Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best and worst of 2009

At the end of 2009, I have taken a few moments out of the family holidays to summarize the year. Tomorrow I will post my vision for the new one. Here we go.

Worst all categories – Outlaw Press
Thinking back on 2009, nothing stand out as clear as the scandal of Outlaw Press. While D&D have seen some support for multiple editions all through the years, T&T have fallen to the wayside since the late eighties. One fan publisher have, using POD technology, been fanning the flame and been publishing a steady stream of adventures and rules. You can see that for us T&T fans, that fan publisher was our pride and a focus of interest and fan writing. Then it turns out that James Shipman, the publisher in question, had stolen materials he published, and reprinted without permission. Also, nobody knows where that art he used came from, and it sure have been stolen, by Shipman or his source. Shipman do have some bad habits so who knows?

Hopefully it will end up in court finally and some sort of restitution made. It's not exactly strange that all that pride and focus of interest have soured, and while the feelings are still strong they have changed flavour. I could strangle that guy! But this is for the lawyers to take care of, and I only hope lack of funds wont stop justice from being served.

Worst game experience – Primetime Adventures
Now, this is an odd one. PTA is not a bad game per se, but it is my worst game experience this last year. The mechanics are well crafted to emulate the way a story evolves in a tv series. But, if you had strong Traits that tied your character into conflicts and relations with the other characters, by necessity all Traits would be used in every scene and conflict. It made the Traits mechanically useless and all conflicts always had the same chance of success. Was this really the intention?

But, what make PTA my worst game is that I played it for social reasons and not because I liked the game. I hated it, but wanted to hang out with my friends, and I really wanted to have a game group to play with. If you wonder why one of your players is kind of vacant and don't seem to really engage with the group, check to see if he might be hanging around for social reasons and would prefer to play another game. I got to play another game later on.

Saddest news – Dave Arneson (and way to many more)
Since our hobby is fairly young, we still have our founding fathers among us. Or at least a few of them. A sad effect is that the hobby have left the toddler stage, and some of the Great Old Ones are getting old. While the death of Dave Arneson inspired me to share my love, hopefully other more joyful happenings can inspire us to share as well.

Best Game – T&T
For me this was the year when Tunnels & Trolls became my gaming focus. Having read about old school gaming, about Megadungeons and how it was the hobby was shaped in those elder days of yore I managed to get some people together to actually play. That, and the fact that the game works so well for what it is intended to do, won it a place in my heart as a favourite.

Best Adventure – The Fane of St Toad
While the death of Dave Arneson was a blow to us all, the memorial session of Mike Curtis' froggy adventure The Fane of St Toad was very emotional for me, but in a good way. It was a victory for T&T as a simple a quick system for on the fly conversion of adventurers written for other games, and a victory of mood and glorious combat against insurmountable odds. Exploding frogs, who can resist that? Thanks Mike! Thanks Dave!

Best news – the OSR publishing effort
Once the hobby was all about making shit up. Then the idea got lodged in the brains of people, as witnessed by Tim Kask, that the company they bought the game from had better ideas than they. Nothing exactly helped people get out of that mindset when Gary Gygax wrote his rants about the true way to play D&D. When I first laid eyes on Pegasus Magazine, and other publications from Judges Guild, I loved them all. That cheap newsprint and the oozing feeling of hobbyists pouring out their love for the game reached that soft spot. Seeing that going on once again, this time as a pdf freebie online, a cheap booklet available from Lulu or somebody's webpage or blog is heartwarming. The publishing efforts in the OSR is one of my best memories of 2009.

Best Game supplement – Fight On! Magazine
Having said that, Fight On! Magazine must be mentioned as a inheritor of Pegasus or Dungeoneer. That rag have the same kind of wild and crazy mix of just about anything. I love it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I don't know how many of you are reading blog today. Now I'm off to be with family and friends and will probably be kind of quiet a few days.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays for all my friends in the blogosphere! Eat food, have fun and try to play some games. See you on the other side.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mixing two flavour that don't match? - GURPS Dungeon Fantasy

I have known about this line a while, since I read the Daily Illuminator, but I haven't investigated what it meant. Until now.

There's a line for GURPS called GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, and it's supposed to be a way to do dungeon crawling with GURPS. This sounds like everything but a match made in heaven. When I last made a character for GURPS, it took ages to shuffle points around and look through long lists of Advantages and Disadvantages. Can you really do a dungeon crawl that way? With traps? With puzzles and really dangerous monsters? With a real threat of a TPK?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that a dungeon crawl has to be a meatgrinder, but if I ran a game where the experience of making a character was that tiring, I'd be tempted to cuddle the players. That is what I think sounds like a recepie for a boring game. Maybe it's just me. Maybe it just works. Maybe.

It makes me wonder why crazy I am that am talking about Ars Magica, DragonQuest and Mythic Europe. Something odd in the water, maybe?

Fantastic imagery


A small band of heroes, on a montain ledge looking down a wooden vale. Verdant, lush and inviting as the vale is, the band looks down in apprehension, seeing that enormous boot print in that vally, where trees and shrubs have almost oblitterated that giant shape.


