Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: Owl Con XXX...

Good Evening, All:

My trip to Owl Con XXX was a great success. As I mentioned previously, I was scheduled to run two sessions of Stellar Quest, and they went pretty well. I ran the weaker adventure on Friday night, Mission to Carcerus III. The gamers went for a more slapstick approach to the setup, and I have to admit that I ran with it. We ended up turning the session into a Star Trek spoof, but they still resolved the challenges of the adventure and succeeded. We laughed, the bad guys cried, and in the end, they delivered their prisoner to the prison planet, as well as reporting another contact with the felinoid warrior race, the Kzinti.

My second stellar Quest adventure, In The Shadow Of Orion, went a bit more smoothly Sunday morning, with a few Star Trek fans in the group that really knew the canon. The adventure itself was the stronger of the two I wrote, and they worked through a number of options creating an exciting Star Trek experience that had its moments of fun, as well as "adrenalinized" pulse-bounding action. I particularly enjoyed the inventiveness of the group, as well as their conscious decision to choose the more "Star Trek"-inspired course of action when they evaluated their options.

In both cases, I picked up a few ideas and clarifications I want to make to the Stellar Quest rules. Playtest sessions like this one are excellent for such things, and achieving a successful and enjoyable game tells me that I'm on the right track. I can't wait to get this one done and out there, for those interested in Old School Star Trek.

Saturday was my day to play, and I chose games I don't normally get to experience here at home. My first session was Monte Cook's World of Darkness, a brilliant D20 adaptation of the World of Darkness Storyteller System set in the post-apocalyptic aftermath of a failed attempt of one dimension to intrude into our own, leaving a bizarre mix of creatures roaming the night, trying to complete the work that failed with the initial efforts of the Icconu. We played fast and loose with the rules, but the adventure was pretty solid. Our characters were Awakened (aka Hunters) who were trying to survive in Houston. We were investigating an issue where the sacred nature of our previous camp had somehow been violated, and we hit on a side trek that turned out to be the main adventure in disguise. Corrupted by the demoniac spirits released by the Iconnu's attempted incursion, a former televangelist was preparing to sacrifice non-baptized children and adults for his own nefarious purposes. Being the Good Guys that we were, we stepped in and stopped it, at great peril, of course. It was a good session, and I played my character to the hilt, complete with a bad Irish accent. I was in good company, for the other players roleplayed their characters equally well, and when the game was over, I felt we had accomplished a great deed. If I ever run a modern fantasy post-apocalyptic game, I will likely steal this adventure to work into my repertoire.

Saturday afternoon, I tried out the latest incarnation of Gamma World. It was based on the D&D 4E engine, and with the setting's unusual premise, I had high hopes that the system would lend itself well to the game. We played through three encounters of the adventure that came with the boxed set, using pregen characters. What I discovered was that, while Gamma World played well to the stronger elements of 4E, it also emphasized what I consider to be the weaker elements of 4E as well. In a game system where speed of play comes from rules mastery, when you change abilities with every encounter (and sometimes more frequently, as you change one of your "mutations" whenever you roll a natural one, as well), you tend to lose the ability to play quickly. When it was my turn, I had plenty to do, of course, and I kept my turns short intentionally. When it wasn't my turn, I was bored stiff. Still, the scenario was fun, and I feel good that we got three encounters in over the course of our four-hour session. I wasn't as happy with my experience here, but I got a chance to roleplay a telekinetic rat swarm, which was definitely an unusual yet entertaining challenge for me.

I had signed up for another session of Gamma World that evening, and I seriously considered switching to another game for that slot. However, Fate was a kind and fickle soul, and there were no slots open in anything I felt drawn to play, so I stuck it out and gave Gamma World another try. I'm really glad I did. The second GM walked us quickly through character creation and rolling randomly, I ended up with a yeti rat swarm, so I described my character as a swarm of miniature ewoks that acted with a hive mind. We started off in a gladiatorial scene, much like Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and things just got better from there. Over the next four hours, we played out six encounters, including a small dungeon and a final "car" chase climax that brought out the true flavor potential of the setting itself. This was truly the best scenario I participated in at this year's Con, and I had an amazing amount of fun with it. I'm not sure how the GM ran things differently that removed the impact of rules mastery on playtime, but whatever he did, I was suitably impressed with the game. If Robert Anderson ever runs another scenario at a future Con, I urge everyone to jump at the chance to play in his games. Oh, and save a slot for me, too. :)

The dealer's room had some good deals going on, although there were not as many non-4E RPG books available as I would have liked. There were a lot of wargaming and board game materials present, though, as well as some great gamer goodies, in addition to a well-stocked anime booth and a fine assortment of T-shirts and bumper stickers. As always, Owl Con continues to be my favorite regional gaming convention. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and well-organized. Other conventions could learn more than a lesson or two from these folks. Oh, and the prizes are pretty cool, too.

That about wraps up my report on Owl Con. If you have any questions, please let me know, and I'll do my best to answer them.

With Regards,

Friday, January 28, 2011

Stellar Quest: Heading To Owl Con...

Good Morning, All:

Today I travel to Houston to attend Owl Con XXX, and run a few Stellar Quest scenarios. I had originally expected to have the supplement done by now, but we all know about the well laid plans of mice and men. Still, it will be a lot of fun to just play some Swords & Wizardry in a futuristic Star Trek setting. As I've mentioned previously, I'm running two scenarios at the Con. From the website, I can see that I have five players pre-registered for tonight's game, and none pre-registered for Sunday morning's session. I'm sure Sunday's game will make, but I'm a little concerned about it today, simply because I want to make sure everyone has a good time. (And if my second session doesn't make, then maybe I can join in the Caves of Chaos game being run by Norman Harman of Troll and Flame, an excellent DM whom I am proud to have gamed with previously.

