Monday, January 31, 2011

Moses in the Rushes

So my son and I were clearing off the kitchen table, getting ready to play our first official Labyrinth Lord game.  Denis the Fighter's character sheet was laden with scattered dice.

I love back story, so I ask my son, "So where does Denis come from?  A big city, a medium town, or a small village?"

"A great big city," he hopped up to my desk and pointed the rough draft of the Gulf of Labrys basin.  "He was born there, in Norlun."

Hmm, I had intended to start off in Oshtan, which was more to the south west.  Oh well, I could deal with that.

"Okay, so . . ."

My son wasn't finished.  "And his parents were killed when he was two and he was adopted by dwarves."

I blinked a couple of times.  That completely messed up my whole non-racial fraternization concept for the world.  I began to imagine baby Denis in a basket made of reeds floating down the Nile.  Oh well, I could deal with that.

I scanned the map.  "There are some nice mountains near Norlun right here.  I suppose there could be some dwarves living here."  I nervously looked at the big word DUERGAR in the mountains.  Oh well, I could deal with that.

"No," he shook his head, pointing to the mountains with DWARVEN STRONGHOLDS written on them.  "That is where his parents live."

I began scratching my beard.  That was over 1,200 miles away from his home.  How in the hell did the two year old Denis get all the way over there.  The dwarves, in my mind, certainly were not much for travel.  They only hit the road if the needed a Burglar to sneak into lonely mountains.  My mind raced.

"That's a long way away.  Why would Denis' parents be anywhere near the dwarven mountains?"

Of course, the Peanut Gallery had no answer. 

"They must have been merchants," I muttered. “ Desperate merchants looking to strike a deal with the dwarves.  They would have had to have gone through here, the NEUTRAL ZONE, which is full of thieves and outcasts of society.  They they'd have to brave the Lands of the Goblinkind to get to the Dwarven Strongholds." 

My son nodded.  "The Goblins killed his parents."

"Aha," I nodded back.  "It all makes sense now.  The dwarves rushed to help the humans, but it was too late, and all they could save was baby Denis."

"The dwarves taught him to fight and vanquish anything in his path."


"Yes, it means . . ."

I chuckled, "I know what it means."  We sat down and I began to flip to the back of the Labyrinth Lord book. 

"What's that?" he asked.

"Oh, it's a little adventure in the back of the book I'm going to take Denis through."

"I don't want to do someone else’s adventure.  I want to do one of your adventures.  Your adventures are much better."

I watched the entirety of my plans go up in smoke.  I took a deep breath.  I could deal with that.

"Okay . . . so Denis is . . . at his home, in Jarlsberg . . ."

The boy shook his head.  "It should be a cool name.  Like . . . like . . . Thornhold."

I smiled.  "Okay, So Denis is with his mother and father, Helga and Jarn . . . Bronzebottom . . ."

"Just Bronze." he said.

"Okay, Denis is deep in the bowels of the Dwarven Fortress of Thornhold, a hollowed out shell of a mountain.  It's normally dark, since the dwarves can see heat,"

"Like a snake?"

"Like a snake.  But Denis' parents have always carefully lit their home so that Denis could see well and not stub his toes.  So Helga and Jarn dressed Denis up in the family armor and gave him a sturdy shield and mighty sword.  Then his mother says 'We've taken care of you all these years, my son, and loved every minute of it.  We've taught you all we can teach you.  It's time you made your way to the human lands.  You need to learn about being a human.  You'll make human friends and find a human woman to love and have a family with.  You can't do that here - only with other humans.’"

I watched as my son's face began to drop and it almost looked like he had a tear in his eye.  "It's okay," I said softly.  "It's time for Denis to go have adventures now."

"I know Dad," he looked at me, "But Denis is really sad.  He wants to go on adventures, but Denis loves his mom and dad a lot and will miss them a bunch."

I nodded and gave him a minute. 


He nodded yes.

"Okay then, Denis' mom and dad hug him and warn him about the goblins and send him on his way."

He smiled great big.  "Okay, I leave home and go off into the wilderness.  Do I see any goblins?"

"As a matter of fact . . . you do."

Okay, now that is why I play.

- Ark

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Riddle Me This - Hit Points

So today I'm playing a little D&D with my son.  I just got in the Advanced Edition Companion so I'm feeling all retro - and his fighter Dennis gets knocked down to negative one for hit points.  It's been 20 odd years since I've read the dying rules, so I start digging through the AEC for the rules about bleeding from 0 HPs and they dying at -10 - but nothing.  Nowhere.  Hmm.

What the hell?  An AD&D emulator with no 'dying' emulation?  Was that not thought neccisary?  Just the old 0 HP and you are dead?

So my quesiton is - how do you handle hit points and dying?  Zero is death?  Negative ten?  Something else?  And why?

- Ark

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Moving Right Along

As a student of Zen, I should really know when the universe is kicking me in the ass to do something.  Okay Universe - I get it.  Type IV is dead - long live Labyrinth Lord.  Sheesh.  Shut up already.


So, moving right along, I'm working on a world that supports the classic D&D feel.  I'm having to scrape 4e thoughts out of my mind.  Little things like elves being short little dudes that live over 1,000 years, instead of being human sized with 300 years lifespans - these differences really matter.  The continuity of elven culture would be much more pronounced.  If you can go ask great great uncle Ed what life was like 1700 years ago, well, chances are that kind of society would change very slowly.

