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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Box sets

Seems like there are a ton of box sets coming out lately. I've personally ordered the S&W WhiteBox boxed set and the Dragon Age box set. I will be very happy when they arrive. Even WotC is catching the fever, releasing multiple box sets to cover levels 1 to 5. I like this trend, as it really does show that rpgs are games, not books.

Too many rpgs have made the mistake that a 500 page book is a great game. It works for people who already play rpgs, but falls flat with normal people who might otherwise join the hobby. And that is a big problem, as I think everyone can agree that our awesome hobby is slowly shrinking, as people get older and leave.

I hope that the new box set trend will reverse this, though I suspect the best it will do is slow down the decline. At the very least, I plan on making more purchases than I might have otherwise, which may or may not be a good thing.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Animal mish-mash monsters

I generally like the monsters that are basically the combination of two animals, or even a man and an animal. Stuff like owlbears and beastmen have a strong connection with ancient myths, as well as more modern tales like "The Island of Dr. Moreau". Many gamers make fun of them, as they appear ridiculous or are biologically impossible. But D&D and S&W are games with magic, so I'm perfectly comfortable with these types of monsters.

You can set up an adventure locale with these creatures as roaming animals just looking for food. They could also be something horrible like the broo from Glorantha, who reproduce by raping women and who use people as a food source. And then there is the mad wizard who is trying to create a new form of life. These possibilities cover the natural cycle, a source of truly intelligent evil, and possibly a morality play, depending on how you present these creatures in an adventure.

I'd like to see a wilderness map, maybe just a single hex (as Judges Guild used to do), that covered all three possibilities. There could be an old tower, where a mad wizard is warping the local wildlife, and then releasing them after not being satisfied with the results. Some of these creatures just wander off and basically survive in the woods like normal animals do. But some of them are intelligent, and go to a wilder area away from the eyes of their creator. Here they might find a small village and plunder it, using the population for food and breeding stock. Eventually, they start slave raids into neighboring areas. This brings in a band of adventurers, who naturally think the mage is behind the attacks. And things move on from there.

I know there was a Ravenloft kingdom that had a Moreau aesthetic. I'm sure there was at least one older D&D product that featured such an area as well (I believe it was in Dungeon magazine). When done well, these creatures can really be a good challenge for players. Even those who think these monsters are goofy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Save or Die: Let it die

A lot of older adventures liked to include save-or-die poisons, traps, or spells. I don't like them. Unless it is very telegraphed, where only a truly stubborn or stupid player would fall for the trap, it is unnecessary. There are plenty of ways to endanger a player party without relying on a saving throw to kill someone off. Many of the traps I see in older games seem to be put there just to fuck over people.

In general, I do not like these types of traps because they are not based on a players skill. Instead, it's just a die roll. Players can invest hours into their character, and to take that away from them, just for a cheap GM thrill, is not cool. If a player is really careful, generally does the smart thing, but doesn't notice the hidden trap that will likely have at least a 50% chance to kill him, I call bullshit on the GM.

I prefer to give my players at least a fighting chance. If they do something really stupid, then yes, they deserve what they get. But at least then it's their own damn fault. Having a hidden trap that kills everyone unless they make a saving throw is just spite on the part of the dungeon designer.

Congrats to Brave Halfling Publishing

250 pre-order box sets for the WhiteBox edition of Swords & Wizardry were sold. I think this is really, really cool. Sure, it's not DnD numbers, but it's a nice number for a forum-advertised, indie press publication. I eagerly await my copy.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Green Devil Face #2 Review

This is a review for "Green Devil Face 2", from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. The book is digest-sized, with the standard green cover. There is very little art, but it is atmospheric. The contents include a bunch of traps for use by GMs in their dungeon exploring sessions. I will not give any spoilers away, in case players are reading this. I 'll just supply my personal opinion.

"The Eyes of Parsifur and Dunsane" is the first trap room. I honestly didn't care for it. There is really no way for the adventurers to really win this, other than immediately turning around and walking out. If I used it, I would include an obvious clue or two for the PCs. It's also really complicated. I'm sure some GMs will love it, but it's not for me.