At any rate, I'll return next week with some new posts, probably continuing the discussion on Fantasy Legal Systems, before returning to MyD20 Lite and my other projects.

Have a Great Weekend,

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fantasy Legal Systems: Crimes & Punishment...

Good Afternoon, All:

What follows is a fairly comprehensive list of pseudo-medieval fantasy crimes and their punishments compiled into four basic categories: Capitol Crimes, Felonies, Misdemeanors and Infractions. I'm sure I'm forgetting a few things, but I think there's enough here to cover a majority of the efforts that might be encountered over the course of a fantasy campaign. I may make a few adjustments, based on potential recommendations that come from readers of this blog (and other sources as well), and then I'll start formalizing my research into a PDF for my group. (Yes, I'll be sharing that with everyone here as well, as a "Thank You" for all the great help I've gotten on this topic.)

Capitol Crimes:
Arson, Assault resulting in mutilation or crippling, Assault upon high nobility (includes expectoration), Counterfeiting, Defiling a holy place, Impersonating royalty or high nobility, Kidnapping of high nobility, Magical assault, Murder, Poisoning the water supply, Rape, Sabotage, Slavery (in anti-slavery kingdoms), Spying, Treason.

Punishable by Death, Exile (permanent), Fines & Damages, Hard Labor/Slavery (3+ years), Humiliation, Imprisonment (10+ years) and/or Mutilation (as appropriate).

Blackmail, Bribery of a city officer or official, Burglary, Extortion, Fencing stolen goods, Forgery, Fraud, Impersonation of a guardsman or officer of the watch, Kidnapping, Murder with justification, Repetition of any misdemeanor or infraction, Robbery, Tax evasion, Theft of temple goods or offerings (includes spoilage or consumption of same), Theft or killing of livestock or mounts, Theft, Tomb-robbing (or unlawful entry and/or vandalism of a tomb), Unlawful dueling (manslaughter), Usury, Vandalism, Willful disobedience of any official edict.

Punishable by Exile (5 years to permanent), Fines & Damages, Hard Labor/Slavery (1 month to 3 years), Humiliation and/or Imprisonment (1 month to 10 years).

Assault (wounding), Assault on livestock or mounts (non-fatal), Assault upon a priest or lay worshiper, Assault upon any city officer who is acting in the line of duty, Damage to property, Entry into city after curfew or not by main gates, Unlawful dueling, Unlawful entry into the harbor (1 charge per vessel per occasion), Unlawful hindrance of business, Unlawful observation or copying of an official document.

Punishable by Edict Against Convict, Exile (up to 1 year), Fines & Damages, Humiliation and/or Imprisonment (1 week to 1 month).

Assault (without wounding or robbery, includes expectoration), Blasphemy against any city officer, Blasphemy against foreign ambassadors, Brandishing a weapon dangerously or threateningly without due cause (note: being in a brawl is not due cause unless one is menaced with a weapon), Bribery, Dangerous operation of a coach, wagon, litter or other conveyance (including airborne), Desertion, Drunkenness (and disorderly conduct) at worship, Excessive noise (interfering with sleep or business), Impeding the swift process of law by delaying the actions of the guard or watch, Leaving the city after curfew by means other than the main gates, Littering (includes relief of human wastes in public), Public blasphemy of a god or priesthood, Trespassing, Unlawful flight intrusion (into city airspace, of intelligent being flying by means of an aerial mount or magic), Vagrancy.

Punishable by Edict Against Convict, Fines & Damages, Humiliation and/or Imprisonment (Overnight to 1 week).

Clarification on Punishments

Death: A sentence of Death can only be granted by High Justice, and the convict can be executed by being drawn & quartered, impaled, beheaded, hanged, tortured to death or flayed alive. The court confiscates all property owned by the executed convict.

Edict Against Convict: Edicts against the convict often include a ban against performing further actions related to his crimes.

Exile: When Exiled, the court confiscates all property save for one weapon, one week's rations and the clothes worn by the offender.

Fines & Damages: Fines are payable to the court, while Damages are payable to the victim of the crime. Most damages are defined as the relative value of that which was lost by the crime. When considering the value of a sentient life, such damages are roughly equivalent to the wages that would have been earned by that sentient over the course of the next five years. Fines are typically based on the level of crime: infractions (5-50 silver shillings), misdemeanors (50-500 silver shillings), felonies (500-2000 silver shillings), and capitol crimes (2000-5000 silver shillings).

Hard Labor/Slavery: Hard Labor/Slavery can include being impressed into service (for one tour of duty), enforced public works, gladiatorial combat in an arena (until the convict earns early release or serves the complete sentence), or being sold into indentured servitude (and the money from such sales going into the coffers of the court.)

Humiliation: Humiliation includes flogging, flaying, whipping, time spent in the stocks, running a gauntlet and other public displays (ex. being paraded through the streets tied behind a mule or other stubborn beast of burden as a crier extols the convict's foul deeds.)

Imprisonment: Imprisonment can be performed in a jail, dungeon or similar structure. Convicts with a history of contribution and attachment to the local community may be able to petition the court for Probation instead of Imprisonment. Probation requires the convict to report to the City Jail once a week, and the convict is prohibited from drunkenness, wearing armor, carrying any weapon (other than a dagger), and any other legal violations for the period of Imprisonment. Any violations of the terms of Probation send the convict directly to Imprisonment for the remainder of his sentence.

Mutilation: Mutilation can include extreme torture, crippling and branding, in addition to the actual removal of body parts.

As always, any feedback you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

With Regards,

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fantasy Legal Systems: Some Basic Notes...

