17 July 2014

The Differences in Adventure Design Philosophy in Old and New School D&D

It occurred to me tonight, while going over some old Judges Guild stuff (Druids of Doom in particular caused the muse to get her act together and turn a vague idea into something concrete) that I have seen the biggest difference in design approach between Old School and New School/Modern adventure design for RPGs, D&D to be specific. TSR modules had some of the same qualities, but the stuff by 3rd parties like Judges Guild, Mayfair Games and the non-TSR magazines and fanzines really showcase it. 

There's two aspects to the difference:

1. The adventure module works with the game's rules, but is not a slave to them. Old school adventures constantly introduced new, wacky and unique monsters, traps, treasures and encounter ideas in general that had not been done before and really had no precedent in the rules. Sometimes the writer explained how to adjudicate the situation, other times the DM was left to figure out a resolution on her own, but either way, the writer was not afraid to test the limits of the rules, and go beyond them when it made for a fun adventure.

2. The old school adventure writers expected you, the DM, to change their adventure! Many of the scenarios were location based, or "sand box" as the guys in the OSR crowd say today, with a bare bones assumed plot or theme to get the party started and keep them moving in the right direction. A few of the published adventures even came 'un-stocked', ostensibly to teach the fledgling DM how to create and run an adventure, but also allowing the experienced DM to make the scenario her own, tailored to the campaign and party. Many of the adventure booklets, especially the ones by Judges Guild, even have copious space throughout them that is set aside for the DM's notes! No current modern adventure product I know of, except maybe some of the OSR retroclone support products, dare do this.

So, while it doesn't answer the whole question, I now have an answer when people ask me what I consider Old School gaming to be.

Gary and Dave, and the early industry they created, were more than welcoming of house rules, variants and "DM fiat", outside of tournament play, which is one of the primary reasons we got D&D and AD&D. AD&D was the fleshed out, official tournament version, D&D was the barebones 'tweak it to your heart's content' version.

Modern designers, whether of rules or adventures, feel the need to account for every possibility and railroad play into a defined set of rules that can handle anything. A recent rant I commented on lamented the "breaking" of a game by house ruling it, or pushing it to the limits of min/max powergaming.

To an old school player, that is not a problem at all, but rather it's half the fun!

10 April 2014

Expedition to the Borderlands?

A discussion on the Dragonsfoot Classic D&D forum about turning B2's Caves of Chaos into a proper megadungeon entry got me looking at the Caves of Chaos maps, and to my amusement, I noticed that the rubble filled "expand here as you wish" tunnelon the map is labelled "Area 51".  What if the author was trying to subtly suggest a link to another famous module he wrote? Area 51...Crashed Alien Ships...

I doubt it, but it was a fun idea I threw together real quick.

If I was going to do anything with it, I'd probably get out the old DA series Blackmoor modules for on the fly conversion of the space opera tech stuff. City of the Gods in particular had a ton of it.

Click for fullsize image.

Classic D&D Class Options List, revisited

Over the years, one of the common topics of discussion among BECMI, and those of the other Classic D&D editions, players has been the "limited" class options in the game. It's always tempting to write up a bunch of homebrew classes, or try and split up the races and classes like AD&D did, but it occurs to me that if we take a look at what's really there for the game, some of that temptation. Let's flip through the various books and review, then we can decide what, if anything, is missing.

"Core" Classic Rulebooks:
Magic User

OD&D Supplement I: Greyhawk
Dwarf Fighter
Dwarf Cleric (technically presented as an NPC option, but I won't tell TSR if you let your players use it)
Dwarf Thief
Dwarf Fighter/Thief
Elf Fighter
Elf Cleric
Elf Thief
Elf Fighter/Magic-User/Thief
Half-Elf (Treat as the standard Elf class, but note the level limits vary)
Half-Elf Fighter/Magic-User/Cleric (with lofty ability score requirements)
Hobbit (Halfling) Fighter
Hobbit Thief
Paladin (1st level start, different than the standard Companion Rules "prestige class")

OD&D Supplement II: Blackmoor

OD&D Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry
EW is also the source of the Classic D&D rules for PC psionics, If you care to adopt them.

Companion:Druid (high level Cleric subclass)
Knight (high level Fighter subclass)
Paladin (high level Fighter subclass)
Avenger (high level Fighter subclass)
Magist (high level Magic User "subclass", more of a role than a class, no real unique abilities)
Magus (high level Magic User "subclass", more of a role than a class, no real unique abilities)
Guildmaster  (high level Thief "subclass", more of a role than a class, no real unique abilities)
Rogue  (high level Thief "subclass", more of a role than a class, no real unique abilities)

Mystic (sort of a cloistered monk class)
Guidelines for non-human (and non-elf) spellcasters, handy if you use one of the spellcasting add ons for shaman types found in the books below.

