Posts Tagged With: OSR

Adventure Ideas

My son is playing trumpet in the band for his school play, Beauty and the Beast, which is based on the Disney movie. I went to go watch it Wednesday night and was struck that it wouldn’t make for that bad of a backdrop for an adventure. It would be in the same tradition as some of the old fun house modules like Dungeonland or Beyond the Crystal Cave – but even like modules like Castle Amber and Ravenloft.

That is one of the things that I don’t get – there are folks in the OSR that will decry Ravenloft in one breath as the beginning of the end of TSR module design because there is a plot that isn’t player-centric and “railroady” and then hold upCastle Amber up as this paragon of classic fun house module design.

It sort of has me wondering if they’ve read either of them recently.

In Ravenloft there is the quaint conceit of the “Gypsy Fortune Reading” that determines a selection of things within the module, it is based on the story Dracula, an incredibly basic victory condition (kill the Strahd), a series of serious and humorous encounters in the town and castle, a clear back story to the events of the module, and the inability to leave the environs because of magical choking fog.

While in Castle Amber the module is based on the works of Clark Ashton Smith, the party has a very specific and convoluted victory condition, the same sort of mixture when it comes to serious and comical encounters, a very clear back story to the module, …and the inability to leave the environs at all because of magical choking fog.

In Ravenloft there are a mixture of deadly and not-so-deadly encounters, and the main villain is anything but a pushover. There are very few, if any, “snap, you’re dead” traps or encounters and the rewards in treasure and magic are basically reasonable when it comes to the risks involved. There are, however, no freebies – characters that are dead, are dead and they are pretty much stuck in Barovia until they succeed or die.

In Castle Amber there are plenty of deadly encounters, especially of the simple “you are just screwed variety”. The rewards in magic and treasure are relatively high as compared to Ravenloft, and the characters get magical healing, spell recovery, and level advancement in between sessions – plus there are opportunities for significant permanent character bonuses/gains and up to four characters will be resurrected at the end of the module if the characters succeed.

This is what I find so annoying by some of the talk that comes out of the OSR – many of the complaints don’t really seem to be reasonable when examined with even a bit of critical analysis. It’s more like they are simply looking for easy reasons to justify a dislike of TSR at a certain point in its history. Now, the OSR complaints about things like Dragonlance and how it sidelines the players is pretty reasonable (though you might be able to make similar, though not nearly so strong, arguments about the Desert of Desolation trilogy)  – but again, this seems like a generalized hate “Hickman-hate” rather than a reasonable critique of his pre-Dragonlance modules while the status given to Castle Amber seems comparatively like a Moldvay-bromance based on his role with the revision of D&D.

To be clear, I really like both modules and plan on running them both if I can manage it.
D.
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Categories: Campaign Development, Game Design, OSR | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Al on Moldvay

So Al over at Beyond the Black Gate has been doing a series on Moldvay’s instructions on how to play D&D. It’s interesting because I never played the Moldvay rules, I was a “Holmes gamer” who pretty much immediately moved to AD&D. So while I had friends who had the Moldvay D&D rules and who really got into the whole alphabet soup of BXLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ (I never have understood these same people’s complaint about level inflation in AD&D).

But in any case, many of the OSR have a deep love for the Moldvay rules and Al has been taking some sections of the instructional part of how to be a GM. My son is getting ready to run Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, or Deathwatch, and I’ve been enjoying the series and figured he would as well. So here is the collection of links to the series:

Moldvay – Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art

Moldvay – “That’s not in the rules!”

Moldvay – There’s always a chance.

Moldvay – The DM is the Boss

Moldvay – Everyone is here to have fun.

Moldvay – Everything is balanced.

Moldvay – Your character doesn’t know that

Some interesting reading in there, and the blog is just pretty darn good in general.

D.

Categories: FYI, Game Design, OSR | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

I’ve been laid up sick this weekend…

Gaming was cancelled yesterday, that’s how sick I was.

So instead I’ll post about how happy I am am with this announcement.

It looks like a couple of my players will finally be able to get ahold of the rulebooks for a decent amount of money, and I can buy copies of stuff and save the wear-and-tear on my old editions. I really hope the WOTC decides to (re-)release the whole catalog in some version of PDF or POD, but I’m not holding my breath.

I know that there is all sort of excitement over this announcement as well, but I could really care less. Since having my own personal OSR, I’ve really figured out that I could care lass about playing a retro-clone, I want to play AD&D, and 1E at that. I really don’t care what edition a module or supplement is in, if it is a good product it is a good product and I’ll do whatever conversion is needed in order to run it. That’s an”Old School” attitude, not whinging about how…

Hell, there just seems to be a great deal of people in the OSR who seem to think that someone else pissed in their Cheerios – not realizing that they did it themselves. If they spent a quarter of the energy that they spent complaining about gaming just sitting down and doing it, they’d probably be a whole lot happier.

D.

Categories: FYI | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Points of Light, Points of Darkness…

I just realized something, as I was pondering the “Points of Light” concept that was the “focus” of 4E campaign design – I’m not sure how much campaign design ever really played into 4E based on what I read, but I’ll give them the idea at least. The concept is a rather old one, and is certainly a trope in many ways, the focus of the action is that there are pockets of civilization (the points of light) within vast seas of surrounding wilderness and savagery (the darkness). As a note, most modern day occult campaigns (or even historical occult/horror games like Call of Cthulhu) work off the opposite conceit, that there are Points of Darkness (Innsmouth, the Succubus Club, etc) that exist with the vast light of modern civilization.

This really does make an excellent basis for a open-ended hexcrawl, where the players start out in one point of light and then travel via exploration to the next point of light – or even in the endgame create their own point of light (pretty much the assumption in much of the OSR rulesets). But it doesn’t work so well in a game like mine, where at one point in the distant past it most certainly was a hexcrawl in some ways. It was a big world, much of it was undeveloped, and the players and I could just make stuff up as was needed.

Jump forward 32 years and the world is pretty well-developed. Now, I’ve certainly created and maintained areas that are hexcrawlish – but the wilderness is dangerous and it really isn’t that suitable for low-level types. I don’t think that Daniel Boone, Lewis and Clark, or Sir Richard Burton were 1st level characters…

So what the hell do you do?

One of the problems with Points of Darkness is that they have to be either very secretive or very powerful or both in order to survive in a world full of light. I think that this is what makes some of those classic modules work well – T1 The Village of Hommlet, U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God, and even something like A1, Slavepits of the Undercity were all about hidden threats within civilized lands, the characters know that there is a “problem” but it’s true extent isn’t understood and the characters must uncover it in order to be successful. These were, in all seriousness, much more like a good Call of Cthulhu scenario than a “dungeon crawl”.

In modules like L1 The Secret of Bone Hill there was a bit more of a Point of Darkness vibe, the same with modules S1 Tomb of Horrors, S2 White Plume Mountain, and s4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojanth (along with it’s companion WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun). The characters know that there is a “bad spot” and specifically go out to deal with it, often in a very dungeon-crawl-like manner. Now, in the A-Series and the U-Series the characters are drawn further out into the “Sea of Darkness” and away from the safety of the “Point of Light” – but it certainly isn’t a hexcrawl in any way shape or form and it is all predicated on the success of the initial investigation and adventure.

Similarly, as much-loved as they are, the G-Series and the D-series are neither points of Light or Darkness. The former are simple Special Forces or Navy SEAL search and destroy missions, while the latter is a basically one doozy of a LRRP (Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrols, a Vietnam-era designation) mission that combines recon with assassination. This is likely an artifact of the tournament design of the modules, but it also made for a very simple game. You went in and killed everything, with a minimum of puzzle-solving, or you snuck around and hoped to survive till you reached your target (when you killed everything).

I’ve realized that part of my struggle with B2 has been to reconcile the “Point of Light” style of the module with a campaign world that isn’t very “Point of Light” in nature. I’ve made it work, and even though I’ve just come up with a rather radical and horrifying turn of events for Castle Seraph itself, I need to keep in mind that my world isn’t a OSR hexcrawl and trying to treat it as such is just frustrating for me (and the players I think, mostly because my own frustration with things or inability to quite make things work in my own head comes out in my DMing).

TTFN!

D.

Categories: Campaign, Campaign Development, Game Design | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And in other Gaming News…

I managed to pick up a copy of Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Grindhouse Edition and I arrived a couple of weeks ago. This has given me enough time to review it, and just generally poke at the guts a bit to see how it seems to work.

I like it.

I bought it originally because I really want to support not just the OSR, but folks who are putting out a quality product with decent design values. LOFTP meets this criteria. I also like supporting people who aren’t afraid to do things that might offend other people. LOFTP:GH certainly fits the bill in this department as well.

After now looking at all of the art and reading the game I am rolling my eyes and thinking to myself, “This is it? This is what people have been having apoplexy about?” Really!?!?” I know I am somewhat jaded, this is somewhat normal given my profession, my research interests in my profession, and the general types of literature that I like to read. But seriously, people need to relax or somehow otherwise buy a clue if they think that this game is the end of Western Civilization. Sure there are some breasts, and some graphic violence (in a very cartoonish style I have to add), but I hate to break it to all of the OSR folks out there – as I mentioned before I worked in a comic book shop in the 80’s and this is very, very tame compared to some of the independents that were published back then (let alone now). Have any of you read the original Crow for Pete’s sake? Or ever looked at any copy of Heavy Metal magazine?

Anyways, enough of that! Let’s get to the actual game.

This is a simplified and streamlined OD&D, not anything remotely resembling either B/X or AD&D. This is a fine thing in that Raggi has also made the decision to create a very specific flavor of game setting rather than try to make it generic. You could certainly use it in a world of your own unique and different design, but I think that might be missing the point somewhat. Now, it’s a combination of the artwork and the writing, but I think “Solomon Kane” when I read this, or “Bran Mak Morn” or “Conan” – I could just as easily move towards “Averoigne” (ala Clark Ashton Smith) if I wanted to, and even as exotic as Glenn Cook’s “Dread Empire” or “Black Company” novels. But in any case, we’re talking a much more low-magic setting than standard OD&D, or even Leiber’s “Fafherd and the Grey Mouser” tales. Though if you wanted to go high-magic in this setting, Moorcock’s “Elric” novels would work really nicely I think.

Ok, maybe not, but it would be an interesting experiment.

I like the encumbrance system. A lot. I’d already started to adapt it for my Home Brew system from the Free PDF available and I’ve pretty much decided to adapt it for my AD&D game. I’ll see about posting my version in a bit. Combat is nice and simple, a bit too simple for my tastes, but that’s part of why I play an AD&D mod. Magic has a great flavor, and I really love monsters as unique beings. It’s a bit further than I go in my games, but in general the major opponents in my games are humans, humanoids, and demi-humans (along with undead and lycanthropes) – you don’t run into a bunch of chimera or manticores or whatever in my campaign world unless you are going out of your way to find them. As many people have said, the spin on the thief as the “specialist” also makes a great deal of sense. Finally, while I’m not generally a fan of the “race as class” idea, it seems to work here for whatever reason.

I look forward to buying Carcosa when and if I get the chance, and I talked my spouse into contributing to the post-Kickstarter for the Adventurer Conquerer King System to get me a holiday gift when it came out – another pair of OSR offerings that I think deserve extra looks.

D.

Categories: Game Design, OSR, Review | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Reconstructionism v. Romanticism

This is how I think about part of the “Simulationist” debate that rears it’s head now-and-again through the OSR blogosphere…

On the one hand you have Reconstructionism (stolen from Neo-Pagan circles), where the goal is try to simulate and reconstruct, as closely as possible, the “real world” – on an extrapolated real world based on “real principles” and a minimum of handwavium. So, in game terms, this means that games like Harn are very high on the scale. Working your way down from there, in roughly descending adherence to the value of “real world simulation”, you have games like Traveller 2300 then Traveller, Delta Green then Call of cthulhu, Cyberpunk 2020, and Pendragon. In miniatures games this would be the catalog from Ground Zero Games (Dirtside, Star Grunt, Full Thrust). In novels, you could see Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni novels as being relatively Reconstructionist rather than Romantic, as is George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones novels. The ERB’s John Carter of Mars novels have a strong Reconstructionist tone to them whereas his Tarzan novels are a bit less so and probably swerve into Romanticism – assuming that John Carter isn’t already there.

On the other side of the spectrum, you have Romanticism, where the goal is to create or evoke a fantastic existence rather than simulate reality. In increasing Romanticism in terms of D&D, we have OD&D and 2E (2E did it very badly IMO), then BXCMI and 1E (still relatively low on the scale), then 3E and 3.5, and then 4E at the further end of the scale. But in other games, in ascending order of Romanticism, we have… GURPS or Victoriana, Runequest, Stormbringer/Elric, Rolemaster, Talislanta, and then perhaps something like Exalted. In miniatures games this is the world of Games Workshop. In novels this would be Storm Constantine’s Wreathu novels and probably anything by Ed Greenwood or David Eddings. Discworld is very Romantic…

Neither is better or worse than the other, they’re just different. It’s kind of interesting to note that most of the games I play are pretty Reconstructionist in nature. My “Pulp Cuthulhu” game swings over to Romantic nature because of the house rules – and my 1E game similarly spikes up the Romanticism because of the make-up of the multiverse. So, where a game sits is a combination of the game engine and design, but also the individual game world/campaign.

D.

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Panegyrics…

Somebody in a comment someplace used that word to describe the way some folks (ok, it was James M., but that isn’t really the point of this post, and James M. was just an exemplar not a paragon) will wax poetic about the early days of OD&D and the true literary roots of the OSR, OD&D, D&D, and AD&D…

I just kind of realized why I don’t get it.

