Thursday, December 23, 2010

Random Creativity?

I've been trying to harness some awesome inspiration I recently acquired and have come to an interesting observation (at least to me).

Normally, I enjoy rolling on random tables and rolling up stats randomly.  I like this as a first step, because it often fires up my imagination once I start seeing the stats or looking at the raw data.  An excellent example of this is James Raggi's Random Esoteric Creature Generator.  A few rolls on these tables and an awesomely grotesque--and completely unique--creature is staring back at me from inside my mind.  Character creation is much the same way.  Perhaps my only real reason for liking "3d6 in order" is that it instantly throws into my mind at least one image of a character.  It feels like that character already exists, in fact, that the numbers already existed and were somehow channeled onto the character sheet from some PC-Limbo where my new dungeon delver was waiting.

What I find funny, however, is that I'm much less competent at looking at the raw and finding the story in it when it comes to dungeon maps.  Other maps?  No problem.  But for some reason, I've found that drawing the dungeon first doesn't really fire my imagination.  I end up with lame maps full of squares.  On the other hand, coming up with a story, or even just a cool title, almost always helps me make a much cooler dungeon, full of secret passageways, magical portals, pits of ooze, etc.

So how do other people handle this? Which comes first for you, when creating a dungeon or other adventure.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Prototype Model of the Mashup Machine

Setting 2d6
Weapon/Tech d6
Special Guests
Lasers and Landspeeders
Drug Running…
Medieval Europe
Swords and Horses
Rave Organizing…
Clubs and Dinosaurs
Alchemically Enhanced…
Medieval Persia
Sixguns and Wagons
Politically Conservative…
Ancient Persia
Steam Engines and Railguns
Ancient Mesoamerica
Magical Weapons and Transport
Overly affectionate…
Planet Zorgon

Old West

Post-Apocalyptic L.A.

1930's Chicago

Ancient Greece

Deepest Africa 1700

First try: Post-apocalyptic+Swords and Horses+Drug Running+Snorks

“…on horseback, armed only with the swords you found in the mall knife shop, you must stand up to furious drug-running Snorks in Post-apocalyptic Los Angeles.”

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Genre Mashing in Labyrinth Lord

I've been encouraging my players to give me some ideas of the types of things they'd like to see on the Lost Continent.  This is not for immediate use, mind you, but rather idea seeds that I can plant in far away places so they'll be nice and grown-in when the characters find them.  The LC is, after all, supposed to be huge and magical--so lots of variation was already on the table.  That's why I didn't bat an eye when Shawn Solo's player asked, "How about an old west town?"  We riffed on that for awhile, thinking of how that could be done cohesively.  We came up with some neat ideas and I'm looking forward to playing with it some more.  He'll be pumped when he finally comes across said town, all filled out and "real" in his character's eyes.

The process of thinking it out was fun, and got me thinking of the different styles of genre mash-up.  When introducing another genre, you really have a whole continuum of cohesion levels, from straight-up "the Enterprise just landed next to your castle" to "Elves are really aliens from another planet who passed magically through portals to this world, bringing higher technology."  In other words, the elements of the new genre can be dumped in without any eye for cohesion, or they can be "translated", so to speak, into your world's style/feel/mood.  Mash-ups on either end could be fun, I'm sure, but I find myself gravitating much more toward the heavily translated end of the continuum.  I want my old west town to seem like an old west town, but also not stick out too much from the other locales.  How is that done?

In the next few days I'll be working on it a bit.  We'll see what comes of it.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Swords and Wizardry: Is this rad?

I must admit, I've been ogling this from afar.  I also downloaded the free rules but haven't been able to read through them all yet.  Part of the appeal, for sure, is the appearance, but part is the promise of, perhaps, even greater simplicity of mechanics.  I have been a huge fan of Labyrinth Lord Core since I found it, and doubt that I will stray from using it.  Moldvay is way too ingrained in my mind to easily shift away.  I almost think that OD&D or one of the close systems like S&W might make that shift harder, because much would be similar and it would be more difficult to remember what exactly IS different.  But what of the one universal saving throw?  And other peculiarities of S&W?  Anyone have an opinion on those?

In actual play, I doubt there would be much difference, really, between S&W and my modified Labyrinth Lord Core.  Perhaps I'm just jonesin' for that boxed set. :) 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tables for Wilderness Travel (as discussed below)

Wilderness Encounters for 3-mile Hex Travel

Finding the stuff that’s in a hex is based on how fast you are moving through it.  The tables below are based on unencumbered daily travel rates for 3-mile-wide hexes in the Untamed Lands region of the Lost Continent.  (The Untamed Lands have few roads and the wilderness is quite thick, thus full speed travel by foot is approximately 3/4 normal daily movement.)

Full Speed on Horseback – 12 hexes (2d6)

 Discover landmark, special features of land, and general terrain.
 Discover special features of land and general terrain.
 Discover only the general terrain.

Full Speed Travel on Foot – 6 hexes (1d6)

 Discover landmark, special features of land, and general terrain.
 Discover special features of land and general terrain.
 Discover only the general terrain.

Half Speed Travel on Foot – 3 hexes (1d6)

 Discover landmark, special features of land, and general terrain.
 Discover special features of land and general terrain.
 Discover only the general terrain.

