Friday, May 30, 2008

Deconstructing 4E Sales

ICv2 has a bit about Wizards of the Coast going back to press on the 4E Dungeons & Dragons books. This sounds very impressive, but I gotta say... not really.

The major item of note is how the Wizards spokesperson mentions to ICv2 that "the initial print run for 4E was 50% higher than the order for the previous D&D 3.5 Edition."

First of all, what exactly does Wizards mean by order? Do they mean that the pre-order numbers of the three core 4E books were 50% higher than the pre-order numbers of the three core 3.5E books released in 2003? If so, that's not good, not good at all. At least, compared to historical D&D sales. If the pre-order numbers were really good, they would be compared to the pre-order numbers of the three core 3E books released in August, September, and October of 2000. Those numbers were phenomenal.

If, on the other hand, the Wizards spokesperson means that the pre-orders of 4E were 50% higher than the overall total sales of the three core 3.5E books, then that might not be so bad. But I seriously doubt that he's mixing his numbers this way, as that would be deceptive, comparing apples and apricots.

If there were any percentage in it, I would dig through my old issues of Comics & Games Retailer and dredge up the sales figures on 3E vs. 3.5E and show you what I mean. But there's really no percentage in it save to say that the three core books of 3E seriously outsold 3.5E in both the mass and the hobby, even though 3.5E sales ran longer (mid 2003 to ongoing as compared to mid 2000 to mid 2003).

So really, it's just the usual sales, marketing, and PR shenanigans. Still, I will say that for the adventure game industry, the sales are off the charts as compared to anything else in the role playing game market. That is, truly, something to crow about.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Black Lotus of Greyhawk

Here is a rough draft of the rules for black lotus pollen (burned upon coals in a brazier).

BLACK LOTUS
Cost
: 250 gp per ounce of unrefined pollen (provides one hour’s fumes in a five foot radius).
Native Location: The Vast Swamp, Tilvanot Peninsula, Hepmonaland, and the Amedio Jungle, as well as islands of the Densac Gulf and points south and southwest.

Unrefined black lotus pollen, burnt upon a brazier of coals to create a cloud of blackish-green smoke, is used as a magical soporific that enhances magical power (the arcane power of magic-users, not the divinely-granted power of clerics). A single ounce fills a five foot radius area; all within who breathe of it for even but a moment must make a saving throw versus death magic or fall into a deep, death-like slumber. Those caught in this magical slumber are virtually impossible to rouse. Only heavy shaking or physical damage has a chance of rousing one so stupefied. If so treated while the source remains fuming in their presence, the sleeper must make another saving throw versus death magic, at -1 per two hours in slumber, or remain in the black lotus slumber. Only one such save may be made per hour. Once the source is removed from the sleeper’s presence, the sleeper can be easily awakened, and naturally awakens and regains clarity of mind after five minutes per hour of sleep minus the sleeper’s Constitution score.

No less than one ounce of the pollen is efficacious; this causes one hour of slumber. More pollen applied to the brazier either extends the period of slumber or expands the fumes, at the choice of the applicant. Each additional ounce beyond the first expands the radius by five feet (i.e., 10 feet with two ounces, 15 feet at three, and so forth). Most magic-users only use more to create a wider circle when they prepare the material as a trap. Many magic-users spend days or a week or more engaged in the black-lotus slumber; if they are not cared for by servants, they can dehydrate or even starve.

While sleeping under the fumes of the black lotus, the sleeper has terrible nightmares. For the uninitiated, these seem nothing more than horrific dreams; the reality is that a part of their spirit travels forth unto dark planes, strange realms of time and space, and there witnesses terrible events, past, present, and future. Sometimes the dreams are germane to the individual and his specific situation, but most of the time they are peripheral at best or simply mind-numbingly horrific at worst. Other than the dangers inherent in being magically asleep, though, non-magic-users have nothing to fear from the fumes of the black lotus.

Magic-users, though, with their trained minds and arcane power, may channel the lotus’ dark energies and focus the spirit travel capabilities inherent in the fumes to expand their arcane power. Use of the black lotus allows various uses of the dark energies and knowledge generated thereby on the part of the magic-user. As with normal spell memorization and study, any interruption of the use of the black lotus spoils all effort prior to that point. The difficulty, of course, is raising the magic-user from the black-lotus slumber!