This set obviously introduces a bunch of new options for ultra-high level PCs, but these are beyond the scope of basic class options.

Gazetteer 2, The Emireates of Ylaruam
Dervish (a desert themed druid variant)

Gazetteer 3, The Principalities of Glantri
Magic Crafts: (variant "specialty" class options for magic users)

Gazetteer 5, The Elves of Alfheim
Special rules for "splitting" the elf class to focus on either fighting or magic use

Gazetteer 6, The Dwarves of Rockhome
Dwarf Cleric

Gazetteer 8, The Five Shires
Halfling Master (Spellcasting class for Halflings)

Gazetteer 9, The Minrothad Guilds
Merchant Prince (seafaring spellcaster with a pirate flavor)

Gazetteer 10, The Orcs of Thar
These are all basically fighter type classes for the various humanoid races.
Shaman (this is an add on to the race based classes above, giving them minor cleric spellcasting)
Wicca (this is an add on to the race based classes above, giving them minor magic user spellcasting)

Gazetteer 11, The Republic of Darokin
Merchant (a travelling trader with minor spellcasting)

Gazetteer 12, The Golden Khan of Ethengar
Horse Warrior (a fighter subclass for the mounted warrior)
Bratak (a thief subclass with a penchant for spying, diplomacy and riding)
Hakomon (a magic user variant)
Shaman (a cleric variant for the less civilized)

Gazetter 13, The Shadow Elves
Shadow Elf (a minor variation on standard elves)

Gazetteer 14, The Atruaghin Clans
Shamani (another totemic cleric variant)

Dawn of the Emperors Gazetteer (Boxed Set)
Forester (a human version of the magic using fighter elf class)
Rake (a thief variant geared toward burglary and adventuring instead of backstabbing and muggings)

Creature Crucible 1 - Tall Tales of the Wee Folk
Wood Imp
These are, with a couple exceptions, just the typical "fighter" versions of these races, but as with the Orcs of Thar, rules are included for adding on to the class to grant some spellcasting abilities as well.

Creature Crucible 2 - Top Ballista
These are, with a couple exceptions, just the typical "fighter" versions of these races, but as with the Orcs of Thar, rules are included for adding on to the class to grant some spellcasting abilities as well.

Creature Crucible 3 - The Sea Folk
Aquatic Elf
Sea Giant
Shark Kin

Creature Crucible 4 - Night Howlers
Devil Swine

Hollow World Campaign Setting
Warrior Elf (an elf variant with no magical ability)
Krugel Orc
Kubitt (actually just a variant human "race", they use the normal human classes but have racial modifiers and abilities)
Malpheggi Lizardman
Once again, rules are included for adding on to the class to grant some spellcasting abilities as well.

Hollow World, Kingdom of Nithia Sourcebook
These are all just variant fighters, with specific bonuses offset by reduced general abilities
War Cleric
This is just a variant cleric, with specific bonuses offset by reduced general abilities
Mage Scribe
These are all just variant magic users, with specific bonuses offset by reduced general abilities
Royal Seal Bearer
These are all just variant thieves, with specific bonuses offset by reduced general abilities

Hollow World, Milenian Empire Sourcebook
Cleric of Halav
Cleric of Matera
Cleric of Petra
Cleric of Protius
These are all just variant clerics, with specific bonuses offset by reduced general abilities
Griffon Rider (A variant fighter class)

TSR Magazines
Strategic Review Magazine #2

Strategic Review Magazine #4

Strategic Review Magazine #6

(The) Dragon Magazine #2

(The) Dragon Magazine #3
Woman Fighter
Woman Magic-User
Woman Thief
Woman Cleric
Apparently Len Lakofka's campaign setting has no female Elves, Dwarves or Halflings ... harumph! All kidding aside, I included these for completeness, I doubt anyone would actually use them in 2014 :)
Dwarf Fighter
Dwarf Thief
Dwarf Cleric

(The) Dragon Magazine #12

(The) Dragon Magazine #16

(The) Dragon Magazine #20

(The) Dragon Magazine #26
Mugger (A class for a D&D variant based in "inner city 1979")

Dragon Magazine #158
N'djatwa - Magic-User(A weird half elf/half ogre hybrid race)
N'djatwa - Druid

Dragon Magazine #176
Robrenn Druid (A first level druid variant)
Druidic Knight (A druid-fighter hybrid Companion-rules style "prestige class")

