The end of the year is always a good opportunity to look over the year’s posts—RPG posts, to be exact. The year itself started on a sad note: Fight On! is going down. The writing was already on the wall in 2012 and the adventure I had submitted for the last issue is available as a free PDF, Caverns of Slime.
But on to positive things! I tried to list the Old School Fanzines I knew, hoping to find a magazine “for me”. It’s weird. What about Fight On! Magazine made me want to contribute? What I remember best are the early levels of The Dismal Depths and the Fomalhaut material by Gabor Lux.
I still use my classic D&D character generator, for non-player characters and for character sheets on my Campaign Wiki. Some examples: Waran and Rinathil using ACKS, Stefan and Garo (this one belongs to my wife) using B/X D&D, Sir Guy (this one by a former player) and Sir Sewolt (another one belonging to my wife) using Pendragon.
Next session we will be assaulting the Barrowmaze using a party generated by drawing from a pile of random first level characters generated by this character generator. Electronic vat men!
I was looking for an alternative to creating a hex map using Inkscape (something I have been doing for my Sea of the Five Winds campaign) and so I wrote Text Mapper. I wrote a post comparing the two methods.
To be honest, however, I haven’t been using it. My Sea of the Five Winds campaigns already has a map, my Pendragon game uses the maps from the book, DM Florian uses Hexographer, DM Harald uses the maps from the book.
It felt weird to return to Red Hand of Doom. I was running it for the kids and using Labyrinth Lord instead of D&D 3.5. I enjoyed it very much. We skipped two chapters, though: no fighting the druid lich and no confronting of Tiamat’s avatar at the end. We used the mass combat rules from JB’s B/X Companion.
That reminds me. Last spring I ran the One Page Dungeon Contest 2013 and all the posts are tagged 1PDC. I’m currently not planning to run the contest in 2014. Do you know anybody who would like to do it? I wrote How To Run A Contest to help you get started.
I also discontinued the Old School RPG Planet. If you’re willing to do the actual leg work of asking people to submit their sites, talking to bloggers, answering questions, I could set it up again. I am willing to handle the technical aspects of it. I just don’t want to deal with angry dudes on the Internet.
But on to more positive things again!
I still use my Spell Book Notation. That’s because I use a strict reading of the magic system such that elves and magic-users have a repertoire equivalent to their spells per day (to use the Adventure Conqueror King System terminology) and neither elves nor magic-users can copy spells from scrolls and spell books.
In my campaign this means that all the elves of a particular elf settlement will have a subset of the spells available to the elf lord. What I do is this: I write down the elf lord’s spell book using the notation above and whenever we meet a minion of a particular level, it’s easy to figure out which spells they have available by looking at the second column.
In a similar vein, I wrote about using 1d20 instead of 2d6 for dungeon stocking. As it turns out, however, I do this so rarely that I keep forgetting about it. I just don’t run enough dungeon adventures.
Still in the same vein, I was also comparing old school dungeon stocking to other methods of adventure location creation and found the traditional way of doing things to be very quick and the result just as good as the new ways. I’m a gaming traditionalist at heart, I guess.
I thought about using skills inspired by Apocalypse World in my games but ended up not doing it. DM Harald does it in his campaign, but I remain sceptical.
I wrote a bit about running the game. There was a post on my session preparation process for old school games, how to run Fate, how to run settlements in sandbox campaigns, how to let players introduce facts into your traditional campaign, how to use treasure, group initiative and when to roll.
And with that, here’s to the blogs, conversations with strangers on the Internet, and freedom, justice and peace for us all.
I think of myself as an Old School RPG blogger. Looking back, these are the posts I’d recommend.
- 2012-01-24 Changing Gameplay Over Time
- “The promise of ever changing game play is what makes D&D interesting. The reason this works, I think, is because the spells you gain don’t simply scale. The game changes if you can be invisible and fly. The game changes when you can dimension door and teleport. The game changes when you can travel to the planes. Outside of the specific rules, the tradition also encourages changes to the game when you reach name level and build a stronghold, and it changes once more when you start to forge alliances with and wage wars against neighbors.”
