in the OSR have been touched upon in the Rules Cyclopedia in some shape or form. That speaks to its comprehensiveness.

Weapon Mastery reminds me of the special maneuvers found in newer games like RuneQuest 6. Okay, RuneQuest isn't exactly game nouveau but that specific treatment is a modern twist.

Even if one doesn't feel that 'deflect' is an example of cutting edge game design, it's easy to see that it branches from the tradition that is "sword +1." I can see why some people think that Weapon Mastery shifts the feel of D&D too much but, I find weapon mastery pretty interesting; not only for the options presented but also because it gives the fighter some oomph on the level-up power curve.

Domains and mass combat are en vogue again in the hobby while they've been right there the whole time. Now, I'm not knocking anyone's project or calling them redundant but, they're right there! Yeah, the rules were in a boxed set prior to 1991 but, I was completely dependent on the various sets showing up at Walden books. It was definitely easier to miss than to find them.

(I'll be picking up Autarch's Domains at War, by the way. And I'm already a big fan of Troll Lord's Fields of Battle.)

As far as the general skills go, I'm not so sure. This is one spot in the rules that doesn't feel all that robust. I'll likely give the approach a little more time just to see.

While reading, it's difficult not to get the sense that the RC is a conceptual bridge between AD&D and 3rd Edition. Pretty far out considering that it's Basic.

So far, I really like what I'm seeing and would love to see the Rules Cyclopedia as a premium reprint.

Well, time to keep on reading...

Monday, July 8, 2013

Heroes Companion

The other day I picked up the Advanced Fighting Fantasy Heroes Companion.

The new types of magic, spells, talents, and so on are top notch but, it's the company rules, domain management, and mass battles that really grab my attention. With these bits, Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2 can easily hang with D&D when it comes to comprehensiveness in one fantasy game package. You really get the sense that long campaigns are possible with AFF.

In short, it is absolutely excellent and packed full of value.

I'm not sure when we'll get a chance to play since my core rulebook is still in storage since the fire but, I'm itching to play. I've got a hunch that I can wing it from the reference charts. Until then, I'm using the companion's Wilderness Map Generator for our upcoming Rules Cylopedia game.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Burning RPGs

A few weeks ago, a fire broke out in my house. Even when you don't lose everything it's incredibly disruptive. I used to think that those who burnt their own homes for money were miscreants. Now, I think that there's something very, very wrong with them - miscreants still.

It hits a gamer and book lover right in the heart when he has to sift through the damaged items to identify anything salvageable.

Writing off old books like the Robotech RDF Manual that I carried around back in junior high is tough. A lot of great memories linger with that one. But I was able to salvage the Zentraedi Sourcebook.

I was hoping that the restoration company misidentified my 1st edition WEG Star Wars Sourcebook's rough appearance from use as damage from the fire but, no luck. It was soaked through and through. Some others got put on the damaged items list but these are the ones that really stand out for me right now.

New games also made the list. The big gold BRP book got soaked as did my copy of Diaspora. As much as I love them, they can be easily replaced. Unfortunately, my signed and stamped copy of The Magic Burner was consumed by the flames. There's an opportunity for some serious word play here but I'm not really up to it.

Aw, heck...

This has been one heck of an adventure burner.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Crimson Exodus Kickstarter

Have you all seen the Crimson Exodus Kickstarter?

A while back I mentioned Fantasy Dice, the 'generic' fantasy game that was extrapolated and updated from the standalone Crimson Exodus rpg. Well, the Radical Approach team is back to not only fold Fantasy Dice back into the mix but to make Crimson Exodus itself even better.

Crimson Exodus is a great setting already. With the polish that Claus is envisioning, it'll be even better.

I believe in the project enough that I'm blogging about it from temporary housing after a house fire.

Monday, February 18, 2013

BareBones Fantasy Ain't Slim Pickins

I never meant to be writing this post. I never intended to buy BareBones Fantasy. My intention was to slow down my game buying habit in order to focus on the ones that I already have. I almost held out. I really did. That is until I saw Zachary the First's review over at The RPG Site. But still, I was able to hold out a couple of more days. Then I cracked.

After buying the PDF I sat down and gave it a quick skim. Even after such a cursory look-through, I felt like I got the gist of how to run the game though I didn't feel much fire under my seat to run it.

My wife sat down and made two characters and afterward asked to play. The first character is a scholar cartographer out to remap the world as much of the known world that has been obscured by the decline of civilization. The second character is a warrior-leader accompanying the mapping mission.

We sat down to play a mini-session to make sure that we understood enough of the ins-and-outs. The setup was a chance encounter on a forest road with bandits. We blazed through the session while touching on a sizable portion of the system itself. Right after, I still didn't feel the fire of the plethora of positive reviews. But something happened. I began to think about how to tweak the system. I wanted to play more.

The plan was to play something the next day. The morning slipped by without any game prep. The afternoon slipped by too. I found myself thinking that we weren't going to get to play after all. The day was all but gone. And supper was ready.

After we ate, I went back to the PDF to take a better look at the adventure generator. Fifteen minutes later I was ready to go complete with two objectives, a path through a swamp and a cave complex. Two hours after that we had an awesome session all wrapped up with plans for more.

BareBones Fantasy is very well done.

Run, don't walk over to RPGNow and pick it up. Open another browser tab while you're at it and check out all the cool stuff in the works for BBF over at DwD Studios.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Understanding D&D-esque Initiative/Combat

After getting my head wrapped around AD&D 1st Edition's combat system, I've gone back and re-read Castles & Crusades and Swords & Wizardry's initiative and combat systems. In the case of S&W,  all the presented options. In the past, I glossed over those sections with the thought, "Yeah, yeah. I know how to do this." Turns out that I missed some things.

Did you know that in Castles & Crusades that, in the first round of combat, longer weapons/larger creatures get to act first in the the first combat round even if they didn't win initiative?

Did you know that combat round segments are presented as an option in Swords & Wizardry Complete?

I should have known.

I've become a keener reader.