Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"New Round, New Initiative"

I've mentioned this as an aside once before, but here's how I do initiative. Once I explain how sublime and wonderful my system is, I expect it to catch on like wildfire throughout the OSR. Or, one person might cotton to it and end up using it with a tweak or two. It could happen.

All the players know their weapon speed. Yeah, that table on p. 38 of the Players Handbook? I use it. Monsters with natural attacks (like claws or bites) add zero.

Anyone who's surprised automatically loses initiative. Duh.

When the round begins I say "New round, new initiative!" Everybody rolls a d10 every round. I roll one collectively for all the monsters. It's just easier.

The players add their weapon speed or spell casting time (in segments) to whatever they roll, and subtract their reaction/attacking adjustment (for Dexterity). If they're doing something wacky like swinging from a chandellier and leaping on the foe, I just make up a number and tell them to add it to their roll, because I'm the DM, and that's part of my job description.

I start counting off. 1... 2... 3... 4... When I hit a number of a player's modified initiative, they say "I go!" If I reach the monsters' number, I say "They go".

And that's pretty much it.

You roll a die, add one number, subtract another, and BOOM! You're done. And since they don't change unless you change weapons, it's pretty much a set modifier. It is really that simple.

There are a few special cases, of course, like missile weapons. Godsdamn missile weapons. Look at the rate of fire on p. 38 (ah, my beloved p. 38). If it's 1, you go when you rolled. If it's 2, you go once when you rolled and again at the end. And so forth. If it's 1/2, you go every other round. Simple. There are other special cases, but that's the point of being a DM. Make it work; it's easy.

I have to say, this has worked so very well for me over the years I wanted to share. It gives a benefit to those who choose swift but light weapons over bulky but punishing weapons. It makes casting times meaningful. It gives all the flexibility a DM could ask for.

Give it a try!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Are clerics superfluous?

Of course, two days after I announce my hiatus, what happens? I get inspired to write something. Go figure.

I got to wondering why, exactly, we have both magic-users and clerics in A/D&D. The literary antecedent of the magic-user is well-established, going back into the hoary mists of time itself with such figures as Merlin and Apolonius of Tyre. The connection to the cleric is not nearly so cut-and-dried, and it requires a little bit of digging to really put it into shape.

Gygax himself stated on several occasions that the historical template for the cleric class was Bishop Odo of Normandy, who fought at Hastings in 1066 and was famed for using a mace as his weapon so as to avoid breaking the Christian prohibition against spilling blood (in a very cynical way, of course), mixed in with a lot of Friar Tuck (who fought, if I'm not mistaken, with a sword). The prohibition against edged weapons was as much for game balance originally as following any sort of historical pattern. However, I note that Gygax also stated that the clerical spells were created whole-cloth from his imagination (although I cannot imagine that the Biblical miracles from the Old Testament did not inform those imaginings; healings, creating food, curing disease, etc.). We are further told that the class was originally conceived as a sort of vampire-hunter (hence the ability to turn undead) a-la Abraham van Helsing.

In the pulp fantasy literature whence the D&D game evolved, priests are rarely given a spotlight as something unto themselves. We've seen Bishop Odo, Friar Tuck, and Abraham Van Helsing, but if you look through the "high priests" of Conan, they are either simple scholars or cunning wizards who owe their dark powers to the same eldritch forces as his simple wizardly foes. Too, in Lovecraft, no distinction is made between those wizards who make use of magic owing to their own prowess (or the possession of some damned book and its wisdom) as those who call upon some nameless horror from beyond for their power. In fact, I am hard-pressed to think of a figure from either pulp fantasy or high fantasy that embodies the attributes of the cleric class; healer, hobbled warrior, undead-hammer. Until after the publication of D&D, of course.

So I'm thinking, why have a cleric class at all? Why not just fold the clerical spells into the magic-user spell list, and take their single special power (turning undead) and turn it into a couple of spells? There would be a Turn Undead I, which is a first-level spell and works against the lowest-level undead, then a Turn Undead II, etc (reversible, of course). That would actually seem a lot more in line with the classic figure of the necromancer as a magic-user specialty. It would also enable us to extract the Turn Demon/Devil function into its own spell, thus giving us a little more definition to the sorcerer specialty.

Gone would be the ability to simply pray for spells, unless we had a sorcerer (who derived his power from otherworldly creatures) with such as a special ability. Or even turn *that* into a spell unto itself (the magic-user always makes sure to keep that one in reserve, to be able to re-memorize spells) or added as a function of the familiar; the Otherworldly Tutor, who can help a magic-user regain spells in the absence of his or her spellbook. Oh, the more I think about *that* the more I like it. It seems very Faustian.