Searching on Foot – 1 hex (1d6)

 Discover landmark, special features of land, and general terrain.
 Discover special features of land and general terrain.
 Discover only the general terrain.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Maps, Overland Travel and Finding the Cool Stuff

I've been fooling around with different ideas on how to run the wilderness parts of my campaign.  I have a pretty big sandbox map (23x28 3-mile hexes) and wanted to add interesting things into each of them, as a 3x3 mile hex is approximately the size of my hometown!  I don’t think I was really wrapping my head around the size of my map until I google mapped an area that is commensurate in size.  Instead of being the size of North Orange County, for instance, one side of the map to the other is the same distance as my workplace to San Diego!  That’s two hours hauling ass in the car!  Then I realized that one hex is approximately the size of my hometown and, as there are at least a couple interesting things in that place, each of my hexes should have at least one cool thing in it. 

So, characteristically, I dove right into filling my hexes with rad things, without taking into account that there are…

…644 hexes on that da** map.

So I pondered this in my tiny brain for a moment, and came up with a plan.  I decided to create a whole bunch of cool things like tribes of intelligent, vampiric rabbits and triceratops birthing grounds and keep them on a list until the PCs find ‘em.  In theory, there’s still 644 awesome things spread out on the map, but I don’t have to come up with them now, nor do I need to write them out.  The characters, after all, are usually burning horseshoes around the map, trying to get to some location ASAP.  So they’re not likely to run straight into the cool thing on a 3-mile hex.  On the other hand, if they want to slow down, they’ll be more likely to find the interesting caves or ancient alien hot-air balloons.

The trick for me will be probability tables used to determine what the characters find as they travel.  I determined three “layers” of discovery: general terrain, special features of the land, and landmarks.  Passing through a 3-mile wide area, you’re bound to get an idea of the general terrain—whether its forest, desert, swamp, or other.  You may also notice some special features—an oddly shaped hill or deep crevasse.  Finally, if you’re lucky (or unlucky), you’ll discover the special feature of the area—the aforementioned bunny encampment, for instance.  Note that this is supposing the hex is not obviously filled with a massive castle or some other easily apparent monstrosity that blind people could see on a foggy night.

I’ve yet to playtest this, but I think it’s going to do the trick for me.  Am I reinventing the wheel, though?  I know I’m not that well read in newer rule books and honestly don’t remember even being in the wilderness much as a player in my youth.  Perhaps tables like this exist already.  I’d like to see how others do it, too.  How do you handle it?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Forestiere Underground Gardens

Here's a bit of that California underground house I mentioned before.

Everybody loves non-variable damage...

...except for the people getting mad in the comments sections, that is.

Apparently there was a massive discussion over at B/X Blackrazor and another has popped up on Beyond the Black Gate.  I really like the way they deal with 2-handed weapons and shields, too.

I'm thinking I might do away with weapon restrictions, too.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Standard Weapon Damage in Labyrinth Lord

As our Labyrinth Lord campaign evolves, I realize that we are really using the "Core" or B/X ruleset much more than the Advanced.  By that, I mean that originally we were going to be playing Advanced with some throwbacks to B/X: Advanced HD for characters, Advanced spell lists, etc.  From the B/X all we were using was race as class, basically.  Now that I look at it, though, we are really playing B/X-Core LL and making up our own additions to it.  The only thing we use from the Advanced companion is the higher HD.

More and more I see myself adding or modifying rules to be closer to OD&D, actually.  Much more is being decided by d6, for example.  Something I've been toying with for a while is switching to Standard Weapon Damage.  Mainly, I must admit, it's because I want some people to use daggers.  Haha.  That sounds stupid when I write it, but it's true.  I think they're cool and I want some dagger-love in my campaign.

Does anyone have experience with Standard Weapon Damage a la OD&D?  Positive experiences?  Negative experiences?

Real-life Underground Complexes

I've been reading recently about a man who built an underground complex on his California desert property.  It got me thinking about how often people have truly built underground complexes throughout history, and why.  Nothing like real-life to give you weird ideas to add to your fantasy world...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dungeon to Wilderness, and Dungeon Variety

Returning to the RPGs of my youth has been interesting in a lot of ways.  I've already mentioned how creative collaboration is much better with my 30-something players than we ever had it when I was a kid.  Players create interesting  backstories for their characters that help the campaign, rather than trying to squeeze more power into their characters.  Also, the extra 20+ years of poring over graphic novels, watching movies, reading literature, etc. has meant even more cool ideas bouncing around than we had at age 12.  Some aspects, therefore, are changes for the better.  The only change for the worse, at least that I can see, is the fact that we can only pull off about 1 session a week, max.  Jobs and wives are much more time-consuming than water-polo practice and pre-algebra.

After all these years, however, some things seem to stay just the same.  When we first starting playing back in May, I made a small dungeon: two levels, about twelve rooms total.  There was a bare-bones town that served only to equip the characters, and we paid little attention to the wilderness trip to the dungeon.  Over time, however, and without consciously changing focus, we've naturally progressed through what I think might be the standard stages of fantasy role-playing.

Megadungeons: After the first few adventures, the characters discovered the location of a much larger dungeon, and many subsequent adventures have taken place within it.  These adventures never focus on "clearing" the dungeon, but rather involve exploring parts of it, finding an item, rescuing an old friend imprisoned there, etc.  There's an unspoken understanding that this dungeon has no "bottom floor" really, and there are all manner of monstrous entities and secrets hidden "down deep".