The "Doppelganger Trap Room" is next. It's a simple, yet interesting, idea. I like it.

"Mummy Tar Trap Room of Death" is a very apt description. PC odds of survival are low. But it is a cool encounter for an Egyptian-themed tomb.

"Temple of Water" is pretty cool. It's not immediately deadly, and is actually likely to help PCs out.

"The Pylis Prison" is kind of scifi, but interesting. It would be a fun way to introduce a monster or potential contact to a group of adventurers.

"The Gem in the Skull" is more of a suggestion for an encounter, instead of a prepared trap. I like it, though I would definitely have to determine what it does.

"The Hallway That Does Not Exist" is a fun little trap, that should only kill off really stubborn, stupid characters. But it will definitely add some spice to an otherwise plain dungeon.

"The Lever" is also a fun little trap designed for a Darwin Award entry (people dying in stupid, stupid ways, in case you don't know the term). Obvious, yet I know players that would fall for it easily.

"The Lumberjack Is Not Ok" is interesting. Thief types should breeze through it with no problems. Weak or clumsy characters, or characters with lots of gear, are going to have lots of problems. I like it.

"The Incredible Pedestal" is a killer. Unless the PCs are very careful, or have ranged magic and know when to use it, they are going to get hurt or die here. But there is a nice reward.

"Yet Another Stupid Giant Chessboard" will likely kill cocky adventurers who think they know how to solve this puzzle. I like it, though I think I would only spring it on experienced players.

"Hungry Little Mammon" is a really cool encounter. It's not really a trap, or at least it will only affect the party's wealth, and not their health. I will definitely use this.

Overall, I recommend this product. It is inexpensive, and for GMs looking for ideas to use in their latest dungeon, a worthwhile purchase. I suspect any GM will find at least a few of these articles useful, even if they don't like every trap.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Yuan Ti for S&W WhiteBox

Yuan Ti have been my favorite D&D monsters ever since Monster Manual 2 was published. Here's my version for S&W WhiteBox.

Yuan Ti, Abomination
Armor Class: 0 [19]
Hit Dice: 9
Attacks: sword (1d6)
Special: Spells
Move: 9
HDE/XP: 10/1400

Yuan Ti abominations have a snake body and snake head, with the scaled human torso and arms. They can use weapons, and cast spells. They can see in the dark, including magical darkness. They can cast the following spells once per day: Cause Fear, Dark I, Sticks to Snakes, Neutralize Poison, Suggestion, and Polymorph.

Cause Fear: Target must make a Saving Throw or run away from the caster for 1d6 rounds.
Suggestion: Target must make a Saving Throw or follow a one sentence command from the caster. Target will not attack his friends or himself.


There is also a pdf version (with borrowed 1e illustration) HERE.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sword and Board fourth draft

The Fourth Draft of the Sword and Board rpg is available HERE. I've added a number of descriptions, fixed errata, added some new monsters, and expanded the Adventuring section. Please check it out and send any suggestions or errata you find to me via the comments section. Thanks!

Pre-ordered my WhiteBox

I have successfully pre-ordered the Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox. You know, the one with the real box, 4 booklets, dice, graph paper, and a pencil. It's available HERE, though I wouldn't waste much time, as they have sold out within hours the last 2 times they were offered.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sword and Board rpg

I'm working on the fourth draft of Sword and Board. I'm finding lots of little errata (initiative goof, etc), and I've added a few new monsters and other things. I hope to post it sometime in the near future. You can still get the third draft HERE if you are interested in checking it out.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Winged Horror - A Monster for S&W WhiteBox

Winged Horrors
Armor Class: 5 [16]
HD: 3
Attacks: Bite (1d6)
Special: Deepvision, Fear
Move: 40 (flying)
HDE/XP: 4/240

Winged horrors are aberrations that can appear when summoned by a mage. They appear as a pitch-black orb with bat-wings. They have an open maw filled with rows of teeth. They have no discernable eyes or other features. They fly constantly, and appear to never tire. Their skin is leathery and tough, and if they are cut they bleed a green ichor. They emit a high-pitched shriek as they are attacking, but are otherwise silent.

