About a year ago I wrote about character generation shortcuts and half a year later I provided an expanded list as a PDF file, and eventually a slightly modified version of it ended up in Fight On issue #10. Today I saw that the bitter ranting madman of Your Dungeon Is Suck reviewed it and said the following:
‘Fast Company’ – Useless: if your players’ creative abilities reach their limit during chargen, get new players.
In a sense, he’s right.
I think the table still works in a convention context, where you want to show off character generation instead of coming with a handful of pregenerated characters. Part of what I’m trying to achieve at a convention is show people how flexible the old rules are. You can go a long way with just three classes, and instead of saying it, I can have people roll on the tables and they’ll experience it. At least I hope they will.
Plus: I like the challenge of random character generation. As such, random backgrounds and traits are just one more trick to get my creative juices flowing, just like random hats at character generation.
One of the problems I have is the mediocrity of my first thoughts. I assume I’m not alone in this. Sitting down and writing down an idea or two is just not how my creativity works. As an example, let me take Scott’s Gnomes of Spuzm. I might have remembered to have a fungus forest underground. It’s a very common idea. I would have thought of some symbiosis with another animal or monster. Maybe some fungus-themed monster. But Scott manages to add a potential player race (gnomes), the reproductive system of ants and termites, add in some worms, turning the dead into compost, some cannibalism (if I understand it correctly), and weave it together into a disgusting and inspiring whole.
I would love to be a gnome in this system trying to become king as I approach name level. I’d love to be an adventurer stumbling into this society as I try to call in a favor.
In addition to that, I find that I can quickly doodle some interesting scenery or map, but I find it hard to fill it with life. The right half of the image shows one such palace on a plane ruled by Pazuzu, run over with Vrocks and other flying monsters. But there was very little culture, practically no names, no adventures to be had. There was just a fight to get to a portal…
One thing that works quite well, is integrating existing material. As you can see on the left half of the image I had some sort of hall complete with riddle, secret passages and all. I lifted that from a Dungeon magazine somewhere. Possibly something from the Savage Tide Adventure Path. I find that this is particularly easy if the material to be integrated is small in volume and therefore easy to skim, easy to find, easy to evaluate. The entries to the One Page Dungeon Contest are also very accommodating to this approach.
This can also work for more abstract ideas such as the Gnomes of Spuzm. I might lift them and add them to my existing campaign, but I’d still need a cool adventure to go along with them. What generally happens is that I try and remember cool ideas such that if a player comes along, I have some options for them. My next campaign is going to be in the Sea of Five Winds region in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. There’s a gnomish village called Oglepuss near the starting village. If one of the players wants to play a gnome, they’re welcome to play a gnome from Oglepuss. Or, now that I’ve read Scott’s blog post, I might also offer an alternative. “Some underground gnomes in a termite-like society, a little disgusting but interesting if we want to do some more underground adventures… What do you think?” If the player wants to hear more, we’ll talk about it. If they pick Oglepuss, I’ve already helped spread a rumor before finishing character generation.
In the old school of gaming, random tables are often used to trigger creativity. I find that these work quite well. For the tables to work for me, there should be some plausible and standard entries on these tables such as monsters from the surrounding area, plus some near-impossible result that will require some on-the-spot improvising on my part. A lot of non-local creatures… Uh… They are on a quest to retrieve the Sword of Swampfire from the blue dragon! A super-special unnamed undead creature… Uh… You see a big jingle-bells bone chariot riding down the street. There is some sort of bone man driver in front and the back is a huge organ made of elephant bones played by a crazy mummy…
The balance between the ordinary and the special is what I need to watch out for when it comes to random tables. I don’t want too many mundane encounters because this doesn’t work for me as a game. The chances for extraordinary encounters in my games is therefore usually around 1 in 6. For a typical wilderness travel base campaign that often works out to special encounters every two or three sessions.
Perhaps I should use random tables for other things as well? I’m not so sure.
Unfortunately something that does not work for me when it comes to role-playing games is mutual inspiration. People talking, getting inspired, blabbing something, inspiring the next person, who in turn blabs something, inspiring the next person, and so on. This works well for other areas, but not for referees, in my experience.