Town/City: After enjoying the megadungeon for awhile (and without discarding it), the players started to feel a little claustraphobic.  They sought out adventure in the towns and cities, and I had to flesh those places out to provide for the greater interest in them.  Much more interaction with NPCs began to occur.

Wilderness: The stage we find ourselves in now is one of wilderness exploration.  As the Labyrinth Lord, I find myself enjoying the creation of wilderness locales and small "mini-dungeons" (great inspirations here) for the characters to find as they wander the forests and jungles.

Now, I'll throw out some disclaimers out right away.  This progression has nothing to do with depth of play or "sophistication".  True, our initial adventures were more shallow, but that had nothing to do with the setting.  It had everything to do with me being, essentially, a brand new DM again.  I was learning how to dungeon master again after a 20-year hiatus.  These settings are phases only insofar as they appear to be the natural progression of discovery.  After bumping around in dungeons for a long time you want to start exploring the wilderness, or a town.  They are not phases in respect to growing out of one and into another.  Each new setting adds richness to the play experience, as far as I can tell.  I can see our campaign encompassing all these elements now, and allowing me flexibility to offer wilderness, dungeon, and city/town adventures to my players, and they have the flexibility to choose whatever they feel like at the time.  Additionally, I'd be willing to bet there are several other settings and styles of adventures that I haven't discovered yet.  I'm still quite green, no doubt.

It's interesting to see that this progression, with the same order, seems to be the norm.  At least, if you look at B/X or read about the styles of play in the original Greyhawk or Blackmoor campaigns.  Is this a common experience, I wonder, or do some groups pass through wildly different phases during the RPG learning process?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lost Races

Preparing for the next Lost Continent session has been a blast.  One of the major themes on the LC has been the rise and fall of kingdoms and civilizations.  The whole (large map) area that the players have been exploring, for instance, is shot through with buried remnants of the Vesternee kingdom.  This is the same group of people who once visited the characters' homeland and sparked interest in the colonization of the continent.  Upon arrival, the characters' ancestors (the first colonists), found only ruins, however.

In our last session, the party had it's first encounter with the strangely tall, tattooed descendents of the Vesternee, who now reside deep under the city they once built.  This was a climactic moment, for the characters have been collecting information and encountering signs of the Vesternee for a long time, unaware that the descendents live.

Next session will most likely see the party searching for the abandoned stronghold of the dwarves, Duth-Ragar.  On the Lost Continent dwarves are a dwindling race (only several thousand are thought to exist) and they no longer dwell in the heart of the earth, but wander it's surface aimlessly.  Mystery shrouds the history of the dwarves, but perhaps delving into Duth-Ragar will bring some light to it.  Then again, there's always the chance that the characters will go down into the darkness themselves, never to return.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Character Classes and Subtypes in Labyrinth Lord

I recently had my players make back-up characters.  They had a few chuckles at that, and wondered aloud if I was planning on throwing more yellow molds at them, but I reassured them that I just wanted some new characters in case we want to do a parallel campaign or if somebody croaks naturally.

My players are awesome, especially in respect to creating interesting characters and backgrounds for me to pull storylines from, so I presented them with the following inexhaustive list of character subtypes.  The idea is for them to approach their character generation in reverse—rather than picking a class and then trying to trick out the character, come up with the character first and fit it into the class most appropriate.  We’re not talking about modifying the mechanics of the class, really, but more about not being influenced from the get-go by a preconceived notion of the class.  Though I encouraged them to come up with their own “subtype”, I offered them these as examples:

Fighter: Barbarian, Gladiator, Knight, Paladin, Ranger, Soldier, Swashbuckler.

Cleric: Priest, Witchhunter, Shaman, Druid, Witch, Warlock, Avatar.

Magic-User: Wizard, Sage, Sorcerer, Illusionist, Summoner, Alchemist, Soothsayer.

Thief: Bandit, Burglar, Scout, Ninja, Bounty Hunter, Treasure Hunter.

The subtype chosen mostly affects the way they would equip, clothe, and roleplay a character, but some subtypes would also involve modifying the class mechanics a bit.  I don’t do multi-classing, because I think it’s sort of unrealistic and clumsy.  I think each class requires one’s full attention.  Therefore, if you’re a fighter/thief, something is going to suffer; you don’t have time in life to dedicate yourself completely to thieving skills and lifestyle and extensive combat skills and training.  And I don’t really buy the “it just takes a bit longer to progress” mechanic.  If you want to be a fighter/thief in our campaign, you need to work out a mechanic and storyline in which you will have some skills of each class.  For example, the bounty hunter (or treasure hunter, for that matter) takes his base abilities from the thief class, but is a bit more rough and tumble by necessity.  Therefore, he loses Pick Pockets, Hear Noises, Climb Walls, and Hide in Shadows, but gains a fighter’s combat matrix and d6 for HD.  This way he has something of both classes, but not all.  (In our campaign there are also “fighting styles” that only pure Fighters can specialize in.)

So far, this house rule system is working pretty well, but I realize there are many ways to skin this cat.  We’ll keep fooling with it, I’m sure.  In the meantime, however, the players chose to make a Druid (mostly according the LL Advanced Edition) and a Ranger (lost fighting style specialty in return for some outdoorsy skills).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

No Labyrinth Lord Tonight

Well, I'm bummed, I must say.  Tonight we had to pull a raincheck on our Lost Continent session.  I'm not completely saddened, however, as I'm looking at the very bright side of things.  That is, the thing that makes scheduling sessions difficult is that I play with adult friends.  When I was a kid, we never cancelled cuz we didn't have crap-else to do.  Now we have wives and jobs and such--quite demanding jobs, at times.  But we also have adult minds, mature and full of 30+ years of interesting ideas.  We're much more capable, I've learned, of developing a deep and awesome story.  We're better at role-playing, in short.  So the trade-off is okay.  I can deal with postponed plans, especially when I know that we'll be getting together soon and the magic will start flowing again.

