2021-03-10 Blogosphere

Thinking about excellent blog links again...

A super cool post on how to run combat, OSR style, by James Young: How To Run Combat. After reading it, my main take away is that my monsters should try to wrestle players a lot more!

A post by Delta: Running Mass Fights in Classic D&D He says, “it’s pretty common to encounter bands of malicious bandits, brigands, or humanoids numbering in the hundreds.” How do you deal with them? Evasion, ranged combat (how to deal with a rain of arrows), killing leaders, and so on.

“Every Wednesday morning I wake up with a sense of dread, remembering that on top of everything else I have to do that day I somehow have to run a game in the evening. Every Wednesday afternoon I seriously consider calling the session off. But every Wednesday night I sit down and log in and everything actually goes fine.” Failing better: a GMing retrospective, a super interesting retrospective by Joseph Manola. Makes me want to go through my own games and think about the things I learned.

Sandra Snan writing about verbal components in The Old Verbal Components reminds me of my unfinished dream of adding Sumerian spell names (serving as verbal components) for all the spells in my book. I failed at that. Perhaps one day there’s “fantasy Deepl for some lost language and D&D like spells”. Or some other way to translate English spells to some dead language. My favourite blog post on this still is Elf & Magic-User Sumerian Spell Names / Command Words for Labyrinth Lord by Samwise7RPG.

How not to be a game designer by Craig Maloney. A topic that’s been important to me for a long time: “I’ve done most of my designs when I let these self-inflicted restrictions go. I’ve lowered my expectations to please only one customer: me. Sure, this is not a great way to build a business but it has the added benefit of not having to do market research (I know the target market: me). Once I pulled back from the notion of building a business and making game design a full-time career (yes, this is a notion that I’ve flirted with and realized that I’m 20+ years too late to effectively do this) more possibilities became apparent to me.”

“I wrote up a little “hello world” brawl in Traveller5”, by Wanderer Bill, in Getting to know Traveller 5.

“When players feel like they can die, … then the game is tense and exciting. … one of the biggest obstacles to tension, especially at higher levels, is Hit Points. … If a Level 10 Fighter is attacked by a swarm of Goblins armed with d6 knives, he has nothing to worry about, as he has 60 HP.” Why you should cap Hit Points, by Yami Bakura. My unpopular opinion on the topic: add save or die attacks and level drain to the game. Or more generally: try to aim for combat that is just two rounds long. If it takes longer, the previous rounds were probably boring. It’s the last round that makes all the difference. Now, capping hit points and/or levels is an option, certainly. In my Halberds and Helmets game, I cap at character level 10 simply because all my recent campaigns have ended before getting there. But I also add save or die and level drain, for added excitement. This is how low hit points are not the sole source of terror at the table.

“… it makes those low modifiers very significant, especially when it comes to opposed rolls … I’m using opposed rolls for grappling in unarmed combat and giving a +1 modifier for being large sized. … This would have resulted in each group having at least one unarmed boccord specialist in it, i.e. a half-giant professional wrestler. That game sounds amazing, but it’s not the game I’m trying to design.” Ben L. is writing about skills in A Simple 2d6 Skill System, but all I can think of is every party bringing a half-giant professional wrestler to the table. What a wonderful tie-in to my interest in wrestling based on James Young’s post, above. But it also ties in with my interest in Traveller and in 2d6 systems in general, and my attempt at designing one, Just Halberds.

A long discussion of the changes made from AD&D 1st ed to AD&D 2nd ed in A Historical Look at the OSR — Part III. I also liked the previous parts of the series. As for my own AD&D experience… At the the time we simply decided that 2nd was obviously better than 1st and so we switched. We were 15 or 16 years old, living in Switzerland, not reading any fanzines, no Dungeon or Dragon magazines, no Usenet, and we bought no adventures. All I do remember is that the rules were confusing and we never used them all, and yet we thought them the best.

“I believe that the skeleton of Classic Traveller can bear the muscle of just about any genre or setting you’d like to tackle.” says Forrest Aguirre in The Simplest RPG System Out of This World, which I found via Via John Mettraux’s end-of-week links, Eow Links 9. And that led to me to read Stargazer’s interview with Marc Miller from 2017. And then there’s the Classic Traveller Out of The Box blog series, of course. But I’m running out of time and need to prepare breakfast…


As I’m sitting here, generating random characters for Traveller, I get a distinct Dogs in the Vineyard feeling: the characters are singularly unequipped for the actual tasks they are up again. Perhaps that is the secret sauce of many RPGs. You get characters suited for combat in one form or another, and you put them in a world were armed conflict is for losers, and then you watch them struggle with their lack of social skills, escalating to violence when it’s uncalled for.

And that makes me think of life in general, where we are often unable to affect the changes we want in the people we talk to. And I guess then one wonders: would violence solve this problem? And of course it doesn’t (for most of us, luckily). I tell others interested martial arts this all the time: who cares about “efficient” or “street” fighting. No! Run away, if you can, always! Even if you “win” you’ll go to jail and face endless time in court and who wants that if you can just run away?