The reason is that most referees I know run a very tight ship. They are in control. They keep secrets from their players. They can’t share ideas on stuff the players haven’t seen yet. Their referee friends run their own games, in their own settings, so there is very little to share. Very unfortunate, that.
Somehow forums and blogs don’t quite work as a substitute for this sort of rapid-fire verbal back-and-forth. I’m not quite sure why this is so. Too much lag? Not enough trust? People only publishing “finished” thoughts?
What I would love to do is doodle something, have a friend look at it, get excited and think of some adventure, or cultural background, requiring more doodling, inspiring me, going back and forth…
A friend recently asked me if I’d continue to buy and play games from an aggravating designer or publisher. I don’t have much experience with that. All the designer and publisher of the games I buy and play seem to be decent people.
Examples of aggravating publishers:
Some times the line is not so clear. What if you just disagree with a publisher that doesn’t want to publish PDF versions of books for fear of piracy? 
What happens if all you see is accusations or a catfight online: an artists claims they were not paid. Do you believe the artist? Do you contact to publisher asking for a comment? This casts a shadow of doubt on the entire thing.
Clearly, there are various degrees of aggravation. There are liars and cheaters, there are disagreements, there are questions…
The first thing to do, of course, is to make sure you’re getting it right. Check if other people are reporting similar issues. Check for rebuttals. Then decide what to do.
Here’s generally what I do, in order of increasing aggravation:
Just remember that complaining online is tricky.
I recently stumbled upon a review of Fight On! #10. I guess if we don’t write reviews, then we deserve what we get… I’m picking issue #9 instead of the very last issue #10.
The last Fight On! magazine I have available in print. The current one is issue #10, but where as Lulu said that my order of The Wilderness Alphabet Fight On! #10 shipped on October 15, they haven’t arrived.
Note: I was published in Fight On! issues #4 to #10. I like Fight On! magazine for its self-made look that invites me to contribute. It looks like a fanzine for people like myself, by people like myself.
Also note: A different review for issue #10 was recently posted on the OD&D board by crusssdaddy.
⚠ ☠ ⚠ Spoilers ahead ⚠ ☠ ⚠
Anyway, the articles! Here’s a short review of the first half of the magazine:
; Cover: Awesome, claustrophobic dungeon atmosphere!
; Top of the Class: Feats for your old school fighters I don’t like, because I prefer my fighters to be simple to play. Even a simple weapon specialization will end up biting me, if I ever find a better weapon of a different make. A system to overmemorize spells and associated mishaps I don’t like because it complicates. I’m not sure this adds an interesting choice to mages. Does it ever make sense to memorize more than one extra spell? As for the advice on how to pimp your priest and the examples provided: I love it. The thief modifiers to the standard 1 in 6 or 2 in 6 rolls I’m divided on. I don’t like it because they complicate something that should be simple. I do like it because the table has some funny entries (“because I’m an elf” gives you a -1 penalty) and the thief customization is interesting.
; Bird-Men of Hyperborea: I like the word “genonomous” but could not google it nor did I find it in my Webster dictionary. The geno prefix stands for race; the nomy root stands for system… Hm… Oh well. Anyway, servile, bickering, recalcitrant creatures that offer aerial transport, I like.
; Knights & Knaves: I like the idea of NPC stats, because I have a hard time coming up with them myself. I think the description of the scenery and their demeanor is too long. Maybe a sentence per level is a good rule of thumb?
; Spellslingers for Hire: I love these 10 NPCs. The descriptions are short and to the point. I’d love to use these in my campaign. The only thing not provided – and I have no short and succinct solution for this either – are spell-books. I often spend too much time assembling thematically appropriate spell-books.