Dragon Magazine #178
Elven Cleric
Elven Paladin (A Companion-rules style "prestige class")
Elven Avenger (A Companion-rules style "prestige class")
Elven Knight  (A Companion-rules style "prestige class")
Half-Elf (A template of sorts, applied to the human classes to reflect the racial differences)

Dragon Magazine #181
Lupin (A template of sorts, applied to the human classes to reflect the racial differences)
Rakasta (A template of sorts, applied to the human classes to reflect the racial differences)

Dragon Magazine #183

Dragon Magazine #185
These are all the fighter type class for their respective race. The article also includes notes on using the Shaman or Wicca (At this point renamed Wokani) options for spellcasting individuals, as in the Orcs of Thar Gazetteer.

Dragon Magazine #186 
Chameleon-Man Medicine Man

Dragon Magazine #187
Phanaton Shaman

Imagine Magazine #27
Freeman/Freewoman (A class for commoners)

Imagine Magazine #28
Lycanthrope (Dual stats for D&D and AD&D)

Wow! That's a ton of options. It has never really made a lot of sense to me why people complain that the options are limited. I understand that some players want totally customized, unique characters, but BECMI, and other early editions of D&D assume that characters will fit into some genre archetype.

If you expand the optional rules for humanoid shamans and wiccas (that allow them to take spellcasting abilities in addition to their normal class abilities in exchange for an increased experience cost to gain levels) to allow any of the non-human classes to purchase minor cleric or magic user spellcasting, a huge bunch of new options opens up, probably satisfying most players. Remember though, as soon as a character adopts the methods of a cleric or magic user, he should be bound by the same armor and weapon restrictions that those classes are, he may still use barred weapons and armor without penalty, but can't cast spells while doing so.

White Dwarf and other magazines, and products from early 3rd party publishers like Judges Guild, Games Workshop, Mayfair Games and others may also present new options, but I haven't went through them and checked.

If you don't have access to the OD&D books and other sources I bring up here, I'd recommend checking into some of the OSR 'clone' games. Swords & Wizardry and Mazes & Perils in particular are very OD&D friendly and revisit a lot of the same material via the Open Game License.

The OSR stuff can be an excellent source of new options and material too! Again, I dont have a detailed list yet, but things like Labyrinth Lord, Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Dark Dungeons and the supplements for those and other games offer some new choices not available in published form 30 years ago.

06 December 2013

Poor Man's Feast; A Mystaran Magic Item

Whatever poor soul first kept his share of the day's hunt too close to the campfire and happily discovered that putting a char to a piece of meat vastly improves its taste is sadly lost to the fog of prehistory, but in the Shirelands, every Hin worth his (or her!) toehair knows the name Blossom Goldenspoon.

Long ago, in the days when the Hin folk first learned to tend their fields and keep pantries, cooking became the high art that it is today. One of the earliest, and still most revered Hin cooks of this time was Blossom Goldenspoon. A creative genious in her kitchen, Blossom is still credited with first creating most of the foundations of every Hin's recipe collection, and in fact, telling a Hin that her dish "could've come straight from Blossom's hearth" is considered a compliment of the highest order.

With success often comes the envy of others, and such was the case for Blossom. Many of her peers sought to outdo her skill, and at least one stooped to magical cheating to help, but as the Hin like to say "ye eat what ye cook"...

Cotter Bramblepatch was a well intentioned apprentice cook, at first desiring only to win the praise of his clan by feeding them the best meals he could muster, but he had the misfortune of living in the same town as Blossom, and grew weary of hearing his dishes compared to hers, never favorably, mind you. Frustrated, he traveled east, to visit the Traaldara folk and hoped to learn new culinary secrets that would impress his kinfolk.

Cotter was quickly dismayed at the fact that Human cookery was far inferior to that of the Hin. He had almost given up on his quest when he met a a young Traladaran magic user who promised to help him achieve his goal in exchange for 10 years of service as the magician's personal cook. You see, although Cotter's skills in the kitchen didn't wow his peers, to a human, his dishes were divine. He faithfully completed his decade of service, at the end of which, his master presented him with a fine silver soup bowl, "Cotter, my lad" the old magician said, "any you serve from this vessel will find it the grandest meal they've ever eaten." Cotter took the bowl skeptically and returned home to the Shires.

The grandest meals ever, indeed. Hin flocked from miles around to have a taste from the table of Cotter Bramblepatch! Word around Eastshire, and beyond, spoke of meals fit for the Immortals themselves, selflessly offered to any who came asking. Cotter reveled in his newfound fame.

