# 2012-02-01 Kubo

Way back in 2006, I was happily writing Free Software. At the time, a dude called Greywulf was using it, and I started reading his blog. He was playing role-playing games. I bought a PDF of the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia because he recommended it. I remembered playing AD&D as a teenager. Yeah, back then the PDFs were available for purchase. It was a terrible PDF, scanned, 80MB, with sloppy OCR, impossible to print – but it was official. Greywulf pointed me at EN World. I started reading. Greywulf wrote M20. I finally had enough and decided that I wanted to play! I’d make it happen. I’d find people. And I did. And we played. We moved the campaign to D&D 3.5.

One of the first people I found was a half New Zealander called Marco. He played in many campaigns. Back then we had just started an Asian campaign. He created Kubo. Kubo was a ranger turned rogue with levels in shadow dancer. He fought with a naginata and used both ends of the weapon. He had a shit-ton of attacks. And he really loved kicking ass.

I still remember the party reaching an oasis, looking for a passage to the City of Brass (Necromancer Gamers) and being confronted with a half efreet that could cast high level spells. This guy quickly located the party after they had killed some of his retainers and decided to finish them off. He approached invisible and flying. When the fight began, my players knew they were at a severe disadvantage. They were hiding on a small ledge up on a cliff and most of the could not fly.

In fact, Kubo was killed in this fight. But the others remembered the promise of an evil book they had read and called out for a demon lord: Pazuzu! Pazuzu! Pazuzu! And so it was that the demon lord showed up, resurrected Kubo and killed the half efreet.

During all this fighting, Kubo had slain many foes. Marco loved to describe how he delivered killing blows. This time he went further than that, however: “Can I knock out their teeth? Can I roll a Reflex save to catch them in mid air? Can I?” And so it was done – in bullet time! We laughed. :D

(The character page on the campaign wiki: Kubo San; the session report)

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# 2012-02-02 Oddmuse Channel

This is why I like the Oddmuse channel on Freenode so much…

16:51 CapnDan
Honestly I don’t understand why people get so religious about different versions of Unix.
16:52 kensanata
Everybody likes to imagine that their decision was rational.
16:52 kensanata
Therefore they infuse the first decision and the facts that influenced it with overproportional importance.
16:52 kensanata
NETBSD IS THE ONLY SECURE OPERATING SYSTEM!!!!
16:53 CapnDan
yeah, there’s a name for that, I was reading about it a few months ago.
16:53 CapnDan
A popular psychology word from last year.
16:53 kensanata
“Moron Syndrome”?
16:53 CapnDan
lol

(Dan later discovers that the term he was looking for is cognitive inertia.)

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# 2012-02-02 Selbst Geschrieben

Unter den deutschen Rollenspielblogs gibt es ebenfalls einen “Karneval” – das aktuelle Thema ist selbst geschriebene Rollenspiele.

Vor langer Zeit hatte ich mir Amber gekauft, ein würfelloses Rollenspiel. Ich hatte Fudge gelesen, den Vorläufer der vielen Fate Varianten (Spirit of the Century, Diaspora, Starblazer Adventures, Dresden Files und wie sie alle heissen). Was mir fehlte, war eine Gruppe von Spielern. Ich dachte, wenn ich eine kurze, deutsche Version des ganzen schreiben würde, könnte ich meine AD&D Spieler überreden. So entstand Grofzg. Wir haben es nie gespielt.

Den Nachfolger, Märchen Fudge, habe ich einmal verwendet. Dann ist die Kampagne eingeschlafen.

Jahre später began ich, in einer Indie Runde zu spielen. Die hau-drauf Stimmung von Spirit of the Century hatte uns allen gefallen, aber das Buch selber fanden wir alle zu lang, zu unhandlich, zu verwirrend. In der Zwischenzeit hatte ich meine Traveller Runde auf Diaspora umgestellt und fand die Diaspora Regeln eine klarere Variante der Fate Regeln. Als wir also beschlossen hatten, ein paar Runden zum Thema Mesopotamien zu spielen und wir gerade In A Wicked Age und Archipelago ausprobiert hatten, beschloss ich, eine Kurzversion der Fate Regeln selber zu schreiben. So entstand Der Geist Mesopotamiens. Wir haben diese Regeln zwei mal verwendet, und ich habe für mich beschlossen, dass ich für jedes zukünftige Fate Spiel dasselbe machen würde: Ein kurzes Dokument mit angepassten Fertigkeiten und eigenen Stunts.