; Khosura: A twelve page city supplement! Amazing. It makes me want to play in Gabor Lux’s Formalhaut campaign. If I didn’t have a handful of excellent villages and cities to use as campaign bases, this would do really well. As it stands, I’m probably not going to use it for a long time to come. It just serves as an example of how other referees create their urban settings. What impressed me the most is that the first “room” description is for the Western Gate and it already comes with a cool adventure idea. Anyway, it’s very long and while it may be easy to drop into a setting I would think it is hard to drop into a campaign without making it the center point of the campaign for many levels. So yes, it’s awesome, but it’s scary, too.
; Inter-Session Events: I like the idea of rolling on a random table for a significant event in between sessions if you’re in an episodic campaign. The only result I’d be wary of is “pauper” where the player looses all their possessions. How would you make this fun and interesting for the player? Maybe “wake up drunk and naked on the stairs of a temple” – now go find your equipment which you’ve pawned away to important NPC gamblers in town. I guess it might work, if the players know what they are getting into.
; Purchasing Potions: Probabilities of finding a potion in a village, city, etc. Random table of effects when buying a potion… I dunno. If I allow my players to shop for magic items, I feel the game degenerates into out-of-character shopping, which is why I would never use it.
; The Hobgoblin God’s Crown: A fourteen page dungeon! Wow, that’s long. A bit too long, maybe. I like the suitably interesting last rooms of the dungeon and the tricky situations the party finds itself in once it beats the opposition. Note that the image of a party fighting a beholder on the last page has nothing to do with the adventure.
; In My World…: An excellent three page essay on how to gradually build your campaign setting, how to determine enough to make it real, and how to leave enough things open in order to adapt it to your players’ actions and interests. It’s a bit long-winded, but friendly and supportive. I wish I had read this a few years ago to show to those players who wished I had run a campaign in the Forgotten Realms. A feel-good essay.
; Den of Villainy!: I was a judge in both One Page Dungeon Contests and nominated this one for Best Pirates. It doesn’t immediately suggest adventure. It’s more of a curious assembly of potentially dangerous people, weirdness, and some treasure. Finding and looting the treasure is going to take some investigating. I’d drop it in my current campaign if it featured any pirates.
; Education of a Magic-User: This is a comic strip about a magic user wanting to bet on a race and a cleric foiling him. I’m not much of a role-playing comic person. I usually take way too long to figure them out.
; GBH: I chuckled when I read these one-panel jokes.
; The Singing Cave: Another One Page Dungeon Contest entry. This one is a simple straight-forward drop-in cave with some surprise harpies at the end. I’ve already placed this one on my campaign map.
; The Contemptible Cube of Quazar: Yet another entry for the One Page Dungeon Contest getting published. I love them! Short and to the point. This one is a little dungeon on the faces of a cube. The idea is awesome. I’m not sure whether it’ll be as impressive in play because three of the faces each connect to a fourth face, and two faces remain unused. Since there are so few interconnections, there is less confusion for the mapper. I think I’d love more complications since I usually do the mapping if I’m a player, and I love interesting maps.
; Central New Jersey After the “Big Whoops”: The fourth and last of the One Page Dungeon Contest entries. This one is a little wilderness hex map with keys, not a dungeon per se. There seems to be no obvious adventuring hook to the region. Maybe if you know the region then just exploring it and finding out what happened to the various New Jersey settlements is entertaining enough. It would also work well as a setting for some other Mutant Future adventure. It still needs an adventure.
; Creepies & Crawlies: Three pages of monsters. All of them are interesting and involve more than just a simple thing to fight. They have a background one could research, they have variations, hints of allies, and adventure seeds built in. I like it.
; Ten Dooms of the Icy Wastes: Five or six pages (if you include a full page illustration) with ten independent encounters for any of your favorite icy waste hexes in the Carcosa setting or similar. Yellow men, white mutants, jale witches, robots, space aliens, spawn of Shub-Niggurath, you’ll find it all. It makes me want to run a Carcosa campaign, right now.
; The Yellow Forest: Five pages for some random encounter tables and descriptions of dinosaur-themed jungle encounters. I don’t know. I’m not too much into dinosaurs and related dangers (quicksand, moths, jaguars, etc). It looks a bit like an encyclopedia of stuff, a “dinosaur alphabet” kind of list. These have their place, I admit. Maybe I need a Lost Island themed campaign arc to appreciate it better.