Fourth Edition also harps on the fact that the different races are all mixed up all over the place - so while there might be more humans in general, every little village will have some dwarves making swords, halflings hanging out around the tavern, and the ubiquitous half-orc down the road selling doorknobs, or some other stupid things.  Blech.

I've made a rough draft of a map for my new campaign.  I've marked areas where different races hang out and there is little fraternization.  Most races are more likely to kill each other than sell each other door knobs.  To me, that feels more like old D&D, but perhaps that was just my pre-teen take on how such a world would be.  You know, dwarf-lords in their halls of stone - and all that jazz.  You can click on the map down there and it should pop up a bigger one with my nasty chicken-scrawlings more visible.

The idea behind this campaign is that in the past, there was a devastating war lasting thousands of years between the forces of Law and Chaos on the continent.  Some humans escaped it by sailing to distant islands and hiding.  Chaos won, but Chaos doesn't tend to maintain roads or stabilize local governments or anything useful like that, so everything fell apart.

A thousand years later, these islander humans - all pumped up on the religion of Law - come back to the continent to rehabilitate it.  Five hundreds years after the first colony was built, the humans are still having a hell of a time keeping order.  Boat crushing sea mosnters, hordes of goblins and orcs, pissed off elves, grumpy dwarves, rabble-rousing halfings, blight-ridden lands, evil high priests, cannibalistic necromancers, and mysterious slavers from the west tend to get in the get in the way of organization.

Who you gonna call?

Enjoy the rough, raggedy map.  I'll be focusing in on the central area and developing a hopefully worthy campaign soon.

- Ark

Friday, January 28, 2011

Card Pimps

I shouldn't be surprised, but I seeing it here in print is like a smack in the face.  The LIVING FORGOTTEN REALMS® CAMPAIGN GUIDE Version 2.0 includes the optional use of Fortune Cards.  This is not the option of the DM - no - it is the option of the players. 

You build your 'deck' almost like a Magic the Gathering deck.  Surprise surprise.  "You may have no more than one copy of any individual card (by name) per 10 cards in your deck."  Per 10 cards.  Multiples of ten.  They come it packs of 8.  So they are like hot dogs and hot dog buns - they don't match up in count.  Great.

"You must have a minimum of 3 cards of each type (Attack, Defense, Tactics) per 10 cards in your deck."  Oh just peachy.  If the booster set you buy doesn't have the right mis of types, you must buy more.  AT 50 cents a card.

THERE IS NO LIMIT ON YOUR STACK. You could have 180 cards piled up on your character sheet.

I could go on quoting the new rules, but I would vomit all over my keyboard.  It would be bad enough as a DM running a home game to suffer though the whines of the players begging to use the cards.  But in RPGA play - everyone can use them - which means that everyone will.  Except the poor shmuck in the corner without enough cash.  That little bastard has the fact that he can't afford it ground into his face. 

I should stop before I start cursing.

Damn I'm pissed.  I'm going to go chew my leg off to calm down.

- Ark

Thursday, January 27, 2011

More Impressions - Labyrinth Lord

I have this unstoppable habit of spelling it LABRYNTH or LABIRYNTH.  I blame Sir Arthur Evans.  For many years, I devoured anything I could find on the ancient Minoans and Mycenaeans.  Good old Arthur, who dug up the palace of Knossos on Crete, felt that there was a connection between the "laBYRinth" of Minotaur fame, and the double-sided axe, or "laBRYs."  Other people thought he was stark raving mad.  You see my confusion - BYR vs. BRY.  Sir Arthur brought the word “labrys” into the English language.  It has haunted me to this day.

In a previous post, a reader mentioned that Labyrinth Lord had helped clear up past confusions with the classic game, echoing my initial experience with Proctor's work.  I wondered why that was.  Was it because the writing was just clearer? 

I pulled up a, er, up, copy, of both Holmes and Moldvay and read sections of them that corresponded with Proctor.  I can't say that one was clearer than the other two.  Holmes may have been a bit less concise, but Moldvay was equal in brevity and getting to the point. 

One factor that did strike me was layout.  Labyrinth Lord uses fonts and spacing and table format that is much more comfortable on the eyes and does not create a clutter that interferes with getting the data into my head.  It looks more modern with the standards that Word and HTML and Adobe has made us conform to.  Perhaps it's not better, but it's more modern and what we are used to.

A bit of thinking about it lead me to a theory.  The difference was me. The distance from 11 to 41 is a long one.  I didn't understand a lot about the game back then.  But honestly, I don’t think I gave them much of a chance.  I packed my bags and ran off to AD&D as soon as I could afford the hardbacks.  Then yeah, whammo.  AD&D was some tough stuff.  Rules that I didn't understand got rewritten on the fly into something that I and the other players understood and could work with.  I didn't try to make the game work as written.

Since 1981 I've run 30 or 40 different rule systems - and read a lot more.  With 4e I sat down and read and read and read the rules and discussed them with the players and we hashed them out until we were playing RAW.  For a whole year I refused to 'fix' any rule, since I wanted to know fully that I was running it right before I started tinkering with it.  When I did start changing things - rewriting monsters and adding critical hits power-ups and adjusting some magic items - it rarely felt okay.  I would change one thing and another part of the game would suffer.  It was like a house of cards with me scrambling around under the foundation trying to keep the mess from toppling.

