Thursday, April 28, 2011

Calling All Really Cool Idea People

My brain is melting.

I need help.  I am going to be starting a new LL +AEC game.  This isn't a home hosted one - but an every other week affair at the FLGS.  The ulterior motive is to create a public haven for old school gaming in this 4e/3,5/Pathfinder rich environment - a place where D&D or Traveller or Stars Without Numbers or Gamma World or Mutant Future or Top Secret could just be whipped out and people would be on it like stink on a dog.  But we'll start with LL.

The trouble is, I run a home game every other weekend.  It is very vanilla LL.  By design - cuz I like it.  But for the public game, I want to do something different.  Not so far different that it freaks people (newcomers) out, but different enough to keep me interested.  Understand?

We've so far got two players who are AD&D types, who want to start playing again, and two complete newbies.  I expect others will be interested, but I'll let it grow organically.  I think there will be some core people, but there will be people showing up some days and not others.

So I need . . I need . . . A slightly off-kilter episodic sandbox.  I guess that is how one would describe it.  I once ran a 4e game based loosely on Mouse Guard.  It was over the Christmas holidays for a random bunch of people.  It was 4e, but the players all were members of the 'Watch' and protected the border from EVIL.  And helped little old ladies.  They never battled giant crabs though.

Anyway, that worked, for the most part.  I could encapsulate each game session into it's own episode - but it wasn't sandobxy at all. I led the players by the nose from episode to episode. 

So, I'd like something different, but, well, my head hurts trying to think about it.  I want to show the new players what my view of old school D&D is all about.  I want it to be encapsulate-able into a session, however.  So, a episodic sandbox.  Is this an oxy-moron?  And it needs to be weird but not too weird.  Am I deluding myself?  Is this possible?

Thanks in advance for any ideas or thoughts.

- Ark 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dead Simple Lock & Trap Mini-game

I've fiddled around and play-tested the various ideas and suggestions floating around until I've come arranged the pieces into something that the Boy likes.

This mini-game involves a deck of cards.  It could be a regular deck of cards or a special deck with bump, undulate, rake, and probe written on each.  Four 'suits' of some sort or another. 

Take the deck of cards.  Remove the Jokers. Shuffle.  Set the cards down and stare at the player. 

To pick the lock, the the thief must pick one out of four actions to take - bump (club,) undulate (heart,) rake (diamond,) or probe (spade.)  Three of the actions will further the lock-picking (or trap disarming.)  One of those actions will seize up the lock, or set off the trap.

Example One:
DM sees that the next card is an Undulate (Heart.)
Player: I Probe (Spade) the lock with my lock picks.
DM: (flips over card) You hear a faint 'click' and have passed this stage. On to the next tumbler.

Example Two:
DM sees that the next card is an Undulate (Heart.)
Player: I Undulate (Heart) the lock with my lock picks.
DM: (flips over card) Too bad.  The lock seizes up on you. Game over, dude.

Each lock has a certain amount of cards that determine it's difficulty. A 2d4 roll could easily be used to determine the number of cards, but any amount could be used.  Percentages of success are as follows:

75% - One Card
56% - Two Cards
42% - Three Cards
32% - Four Cards
24% - Five Cards
18% - Six Cards (fyi - roughly equals the chance for a first level thief)
13% - Seven Cards
10% - Eight Cards

As a thief increases in level, their skill would increase as well.  Each level gives the thief the ability to automatically conquer an undisplayed card.  This does not fix a 'seized lock,' it just allows the thief to reduce the number of cards in the stack during play.  A level 2 thief would breeze through a 2 card lock without having to make any guesses.

Traps can be implemented by card values.  For example, all face value cards could be trapped.  If the lock seizes up on a face value card, the lock's trap would spring.  Hilarity ensues.

So, that's it.  Hopefully I've been clear enough.  Comments appreciated.  And thanks to all who came forth with ideas.  Ya'll rock, much like old school does. 

All I need now is a BURP deck. :)

- Ark

Monday, April 25, 2011

Character Sketch - Imbroglio

Actual Photo
Imbroglio is Tim's first level elven fighter in the Razing Zone campaign.  Imbroglio worships the mysterious elven god Faux.  This god is so mysterious that no one on the planet has ever heard of him but Imbroglio.  Faux also talks to Imbroglio.  Often.  The DM is, however, unaware of most of these conversations as they take place inside of Tim's head.

It is rumored that Imbroglio was run out of the elven lands by his own kinsfolk.  Upon meeting Imbroglio, it is understandable why.  Imbroglio has large amount of pamphlets, explaining in full detail why everyone, including you, should worship Faux.  Did I say he has a lot of pamphlets?

Imbroglio runs a traveling road show, developed with the express purpose of spreading Faux's divine message.  The road show is comprised of many people that do not know they are part of the road show.  They just happen to be innocent bystanders.  Imbroglio uses his amazing feats of strength to sway potential devotees by breaking stick on his forehead.  Some say he has hit himself too many times in the head with wood.

Others say he was dropped when he was a baby.  A lot.  And then jumped on.  When I say others, I mean the Boy.

There are many ways that Imbroglio attempts to impress those unblessed with  the knowledge of Faux.  Part of the road show is devoted to wild animal taming.  Imbroglio, through the divine will of his god, causes wild beasts to become tame.  Regretfully, he does not have any wild beasts.  Luckily, he has convinced the halfling thief Ferrit to dress up as a giant wild ferret.  During the show, Ferrit acts wild, then is tamed and does a little jig for the crowd.  Imbroglio is pretty happy with the way things have worked out, except for the fact that Ferrit demands too much of a cut of the meager proceeds earned.