Als ich dann meine D&D 3.5 Runde auf Solar System umstellte, wusste ich, was ich zu tun hatte: Ich musste eine Kurzfassung der Regeln schreiben, welche die neuen Spieler nicht erschlagen würde. Diese Kurzfassung verwenden wir immer noch.

Ich danke all den Autoren, welche freie Lizenzen verwenden. Nur diese freien Lizenzen (Open Gaming License ohne viel Product Identity, Creative Commons) machen es möchlich, dass man aus bestehenden Regeln im Handumdrehen ein eigenes Rollenspiel schreiben kann.

Eine Buchempfehlung: Freie Kultur. Rollenspiele selberschreiben ist nur der Anfang.

Update: Meine M20 Variante, M20 Hard Core, hatte ich glatt vergessen. Habe ich ein mal Probegespielt mit meiner D&D 3.5 Runde, aber die wollten nicht umsteigen.

Diskussion hier oder auf dem RSP Blogs Forum. Was ich ganz langweilig finde, ist die Diskussion über die Begriffe im offiziellen Thread. Was ist denn genau ein selbst geschriebenes Rollenspiel? Gähn!

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# 2012-02-03 RPG (Survey, Long)

This dude who played AD&D, White Wolf, Forge stuff and blogs about old school D&D is doing a survey:

It’s a bit more complicated than your typical web survey:

Go to the download page […] and download the GAMING SURVEY. The document is an MS Excel sheet. Read the instructions at the top; then enter the information in the open cells (the “colored boxes”). Except for the answer boxes, the cells on the document are all locked, so you can’t accidentally type over a question or anything. Once you’ve finished, save the document and then email it to the following email address […]

My hope is that it will replace speculation on who we are and what we play with some facts. The only real quantitative study I’ve seen is old stuff from 1999 done by Wizards of the Coast. The data is not available, only some conclusions. Maybe we can get an update using JB’s effort?

Tags: RPG

# 2012-02-03 Rollenspielumfrage (lang)

Einer, der früher AD&D gespielt hat, dann White Wolf, Indies und jetzt vor allem über D&D alter Schule schreibt, hat beschlossen, eine Umfrage zu machen:

Man muss eine Excel Datei runterladen und 125 Fragen beantworten. Mal schauen ob das nützliche Infos liefert.

Bisher habe ich für quantitative Daten immer auf die alte Studie von 1999 verwiesen. Zeit für ein Update!

Alte Daten aus 1999 finde ich immer noch besser als Hypothesen, die auf Beobachtungen im Freundeskreis basieren. Vielleicht kann man mit den Daten aus der Umfrage Spekulationen auf eine solidere Basis stellen.

Update: Diskussion auch im Tanelorn

Update: Sehr kurze Umfrage von Moriz; Antworten einfach per Email schicken

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Wenn die Fragen nicht so “neugierig” auf persönliche Daten wären, würde ich ja mitmachen. Aber so sehr möchte ich nicht mit meinen Daten “hausieren” gehen, wie es diese 125 Fragen herauszulocken versuchen.

Zornhau 2012-02-04 00:36 UTC

Kann sein, dass da meine europäische Sicht auf den Datenschutz das etwas zu krass sieht, aber die Form der Umfrage geht so nicht. Es fängt mit dem kompletten Geburtsdatum an (eine Altersgruppe würde vollkommen ausreichen), geht über „Race you consider yourself“ (und ich gehe leider nicht davon aus, dass er hier „Halbling“ oder „Elf“ erwartet), bis hin zu den geografischen und zeitlichen (!) Daten, wo man geboren ist (inkl. Ort). Insofern er nicht ein Horoskop für mich als unerwünschten Bonus erstellen will, erschließt sich mir die Relevanz der Abfrage dieser Daten auch überhaupt nicht.

Davon abgesehen ist die Methode Excel-Tabelle ausfüllen und zumailen in Zeiten, wo man leicht mal eben einen Umfrage-Server aufsetzen kann (oder einfach eine Umfrage in Google Docs oder Twitpoll oder sonstwo machen kann) technisch mehr als veraltet. Und zusätzlich macht dies eine wirkliche Anonymisierung der Umfrage auch noch unmöglich.

Letztlich ist es offenbar eine reine D&D-Umfrage und keine, die den gesamten Umfang des Hobbies widerspiegelt.

Ron 2012-02-04 00:48 UTC

Nein, Ron, ich teile deine Ansichten und finde nicht, dass diese Einstellung “zu krass” ist. Ich werde das persönliche Zeugs nicht ausfüllen.

AlexSchroeder 2012-02-04 10:53 UTC

# 2012-02-03 Swiss Creative Commons Music

I just saw an email on the iCommons Switzerland mailing list listing Switzerland based netlabels and artists.