; Tables For Fables: A table for how much time passed as the party investigated the dungeon, ranging from the negative (leave before your enter and meet your past selves) to a year per level. Very gonzo. Maybe if you’re really into the Mythical Underworld interpretation of dungeon exploration. Don’t pull it off more than once, I’d say. A random table with 20 morale statements. Interesting idea, but I think I’m fine with the standard morale check and some improvisation.
Claudia hat vor einiger Zeit angefangen mit uns D&D 3.5 zu spielen. Gleichzeitig fing ihr Bruder an, in einer Bibliothek zu arbeiten. Plötzlich bekamen wir ganze Fantasy Serien geschenkt! Claudia begann wie wild zu lesen. Die Malazan Bücher von Steve Erickson, Eis und Feuer von George R. R. Martin, Eragon von Christopher Paolini…
Als sie mich nach Buchempfehlungen fragte, musste ich an die Zeit zurückdenken, in der ich Fantasy Bücher entdeckte. Ich muss so zwischen 10 und 14 Jahre alt gewesen sein, als ich den Herrn der Ringe und die Nebel von Avalon verschlang. Mein Mutter war mit jemandem befreundet, der hatte eine ganze Büchewand voller Perry Rhodan, Darkover von Marion Zimmer Bradley, Pern von Anne !McCaffrey, Welt der Ebenen von Philip José Farmer, … Und ich hatte gerade eben wieder ein paar Buchempfehlungen online gesehen. Also habe ich mich hingesetzt…
Was wir uns also besorgen werden:
Ich war etwas enttäuscht, als ich merkte, dass die Bücher meiner Jugend nicht mehr aufgelegt werden. Aber Amazon Deutschland bietet ja einen ziemlich guten “Marketplace” an, wo man 2nd hand kaufen kann. Man muss in der Schweiz einfach nach dem ersten Anbieter suchen, wo das Wort “international” vorkommt.
Gerade habe ich ein paar Stunden online verbracht…
Gebrauchte Bücher kaufen rockt! :D 👊
Was ich auch empfehlen kann sind die Artikel von old school B/X Blackrazor Blogger JB zum Thema Darkover:
Was habe ich wohl gelernt? Vor allem eines: Ich bin damals zu einem beinharten Feministen geworden und nie mehr davon weggekommen.
Hierzu kann ich auch noch einen Blog empfehlen:
Uhm… Warum heisst die Seite eigentlich “Books” und nicht “Bücher”!? Ich war wohl überzeugt, ich würde wieder einen englischen Artikel zum Thema RPG schreiben.
I recently saw an essay by SamRose, linked to from Community:InformationOverload: Why you never see people complaining about “knowledge overload”…
It makes me want return to writing wiki pages on this site instead of blog pages (like this one). Start with a copy of a good blog page on a topic, copy it to a page without date prefix, and integrate other good pages instead of just appending to them (like the tag or category pages will).
On the topic of my RPG-related blogging, I have a few things that I keep returning to:
If you’ve just recently started reading all those role-playing game blogs of the old school, you might wonder how you’ll ever manage to remember them all. Fear not!
That’ll subscribe you to a lot of blogs. 👌
Next stop: information overload… ;)
We’re going through the issue article by article…
⚠ ☠ ⚠ Spoilers ahead ⚠ ☠ ⚠
; Post-Apocalyptic Crafting: These are rules for crafting mundane items. If your game is about scarcity, this seems like a cool idea. The table says how many slots each item gets, and how many points you need to get for a particular item quality. Given that the rules allow you to make a craft roll when exploring rooms, vehicles, or looting, the “crafting” includes collecting enough raw material, being lucky, finding the missing component, etc. It looks like a fun little minigame to play on the side.
; Riverwalk: A long linear sequence of weird encounters along an underground river. Maybe useful if you have a fabulous underground location that can be reached by following the river and you want to give your players a feeling of how far away from the surface it is and how weird things are turning out to be down here. Just reading through it, it seems to lack life, opposition, or an immediate goal for players. You will need to fill in the details. Perhaps in play this will resolve itself?