Classic D&D was never sacrosanct.  Rules went in and out all the time, sometimes multiple times in a single session.

I took another gander at the DMG.  Back then it kind of hurt to read.  Thirty years later, old Gary still hurts my head sometimes.  Read NON-LETHAL AND WEAPONLESS COMBAT PROCEDURES.  No, really, read it.  Here, I'll give you a snip-it:

This is not me - just a radioactive zombie who looks like me.

"The base score on percentile dice is opponent AC value times 10 to arrive at a percentage chance to hit, i. e. AC 10 = 100%, AC 9 = 90% . . ."

Um, Gary, dude, I kind of get it, but why did you invent an entirely different game to slug some zombie in the face?  Playing with Gary as DM - sure - that would be completely awesome.  But an 12 year old trying to run a game like that?  Yeah, right.  Well, I guess it was supposed to be ADVANCED, right?

I thumbed through OSRIC to see if my bearings were straight.  Yeah.  They were.  Those rules are hefty.  It's not just a matter of how they are explained.  They sure are a THICK CHUNK to try and cram into your mind.

Labyrinth Lord is that simplicity that I rejected as a young man because I wanted to be and adult and be smarter than everyone else.  Cripes, I took physics and calculus for fun too.  I wanted to be ADAVNCED - even if I had no clue what that was.

Digging through the Advanced Edition Companion I see a completely different idea going on.  It's Moldvay with Advanced sprinkles on top.  Really – very similar to the way I used to play it.  I think that is pretty nifty.  It’s not just a Xeroxed clone.  It’s a clone of the spirit.

I need to find this Daniel Proctor guy and shake his hand.  I suppose instead, I can just Google him right now though.  If only he wouldn’t have called it Labyrinth Lord.  Something I could spell.  Like Crypt Commander.  Or Trench Titan.  Or Hole Hero.  But I Gary used tons of words I couldn’t spell either, so I guess nomenclature legerdemain is something game designers revel in.

- Ark

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chekhov's Can of Soup

My son has been home sick for the last few days.  He's a pretty social kid, and he was beginning to go stir-crazy.  After work today, I noticed Denis the Fighter under some papers on my desk and asked the boy if he wanted to finish buying equipment and filling out the rest of his sheet.  He looked about as excited as I am confronting 1040 Full Form Income Tax Return - but said yes. 

After settling on the banded mail, shield, and long sword (who needs the rest of the stuff?) we moved to the Saving Throws.  He looked confused.

"You know that roll you make when you get flung off a cliff or . . . well . . . when anything strange happens and you have to roll a 10 or above?"

"Yeah," he said, eyeing the chart full of numbers.

"Well, that's kind of a dumbed down version of the classic Saving Throws.  Some things just hit.  A dragon shouldn't have to roll to blast you.  If you just stand there, you are toast.  It's up to you to pull yourself out of the frying pan.  Or to not look at the medusa.  These are the numbers you have to roll."

"Oh," he nodded.  He did a few test rolls.  Poor Dennis would have been a burning, petrified, poisoned, dead Fighter.  My son frowned.  We moved on to Armor Class.

"So when did AC stop being upside down?"

"Um, Third edition, I've heard. Want to see how it works?"


"Okay, let's see," I opened to the monsters and immediately saw the entry for Zombie.  "So Denis is in the dark labyrinth with his sword and, um, well, he probably would have brought along a torch too in his shield hand.  And suddenly, a zombie jumps out!"

His eyes widened.  "I stab at him!"  My son arced his arm over his head and I leaned back just in time to avoid getting a broken nose.

"Okay, get a d20 and roll to hit."

He dug for his special multi-colored lucky one that he loves, except when it rolls low so he has to give it a stern talking to.

"Do I hit?" he asked, pointing at the 15 on the die.

I shrugged.  "You tell me.  His AC is 8."  A quick explanation of the hit chart and he was all like . .

"Booyah!  Now damage," he understood that one pretty well.  "Okay, 6 plus my strength bonus is 7.  Does that kill him?"

"Dunno.  Let me roll his hp."  Before he could even ask, I pointed at the zombie entry. "See, he's got 2 hit dice.  That's like levels.  So I roll 2d8 for his hit points.  No one just a a flat amount of hp around here.  There we go - nine hit points.  So your sword sends chunks of rotting flesh flying, but your zombie friend is still standing andis  looking to get his dance card punched again."

My son has learned over the years to ignore most of the bizarre, out of place things I say and distill it down to what matters.


"Hold up - he attacks you.  Oops.  He swings his rusty sword over your head.  It would be quite a refreshing breeze if thick puss wasn't oozing from his eye sockets."


"Hold up - initiative."  He grabbed his d20.  I shook my head and pointed to the d6.  He rolled a 6 and the zombie a 1.

"I HIT HIM AGAIN!" he pointed to the 11 on the die and on the Attack Value Track.  "See!  Three points.  He's dead!"

"The zombie explodes like a can of Campbell's Chunky Sirloin Burger with Country Vegetables put in the microwave for 30 minutes."

"EWWWW!" he said, and went on the clean out the next eight rooms in the impromptu dungeon.  The two lizardfolk at the end gave him some trouble, but Denis the Fighter came through with his scalp intact.

A great big smile was on his face.  "That went by so fast.  It would have taken forever with Essentials."