- 2012-02-09 How To Write A Module
- I finally finished Caverns of Slime in 2012. This blog post is a write up of the guidelines I used to write this high level adventure.
- 2012-02-09 Social Skills Revisited
- This is more of a link to an article Courtney wrote on his blog regarding interactions with non-player characters. In terms of my approach to the game, Courtney remains one the most influential bloggers. “I enjoy the acting at the table because it’s funny. That’s why I prefer not to replace social interactions with dice rolling. But that doesn’t mean that social interactions cannot be quantified. Have a list of needs, traits and desires ready and pick two.”
- 2012-02-18 Ode to Ode to Black Dougal
- “Reading Ode to Black Dougal really made me appreciate the Basic/Expert edition of D&D by Moldvay, Cook & Marsh. Let me link to his awesome series, B/X is my Favorite.”
- 2012-02-28 I don't like Bennies
- “I’d rather agonize over a decision to fight, I’d rather weep because of the blows of fate bringing me down (and not because I made a deal with the referee and got a fate point for it but because I made a mistake).”
- 2012-03-04 Old School Fanzines
- Basically a list of links to RPG fanzines. I assume this might remain a useful resource for a few years.
- 2012-05-09 Commenting As I Go (1PDC)
- 2012-05-12 More One Page Dungeon Recommendations
- 2012-05-13 More Recommended Dungeons
- 2012-05-22 Even More Recommended Dungeons
- 2012-05-30 The Last Batch Of Favorites
- I’ve run the One Page Dungeon Contest 2012 again and these are the entries I personally recommend. If you don’t have the time to look through them all, look through these.
- 2012-05-22 Thinking About Solar System RPG
- A return to the topics of this year: I like change over time, I don’t like unified resolution mechanics. “Abstract combat, abstract conflict resolution, and I’m wondering whether as a gamer, I might prefer more grounding.”
- 2012-05-15 The Forgotten Depths
- I really liked inventing monster stats for this One Page “Dungeon” (actually a one page hexcrawl). This is when I decided that I want to quickly invent my own monster stats when writing stuff up so that I’m no longer bound by any licensing terms.
- 2012-06-20 Hexcrawl Procedure
- The step-by-step instructions of how I run my hexcrawls and the assumptions I’m making. Something to add to my Swiss Referee Style Manual.
- 2012-07-06 Training Players
- How I handle lies, promises and torture at my table. Basically, I don’t lie to my players, the non-player characters keep their promises and I don’t want to hear about torture at my table.
- 2012-08-15 Unbalanced Encounters Are Fun
- “I think the key here is that what brings me back to the gaming table is the same thing that makes slot machines addictive. It’s called the variable ratio reinforcement schedule: a reinforcement schedule in which the number of responses necessary to produce reinforcement varies from trial to trial, according to Wikipedia.”
- 2012-08-24 Ursomancy
- The first of a handful of posts where I tried to extract useful bits from my Caverns of Slime adventure. I feel that these bits make a nice blog post, allow people to comment, allow people to learn about the adventure without having to download and read more than thirty pages. I know that I download a lot of stuff that I end up not reading.
- 2012-09-01 SVG Character Sheet
- I posted a number of times about the a little web application I wrote that generates random Labyrinth Lord characters including random equipment. You can also use it to just link to a good looking character sheet of your own from a forum, wiki or blog. All the values shown can be changed using URL parameters.
- 2012-10-11 Traveller, Spelljammer, Planescape
- My campaign had taken a turn towards Planescape and Spelljammer, and I discovered that I could use the Traveller subsector random map generator for my Fantasy campaign.
- 2012-11-17 How To Build A Dungeon
- Much like the hexcrawl procedure I had posted earlier this year, this post talks about three dungeons I used in my games and how I went about developing them.
And I think that’s it! The blog posts I returned to, the blog posts I felt are worthy of being read again. If you want more stuff to read, there is a similar overview for 2011.
I’ve looked through my RPG posts for the year 2011 and picked the ones that I’d like to recommend to new readers of this blog.
As I look back on all these posts, I realize how many of them built upon things I had read elsewhere. Truly, the blogs are a major inspiration for me. Thank you all!