The list was provided by starfrosch. Apparently they have been podcasting Creative Commons music for years.

I approve!

Now I just have to spend some time listening to the music… These days I usually listen to the Sounds podcast. Here in Switzerland I pay a monthly fee because I have a radio. Might as well profit from whatever they do. (I do confess, however, that I’d love to hear that none of this money goes to the entertainment industry. (Thieves! Luddites!)

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Comments on 2012-02-03 Swiss Creative Commons Music

hi there, if you’re interested in more netaudio/netlabels, allow me to suggest these websites: netlabelism.com and my website netwaves.org

cheers,
embe

Thank you for those links! I have subscribed to the podcast.

AlexSchroeder 2012-02-10 23:21 UTC

# 2012-02-04 What I'd like to see from artists

I was reading Stefan Poag’s post Do I know how to be a famous artist? He lists some questions he thinks artists should answer for themselves. The question “How to make sure that anyone who’s interested in your art is able to buy something, regardless of how little or how much they have to spend” reminded me of something…

What I would like to see is a simple, semi-automated process on artists’ websites. Artists would post cool pictures and they’d all include the following:

1. a link to a nice resolution picture (not quite fit for printing but fit for the web, eg. 600x600)
2. a PayPal or Flattr or whatever button saying “license this for $5” (or$2 or $10, whatever you find will result in sales) 3. a link to a license saying that paying the amount grants me unlimited, non-exclusive rights to use and distribute it in digital form (or in any form, or print for an additional$5?) for commercial use or for non-commercial use with the requirement to link back to the page where I pressed the button (so that others can license it as well)

I feel that’d be better than a tipping jar but still not as convoluted as the usual process. There is no email exchange required. I don’t get to decide anything about the piece – but perhaps some people will approach the artist with adaptations they’d like to see, in which case you do your usual sales process.

I don’t know whether this would have led to a ton of sales, but I’m sure I would have spent maybe $10 or$20 on little stuff like that; things I can use on my blog, on my campaign wikis, submit to Fight On! (where upon I’d maybe pay the little extra required for a print product).

I think as a small artist it’s important to not waste money with a lawyer. Keep it short and simple. You won’t be going to court anyway – if people are not going to pay then that’s “shrinkage” on the web or whatever you want to call it. But give those people who want to buy something small an option.

Do you think it’d work?

As for my own lousy drawings, they’re available for free because I wouldn’t pay for them myself.

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# 2012-02-05 Favorite Monster Manuals

What monster manuals are your favorites? I assume anybody who has run D&D 3.5 will have used the first Monster Manual ad nauseam. But was it your favorite?

My favorites – the ones that got used the most:

1. Swords & Wizardry Monster Book: 0e Reloaded – it’s spartan, but the short stat blocks are all that I need. My favorite resource at the table.
2. Monster Manual IV for D&D 3.5 – I loved the connected monsters; I based a whole campaign on the Dark Talon lizardfolk entries and Yarshag is still out there! I also used all the dragon folk variants in another campaign.
3. Monster Manual II for AD&D – the first book with all the demons and devils and monads: as a kid, I was hooked.

I know the kids love the newer monster manuals with their gorgeous artwork. I don’t use them too often, though. When I bought Paizo’s Bestiary 1 & 2 I had already stopped running Pathfinder. I have not used the Tomb of Horrors at the table (neither the Swords & Wizardry nor the Pathfinder version). I have used very little of Monster Manuals II and III for D&D 3E and 3.5. I was already disenchanted with D&D 3.5 when I bought the Monster Manual V so I didn’t get to play much. I would have loved to use Lords of Madness and Fiendish Codex I & II more. The Lords of Madness book in particular has inspired me again and again to add alien factions to my campaigns. Currently I’m still using an undercurrent of beholders and beholder kin (from The Complete Guide to Beholders).

But really, 0e Reloaded rules. Or, as Tim Shorts says:

When I mention my favorite monster manuals this one right up at the top. Before the Tome of Horrors and the new Hacklopedia of Beasts it was my favorite. Those beautifully simple stat blocks. Even with the two heavy weight tomes I mentioned I will still refer to this one often. – Favorite OSR Products

And it’s available in an editable format! Awesome!

I’m not sure whether I like Matt Finch’s plans to add more art to the book. Yes, art is what the kids love. It’s what I loved. But if I want beautiful art, I might decide to buy Paizo’s Bestiary 3 instead. A tricky question. I did like the old school illustrations by Steve Zieser, Sean Aaberg and Jeremy Pea in the Advanced Edition Companion for Labyrinth Lord. I’m on the fence regarding the addition of art to such a perfect product.