Good Afternoon, All:

Thus far, my research into legal systems in a pseudo-medieval fantasy environment has yielded some interesting results. I'll probably write up a short synopsis of my findings and include it in the MyD20 Lite Referee's Guide.

Legal Systems
There appear to be two primary court systems inspired by the medieval period: common law courts and divine law courts. Common law courts represent the law of the land, and are presided over by an official appointed by the noble who reigns over the jurisdiction of the court. Within a township, that would likely be the sheriff, lord-mayor or equivalent. For a barony, it would be the landed baron of the realm, and so forth. Nobles and other members of the gentry may petition the Royal Court of the land, that of the supreme sovereign of the kingdom, to hear their case, but the average adventure does not usually have such recourse. Divine law courts represent the law of a given religion, and are often headed by the religious leader who holds responsibility for the spiritual enlightenment and religious organization within the region in question. Only those who are obviously servants of the church, such as clerics or paladins, may appeal to the court of divine law.

Court of Common Law
Judges, appointed by a region's landed nobility, preside over Courts of Common Law. Dukes and those of higher social status also possess this power, called "High Justice", and their appointed officials are called "Advocates." Lesser courts may assign punishments for lesser crimes, but never greater than maiming or blinding.

Children, women and members of unrecognized religions may never testify before a judge. Confessions may be coerced by threat of punishment, but torture was rarely used other than under the permission of a cruel and sadistic sovereign.

While death was rarely within the power of a judge to give, anyone found guilty of horse theft, stealing from a merchant's coffers, forging coins or assaulting a member of the town watch were promptly sentenced to be hung and their possession forfeit to the local liege. (They have to sweat it out in a dungeon cell until someone with the power of High Justice signs their death sentence personally.)

Otherwise, punishments usually fit the crime. Flogging and public humiliation in the stocks were common for petty offenses. Cheats had to pay fines. Criminals were often branded and expelled. Adulterers were whipped in the genitals and paraded around town on a mattress for all to see. Thieves often had a hand cut off or an eye gouged out. Usury was forbidden in medieval times, although transactions and loans could be performed with a 10% fee. Violations often led to fines and public humiliation.

In some lands, slavery was also used as a form of punishment for major crimes against the state. The criminal would either perform work for the sovereign or he would be sold in the slave markets and the funds paid for him would be placed in the liege's coffers.

Court cases could be appealed to a higher court, if such existed. However, the petition for such had to be approved, and being heard was sometimes difficult. Depending on the realm, defendants may either represent themselves or hire an advocate for their cause, known as a barrister. In some lands, defendants could even request a trial by combat to resolve an issue between two opposing sides.

Court of Divine Law
Courts of Divine Law controlled matters that involved oaths and sacraments, such as testaments, marriage and divorce, as well as all matters of heresy and cases involving clergy. In many regards, however, these courts functioned similarly to Courts of Common Law. Punishments were often penance, humiliation, maiming, excommunication, interdiction, trial by ordeal, and similar fates.

Some churches sold indulgences, which were full or partial remission of temporal punishment due for specific sins. For example, a Court of Divine Law may hold murder to be a sin, and so a person desiring to commit murder would pay the court for an indulgence ahead of time, allowing him to commit the crime and not have to risk any further legal punishments for that act.

Lesser Known Courts
Some guilds often use an internal court-like structure to handle disputes and issues within their organizations. Depending on the region, these "Guild Courts" and their jurisdiction may or may not be recognized by the local nobility and royalty.

In regions where arcane magic is respected and held in high esteem, fear or social status, Courts of Arcane Law, resembling in many ways Courts of Divine Law, may exist. In lands where they do, Courts of Arcane Law reserve the most severe of arcane punishments for the greatest violators of regional Arcane Law: a rite that removes an arcanist's ability to work magic, either temporarily or permanently.

Of course, I have yet to compile an appropriate list of crimes and suitable punishments for my campaign, much less distill the above into the kind of background I want to use. However, I am getting closer. I am also reviewing a number of resources pointed out in the comments of my initial post on this subject, in regards to the game mechanics behind how I want to handle the legal system in my fantasy games. I greatly appreciate everyone's posts and comments on the subject, and I look forward to sharing what I come up with, in the hopes that you all might have input that improves the final system before I introduce it to my players.

Please feel free to comment on the information gathered above, and share what you liked and disliked with approaches used at your gaming tables in the past.

With Regards,

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fantasy Legal Systems: Are There Any Good Resources Out There?

Good Evening, All:

In the Madlands Campaign, my players have put themselves in a bad position with the law: in a fight that a PC assassin picked with other members of his own guild, several of the royal guards of the Lord Governor were slain, and this in front of many witnesses. This puts them on the Wanted list along with the assassin. They've fled town, of course, but I view this opportunity as an excellent chance to detail crime, punishment and the law in my games going forward. I've got the Ready Ref Sheets from Judge's Guild in PDF format thanks to, and there's a few good pages in that which I can borrow from. I can also pull from the old Forgotten Realms boxed set, as I remember that crime was covered in a small section there. However, I don't really remember either of them being particularly inspirational.

So, turning to the readers of this blog, I have to ask a big favor: are there any other good sources for medieval/fantasy crime and punishment that you would recommend? Something that you've used to improve that aspect of your own campaign? Free is preferable, but I'm not above spending a little cash to buy a PDF or book if it would address my particular needs. Any suggestions you might have would be greatly appreciated.

With Regards,

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lessons Learned: The Hyborian Age...

Good Afternoon, All:

For Christmas, my grandmother gave me two audiobooks from Tantor Media, being the second and third books of Robert E. Howard's Conan novels. I have a forty-minute to an hour's commute each way to work, and I find that the audiobooks really help entertain me during that time. I also get a lot of inspiration from the Conan stories, from world-building to specific adventure ideas.