And so we get to the RPG trope where violence actually does work, most of the time, because players and referees and designers usually wish that it would. Anyway, that’s what I’m suspecting, when I look at my classic D&D or classic Traveller characters, haha. How singularly unprepared they are, and how this is a strange mirror showing us the world we live in, in a way.

“Humans are very contemptuous of orcs. They are brutes, never shying away from any cruelty. And they are warmongers, always divided against each other, always plunging headlong into another meaningless war of succession. This is very similar to how myconids view humans.” Myconids, by Arnold K. Love it!

Here’s more about wrestling and grappling: “A grappling attempt, … If you succeed, your opponent may spend their round trying to escape … or trying to hurt you… or, if they’re holding a dagger, they can attempt, as you were attempting, a killing blow … Killing Blow: Another contested grappling roll. If you succeed, your opponent must save vs. death or be killed instantly. If they make their save vs. death, you merely do the usual 1d4 dagger damage.” Making Daggers A Deadly Option, by Graphite Prime. I my game, I just use 1d6 for all weapons. But now I keep thinking about wrestling. King Arthur’s Pendragon also had it!

Then again, D&D 3.5 also had it, and we always made fun of the rules, even as we used them. They were too complicated, compared to the ones we had for simple attacks. That is an important consideration. Don’t add back all the complications the designers of your game didn’t add to regular attacks. Grappling should involve the same amount of decisions, look-ups, dice rolls, and fear as regular attacks, I think.

😭 “The vast majority, 93%, of survey respondents were male. The most commonly self-reported ethnicity was white (90%), with Latino at a distant second (2%). As the survey was online, respondents could have been answering the questions from anywhere in the world. The majority of them were from within the United States (73%), with Western European residents second (14%), followed by residents in North America outside of the United States (5.5%), …” Motivations of Hobby Game Players, by CarrieLynn Reinhard and Brant Guillory (2018).

“Next in my series of capsule reviews of weird non-fiction books from my library that would be useful in running RPGs: A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits: A bestiary of fairies, demons, and other mystical creatures from around the world.” Weird Books for Gamers VII: A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits, by Polyhedral Nonsense. I have that book! 😁

“At a minimum, the basics should address the subsector map, interstellar government, and local technological levels. As needed, the referee may add more basics to the campaign, … local organizations of importance, world and local laws, history, and other foundations. With the basics available, it is possible to set any mundane adventure without further preparation. The only problem is that such adventures will be mundane; there is no real spirit of excitement behind them.” A fair warning. This is from The Traveller Book (1981), p. 125.

And that’s it. Older recommendations: 2021-02-06 Blogosphere


Regarding “Motivations of Hobby Game Players”, by CarrieLynn. Perhaps the numbers have little to do with attempts to recruit other groups and more to do with there being something about the mundane white middle class America that makes folks wish they were somewhere else doing something more adventurous. I suspect Comic Book and Sci Fi fandom has similar numbers for similar reasons. I think the Punk scene in the 70s came out of similar social angst.

Ruprecht 2021-03-10 14:04 UTC

I don’t know how one would determine the root causes of the gender and race imbalance. Here in Switzerland, I can’t say much about race. I simply have no idea.

As for gender... I’ve been wondering whether boys playing with toys is something our culture fosters: knives, hammers, chisels, soldering irons, and later playing cards, dice, board games, computer games, and finally role-playing games. Perhaps because girls used to have less freedom, culturally bound for the kitchen and household chores; perhaps because boys used to be considered more suited for vice like gambling; perhaps because women in general are expected to perform the emotional labour of maintaining family relations, dealing with social fallout, raising the kids, placating the old, and networking with neighbours; perhaps men grow up emotionally stunted in small ways that make them appreciate make-believe social life a little more. That’s certainly a pattern I can see in my own life. But no matter what the underlying reasons, I think if the numbers are true, it definitely is a reason for regret. I wish it weren’t so.

I can’t say whether the numbers are a reflection of truth because I have no idea about self-selection (a survey in English, online... that alone will skew results) but I do know that women are rare in my own gaming groups. And once again, that could be because of something I’m doing, personally, or it could be something the locals here are doing, socially, but either way, I find it to be a cause for regret. I wish it weren’t so.

I really think we don’t really know what the causes are and assume that they are similar to all the causes for gender imbalance elsewhere. Sexism in a thousand different ways both big and small resulting in a culture that skews things in regretful ways. Patriarchy, a curse on all our houses.

– Alex 2021-03-10 14:40 UTC

Eow Links 11, by John Mettraux, has more recommended reading for you.

– Alex 2021-03-13

And I’m finding more people doing it! I love this! ♥

Shiny TTRPG links collection #8, by Xaosseed.

– Alex 2021-03-15 10:19 UTC

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