A subterran chamber, with carved stone arches and walk ways. Looking down from a small hidden entrace we see an spheroid object in the centre of that hot and humid cave. Multitude of creatures, with cloaks and shawls, assemble around the object, some on walk ways aproaching it reverently, listening to the throbbing beat echoing in the chamber.


A black and inky liquid surface, oily and unwholesome. Ripples of obscene regularity marr the mirrorlike surface as a craft of decrepid state glide towards out heroes. The cloaked figure standing in the boat beckons, showing a hand of silver pointing towards a collection of spires and towers on the far shore.

I really wish I could get some time to get those visions of mine down on paper. They freak me out. Just imagine those scenes in a scenario. Would you like to read/play/buy it? I would.

I'd love to make those scenes come alive in a game. I'll write this Christmas, be sure of it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ars Magica and DragonQuest, same kind of fantasy?

I today sat down and read through the "Fourth book of DragonQuest" AKA Arcane Wisdom. It once again brought forth the feeling I had when I read the 2nd ed rulebook, that this game is made for some more faery tale fantasy. Don't ask me why, but for some reason I get the vision of dark woods, gingerbread houses and monstrous animals when I read DQ.

One reason I once liked Ars Magica was Mythic Europe. The idea of a mediaval Europe where all the legends were true sounded like an excellent world of adventure. Having generated dozens of characters for everything from 2nd to 5th ed, and playing a few sessions I realized that Ars Magica is a game that bores me to tears. It sounds good but is unfun. I still like the idea, though.

I wonder if DragonQuest could be a game that could do Mythic Europe justice? Hmmm.

Trollgod's Party

Last night Ken St Andre hosted a party at his site Trollhalla. It was interesting to sit by your computer, sipping a beer and chatting with your friends and listening to music. Even though none of us where in the same room as anyone else, we had a very good party. It was fun and games and gifts were exchanged. Not only that, but new and unique T&T material was posted for free!

I strongly urge anyone who like to hang out with Ken and other creative and talented individuals to join. You just tell Trollgod you want in, and there you go! While trolls like darkness I must confess that for me the Longest Night Party was as much celebrating that it will now get lighter again. I don't mind the snow, or the cold, but the darkness really gets to me. Longest Night is over, cheers!

Navigating caves

As if he had been reading my mind, Chgowiz posted about describing caves this Friday. I've been thinking of that subject since I once again started to look closer at dungeons as environments for adventure. Just like city maps, which I have posted about before, I find cave maps hard to use.

One of the things dungeons do, as compared to the wilderness or city, is to contain the adventure and funnel the delvers along a path. There might be forks in that path and total freedom in moving about, but nobody will go off on a tangent you as DM is totally caught out by. Using that picture, a dungeon can be considered a flowchart of the possibilities in that dungeon delve. So, what difference does it make if the dungeon is of carved stone, roughly hewn rock or blue cheese?

I remember when I first read the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide for AD&D1, how the underworld suddenly became much dirtier, wetter and muddier than it was in my mind's eye up until then. While it might be realistic, it's not always desirable. Now a few days after reading what Chgowiz wrote about how he found it hard to describe caves, I wonder what they bring to the table that classic 10' corridors don't. Since I have had a hard time with those irregularly shaped locations myself I think that maybe all that muck might be a reason to use them after all.

The reason I find caves hard to use, is that if you describe a irregularly shaped room it is very hard to give a mental picture that even remotely resembles how that cave looks on the map. Like Chgowiz summarized it, there are a few ways to do it, and the only one that gives a good enough picture to make the nooks and crannies mean anything are when you draw for the players. If there is a set of stone blocks that are significant because there's a secret tunnel behind a wall of mud, you either describe them clearly and give a big honking hint they are significant, or you draw it out. Personally I've drawn the map on the battlemap, but it takes time and is really work that should be done by the players.

Can you tell my mind is split about this? I like to have a naturalistic spellunking experience, but, I grumble about those naturalistic details since they mess things up and take time. If we go back for a second to DSG, I think that maybe the best way to do it is to describe the rooms sketchily and and let the dice and game mechanics do the work, instead of having the player tell me where they tap or seek. The muck and mud can be environmental "dungeon dressing" and maybe that will give it enough solidity to feel real, without too many rules to slow it down. Will I learn to love the caves? Who knows, but I do feel tempted to try to DM S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth which have been gathering dust on my shelf a while now. Nothing but caves. Anyone want to play AD&D?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Reading T&T 7.5 - A Guest Blog on spells and Trollworld!

Today I present to you my guest blogger! Our guest, my friend Paul from Trollhalla, have done a funny and perceptive look at how a spell list can tell us things about the world of the game.  Paul is good at that kind of things and I hope you like it, I sure did! Enjoy!

When I was introduced to D&D, 33 very odd years ago, I immediately fell in love with role playing games. I was less than enthused about the D&D rules. In particular, escalating hit points, armor as evasion (armor class), experience points for gold, and the bizarre Jack Vance slotted magic system (which no one I knew ever actually played) all BOTHERED me. Soon enough, I found my way down the crunchy path through "Chivalry and Sorcery", "The Fantasy Trip", and "RuneQuest".