I grinned.  "And where were all the minis?"

"In here."  The pointed to his forehead.  "I imaged the whole thing.  Denis has great big muscles."

"So did you like it?"

He nodded it the excited way he does, slapping his chin on his chest.  "And, um, I was wondering.  If I'm sick tomorrow, can we play a whole adventure?"

I imagined spending the day throwing the bones and chasing my son around in his mind with beasties and wicked bear traps.  It sounded really nice.  But suddenly I had to be the Dad.  "I don't think you are sick any more.  And even so, I still have to go to work."

He looked down and sighed.

"But since you've been sick, I haven't signed us up yet for the RPGA games yet this weekend - and they are pretty full.  Why don't we stay home this weekend and I can take you through something."  I glanced briefly at the purple module on my desk that had just arrived in the mail.  Keep on the Borderlands winked back at me.

"I'd like that." my son smiled.

“Me too.”

- Ark

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I Finally Found the Link

I guess I should have known.  Oh wait - I did.

Reading . . . reading . . . reading . . .

- Ark

Monday, January 24, 2011

Even This Guy Wears a Belt

With much joy, I found Labyrinth Lord sitting in my mailbox today.  I had expected it Saturday, but then I always forget that mail speeds seem to slow dramatically in January, as compared to December.  I suppose it's when all of the post office's seasonal employees are laid off.

Sitting here holding the book, I find that I am happier with it than most of my RPG purchases over the last few years.  So often I'm flipping through a new book and thinking "Dear God what the hell did I just buy, and why the hell did I buy this?"  This one is still bringing a smile to my face. 

It's much nicer than I thought.  I've never bought anything through Lulu, and am surprised.  I swear, the binding even looks like it will not splinter into a thousand pieces if I open the book up wide.  The art is cooler than I thought it would be, and it is so much damn easier that reading the pdf.   And what I have read seems to be clearing up misconceptions and confusions that I've had with D&D for 30 years now.  I think I have a winner here.

The boy is tucked in his bed reading a tattered copy of The Hobbit.  I think I shall grab some ice cream and apple cobbler, retreat into my bedroom, and devour Labyrinth Lord.  Oh, and maybe the cobbler and ice cream too.

- Ark

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Classic Roleplaying in the DFW Area?

So far, the people that I know have just given me blank stares when I bring up the idea of starting an AD&D-type campaign.  Many aren't even sure what it is and have little interest, but some who do just give me look of pity, like I was some sort of simpleton.  I figure that if I'm going do some Classic Roleplaying in the next year, I had better start beating the bushes now.

I have heard that there will be a "old-school" D&D Con in my neck of the woods in June (NTRPGCON,) so there must be interest.  I'm going to start digging through my usual sources (Pen and Paper Games and . . . um, okay, not sources - source,) but I figured that I might as well ask here as well. 

So does anyone in the DFW area play Classic D&D, OSR, or one of the clones, etc, etc?  Or if you don't, are you interested?  Or know of anyone else who does or have links or resources?  Anything?  Bueller?  Bueller?

Oh, and if you don't know what DFW means, then, well, yeah.  Hmm.  Dallas-Ft. Worth. Yeah.  You probably live too far away. :)

Thanks kindly for any help!

- Ark

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Today I Tried to Kill Zeb Cook's Nephew with a Pack of Wild Dogs

I'm in ur liteboks steelin ur lite
My son and I headed off to the local game store this morning to play Living Forgotten Realms.  When we got to the store, I noticed that everyone was wearing belts. 

Despite the belts, I saw a pair of fleshy cheeks and a crack at a table.  This was from a guy I know graduated high school in the 1990s.  We can't go around blaming the teenagers this time.  It was a man unknowingly showing off his man ass.  It was cold this morning. Did he not notice the breeze?  Hmm.

I DMed an LFR mod where there are mysterious sicknesses plaguing a floating school.  The PCs are hired to take on the role of substitute teachers and track down the hidden menace.  There were lots of opportunities for role play, and the group that I was with took full advantage of them and we had a great time.  For the first time in quite a while, We had more ROLE that ROLL. 

One of the guys there who I've been playing with for some time turns out to be David "Zeb" Cook's nephew.  He mentioned it after the game when I steered the conversation to AD&D.  I had no idea they were related.  Zeb Cook worked many of the awesome games and mods I played in the 80s.  He also was the lead designer on the reason I fled D&D and didn't return for 20 years - the 2nd edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.

Zeb's nephew is one of those people who is very inventive with his characters. They all some some bizarre neurosis or characteristic.  There was the guy who would attack any statue he saw.  (Pretty good survival tactic in D&D, actually.)  There was the Warforged that thought he was a gnoll.  And then there is the current character, a shaman that . . . well . . . it gets complicated.  The shaman's spirit companion is actually the one in charge.  The mortal husk of a shaman is more of a host for the spirit.  Needless to say, my son loves his wacky antics. 

So, today I tried to kill Zeb Cook's nephew with a pack of wild dogs.  I failed, but I did put some severe pain on him.  Take that, Second Edition AD&D!  Booyah!

- Ark

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sherman and Mr. Peabody

After I chipped my way through the ice into the car this morning, my son and I began the short trek to school.