Fearsome Beast
The human lands that Imbroglio frequents are none too kind.  The humans only recognize one god - the Lawgiver.  While most try to be patient with Imbroglio, patience only goes so far. Imbroglio has a habit of making things up, like claiming to kill a dragon when he didn't.  When people have had enough of Imbroglio, they tend to incarcerate him, toss him into oubliettes, beat him senseless, steal all of his possessions, and throw him naked but for a burlap sack, unconscious, into urine filled alleys.  Not many people, including his friends, feel very sorry about Imbroglio's woes.

Despite all of his hardships, Imbroglio remains steadfast, fighting evil in the name of Faux armed with his mighty, and somewhat broken iron pick.  He helps raise his spirits by giving himself titles.  So far, he is now officially known as Imbroglio the Spider Squisher, the Dragon Slayer, the Orc Stinger, the Bee Slasher, and the Dryad Disappearer, and the Jello Snuffer.  Some of those things he didn't actually kill, but he's at least seen them, so he figures they must have died already, or will die at some point in the future.

The DM doesn't expect Imbroglio to last very much longer, but Tim is very hopeful the plucky little elf can go all the way.

- Ark 

Sunday, April 24, 2011


I'd like to congratulate Anthony Hunter on his logo that won the Old School Links To Wisdom Logo Contest.  A high-five goes out to Greg Christopher as well for his entry into the competition. 

Ah, well, it's a bummer to loose - but a temple probably speaks to people more than Calamity Clam the Bivalve of Old School Wisdom anyway. It's nice to see I got some votes on it.  But now, what the heck do I do with this logo thing? 

I figure that since I created it to give away, I should just give it away in the same manner that I did the Old School Rocks! logo.  I'm not sure if anyone wants it, however, or how to package it.  The image to the side over there is one idea.  I could see it on a t-shirt worn by some burly old grognard sitting at a table in a gaming shop.  Growling.  Biting other patrons.

Um . . . okay, maybe not biting, but looking smug.  :)  So, if anyone has any thought on the matter, let me know.

Thanks to everyone who voted!

- Ark

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Doctor Who in Arabic

By Becca at No Smoking in the Skullcave
I spent part of my childhood running up and down the sand-dunes in Saudi Arabia.  To this day, buried deep under the sand near Rahimah, sits a headless Han Solo, an Obi-Wan Kenobi (sans cape but with his light saber,) a transparent yellow and silver headed Micronaut Time Traveller, the reflector dish off the Millennium Falcon, and a fully functional Space 1999 Eagle Transporter.

TV was a hit of miss affair in Saudi, even though we had two TVs.  One was an NTSC set for picking up the ARAMCO station.  It only broadcast 5 or so hours a day - mainly Scooby Doo, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and strange British Cartoons that scar me to this day.

The other TV was a PAL affair, picking up regional broadcasting from Saudi Arabia, and when the humidity was just right, shows from Qatar and Abu Dhabi.  My mother sat glued to the TV in the afternoons watching soap operas from the Emirates.  She had no idea what they were saying, but the male and female leads chain smoked a lot and had an intense staring contests with one another. 

In the evenings we would watch Arabic stations, channel surfing (in the age before remote controls) for something to watch other than pictures of Yassir Arafat.  We could catch BBC shows on occasion.  I remember most started (or was it ended,) with a picture of a fancy building near water and the word 'THAMES' boldly emblazoned on top.  I pronounced it like 'James' with a 'THAY' in the front.  Oh, laugh away, you limey bastards.  You go and try to pronounce the town of Palestine, Texas correctly.  WRONG.  That way you said it in your head just now  WRONG.  Ha!

It was this way I learned about Doctor Who.  It was in black and white.  The good Doctor was a gray-haired man and he had a lovely lady with him named Sarah Jane Smith, and they went on wild and wacky adventures together with dinosaurs, robots, and god-knows-what-else.  They all spoke Arabic, and the show was sub-titled in English.  That was a lot of reading to go through for a kid, I swear!  But it was worth it.

Jon Pertwee and Elisabeth Sladen were my firsts.  I eventually moved from Saudi, and this teeth-and-curls guy eventually became my new go-to doctor back in the States, late nights on PBS, but Sarah Jane Smith was my Who-girl for a long, long while (mainly because the PBS in my area refused to get the post Baker Dr. Who's and repeated the 4th Doctor over and over and over again.)

I've tried to let the news settle in the past couple of days.  Elisabeth Sladen's death is rather unsettling.  It seems too soon.  Way too soon.  It wasn't actually ever supposed to happen at all.

- Ark

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's a Trap!

I've been going through the various variants on the trap game over the last week, trying to understand how they work and how the versions work, but I've been having some problems.  I'm a bit thick in the head sometimes and I have to chew over a thing like a cow chews its cud.

Eventually I just started to do what I do when my mind really refuses to wrap itself around an issue - I make pictures.  This issue seemed to lend itself to a flowchart.  I am a computer dude, so distilling a problem into a flowchart is something I'm trained to do.  Don't try this at home.  I'm a professional.

The blue shapes indicate the optimum path.  The diamonds are decision points - whether to bump, grind, or whatnot.  Each decision point has 4 answers, but only one right.  So for "Guess 1" the player has a 25 percent chance to guess right, and a 75 percent chance to guess wrong.  I follow the whole flowchart down, determining percentages.  Each main decision gets a 'second chance,' as indicated by the Sticky column.

This, I think, is the basic system distilled.  There are a lot of fancy add-ons, but I think that this is it at the core.  Please let me know if I'm on the right track here.

