Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Castle of the Mad Archmage April Release Now Available!

Another month, another level. Welcome to Level 5: The Deeps. Here we find not only several laboratories devoted to magical research (and some attendant libraries), but also the torture chambers and prisons of the Mad Archmage.

Break out your Fiend Folios for this one, folks. This level is thick with the oddest and weirdest of creatures (and flumphs!), as befits the level devoted in part to the creation of monstrous hybrids, affronts to nature, and so forth.

Alas, no new "classic blue" maps from Joe Bardales this time around, so the file is larger than it would otherwise be. Hopefully we'll get some blue in there for the next installment.

Speaking of which, I am not going to be so rigid about sticking to the "level a month" schedule I originally set for myself. I find it's placing an unpalatable work-like pall on a project which I originally intended as a fun endeavor. It comes when it comes (but keep a weather eye on the right side of the blog, where I will keep you posted as to progress).

Up next, Level 6: The Labyrinth.

And as always, if anyone is running CotMA for your players, please do chime in with reports from the field.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

AD&D, 3rd Edition

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around this, so please forgive me if this post is a tad... disjointed. First, click --> here <-- and right-click on both the "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook" and "Unearthed Arcana" links, save to your hard drive, and then take the time to at least skim through them.

They are not the original books.

I've only skimmed them myself, but Chris Perkins has apparently taken material from 1E, 2E, Castles & Crusades, and articles from Dragon magazine to create what he imagines a 3rd edition of AD&D might have been like. He has reorganized things significantly according to his own tastes, re-written parts, taken articles from Dragon magazine and inserted them as background text, plus taken artwork from all over the old-school spectrum; I noticed things in there from Dragon, the Rogues Gallery, modules, and beyond. His bard is a sub-class of cleric (!) and is a "normal" class that one can start at first level. He includes rules for 0-level spells. There are skills (and rules for ability checks), and all of the classes seem to have more skills built into them (thieves now seem to fully encompass the thief-acrobat, for instance, and include more abilities beyond that). The weapons and armor seem to flow much better and be less "fiddly" now that they are grouped together by size and type.

His UA introduces "mythoi", which allow for the creation of very deity-specific clerics, for new classes we now see the cloistered cleric, anti-paladin, duelist, necromancer, and psionicist. Rules for magic item creation (and, it seems, full descriptions of all the magic items) are also to be found here. Full rules for NPCs are here too, making his UA more of a DMG (looking at both of the books, I don't see much that he would need to include in his version of a DMG). He also incldues the full-boat non-human pantheons that were expanded in Dragon magazine (along with the, in my humble opinion, much better illustrations than appeared in later products). Plus full psionics rules. Whew!

Talk about balls. What Chris has apparently done is take his own houseruled game and actually taken the time not only to write it all up (as opposed to photocopying pages from Dragon and putting them in a binder, or typing out specific new or changed rules), but to do so mimicing the style of the original and taking the time to re-enter the original text verbatim where needed. Plus he seems to have an extensive collection of (and appreciation of) the old-school art that I personally find so evocative. I've been giving a little bit of thought to something along similar lines myelf, in my "updated edition" conjectures.

I personally would have made some different decisions about what to include and exclude (I like weapons-vs-armor type, for example, and have never liked psionics), but that's just the nature of the beast. It's his house-rules and he's the one who spent a couple thousand hours entering them in a word processor and formatting the whole thing.

But there is one thing which definitely gives me the willies; the fact that he not only retained the original covers (fine, that; it's an aesthetic choice that folks can have disagreements about), but that he kept Gary Gygax's name on it. His UA is worse, in that he keeps Gygax's original introduction, right down to the hand-written signature. For some reason that makes me queasy, especially since so much of both books strays from Gygax's original text and ideas. Also, it should be pointed out that he could never actually publish this, since it leans so heavily on IP owned by WotC (and possibly others). Not that he ever intended to do that; it's just where my own mind would go if I was spending as much time on such a thing as he obviously has.