When I first encountered "Tunnels and Trolls", in the guise of "Monsters! Monsters!", it stuck me as utterly superior to D&D, but a bit too simplistic for my tastes as they ran at the time. Also, the spell names put me off. I had (and have) no problem with silliness in gaming, but hearing someone shout, "Take THAT, you fiend!" during what was supposed to be a heavy dramatic moment made my teeth hurt.

There was also the looseness of the T&T rules. I have since learned that this was a result of the fact that game designer and Trollgod Ken St. Andre is a master improviser who likes to work with loose frameworks and fly by the seat of his pants. This is in marked contrast to me; I am first rate at analysis, cross-referencing, interpolation, and extrapolation, but have only slightly more improvisational ability than a chunk of concrete. I am an effective game master only so long as I know the material inside out; as soon as the  characters ask a question I can't answer, or do something I have not prepared for in advance, the wheels come off of the wagon.

Now, when our host, whom I know best as "Korrraq", of Trollhalla, asked me to do a guest blog in which I analyzed some of the spells in T&T 7.5, I accepted, and then wondered just what I should do next. Korrraq had made the offer largely on my contributions to a discussion on the Trollbridge regarding the "Dura-Spell Battery" spell in which I pointed out (and nominally described) more than 200 permutations that still conformed to the rules. (I had hoped to reach some kind of consensus, but found that there were at least as many conflicting pre-conceptions as there were participants in the discussion.)

I considered posting my fairly extensive "Spell List Gripe List", but decided that would really only point out that the rules were kind of loose, which is already common knowledge. I could complain about the spell names, or some of the weirder spells (Really. Why would ANYONE actually waste time learning, "That's a Natty Beard"? (OK, a small variation on the spell could result in opening the Khazan office of "Hair Club for Men"...)), but that would serve little point.

One thing that really interests me, though, and I suspect might interest many of Korrraq's readers, is the impact that the spell list has on the shape of Trollworld. Therefore, after far too much introduction, I give you a discussion on The Wizard's Guild, Spell Pricing, Teacher, and Soul Mastery.

First, it should be pointed out that Teacher has mutated significantly since 5th ed. The earlier version could ONLY be used to teach spells to rogues; the current version can only be used to teach spells to wizards (and paragons, but since paragons show up less than one every 2000 characters, I don't worry about them much). This is a big deal, on two counts. First, it means there is now NO means in the rules for rogues to learn new spells, and second, it means that there MUST be a significant black market in spells. (For certain peculiar values of "must", as will be discussed below.)

The rules tell us that the Wizard's Guild produces wizards and teaches them spells at fairly exorbitant prices. It is, for the most part, an out of sight, out of mind, background organization. Except... The new version of the Teacher spell means that wizards will, for the most part, trade spells to each other in exchange for other spells, or food, or magic items, or whatever they happen to want.

This is where Spirit Mastery comes into the picture. (Once again, an historical aside is relevant: This spell existed in its current form in 5th ed. as Yassa-Massa, a name that was apparently sacrificed to the gods of political correctness; it also exists in slightly watered down form in the Codex Incantatem (included in the 7.5 rules) as Yes, Master.) Regardless of how you approach this spell, it is the cheapest and most effective mind rape spell that I know of in the entire broad spectrum of RPGs. With a very small amount of creativity, one can easily extrapolate a society in which EVERYONE of any consequence is a slave of a wizard, and the wizards themselves are slaves within an ascending hierarchy. Or, at least, until the wizards learn the 3rd level Dis-Spell, which of course would be tightly controlled, at least until a given wizard gets to 5th level, and starts creating his own spells, and... There is also the fact that, as characters progress, they will eventually be strong enough to break free of a Spirit Mastery that was cast on them as neophytes. Maybe.

The image that forms in my mind from all of this is that the shop-keepers and soldiers and servants of Khazan are probably slaves of the great wizards; the thieves and beggars and general riff-raff are not. Player character warriors and wizards start out as slaves, but gradually break free (exactly when is variable, though 5th level seems a good upper limit). Of course, if your 6th level wizard really wants that 6th level spell NOW, he going to have to talk to the Guild, and we now know what THAT means...

Paul Haynie, AKA Uncle Hyena, AKA G'Noll

Thanks a lot for that Paul! I never knew that about Trollworld, and I wonder if Ken did?  

This ends this run of T&T Friday posts. I will get another weekly feature started in 2010. Watch this space!

EDIT: I previewed this post in blogger and it looked fine. Now I saw that the line breaks looked bad. Arrgghh!! Hopefully fixed now. Sorry.

Actual Play - Battletech

Ever since Chgowiz started to write about Battletech and Mechwarrior, I have once again felt the stirring to play a game of tank fighting. When I first bought the game, back in the day, we sat down on the living room floor at my friend's place. It tooks us 8 hours to read the rules, set up a game, puzzle over the rules and fight two minutes of real action.

Today I sat down again, and once again it took ages to get moving. I think the game is fairly easy, but still I managed to forget firing modifiers for the moving target at our first fire combat phase! We redid it, and it happened exactly the same way as when I needed 3+ to hit, instead of 8+. Kind if fitting.