What do you think?

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Comments on 2012-02-05 Favorite Monster Manuals

I like helping to visualize monsters and other stuff because it’s a fast way to get everyone on the same page in terms of what the current “thing” is about.

– Harald 2012-02-05 12:28 UTC

# 2012-02-08 Werkzeugkiste

Auf dem Tagschatten Blog las ich gerade eben den Artikel Ein Blick in mein Werkzeugkistchen mit einem Link auf den  Ludus Leonis Artikel Backstage #1: Ein Blick in meine Werkzeugkiste. Werkzeuge, hm…

• Notizen vor dem Spiel, während dem Spiel und nach dem Spiel mache ich in so kleine Kampagnenbücher à la Moleskine (meistens in etwas grössere und billigere Varianten).
• Berichte und Zusammenfassungen von Spielerwissen stelle ich gerne auf den Kampagnen Wiki. An der Wiki Software Oddmuse schreibe ich schon länger…
• Karten kritzle ich meisten auf Papier, doch die immer wieder verwendete Spielerkarte der Kampagne habe ich mit Inkscape erstellt und hierfür sogar eine (englische) Kurzanleitung geschrieben: Old School Hex Map Tutorial.
• Wenn ich längere Texte schreibe – was sehr selten ist – verwende ich Emacs oder iWrite, falls ich am iPad sitze. Alle Texte enden am Schluss allerdings auf dem Wiki. Wenn ich was ausdrucken will habe ich mich schon so ans Wiki gewöhnt, dass ich etwas im Emacs schreibe, auf dem Wiki publiziere, und dann mittels Kopieren & Einfügen ins Libre Office übernehme, letzte Anpassungen mache und dort das PDF generiere oder auf Papier ausdrucke.
• Wenn ich ab und zu ein Bild zeichne – was leider viel zu selten passiert – verwende ich Stift und Scanner, oder Brushes, falls ich am iPad sitze.

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# 2012-02-09 How To Write A Module

initial sketches for this dungeon level

I’ve written a dungeon level for the Fight On! megadungeon. It’s for level 13. Maybe it’ll be in issue #13. I tried to adhere to a number of principles that would hopefully produce a better product.

As far as I’m concerned, high level play suggests the following deviation from the usual:

There is no map with exact distances. In fact, like the other dungeon levels at a similar depths, my entry feels like a little underworld wilderness.

I assume that many party members will be able to fly or dimension door or have flying mounts or flying carpets. Thus, there are several vertical drops that would make life very difficult for a low-level party.

Since I don’t have a traditional map, encounters are presented as simple lists of locations and creatures. You can treat these as a wandering monster table, except that every entry in the list comes with monster stats and an environment and a little extra info. Personally, I prefer to get a little more information than just a monster name and their numbers appearing.

In order to further aid improvisation every location starts with a sentence or two setting the mood, a list of impressions (sounds, sights), a list of names to use—little things that I’d appreciate as a referee.

Enemies will have access to magic. I still remember hating spellcasters and devils and demons as a kid because picking the right spells and all that was tricky to do in the heat of combat. This is why important foes will often have two or three at will magic abilities. It’s simply easier to manage.

Since I was going to publish in Fight On! magazine without the Open Gaming License, I decided to not copy any stats from monster manuals or existing rule books. I made up the stats of all the monsters. I’m sure this will result in strange discrepancies. I used the following rules of thumb: mooks 1 HD, squad leaders 3 HD, local leaders 5 HD, important people 7-9HD, boss enemies 12-15 HD, some monsters that you can fight but that you’re better off avoiding 17+ HD. AC 9 for no armor, AC 7 for tough hides, AC 5 for chain and equivalent, AC 0-3 for superbly armored enemies. Damage is usually 1d6, 2d6 for magical two handed weapons or large creatures with a huge jaw, 3d6 for the strongest natural enemies.

In order to reflect the changing dynamics of high-level play, there are a lot of save-or-die effects. At this point, hit-points aren’t so important anymore. Save vs. paralysis or be dragged under water; when under water, save vs. death every round or drown. This is what makes fighting the monsters dangerous, and this is why there are a lot of monsters with few hit dice down on level 13 of this dungeon.

A while ago, I had written a blog post called Quality Dungeons. I wanted to apply some of the lessons I had learned from reading 200+ One Page Dungeons.

Every location has an interesting non-player character or two. There are factions at war. You can make allies. (In fact, all the dungeon levels I can think of for the Fight On! megadungeon had this. I love it.)