How to run your sandbox: 2011-03-11 GM Style Manual got turned into the Swiss Referee Style Manual. There is additional advice on 2011-08-20 Building a Better GM, 2011-05-05 Tools for a Sandbox Referee and 2011-04-28 My Sandbox Starts With A Mission.
How to take notes for an adventure: 2011-03-31 How To Organize Adventure Notes.
How to run combat: 2011-11-24 Two Manticores, Old School describes a fight with many ad-hoc rulings and not a lot of boring to-hit rolls. Here’s a house rule of mine: 2011-03-25 Protecting Party Members In Combat.
How to use special abilities to model subclasses: 2011-12-20 Magic Without Spells.
Character generation: 2011-03-15 Character Generation Shortcuts PDF ended up as a submission to Fight On! magazine.
Atmosphere: I liked the original “The Priest of Chaos Said…” blog post and wrote 2011-06-24 The Priest of Law Said… in response to it.
Player agency: 2011-09-08 Player Agency was very much influenced by Courtney’s blog posts on the same topic.
Badges: 2011-08-22 Badges is how I see myself as a referee and as a player.
Mapping: 2011-05-24 I Want A Lot Of Labels On My Maps. Also, how to do it: 2011-03-21 The Underdark Gazette is Full of Win (yes, it’s an unlikely title but it goes on to talk about mapping). Let’s not forget 2011-02-12 Map Making Using Inkscape.
One Page Dungeon Contest: 2011-11-01 One Page Dungeon Contest History is about the early days. 2011-04-24 My One Page Dungeon Contest Nominations lists the entries I liked in particular.
Solar System: 2011-09-30 Solar System vs. Old School D&D; also note the long discussion on the comment page.
Reading books: 2011-08-16 Spending Time With Books is about reading a series for the rest of your life as the author will just keep writing novel after novel.
For desperate referees that want to encourage their players to write session journals: 2011-06-16 Session Reports Are Read Just Once, If At All
I joined a group with the goal of trying as many game systems as possible. What I played:
- a session of My Life With Master (2010-12-28 My Life With Master)
- a session of In A Wicked Age
- a session of Don’t Rest Your Head
- a session of Donjon
- a session of Dungeon Slayers
- two sessions of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd edition
- a session of Polaris (2010-12-06 Polaris)
- two session of Mountain Witch
- a session of Robin Laws’ Feng Shui
- three sessions of Dogs in the Vineyard
- two sessions of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd edition
- a session of Paranoia 2nd edition
- three sessions of Spirit of the Century
- a session of Labyrinth Lord
- a session of Western City
- a session of The Shadow of Yesterday
- a session of Burning Wheel’s Blossoms Are Falling
Outside of this group I also played three sessions of D&D 4E and a session of Star Wars Saga edition.
And in my regular campaigns I played:
- Rolemaster (got switched to Legends of Middle Earth)
- Legends of Middle Earth (got replaced by A Song of Ice And Fire)
- A Song of Ice And Fire (I had to quit – no more time!)
- Mongoose Traveller (got switched to Diaspora)
- Diaspora (got replaced by a second Labyrinth Lord campaign)
- D&D 3.5 (two campaigns still ongoing)
- Pathfinder RPG (one campaign still ongoing)
- Labyrinth Lord (just started a second ongoing campaign)
How was 2009? MJ Harnish’s gaming in 2009 inspired this post.
Hagfish Tavern – the Rise of the Runelords campaign started in December 2008 and was going strongly in 2009. We had an intermezzo with Secret of Smuggler’s Cove, continued the campaign until some players complained that it was too tough and they felt they didn’t really have an in-character motivation to fight ogres. So we had a second intermezzo written for a party two levels below current party average with Conquest of Bloodsworn Vale. We’re slowly returning to the campaign, however. This is my Monday game and it’s firmly in Paizo’s hand. It went from weekly to biweekly at some point because some of the players didn’t want to play every single week. In a way that relieves me of some reading pressure, but on the other hand it also takes out some of the drive. We replaced two players: One had started a family, the other spent weeks and months visiting his girlfriend in the states. And there’s still a player on the waiting list. Amazing!