We fought with one lance each, the first scenario in the new slick introductory rule book. Go and grab it online, it's free! The scenario was really good, with a excellent use of the basic maps and a interesting mix of mechs. We both engine hits, and heat was then a constant problem. I also managed to destroy one leg on one of the weaker opponents. Rolling 9 on hit location table for left leg is something I did all the time. I wonder if I have to re-calibrate my weapons. They all seem to fire way to low and left.

It was my second fight since my Battletech interest was re-ignited. Now I will try one more time before getting serious about it. I think I learned how fun, and frustrating, it can be with criticals, how important resource management is to have fun, and how fun it is to make things go "boom!" once in a while. Hopefully those lessons can be brought to bear in my roleplaying as well.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

When a game goes wrong, and everything explode

After the session last night I remembered the worst case of blowing things up I've ever experienced. It happened many years ago, but I still remember it, with some fondness. I had bought the Commando supplement plus the Brushfire Wars scenario book to Top Secret/S.I., and we decided to try it out.

We rolled up characters, getting a good mix of experiences and skills. Finally we decided to take them out in the field. I did a short briefing of the case, aeroplane hijacking situation in Libya, and the players started planning and listing equipment they might need.

For those of you who don't know about it, Commando is a sourcebook about playing anti-terrorist units, SWAT teams, spec ops and any kind of military situation of the special forces kind. There's a lot of information on military hardware, specialized skills and descriptions of special forces of the world. When you want a seriously gun focused game, it is just what you need. Don't ask me how "realistic" it is. It is based on the Top Secret/S.I. system which is a bit more cinematic than the 1st ed Top Secret, but still fairly deadly.

So, our SAS heroes were airdropped from high altitude and managed to land without breaking any legs. After a short trek over land, they approached the airport, from the desert side, where a civilian plane had been forced to land by the hijackers. Being fairly sneaky they managed to get into the terminal building, and noted that it was all empty. Mysterious?

Up until now our characters had all been sneaky and quiet. They managed to position themselves overlooking the runways, and now things started to happen for real.

The plane was positioned a fair bit away from the terminal, and closer by was a big bus. It was clearly one of those long distance coach fares, and there was some advertising text on the side. For some reason someone got the bright idea to walk up to the bus and talk to the driver.

Said and done, one guy walks out and realizes that the bus is filled with young children, and the driver looks very suspicious and is armed. Not only that, he notices the player character and draws his weapon. A special forces soldier is probably quite a good shot, and also quite quick? Yes he is. So, the driver is shot dead with two silenced shots to the head, and slumps over the steering wheel. Did I say that the engine was running? Well, it was and the dead guy manage to get stuck on the throttle and the bus starts rolling.

At the same time another character decide to duck down and run out to the plane, since he see that the entrance in the back of the plane is open. He gets there, gets in and is noticed by the hijackers and tosses a stun grenade just before the bus crashes into the plane with a roar. Fuel all over the place, sparks flies and we have a fireball.

They not only managed to get the plane back and the hostage back, they also managed to kill the busload of innocent school children who was there as "security" hostage for the bad guys. Total carnage.

I couldn't decide if I should laugh at the players ineptitude or cry for all the innocents. I guess it's only natural that this session everyone involved remembers as very memorable and fun.

Actual Play: Trail of Cthulhu - The Dying of St Margaret's

Back in September I played the first session of this adventure, and after 10 000 sorrows we finally got together again to finish this scenario. It has hard to remember who we were and what we were investigating. I'll tell you what we did below and everything that follows will be spoilers!

But, we went down to the village to talk to some Sara. None of us knew why, but we had taken notes about going to ask her about... something. It turned out that being friendly with the locals was not always easy, but being of a working class background my character managed to get them to loosen up a bit. Sara turned out to have some personal belongings to one of our friends, who had disappeared. Key was that her husband mentioned an old theatre which had been worked upon at the school. Back at the school we decided to take a look at that one.

Now things happened at a brisk pace. We broke into the theatre, found some papers and a strange machine. Being of sound mind and not very found of dusty old papers we avoided learning about strange horrors and instead started the strange machine. Since it turned out to be quite scary we took a lot of notes and decided to get back.

Decide to get back we all did, individually. In the middle of the nigh. So, Driven by Adventure my character decided to flick the switch again, lock the door and see what the machine really did. Driven by Moral Indignation another character sneaked out and decided to burn the whole building to the ground. Driven by Patriotism yet another character wanted to secure the find for the greater good of England.

So, we managed to die by infighting, burning kerosene and having all the oxygen being sucked out of our lungs by a miniature black hole! One character managed to be insane before that and survived, totally nuts. A fitting end.

Apparently this scenario would have been a Purist one where finding the Horror we should have realized the futility of fighting the Mythos and then resignated ourself to the fate which becomes us. Not us, we died fighting!

On the bus home I listened to My Dying Bride, and got a totally awesome overwhelming feeling of doom and futility. I loved it.