What do you think?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Some Goodies Courtesy of HackMaster Basic

A couple of my fellow bloggers have been waxing enthusiastic over the Earl Otus cover that has been released for the upcoming (June 30, as of this writing) HackMaster Basic, a sort of redaction of the also-upcoming (November/December timeframe, so they say) HackMaster 5E intended to allow folks to jump in to the HackMaster game without having to absorb three or more books, and for under $20. Worthwhile goals all around, I'd say.

Much as I like the cover art, the announcement got me reading through some of the Kenzer forums on what, exactly, the new version of HackMaster (specifically, HackMaster Basic) would be like. The designer has been giving out all kinds of very specific tidbits, which is fantastic from a customer satisfaction standpoint. Some companies could learn from their example.

I've said before that, much as I like it, I don't view HackMaster as a game I'd actually play as written, but rather as a toolkit that I can (and do) raid for ideas. Since 4E was pretty near 100% compatible with my game of choice (AD&D 1E), that seemed the way to go. And indeed, I've gleaned two ideas from the upcoming version that I will be implementing in my own game effective immediately:

1) Magic-users are not limited to the spells they choose to memorize. It is *easier* for them to cast the spells that they spend time memorizing, but it is not *impossible* to cast other spells in their spell books. Doing so costs them two "memorized" spells, of the same level, their choice.

2) Clerical spells such as bless, cure light wounds, chant, etc. are less effective if cast on persons who do not share the same faith as the cleric. I'll go through the clerical spell list and figure out which have half effectiveness for non-believers and which are doublly effective for believers.

Both of these will be tested in our next game session. I'll report back on how they work in the field.

I should say, though, that the new HackMaster version seems like one helluva game. I was going to buy HMB anyway for ideas (even though the system is less compatible with AD&D than the old version was), but now I might be tempted to play it as written. It really sounds like they're doing what WotC attempted to do with 4E; fix all the problems with the previous version, without changing its fundamental character.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

eBay, Nostalgia, and the Soviet Threat

As I've stated before, I was an avid wargamer back in the day, predating my introduction to, and subsequent love of, role-playing games. I and a few select friends would spend endless hours pushing little pieces of cardboard on hex-maps, re-creating the battles and wars of both past and supposed future. I cannot tell you how many times the Germans won World War II or the Soviet Union won World War III in my or Tom Fitzpatrick's basement...

Unfortunately, during my endless series of moves after leaving the Air Force (I once moved between Boston and New Jersey four times in the course of a year and a half), my once-vast collection of wargames from SPI, Avalon Hill, West End Games, and the like has dwindled to next-to-nothing. So, being the somewhat affluent fortysomething that I am, I have turned to eBay to attempt to reclaim at least a few jewels of the wargaming crown.

One that showed up on my doorstep today was Fifth Corps, which was actually a game included with the old SPI magazine Strategy & Tactics (I had a complete run of that magazine, and its sister magazine Moves, spanning many years). S&T would include a complete game in every issue, and these weren't piddling afterthoughts; they were complete and fully developed wargames, complete with maps and counters.

Fifth Corps was the first in a series of wargames called the Central Front Series, intended to game out the entirety of a Soviet invasion of West Germany on a very small scale. Only four games in the series were ever produced, out of a planned ten. Accompanying the game in the magazine was an in-depth analysis of Soviet military doctrine and how it would be applied in overrunning the NATO forces that stood poised to withstand the Warsaw Pact onslaught. What struck me in reading through the Fall 1980 magazine was just how different the world was back then.

This was a world in which the Soviet Union still existed, and was perceived as the single greatest threat to the United States and Western Europe. Soviet leaders were seen as biding their time until they could launch an assault to bring West Germany (there was a West Germany and an East Germany back then), the Low Countries, and possibly France under its domination. They might even be crazy enough to launch a strategic nuclear attack on the United States itself, with little or no provocation or warning. Many folks back in the 1970's and 1980's really believed that the Soviets were ideologically crazy enough to roll the dice and take the chance that Soviet-style communism would dominate the post-nuclear-holocaust world, or that the United States would not have the resolve to actually launch a retaliatory strike.