I tried to loosely tie all the locations together. If you’re using the entire level, that’s cool and there’s a lot of interaction. At the same time, it’s possible to reuse every single location outside of the dungeon in your own games. It’s modular because I like to reuse other people’s stuff.

I use bold to highlight monsters and important names in the descriptions such that it’s easy to skim.

I tried to keep it short. Unfortunately, it’s still nearly 30 pages long. I asked Claudia for editing suggestions but she says she likes it all and she wouldn’t change it. We’ll see whether I managed to condense it down to the most awesome per word I can deliver! It was certainly my goal.

A little trick I used: I forced myself to write many things as bullet point lists. Every encounter is one item, one paragraph. In addition to that, I don’t use periods in my list items; I use semicolons to structure it; this forces me to keep a certain flow while writing; I realize it’s not a great way to write a blog post, however.

I also tried to provide foes to fight, non-player characters to talk to, befriend, learn from and barter with. These last elements supports my wife’s favorite play style: discovering new things. You can exchange spells with magic users, there are rituals to learn (in campaigns, that is how I explain all the magic that is unexplained by the spells provided by the rule book) and there are things to learn about the environment.

There are opportunities for long term change. I’m not just talking about loosing limbs (although that may happen as well), I’m talking about divine effects following you around if a god notices your actions, infernal pacts you can make, that kind of thing.

There are also safe zones (although when I ran a play test the players burned down one of the safe zones) for players to rest and recover without needing to return to the surface. I just like to imagine that trips to the underworld are long and arduous, much like Jule Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

I also tried to provide some links to the other dungeon levels in this megadungeon, but perhaps that is the one aspect where I could have tried to do better and add more tie-ins. To my chagrin I must confess that I haven’t read all of them in as much detail as I would have liked.

Another thing that I have failed to do for now is to calculate how much experience points I would want the party to gain on this level and distribute appropriate treasure hoards. Maybe I should do that now that I’m done and do it. Assuming that a fighter needs about 120’000 to move from level 13 to 14, that would mean that I’d need about 120’000×4×3 (providing triple treasure since they’ll probably miss a lot as well). I’m not sure… At the same time, I feel that once you’ve reached name level and beyond, the actual numbers don’t really mean that much anyway. I could be wrong. All I know is that I probably haven’t distributed 1.5 million gold pieces on this dungeon. Should I?

Comments on 2012-02-09 How To Write A Module

Sorry for the spoilers, but: IT WAS SPIDERS! Of COURSE we BURNED THEM DOWN!

– Harald 2012-02-09 11:13 UTC

Maybe I was under the influence of A Deepness in the Sky when I wrote that part.

I also like the Aranea a lot.

AlexSchroeder 2012-02-09 13:23 UTC

AlexSchroeder 2012-11-17 18:54 UTC

# 2012-02-09 Social Skills Revisited

The article The trouble with social conflicts was cross-posted from Stargazer’s blog to Google+ where I wrote something like the following, inspired by -C’s recent blog post on player skill:

We act stuff out to be entertaining, but in the end I think I use a system that is close to (but less codified) than what Courtney Campbell suggests in his On Ignorance of Skill Based Play blog post. I have NPCs react to quantifiable issues (wants to be bribed, wants help fighting the devils, wants to do the right thing, and so on – Courtney calls them needs, traits and desires) and I’m open about them. A little smalltalk will reveal them and then players can act on them or they can ignore them.

If you don’t want to get rid of skills, I guess you could have skill tests to help players discover more of these needs, traits and desires.

But the most important point is this: If you feel uncomfortable with a player’s acting performance dominating play, then laugh when it’s funny, gnash your teeth when it’s stupid, but at the end of the spiel, look at your NPCs needs, traits, and desires. If none of them are satisfied, then it didn't work.

As a point of personal preference, 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.

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# 2012-02-11 Nazi Terror

Wir sind in Berlin und waren im Museum Topographie des Terrors.

Die Nacht dann auf Daniels Geburtstagsfeier verbracht. Um vier ins Bett…

Am nächsten Tag war dann Pergamon Museum angesagt. Sehr schön, inkl. Ishtar Tor aus Babylon.

Am letzten Tag waren wir im DDR Museum und im Museum zur Geschichte Berlins. Die Zeit ist uns einfach davon gelaufen!

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# 2012-02-15 Hirelings

Over at the Underworld Cleaning Service, George published Hirelings & Henchmen: My Players Hate Them! Oh no! He says that his players “don’t want to split the XP and GP with them.” I understand. It’s how I played AD&D.

These days, however, I’ve added some house rules to my campaign which seem to change this. This is what I posted as a comment on his blog, slightly edited.