A fitting end.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Why I love and hate Glorantha

Today I was moving around some of the piles of gaming fanzines I have collected. Glorantha is a game world where most of the interesting things for a long time was published in fanzines, and not by a regular rpg publisher. It's happened a few times before, Warhammer FRP is another good example. Now I found my copies of the Pavis and Big Rubble Companion volumes III and V. Naturally (I am a crazy completist) I felt that maybe it was time to try to track down copies of volume I, II and IV.

For those of you who didn't knew about this wonderful little creation I'd suggest you visit the excellent site Ian Thomson have created in support of the magazine. There you will also find the reason I hate Glorantha.

Did you notice where Ian wrote about his stuff being superseded by Greg's latest thinking on the matter? That drove me nuts. Gobs of cool and gameable stuff was produced, and often with a dash of humour. Much later it would become clear that Greg had been thinking about it, and it would be declared false on a panel at a Glorantha convention or in a much later product from Issaries which usually looked far less like a professionally produced product than the fanzine where the idea first appeared.

Now, Glorantha is Greg's creation, and it is his to do with as he feels like. But, for someone who just wanted to play a game, and not wanting to run into "canon conflicts" with other gamers it was a mess. I have nothing against Greg personally, I have never met him, but this aspect of him as the Creator grated on me. Some Glorantha fans have made it a verb, so to contradict an old fact is now known as Greging. I sometimes, depending on mood, find that hilarious. sometimes I just groan.

The world Greg created contains some very evocative stuff, like the tragedy of the hero Arkat, and the very strange and truly alien trolls. I love that guy Arkat! One of these days I will just try to ignore the hundreds and hundreds of pages of stuff on Glorantha I have on my shelves and just game the hell out of it. I hope.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What use is art anyway?

The Greyhawk grognard have started a very good discussion about a very good question. What use are art in an adventure module anyway?

If you ever have tried to create a sellable game book of your own, you have probably been thinking about it. It's easy to find cheap writing, and if you can't find anyone doing it for you it's easy to imagine your own scribblings to be good enough. For some reason most of us balk at the idea of having our drawing shown to all the world, though.

While that is a sign that most people have no idea how to write good and proper English, it also say something about our perception of art. Line art drawn by a ball-point pen isn't good enough for most of us. I remember when I, almost twenty five years ago, first laid eyes on the 1st ed AD&D PHB. I thought it looked terrible! Later I learned to like it better and these days I have two copies in my shelf.

So, what use are a piece of art in a adventure module? Apart from the aesthetic reasons there are a few. A page layed out without any art at all are going to be a bit tougher to read. Less text, and less text in a big chunk, is easier to get a grip on. Apart from that, which game book do I have that contained good art that made sense?

Take D3 - Vault of the Drow, for example. It has 9 pieces of art. Of those two are of vital importance, since they introduce two new monster which are not even described except for the illustration! One of those make the monster look like a fat guy dressed in a monster suit, though. But, what use are the others? Well, one is depicting a naked woman, which probably meant the difference between a sold module or not for those young men who thumbed through this booklet at the game store back in 1978.

Then there are pieces like the one on page ten of D3. For those who haven't read the purple prose in high gygaxian I feel sad. The "fungi growths in golden and red ochres, vermillion, russets, citron, and aquamarine shades ... The rock walls of the Vault appear hazy and insubstantial in the wine-colored light, more like mist thah solid walls. The place is indeed a dark fairyland." Looking at the black and white picture on page ten, I can see those scintillating colours and the mystery lining the vault is plain for all to see. It's the best thing Gary ever wrote, as far as I'm concerned. The illustration and text here enter a total harmony and complement each other.

So what use are art in an adventure module? Hard to answer, but it's a good question. I can only answer well by example of when it's done well, and manages to include an example of when it's terrible. If I manage to publish something, I hope I can achieve something powerful once, and that's it. The rest is text, baby.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Reading T&T 7.5 - Trollworld p.162-171

Today I wanted to close this series with the last section of the 7.5 rulebook, the Trollworld Chronology.

From page 162 to page 171 we are treated to a long list of happenings on Trollworld. It begins at 100,000 B.K. and ends 1799 A.K. It's quite a long history. What? You have no idea what B.K. and A.K. means? Well, two pages into the chronology it's explained. It wouldn't have hurt to have had it mentioned in the beginning, no.

The history of the whole world is fascinating reading, but kind of useless for actual gaming. Well, maybe I'm too harsh in saying "useless", but it's not exactly brimming with opportunities to use in your regular games either. Frankly, I don't find these chronologies very useful. The worst offender, though, is the books for Shadow World put out by Kevin Amthor. In those the chronologies are even more verbose.

So, what's the problem with chronologies like that? Well, to start with they usually chronicle eras during which nobody would set a game. So what if the world was created 876,023 years ago from grape jelly? I don't care, unless I can go there and game. Also, with a chronology of the whole world, the focus will be on earth shattering events, done by powerful people. Those people aren't your player characters, because this is stuff the designer thought up beforehand.

As chronologies go, this one in T&T 7.5 aren't that bad, though. We get to read some fairly humorous stories about the origin of some monsters, and the reason there are dungeons. Since the big dungeons are fortresses made by mad wizards millenia old for their own demented amusement, I think believability and "dungeon ecology" got handled pretty well. That is a stroke of genius by Ken St. Andre. If you think it doesn't make sense, you're right! But, it's magic so it doesn't matter, since you are there to get rich and have fun. Relax. We are all here to have fun. God knows if someone of us will get rich, though. Probably not.