This was a world where a movie like Red Dawn or a miniseries such as Amerika was a plausible scenario.

But there was at least one voice of hope...

Apparently the Russians did love their children, too.

Today, of course, the threats to the United States are not as obvious, and most certainly don't lend themselves to being the subject of a wargame. Looking through this bit of nostalgia from 1980 certainly brought back some memories, not all of them good. But there was something comforting in knowing where the enemy lay, and looking back from thirty years later, it was paradoxically a safer time. I will be spending this weekend figuring out if NATO could indeed have fended off a Soviet offensive through the Fulda Gap. Maybe the good guys will win again.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Please sir, may I have some more?"

I got the following a couple of hours ago. Apparently, WotC has relented and, in their infinite generosity, is allowing folks who already purchased pdfs of Wizards' products from DriveThruRPG and RPGNow the opportunity to download them one last time. For 24 hours. Tomorrow.


By now, you have probably learned that Wizards of the Coast recently decided to cease the sale of digital download versions of their books. This means that RPGNow and DriveThruRPG will no longer be able to offer you future downloads of Wizards titles you have purchased. We are offering you a final 24-hour period in which to re-download copies of any Wizards of the Coast files you have purchased from us in the past. If there are any titles you purchased, and you need a new copy of the file for your personal archive, this is your last chance to get it. This 24-hour period will begin at 10:00 AM EST (U.S.A. Eastern Time Zone), Wednesday, April 15th and will conclude at 10:00 AM EST on Thursday, April 16th.

During this time you may visit DriveThruRPG or RPGNow, log in, and click the MyAccount link found in the upper right corner of the site. Or just visit one of these links:

DriveThruRPG http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/account.php

RPGNow http://www.rpgnow.com/account.php

For the "My Account" page you will find your order history and download links, including a handy option to view all products updated since your last download of that title (for example a file that was updated with errata since you last downloaded it). During your visit, we certainly invite you to take a look around and see all the titles we have to offer for rpg PDF fans. As always, thank you for your continuing support of all that we do, and we welcomeyour feedback and any questions you may have.


Sean Patrick Fannon

DriveThruRPG and RPGNow

Monday, April 13, 2009

Some books of the Flanaess

Just as a sneak preview of the upcoming level of Castle of the Mad Archmage, here are a few books to be found in the libraries adjoining some of the magical laboratories to be found on Level 5...
  • 101 ALCHEMICAL USES FOR THE PINEAL GLAND by the Red Sage of Hokar

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Guilty Pleasure: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

I confess I am one of those few who actually likes this odd duck of a James Bond film. Lazenby's Bond is, I will be the first to admit, not the equal of Sean Connery's. But somehow, whenever I see this movie, I am able to mentally edit out Lazenby and insert Connery in most places. He's not awful, just not as dreadful as he's been made out to be.

Diana Rigg is fantastic, as could be expected. Telly Savalas was a good enough Blofeld (although my personal favorite is still Charles Gray, from Diamonds Are Forever), and his insidious plot was a worthy entry. I am a sucker for ski-borne shootouts in my Bond films (my favorite pre-sequence is that from "The Spy Who Loved Me"), and this one certainly doesn't disappoint. Plus we get a bonus shootout in the luge!

I will say that I hate hate hate the breaking of the third wall at the very beginning, where Lazenby thrashes a bunch of thugs, turns to the camera, and says "this never happened to the other fellow". Ugh. Completely unnecessary. And the scenes where Bond is impersonating Sir Hillary with the brilliant disguise of a kilt, a pair of glasses, and a squeaky voice. What is he, Superman? Ugh again. But, those bits aside, it's really a nice little Bond film.

I should also mention the fact that this Bond is more than just a love-em-and-leave-em guy. He marries the Contessa. The strains of Louis Armstrong's "All the Time in the World" is especially poignant. It is, in fact, one of the only redeeming qualities of the Roger Moore-era Bond Film "For Your Eyes Only" that at the very beginning he is seen leaving flowers on his wife's grave, and the inscription is "We had all the time in the world." A nice bit of continuity that you don't often see in this series.