Cotter's soup bowl, enchanted by his Traladaran friend, whose name is not known in these tales, did exactly as promised, every meal served from it was thought to be the finest that diner had ever tasted! So great was its power that even burnt, spoiled and rotten dishes were greedily slurped up, to the very last drop or scrap. The bowl's power proved to be Cotter's downfall in the end.

Cotter was very generous, far preferring fame and praise to coin, but after a while, his money purse ran low and he could no longer afford fresh, wholesome ingredients for his recipes. You probably see the bowl's folly already. Although a dish served from it tastes like the finest fare one has ever eaten, the actual quality of the food is not affected at all. Thus, a meal that is burnt, undercooked, spoiled, or even poisoned will still cause heartburn, sickness or even death to those consuming such tainted fare.

Thus it was that Cotter's peers began to question his methods, despite enjoying his meals as usual, and continuing to praise his skill, quiet doubts began to accompany the cramps and achy bellies that were sure to follow. Colter himself eventually used the bowl to liven up some improperly preserved salted pork loin one lonely and hungry afternoon, and lacking a competent healer nearby, died from food poisoning the very next day.

Poor Man's Feast (aka Cotter's Bowl)
Cotter's bowl is a footed soup bowl crafted from fine silver beaten into a pattern of flowers and knotwork. The dish always feels comfortably warm to the touch, with a faint aroma that most who have examined it describe as fondly reminiscent of "mum's own kitchen".

Any food or drink placed into the dish and then served will taste to those eating or drinking like the single greatest thing they've ever had the luck to experience. Even the coldest campfire gruel will seem to be a meal fit for a king, and the foul tastes of minor spoilage, weevil infestations and the like will become undetectable.

The downside of using the bowl is obvious from Cotter's tale. Poisons in the food or drink in the bowl become extremely difficult to detect, gaining a 50% chance (1 or 2 on a d4 roll) of evading notice by magics intended to detect poison.

Also, because the user is so fooled by the pleasant taste of the fare from the bowl, he will tend to gobble or slurp up the very last bit, making it more difficult to avoid the ill effects of a poison one would normally spit out due to the foul taste. All creatures poisoned by fare from the bowl receive a -2 penalty to their saving throw against that poison.

29 August 2013

A note about the revised and updated Product info pages.

You might notice that the product info pages have undergone a major update and revision. Beyond just adding (finally) the Accessories page, fixing some typos and formatting errors, restoring all the missing cover photos and adding a couple "new" products to the list, I also decided to reflect on this site's focus on the BECMI edition of the game. That's why those box sets now retain their own page, while the rest of the compatible systems (Original D&D, Holmes Basic, Moldvay/Cook B/X, Rules Cyclopedia and the misc. Challenger edition sets) were combined into one page, titled "rule sets and books - other". I'm working on adding the Adventure Modules page and sections for the Mystara (Known World, Red Steel, etc), Thunder Rift and Pelinore Campaign settings, but these are far more involved projects and will take a little while to complete.

I do want to mention that these guides are presented as a reference for people who play the game, not really those who are hardcore collectors. Odds and ends like TSR produced hex paper, dice, graph paper, etc have been skipped. Why? They are extremely hard to find and pricey these days, and to be honest, except from a collector's point of view, they are not necessary to play the game. Plenty of fine vendors produce dice these days, and in this era of Office Depot and Staples superstores, hex and graph paper pads are easy to find and pretty cheap. I focus only on material that actively enhances or facilitates play that cannot be reproduced legally by other publishers today (unless they get a license from WotC, that is).

Sure, some things like character sheets and dungeon geomorph maps can be "cloned", as the OSR community likes to call it. Many great bloggers regularly offer up dungeon geomorph files. In this time of easy printing and downloading at home, geomorphs may finally get the credit they deserve, I certainly feel less guilty chopping up a page I just printed (and still have a pdf or jpg backup copy of) that I do about taking scissors to the copy of Dungeon Geomorphs set 1-3 compilation I paid a hefty sum for on eBay!

For the hardcore collector, I heartily recommend a visit to The Acaeum : Dungeons & Dragons Product Knowledge Database. Their product indices, fully illustrated and footnoted, along with the helpful users on their Q&A forum can help you find just about any answers you need to questions regarding collecting Classic D&D or AD&D 1st edition.

Also, don't forget Drive Thru RPG's D&D Classics web store, the only legally licensed vendor for pdf copies of out of print D&D material on the interent. They're constantly expanding their catalog, so if you want something they haven't added yet, just let them know and be patient!
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