Deepvision: Winged horrors can see in pitch blackness, including magical darkness.

Fear: Anyone who sees a winged horror must make a Saving Throw or run in panic away from the creature for 1d6 rounds.


I also have a pdf for the Winged Horror.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

My favorite TSR product

For me, it's the Forgotten Realms 1e gray box. I got the set not long after it was published in the 80's. Up until that point, I used the Known World, as it was presented in Isle of Dread and Red Arrow, Black Shield.

The FR box set was a real eye-opener for me. It included lots of cool information like mercenary companies and the Zhentarim, and had a real "Old West with swords" feel to it. This was before the 500 novels and supplements were published. I played for several years using just this set with my own home additions. My friends and I had a blast.

I really liked the wide open maps, with many lawless and uncivilized areas. Our game was centered at Boareskyr Bridge, which is a merchant tent city with only a couple mid-level adventurers keeping people in line. My friends eventually were the big movers and shakers in the area, and had to fight demons, orcs, and Zhent assassins. They also did a short recon of Evereska, from which they quickly retreated.

Our game maintained the stylings of the Old West as much as possible. There was a sword duel in main street at noon, orc raiders scalping human settlers, and other fun stuff. I really wish FR had maintained this. Instead, we got the Time of Troubles, Wild Magic, dinosaur people, Harpers under every rock, and the Chosen of Mystra.

I used to have a LOT of FR products. These days, I have the gray box and FR1 through FR6, and a fair collection of novels. I sold everything else.

I will say I like the new Waterdeep novels, even though they are set in the 4th edition timeline, since they are one and done, and generally concentrate on a few not-too-powerful individuals getting caught up in adventures in the City.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Death Frost Doom - review

Spoilers ahead! Skip to the last little section if you want the spoiler-free summary.

I really like this adventure. It's by James Raggi, who can be found at Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It features lots of traps, some really cool magic items (that often have bad side effects), and the chance to unleash an undead horde on the world.

I have the 1st printing, which is a black and white digest-sized book. I like the artwork throughout, which is atmospheric. There were a couple typos, which I believe are all fixed in the second printing. Compared to some other products I've bought recently, this book was very well edited.

The encounter with Zeke is interesting, and sets the tone. The cabin where the cultists operated out of seems very similar to the one found in Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2. It's creepy, but not flashy.

The actual dungeon has a sprinkling of interesting magic items (my favorite is the Ring of Vanishing). The Purple Lotus is also interesting, kind of a new take on the Deck from AD&D.

I'd be very surprised if the majority of players did not destroy the plant guardian, which is too bad. I wish there was some clue that it should be undisturbed. I would add in something semi-obvious, that if the players ignored, would be their fault.

The vampire is an interesting bad guy. It's likely he won't even fight the PCs, but will help them instead. But if the players have good characters, the choice they have to make will really bother their characters.

Following the Death Frost Doom adventure is a short adventure labeled The Tower. It's pretty neat, and is basically just a big trap for players. If they try to do what the trap shows, they will have big problems. If they just fight their way through, they will still have problems, but it would actually be the wiser choice (other than the best choice, of just not entering).

It's a fun little adventure, that I think would best work for a short solo one-off game. It would be great as an introductory adventure for an older person or someone who has played other rpg's but not S&W or 1e.

Overall, I highly recommend this adventure if you like horror stuff, and it would be a great Halloween game. If your players just like to bash skulls, they might not like it. But if they like investigations, delving into old tombs that seem unguarded, or just scary movies, they should have a lot of fun.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

S&W - Products I like to buy

This is just a post detailing what I like and don't like in the S&W and compatible products I buy.

Stuff I Like:

New Monsters - I can always use new monsters. Even if I don't use them in game, they can give me ideas for adventures.