The way it works in my game: hirelings are 0 level humans and want 1 gp/day if they are to fight (so-called men-at-arms). XP for monsters are distributed per party member, but in my game, XP for monsters makes up for an estimated 10% of the XP total gained. It’s not a lot.

Most of the XP is gained for treasure. Now, if a hoard is found, I don’t distribute the appropriate gold XP right away. Players distribute the gold amongst the player characters, and if they make it back to town and waste it, this gains them the remaining 90% of their XP. Thus, 0-level hirelings don’t get any of this 90% share. They cost 1 gp/day which is the equivalent of 1 XP/day. My players don’t mind.

When the 0-level hirelings have gained 100 XP, they gain their first level. I don’t keep count and thus I usually just use the rule of thumb that if a player character gets more than 100 XP because of monsters in a single session, all the hirelings part of that expedition will gain a level.

From then on, they are considered to be henchmen. They no longer need to roll morale checks at the beginning of every expedition and they demand one third of a treasure share. This is when players end up sharing a lot of XP. By now, however, players either no longer want henchmen, or they really love them, or they feel it’s only fair to give them a little bit of gold. In any case, none of my players have said “we don’t want to split the XP and GP with them.” These henchmen have been around for several sessions and they survived at least one big fight with the player characters.

In my games, the big fights where two manticores, and a few days later, a wraith sorcerer. How can you fire a hireling who joined you in that big basilisk costume as you tried to trick the manticores?

I’m not sure how exactly you are splitting XP and gold between player characters and hirelings, but perhaps tweaking your method will make hirelings more interesting to your players.

I find interactions with hirelings to be a fun, light-weight role-playing opportunity. You can role-play as you hire them for an expedition, as they make demands, as they tell player characters that they don’t want to sleep in caves, as they complain about preferring the other alehouse, as they talk about their family at the fireplace, as they demand their share. Remember the Icelander acting as a guide in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth? I love that scene! I like role-playing hirelings that retire from the adventuring life as they fail their morale checks at the beginning of an expedition and open a shop instead. I like role-playing hirelings as they roll terrible results on the Death and Dismemberment table…

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Don’t forget about Meatshields! The Classic fantasy Hireling and Henchmen generator.

– Greg G 2012-02-15 18:50 UTC

Alex is using the meatshields as well, and some of the hirelings got the occassional bonus at the end of an adventure that was either quite dangerous or because the PCs tried to keep their spirits up.

– Harald 2012-02-15 19:25 UTC

# 2012-02-18 Ode to Ode to Black Dougal

I just realized that one of my favorite old school D&D blogs has been silent for months. The last post is dated April 3, 2011.

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.

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# 2012-02-20 Network Traffic

Back in 2009 I wondered about network traffic. Decided to take another look. Yesterday’s log file via bot-analyze:

aschroeder@thinkmo:~\$ bot-analyze < logs/access.log.1 | head
----------------------------Bandwidth-------Hits-------Actions
Everybody      2177M     113317
All Bots       274M      16154   100%     9%
--------------------------------------------------------------
yandex.com     63545K       3954    24%     9%
bot     33803K       2309    14%     1%
superfeedr.com     31740K       1091     6%    63%
www.bing.com     14161K        525     3%     4%
ahrefs.com      9251K        465     2%     2%

I’m surprised – bots are responsible for 14% of all my hits. That’s better than what I saw in 2009.

The way I have set up my web pages, bots should not crawl “actions” (URLS containing the action parameter) – and yet 9% of them do it, and superfeedr does it most of all. I should investigate, I guess.

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# 2012-02-25 Twenty Questions

20 quick questions. Everybody is doing it.

