Archive for January, 2012

How I came to play Old-school (and Why)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on January 16, 2012 by reignofjotuns

I was never introduced to D&D by a friend. That is technically true, though an uncle did introduce me to a game he ‘used to spend a lot of time playing in coffeeshops.’ The rules were ‘roll a d6 for every action. 6 is automatic success, 1 is automatic failure’. I never really played it with my friends, because I really had no idea how to DM.

Most of my exposure to the idea of D&D came from the roguelike game, ADOM. Other influences were present, such as a novelization of E.T. that we owned at one point [I actually watched the movie when I was much younger, but we never owned it or got it from Netflix (by the time it had occurred to me that it might be worth watching again, I was old enough to be disgusted at the Special Edition, which is all Netflix has)], the movie ‘Dorkness Rising’, and modern cartoons Adventure Time and Regular Show.

These were both introduced to me by my current best friend, as I had grown too cynical to watch modern cartoons without being introduced to them. Each of these cartoons had an episode that influenced me greatly, and I think may have been what finally convinced me to start gaming at all. Adventure Time had ‘Dungeon’, originally titled ‘Dungeon Masters’, which I mentioned by YouTube in my last post.

The whole episode is essentially a homage to D&D, with traps, trap doors, a Gelatinous Cube, and even a monster that looks like a chest. Looking back on it, that is the best example of a dungeon I have ever seen.

Regular Show had the episode ‘But I Have A Receipt’, which amazingly may actually have given me the push I needed to get started. In this episode, Mordecai and Rigby bring a new game called ‘Realm of Darthon’ to game night. The game’s rules are incredibly complicated, apparently requiring a protractor to resolve an attack roll.
Rigby: Okay, roll the 50-sided die.
Skips: All we have is a 48-sided die and two marbles.
Rigby: Close enough.

Once I actually decided to play the game, I started at the Wikipedia page on Dungeons and Dragons. I skimmed it briefly, and then right there the first game I decided to search for was 1st Edition AD&D. When I saw that cover picture, it summed up, for me, what D&D looked like. I was very disappointed to find it out of print. If I had done more research, I might have discovered OSRIC, and my gaming might have begun differently.

It seemed that 3rd Edition was the place to go, at this point, so I downloaded the SRD in .doc format. It confused me almost endlessly, as the files were organized alphabetically instead of by chapter- and I never finished reading it. For the time being, though, my picture of D&D was unmuddied by the 3e illustrations.

My local library, as it turned out, had a copy of the 3.5 Players Handbook, which I checked out and read. Obviously, it was missing a lot of information- monster stats, for example. I made a token effort to find games in the area using the Internet, but I never found a group to play in.

A year later, I decided to start looking again. This time, I actually thought to check gaming store websites. One of them had been considering starting an ongoing game, which I called about. The guy said it was uncertain which edition would be played- probably 3.5 or Pathfinder.
I downloaded a PDF of the Pathfinder Core Rules, looked them over.

The ongoing game never started up, but I had my Pathfinder PDF, I was fed up, I was going to just start my own game. I read through the PDF a couple more times, hoping to be able to remember enough of the rules to run a game. Thankfully, I recieved a hard copy for my birthday- all I’d have to do was print monster stat blocks from my Bestiary PDF.

I’ve been homeschooled all my life, and my mom would occasionally take my younger brothers and sisters to a weekly ‘park day’ a bunch of other local homeschoolers had organized- a few families with kids meeting at the park. I sent an Email to the group through my mom and put up ads in one of the local game stores. I started going to the ‘park days’ with the rest of the family. It was at one of these that I met my first player. He was about my age, hadn’t played before but happened to have some dice lying around (good thing- I didn’t). He showed up, and so did one other guy (his mom had pointed the Email out to him).

They comprised my playing force for a while. The first guy’s younger brother was going to join at one point, but decided not to when I tried to explain character creation (I now understand why). The games we ran at this point were largely “Monty Haul”- creating a character took so long that just not killing them off seemed easier. At one point I looked over some PDFs of the Basic D&D rules- this was my first experience with the Rules Cyclopedia. It seemed easier to read than having to go through B, E, C, M, and I just to get the same rules.