My big worry was that the system seemed pretty hard to beat, even with second chances.  My math indicated that there is a 6.25% chance of success, and a 93.75% chance of failure in the basic system.  That's a tough nut to crack.  So, if I've got this right, there would need to be other factors making some locks easier, and some characters more capable.  I think there is a good library of these things available now, I just want to make sure that, at this point, I am on firm ground.

So, does this chart make sense?


- Ark

(I updated the flowchart as I noticed a computational error.  All fixed now.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

NTRPGCON and Golf Ball Sized Hail

So I registered for my events at NTRPGCON last week.


Cyclopeatron's blog post reminded me.  I had intended on staying up till midnight and signing up.  The thunderstorms rolled in that evening, however.  The golf-ball sized hail smashed the windshield of my car and knocked out power in my neighborhood until the wee hours of the morning - long after I had passed out on the floor next to my computer, surrounded by candles, in a pool of drool, waiting and hoping for power so I could sign up to play D&D with Erol Otus.

I woke up late for work and in that fluster-cluck of a morning, I forgot to sign up until Cyclopeatron reminded me with his post later that day.  Piss. No Erol Otus game. :(

But in it's own Taoist way, the universe has handed the boy and I the perfect NTRPGCON schedule.

Evening - URUTSK!

After reading Timeshadows' blog for a bit, I still have no idea what the heck UTURSK is, but it seems so cool and mysterious.   I look forward to it.


Morning - ???

Okay, this one is a little confusing.  The description block goes something like this:

Game Title : ???
Game System : Eldritch Entertainment
Number of Players : 4-6
Pregens/Level of Characters: ?? /??
World Setting: ??
Short Description: ??

Normally, I would have walked on by this one.  However, the name at the top was James M. Ward.  I couldn't get into his Metamorphosis Alpha game.  I think sitting with his for a few hours would be cool all by itself - even if the only thing he did was fold napkins or try to sell me a time-share in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  But a little research told me that Eldritch Entertainment is some kind of start up by Frank Mentzer, Chris Clark, Tim Kask, Jim Ward.  Well.  Again, I don't know what the heck this is, but it kind of sounds like the boy and I get to be guinea pigs for, in the words of Dave Bowman, "Something Wonderful."

Afternoon - ART!

The boy and I get to watch Erol Otus, Paul Jaquays, Jeff Dee, and Jason Braun draw for an hour.  I mean, how cool is that?  To answer my own question - that is BOOYA cool.

Evening - Frank Mentzer

Gaming with Frank.  Nuff said?


Saturday is psycho hectic day.  At least for everybody else.  I only scheduled one thing up.  While everyone else is flitting around like crazy, I'm gonna bum around the vendor stalls and pretend I picked up smoking again and find old grognards to hang out with in the parking lot.  I did schedule one thing:

Afternoon - Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game

I think this means that Harley Stroh is going to be play testing the new DCC RPG from Goodman Games.  I hadn't even heard of the product until I saw it mentioned on George Strayton's blog.  Seems like it might be pretty cool.  I get he feeling that the boy is going to like it a whole heck of a lot.  Luckily I have a set of Zocchi dice.

As an aside - have you seen the artists who have worked on the DCC RPG book?  Jeff Easley, Jason Edwards, Tom Galambos, Friedrich Haas, Jim Holloway, Doug Kovacs, Diesel Laforce, William McAusland, Brad McDevitt, Jesse Mohn, Peter Mullen, Erol Otus, Stefan Poag, Jim Roslof, Chad Sergesketter, Chuck Whelon, and Mike Wilson.  Even if the game blows, it would probably be worth it for the art alone!  Holy moly.


Morning - OD&D + Spelljammer + Cyclopeatron

I really can't think of a better way to wrap the Con up than with Ochre Jelly in Outer Space and Dave Areson's fashion twin.  Can you?

Let's just hope their are no thunderstorms concealing golfball sized hail over the weekend.  But we'll be safe.  We never have thunderstorms during the spring in Texas.


- Ark

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Garbage In, Language Out

I once created a program that created languages.  Well, not whole languages, just the words.  There may have been many inspirations for it, but I can only remember two of them.

The first was a Dragon magazine article that I've never been able to remember the name of or find again.  The article contained a good bit of detail on creating languages, and brought to my attention the components that made a language 'soft' or 'hard,' and went on to create, if I remember correctly, to start an elven and orcish lexicon based on those principles.  Fascinating article that I haven't seen for 25 years or so.

The second was the Vargr supplement for Traveller.  The Vargr were an uplifted star-faring canine race.  In the supplement were tables to enable the referee to generate random Vargr words.  Using the system, you could create a bunch of noises that sounded somewhat like growls and barks, but was completely serviceable for naming your wolf-man characters, their starships, and worlds.  It was really neat.

I figured I could take my Commodore 64 and write a program that spat out randomized words based on sound chunks that gave all of the words a certain feel.  I was successful, and have rewritten program many times on many different platforms, whenever I remembered what I had done and felt a need for it again.  Some versions were really complex, some incredibly simple.  All fit a need.

The current version I have is in Visual Basic Script - so it will work on just about any Windows type box.  If anyone is interested, I have it available here. Simply download it and unzip the directory.  You don't have to know butkus about programming to run it, or adjust the important bits.

RatherGameyWordCreator.vbs is the script.  You can usually just double-click it to make it run.  It reads in the SoundFile.txt, which is comprised of one sound per line.  The script them randomizes the sounds into variable length words and spits them out in a file called Word.txt.

I have a couple of example sound files that you can play with, just rename them or copy the contents to Soundfile.txt and let 'er rip. Create your own collections of sounds and create your own languages.  It's fun!  Well, geeky fun, but still - fun!