One of the elements of Howard's stories that intrigues me the most as a GM is the concept behind his Hyborian Age setting. Essentially, for those that may not know, Howard loved writing historical fiction, but back in the early 30's, researching for historical accuracy was extremely time-consuming. This was during the Great Depression, and survival was more important that doing what he loved, so Howard found himself in a situation where he needed money in order to pay for his living expenses. Since historic fiction didn't sell as well and it took so long to research and write, he created a setting called the Hyborian Age, which he filled with parallels to Earth cultures, and ran with it. Since they were ostensibly fictional creations, historical accuracy wasn't required, yet there was enough of a historical feel to the setting that he could write about the things he loved, changing a few details here and there, and actually make money at it. Obviously, he was quite successful in his efforts, since the Conan stories have been reprinted in many different languages and sold in many countries around the world.

Many fantasy campaign settings published over the years have taken advantage of the same conceit that Howard used with his Hyborian Age. Mystara and the Known World is perhaps the most blatant about using fantasy analogs of historic time periods on Earth, but each of the major settings published for D&D prior to 2nd Edition took advantage of this concept. The Forgotten Realms have a number of locations that owe their conception to a corresponding Earth culture, as does Greyhawk. Kara Tur, Maztica and Al'Qadim are all based on specific Earth cultures. Obviously, Dark Sun and Planescape are more exceptions than the rule here. Paizo's Golarion follows this same concept in a number of their world's kingdoms, as do the lands of Goodman Game's Aereth (aka the Known Realms).

Obviously, the fact that these settings sell so well encourages other publishers to create their own, often in the image of "that which came before." Whether you use a published setting or create your own, using historic culture correspondences can be a Good Thing™. The benefits of such include:

  • It's easier for your players to imagine and conceptualize the desired flavor of a given region without providing an excessive amount of detail, which may well be ignored by players anyway if they don't want to absorb all that before they begin gaming in your world.
  • You can draw inspiration from the mythology, history and culture of the corresponding Earth culture, and simply change the names to fit your world.
  • In preparing documentation on your world, you can cut and paste online articles, again changing the names to fit your world, and thus save yourself in prep time.
  • Naming standards are much simpler to communicate, and a great number of baby naming sites provide example names and their meanings for both PCs and NPCs.
  • Because it's a fantasy analog, you don't have to slavishly devote yourself to replicating that Earth culture in your world (unless, of course, your campaign is set in a given historic time period on Earth). No one should give you a hard time because the Keshites don't hold cats in the same sacred regard as their corresponding Egyptian culture. It's a lot easier to note the differences between your world's region and your source of inspiration than it is to try and capture each kingdom as a unique entity standing alone.
  • You can take advantage of the mythology of the inspiring Earth culture to add great flavor to your own pantheon, or even use the Earth culture's pantheon outright, whether you change the names or not.
  • It worked for Robert E. Howard, and you're building on his tradition, paying homage to the masters that gave us the genre we now game in.
  • Even if someone says that they don't like using Earth analogs and want to see something original, they'll play in a setting with Earth analogs. People who prefer Earth analogs prefer to simply game and don't like having to absorb a bunch of setting material just to play a game, and aren't likely to play in a totally unique and unusual setting. I personally recommend making the choice that gets you more gamers to choose from. Even if only one of the regions of your world is based on an Earth analog (such as medieval England and/or northern Europe, as fantasy settings tend to be), you have a place for those people that just want to game without having to pass a test first.

If you're looking for inspiration for a campaign world you're developing, the wikipedia entry on the Hyborian Age is a great place to start. There, you can find a list of the different cultures that Howard thought made for interesting adventure locales. You definitely don't have to use all of them, and you may find other cultures not on the list that are fascinating to you. However, you really can't go wrong by looking the list over and picking and choosing the ones that sound good to you. After all, if you like them, chances are that someone else will enjoy gaming in those cultures as well.

And that's my Lesson Learned for today.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Review: Tombs & Terrors...

Good Afternoon, All:

It's been a while since I posted a review on this blog, so today seems like a great day to get back on the bandwagon. For today, I've selected a relatively unknown and undiscussed Old School book that I think might be of interest to my readers. Tombs and Terrors: Old School Fantasy Roleplaying, by Simon Washbourne of Beyond Belief Games, is another Old School retro-variant with its origins found deep in Castles & Crusades. Here's the author's blurb on the book itself:

Based on the rules first found in Go Fer Yer Gun! and seen later in Medieval Mysteries, Tombs & Terrors is an unashamedly familiar role playing game of delving into subterranean crypts and looting the treasure. Including 4 traditional character classes (Cleric, Fighter Mage and Thief) plus 2 "exotic" ones (Barbarian and Troubadour), and 5 races (Dwarf, Elf, Giant-kin, Half-elf and Human), this game is condensed for simplicity but covers ground that you will understand. Compatible (with some tweaking) with sourcebooks and supplements that you already have, this rpg provides another welcome alternative for your fantasy needs!

While Tombs and Terrors is available in PDF and hard cover, this review is based on the perfect bound soft cover version of this product.

Tombs and Terrors is a 107 perfect bound paperback measuring 7.4 inches by 9.7 inches, in black and white. The front cover is a simple brick red affair with a public domain image of a warrior fighting a dragon in a cave appearing in an oval in the middle of the cover. It definitely provides an Old School feel to me, but I'm also a guy who uses public domain images in my own products, so take that as you will. With a title page, three pages dedicated to a table of contents, a one-page character sheet, two pages of OGL legal text and a page of advertisements, the remaining 99 pages are devoted to some great gaming goodness. The interior art is a mixture of "Old School" line art and public domain images, and appears with relative frequency, particularly in the first half of the book. Although art is not of great importance to me, I like its presentation in this book.