Not the best, but definitely not in the basement, as it is often placed. Better than most of the later Moore films, to be sure.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

WotC Goodwill Campaign Continues

So around 4:00 AM this morning, this hits my inbox:

Wizards of the Coast has notified us that we may no longer sell or distribute theirPDF products. Accordingly, after April 6 at 11:59 PM Pacific time, Wizards of theCoast PDFs will no longer be available for purchase on paizo.com; after noon on April 7, you will no longer be able to download Wizards of the Coast PDFs that youhave already purchased, so please make sure you have downloaded all purchased PDFs <http://paizo.com/paizo/account/assets> by that time.

We thank you for your patronage of paizo.com. Please check out our other downloads at http://paizo.com/store/downloads.

Sincerely yours,

The Paizo Customer Service Team

The stunning grasp of customer relations held by Wizards of the Coast continues to astound me.

EDIT: Zachary over at RPGBlog2 wins the "Most Useful Response to WotC's Action" award. He is compiling a list of special offers that other companies are offering in the wake of Wizards' ill-considered action. But hey, what do they know?

And the "Most Visceral Response to WotC's Action" goes to Jeff Rients over at Jeff's Gameblog. 'Nuff said.

Friday, April 3, 2009

In Praise of Polearms

I love the vast array of different polearms in AD&D. That Unearthed Arcana has an entire appendix devoted to them only makes it all the better in my opinion.

A lot of folks make great sport of the huge number of different polearm options in AD&D. They are seen as an expression of Gary Gygax's "polearm fetish", and are usually completely ignored by both players and DMs alike. But I think this is a huge mistake, and the first time the DM correctly uses polearms in one of his dungeons, the players will be forced to re-evaluate their choice of weapon proficiencies, as well.

To be fair, the variety of polearm options only comes into fullest blossom when three rules are used that, from what I gather, usually are ignored; weapon speed factor, space required, and the dreaded weapons vs. armor class table. Pretty much all of page 38 of the original PHB. (Yes, I am aware that Gygax himself didn't use two of those factors in his own combats, but bear with me.) I happen to use all (when applicable), and have found that they really don't make combats go appreciably slower, once players are used to including another adjustment to their "to hit" rolls.

How I Do Initiative

At this point, I should point out that I houserule initiative in a way that makes the weapon speed factor a piece of cake. Everybody rolls a d10, adds their dexterity bonus (if any) and adds their weapon speed factor (or the casting time of their spell, in segments). I start counting out loud. 1... 2... 3... 4... when I hit someone's number, they say "I go now" and they proceed to tell me what their character does, roll "to hit", etc. It works really well and it at least approximates the effect of using a slow and clumsy weapon. Monsters using natural weapons like fangs or claws have an assumed speed factor of zero.

The Space Required column on that table (p. 38 of the original PHB) is key to using pole-arms and other weapons in a dungeon environment. Savvy humanoids will, of course, be used to their lairs. Those 10' corridors are that wide, and twisty-turny, for a reason. Remember the weapons types in the Monster Manual? How most of them include a large percentage of polearms? That isn't a mistake.

You can, for instance, pack five guisarme-wielding hobgoblins in a 10' corridor, compared to 2 humans with broadswords. Same damage as a broadsword, but it's 8' long and the second and third ranks can attack, so you have to go through 5 attacks just to even get a *shot* at one of the hobgoblins in the hallway (and the way I would work it, due to the reach of the weapons, the hobgoblins automatically get initiative if the PCs decide to attack). The hobgoblins just multiplied their effective attack strength by a factor of two and a half. Working in unison, they're as effective as a 5-HD monster.

And those invincible fighters with 400 g.p. burning a hole in their small belt pouch? Oh, big man with your plate mail and shield. AC 2. Invincible. Except when those footman's picks come out and the orcs get an effective 10% bonus "to hit" because they're wielding what are essentially can openers. You've got a +2 longsword? You're facing 30 humanoids with the effective equivalent of +2 weapons, "to hit", at least. And you're going to automatically yield initiative simply to close to hit.