For the lazy, I'm copying the content of the script here so you can peruse it.  There are lots of variables up at the top you can tweak to adjust the lengths of words, the amount generated, etc.  It's a pretty simple program, and smarty-farty programmers could probably improve it a thousand fold.

I release this script to you as open source - so open source that it ain't even BSD or GNU.  It's just yours.  Run wild. ;)

' RatherGameyWordCreator.vbs
' Makes Words from SoundFile.txt
' Writes them to Words.xt
Option Explicit

Dim FileSystemObjectInput, InputFileName, InputFile, InputFileLine
Dim FileSystemObjectOutput, OutputFileName, OutputFile
Dim RandomSound, RandomLength, SoundMax, SoundMin, LengthMax, LengthMin, Word
Dim NumberOfWords, Count, i, j
Dim Sounds()

Count = 0
NumberOfWords = 10
SoundMin = 0
LengthMax = 6
LengthMin = 1

InputFileName = "SoundFile.txt"
OutputFileName = "Words.txt"

Set FileSystemObjectInput = CreateObject("Scripting.FileSystemObject")

If FileSystemObjectInput.FileExists(InputFileName) Then
 Set InputFile = FileSystemObjectInput.OpenTextFile(InputFileName, 1)
  Do While Not InputFile.AtEndOfStream
   InputFileLine = InputFile.ReadLine
    If Trim(InputFileLine) <> "" Then
      Redim Preserve Sounds(Count)
      Sounds(Count) = InputFileLine
      Count = Count + 1
    End If
 WScript.Echo "The sound file was not there. Please create SoundFile.txt"
End If

Set FileSystemObjectOutput = CreateObject("Scripting.fileSystemObject")
Set OutputFile = FileSystemObjectOutput.CreateTextFile(OutputFileName, TRUE)


For i = 1 To NumberOfWords
 RandomLength = (Int((LengthMax-LengthMin+1)*Rnd+LengthMin))
 For j = 1 To RandomLength
  RandomSound = Sounds(Int((SoundMax-SoundMin+1)*Rnd+SoundMin))
  If Word = "" Then
   Word = RandomSound
   Word = Word & "-" & RandomSound
  End If

Set FileSystemObjectOutput = Nothing

- Ark

Saturday, April 16, 2011

. . . But You Can't Pick Your Friend's Nose


I am rather overwhelmed at the response. Who knew there was such a huge, swollen balloon of hidden angst about lock-picking waiting to explode with a simple little prick? I guess I was the prick.

[Watches a tumbleweed roll by as he awaits his rim-shot. Only silence.  Oh well.]

Excellent stuff, excellent stuff. Thanks a whole lot, folks. I was sitting here without an answer, and now I have a truck load of answers. Now to sort through them all and start play-testing.

To my knowledge, the following blog posts, or their comments, have addressed the lock pick/trap disarm added fun value question.  If there are any others, please let me know so I can peruse their wisdom:

Wouldn't it be cool is doctors and pharmaceutical companies had blogs? Some Endocrinologist could pop up and say "You know, this AIDS things suck. Anybody got a cure?" And then 500 bloggers would descend and formulate not only one cure, but 501 viable variations.

Okay, at least I can dream.

The boy has some concerns, though. He thinks that dice or flowcharts may not be the best way to open a lock. He told me - with a serious face and everything - that dynamite would be the best method.

- Ark

Thursday, April 14, 2011

You Can Pick Your Friends And You Can Pick Your Nose, But . . .

The smell of molding paper was overwhelming.  Collapsed wooden bookshelves lay in scattered heaps around the ancient library.  The party stood around a large metal box attached to the wall.  Ferrit the Halfling thief knelt next to it, a set of metal picks, hooks, and a torsion wrench in his hand.

"I search for traps," the boy smiled and picked up two ten-siders, his mohawk flopping from side to side.  Each summer since he was very small, he has requested a mohawk.  Now that he is home-schooled, Texas school haircut regulations need not be enforced, so he can hawk his mo all he wants.

"The DM rolls that in this version, remember?"

"Oh yeah," he sighed, his mowhawk drooping a bit.  I rolled the dice behind a can of Coke Zero.

"You search all around the cold iron box and the lock and don't find any traps," I said.  "What do you do now?"

The boy nervously looked around the table at the other players.  One nodded.

"Okay, I try to pick the lock," he said, grabbing his dice again.

I sighed.

At least in 4e the boy would get to do SOMETHING if his thief was doing his job.  He could at least toss a d20 around.  Thieving by DM die roll in the old school just seems quite . . . unfun.  The boy hasn't complained openly, but the drooping mohawk says it all.

There has got to be another way.  He needs to feel empowered and involved.

I suppose I could have him describe what Ferrit is doing, and then add or subtract some percentage o the skill roll based on how good what he said sounded.  I've done that a lot in the many skill based games of the past.  It just doesn't seem right in this circumstance.

I had a thought, though.

Why not toss the dice.  Not to roll them, just put them away.  Then I could make traps and locks a puzzle for the boy to solve.

I'm not really sure how to do this.  I envision something like . . .

"Okay, you see the lock has four tumblers that you can see from the keyhole," I say casually.

"I take a stick and wiggle it inside the hole a bit,' the boy says.

"Okay Mister Smartypants, you set off the poison needle, which stabs at thin air where your thumb <i>would</i> have been, were you trying to pick the lock with your tools."

"Boomshakalaka," the boy pumps his fist, his mohawk fully erect.  "I carefully roll the first tumbler to the right until I feel resistance . . ."