Monday, November 1, 2010

World Creation: The Lost Continent

I've been having a lot of fun lately with the Lost Continent.  Playing in it is awesome, but almost as awesome has been creating new countries, histories, etc.  I'm trying to tow the line between "having fun creating" and "over-creating to the point of noting every leaf shape and driving yourself freakin' crazy."  So I'm leaving some pretty large blank spots on the map, for sure, and I made the map a heck of a lot larger, to boot.

One reason I've been having so much fun is because I've been reading (get ready for an embarrassing confession) Robert E. Howard's Conan tales for the FIRST time!  I know, and I call myself an old-school gamer.  I have an excuse, though.  Check it: as I've mentioned before, I started gaming around 1989.  Why is this a good excuse?  Because in 1989 poor kids still bought used copies of Moldvay Basic at the swap meet for their first gaming experience, but the library was full of "AD&D" fiction.  Translation: I played old school D&D rules but was inundated with new school crap fiction.

Perhaps that's too harsh a judgment.  After all, I very much enjoyed Flint the King and the Dragonlance Chronicles.  But these were definitely post-D&D stories.  That is, the original stories in Appendix N inspired D&D in the beginning.  But then TSR pumped out a lot of Gary's stuff (heavily focused on Medieval Europe) and people played it and loved it and wrote new stories.  But these new stories were just Gary's world recycled.  This second generation of fiction was like inbred hemophiliac literature--still noble, but weak and uninspiring.  I just didn't know any better at the time.

But now!  Oh, sheesh, now I'm mainlining the real deal!  One paragraph of Howard is enough to set you on fire for a long time.  I'm tempted to just build up a library of the good old pulpy stuff and SLOWLY feast on it.  I say slowly because it is SO rich that you can savor this stuff for a long time.

So back to world-building.  I've decided that, since the Lost Continent is an immense place, there is room for everything.  The little niche that the PCs are in right now is somewhat Gygaxian/Medieval, but there is much, much more, out there.  Already I had swerved from rigid AD&D.  Dwarves are a dying race, with only a few hundred living as wanderers in the Untamed Lands of the far East.  No one on the continent has heard of an Elf.  And Halflings are a clever race of childlike people that most humans don't believe exist.  Outside of the Far East, no orcs, goblins, or hobgoblins exist.

It's fun to chop and slice, but I'm being careful, too.  We don't want to lose all our old friends.

Zombies Attack: Horror at the District Office via Labyrinth Lord

This past Friday, with Halloween looming in the immediate future, my small gaming group took a bit of a break from the fantasy campaign and veered into and ultra-realistic zombies-attack-our-workplace scenario.  It was very silly and lots of fun.  We started by making 3rd level Labyrinth Lord (basically B/X) characters of ourselves and then just dove in.  Soon they were using weapons of opportunity like an old-fashioned 3-hole punch (weighs approx. 16 lbs.) to bash the heads of marauding classified employs and educational lawyers alike.

Back in the Saddle...

Wow, I've been out to lunch.  Work, life, bla bla bla [excuses].

Let's blog about old school RPGs again!

The Lost Continent campaign has been rolling on.  In the last session the party finally located the Great Library, magically hidden on a sub-level of Ki'hago.  They got their library cards and slipped in just in time to witness a nasty fight between several toothed books.  There was much paper shredding and excitement.  They then uncovered some valuable information regarding the relics of the Black Pharaoh and got into a scuffle with some dog-sized dust mites.  Tune, the futuristic magic-user, was able to copy down some valuable information about Continental history and find a spell he might be able to use.  Now to escape Ki'hago again and be into the fresh air!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Excuses for Adventure: Optional Character Backgrounds

Why has your new PC decided to embark on a career in adventuring?  He is seriously considering delving into dark holes in the ground where he knows nasty creatures dwell.  He is embarking on a journey that will most likely include regular bouts with grave danger, wandering from one end of the continent (or dimension) to the other, etc.  There must be some sort of powerful reason…

  1. Running away from a battleaxe wedding.  “I never should have asked her to go to the barn with me…”
  2. Running out on a boring/laborious/unpleasant apprenticeship.  “If the master makes me warm up his coffee one more time, I swear…”
  3. Running away from trouble.  “I did it like this.  I did it like that.  I did it with a wiffle-ball bat. So…”
  4. Modern man lost in another dimension.  “Remember ‘Army of Darkness’?  Yeah.  All I need is a frickin’ chainsaw arm.”
  5. Sent on a quest.  “The Order says I need some field experience, so you don’t happen to know where I could find the Shrine to Evil Chaos, do you?”
  6. In search of the duchies.  “I like money—plain and simple.   Nasty monsters have the best bling.”
  7. Revenge.  “Ever since his mother was eaten by bugbears he’s just itchin’ to go out and kill everything that lives in a cave.”
  8. Ideological.  “Evil must be vanquished!”
  9. Ideological.  “Do-gooders must be vanquished!”
  10. Cursed.  “That evil wizard mumbled something and now I’ve got to keep moving every month before people start to get suspicious.
  11. ...