New Spells - I like new spells. I don't need tons of them, but cool stuff is always appreciated. I would love themed spell books aimed at specific stuff to be published for S&W. Things like a Book of Necromancy or Divining Magic. Or The Tome of Azrael the Damned. Not just generic stuff, but stuff that fits together in the book.

New Settings - I love settings. I will always be interested in new ones, especially if they have a cool twist. A fantasy-steampunk setting (NOT Victorian) for S&W would be great.

Encounter Tables - I love these types of products. The City Encounters pdf from Mythmere is one of my favorite books. I wish it was on Lulu to buy as a real book.

Magic Items/Artifacts - Love these to death. More standard stuff is appreciated. The robot/sf options in Carcosa are just awesome.

Adventures - I can always use a new adventure. I really like Death Frost Doom and The Ruins of Ramat, and I hope to see many more products like them.

Stuff I don't need or care about:

New classes. I'm pretty much set these days, and I'm even guilty of posting my own class: The Bard. But with 10 different options for thieves, I'm kinda burned out. I really only needed one thief, one bard, and a druid to set me straight. But I can understand others wanting more options.

Skill rules - If I really needed skill rules in my game, I would have stuck with 3e, which has the best implementation for them in any published D&D game. I don't really want them anymore, as I think they just add complexity.

Prestige/Advanced Classes - Don't need paladins, knights, etc. This is already covered, I guess, but they seem to be getting popular now, so I'm leaving them as their own entry.

Weapon Mastery Rules. I don't want fighters doing 2d20 damage with a sword, unless it's a major artifact.

Stuff Not Being Done That I'd Love To See:
(Pretty much all of the cool stuff in the Companion/Master BECM sets).

Dominion Rules. High level characters should have decent rules on how to run a barony or kingdom.

Mass Combat and Siege Rules. Maybe someone can publish a Chainmail clone.

Jousting Rules. Because it's fantasy, and I like jousts.

Some type of Ritual Magic rules. Stuff that takes a day and 3 mages to cast, but is really powerful. Carcosa touches on this a bit, but I'd love to see more generic options.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Weapons doing d6 damage

I was actually thinking about this a lot recently, and a post at Fighting Fantasist covered it today. In general, I love 1d6 damage for most weapons.

The only exception would be polearms and two-handed swords. If a player chooses to use one of these weapons, he will gain no benefit over just using a normal sword. In addition, he will not be able to use a shield.

In S&W White Box, a shield gives +1 Armor Class. This doesn't sound like much to modern D&D players. However, in White Box the Dexterity AC bonus is optional. And if it is used, the most benefit you will gain is a +1 AC. This is a far cry from the +4 AC you see in 3e (not sure what 4e does). So that +1 AC bonus from the shield is pretty damned important.

So, if a player really wants to wield a two-handed sword, he will be taking a penalty to his combat ability, as compared to another fighter who takes a weapon and shield.

My house rule for this is that polearms and two-handed swords do d6+1 damage. This makes them deal out slightly better damage, in compensation for the loss of a shield. It makes two handed weapons more attractive, but with the trade-off of the wielder's AC being worse.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Updated my White Box Bard

White Box Bard

I toned down the Alertness and Lore abilities a bit. They are still good, but not as powerful. I have the class now gaining additional Charm Persons with level. Please let me know what you think.

Digest-sized Books

I didn't really start gaming until after digest size books were already phased out. My first roleplaying games were the Moldvay "Basic" and "Expert" sets and "Marvel Super Heroes". The majority of books I've owned have been standard letter sized, and I've pretty much gotten used to this.

The first digest-sized book I owned was "Big Eyes, Small Mouth 2e". Talk about something completely different from the old school games. I then picked up some of the small press Lulu stuff like "Jaws of the Six Serpents" and "A Dirty World", which are also digest books.

I kind of like digest books. They're compact and don't take up too much space. My biggest issue with them is the small print that is commonly required by games, as well as the limited space for art. It's a trade-off. BESM was one of the few digest books that has very legible fonts and great art, but it was also over 300 pages long.

