Friday, April 26, 2013

Relative Popularities of OSR Games

If G+ community size is any indicator...

634 - Swords & Wizardry
551 - Original D&D
549 - Dungeon Crawl Classics
512 - Advanced D&D
329 - Lamentations of the Flame Princes
236 - Adventurer Conqueror King
222 - Labyrinth Lord
209 - Castles and Crusades
208 - Basic Fantasy
143 - Talislanta
124 - Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea
119 - Adventures Dark and Deep
115 - Holmes Basic
110 - Basic / Expert D&D
97   - AD&D 2e
70   - Delving Deeper

For Reference:

2142 - Pathfinder
1465 - OSR Group
1430 - Dungeon World
1195 - Savage Worlds
733   - D&D Next
653   - D&D (4e)
437   - GURPS
365   - Shadowrun 

An Incredible Map by Luka Rejec

A petrified purple worm makes for an excellent tower, as shown in this fine map by Luka Rejec. Take a look at his other maps HERE, his game blog HERE, and his art blog HERE.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Session Reports? Do You Like Obsidian Portal? Should I Move to OP?

I am looking pretty hard at using Obsidian Portal for managing and presenting campaign notes and session reports. If I did this I would probably stop posting session reports on this blog. I guess the basic purpose of this post is to ask if anyone cares if this happens...?

I was surprised that my last few session reports got quite a lot of hits, even though they didn't generate any comments. The lack of comments makes it difficult to gauge if readers like these posts, or if they were just clicking through and yawning. I've traditionally shied away from writing many lengthy session reports on my blog because I figured they were mostly boring to people outside my game. When I've posted them in the past I've usually tried to attach some more general theme, observation, or anecdote. That being said, I have gotten numerous requests over the years to post more background and creative material on my blog - mostly from people that have played in my games at conventions.

So, my specific questions here are:

1. Have you used OP and do you like it? Is there something better?

2. Do you follow or browse others' campaigns on OP?

3. Do you have even the slightest interest in reading my campaign details and session reports?

4. If you are interested in my campaign material, would you ever bother linking over to OP to see what's going on?


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

H. Bogniks and Girl Sips Black Blood

Catheign - Session 2

On their march back from the Cloud Mine of Catheign the party chatted with Meia, the Gol fighting woman rescued from the first level of the cloud mine. Some relevant notes emerged from the conversation…

On the dusk island of Gol Roc there once was a man called Henryk Bogniks. This man made his fortune offering healings and resurrections. He was not well loved though, as he left an artistic legacy on the bodies of his clients in the form of signature scars, minor disfigurements, and discolored and warted lesions. Bogniks was known as a decadent, a man who consorted with personalities not recognized by high merchants, scholars, or royalty. A decade past now, Bogniks took to making extended forays out of Gol from which he would return with curious and valuable items including flowers that could sing on command, pale gems that could pass through flesh as birds through clouds, and black pebbles that would weep in the sunlight. These, and mundane but rich goods – ingots, bejeweled baubles, and so forth. It was known to a few that Bogniks was making his journeys to Catheign.

700 days previous Bogniks left on one of his trips and did not return. Gie, Meia’s companion, learned from a dying slave precisely where Bogniks was traveling – the Cloud Mine of Catheign. Thus Meia, Gie, and two others had just sailed to Catheign under the presumption that Bogniks had met his demise and left some unexploited riches to be enjoyed. Their party found the mine and had traveled up and up. They had seen two platforms of the mine before they were hassled, and three of the party lost, to dusky monsters. The first station, now explored by the party, has three chains extending into the mist. One directly up, and two extending out and up at steep angles. Meia’s group had taken the chain up to a large floating circular enclosure filled with many rooms of alchemical glasswork, ghouls, and purple goblins. And, indeed, as hoped for, old treasures. No mark of Bogniks, also as hoped for. The challenges posed by the dusky residents of the Cloud Mine destroyed Meia’s companions, and Meia’s only hope was to barricade herself in a room in the lowest enclosure. This is how the party found her in the last session.

The day after returning from their first journey to the Cloud Mine of Catheign, the party rested and restocked a bit in the Feanean frontier town of Tillman’s Grove. Kale the Archer made acquaintance with Janis, a hobbit would-be adventuress. Janis agreed to join the party for half of Kale’s take. The next day the group decided to journey along the rocky coast to find Meia’s boat, which they did successfully and without encounter. They spent the night on the Gol seacraft, and the next morning took Bogniks’ old path up the southern escarpment of Catheign to the mine. On the way the group was beset by stirges and nearly lost their gnome, however they decided to press on. Ultimately the group fully explored the first, small level of the mine and located the three chains leading up to further areas of the mine. Wandering monster rolls were unkind, however - a ghoul a fell from the mist and landed on the top of the platform to accost the party, and the group ran into a good deal of trouble from goblins descending from higher levels. Janis the hobbit finished the last goblin of the session by running after it, leaping onto its back, and biting its jugular. Janis gets the MVP award for Session 2, for biting a goblin's neck and also for finding the most secrets.