"So you want to play a game tonight?  We could play Trouble or Sliders."  When the boy asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told him 'boardgames you'd like to play with me.'  Ties suck.  He got me (R2-D2 is in) Trouble and Sliders. Much better than ties.  Oh, that is Sorry Sliders, not the TV show with Jerry O'Connell and John Rhys-Davies - though the first two seasons of that would have been cool too.

"Um . . ." he started off with the tone in his voice he gets when he thinks I'm not going to like his answer.  "Maybe we could play Castle Ravenloft or Small World."  The two were games I had put on my Amazon wishlist for Christmas and actually received.  He had been on a Trouble and Sliders kick and the change piqued my interest - but the punch in the arm from the slug bug sighting interrupted my train of thought.

"Ow! You got me!" 

Then I smiled back at him.  "How about Castle Ravenloft - since I finished reading the rules on that one and haven't started on Small World yet."  I still had twenty pages to read of a Living Forgotten Realms mod I was running on Saturday morning and didn't want to learn an entirely new game all at the same time.  My brain is old and floppy and can't keep up like it used to.

"Great!" he smiled.

"So two different types of D&D in two days.  Wow." I pulled into the dropoff lane.  "That reminds me.  My copy of Labrynth Lord should be arriving in the mail this weekend.  We can take Denis the fighter out for a spin soon."

"I shoulda named him Regdar." he sighed.

"Well, lets keep him as Denis for our Basic type D&D test game.  You'll need to roll up a new guy for the the AD&D type campaign.  Why don't you call that one Regdar?"  The possibility of the first Basic D&D character he creates to die a miserable death is high, so I really didn't want to kill a Regdar on my son's first outing.

"Okay," he said without a fight.  "I'll keep Denis, and the new guy for AD&D will be Regdar the First."

A look of confusion spread over my face as he got out of the car. 

"My original Regdar was the one we played in the Sea of Tears game.  He's Regdar the Second.  Regdar the Third is the Regdar in Living Forgotten Realms.  So the AD&D Regdar will be Regdar the First."

"Huh?" I asked, knowing that the parents behind me were getting angry, but having a burning desire to know what the hell my son was talking about.

"It' OLD Dungeons and Dragons dad.  OD&D.  OLD.  We are going back in time, right?  So this will be Regdar the First.  Duh."

It took me a while for my brain to parse that.  "Oh."

"Bye Dad!"

Geeeez.  The neighborhood parents must hate me by now.

- Ark

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Alexis over at the Tao of D&D set up a wiki a while ago called The Same Universe which is "an experiment in virtual world construction."  I think it's a cool concept and have offered up some maps, just in case that is the kind of thing he is interested in.  I am not 100% sure that it is, but that's what I've got.

Hopefully the image to the right is changing, but not too annoying.  It's a part of the world of Bristia.  I drew the outlines many years ago with an actual pen and ink.  Bristia is a world that has one season every 365 days.  The long winters cause the poles to freeze up, forming ice caps which melt during the spring.  The coastline is under constant change, which the animated gif hopefully is depicting right now.

This four year long seasonal cycle creates havoc with anyone trying to live a normal life.  The winters are extremely dry, turning most of the the inland areas to desert.  The summers obliterate any previously existing coastline.  Permanent agriculture is impossible.  Groups fight for land that they leave one season and want to return to the next.  Imagine ancient inland empires needing to reply on magic and careful water management to survive the winters.

Bristia is a place of constant change where thousands of years of failed empires crumble beneath the feet of the inhabitants.  Flash foods caused by glacial melting can be as dangerous as the monsters that roam the land.  Plants have developed unique strategies of surviving, including burrowing, locomotion, and big sharp pointy teeth.

I'm done with Bristia.  It was fun, but I'm on to other things.  I've cleaned up the maps of place names and other doodles and will be offering them to whoever wants them.  My hope is someone may fiddle with a campaign there, filling in the blank areas with cultures and cities and dungeons galore.  If not, that's okay too.  But at least they are out there and not molding in my drawer.

They are not really pretty or anything, but they are functional for a strange world with a seasonal dysfunction.  I'll make them available at a printable dpi level format one way or another, I'm just not sure what form that will take yet. 

Oh, and I've been meaning to mention this for a while now.  George over at Legends and Labyrinths had been looking for some help with his map.  I enjoy projects like that, so I fired up Hexographer, and made him a shiny new one

If you are interested in having a map Hexographered into something vaguely resembling the old Greyhawk maps, let me know.  I don't promise anything - but it's the kind of thing I like to do.  For free.  Yeah, I'm a sucker for latitude and longitude and compass roses.

- Ark

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Basking in the Glow

I have a horn and I'm going to toot it.

I won an award!  The Newbie Blogger Award over at Gothridge Manor, to be precise.  Yeah!  I'm a newb!  Or, as my son would say, I'm a BEAST FAIL NOOB.  Um, that is a good thing, right?  These kids and their slang.

So thanks for the award Tim.  And thanks for the nomination, Mike.  And if I know how these things work, thanks Happy Whisk!

I'd like to thank my son for providing content and laughs.  Also, a huge bowl of thanks goes out to E. Gary Gygax - because those of use with first names we hate so much that we can only refer to them by one letter have to stick together.  Oh, and for writing some stuff.

- Ark

PS Oh yeah, and YOU the reader.  Yes, YOU.  Reading.  Now.  YOU.  Thanks.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Free Grub

(note - I love this picture.  It has thrown more that one player into a state of catatonic fear upon a mere viewing.)