Okay, something like that, but without the boy and I having to become experts ourselves in the art of ancient lock-picking. And not boring the rest of the party while we are doing it.   I'm just not exactly sure how to pull it off.

Any ideas on this?  Any pointers to someone who has already come up with something similar?

Thanks in advance.

- Ark

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Old School Rocks! World Tour

A Childhood Dream . . .
Joseph Browning of Expeditious Retreat Press contacted me last night about using the Old School Rocks logo.  Since I gave the logo away to all-a-ya'll last month, he didn't have to ask, but it was very nice of him anyway.

He's wanting to use in for t-shirt logos and booth images at the OSRG booth at Gen Con.




They've got quite a ginormous booth this year due to a Gen Con scholarship (or something like that) and need to pimp it out big time.  Spinning hubs caps, suicide doors, and a diamond grill.  You know, that kind of thing.  They needs help. Go buy a t-shirt form them!

I'm so pleased!  Okay, not pleased.  Head explodingly wowed.  If someone could figure out how to get them stacks of the t-shirts to sell directly at the booth, I think that would be way cool.  I'm not making any money out of this.  I just want to get the world out and reanimate some grognards or cook up some grognardlings.

By the way, Old School Renaissance Group consists of Black Blade Publishing, Brave Halfling Publishing, Expeditious Retreat Press, Frog God Games, Goblinoid Games, Henchman Abuse, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Pacesetter Games & Simulations, Sine Nomine Publishing.

That's quite a list of rock stars there! Oh, and some metal dude too.

When I was 11, Gen Con was my Mecca.  I never got to paint my donkey orange and go on Hajj, but at least this time I am going in spirit. 

Boo! :)

- Ark

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Crotchety Old Sour Man

So I'm on a message board that doesn't have anything to do with role playing games (yes, I have a deep life outside of role playing games) and a post pops up about older Dungeons and Dragons and getting a local game together.  I was all over that (okay, so my deep life outside of role playing games is more like a very shallow bathtub.)

Even though I have a group already going, I could always play some more, eh?

The organizer asked about what versions people are interested in, and I pop up with my 0e or 1e Old School Rocks spiel.  Then the avalanche of 3.5, 4.0, and Pathfinder post start.  People are hooking up right and left and I'm siting there with my dick in one hand and nothing else in the other. 

It made me feel old.

Old and lonely.

I remember when I was absent from D&D for years, then came in when 4.0.  I was with it, brah.  I was NOW.  I heard other people bitching about 4e and man - those guys were old crotchety bastard who just couldn't get with the future, baby.  They were stuck back in childhood nostalgia and were perhaps just bitter and nasty old people to begin with. 

So I sat there feeling bitter and nasty. 

But maybe . . .

Maybe I should give 4e another try.  I mean, what does a paltry 2 years of campaigning really tell a person about a gaming system?  Or maybe I should embrace Pathfinder?  Forget the boring ass game I had when I tested out 3.5.  Pathfinder couldn't really have hour long combats, could it?  Maybe if you just halve everybody's hit points or something.  I mean, maybe there was a way to be hip and modern and fun and not have to rewrite the newer D&D versions completely in a way that I hadn't tried yet?  Maybe?

Maybe I was just a stubborn bastard who would rather wallow in self-pity and melancholy rather than get with the new times and have some fun.

Then I received a private message on the board.  It was from a guy and his friend and they really wanted to get together with me and play some 1e.


Suck on THAT, modern day burnt coffee swilling smart phone addicted hipster D&D!  Imuna go crawl back into my caveman cave with some caveman buddies and play some real shit!


- Ark

Monday, April 11, 2011

Seafaring Halflings

"Get off the computer and let's play something," I told the boy when I got home from work. 

He spun around in his chair.  "How bout Minecraft?" he said.

I gave him a 'dad' look.  He gave me a pouty ten year old look.

"Get off the computer and stare at the wall then.  Just get off the computer.  You'll go blind and sterile.  We could go play soccer."




"Castle Ravenloft?"


"Sorry Sliders?"


"R2D2 Trouble?"


"Forbidden Island?"


"Zombie Dice?


I checked to see if my son had turned into the Aflac goat.  Not quite.  Horns, but no beard yet.

"How about Small World?" he asked.

I blinked.  Small World - the game that had sat languishing on the dresser since Christmas morning.  The boy had shied away from it as if it was a cootie-filled girl dressed all in pink.

"Um . . ." I still hadn't finished reading the rules.  There was a lot of rules.  It seemed like a pretty complicated game.  I wasn't sure that I could pull it off and make it enjoyable for him.  If I showed one second of unsureness - WHAM - he'd be all over me like stink on a dog and he'd never want to give the game another chance.  Crap. 

"Sure!" I said.  Sometimes you have to stuff your our neuroses down into the pit where you keep your childhood fear of Aunt Sandra and that whole striped sock fetish thing.  "But I don't know all the rules yet, so I'll read them out loud as we go.  Okay?"

"Okay," he smiled.

The game turned out about 500 times easier than I had thought.  You've got all of these fantasy races on a world that is too small for them - so they are fighting it out one chunk of land at a time.  Races have their own powers - like Trolls attack really well from mountains.  But then the races get a random attribute - like Flying, so they are not forced to only attack adjacent land, but can go attack anywhere on the map.

The two of us picked up the game really quickly.  There are some weird things, like when your race gets spread to thin, you can put it into 'decline' mode and go get another race to continue your conquest.  Each race and ability offers a lot of options and tricks - if you use them right.  Each bit of land you hold generates money for you, and at the end of the game, the player with the most victory coins wins.