The party has not yet journeyed up any of the chains.

See you at the table May 3. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Six Useful Posts

Most of my blog consists of useless chit chat, commentary, session reports, and pop junk dumps. I like to hope, though, that maybe I've posted a few novel creations that could be materially useful to someone, somewhere. Digging through the sad wreckage of Cyclopeatron, I assembled a list of six old posts that I continue to get positive feedback from and that I use frequently in my own games:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Catheign - Personalities and Locales From Session 1

Here's a brief review of some material from Catheign Session 1. This is primarily for my own benefit, and for the benefit of the players.

Important Names:

King Lally - The boy king, ruler of the island of Fean Roc. As is tradition of all Feanean kings, young Lally wears a long flowing moustache whose growth and character is nourished by polypore jellies unique to the royal diet.

Nemeah - A magician and scholar of Fean Roc. Advisor to Lally. Commissioned the young magician Sculdge to search for evidence of an ancient script on Catheign.

Bogniks - An apparent authority figure somewhere in the cloud mines. He appears to have some influence over the goblins. His name was mentioned by the goblin Edd, but otherwise nothing is known of him.

Key NPCs encountered:

Edd - A dark goblin who spoke Common, unlike the others. Carried away by...

Lord Bussy - A seven foot long wasp with a human head. Had an eloquent command of Common. Bussy was patrolling outside the cloud mine, and seemed to be greatly amused by the adventure party. The wasps of Catheign apparently dislike goblins.

Meia - A Gol fighting woman. The party rescued her from goblins infesting the first level of the cloud mine. She professed to be a treasure hunter whose party was waylaid two days prior.

The Gol, Meia.
Important Locales:

Myceaxe - Home planet. Has a day side and night side due to pole of rotation being only a few degrees off of the star (more later, hopefully). Myceaxe has a tidally locked moon, eyeglass inspection of which reveals possible signs of habitation.

The Myceaxe terminator - a transition from night to day, from chaos to law.
Gaedeaxe - The violet star.

Fean Roc - Forested home island of adventure party. The culture largely thrives on woodcraft, especially through trade and utilization of products crafted from iron woods imported from the southern island of Peis. Fean Roc lies slightly on the dusk side of the equator and is home to several races, including men and gnomes.

Gol Roc - An island fairly well into the dusk. The pale Gols tend to be isolationists. They are known for knowledge of magic, and fine crafting of metals and minerals.

Midday on Gol Roc.
Dorsiriog - The great equatorial island kingdom. Home to the large cities of this hemisphere.

Peis - A large southern landmass that extends from the morning into the day side. Tropical and desert regions. The origin of iron woods highly values by Feanen craftspeople.

Catheign - A wild northern island in the dusk, with unexplored regions extending into the night. Catheign is heavily forested by great cedars. 150 years ago the southern portion of Catheign had several Feanean settlements whose economies were based on harvesting cedar. These were overrun by goblins from the dusk, and largely abandoned until a few years ago when one of the settlements was reestablished after a hunting expeditions suggested there was no longer a threat of goblins in the area. The known southern shore of Catheign has two main regions - a low land of large cedars and a highland plateau of solid rock. The cloud mine visited by the party is tethered to the southwestern corner of the plateau, two days from the Feanean settlement. The plateau is shrouded in a dense fog that severely limits visibility.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

New Campaign: Cloud Mine of Catheign

Last Friday hopefully saw the start of a new campaign.

Six players joined in, including Greg Gorgonmilk, which was a treat. Greg's a super cool, fun guy, and his MU Sculdge was a real take-control no-nonsense kind of fellow, which was good to have in a group that included some newbs. The players said they want to return for the next session, which is a good sign, especially since the game climaxed with a graphic fiery suicide/fatality and a near TPK. Everyone liked the venue: a room overlooking the old arts quad at Cornell. The room has big oak tables and a chalkboard. The chalkboard turned out to be very handy. So it worked out nicely, although it will be a pain to bring in much Dwarven Forge or Hirst Arts on a regular basis. We'll be aiming to play first and third Fridays.

We played the original edition of D&D, straight out of the white box. I passed around a sheet with a few minimal house rules. Mostly stuff to help make the first level bumpkins a little tougher, all in the spirit of Gygax's OD&D house rules. I'm working on a campaign-specific player's reference booklet. The writing is mostly done, now I just need to take the time to add some art and figure out how to format and print booklets.