I really liked (still do) the RC line art. Yeah, when you look closely that Fighter’s arm is too short- but Black and White line art is part of my perception of D&D. And to someone coming from the realm of Women with Swords As Tall And Broad As They Are it was like a deep breath. I would have shifted to those rules right then, but I didn’t think my players wanted to go through character creation AGAIN, as well as get used to descending AC. So I left that first read as a skim.

I spent a lot of time on the Paizo forums at that time, and noticed an interesting looking thread about ‘feat-less, skill-less pathfinder”. Someone mentioned that the idea sounded something like Microlite20- so I looked that up.

Almost immediately, we switched. That Pathfinder book still came in handy for the equipment list and spell lists. We were still very Monty Haul, but we at least had a simpler system. That was some of the most fun gaming we had. The first RPG blog I read was Intelligence Check- an obscure pathfinder blog that I found while searching for something-or-other about alignment- I can’t remember exactly what. A little later, I started reading Grognardia. Grognardia took me to Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and a little bit later I designed my first dungeon that was both
A dungeon, and
Out to kill at least some of the party.
It was outstanding. Unfortunately, I moved three sessions later. That move gave me the opportunity to formally decide to start a Rules Cyclopedia game.

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Merry Christmas to me and Dungeon Rationalization

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 12, 2012 by reignofjotuns

So, I got some black Gamescience dice already, and just yesterday I finally got what I had spent my christmas check on: an actual, hardcover, copy of the Rules Cyclopedia. I was worried I was going to have to use Dark Dungeons instead- not a bad thing, but definitely not the same thing. Upon getting the book, I noticed that it really is amazingly complete and amazingly light. My Pathfinder RPG core rules must weigh a 1/2 lb. more, not counting cover. The pages are actual paper, too, and feel than the Core Rules pages, which just feel- laminated. I hadn’t even noticed the War Machine and Siege Machine rules contained, either. When it comes to this, I would have had no qualms trying to pirate a pdf if the one copy under USD 80 was already taken.

I’ve also hit a problem, in that try as I might to ‘stop worrying and love the dungeon’, I can’t love dungeon backstories. I had the idea that perhaps, through some twist, the lords Varghare were not only long-lived but immortal, and that they had a tradition of retiring rule after a while to go and mine underneath the castle, resulting in huge catacombs. Of course, on further contemplation I realized that this idea sucked. It wouldn’t allow for stonemasonry or interesting monsters and places, because I have envisioned these people as weird people, maybe even immortal people, but still people. People can’t do things like that. The idea of one of them using powerful magic to create a dungeon that expands on its own, spreading like roots through the ground, didn’t feel right. I don’t much like the dungeon backstories of Dwimmermount, The Gloomrisk, or Stonehell either, which are all megadungeons being built by the authors of blogs I read. None of them felt right. I needed a backstory that would let me fly, let me build something more like this:

So I didn’t make a backstory for the dungeon. I made an adventure hook, obviously. Lord Marmadoc was a powerful magician, who used his magics to form the entire castle of raw earth, including a secret room just underneath the cellar in which to conduct his studies. However, when that room was formed, he noticed that part of one corner overlapped with an underground cave, largely filled with water. The cave is really extremely small, being little more than an underground pond with space to walk around it. But on one of the shores is an ancient staircase, leading down to level 1 of an immense structure. One day, Marmadoc simply lent the throne to his son and disappeared into the labyrinth. And all those of the family who did not die of violence have done the same and carved out their own pieces of it.