Tombs and Terrors is divided into ten chapters and an Appendix. The overall content resembles the same basic organization used by many fantasy roleplaying rulebooks. That's probably because it works.

In three pages, Chapter One introduces the concepts of roleplaying, talks about dice, and describes in general what Tombs and Terrors is all about.

Chapter Two spends five pages providing the basic details on creating a character, describes ability scores and outlines the basic task resolution mechanic used for all non-combat activities (combat is resolved using a rules-light version of the basic D&D D20 system, but more on that later.) The author admits that his system was inspired by Castles & Crusades and it shows most obviously here. You determine your character's primary ability scores based on race and class. Tombs and Terrors adds an intermediary level by allowing you to somewhat specialize your character by selecting two other ability scores as secondary scores. The remaining two ability scores are your tertiary scores. When attempting to resolve a task, you roll a D20, add your level (if applicable), add your ability score modifier, and other modifiers that may be provided by the GM, or Tomb Master, as he is called in this system. If the result exceeds 18 for tertiary abilities, 15 for secondary abilities or 12 for primary abilities, then you succeed. (Notice the similarities to the SIEGE Engine used by Castles & Crusades?)

Chapter Three gives us some rules and insight into five character races: Dwarf, Elf, Giant-kin, Half-elf and Human. I noticed that there were no short races listed, which is both good (no gnomes, yay!) and bad (no halflings, boo!) The classic half-orc is also missing, replaced with a half-ogre stand-in. I imagine that's due to the author's preference, as he has said that he wrote these rules first to handle his own personal gaming needs. The system is easy enough, though, to add in any particular race that I might feel prone to including, and the racial rules are balanced and offer good racial flavor while being simple and easy to implement. Chapter Three covers five pages.

Chapter Four offers us six classes in fifteen pages. Four of them are the classic D&D core classes of Cleric, Fighter, Mage and Priest. Two other classes are offered as optional, the Barbarian and Troubador. In essence, these six classes gives us an option for a character with any single high ability score, from Strength to Charisma. Classes are reminiscent of various Old School character classes. Clerics turn undead and cast spells. Fighters have special combat-related abilities. Thieves have sneak attack and traps-related abilities. Mages cast spells. Barbarians gain rage, damage reduction, and other survival-related abilities. Troubadors also cast spells and have inspiration-based abilities. Each class also has a list of skills (which are better described later in the next chapter) to choose from, and after their initial selections, they can gain a new skill every three levels.

Chapter Five covers the skills used in Tombs and Terrors in seven pages. Twenty-six different skills, all pulled from the Revised D20 SRD, are covered with a paragraph or two each. I really appreciate that Hide and Move Silently were blended into Stealth, but I see that Spot and Listen are not (although Spot did get a name change to Notice).

Chapter Six offers the usual equipment lists in six pages. The seventh and final page of this chapter covers the basic encumbrance rules used by Tombs and Terrors.

Chapter Seven, Playing the Game, covers 16 pages, and includes saving throws, combat and other damage-based effects, such as falling and suffocation. Much of this section is pretty common stuff, being a distilled version of the D20 System to reflect a very Old School D&D-style combat system. Armor Class is ascending, and all in all, feels like Swords & Wizardry. Critical hits deal maximum damage, and Tombs and Terrors offers some fun Critical Hit and Critical Fumble tables.

Chapter Eight covers spells and magic over fourteen pages. The spell list is not extensive, but covers the basics, much like many of the retro-clones currently available on the market. The spells are not broken down by class or level, but are offered simply as an alphabetical list. The descriptions are rarely more than a sentence or two, encouraging a rules-light approach to resolving magic in and out of combat.

Chapter Nine is perhaps the biggest section of the entire book, covering fifty-nine creatures in 18 pages. This section also provides details on generating wandering monsters and treasure. The stat block for a monster is very short, having only six traits (AC, HD, attacks, movement, special and XP).

Chapter Ten, Running Adventures, spends four pages covering adventure planning, NPCs, rewards and gaining levels. Right after that, we see an adventure in seven pages that can be used to introduce players to the Tombs and Terrors system. This adventure is rather cliche, but truth be told, it works well. After meeting in a bar, you end up exploring a ruined structure, fighting creatures and finding treasure. You can't get more Old School than that!

The Appendix is only one page long, and it's a nice Tombs and Terrors character sheet. Short and simple, it does the job well and stands as a good testament to how uncomplicated and easy this system is to use.

My Thoughts
I'm very pleased to see the content of Tombs and Terrors. I think the system feels simple and easy to learn, and offers the same gaming experience as many Old School systems out there. It's a little simpler than what I am looking for, which is why I'm writing my own system, but I really appreciate the fact that Simon Washbourne effectively wrote Tombs and Terrors for the same reasons I'm writing MyD20 Lite. While there is little to distinguish it from other Old School retro-clones, I find it a fine example of the genre, and one that is receiving active support and development by its publisher. I would definitely recommend this system to anyone looking for a rules-light fantasy RPG, particularly if you have enjoys some of Mr. Washbourne's other products using the same system, Go Fer Yer Gun! and Medieval Mysteries. As nice as it is, though, I can't say that there's really anything that I find terribly exciting about it that I haven't seen elsewhere, but I do like how it has all been brought together into one system here. I definitely see that it is easy to translate other retro-clones and core D&D systems to Tombs and Terrors. While it's relatively easy to do so with other retro-clones, the simplicity of this game makes it almost trivial to do so. All in all, I feel that this is a very solid system, well worth checking out!

All in all, I'm going to give Tombs and Terrors a 7 out of 10.

Hope This Helps,

Friday, January 14, 2011

MyD20 Lite: Referee's Guide Update...

Good Evening, All:

I'm almost done with the section on Magic Items in the MyD20 Lite Referee's Guide, which is good news. I feel that I have the following sections that are still outstanding on the book:

  1. Common Fantasy Elements: I need to finish my discussions on various fantasy elements that are often depicted in fantasy campaign worlds.
  2. A Basic Bestiary: I need to complete the common special abilities, although I may limit them to only those covered by the monsters provided. I also need to complete the Monsters & Combat subsection.
  3. Non-Player Characters: I need to decide how I'm going to proceed with the Stock NPC section and then finish that up. Most of that will be dealing with stat blocks.
  4. Adventure Creation Advice: I need to finish my discussions on elements of a good dungeon design, and finish my example. I also need to flesh out the wilderness adventure section.
  5. The Appendices: I need to finish up my conversion notes from various fantasy game systems into MyD20 Lite.

While I am unsure if I'll be done by the end of January, I do feel like I'm making significant progress. Truthfully, there's a lot more I'd like to do with this book, but I think getting something out now is better than waiting another year while I create the tome I'd actually like to release. Perhaps I can continue my work on the side, and eventually release another supplement of Referee advice.

With Regards,

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

MyD20 Lite Bestiary: Looking Ahead...

Good Evening, All:

Today, I'm just taking a few moments to look ahead at the third book of the MyD20 Lite product line, the Bestiary. While it would be pretty easy for me to simply redo the SRD monsters for MyD20 Lite, I think that this is an opportunity to create the kind of bestiary that I'd really like to have for my campaigns. I've always been a big fan of having many, many monsters at my disposal, so that I have options in the adventures that I run. The more monsters I have, though, the longer it will take to compile and finalize the book's content.

In 1st Edition, Monster Manual had over 350 monsters, while Monster Manual 2 added 250 more to the list. (I don't know how many Fiend Folio had.) This implies about 600 monsters to have some good selections.

I don't have an accurate count of 2nd Edition monsters, so I'll have to guess. Based on Echohawk's incredible spreadsheet of monsters, 2nd Edition appears to tag about 7901 monsters, but that includes EVERYTHING, not just the core monsters (and may include duplicates). Using just the Monstrous Compendium Volumes One and Two, it comes up to around 580, while the compiled Monstrous Manual that came out later to replace the monstrous compendia offers 779 monsters.

3E jumps up the offering yet again. Between the five 3E/v3.5 Monster Manuals and the 3E Fiend Folio, there are over 2200 monsters available for selection, which averages out to about 370 monsters a book. Not every monster manual contained that many entries, of course, particularly toward the end of the series. However, if I recall correctly, there are more than 600 monsters in the first Monster Manual alone.

With these figures in mind, I'd venture to guess that, at a minimum, a good, solid core Bestiary should contain at least 600 monsters, and possibly offering up to 800 monsters or even more. Other third-party bestiaries brag in their advertisements when they have 200 or more monsters, but they aren't replacing the core monster manuals. Instead, they are supplementing the core with additional monsters. At a minimum, the 550+ monsters found in the SRD are likely to be the least I could reasonably offer and still provide enough diversity to meet my own gaming needs, much less the needs of others.

What do you think? What's a good target number of monsters for the MyD20 Lite Bestiary to cover? What would you want to see in a monster book of this ilk?

With Regards,

Monday, January 10, 2011

MyD20 Lite: Player's Guide Errata...

Good Evening, All:

With the changes in math behind the monster stats, it occurs to me that I need to update the monster stats found in the MyD20 Lite Player's Guide under the various Summoning spells. This post should serve as some basic form of errata until I am ready to post an official errata update.

Summoned Monster I: Small Planar Monster; CR 1; XP ––; HD 1 (4 hp); MV 5; AC 12; AT melee +3/+3 claws (1d4-1) or melee +3 bite (1d6-1); SV Fort +1, Ref +3, Will +2; SA ––; SD Darkvision or Low–light vision, half damage vs. acid and cold, smite foe (1/day), one bonus defense, one special feature.
* Bonus Defense: Select a bonus defense ability from the following: +1 AC, +2 Fort, +2 Ref, +2 Will or +3 hitpoints.
* Bonus Special Feature: Select a bonus special feature from the following: +1 attack and +1 damage, +1 hitpoint/HD and +1 on Fortitude saves, +1 AC and +1 on Reflex saves, +2 AC, burrow (MV), climb (MV), constrict, fly (MV), poison (1d4), pounce, powerful charge, rake, rend, swim (MV), trample, or trip.
* Smite Foe: When using this ability, the summoned monster gain a +4 bonus on its melee attack roll, and inflicts an additional +2d6 damage if the attack is successful.

Summoned Monster II: Medium Planar Monster; CR 2; XP ––; HD 2 (9 hp); MV 6; AC 13; AT melee +4/+4 claws (1d6) or melee +4 bite (1d8); SV Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +3; SA ––; SD Darkvision or Low–light vision, half damage vs. acid and cold, smite foe (1/day), one bonus defense , one special feature.

Summoned Monster III: Medium Planar Monster; CR 3; XP ––; HD 4 (18 hp); MV 6; AC 14; AT melee +6/+6 claws (1d6+1) or melee +6 bite (1d8+1); SV Fort +4, Ref +4, Will +4; SA ––; SD Darkvision or Low–light vision, half damage vs. acid and cold, half damage vs. non–magical weapons, smite foe (2/day), one bonus defense, one special feature.

Summoned Monster IV: Large Planar Monster; CR 4; XP ––; HD 5 (22 hp); MV 7; AC 13; AT melee +5/+5 claws (1d8+3) or melee +5 bite (2d6+3); SV Fort +5, Ref +3, Will +4; SA ––; SD Darkvision or Low–light vision, half damage vs. acid and cold, half damage vs. non–magical weapons, smite foe (2/day), one bonus defense, one special feature.

Summoned Monster V: Large Planar Monster; CR 5; XP ––; HD 9 (40 hp); MV 7; AC 16; AT melee +10/+10 claws (1d8+5) or melee +10 bite (2d6+5); SV Fort +7, Ref +6, Will +5; SA ––; SD Darkvision or Low–light vision, half damage vs. acid and cold, half damage vs. non–magical weapons, smite foe (2/day), one bonus defense, two special features.

Summoned Monster VI: Large Planar Monster; CR 6; XP ––; HD 13 (59 hp); MV 7; AC 15; AT melee +15/+15 claws (1d8+6) or melee +15 bite (2d6+6); SV Fort +9, Ref +7, Will +8; SA ––; SD Darkvision or Low–light vision, half damage vs. acid and cold, half damage vs. non–magical weapons, smite foe (3/day), one bonus defense, two special features.

Summoned Monster VII: Large Planar Monster; CR 7; XP ––; HD 16 (72 hp); MV 7; AC 22; AT melee +18/+18 claws (1d8+7) or melee +18 bite (2d6+7); SV Fort +11, Ref +9, Will +10; SA ––; SD Darkvision or Low–light vision, half damage vs. acid and cold, half damage vs. non–magical weapons, smite foe (3/day), one bonus defense, three special features.

Summoned Monster VIII: Large Planar Monster; CR 9; XP ––; HD 22 (99 hp); MV 7; AC 26; AT melee +24/+24 claws (1d8+9) or melee +24 bite (2d6+9); SV Fort +14, Ref +12, Will +13; SA ––; SD Darkvision or Low–light vision, half damage vs. acid and cold, half damage vs. non–magical weapons, smite foe (4/day), one bonus defense, three special features.

Summoned Monster IX: Large Planar Monster; CR 11; XP ––; HD 30 (135 hp); MV 7; AC 28; AT melee +27/+27 claws (1d8+10) or melee +27 bite (2d6+10); SV Fort +15, Ref +13, Will +14; SA ––; SD Darkvision or Low–light vision, half damage vs. acid and cold, half damage vs. non–magical weapons, smite foe (5/day), one bonus defense, four special features.

Other errata for the MyD20 Lite Player's Guide includes:

Initiative: Monsters and NPCs use their Reflex save modifier on their Initiative rolls, since they do not have Dexterity scores and thus cannot make Dexterity-based ability checks.

Similar logic will be included in the Referee's Guide for monsters making ability checks. Strength- and Constitution-based ability checks will use a monster's Fortitude save modifier; Dexterity- and Intelligence-based ability checks will use a monster's Reflex save modifier; and Wisdom- and Charisma-based ability checks will use a monster's Will save modifier.

As always, your input on the above is always welcome and appreciated.

Hope This Helps,

Saturday, January 08, 2011

MyD20 Lite: Conditions Summary...

Good Morning, All:

In working on the condition summary page for the MyD20 Lite Referee's Guide, I developed the following from the 3E SRD. Most conditions are self-explanatory, in my opinion, or are found in the one or two areas where they are used, so I didn't include them. However, these are prevalent enough that I felt they needed to be covered, as they will likely come up under a greater variety of circumstances. Please feel free to review these rules and let me know your thoughts on the matter:

Condition Summary
If more than one condition affects a character, apply them all. If certain effects can't combine, such as different levels of the same category of conditions, apply the most severe effect.

There are three different stages of fear in the MyD20 Lite rules: shaken, frightened and panicked.
Shaken: A shaken character suffers a -2 penalty on all ability checks, including attack rolls, saving throws and skill checks. A character is typically shaken until they have rested uninterrupted for ten minutes.
Frightened: A frightened creature flees from the source of its fear as best it can. If unable to flee, it may fight. A frightened creature suffers a -2 penalty on all ability checks, including attack rolls, saving throws and skill checks. A frightened creature can use special abilities, including spells, to flee; indeed, the creature must use such means if they are the only way to escape. A character is typically frightened until they have rested uninterrupted for ten minutes, at which point they merely become shaken.
Panicked: A panicked creature must drop anything it holds and flee at top speed, as well as any other dangers it encounters, along the most direct path away from the source of its fear. It can’t take any other actions. In addition, the creature suffers a -2 penalty on all ability checks, including attack rolls, saving throws and skill checks. If cornered, a panicked creature cowers, unable to act and suffering a -2 penalty to Armor Class. A panicked creature can use special abilities, including spells, to flee; indeed, the creature must use such means if they are the only way to escape.

There are two different stages of queasiness: sickened and nauseated.
Sickened: The character takes a -2 penalty on all weapon damage rolls and ability checks, including attack rolls, saving throws and skill checks.
Nauseated: A nauseated creature suffers from extreme stomach distress. Nauseated creatures are unable to attack, cast spells, concentrate on spells, or do anything else requiring attention. The only action such a character can take is a single move action per turn.

There are two different stages of tiredness: fatigued and exhausted.
Fatigued: A fatigued character can neither run nor charge and suffers a -1 penalty to Strength- and Dexterity-based ability checks, including attack rolls and Reflex saves. Eight hours of complete rest will remove a creature's fatigue. Doing anything that would normally cause fatigue increases their tiredness by one level, making them exhausted.
Exhausted: An exhausted character moves at half speed and suffers a -3 penalty to Strength- and Dexterity-based ability checks, including attack rolls and Reflex saves. One hour of rest shifts an exhausted character up one level of tiredness to fatigued. A fatigued character becomes exhausted by doing something else that would normally cause fatigue.