I was not aware of this, but at some point, Wizards of the Coast was giving away old Dungeons & Dragons modules from the 1980's for free.  Well, at least pdf copies.  This giveaway appears to have happened around 2000 to 2002.  I stumbled upon them today and was pleasantly surprised.

Of course this may be common knowledge and I'm the last on the boat.  For those who haven't seen them, they lie deep in the bowels of the WotC site.  There are four articles and (if I'm counting right) five modules:

B3. Palace of the Silver Princess

L2. The Assassin’s Knot

Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill

EX1-2. Dungeonland and The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror

So quick, sneak through the castle in the clouds and grab the goodies before the gruff giant wakes up, realizes what he's done, and locks them away.

Oh, and if you know of any more of these gems, please share the location.

- Ark

Monday, January 17, 2011

She's Evoking!

 An ILLUMINATING history bearing on the everlasting struggle for world supremacy fought between the powers of TECHNOLOGY and MAGIC.

Mom and Dad stuffed me in the car and drove to the seedy side of downtown Houston.  I was eight years old.  The fire hydrants still had their fading coat of bicentennial paint.  My mother nervously looked out the window of the red beetle as we passed dilapidated buildings.  Finally a neon marquee came into view, attached to a molding theater.  It didn't look like a place that that showed cartoons.

The theater was dank and sticky and musty, but the red velvet, gold tassels, and exquisite balcony hearkened back to better times.  They were showing a double feature.  We were late, but were really only there for the second show.  We saw the tail end of the first picture, which was confusing and disturbing - a little gem called Phantom of the Paradise.  It was a mix between Rocky Horror, Phantom of the Opera and Faust.  Needless to say, at eight years old, I didn't get it.

Finally, the main feature began - Ralph Bakshi's Wizards.  Honestly, I don't remember anything about that viewing.  It was too overwhelming, but the feeling of 'wow' stayed with me the rest of my life.  My mother spent a good deal of the time with her hands over my eyes.  She swears to this day that there was a scene in the movie where the wizard Avatar was running around pantsless with his penis hanging out.  I've watched the movie countless times - and even looked for a more mature version - with no luck.  But it was basically an indie style art house film at the time with a very small release, so we very well may have seen a cut of it that never made it to the present incarnation.  Later I learned that my father had seen Fritz the Cat some time earlier in the same movie theater, so penis may very well have been a recurring theme at the place.

By the 80s they were playing Wizards on cable, and I saw it many times.  It's great.  I was enchanted by Avatar's Peter Falk-like speech, Elinore's bubbly nipples, Peace's soulless eyes, and the narrator's airy, wistful voice.  It's incredibly emotional stupid and funny and sad.

     "Where's daddy?  What's he doing?"

     "He’s guarding our home son.  There's been a war and this land is lost."

     "Why can't we fight and win mommy?"

     "Because they have weapons and technology.  We just have love."

I never was into a mix of fantasy and science fiction as a kid - especially for role playing games.  I didn't like the vanilla to mix with the chocolate either.  Wizards was wonderful to watch, but I would have never run an RPG in the setting.  But these days I have a more mature palate, and I wonder what a game would be like based in the lands of Scorch and Montagar.  I'll have to ponder more on that.

Looking back on it now, some of Wizards is hard to watch.  The pacing is clunky, the art styles sometimes don't mesh well, and the roto-scoping can be atrocious.  We take for granted so many visual technologies.  The road between Bakshi's Avatar and Cameron's is a very long one - just about the same length from a boy to a man.

- Ark

Sunday, January 16, 2011


My son and I trucked on over to our friendly local game store Saturday morning and played some 4e in Living Forgotten Realms.  We had a blast.  He plays a seven foot fighter named Regdar and I play and annoying little halfling Ardent named Chicory Chives who taunts monsters during combat.  Or outside of combat.  Or wherever.  Our favorite tactic is for Chicory to use a power that triggers Regdar to attack.  So Regdar can attack all day long while Chicory basically just shoves Regdar back into the fray over and over again.

Yeah, I bitch about 4e and it sucks on so many levels.  But anything my kid and I can do together and have fun with is worth a billion dollars in my book. And my son gets to interact with guys (and girls) from his age, all the way up into their gray years.  The average is probably 17-20 or so. 

So during the game, I go up to the counter to grab me a drink.  (They have a coke machine in back, but the Coke Zero is all in a little mini fridge back behind the register.)  One of the game store employees is having a serious faced discussion with one of our game organizer, who is somewhere around my age.  The employee was saying something to the effect of:

". . . and the hygiene.  I know it's embarrassing to mention to them, but some of these kids need to take a bath.  The smell is offending other customers."

The organizer nodded politely and said that he’d mention it.

" . . . and the language.  It can get disrespectful.  They shouldn't be saying anything here that they wouldn't say in front of family members."

The organizer nodded politely and said that he'd handle it.

" . . . but worst of all is the mooning."

The employee had a very serious look on his face.  The organizer cocked his head.  I cocked my head too.

" . . . not once, but several times has a customer walked in through that door and been greeted by the tops of two cheeks and an ass crack.  The kids are standing there with their pants almost on the ground and their backs turned to the door.  I can't have customers seeing that the first thing they walk in through the door.  This is a business."

I'm about to die.  Really.  Just crawl on the floor and laugh until I die.