Friday, October 8, 2010

I Gots the ADDs

I have to admit it, I've got gamer ADD.  I love our campaign, but my mind is going too fast for the sessions to keep up!  To add to the pain, we had to skip our session this week due to some totally understandable work issues.  My problem is that I really like to write the story settings and can't wait to see what the players do and how the story plays out.  When we don't play I just keep writing new stuff, which is fun, but it's a bit like getting a lot of delicious ingredients together for a recipe and then just staring at them.  I want to get to the cooking and feasting! 

So in the absence of play, I've:
Read TMNT and Other Strangeness again,
Perused Call of Cthulhu,
Read through a bunch of old D&D modules and tried to plan their use,
Written up several towns, caves, starships, and other locations on the campaign map,
etc., etc.

TMNT kicks mutated ass.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Thinking of running some modules...

I find myself in an interesting position.  I own pretty much every cool D&D and AD&D 1e module that was made, but have never actually run one.  This is doubly weird because they also bring back crazy nostalgia for me.

When I was a little guy, AD&D 2e was either just on the horizon or had hit the shelves.  However, that stuff was expensive!  At least for me, as a poor 12 year old, it was.  So my RPGs came from the Swap Meet.  Ah, that magical land...I picked my first Moldvay Basic there for about $2 and never looked back.  I loved it with all my heart, and didn't care that it was 8 years old and had already been redone by Mr. Mentzer.  That's also where I began picking up old used modules, and how I find myself so hooked up now.  I remember buying X1: Isle of Dread and wandering past the chaotic stalls of the swap meet, poring over the new monsters and imagining how I would slay players with the tricky Araneas.

So I had every intention of running those awesome adventures, and read them for hours.  My problem was that I couldn't wrap my head around them as a kid.  And so I knew even while I read them that I wouldn't be able to swing one.  I got into the habit of stealing ideas and making my own little adventures (practically a mandatory activity for all DMs) and never actually came around to running even the simplest of modules.

But I might be able to do it.  I think, having been able to get a college degree, I should at least be able to run a passable version of one of the great modules.  Am I right?

So I have the very happy task ahead of me: reading through the many modules I have and deciding which could be slipped into my campaign.  I think it will be a nice dash of variety for both me and my players.  Maybe we'll love it, maybe we'll hate it.  Who knows.  But I'll finally be able to follow through on that 12 year old's inspiration.

Anyone have an opinion as to which I should run?  As I said, I have almost all of them.  My only restriction is that my players are right around 4th or 5th level, so it'll have to be in that range.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hall of the Fallen: Sturik

Ah, another hero fallen.  Well, not exactly a hero, I suppose.  Sturik was a devious little guy with a parrot on his shoulder.  He was pretty good at exacting extra fees out of the party members whenever he was asked to do something above the normal torch-bearing, even having to be told at one point, in the heat of battle, "One extra gp for everything you kill, Sturik!"

Alas, even as he began to pull his weight a bit, a large Rhagodessa was able to attach to his head.  The next round it found its mark, with it's powerful mandibles delivering a crushing squeeze to his pinhead.  Ever turn the blender on high without covering the top and all the margarita squirts out of the top?  Yep.  Sturik's head 'sploded.

(One player asked, "Is he, like, just unconcious? Or dead dead?"  Dead dead, dude.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Character Backgrounds and Skill Bundles

The following are some of the backgrounds that can be chosen for a PC.  Basically, rather than note down slavishly every skill you have, you will be generally good at things that are associated with your background.  If you were an academic and you want to find a book in a strange library, you’ll be twice as likely to pull it off.  You needn’t note at the outset that “Find Books in Weird Libraries” is a skill you have, it is assumed.  In play, you merely state a case to the Labyrinth Lord as to why you should be able to do something, and he or she will make a ruling.  The skills should not translate to combat bonuses, but might be useful in combat for creative players. 

All backgrounds are assumed to be “light”—you were an apprentice to the trade, or spent a good deal of your childhood practicing—rather than a full-on professional.  Obviously, at some point in time you focused on the vocation of adventurer, and the specific character class to which you belong.  That’s why these are backgrounds and not foregrounds. J

Animal Trainer
Specific Lore (e.g. religious history)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Yay! Call of Cthulhu 4th Edition!

I've been eyeing a copy of Call Cthulhu for a little while now.  I had mentioned it several times to my newbie players and we'd even talked about taking a week off of Labyrinth Lord close to Halloween to try it out.  And is in my possession again!  Thanks to crafty ebay dealings, I've gotten a cheap copy of 4th edition for my own grubby hands.

Now some of you are no doubt saying, "No, no, Monk...4th edition kinda sucks!"  But have no fear, brothers.  The Monk knows about the suckage.  I know that Call of Cthulhu has like 7 editions, that the rules are practically identical in each, and that 4th edition is known for having less than perfect organization.  For those unfamiliar with the system, Chaosium uses the term "editions" in about the same way most publishers use the term "printings".  The content is almost always the same, save for a different adventure included here, or some more spells there.  The main difference is the art and layout.  In 4th edition, they decided to include the content of 2 sourcebooks with the core rules.  And basically they seem to have just pulled the bindings off and physically stuck the sourcebooks to the rule book.  No cohesive blending of chapters or anything.  Mish mash.