These spells would actually allow us to develop a much more robust system of magic-user specialization than would otherwise be the case (if the harried DM were so inclined).

The more I think of it, the more I like this idea, but I would like to hear from my Dear Readers as to what you perceive as the pitfalls (and possibilities) of such a realignment of magical power.

EDIT: Now that I ruminate on it, I think the notion of having to take undead turning as a spell lines up very well with what I've written earlier about the concept of old-school games as logistical challenges.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Please accept my humblest apologies. As might be obvious, I have not kept up with my usual every-couple-of-days posting schedule, and I will most definitely not make the June release of CotMA. Some non-gaming things have crept up and stolen almost all of my creative energies, and I find I've got precious little time for gaming right now. (Although I will be running three games at Dexcon in Morristown, NJ, in a week and a half, including an AD&D session in CotMA, if anyone will be attending.)

I'm not shutting down or anything, just acknowledging that I won't be posting here nearly as much as I have in the past, or frankly would like to. I'll continue to plug away at CotMA, albeit much more slowly, and it'll come out when it comes out. This level in particular is vast.

Anyway, there it is, and please again accept my humble apologies for not being more prolific.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Good News, Everyone!

Comedy Central has apparently ordered 13 more episodes of Futurama!

Ah... that soothes the burn...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Terminator Salvation

Warning-- Spoilers!

I have a few movie franchises that I am a huge fan of, and follow religiously. Terminator is one of them. I watched "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (yes, I was one of the five, apparently) and liked it. I still have my Cyberdine polo shirt from the Universal Studios gift shop (where I had a treasured copy of the "full" version of T2 on VHS until the greedy bastards released it on DVD so you didn't have to trek to Florida to buy the footage).

Let us say I am a fan of the Terminator franchise.

I went into Terminator Salvation with low expectations. Rotten Tomatoes has it as 33% fresh as of this writing. Aint It Cool News has not been kind to it. I was prepared to be very disappointed.

But, you know what? I actually liked it. A lot.

I liked the post-Apocalyptic world. I liked the plot line of Marcus, the robot-who-thinks-he's-a-real-boy. Even though it was painfully obvious, it was interesting to watch it play out. There were a whole lot of plot holes around an hour and a half into the movie, and I thought it was going to rank below T3 (which, if I may say, sucked ass). But then the movie turns around and throws a huge plot-twist in there, and lo! and behold all (well... most) of the plot holes were wrapped up and I turned to my wife and said "this movie just got 100% better".

The scenes where they map Schwartzenegger's face onto the T-800 was perfect. Absolutely perfect. They contrived to burn away his flesh before they could screw it up, but it was just beautifully done. Better than the clone troopers in Star Wars II and III. Bravo.

Which is not to say that there weren't a few things wrong with it.

The T-600's were just too obviously bulky in order to fit guys into suits. They looked terrible.

In the first movie, we are told that the Terminator is a "model 101". In T2 he was a T-800. I'd like an explanation, please. (For a non-canonical explanation, see the teaser trailer below.)

When John Connor sends out his broadcast to the resistance asking them to hold off on their attack on Skynet... didn't he just rat out the fact that they were planning an attack on Skynet? He was broadcasting in the clear...

Why didn't Skynet at least have some failsafe in Marcus? "Oh, I will control you with a chip in your head. DAMN! You plucked out the chip! All my plans are undone!" A global-spanning AI who is a bajillion times smarter than man can't think to put in a self-destruct into a prototype with a human brain?

Heart transplant surgery 15 years past the production of any advanced medical supplies in the middle of the desert in a field hospital? My credulity is strained. I saw it coming as soon as the T-800 impaled John Connor, since they made such a big deal about Marcus's heart, but really...

I liked many of the homages to the other movies. But for the love of the Gods, hearing "I'll be back" and then two seconds later "You Will Be Mine" by Guns 'n Roses was just too effing much. Yeah, we get it. Second movie. Very clever. Shut the eff up, newb!

Don't get me wrong. I liked this movie a lot. If you're at all a fan of the franchise, you'll get something out of it. It sure as hell beats the last one. Definitely worth the $11.

But yeesh, if only they'd let me make a movie, I'd do it *RIGHT*

Oh, and having said that, I would have made the T-800 factory just a little more like this: