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!