1. Ability scores generation method?
3d6 in order.
2. How are death and dying handled?
When you reach 0hp and every time you are hit thereafter you roll on the Death and Dismemberment table; this rule also applies to retainers, if players ask for it.
High-level clerics are very hard to find and require days of travel. If you find them, they will cast the spell in exchange for suitable favors. Essentially I will exploit the situation for plot hooks.
4. How are replacement PCs handled?
5. Initiative: individual, group, or something else?
Group.
6. Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work?
On a natural 20, you do max damage.
7. Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet?
Yes; some entries on the Death & Dismemberment table have less severe results for helmet wearing victims.
8. Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly?
Yes.
9. Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything?
You will need to run.
10. Level-draining monsters: yes or no?
Yes.
11. Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death?
Yes.
12. How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked?
Not. I use the simplified Moldvay table which depends on armor worn and coins carried, ignoring everything else. I only use this in a chase situation.
13. What’s required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time?
It can happen at the end of a session which is when I hand out XP for monsters defeated or during the game when a character wastes an appropriate amount of gold.
14. What do I get experience for?
About 90% is for treasure wasted: Building houses, erecting statues, sponsoring parties, donations, salaries paid to employees. The remaining 10% is XP for monsters defeated.
15. How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination?
There are very few traps. I try to make them “in your face” obvious. They are triggered by rushing through and committing other foolish mistakes.
16. Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work?
Hirelings and Henchmen: Yes. They roll morale when asked to do things they consider to be too dangerous. Hirelings roll morale when they return home to see whether they settle down or continue adventuring. Enemies roll morale when the first enemy drops and when half the enemies are down; two checks at most.
17. How do I identify magic items?
Potions: 10gp to an alchemist if you cannot guess what it is by sipping it. Potions are coded by color and taste, so if you keep track of those, you won’t have to pay the 10gp. Other magic items usually involve a minor task such as finding an appropriate sage or making contact with the appropriate extra-planar powers. Essentially I will exploit the situation for plot hooks.
18. Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions?
No buying of magic items. Occasionally a village will have an alchemist with a fixed set of potion recipes. These cost 300-500gp each. Other magic items require barter or quests.
19. Can I create magic items? When and how?
Through rituals that you can learn from others; you probably need to have reached name level. Alchemist is not a class for adventurers.
20. What about splitting the party?
Sure.

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# 2012-02-28 I don't like Bennies

I don’t like bennies, action points, hero points and fate points. I’ve seen them and did not like them in Spirit of the Century, Diaspora, Savage Worlds and Barbarians of Lemuria. (And I’m still playing in a Barbarians of Lemuria campaign with GM Florian. Just because I don’t like a particular element of the rules doesn’t mean that I don’t want to play or that I can’t enjoy the game.)

I recently listened to an episode of RPG Circus on Out of Print Games and Dead Lines where one of the hosts absolutely loves hero points. He said something along the lines of “in the old days, no matter how much my character wanted to succeed, all I ever got to do was roll a d20 to hit!” He wanted his character’s desires to influence the story. I think he even called them “script points” at the beginning of the segment.

When I play games that have bennies, however, I realized that using them robbed me of excitement at the table. I only got excited when I ran out of bennies. Thus, bennies just delayed my excitement. I think the reason is that I as a player only get excited when there are unfulfilled desires. When I desperately want a roll to succeed and I don’t know whether it’ll work or not, when I fail the roll and agonize over my character’s fate. When I have bennies, the experience is not as immediate. First, I’ll check how many bennies I still have. Then I’ll consider whether I can spend them now or whether I need to save them. Then I’ll pay a benny or two for rerolls, and as it turns out, by the time I fail my second check, I’m already rather detached from the action. If the bennies saved my character, that’s cool, and if the bennies didn’t save my character, I’m just back to the situation without bennies in the first place.

In addition to this cushioning of the player from the blows of fate there is an additional problem with bennies: their use devalues the decisions I have made. I made the decision to enter a fight and now I’m using bennies to save myself. I made the decision to do something and now I’m using bennies to change elements of the scene. If I’m playing in a game where Player Agency is paramount, the referee will have made sure that I could have evaded the fight, that I could have prepared myself better. By cushioning the consequences of my actions, the decisions I made to get there are being devalued. It’s very subtle, but one of the telling signs is when players are overly confident at the table and are willing the take the low road, follow the obvious plot, fight any monsters encountered – a slight whisper of “it doesn’t matter anyway, we have bennies to save us from our laziness.”

I’m sure other people have other reactions to bennies. I imagine some people play a Conan character and use bennies steer the action in a way that would make a great movie. They like to see their characters act and succeed like movie heroes. That’s cool – but it’s not what I am looking for. Personally, living through a movie in a role-playing game is not what I’m looking for. 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).

I’m tempted to say: Play unsafe! Play without bennies.

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Comments on 2012-02-28 I don't like Bennies

Same here… I find such systems just drag me away from what’s happening in the imaginary world and a step further into some kind of abstract management… most distasteful! ;)

Gavin 2012-02-28 13:58 UTC

In games with Bennies and the like I tend to put them on auto-pilot. E.g. make a rule for myself that I’ll always and only use any available Bennies if the alternative is death. Then I don’t have to think about them to the detriment of in-character thinking.

In the SFX! games I write, I do give players mechanics that allow them to adjust their rolls, but I tie them into in-character thought and action. E.g. you can use “Supreme Effort” for something that you really need to succeed at, and get a bonus equal to your Will score, but become “tired” as a result. There’s player agency and decision making, but it’s congruent with what the character might be deciding about whether to strain so hard as to risk exhaustion or injury.