But beautiful, eerie, mish mash, brothers.  This edition is the first I owned, when I was 13, so I'll admit to some nostalgia, but I remember even at the time that I far preferred it to 5th edition.  Call of Cthulhu is a game that gathers much of its awesomeness from setting and mood.  And to me, 4th edition art and layout, even because of its choppiness, delivers that mood perfectly.  This is a manual hastily put together by investigators on the run.  Cartoony art?  No time for that when you've heard that another tiny New England town has dug up some nasty secrets.  

Lastly, CoC editions after the 4th all contain source material for playing the game in the modern setting.  I know I'm probably in the minority here again, but I hate modern setting CoC so much that I don't even want it in my rulebook at all.  As a 15 year old I wrote a long rambly note on the "feedback" card that came with the 5th edition, indicating numerous philosophical reasons why the modern setting sucked juebos.  In retrospect, while I stand by those reasons, I hope whoever got that feedback card just copied down the address and tossed it in the garbage.  Lots of people love the modern setting and that's totally cool.  I'm not one of them, so I'm the perfect person to enjoy a 4th edition scored from ebay!

More on CoC later, as I check it out again after all these years.  Anyone have a favorite edition?  One that you think sucks?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fiddling with Character Classes

For the Labyrinth Lord campaign I've been running I've presented the character classes as archetypes, the essential representation of a particular way of overcoming obstacles, achieving goals, etc.  This begs the question of whether there are other archetypes--one that's not easy to answer.  I see perfectly valid reasons for allowing the negotiation of lots of other classes, and for restricting characters to one of the basic ones.

I'll give an example.  One of my players wanted to play a character along the lines of Han Solo, so we started him as a thief.  We figured that Shawn Solo (yes, that's his name) was sort of a shady guy who outsmarted enemies more often than whacking them with something.  That went well for a while, and the player (being a newbie to RPGs) did an excellent job of roleplaying Shawn Solo.  In other words, rather than conforming his character to the stats and mechanics of the thief class, he played him the way he thought that character would act and behave.  This is where the thief class became a bit cumbersome.  We realized that Shawn Solo was no more likely to pick someone's pocket than the fighter, and that he would actually be conking somebody on the head almost as often, especially if that someone was a nasty creature. He just happened to want to use a combination of stealth, trickery, and combat.

So...I broke my own rule a bit and we made a Bounty Hunter class.  I don't feel that it fits the "archetype" explanation of what a character class should be, but I realize also that there's no reason why that has to be the only explanation.  The Bounty Hunter we created is basically the thief class (saving throws, hit dice and 4/7 of the skills; no heavy armor, etc.), except he uses the fighter attack matrix.  This seemed to fit with my player's understanding of his character, and was a fair trade-off, in my mind.

Now another dilemma has struck, though.  I just read and loved Trey's description of the exterminators on his excellent blog--loved it so much I cut and pasted that bad-boy and read it to one of my players (he works on the other side of the wall from me).  We both loved it and thought about how that would work as a PC.  The character would need some special skills, but could really be of any class.  The dilemma may not be completely apparent here, so let me explain.  I HATE SKILL SYSTEMS.  I've played a bunch of games with 'em, from Call of Cthulhu to TMNT, but I still hate 'em.  I hate picking them during  char gen; I hate watching players scour their character sheet for a skill instead of just describing how they're going to pull off an action, and I certainly hate updating skills as you level up.  I know this animosity is disproportionate, but hey, I never said I was normal.  So the fact that I'm getting close to coming up with another skill bundle makes me very unhappy.

Anyone got an idea for me?  How do you modify character classes, or create new ones?  Do you even mess with them at all?  I'd love to hear more on this.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Campaign Update...

In a previous post I introduced our intrepid party, five characters exploring the Lost Continent and being caught up in the strange happenings after Starfall.  As I'm beginning to write about them in mid-campaign, I'll add a little background and catch you up to date.

Our party started out in the tiny town of Crossroads.  Hardly a town at all, it was truly only a large caravan that had dug in and begun living on the site of an ancient ruined town.  The mayor/sheriff/innkeeper/barkeep was and is the affable Drotik.  The party met him first and he has figured in to their adventures many times.

Ichi the cleric and Shawn Solo the Bounty Hunter first awoke in Crossroads after a disastrous run-in with bandits.  Their caravan was destroyed and only a few survivors made it back to the safety of Crossroads.  Having made each other's acquaintance on the caravan, they decided to stick together, accepting a job from Drotik in repayment of his kindness (and a need for some cash!).

Through various deadly traps and numerous battles, from the Temple of the Rat Shaman (no he didn't look like Splinter) to the sewers of Crossroads, Ichi and Shawn have survived on wit and a consistent strategy of having the torch-bearer look into all dark rooms first.  Along the way they have twice fended off the wicked Rat Shaman, slain an Arachnosquid, and helped to foil the plans of Yog-Sothic cultists.

Now they have stumbled upon what might be the greatest conspiracy yet: a chance job-offer turned into a meeting with time/space travelling aliens.  The Pahreen, as they call themselves, were on the tail end of a failed mission to recover a powerful artifact from the Lost Continent and remove it to a safe time/place. In their brief discussion with the alien, they discovered that the mission was one of mercy--to go back and stop the terrible rise of the Starchild, an event that would lead to the enslavement of the entire continent and the return of at least some of the Old Ones.  With the last alien lost in battle to a peculiar band of Ogres, the mission, with all its loose ends and missing information, has fallen into the hands of the party.