Part of me thinks there should be another level to tiredness, to cover the -2 penalty that lies halfway between fatigued and exhausted. I found this concept in True 20, where the intermediary condition was called fatigued and the -1 condition was called winded, and the idea still rattles around in my head from time to time. What do you think?

With Regards,

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

GM Mentoring: Supers and the Five-Act Structure...

Good Evening, All:

Tonight, my gaming group has reduced numbers, given that two out of the five members are out of town and thus not available to play in our regularly scheduled weekly game. When that happens, particularly if the direction of the main campaign would be seriously impacted by the absence of certain characters, I tend to run One Shots. I often view running One Shots under such circumstances as a personal challenge, asking the group to decide on a genre and then contribute one element per player before building their characters. These elements could be a specific type of scenario, a type of antagonist, or even something more general than that. While they are creating characters, I jot down some notes about the adventure, look up some stats, and then we're off! It's not as extemporaneous as an Iron GM tournament, but it's a challenge to me, nonetheless.

Based on previous discussions, however, I suspect that tonight's game will likely be a superhero One Shot. I could easily just download an adventure from one of any number of superhero-oriented RPGs, and convert that to Savage Worlds (as that is our current go-to system), but then that removes the ability of the players to give me some input into the elements they'd like to see in tonight's game. I don't have any prior experience running a Superhero game, so this should be interesting. I've played in a few, none of which ever made it to a satisfying conclusion before they folded. I'm just looking to run a nice self-contained scenario that provides all players with a taste of what Savage Worlds Superheroes would feel like.

Toward that end, I did read a few Superhero adventures to get the general sense of what such an adventure might look like, and found them very similar to the classic five-act structure:

  1. Story Hook: This is often a simple action-based encounter to warm the players up with a little superheroic action, and the actual details of the adventure are introduced at the end of the scene.
  2. Escalation: This scene is typically designed to appeal to the more cerebral or RP-oriented players, and deals with the PCs interacting with one or more NPCs, or possibly figuring out a trap or puzzle.
  3. Complication: This scene introduces a complication in achieving the goals of the adventure, and requires the PCs to expend resources, which may impact them in the climax.
  4. Climax: This scene is the final showdown with the BBEG and his minions, and lets the Superheroes go all out against the bad guys.
  5. Reward: This scene wraps up the entire adventure, the bad guys are locked away and the city is once again safe.

That does remove some of the mystery, and thus the quasi-intrepidation, of running games in a new genre for me. I'm familiar with this particular adventure structure, and have run a good number of fantasy and sci-fi One Shots using it. Now, I simply need to become more comfortable with the trappings and tropes of the Superhero genre, and hopefully I'll be able to create some great adventures for my players whenever they decide to spring this particular genre on me.

Wish Me Luck Tonight, (or better yet, wish them luck tonight,)

Monday, January 03, 2011

Of Campaigns Past: Realm of Baijhan...

Good Evening:

In continuing my discussion of campaigns past, my next big campaign was also my first 3rd Edition campaign. The Realm of Baijhan ran for about 20 months and covered characters from 1st level to 19th level. For the most part, I went with the core rules, and added a lot of the new 3rd-party releases that came out during the first two years of the D20 Era. The pantheon was poorly conceived, built before I fully understood the system. Still, we had a lot of fun with it, exploring a new system and playing through to what we called high level play at the time.

From a purely game mechanical or even background perspective, I never felt that Baijhan held much distinction as a setting in its own right, aside from some great place names. Strangely, what made this setting stand out was not my work, but the players and their involvement in the campaign. I lucked into forging a gaming group that loved to write, and the stories they wrote about their characters and the background were astounding. Some of the side stories written up were very moving, and when the campaign ended on a bittersweet note, some of the final tales of the characters brought tears to the eye. I don't think I could really pull much from that setting, but I'd love to see that kind of player involvement again.

With Regards,

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year's Resolutions for 2011...

Happy New Year, All:

Once again, it's time to make some New Year's Resolutions for 2010, particularly in regards to gaming during 2011. This year, my schedule looks a little more open, although raising a baby into toddler-hood will still have impact on my available time. Nonetheless, I still hope to accomplish a number of things in the coming year.

As a reminder, I put all of my resolutions in a three word format, as there's an unwritten law that all Universal Truths can be expressed in three words. For example, please consider the following: "Love is blind!", "Life is pain!" and "It's a trap!" Besides, three word phrases are easier to remember throughout the year, and if you can remember your resolutions, then you are more apt to complete them.

For Gaming, my New Year's Resolutions for 2011 are:

1. Publish four products. Last year, I made a goal out of publishing four products, and I only managed to get three out. This year, I'm taking up the gauntlet once again, and will be trying to get four products out. I already know two of them, as they are near relative completion: MyD20 Lite Referee's Guide and Stellar Quest. I imagine that one more will be MyD20 Lite Bestiary, and the fourth will likely be a Traveller product.

2. Run modules online. I keep thinking about running some games online, so this will be the year that I buckle down and do it. My goal here is to run more than one multi-session module online. As the time draws near to run them, I'll open the door for volunteers for playing and participating in the sessions.

3. Be a player. Being a GM is great, but it helps to remember what it's like to be a player, too. This year, I resolve to be a player as well, and try to find a game or three I can play in, so long as that can fit into my already complicated schedule. This may mean online gaming in addition to a local face-to-face game. I know people who can write beautifully about gaming while never sitting down at a table, but those are few and far between. I'm currently a GM, but I haven't played in a while, and I think I need to get some more experience in that arena. Not only will it help my writing, but it may help with my general stress level.

As always, I'm sure I'll do a lot more in regards to gaming, but these should make very good resolutions. The above will be a stretch, particularly given my time constraints, but if I can manage it, then 2011 will be a very satisfying year for me, at least on the gaming front.

With Regards,