The organizer nodded his head calmly without missing a beat.  "I'll talk to the boys about belts."

I calmed down a tad.  "Suspenders," I piped in after a second.  "We could hand out suspenders.  They hold up pants with a lot less wardrobe malfunctions."
I don't think they appreciated my input.  I almost  mentioned to them that when I was my son's age, I was running around in rainbow suspenders with Mork from Ork buttons pinned to them.  It's probably a fact that I shouldn't tell anyone at all though.

- Ark

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Investment Mulligan

Tim from Gothridge Manor commented on my last post about investments in D&D encounters.  I was somewhat confused by his response until I realized that I had not said what I thought I had said.  In a fit of editing, I lopped out clarity.  Oops.  Do-over.

So, to cut out the cutesy clever crap and get to the point, when the DM plops down the battle-mat and minis - the players get ready for combat.  It's an almost Pavlovian response to the smell of a dry erase marker.  It's a welcome response to many players - because they don't have to think.  They attack.  It's easy.  The DM said they could attack by pulling out the friggin box of dungeon tiles in the first place.

With earlier version of D&D, there were no cues.  The DM just said "You open the door and there are some orcs.  What do you do?"

The players don't know what they are going to do.  They need more information.  How many orcs?  Three?  Twelve?  Makes a big difference.  Should they shut the door and maybe barricade it and be on their merry way?  Could the PCs perhaps want to infiltrate the dungeon quietly and not get into a fight until they have to?  There are a lot of factors here and things don't have to end up in a fight.  Encounters were in no way balanced or fair, and traps could be just plain sadistic.

I much prefer the "What do you do?" method.  Now a DM in 4e can ask that question before she gets her supplies out.  But it the last few years of playing 4e, I've noticed that any hint of combat was a subtle clue that the DM has a whole batch on minis already laid out and ready to do battle with, so you might as well just get on with the fight and stop boring everyone else.

In old D&D, you knew that the DM had a whole friggin dungeon full of monsters in that manual of hers and that if you didn't fight the room full of them in front of you, you'd find some elsewhere, and it was important to go about things in a smart way and grab as much loot as you could with as little bloodshed.  Death was at zero hit points in Basic D&D!  Staying alive meant only fighting when it was important and you knew you had good odds.  Running away in a Sir Robin style was by no means dishonorable and was a very useful, pro-survival skill.

So hopefully that cleared up my last post.  Fourth edition has the players invested in fighting, while 0e and 1e did not.  The combat system in 4e is really beautiful and can be great fun.  Beyond the combat - well - there is no beyond the combat.  Skill challenges are a weak attempt at forcing role-playing at gunpoint.  The game designers, dungeon masters, and players invest in the combat system and encounters with money and time.  That investment system, or lack thereof, makes a world of difference in how the games are played.

- Ark

Friday, January 14, 2011


invest: to use, give, or devote (time, talent, etc.), as for a purpose or to achieve something.

 As I've been digging through old AD&D books, Labyrinth Lord, and even LotFP to reacquaint myself the way things used to be.  Comparing 4e to 0e or 1e, I think I've hit upon an important difference that forces players into one mindset or another - investment.

In 4e, the DM designs an encounter, follows the rules and formulas for force strength and treasure packets.  WotC has made it quite easy to create a well balanced encounter, and it's pretty comfortable to use. 

When the players get to the encounter, the DM describes what is there, pulls out a map on paper or vinyl or some tiles, positions everything correctly and sets up the monster minis.  Then the DM has the players put their PCs down in a specific place, and the players analyze where their minis should go as to be most effective for the set-up, etc.  The order may differ, but time and thought go into both sides of preparing for an encounter.

Then the DM says "Roll initiative."  Wham.  The DM is invested.  The players are invested.  They are going to what thy are supposed to do - which is fight and maybe do some sort of skill challenge while fighting.  It's all laid out right in front of them, and it took some effort.

In many ways, this is railroading.  It's a welcome railroading, I've found, as players know what is expected and know that the DM has used all those little balancing formulas and the whole game is designed so that they will most likely win, they just need to pay attention and not blow too many rolls. 

The old way was that the DM came up with an idea for an encounter, then during the game, described the situation and asked "What do you do?"

There was no investment.  The players then could then do whatever they wanted.  They could try to engage in a conversation with a bugbear.  They could run away screaming.  They could even draw their sword and fight.  There was no apparent investment by a DM into any particular outcome, so the players never felt pressured in doing any particular thing except surviving and grabbing loot - or whatever else took their fancy.

Nothing was expected.  No little toy soldiers were lined up for war.  No battle lines were drawn.  It was just "What do you do?"

Maybe I'm exaggerating and simplifying, but I do think that if you are invested in an action, you are more likely to complete that action to it's end.  So that is my big thought of the day. :)

- Ark

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Talk

So I had "The Talk" with my ten year old son in the car going to school this morning.  It went something like this:

"Son, since the Savage Worlds campaign really never took off, I'm thinking about running an original D&D game.  A whole campaign, not just like the stuff we do in game store."

He tilted his head.  "You mean the one we started on - the one before Essentials?"

"Eh - no.  That's 4th Edition.  I mean the one way before that.  The one I played when I was about your age."

He looked at me as if I was a bike thief.  "I don't know."