For some of these guys it’s about them finally reading the books in Appendix N and “grokking it” – for others it’s about capturing an imagined style of game or campaign based on old notes of campaigns, patchwork lore gleaned from old interviews and articles, and talking to a few of the old Grognards still left.

I have to say, the map is not the landscape.

Now, part of this realization on my part is because I’m a freak of nature that reads faster than most everyone I’ve ever met. This was great in grad school, and a host of other areas, but made life kind of crummy back when I couldn’t afford to buy books at the rate I read them. FWIW, I can read an average paperback on a couple of hour commute into or out of Chicago on the Metra – I could explain the science of why my brain can do this sort of, but just take my word for it. Combine this with a home, growing up, which had parents who were scifi and fantasy readers (as well as just bibliophiles in general) and I had read probably half of what was in Appendix N before I picked up any RPG at all.

I was playing RPG’s and picking up older books off the shelves of the house long before I was spending my own money on books in any real way. And what I was reading for inspiration and to help me be a better DM wasn’t fiction… it was non-fiction.

I was reading Davis’ Life on a Medieval Barony (which I would love to get another copy of, I liberated it from my parents, and it was lost in a move years ago). When I had money, and wanted to figure out economics for my game world, after haunting my town and local community college library I went out about Vols 2 and 3 of Fernand Braudel’s Civilization and Capitalism 15th-18th Century because it gave me the best knowledge I could find of early economic development (I’d already figured out that in a world with magic, things probably would quite be locked into a feudal stage of development) – I never bought the first volume because it was too much money and I’ve regretted it ever since. They still sit my shelf.

So, I think the real reason I don’t get some of the OSR is because even though I got my “start” at respectably early age – I never had that same experience of discovery that many folks had of “old” scifi or fantasy either as that initial part of the D&D exposure or a current later interest in its roots. I had already read and digested most of what are considered the cornerstones of the OSR literary canon.

I enjoyed them, but I have never held them up as particularly iconic or revelatory – any more than I would hold Eddings or Brust up as such. Actually, I’d be tempted to hold Brust up simply for an amazing literary conceit (two actually) that he’s managed to pull off consistently, but not as iconic to the genre of “gaming fiction”. Even at that age or in that time I was more interested in “style” or “flavor” and in trying to evoke that in my game world, not hewing to some literary canon (either of rules or of literature).

Wow, that’s all a bit of a late-night ramble…

D.

Categories: OSR | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

On the road to Seraph Keep – Session #3

So, we pretty much formally started the new AD&D game, what I’m tentatively calling the “Barrow’s Edge” campaign. We’d made characters last game session, had the one missing player swing by to make characters in-between sessions, another player decided to make a second character the day before, and the party managed to get itself together, plus three NPCs, and start making their way north through the Barrows to Seraph Keep. The party, as it stands right now, is as follows:

Frater Nikolai: LG Human Cleric 3rd (DC: Fighter 1st)(KR)
Illya: LG Human Warrior-Monk 2nd (DC: Psionicist 1st)(KR)
Mikus: CN Human Thief 3rd (KT)
Vesna: NG Human Mage 1st (KT) + Raven Familiar: Bran
Tier: NG Grey Elf Fighter/Mage 2nd/2nd (MR)
Arvid: NG Half-Elf Ranger 1st (CB)
Ketzl: CN Gnome Illusionist/Thief (KB)
Roland: LG Human Cavalier-Paladin 0-Level (MS)
Astrin: LN? Grey Elf Fighter?/Mage?/Thief? 2nd/2nd/2nd (NPC)
Gryphon: CN? Dwarven Fighter/Thief 2nd/3rd Psychic (NPC)
Kyril: TN? Human Mage 2nd Psychic (DC: Witch 1st) (NPC) + Pseudo-Dragon Familiar: Belit

As a further note, the two elves are also psychic at the minimum levels that all elves are, but have no extra capabilities, and yes, all of the jokes about “Vesna, daughter of Vecna” have already been made…

So that is a pretty large crew, it’s an adventuring company not just an adventuring “band” – they are a large group and are hopefully going to bale to handle much of what the world puts out. It’s a little low on healing, but there are plenty of folks with non-magical Healing skills that the cleric should be able to save his magical healing for the people who really need it. The NPC Healer that used to be a member of the party disappeared, and at some point they may go in search of him, but for the moment he’s out of the picture.