For this session the party visited a cloud mine similar to the one the PCs explored in my old Penelion campaign. This is another mine, at a different location, with a different history, however. I like the idea of an inverse dungeon extending into the sky, with levels tethered to the ground by great chains. I like swaying, creaking, rusted iron, splintered wood, smell of rain, vertigo, roots dangling from clouds, flying contraptions. I like things flying in the mist, just out of view. I like the possibility of the party finding a gate to the cloudlands. I hope this campaign will let us explore these notions better. The sun Gaedeaxe is large and distant and of a slight violet hue. Imagine how its light reflects on the clouds of an unnaturally extended dusk, and how its radiation nourishes the rare floating orchids that lay roots in the mist itself.

This cloud mine is chained to a high rocky plateau on the southern coast of a heavily cedared island called Catheign. More later...

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Crit: Roll Double or Double Roll

I tried this out last night, and players seemed to like it a lot:

On a natural 20 a player must make a quick decision before rolling damage:
1. Double the result of the roll, or
2. Roll double damage dice

The player is choosing between a flat distribution and a bell curve. This has very real strategic implications, and there are definitely situations where one would be preferred over the other. This is a nice little way to introduce some abstract strategy without bogging things down.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

What I Want in a D&D / Clone Rule Set

Tomorrow night I'll be running my first session of D&D since moving to NY. Six players have RSVPed - a mix of friends, internet acquaintances, and listserv respondees. It will be an interesting mix of newbs and experienced players.

I've been struggling for some time with what ruleset to use. Hands down, my personal favorite flavor is original D&D. It's easy to learn, play, run, and customize. It also has an undeniably attractive weird mojo. Materially, the game itself is like an artifact from another world. OD&D is part utility, part enigma, part oral tradition. AD&D has similar characteristics, but it's impractically heavy for me. Right now I'm facing the prospect of refereeing mainstream gamers who may come to the table with certain expectations and may want to peruse rulebooks between sessions. So I'm thinking OD&D may be pretty much out, because the books themselves may be too confusing for normal players, and, most importantly, they're difficult to get copies of.

So maybe it's retro-clone time. Here are some of the features I would want, and why:

Separate race and class
This makes homebrewing easier because you don't have to reinvent both race and class to do something new. I also like the bizarre non-canonical combinations some players pick, but that I probably wouldn't consider myself.

Ascending AC
In my experience, this is simply easier to play at the table. After much thought and experimentation, I can't think of any compelling reason to stick with descending AC once the decision is made to stray from primary gygaxoarnesonian sources.

Concise and separate player's handbook
Separating player and referee material into separate books is ideal. I want monsters, spells, and magic items to all be new and mysterious - I don't want to encourage players to meta-game off of this type of referee material. Physically, a simple digest-sized player's reference < 24 pages is just plain practical. Character generation, advancement tables, and the basic rules of play. That's all. This is one of the things I love abut OD&D and AD&D - self contained player's handbooks.

Streamlined encumbrance system Delta's stones. This is simply better and more playable, and doesn't detract from OD&D mojo in my opinion.

Free or cheap
Obvious... I can point prospective players to a website so they can download the rules.

Parsimonius ability modifiers
Over time I've developed a severe, and probably irrational, allergy to extreme ability modifiers. Anything more than +1 annoys me. Conversely, negative modifiers annoy players. I love OD&D because it really holds back on modifiers, and makes any + something special. After experimenting with various approaches, I've found this stingy approach to modifiers makes for a more intense and fun game. Players quickly get jaded to piling up + modifiers. And for players it just sucks to have to always take -1 or -2 off your rolls if you have a low Str or Dex score. OD&D is king of modifier parsimony.

Digest size books
Just an aesthetic preference, I guess. It can't be denied, however, that small books are more practical.

No specific setting, but definite flavor
Another aesthetic preference. Early TSR editions are a perfect model.

Lacking any one or two of these wouldn't necessarily be a deal breaker, but it would be nice to have all these features in one place. The best option, in my opinion, would be to make customized player handbooks for each campaign world. LIKE THIS. I'm working on this for my Myceaxe setting, but it's not quite ready yet.

So what to do for tomorrow night? I emailed the players to recommend downloading S&W Whitebox, but this still lacks many of the above features. Additionally, I have been extremely frustrated with S&W in general because of the constant rule changes between printings. I bought some of the physical books a while back, but the most recent printings have lots of little rule changes (in the wrong direction) that make them incompatible with my physical books. It's driving me crazy, and has lessened my interested in S&W, even though I think it's basically a great game.

Instead of blogging right now I should be working on my Myceaxe PHB.