The boy went first, paying top dollar for Berserk Dwarves.  I went for the cheapo Spirit Trolls.  The Beserk Dwarves ate up a lot of ground, while my spirit Trolls attempted to make a mountain empire.  We stayed on opposite sides of the board, not fighting one another.  At first, I wasn't sure how to do that anyway.  But then about at the same time, we realized that we had extended our armies to the breaking point.  There was really nothing to do but set the races into decline and pull out new ones. 

Setting the races into decline keeps the land on your side, generating money, but not as much as it would have if they were not in decline.  Again the boy paid top dollar - this time for Seafaring Skeletons.  I grabbed the cheapo Diplomatic Halflings.  Those skeletons were wicked.  Since they were seafaring, they could grab lakes and seas where no other army could.  And the were freaking undead, so they could generate extra troops if they conquered lands with creatures in them.  Geez.  My Halfling spent their wad pretty quickly, and I was overextended.

But my Trolls had been Spirit Trolls, meaning that they could stay in decline longer than any other race.  So I popped my halflings into decline, kept my Trolls in decline, and grabbed some Heroic Humans.  In the end, because of the trolls, I generated more victory coins that the boy did, and won.  Boo-yah!

It will probably be the last time I win, so I best revel in it.

One thing I really liked about the game is that it doesn't take itself too seriously.  Its all funny and goofy - and the boy didn't get upset when he lost.  Other battle-type games have set him on edge before.  This was light and fun and we are both looking forward to play again.  I just need to go over those rules again to see what I messed up on. :)

Four thumbs up!

- Ark

Sunday, April 10, 2011


The party was recuperating in the ruins of the temple above the dungeon again.  They had been fighting a room full of gelatinous cubes - slowly - over a period of a week.  Suddenly, Tim's crazy elf, who was on watch duty, heard grunting sounds.  He quickly woke everyone else and they went outside to take a look.

Crouched behind boulders, they saw eight orcs sniffing around - perhaps for truffles.  The PCs were nervous since they were no match for such a large contingent, but the party had careful canvased the area with snares the day before.  Luck was on their side as seven of the eight orcs sailed into the air, cursing and dangling upside-down like pinatas.

The players smiled.  This would be a breeze - but they had to act quickly.  The orcs could break free very easily.   Ron's dwarf assassin jumped up.  This was Ron's second dwarf assassin, as the first had recently been eaten by a dragon.  He pulled out a dagger that had been carefully coated with the venom of a giant spider and threw it at one of the dangling orcs.

Ron rolled a 1. 

As a DM, I see critical fumbles as the universe's way of informing me that it is now time to be a dick.

"Hmm, roll an attack on yourself."

He sighed and rolled the d20.  It came up 20.

"Ouch, full damage," I blinked.  Ron stared at me, and continued to stare, as if I was forgetting something.

I suddenly remembered.  "Oh crap.  Save vs. Poison." I searched my mind for what type of poison.  It was save or die.

He failed.

"Um, okay," I took a deep breath.  "You throw the dagger and it lodges into your foot.  You clutch at your chest, make a death rattle, and fall down on the ground, dead."

Ron calmly slid his character sheet under his folder, pull out a piece of notebook paper, and began rolling six-siders.

Tim pulled his jaw back to it's closed and upright position, looked at me, and busted out laughing.

I try really hard in my life not to upset anyone unduly or pick on people or make them feel bad.  However, I am human.  I laughed. 

The whole group began to laugh uncontrollably until our sides hurt.  All except Ron, who finished rolling up his new character.

"I'm sorry," I apologized to Ron, trying to control myself.  "What is this new character going to be?"

"Another dwarf assassin, of course." he smiled.

"Hopefully the third time would be a charm."  We all cracked up again. 

When we all calmed down, I described the situation again.

"We are so screwed," Tim shook his head, the smile fading from his lips.  "I run."

- Ark

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Croucher

Are you tired of dragging the characters through dungeons already?  Maybe it's time to clean house . . .

The Croucher

No. Enc.: 1-12
Alignment: Chaotic (evil)
Movement: 60' (20')
Fly: 180' (60')
Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 1 (drain)
Damage: 1d3 (special)
Save: F3
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: None
XP: 56

The Croucher, or Rabisu, is a demonic spirit that occupies the houses of the living.  They can be found at the thresholds of doors and in dark corners, waiting to pounce on the unwary.  They enjoy scaring people and their pets.

During the night, they will sneak into the rooms of children and siphon off their life energy, causing horrific nightmares and bed-wetting.  They can use this life-stealing ability on adults, but usually only when cornered.  The Croucher gains as many hit points as is drained from the victim.

In their natural state, the Croucher is invisible.  Throwing salt onto the spirit will cause it to become visible for 1-4 rounds.

Oftentimes, Crouchers will be found in groups, each infesting a different part of a house and not interacting with one another.  However, if one of their kind if assaulted, the will swarm the attackers and attempt to drain them of life.

The creatures may be turned by clerics, but for such purposes they are considered to be Infernal.  Crouchers brought to zero hit points will disappear, but reappear 1-8 days later.  The only way to permanently rid a structure of Crouchers is for a cleric to perform a ritual cleansing of the house after 'killing' them all, which involves lighting every corner of the house and throwing a loud, raucous party with plenty of joke telling and laughter.

Based on the Croucher, page 183 of A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits, by Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack.

- Ark

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thoomp Thoomp Thoomp

The party spent the night in the ruins above the dungeon, nursing their wounds and preparing for their journey back to the Keep.  The two retainers - a magic user and cleric - had angrily quit the group, but agreed to travel with them through the wilderness for mutual protection.  This was their first dungeon together and things had not gone well, but they had all survived.