Campaign:CityoftheSpiderQueen City of the Spider Queen – when Hagfish Tavern went biweekly, one of the players volunteered to run City of the Spider Queen by James Wyatt which he didn’t like since it was a big combat fest and we moved into the Silver Marches by Ed Greenwood and Jason Carl (both adventures by Wizards of the Coast). It was a fun romp from level 10 up to 13, but then a little kid arrived on the scene and the DM had to drop a game…
Montags in Zürich – when City of the Spider Queen was canceled I had a second biweekly Monday slot to fill and decided to give all the small games a chance. I was ashamed of all the unused rule-books on my shelf. I started looking for people interested in one-shots and two-session games. And surprisingly, I found some! We really liked Spirit of the Century; I didn’t like how Blossoms are Falling (and Burning Wheel) went; I liked Western City; the others tell me that My Life With Master and Legends of Middle Earth are very cool. Legends of Middle Earth will in fact replace Rolemaster in our Middle Earth game! We also playtested Death Frost Doom using Labyrinth Lord which was ok but not mind blowing. I’m looking forward to some Warhammer RPG 2nd edition and many more strange and weird games. We have a long list of systems we want to try.
Mouse Guard – we played a few sessions and it just didn’t quite work for us. It felt passionless and dry. I think I need to see some actual play or sit at an awesome table in order to find the missing link. I think I’m not alone in this “want to like Luke Crane games” camp.
Echoes of Heaven – the campaign ended prematurely. Some players left and we never really managed to recruit new ones. The DM was afraid of cat piss men and method actors – the two of us having been bitten before – and when we needed to reschedule, it didn’t work out and nobody was unhappy about it. Luckily all four of us still play in other campaigns together, so all is good.
Alder King – still my favorite game on two Sundays every month. We use D&D 3.5 and the Lenap map of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. There’s hex crawling, players setting goals, Entourage Approach, and soon we’ll have a mass battle. The success of this campaign is giving me thoughts regarding the Monday game and all the Paizo material I’m subscribed to. I love having the Pathfinder Adventure Paths and Modules, but if I’m not reading them (because I might end up playing them), and I’m not running them (there’s not enough time!), and I’m not liking them as much as the organic campaign I’m running in my Sunday game – then perhaps I should consider canceling my subscriptions? I don’t want to do that. But the seed of doubt has been sown.
Golden Lanterns – we’re still playing in the Shackled City adventure path! It’s a monthly Sunday game, so it’s crawls along at a snail’s pace. We’re approaching the end, however. I don’t know what James is planning to run for us in 2010. He’s a big Paizo fan, so I expect Second Darkness or Legacy of Fire.
Kaylash – I started a (Mongoose) Traveler game. I’m still not sure I whether I like it. I think my main problem is that I lack role-models for good science fiction adventures. I’m improvising a lot. We also treat trade and routine skill checks for hyper jumps as part of the regular game. We’ll see where that goes.
Grenzmarken – the West Marches style game I’m in will end in a few sessions. It has been great fun and it has shown me that you can run a campaign with more than ten players. You just need to make sure that there are never more than a handful of players at the table. In this campaign sessions often went as follows: players come together, get a mission from the DM, small fight, big fight, loot, and return to base. Somehow the campaign was never really player driven. We’ll see what Peter has in store for us next. I heard it was going to be Warhammer RPG 2nd edition with a strong online/wiki component.
I also played some Battle Lore, some Iron Tide, some Pandemic, and some Bang! I’m looking forward to some Race for the Galaxy and Dominion: Intrigue. I was unable to convince a friend to try De Bellis Antiquitatis.
I didn’t play through Fable 2, didn’t play through Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, bought Dragon Age: Origins and played it a lot at the end of the year.
My wishes for 2010:
- I want to run a B/X D&D campaign using Labyrinth Lord rules.
- I want to run a Swords and Planet campaign in the vein of Carcosa, Planet Algol, or Savage Swords of Athanor
- I want to run a Babylonian, Assyrian, Swords and Sorcery campaign, possibly based around XP1: The Spider-God’s Bride.
My interest in roleplaying games was rekindled three years ago, and it hasn’t collapsed, yet!