Who is the Starchild?  What information will they find in the Great Library of Ki'hago, magically preserved four levels down a mysterious dungeon?  What of the curious dwarven hammer that was mentioned by the Pahreen, and the map to its resting place?

Time will tell.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My Newest Purchase...

I'm very excited about this!  I've just purchased my first product from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the latest highly-rated adventure Hammers of the God.  My excitement, however, is not merely because of the great reviews this is getting or because I have played many short adventures written by James Raggi and have always been very impressed.  It's because Raggi seems to have done some sort of mind-meld with me (poor guy) and created a product that sounds like it fits perfectly with what's upcoming in my Labyrinth Lord campaign!  Yes!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hall of the Fallen: Turgay

Every campaign has those PCs and NPCs who run out of luck, often at the most inopportune moments.  In this feature, you can take a stroll down the Hall of the Fallen, and celebrate the (sometimes very short) adventuring careers of these luckless souls.

First up is a man whose name was mocked at first utterance: Turgay the Arrow Magnet.

The party was deep in the underground lair of the Rat Shaman, negotiating tricky passageways and trying to avoid some nasty zombies, when Turgay bit the big one.  The heavy darkness was broken by the light of several pools of burning oil, and the stench of burning rat filled air.  Trapped in a back room, desperate to escape and dash up the stairs and out into the light of day, the party made a play to rush past the zombies and into a large main room.  Turgay led the way, only crying a little bit.  Success in avoiding the zombies turned to pain and sorrow for Turgay, though, as he tripped an arrow trap and took the pointy projectile directly through the throat.

Alas, he died quietly...except for the gurgling and moaning.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lost Continent Campaign: The Party

The posts I've made so far are all the result of house rules and background for my Lost Continent campaign.  Started back in May or June, we've been going strong all summer.  Our daring party is made up of five characters (2 PCs and 3 NPCs), ranging from levels 2-3.

Ichi, the brave cleric, is a member of a religious order whose apostolate is thrashing evil.  He was originally sent on a fairly innocuous errand, but ended up as the Order's operative in a struggle with evil cultists.  Since proving himself a reliable adventurer, he has been inducted into a small, secret order-within-the-order.  This small group masquerades as pilgrim priests, but secretly wanders and watches the continent for any sign of rising power among the followers of evil.

Shawn Solo is a professional "obtainer" of things.  He began his career as a thief, but soon became a bounty hunter and adventurer (homebrewed character class that mixes some thief skills with some fighter attributes).  He joined Ichi on the road early on, traveling into the wild after a bounty: the mysterious Zoe, alleged murderess and former lover.

Zoe travels the continent, surviving by hustling and skill.  She's as dangerous as she is beautiful, and though unpredictable, often shows a soft heart, especially toward Shawn.  She stays far from the large cities, as she is still wanted for murder.

Bellor Ruthenia, a jovial warrior from the North, joined the party early on.  Despite losing his best friend, Dingler the Dwarf, he joined the party as a full member along with Zoe.

The final member is Tune, a torch-bearer with a secret.  He talks like a surfer dude, but appears to be more than he tells.  After surviving much longer than all previous Torch-bearers, he was allowed into the party as a partial member (doesn't get quite as much loot).

Besides these five, there have been numerous torch-bearers, guards, and men-at-arms, none of whom were able to survive too long.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Spell Point System for LC

I'm working on a new spell point system, which seems pretty smooth so far...

Each spell is worth a number of points equal to its level, and a character, cleric or magic-user, may select spells that equal his total spell points.

For instance, a 3rd level magic-user is able to cast two 1st level spells and one 2nd level spell.  His total spell points equals four [(2x1)+(1x2)=4].  So instead of memorizing two 1st and one 2nd level spells, he may memorize four 1st level spells.  He may not, however, memorize two 2nd level spells.  As he progresses in experience, this principal stays the same, being able to memorize more lower level spells than is normally permitting, but not higher level spells.

So, for a second example, Bushka the 8th level magic-user can normally memorize the following:

1st Level: 3
2nd Level: 3
3rd Level: 2
4th Level: 2

However, under this system, Bushka has a total of 23 spell points.  He may not use them for more than two 4th level or 3rd level spells, but may memorize more than three 2nd or 1st level spells, if he wishes.

Now that I'm writing this out, it doesn't sound so simple!  I'm going to have to test this a bit in real play and see how it pans out.  Off to the gaming table!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Shores of the Lost Continent

Colonists tread the strange trails on the Shores of the Lost Continent.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Magic-users on the Lost Continent

Magic is evident, but very strange and misunderstood on the Lost Continent.  Something about the land itself, the vegetation and rocks, even the soil, disturbs the logic of magic and distorts it.  Because of this, spells cast by even the most veteran mage can be twisted into something unintended and dangerous.  This, and the sad fact that power added to fallen human nature often results in even great evil, means the magic-user has earned suspicion and fear, even ostracization, sometimes before his first spell has finished being cast.

However, there are many who attempt to use the powers of magic nonetheless--for fame, riches, good, evil.  Of them, there are two types, roughly:

Natural Mage: The Natural Mage is just that, a natural.  He does not study magic, but finds himself able to control it.  He is born with a knack for it.  Because of this, he receives one extra spell per level, but always has a 10-25% chance that a given spell, when cast, will be twisted into a different outcome.  Casting spells causes the Natural Mage to grow in experience of his magic, and allows for new spells to be learned.  This happens at the rate of 1d3 new spells per experience level.