Joshua Macy 2012-02-28 14:39 UTC

Hypothesis: Hitpoints in D&D are Bennies.

– Harald 2012-02-29 17:05 UTC

Haha, I have heard the same thing on the Happy Jacks RPG Podcast with regards to Savage Worlds: bennies are hit-points.

Here’s why I disagree: In D&D, I don’t get to decide whether to spend hit-points or suffer consequences. I automatically spend hit-points while I have them and suffer consequences when I don’t. Since I have no decision to make, there is no disconnect.

You could argue that using Shields Shall Be Splintered turns shields into bennies. There are two things that are different, however. 1. Since shields cannot be used for anything but saving you from certain death, you don’t need to make any meta-game decisions about saving bennies for later. Essentially this seems to be how Joshua uses them and I can see how that helps. 2. My mind’s eye can conceive how shields work, how many shields you can carry. I don’t “spend a shield” and cook up a story on how exactly it happened that I was saved. Both D&D hit points and shields are unlike bennies in that they are more immediate and require no meta-game decisions.

In fact, if you want to look at it from another point of view, bennies are a dissociate mechanic.

You might be right when talking about my second point. I claimed that bennies cushioned me from consequences, allowing me to be a lazy player as long as I had bennies to save me. It is true that some people play D&D as if a lot of hit points mean that you cannot be killed and therefore you don’t need to be risk averse. Personally, I think this is where save-or-die effects and level drains come into play. If you strip away those attacks, then you are right, hit points act like a cushion and I can be a careless player. If you play with an old school mindset, however, I claim that you’ll see low level characters fearing hit point damage (well, anything that moves, most likely) and mid level characters afraid of level draining and poison. I’m not sure how high level play goes but I’m suspecting that high level characters will be afraid of loosing their magic items and other possessions.

In short, while hit points can cushion you like bennies do, old school D&D provides alternative threats that kick in once hit points start to show this cushioning effect.

Which is why I like old school D&D and don’t like bennies.

AlexSchroeder 2012-02-29 17:42 UTC

I completely agree with you.

We tried adding Bennies to 1w6 more than 5 years ago (when they were still called Chips in deadland). The result was, that the game got less exciting: Sure, we could do cooler stunts, but they did not mean much anymore.

So we discarded them again. I think Bennies are often a tool to save a badly designed system: If you need a Benny to survive (and if no player wants to die), then the system made the error of getting you in the danger of dieing in the first place.

I think the same about explicit cannon-fodder (i.e. mark someone as killable in one shot): That smells of weak game design which is hidden by only applying its rules to some characters, but not to others.

Drak 2013-01-30 11:18 UTC

Absolutely! Rules for mooks is another thing I don’t like.

AlexSchroeder 2013-01-30 11:24 UTC

willst du dann nicht mal 1w6 ausprobieren? Zum Beispiel auf dem Gratisrollenspieltag am Samstag? http://1w6.org/blog/drak/2013-01-30-samstag-ist-gratisrollenspieltag

Argl, falsche Sprache… (sorry to the non-german commenters here)

How about trying out 1w6 then? For example on the german free RPG day this saturday? http://1w6.org/german-free-rpg-day-2013

Drak 2013-01-31 21:33 UTC

Der Wiki ist mehrsprachig, kein Problem. Da ich “mein” System schon gefunden habe, bin ich da nicht so scharf. Und für Samstag habe ich schon ein anderes Programm.

AlexSchroeder 2013-01-31 22:28 UTC

# 2012-02 Book Club

When: 22 February, 19:30 – RSVP on Meetup (optional )

Where: Bistro Lochergut (Badenerstrasse 244, tram 2+3 ‘Lochergut’) ← NEW

From Amazon’s short description:

Published in 1957, Atlas Shrugged was Ayn Rand’s greatest achievement and last work of fiction. In this novel she dramatizes her unique philosophy through an intellectual mystery story that integrates ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, politics, economics, and sex.

Set in a near-future U.S.A. whose economy is collapsing as a result of the mysterious disappearance of leading innovators and industrialists, this novel presents an astounding panorama of human life-from the productive genius who becomes a worthless playboy…to the great steel industrialist who does not know that he is working for his own destruction…to the philosopher who becomes a pirate…to the woman who runs a transcontinental railroad…to the lowest track worker in her train tunnels.

Peopled by larger-than-life heroes and villains, charged with towering questions of good and evil, Atlas Shrugged is a philosophical revolution told in the form of an action thriller.

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