Certain games, especially those geared towards old school DnD, actually have a bit of charm when presented in the digest format. It tweaks the nostalgia nerve for the grognards, and makes the books stand out from the standard rpg fare.

In the end, by going digest size, especially for something like White Box, the digest size gives them their own identity. As long as the font remains readable, and art isn't relegated to just a few pieces per book, I will happily support the digest format. But if fonts shrink too much, and art becomes really rare, I will urge producers to go back to Letter size format.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

S&W White Box sold out already

S&W White Box

It's sold out! Congrats to BHP!

Though now I have to be jealous, as I was waiting for payday this coming Friday. Guess I'll be picking up either a softcover or hardback, though I'm not sure which yet. Congrats to everyone who got a copy, and I hope you have many years of fun using them in your games.

And if you're one of those collectors who never intends on even opening the box, I hope your dog or cat chews on it.

Monday, January 4, 2010

My after-Christmas shopping

I made two fairly big orders to Lulu and Noble Knight Games, and they came today in the mail. I got the following:

Green Devil Face issues 1 through 3
Death Frost Doom
The Grinding Gear
No Dignity in Death
Fight On! issues 4 through 7 (I already had 1 through 3)
Ruins and Ronin
Eldritch Weirdness Compilation 3 to 1

Needless to say, I have a lot of interesting reading to do. I'm not even sure where to start. I have James Raggi's monster design book, and really like it. I also generally agree with his opinions, so I figured I'd pick up his books. The Ruins and Ronin game just interests me because it's an oriental rpg. I actually have Eldritch Weirdness 1 in pdf, but now I have a nice softcover. And Fight On! is just a great gaming mag, so I never feel bad about buying it.

On a scale of 1 to 10 for my after-Christmas purchases during my life, this rates a 10, and is easily the smartest idea I've had for spending Christmas cash.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Neckbiters - a monster for S&W Whitebox

Armor Class: 6 [13]
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: bite (1d6)
Special: Leap
Saves: 17
Move: 20
HDE/XP: 2/30
Neckbiters are vicious little monsters. They are semi-intelligent, and often set up ambushes. They stand two feet tall, and weigh about 30 pounds. They have very sharp teeth, and wicked little claws. They are cyclopean, but still manage to judge distances well. They can leap up to 10 feet, and then attack. They move very quickly. They are carnivores, and prefer to feed on the intelligent races, as they enjoy inflicting pain on their prey. They are known to “play” with their food before killing it, if they have a large advantage. If not, they try to kill as quickly as possible, leaping for the throat, which is how they gained their name.

I've also made a pdf here:

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Swords and Wizardry High Level Fighter Problem

In Swords & Wizardry Core Rules, the Cleric will eventually become a better fighter than the Fighter, once you get into the higher levels. If two people in the same party play together all the way through, and get the same experience in every adventure, at 920,000 xp, the Cleric will hit level 20 while the Fighter is still at level 15.

The Cleric will have more hit points, and will be +11 to hit while the Fighter will only be at +10 to hit. So, in a straight-up fight, the Cleric will have a slight edge on his Fighter buddy. And to top that off, the Cleric gets spells and Turn Undead.

Of course, the Fighter player will likely have better stats in Strength and Constitution, so this will be mitigated a bit. But a Cleric player who is looking to be the front-line guy will compensate for that with putting one of his best scores in Strength. So, if you plan on playing a long-term campaign, there’s no good reason to have any Fighters in the party, at least with the published rules.

A number of people have posted variant fighters, and I fully support this. In my campaign, I think I will be increasing the rate of to-hit bonuses for Fighters (maybe a flat +1 per level), and maybe give them a combat style to choose from, as suggested in Knockspell magazine. That will make them a worthy option for an adventuring party. But without tweaking, I don’t think the Fighter class is comparable to the Cleric.

Of course, if you are only going to play a short campaign, this really won't affect your game at all. But I think in the long term, this problem should be addressed in the main ruleset.