Still think polearms are silly? They are the perfect dungeon corridor weapon when you've got a lot of troops to use them. And outdoors, if those goblins form a square, with sharp pointies facing outwards, the melee problems in a dungeon corridor are the same, just on a larger scale.

Don't write off the polearms.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Religion and Gaming

Over at The Inner Sanctum, Josh recently commented on his religious faith. No gaming content, just a post about his faith.

Now, this may be deemed as gauche, but I thought a brief discussion of the role of religion in gaming might not be out of line. If this sort of talk offends, then by all means scroll down one post and download my jester class and comment thereupon. I left a response over at Josh's blog, but on consideration, it needs a whole lot of embellishment.

I can say, for myself as a committed Norse Pagan of going on two decades, that my own faith has led me in several directions regarding the study of folklore, mythology, and so forth that has most definitely influenced my gaming. To not only learn, but internalize, the depth, beauty, and complexity of the Germanic world-view deeply influences my own game designs in various ways both subtle and gross. I can understand how a polytheistic religion can both exist and thrive beyond the simple choosing of "a patron deity".

In the jargon of the World of Greyhawk, the Suel, Baklunish, Flan, and Oeridian pantheons are not just ethnic collections of individual deities; they are intricately woven families of Gods and Goddesses, each of whom has an integral and significant role to play in that culture, and who is supported by a corpus of mythological tales that support and inform that role. Even though no such corpus exists (although I must admit the creation of such a collection is a project way on one of my many back burners), it is implied and, when necessary in my own campaign, referred to. (Gygax's own reference to a tale of how Olidamarra got his turtle-back shell is an example of this sort of story.)

The "common" deities are those whose nature transcends mere cultural/racial boundaries, and (like the Egyptian Goddess Isis, whose worship was known far beyond the boundaries of Egypt itself, albeit in vastly different form, through Greece, Rome, and beyond) whose forms of worship among one community of believers might be very different from that found in another. Incabulos could very well be verrrrry different in Tenh than he is in Keoland.

My Pagan faith also informs my interpretation of those Gods who are depicted as less than tolerant of other faiths in the Flanaess; Pholtus, St. Cuthbert, Wastri, etc. More often than not, I indulge my sense of humor (which is appreciated by my current playing group, most of whom are pagan themselves, and two of whom are actually playing clerics) in describing those faiths and the actions of their heirarchies and believers as a parody of the worst practices of the Christian church, both in medieval times and today. It should be noted that Gary Gygax himself was a very dedicated Christian for his entire life (which is in and of itself an ironic piece of information), and was the creator of the notion that followers of St. Cuthbert beat nonbelievers over the noggin, and that Pholtus was the embodiment of "the blinding light". I just flesh it out a bit.

I can honestly say that my own religion, which places a premium on scholarship, study, and so forth (necessarily so, as mine is what is referred to as a "reconstructionist religion", thanks to the intervention of Christian missionaries a millenium or so ago), has given me the impetus to treat religion in the game as much more than the caricature or even impediment it is often portrayed as.

I would genuinely like to hear how others' religious beliefs and practices have had an impact on their gaming. How about it?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Preeeeesenting... the Jester

In honor of this auspicious day (where we celebrate the annihilation of that dreaded agricultural pest, the spaghetti weevil), I am pleased to present my own take on a character class for AD&D; the Jester.
I was inspired to do this while going back through Gary Gygax's notes and stated intentions for an updated version of AD&D, which never ended up getting developed and published. One of the new character classes he intended was the jester; a mix of magic, acrobatics, and skills of verbal persuasion and obfuscation.

Taking the bare-bones notes that he laid out for the class, I went to another of his published works, Dangerous Journeys, to get more inspiration for just how some of the stated powers and skills might function, and filled in the rest with my own material. There are a dozen new spells (some inspired by classic circus clown gags), a fully laid out system of acrobatic and verbal patter skills, and a few new magical items to round things out. It comes in at eight pages total, and you can download it -----> here.<-----

EDIT: Clicking on the picture only gives you a larger version of the picture. To download the pdf, click on the link in the text I surrounded with arrows. :-)