; Two Tribes: A four page science fiction scenario about an isolated solar system divided into three factions with various hideouts each. Each planet gets a one paragraph write-up and each faction gets a longer write-up. There is a description and minimal stats for a corpulent imperator, his stressed assistant, a bitter revolutionary, a driven guerilla, and stats for the respective minions of the three factions. What I really like is the end of the scenario describing what the author’s players did. That puts things in perspective.
; The Temple of Thek: Nearly five pages on a non-canon Tékumel temple. I find this article to be of little immediate use at my gaming table. I don’t run a Tékumel campaign, and there is no situation, there are no relations, no people to adapt for my own game. It’s all one hundred percent Tékumel background material. This is excellent if you haven’t read any Tékumel material and want to get a feel for it, or if you need a destination full of cultural differences for your players to explore after they suffer a magical mishap of some sort that gates them here.
; Random’s Assortments: A selection of traps from the interesting to the insane. I liked the green slime powder. Add water and you get green slime! I very much dislike the cursed chest where upon opening all those who helped in the endeavor get to roll a d6 and a result of 1 indicates that your head explodes. Uhm, what? The other traps fall somewhere in between, if slightly on the gonzo side.
; Caverns of the Beast Mistress: An eleven page tribute dungeon level inspired by the Caverns of Thracia and Night of the Walking Wet. It’s full of minotaurs, and there’s an alien psychic worm-slime pilot at the end. What’s not to like?
; Interview with Paul Jaquays: This Fight On! issue is dedicated to the author of the Caverns of Thracia. I enjoyed this five page interview. Sure, these days you can read interviews and forum threads dedicated to the little stars of our hobby, but I had never read anything by Paul Jaquays before.
; The Balsphemous Shrine of the Tentacled God: This is level 12 for the ongoing joint effort at building The Darkness Beneath. I love the Imp Machine, Space Ogres, Transporter Room including a handwritten sign by M. Scott, the last living Electroweak Elemental (immune to electromagnetic and weak force, double damage from gravitic and strong force attacks)… Did you guess who the author is? None other than Jeff Rients. And I have just read the first half of it!
; Merlyn’s Mystical Mirror: Two well-written reviews, the first about Dragons at Dawn, a reconstruction of the game played by Dave Arneson. As an example, only three spells out of forty-seven deal damage. One of them causes a slow decay, and the other two are fireball and lightning bolt, respectively. The reviewer points these things out, provides ample reflection and discusses his own bias. I felt informed. The other game reviewed is Backswords & Bucklers, an Elizabethan England variant of Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox. The author discusses his dislike for d6 weapon damage, which is part of the whitebox tradition, and laments the lack of background material. As written, however, these omissions seem to be appropriate to me (just as OD&D itself provides practically no background material). That left me a bit confused.
; The End of the World, Considered as Prelude: Four pages of fiction. I usually don’t read this sort of fiction because I have so many unread books I could be reading instead. In addition to that I have very little to compare this with.
; Witches of N’Kai: A single page of role-playing game systems written as a tribute to Carcosa and Searches of the Unknown, which in turn spawned another dozen or more variants. That’s the Microlite20 spirit, right there!
; Grognard’s Grimoire: Eleven illusionist spells. Many of them are variations of such spells as later edition Alter Self or Disguise Self, others allows targets to disguise targets as somebody else, disguise targets as a corpse, make targets look like shadows (a weaker form of invisibility). My favorite is the Phantasmagorical Blade that always hits unless the target saves, with Hallucinatory Army a close second. The army is very large, but only lasts until touched by an intelligent creature. I’m imagining interesting results.
; Artifacts, Adjuncts, & Oddments: Rules for the creation of six types of homunculons, and three types of elegant high-tech weapons suitable for a “mutated” age. I liked them all.
I noted several typos on a first reading, but having done some editing for free I know how boring it is and cannot get my self to complain about it. Sure, it’d be nice to fix them all, but I’m not volunteering!