"The one I told you about before.  You don't need minis because you do everything in your mind.  You don't have all of those powers.  A fighter would make their basic melee and that's that - but you'd get to describe it how you like and pull off special things not in the power description.  Combat goes a lot quicker that way, so you can have a lot more fights."  I hastily tried to sell the abstract combat system in the school drop-off lane.

"I like the old way."

I shrugged.  "Well, I'm thinking of pulling together a game, and if you'd like to play, you can."

He thought silently as the car behind us grew impatient.  "I guess so, but if it sucks, can you run a real D&D game?"

I smiled.  "Sure.  But it should be fun."

He eyed me as he got out of the car.  "We really need to talk more about this when I get home."

I chuckled.  "Sure thing.  Now get going before you're late."

Sheesh - the trials of being a parent.  I swear. :)

- Ark

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I'm going though some changes here, so bear with me.  I've added some art that I had commissioned a while ago and didn't quite know what to do with.  Well, now I do.  (Yeah, I paid for them, so hands off.) The demonic looking guy on the title bar is by Angel Urena.  He's a great artist.  Go see his stuff here.  The poor succubus to the side was drawn by Matthew Humphreys.  His awesome gallery is over here.

Other changes are occurring in my brain takings me places I don't quite know yet.  I've been reading through the Player's Handbook and the Dungeon Master's Guide.  The original ones - you know - those thirty year old musty tomes.  Okay, maybe you don't.  I never thought I's say I missed AD&D.  I ran screaming from TSR in the mid 80s to other gaming systems and never looked back.  It was a bit of nostalgia that brought me to 4e, but really, the fact that it was D&D that wasn't D&D was the thing that interested me.


I want to play D&D again.

The way I used to describe D&D to people was it was kind of like a board game but the board was in your mind.  Frankly, it's been a while since I saw a role playing game like that.  As a teenager, I used to dream of being able to afford lead minis and paint and having the skill to make them look pretty and use them in a game.  Well, dream come true - and BLEECH.  I'm rather sick of minis.  I'm sick of tiles and maps and dry erase markers.  I'm sick of fighters with spells - er -  POWERS.  I'm sick of opportunity attacks and TWO HOUR LONG COMBATS.  I'm sick of skill challenges.  I'm sick of a flat saving throw of TEN.


I actually understand what Zak and Jeff and Alexis and James have been moaning about with the whole Old School Renaissance thing.  Ugh.  I do.

Dear God.  Now I have to go start up a campaign, now don't I?  I have to dredge up some players who don't think I'm crazy.  I have to decided whether to use my old, musty AD&D books or hunt down some Holes or Molday or just go with something like Legend Lord.  Holy Hell, I'm going to have to READ!


- Ark

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Alignment Languages

Nostalgia was the driving force behind me cracking open the old AD&D reference manuals a few days ago. Amidst Gary's loquacious prose, I saw something that I did not remember from 30 years ago in the Player's Handbook:

" . . . all intelligent creatures able to converse in speech use special languages particular to their alignment."

Back then, I think I paid that as much attention as I paid the rules for encumbrance and morale.  But the concept of alignment languages is very interesting.  Like-minded people can communicate better, and in the fantasy word of AD&D, even have their own languages.  But Gary goes on:

"If a character changes alignment, the previously known language is no longer able to be spoken by him or her."

I was always fascinated about how AD&D's Outer Planes were based on alignments, but looking at this effect on the creatures in the Prime Material Plane puts a different spin on things.  If I change my alignment from True Neutral to Neutral Good (in essence caring a bit more about other people,) I either have a chemical and biological change in my brain that allows me to speak a new language and forget the other, or I am suddenly in tune with some frequency of a universal harmonic that gives me the power of a new type of speech and understaning.

Now that is very odd and very hard to explain.  It's probably one of the reasons whey I tended to ignore the alignment system in my campaigns as well.  My view of the universe, even made up ones, never included such things.  But it is interesting to ponder now.

- Ark

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Living Forgotten Realms

For the last several months I've been playing Living Forgotten Realms.  It's basically what is left of the RPGA.  What is nice about it is that just about every weekend I can find a couple of D&D games to play.  My preference is to DM, and they even let me do that.  I can choose the time slot, the module, and the people I play with.  What is even better is that my son plays and loves it.  For the most part, it is great.

Except . . .

Except that so much of why I like to play RPGs is not present in LFR game play.  I like world building.  The Forgotten Realms is built.  I like a universe where the characters contribute to the development.  No luck there.  I like characters grow and change as a result of their experiences.  Aside from leveling up and getting better stats, that isn’t happening. 

LFR is basically a 30 minute sitcom.  The formula is already hashed out.  The PCs are all interchangeable.  Lucy and Ricky figured out just about everything you can do in a sitcom over half a century ago.  Evidently, the RPGA figured that out for canned RPG modules as well - and that is what LFR is. 

I'm not saying it's a bad thing.  Even wonder bread will keep you alive.  The LFR experience just isn't filling as a full course meal - and after decades of role playing, I can get pretty snobby.

Living Forgotten Realms has been there for me in a time when I wanted to game, but didn't have the intestinal fortitude to chase down a pack of players to start another campaign up.  So - I'll complain about LFR - but I am still thankful for it.  Since I am almost always a DM, I had never thought that my son and I would sit down and play PCs side by side - and we are.  That in itself is completely awesome. 

- Ark