Campaign Basics and Unnecessary Detail

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 3, 2012 by reignofjotuns

My campaign is going to be set in a likely northern area, filled with moor and fen and fir. Something like what you think of when you picture the wilderness from The Hobbit, listen to the lyrics to Dire Wolf, or if you’re me, first hear the name ‘Blackmoor’ without any real context. The main location is going to be a dungeon, maybe ten levels, more or less, underneath an old castle. To help me with this, I’m using some Python-based Markovian name generators. I take the base code (found online), and input a list of names and it will output names that sound plausibly like them. I changed a couple things, like having it generate 5 names at a time, run infinitely, and request input between generations. Wikipedia has provided me with the lists for the first two (based on Norse and Greek mythology, respectively), though I still have to manually input each name and format it right (that’s pretty much all the python I know). I’m making one based on Tolkien, since he makes great names and I happen to have a copy of Lord of the Rings with an index of people and places in the back- unfortunately, I didn’t realize the sheer amount I would have to transcribe. I’ve just gotten through the E’s, testing as I go, and it generated one name that really stood out. It looked kind of like ‘beetledome’. So that’s what I named the castle: The Beetledome. Strangely, I feel no desire to come up with backstory for this name, but I do feel like listing the lords and ladies of the Beetledome in order. Here they are. I used a last name mostly of my design (Varghare), but stole the given names from the Brandybuck family tree in the back of my book.

Marmadoc, son of Rufus (1134-1236)
First lord and founder of the Beetledome from 1161-1197

Once I had already written down the span of this guy’s life, I realized this would put his dying age at 102 (hobbits living longer than mere men). I decided that one of the many peculiarities of this line would be their mysterious longevity.

Gorbadoc, son of Marmadoc (1162-1251)
Second lord of the Beetledome (1197-1221)

I decided that Gorbadoc died without heir, and so was succeeded by
Merimac, son of Dodinas Gorbadoc’s brother (1191-1221)
Third lord of the Beetledome (briefly, 1221)

Ahh, time for intrigue.

Doderic the usurper, son of Dodinas (1185-1229)
Fourth lord of the Beetledome (1221-1229)

Who is then vanquished by a forgotten, illegitimate heir.
Obviously, an illegitimate child is, more or less by definition, not a legitimate heir, but the people don’t really care- they let those lords do what they want over there in their castle.

Madoc the vengeful, son of Merimac (1205-1312)
Fifth lord of the Beetledome (1229-1312)

Orgulas, son of Madoc (1248-1323)
Sixth lord of the Beetledome (1312-1323)

Now, here’s a story that I quite like, but that will never be heard by the players unless they read through the library for fun or talk to a ghost. The strange people of Fennario and their strange lords have never answered to the king in any but superficial manner- occasionally they may send a handful of slingers to help in some minor war or another, and some tax money is sent, but the lord Varghare never attends councils (nor is he missed) and the money sent is always either slightly less or conspicuously more than it should be. No one is sent to audit, few knights request lodgings in the Beetledome. They could almost be an independent city-state, save that A) they have no city, just a smallish village, and B) the lords Varghare have always referred to themselves as ‘Baron’, so as to avoid confrontation with their ‘liege’. Marmadoc, and later Madoc referred to themselves as ‘Knights of the Beetledome’. Until, on the day when his father Orgulas dies and the title passes to him, Seredic gathers the people in the town square and foolishly declares himself the Emperor of the new Independent Empire of Fennario. The crowd turns on him, and shoves the still bloody crown onto the head of his younger brother. Thus we have

Seredic, son of Orgulas (1277-1324)
Seventh lord of the Beetledome and first Emperor of Fennario (very briefly, 1324)

Doderic II (‘the humble’ and ‘the nervous’), son of Orgulas (1281-1362)
Eighth lord of the Beetledome (1324-1362)

Milo, son of Doderic (1303-1394)
Ninth lord of the Beetledome (1362-1394)

Milo published the infamous ‘Proclamation of St. Antwelm’ in 1369, which declared that
1) no longer would Fennario honor the saints of the traditional canon, who were largely rather embarrassing, but instead make up their own (starting with one named ‘St. Antwelm the Drunken’)
And 2) founded a yearly feast in St. Antwelm’s honor, during which there would be drinking and smoking and silly hats and silly games like ‘hunt the wocket’.
He also, at the seventh feast of St. Antwelm, set the castle stables on fire to fool the citizenry into thinking that a dragon was attacking. None fell for it, but to this day you can hear the neighing of the horses on cold winter’s nights.

And finally
Dinodas, son of Milo (1348-1400)
Tenth lord of the Beetledome (1394-1400)

Who does not yet have any significant quirks associated with him.