Now, I’m trying to run as close to straight AD&D as I can. So, Seraph Keep is described as being about a week’s journey north through the Barrow’s – a site of very, very old barrows and tombs that isn’t unpopulated and dangerous, but not exactly the depths of the wilderness either. I used to have encounter tables for my game world that I rolled on every fours hours of travel, mostly populated with normal and innocuous creatures – based on the Monster Manual II charts. It was those Rare and Very Rare encounters that everyone feared because that is where the nasty stuff occurred unless some bandits decided that an adventuring party was a good mark (almost never happened…). But I don’t have any of those for this area of my game world (I still have all the old ones), and I want to give “straight AD&D” a chance.

So, I decided that I’ll roll one time during the day and one time at night, using the Fiend Folio tables, and decide if the creature rolled makes any sense. If it does, then I’ll pretty much run with the actual numbers encountered/percentage in lair as given in the appropriate monster book. So, lo and behold, the first encounter was with bears, brown bears!

Three of them in fact.

In AD&D bears are about the nastiest piece of the natural landscape you can run into. Those three bears tied up the entire complement of warriors in the party (plus support from the mages) for a solid five melee rounds or so, they dropped two characters into negatives (one twice) such that only magical healing saved them and damaged other characters pretty badly. This is, in some ways, not the really bad part of the tale – that would be where we ended up the session.

One of my house rules is that I let rangers and monks feed themselves on the road, the ranger and the monk were also on point. So I had the players roll a random direction and distance that they were at from the nominal “point” as they wandered about gathering food and otherwise looking out for trouble for the group. Random roll showed that it was the ranger who had met up with a bear as he wandered off into the brush. After being asked what she wanted to do, the player stated that upon seeing the bear that was a short distance away, the Ranger decided to stand up and throw his dead rabbit he’d just shot at the bears feet and run away.

Standing up and throwing things at bears is not generally going to distract them – it’s more likely to be taken as a threat or an attack. So the bear in turn charged and moved into combat range. As the rest of the party ran in, the other bears arrived and it turned into a rather interesting melee. Mikus the thief was the bravest, charging in immediately – and almost being eviscerated by a bear in the process. Arvid the ranger almost died but Frater Nikolai managed to bring him back from the brink though managed to drain most of his healing in the first place.

After the melee, the party decided that most everyone would travel another 30 minutes or so down the road, the thieves would stick around and crack open a bear carcass in order to figure out how to backstab them and catch up later. The ranger’s player was put out to discover that no, he was not going to skin a bear or three and take their hides in. First how was he going to string up a none-foot tall bear and second he didn’t a couple of fifty pound bags of salt to pack the skins in for a couple of days to start the tanning process. So after those couple of discussions, the party moved on to resting for the night, figuring out watches, and I rolled for a potential random encounter for the night.

Ogres.

Monster Manual says they come in groups of 2-20, I rolled 15. Their only hope is going to be being able to break the morale of the ogres or scare them off somehow…

But it really points out why low-level character like dungeons more in “pure AD&D” because the numbers are manageable and the creatures have a very artificial ecology to them. The wilderness sucks and it is very dangerous out there. I’m probably going to have to put together one of my old style tables because I’m just rolling my eyes at some of the things that pop up and the numbers involved – “You come around the bend in the road and there are 200 goblins in front of you. Roll for surprise”.

Craziness that makes no sense, so we all tweaked it one way or another to make some semblance of sense.

Looking at the party, they might be able to pull it off – not so much via a blood-and-bones slaughterfest, but by forcing a couple of morale checks and convincing the ogres that they need to leave this group alone. If they can do that, they can then go on the offensive and track them back to their lair rather than being sniped and hunted in return. They have enough magic and such that if they can pull off a couple rounds of alpha-strikes (maybe getting the leader) the rest of the ogres are likely to beat feet.

But otherwise I’m guessing we’ll have a TPK barely a day out of town…

D.

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As a favor to a friend…

I mentioned that a buddy of mine, the one who helped jump back into AD&D two weekends ago, runs a Harn game. This link is for him, because I think he’ll get a kick out of it.

A 911 Call from the Attic

D.

Categories: FYI, Game Design, Game Play | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Just a note of a couple of good and related posts elsewhere-

So on Saturday, Hill Cantons wote a post entitled War Stories, where he talked about the role that stories, narration, and description play in all games – not just the “Storytelling” kind. He did a very nice little job of capturing the flaws inherent in the often knee-jerk rejection by the “Sand-Box” folks of the “Narrative” constructs. This morning, The Tao of D&D wrote an equally good post entitled Please Don’t Say Storytelling in response to it where he expands upon the ideas within it and hits on the notion that exposition is the point of a DM’s narration of the player’s story.

This is a mistake I have fallen prey to, and one of the things that is brought me to the OSR.

D.

Categories: Game Play, OSR | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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