A few hours into their journey, as they passed through a clearing in the forest, the party heard a loud 'thoomp thoomp thoomp' sound in the distance, emanating from the treeline beyond their line of sight . . .

* * *

As I began to design my campaign world for Labyrinth Lord, I drew large scale maps and painted out a history and cultures and jotted down all manner of ideas for adventure.  I focused in on the maps, drawing more detail and went more in-depth about the cultures and lands.

Then I abruptly stopped.

For thirty years I have reveled in world creation, from top to bottom, bottom to top, side to side - what have you.  World creation is a love.  But something happened in my brain.  Re-reading the classic rules, devouring old school blogs, and listening deep in my heart - I couldn't do it.  I had to stop.  I began to hunger for something that only happened occasionally - something that was never planned - the excitement of what happens when the players go off the map.

At those points, I got to improvise.  I got to fly by the seat of my pants.  I got to pull crazy shit out of my ass.  During those times, I was much more willing to let the players come up with crazy ass shit that had deep impact, not only on the game, but in the campaign universe itself.

I realized, suddenly, that it was there all along - in the rules.  Random tables all over the place.  Monsters, dungeons, treasure, even harlots.  Crazy stuff to keep the DM on his or her toes just as much as the players. 

I'm going to rag on 4e now.  To feel like I was 'doing it right,' I had to prep 4e, and prep it hard.  Every adventure, I had to set up encounters that were balanced.  I had to understand in detail the intricacies of the fighting abilities of each monster and how they would act as a unit.  I could usually only offer the players a hand full of path options during a night as getting off track screwed up all of the planning and balance.  Sure, you can run 4e loosey-goosey - but it never felt right.  I never could pull it off.

But oooh boy, it's not like that in the old school.

NO PREP.  I don't have to think of a single thing before hand.  I can randomize just about every part of the game, and it flows smooth like butter.  Of course, It's hard not to think about things, come up with horrific trap ideas, fearsome beasts, and bizarre NPCs - but I can slap all of that into tables and surprise myself with the combination, no matter how off balance they are.

As the party travelled, I rolled that a wilderness encounter would happen.  I flipped to page 105 in Labyrinth Lord and looked on the Forest/Wooded Column under the Wilderness Monster Encounter Table.  Dan says right there above it, 'The Labyrinth Lord will have to adjust encounters to fit the particular environment and level of the PCs.  Further, this table should only be considered an example."

No . . . I like those tables for this section of my wilderness.  They are all over the place.  Scripting an encounter and carefully measuring it and balancing it is something I'm quite sick of.  Dan has wonderful tables.  Don't let him talk you out of using them.

I rolled a d20.  It came up as a 7.  Green dragon.

* * *

"A green dragon whooshes over your heads.  It's neck cranes, pointing it's beady little eyes back at your party and with a flick of it's wings, it cartwheels in the sky, lining up for an attack run."

The three players stared at me.

"So how young is it?  Juvenile?  A hatchling?" one player asked, used to the age ranks of dragons in 4e.

I shrugged. "It's a dragon - the first one you've ever seen.  Set down the die.  There is no skill check.  You have no idea how old it is, but it's big - about 30 feet long.

I saw numbers flash by in the player's eyes as they determined what the mini of the beast would look like.  Worry set in quickly.

"I run." they all said.  They scattered in different directions towards the trees.

It was glorious.  Some back story is needed here.  In two years of playing 4e - these guys never ran from a fight.  Sure, once they ran after a fight, just in case.  They trusted me to play fair and run things in the spirit of 4e.  In most games, they were on an offensive adventure path and had time to reconnoiter - but even when surprised, they trusted the magic of the balance.

Not this time.

The entire game session dealt with the dragon attack and the aftermath.  Everyone had a good time, even the poor guy who got killed and had to roll up another character.  It was one of the most intense and visceral sessions I've played in a while.

All because I rolled a seven on one of Daniel Proctor's Encounter tables.

- Ark

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Jesus Christ vs. Dungeons and Dragons

When I was growing up, my mother was a new-age hippie type - interested in the whole Erich von Däniken, Edgar Cayce, Ruth Montgomery, Charles Berlitz, Rosicrucian, reincarnation, Atlantis, crystal power, and the space jalopy of the gods kind of thing. Catty-corner to us lived my mother's good friend, who was a bona fide pre-'Wicca' witch, armed with incense burners, beaded curtains between doorways, mood rings, a pointy black hat, a real-live crystal ball, blank horoscope quadrant sheets, and a huge map of Middle Earth displayed prominently in the living room.

I loved that map. 

My grandmother, on the other hand, was an old time, bible thumping, tent revival, fire and brimstone, speaking in tongues, casting out demons, book burning, rattlesnake handling, warrior for Jesus.  Nothing was safe from her cleansing gaze.  She found a OUIJA board hidden under my mother's bed once and burned it.  My mother was 33 years old, married, with two kids at the time.

While I only saw the lady several times a year, this was apparently enough for her to gauge my personality.  My grandmother pronounced me a 'hooligan who would burn for all eternity in hell' at the age of eight.  I do not recall what I did to receive such judgment.  Perhaps my disembodied head appeared to her in a dream spewing fire.  I just don't remember.

Needless to say, Dungeons and Dragons was a huge issue.  If she would ever have found my TSR stash, it would have been up in flames faster than the lady could switch from speaking English to speaking in Tongues.  She knew I played it.  I was a friend of Satan, so obviously, I played it.  I had probably even attained the loathsome rank of 'Dungeon Master' in the cabal, she could just never prove it.