Learned Mage: The Learned Mage functions very differently from the Natural Mage, and much like the Labyrinth Lord rules spell out.  He must learn new spells from other mages, or from a spell book.  He must memorize them daily, using his spellbook.  However, his chance of spell distortion is very low, being typically 5%, depending on environmental factors.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

LL Adventures Based on Scooby Doo Episodes

So...I was drinking beer and watching Scooby Doo the other day and it occurred to me that Scooby Doo episodes are a great source of ideas for Labyrinth Lord adventures.  True, many of the plots are the same, but the shifting settings and tricks and traps are great for looting ideas.  Even the monsters are cool...especially since, in Labyrinth Lord, you wouldn't be able to pull a mask off of them and find out it's just Mr. Jenkins or The Nice Old Lady from the Museum.  

The above film is a perfect example.  It must be a fairly recent "return to Scooby" type of production, because it starts by showing you that the Gang is all split up, doing their own things.  They are reunited by the prospect of following Daphne around in the van, filming "true haunted house" segments for her TV show.  After some unsuccessful attempts, they find what they think is TV gold.  Take bayou, add cajun food, alligators, zombies, and Scoob and Shag wolfing down super-hot peppers, and you have Scooby Doo gold.  

My players are totally going to find themselves on Zombie Island.  Save vs. Jambalaya or die.

Experience Point Variant for Labyrinth Lord

I've been using a variant method of leveling based on game sessions for the Lost Continent campaign and have been very happy with it.  I found it over at Swords Against the Outer Dark.  It is not foolproof, for sure, but it works pretty well, and fits perfectly into my "low stress" methodology.  I've house-ruled several mechanics in my campaign so far--clerical spells, magic point system, thieving skills, and several classes and races--but most have been directed toward hip-checking the game mechanics out of the way so we can play the story/game better.  My players and I love to see a cool story develop.  So letting them be the type of character they want to be, while challenging their skills as players, is where I focus.

Thanks to Shane Mangus over at "Swords" for the great idea.  (His blog has a ton of rad stuff, btw.)

Clerical Prayers on the Lost Continent

On the LC, clerical prayers work a little differently than suggested in the Labyrinth Lord rules.  Normally, a cleric or priest would pray for his spells in the morning, and use them as he could throughout the day.  This is still possible, but is one of three options for a cleric.

Option #1
Pray for specific spells in the morning, use them as you can throughout the day.  The rule book method.

Option #2
Pray for general support from your Creator in the morning, then choose spells to cast in the heat of the moment.  This method allows for much more flexibility, but there is a 10-25% chance that the spell you receive in the heat of the moment is not the one you prayed for.  God is not a gumball machine, you can't just put in a quarter and know that gum is coming out.  You make your prayer and God will give you what you need, whether you think you need it or not.

Option #3
Use a combination of options 1 and 2.  Pray for some specific spells, and leave some points free for last minute requests.

This method also incorporates the spell point system I've devised, so picking spells is a little more strategic than usual.

The Lost Continent Campaign Setting

The Lost Continent is my personal setting for running Labyrinth Lord games for my friends.  Expect little in the way of pure creativity; my goal is not to make a name for myself as a creator, but rather to combine the amazing creations of others into a mysterious, funny, exotic, and entertaining world for my players to explore.

I'll refrain from trying to define this setting.  I would rather you look at the pictures, read some posts, and from your experience of them, derive your own ideas of what the Lost Continent is like.  That way, you'll have your own Lost Continent in your mind, just waiting to be molded to your liking!

Anyway, thanks for visiting.

The Mists Divide...

Generations ago your ancestors sojourned across the tumultuous sea during a time of great calm; some say the Sea itself lured them across. They came in search of the mysterious race of men who had once visited them, bringing magnificent technologies and healing magics previously undreamed of. Your ancestors called them the Westerners, and mourned when they boarded their great ships and returned west to their homeland far across the ocean. Even the most sea-worthy of your ships was no match for the powerful surging and violent temper of the outer sea, so generations passed and the legend of the Vesternee grew and grew.

Then one year the sea grew unexpectedly calm. Vast numbers of would-be colonists booked passage on stout ships to cross the sea and find the Vesternee. Ships sailed and, after many hardships, approached a coastline wreathed in deep mist. As the mists divided, they received their first glimpse of the great continent...

Going ashore, they found a rich land, warm and fertile. But it also teemed with life, wild animals and darker things roamed the land. The Vesternee were no where to be found, with only ruins of great cities dotting the landscape.

Weary from their long voyages, your ancestors settled in to coastal ruins to rest. But soon the sea began to surge again--the time of calm had passed--and the colonists found themselves stranded in this strange land. They took up the challenge with strong hearts, building up the civilization they had dreamed of from the very stones of the ruined Vesternee cities. They protected their borders, farmed the land, and explored.

Generations passed and the Lost Continent, as it became known, proved to have no dearth of mysteries or dangers. Strange races of humanoids, deep strongholds seemingly covered by the earth, and magic in the very trees and stones make the Lost Continent a dangerous and exotic land. You are the scion of colonists, inheriting this beautiful, dangerous land of enigmas. Go forth like your ancestors and divide the mists! For the Lost Continent awaits your has called you to itself!