Apart from this chronology, we don't get much of an overview of Trollworld. Scattered across the rules are small snippets of information, like the fact that leprechauns can teleport at will, and that dwarfs can smell metals. Naturally, the list of spells tells us a bit about the life on Trollworld as well, but not much. For those who hate the over detailed descriptions of modern Forgotten Realms, this of course is a boon. But, those of us who like a good overview of the world and broad sketches of lands we can make our own, are also left out in the cold. There are just too few of those sketches in the book.

Having heard Ken talk about Trollworld I get the impression, reinforced by reading this rulebook, that his game world is not very detailed. Anything goes as long as it is fun, and if you say something different from him it's all because the many magic portals make it just another "version" of Trollworld.

While this leaves a lot of opportunity for the individual game master, it also means that there is little or no shared experience. It's very hard to imagine anyone harbouring any nostalgic feelings for Trollworld like lot of gamers have for e.g. Greyhawk. I'd even go so far as to claim that one reason T&T is not as widely known and loved as D&D is that it never had that focal point of the game as a common game world!

Personally I would love to know more about the world as it was depicted by the "Phoenix Cosmic Circle" in their games, but somehow I'm getting the impression there never was much world building going on. Dig a hole in the ground and go there and have fun. I nothing wrong with that, mind you, I have learnt to love the dungeon. I have my sword, some torches and a delver's pack. Let's go.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A lot of things cooking, slowly

Today I was thinking, with a newly arrived copy of Knockspell #3 in my hand and the memory of yesterday's news about Fight On! fresh in my mind. I thought about publishing your ideas. In the OSR publishing your ideas, and creating not only buzz on a blog but physical products, is a very important thing of the movement. Sadly I have not done much in that vein yet.

Recently when the publishing catastrophe that is Outlaw Press exploded in the face of Tunnels & Trolls fandom, I decided to do something myself instead of that mess. But, I have no group right now and frankly I play way to seldom to get that vital feedback and get the creative juices flowing. It felt like an uphill battle. But, now things are cooking, at last.

Me and a friends sat down this Monday and talked about things gaming, old school fun basically. The result was a scheduled session of S&W. That and me listening to metal on my mp3 player caused ideas for game books to gush out like a flood.

Oddly enough it feels like a dam that have collected water until it just bursts. Now I get new ideas for dungeons and weird traps faster than I can write them, to say nothing of combining them into something playable! My biggest problem now is that I wanted to do something that has never been done for T&T before (at least not that I know), and I would almost like the spring to calm down a bit so I can get some peace and quiet to work on that first idea before I go back down the dungeon. What a problem I've got.

So, "Something Different" for T&T is being written (including support materials), a dungeon of the weird Carcosa style fantasy is being invented (for S&W), a killer dungeon in the Tomb of Horrors vein (for T&T) and a sketch for a new megadungeon are also competing for attention. Guess if that gets all messed up in my head? With luck I will be able to show some of all this to the world, come 2010. Watch this space.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New issue of Fight On! available

I'm both happy and sad to say that there's a new issue out of the excellent gaming magazine Fight On! It's sad because I haven't had funds to buy issue #6 yet and now is #7 already upon us. Go get it!

Everything you wanted to know about Ron Edwards, and then some

Since everyone know that random tables are fun, talking about cthulhu or Ron Edwards makes your visitor statistics go through the roof, I just couldn't resist this randomly generated fact about Ron Edwards.

 There is no Ron but Ron!

Basically that site, Abulafia, is a boatload of random tables. I love tables and some of these are just wonderful. While there might not be any Slime Ladies or Mouldy Hieroglyphs I still think there are some true gems in there.

How about the adventures of the amazing super heroes The Canadianster and The Ebony Squidlass, and working against them are the Venomous Association of the Imperial Mountains that are political assassins, currently playing a deeper game than anyone realizes? A campaign just like that. Too bad I don't do superheroes.

I'll conclude with this random fact. Hilarious!

James Cameron wanted Chuck Norris to play the Terminator. However, upon reflection, he realized that would have turned his movie into a documentary, so he went with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Playing a RPG with a famous literary person

I have the last few days been on a Sherlock Holmes high. Since I managed to score a mint copy of Sleuth Publications The Queen's Park Affair for only $15 I have been absorbed by the Victorian age and its famous sleuth. Now after reading about Holmes I start to wonder about a rpg in that setting.

As far as I know, the only Victorian mystery game there is must be Cthulhu by Gaslight, which never was big seller. I don't think it's been in print for ages. Maybe it's because it's hard to portray the era? But, we seem to think we can play elves, right? Maybe it's because Victorian London just isn't the same without Holmes himself, and then the players will be left out in the cold.

One game I have played a lot is Stormbringer and I never had any problem not including Elric in the game. While it might seem strange I never felt that game was very much about Elric at all, even if it was once published under the really bad title Elric!, including an exclamation mark. For some reason I don't have the same relaxed attitude to a Victorian mystery game. I just couldn't do it without including Holmes. I'd love to hear if somebody have done it, and how it worked. Also, are there really nothing more than Cthulhu by Gaslight out there?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Designing a new dungeon - Named Areas

I have started a bunch of new projects lately. Anger have caused springs of creativity to spring forth, and now I have a few adventures lined up and maybe even a few more ambitious things.

Since I love the exploration style of adventuring in a big and exciting dungeon I started to plan, design and draw with a megadungeon in mind. Maybe I'll scale it back a bit, or it will have to be something I'll tinker with for a long time.

If you have searched the web for articles on megadungeon design you have probably already found much of the solid advice there is, so I'm not going to try to sound like I have anything new and revolutionary to add. But, I'll write about a nice way to invent a few of those places in a dungeon that stand out and feel a bit special.

Anyone who have read of old school dungeons probably have noticed that there are names areas which makes you wonder what might lurk there. The Black Reservoir is one of those names. Now you can make those yourself! Check out this wonderful blog post with some handy Named Areas charts!

I bet you would love to know what The Gate of the Deadly Harem Slime Ladies or The Mysterious Cave Lagoon of Copper Blood is? Me too. I'm making it up, and sooner or later you might find out. Slime Ladies? Yep.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Do you read books? About blogs?

I remember that I once heard that some industrious individual had decided to collect the best of rpg blogging and publish it as a book. It sounded a bit preposterous at the time, but since then I have started a blog of my own and have put more than a few on my daily reading list. At this time I consider some bloggers to be friends I visit to see what they are up to today.

So, maybe I shouldn't be too surprised to hear that once again it's time to collect the best there is of rpg fan writing and publish a book. You can nominate texts here if you have read anything you feel is good enough. I have never read the first volume, and now when I publish stuff myself I don't know if I dare to. Nobody would be more suprised than me if anyone felt like nominating my texts, but it still feels like projects like this keeps you honest and focused. Some guys out there are good and nobody wants to look bad in comparison, right? Time to think of favourites I have bookmarked.

A devious trap

Music is wonderful.

I managed to invent a trap today, for one of my projects I'm writing. Now when I have a mp3 player I can listen to music on the bus downtown, or when I'm waiting for a friend to meet me. As I was listening, absentmindedly, I suddenly heard a few words of the lyrics, and at once I knew it was an arcane and interesting thing I had to write about. Where do you get your ideas? Heavy metal lyrics, of course!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Reading T&T 7.5 - Monsters & Magic Book

Today I was thinking of doing a walk through of some of the magic spells, and talk about what they can be used for, how they are cool and how some of them seem to be quite wonky. But, since that is a very complex subject that I just haven't been able to wrap my mind around I have decided to focus on the Monsters & Magic Book included in the 7.0 and 7.5 boxed sets.

The first thing you notice is that the basic rules for calculating MR and adds are repeated. Then we have what I consider to be one of the best additions to the T&T systems since 1979, the Special Damage system. While I have sometimes groaned about how FDP seem to have tossed the game out in the marketplace without editing it at all, and thus felt a bit of dislike for how they have handled the T&T property, I will say this is just pure genius. Ken St Andre posted in the comments earlier in this series of posts and told me that concept was their idea. FDP redeemed a lot of editorial sloppiness by that inclusion! It's excellent. Let me expand upon it a bit.

The basic way monsters are statted is with a single stat, MR. From that you can calculate all the stats needed for combat. If you have seen the stat block for a D&D3 monster, "Goblin, MR20" as the "stat block" is very liberating! But the news with Special attacks is using Spite (sixes rolled to attack) as a trigger for a Special Attack. "Goblin, MR20, 2/Vicious Bite 2d6" is now goblins who will bite their opponent for 2 dice of damage for every two sixes rolled! Not only that, but Special Attacks ignore armour just like Spite does. I had totally forgotten that until I re-read that section today. Ouch. There's even a short section with suggestions for different types of Special Attacks and other Special Abilities. It gives the classic MR based monster a little bit more spice. Very groovy.

Next comes a section that feels seriously out of place. There are rules for balancing encounters, and that talks about a 4 person party, and then there's a section referring to the "Revised T&T rules presented in the Special Anniversary Edtion set" which talks about a standard 4 person party. Which is it? That SAE set mentioned is the 7.0 box, and the Revised T&T rules from that one are not included in the 7.5, which makes it feel odd to have that even mentioned. FDP have inserted a "[released in 2005]" disclaimer in that paragraph so I can't understand why they just didn't remove it. Those Revised T&T rules are better treated with nothing but silence. I have never heard of anyone liking or using them.

We get 24 monsters described in the next section. Illustrated and statted. They are mostly legendary and mythological creatures like the manticore and harpy. They work and I have used them to good effect. Interestingly, what dungeon level they usually inhabit is also mentioned.

The last section of the booklet contains what meagre rules T&T have about magic items. It's made clear that items are for sale, and there are a niche in the Trollworld economy for magic items. Personally I find that having shops where you can buy magic items to make those a bit less fantastic. I have used them in my games, though.

Foci, potions, weapons, jewelry and Other Items are described, with cost and how they might look like. I am notoriously bad at analyzing the economical effects of rules like this. But, there's one potion that makes even me raise an eyebrow.

A healing potion heals 1 CON and costs 400 gp. If you now take a look at your rulebook at p.44 you will find "First-aid kit (5 uses)" and "Second-aid kit (5 uses; cures 5 hits per)". The latter cost 99.9 gp and the former 10 gp. From those prices you would guess (since there are no rules about it) that the First-aid kit heals less than 5 CON. 99.9 gp on the other hand will cure 5 CON five times. That's 19.98 gp per dose and thus 4 gp per CON. Suddenly that Potion which costs 400 gp sounds quite expensive. Actually it seems totally broken.

The other place where the economy of magic items seem odd is the general rules for items, bespelled, enchanted and magical. The odd thing here is that if you want to make an enchanted sword, are the "cost of the spell" mentioned including the Dura-Spell Battery which I assume is powering the item? It seems like these rules were written without full knowledge of that spell. I did ask Ken about who made what, and he said "It seems to me that most of the stuff about magic in the extra booklet was my work", which makes you wonder about that Dura-Spell omission. Frankly it feels like it wasn't tried out, really. Since there were no rules like that in 5th ed, and I feel kind of bad about shopping for magic items anyway I guess I'd prefer just to make it all up. Then it would help to have a longer list of examples to compare to if you're as uninterested in spending time inventing a full economic system as I am.

The only other thing I want to remark upon is the wish that this kind of material would be included in the rulebook. Either that or expand it and incorporate a few of the other booklets in the 7.5 box.

I will try to spend some time with the spell list and post on that last section of the rules. But, since I know my limits, I have invited a guest blogger! It will be great fun to see what we will get to read.

Gaming family

Tonight we manged to play a session in a campaign started by a friend of mine when I was still living in Canada. He had told me I was welcome to join when I moved here, and now I did. Gaming is my hobby, and even though this campaign seemed to be quite different from what I like most, it is still gaming.

There were six of us, and each of us had some kind of family among the NPCs. Many of the other players had been developing relations with the villagers and I think that some are even engaged to be married. I guess you can tell that this is not a game about exploring the world, but playing a social game.

While it's kind of a waste not to go out and explore the world (our game master is a very good world builder, and I'd like to go out and see what he has invented!), it do work as a backdrop and fuels some of the intrigue and social interplay. But, what really struck me as interesting was the logistics of having a shipload of NPCs.

Imagine a village with 5 or so main families, and 5 or so members of each. Now imagine that those are the people you grew up with and have strong feelings about. It's quite a feat to just keep them all in the head, and even more to remember whom you should play a dislike for. Add to that the craftsmen, leaders and factions of leadership. How on earth do you run such a game! I wonder if I could. Frankly, I wonder if I really like people enough to care about them all. Quite different for me, this game.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

That old School metal gaming

I have found the game that must be perfect for us old school metal fans. The game have the totally unlikely, and o so fitting, name Umlaut. Check it out! I think it looks hilarious and am thinking of buying it, just because.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Restarting old campaigns - my first old school campaign

Many of us have fond memories of old campaigns, where fun was had by all and the dice were hot and the action over the top. For most of us, those stay as memories. Then again, you might get the idea to restart that group again. If it was great before, all you need is the same game, players and a set-up for action, right? It should work, it did last time.

When I've read online about restarted campaigns, there seem to be a consensus on how to do it. Don't. But, right now I'm still pondering it. I am bored to tears by the fact that some of my attempts at starting some gaming have failed miserabl, and now something have changed. Somebody have asked  me to run a game.

Back when 3rd ed was new, I had just bought it for the discounted initial price. My intent was to have it for reference, and to make it easier to do conversions. But, on ENWorld there was a thread about each of some of the classic TSR modules for AD&D. I read about the A series, the D series and a few more. Since I had read a review somehwhere of the 2nd ed Slavers module, and bought it, I was interested in the A modules. I got rid of the 2nd ed stuff, bought the older ones and decided that since 3rd ed actually looked like a proper game (it had skills) I should try to actually use it. All those people had fun with A1-A4, right?

Apart from the skill centric game view (I still have BRP in my veins), I missed a few other things. Running A1 was fun, and it wasn't a bad game. It wasn't at all like the stories of how it played back then, but we keept going. It was to be the founding of a campaign that lasted almost five years. My longest, so far. We played a bunch of Necromancer modules (1st ed feel, right?) and had battled our way to Erelhei-Cinlu.

Now I look back at it, and there so much of it that I don't want to go back to. The Attacks of Opportunity, and the enormous amount of data to keep track of for NPCs are two important things. But, it's gaming and right now I'm starved. Should I eat mouldy bread, since it's offered? Maybe it's not even mould, just a funny discolouring.

While I'm waiting for more invitations to games which suit my present taste better, I'm seriously thinking of how I could make a restarted 3rd ed game less painful. It must be possible, right? God knows. Until I make up my mind I'm thinking of writing something about the A series, since I have run them now. I became a better DM by doing it. Some of those amusing stories are now mine to tell, and even if the rules had their problems we did have fun.
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