The thing I was interested in that she approved of was Star Wars.  It was obviously the story of Space Jesus versus Space Satan.  That kind of thing was okay.  But the Smurfs - no way.  Evil.  The Smurfs promoted homosexuality, witchcraft, and necrophilia.  It was obvious.

I was rather shocked when I discovered that other people began to agree with my grandmother.  Kids echoing their parents, mainly.

"If we could play Top Secret, that would be okay, but mom doesn't want me playing D&D.  It's a sin."

"My dad says I can't play with you because you play D&D."

"Dinosaur bones are actually whales put together wrong and when you burn D&D dice you can hear the the souls of the damned screaming."

God bless Texas.

So, years later and I'm pulling together a 4e group.  The open call brought in a guy who had the potential of being a tad late to the Saturday evening games because of church.  Well, that was a new one, but it was a good excuse as 'sorry dude, I just flaked' ever was.

Eventually, his ranger multi-classed into a cleric.  I noticed that he never put down a word in the 'Deity' field on his character.  He never did pick D&D deity specific powers like you can in 4e, either. 

It wasn't hard to figure out what deity his character was worshiping, though he never did say.

I really just wanted to hug the guy and tell him that it was perfectly okay for his character to worship Jesus, and if anyone at the table had an issue with it, I'd give them the smack down.  But being a dude, I just watched quietly.  He stealthily went around doing clerical things in the background and no one gave him any shit about it.  I have no idea if anyone really noticed.

It's funny how life works, isn't it?  I'd have let my Grandmother worship Jesus too, if she'd have ever asked.

- Ark

Monday, April 4, 2011

What Monster?

The muse has continued flitting about my head.  The muse is apparently the Muse of Kindergarten Refrigerator Art, but still, she is a muse, so you have to pay attention when she screams at you to draw something. :)


- Ark

Sunday, April 3, 2011


This has nothing to do with the A-Z Blogging Challenge, though it looks like Mother Nature wants me to participate anyway.  Mother Nature is crazy like that.

The Texas afternoon was nice, in the high 80s, and perfect for outside shenanigans.  The Boy was off with a friend having fun at the Legoland Discovery Center.  The Baby Momma was out sunning in her bikini, and I thought I'd get some sun on my pasty white nerd flesh as well.  So sitting in a plastic lawn chair sun-worshipping, I notice something.

There was a noise.  My first thoughts were that the wind had picked up and was rustling the leaves in the live oak behind me - a lot.  The rustle kept on getting louder.  I felt no wind on my skin, however.  I tilted my head back to look at the tree.

There were gnats in the air.

Now big clouds of gnats ain't a strange thing round these parts.  They happen.  If you have to walk through them, you just inhale and dash through the cloud so you don't suck a gnat up your nose.  No big deal.

The gnats were hovering above the back yard.  The cloud was getting bigger.  The gnats were getting bigger.  The rustling was accompanied by a buzz that was growing louder and louder by the second.

"Look!" I yelled at the Baby Momma and pointed above us.

"What?" she looked at me, then up.

It suddenly clicked in my head.  "Run!"

"What?" she looked back at me.

"Get inside!  It's a swarm!" I leaped out of my chair.

She looked back up.  "No . . ."  Her eyes widened and then we hauled ass inside.

With our noses pressed up against the sliding glass door, we watched the sky dim and the airspace above our house fill with bees.  Thousands of bees.  Perhaps tens of thousands of bees.  It's damn hard to count bees in situations like that, but to properly describe it takes a lot of expletives.

"Look on that branch," she pointed at the live oak.  Bees were . . . coagulating . . . on the branch, dangling in strings like some freaky form of bees-laden Christmas tinsel.  More and more bees created the bee chains until there was this massive, writhing blob of bees infesting the tree.

I'm still rather stunned by the whole thing.

Lots of internet searches and calls to bee wranglers gave us some information about what had happened.  These were perfectly normal Texas honey bees doing what they do.  A new queen left a nest, taking about 60% of the old hive's worker bees with her.  The swarm decided to use our backyard as a way-point in finding a suitable place to build their permanent hive.


Multiple experts said they will probably clear off the next day to their new home.  One slight problem would be if they discovered holes in our roof or eaves where they could set up shop.


We coated the eaves with Wasp poison and are hoping for the best.

Of course this lead me to thinking about such an event in game terms.  It was freaking scary!  But imagine if these were a couple of thousand D&D Giant Killer Bees.  Entire villages could be wiped out during a swarm.  Imagine a swarm decides that the capital city would be a good place to live.  The sewers would probably be an ideal home for the giant bees.

Okay, I think I've thought to much about this.  My skin is crawling and I need to go scratch my entire body. 

- Ark

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Dice Bonanza

Look what arrived in the mail today!

From top left to right bottom:
  1. A big-ass red d30.
  2. A big-ass d12 hit location die.
  3. A d30 alphabet die with 4 wildcard slots.
  4. A mythical rientsdie.
  5. A six-sided multiplier.
  6. An X/2X/3X d6.
  7. An eight-sided compass rose die.
Yeah!  I can officially join the Order of the d30 now!  I never realized, though, how freaking HUGE those d30s are.  And HEAVY.  You could put on of those in a sling and kill Goliath.  And they roll so strangely - like they can't make up their little minds.  It's a very odd beast.  But yeah!

Note:  Observers from across the house think that when I roll several d30s together on my desk, it sounds like loud farting.

- Ark

Friday, April 1, 2011

I've Seen the Future and I Repent!

It's official!

- Ark

A-Z Blogging Challenge!

Are you kidding?  No freaking way!  There is going to be too much good stuff to read that I'm not going to have time to write!

Time to set out the lawn chair, pop open a beer, and watch the eruditic correspondence pullulate.

- Ark