First, black lotus allows a magic-user to memorize spells without prior rest. Each spell merely requires double the normal amount of time spent “in study” whilst breathing the smoke of the incense, and the spell will be memorized. The magic-user need not study his spell book, he must merely have it in his presence (i.e., in hand or in the same room), as the black lotus allows his mind to access the spell book directly in spirit form. Thus, a 1st level spell can be memorized in 30 minutes, a 2nd level spell in an hour, and so forth. Remember, though, that even a minimal use of the black lotus requires one hour of slumber!

Secondly, the black lotus allows the magic-user to “overcharge” on memorized spells, up to one additional spell of each spell level known. The magic-user must first have his full, normal complement of spells memorized. He must also have his normal rest. He then must spend one hour in black lotus slumber per spell level of spell to be overcharged, i.e., one hour for a 1st level spell, two hours for a 2nd, three hours for a 3rd, and so on.

The downside of overcharging spells is that the energy to overcharge must come from somewhere, and that somewhere is the negative material plane! As such, overcharging spells can gain the magic-user the unwanted attention of demons, devils, undead, and other creatures who crave those dark energies! Every time a magic-user uses black lotus to overcharge, he gains a point of Dark Energy per level of spell overcharged (in the example above, the magic-user would gain six points in one sitting). Every time the magic-user uses a spell overcharged with this energy, the DM must roll percentile dice against the magic-user’s new total Dark Energy; rolling less than or equal to the Dark Energy total indicates the magic-user has captured the attention of a potent demon, devil, undead, or similar being. Consult the Dark Stalker table below; the roll to determine if the magic-user gains a creature’s attention determines the creature or creatures that begin stalking the magic-user. Note that if the creature does not normally have the ability to teleport, it will gain the ability to teleport itself to the magic-user’s location when the magic-user is engaged in black lotus slumber. The creature will form in the fumes of the black lotus, upon which the magic-user will awaken to see his nightmares become reality…

The creature thus attracted to the magic-user will seek him out across the cosmos to drain his Dark Energy and his tainted soul! Some creatures bide their time and observe the magic-user on the material plane, where they might gain some advantage. Other creatures, especially the less intelligent and bestial types, make direct attacks against the magic-user’s spirit while engaged in the black lotus slumber. In this spirit form the magic-user has all spells that he has memorized and all magic-items that he had upon his body at the time he entered the black lotus slumber. If he is slain in spirit form, the body dies, usually in a manner most horrible and with a great many wounds mimicking those suffered by the body, and his spirit is either consumed or taken prisoner; no form of raise dead or resurrection will work upon the magic-user without the accompaniment of a wish spell or similar magic to restore the soul from destruction or entrapment.

When a creature is thus attracted to the magic-user, subtract from his Dark Energy total the value of the roll; if a magic-user had a total Dark Energy of 12, and the DM rolled a 9, the Dark Energy of the magic-user thereafter will be merely 3. Also, subtract from the magic-user’s currently memorized spells a total number of levels equal to the roll, determined randomly, though overcharged spells go first; the magic-user feels this drain as a cold shadow upon his soul, and knows as he casts the spell that he has broken the barriers between worlds and caught the attention of… something. What exactly, though, he will not know, perhaps until it is too late…

D100 Creature*
1 ..... NPC Magic-user**
2 ..... Demon, Manes
3 ..... Devil, Nupperibo
4 ..... Devil, Lemure
5 ..... Berbalang
6 ..... Demon, Dretch
7 ..... Shadow Mastiff
8 ..... Devil, Spined
9 ..... Hell Hound
10 ... Gibbering Mouther
11 ... Grue, Harginn
12 ... Grue, Ildriss
13 ... Mi-Go
14 ... Shadow Dragon
15 ... Son of Kyuss
16 ... Yeth Hound
17 ... Piscodaemon
18 ... Demon, Rutterkin
19 ... Devil, Imp
20 ... Demon, Quasit
21 ... Shadow
22 ... Grue, Charggrin
23 ... Wight
24 ... Wraith
25 ... Rakshasa
26 ... Salamander
27 ... Devil, Abishai
28 ... Devil, Erinyes
29 ... Hellcat
30 ... Penanggalan
31 ... Slaad, Red
32 ... Spider, Phase
33 ... Yuan-Ti
34 ... Devil, Bearded
35 ... Djinn
36 ... Drelb
37 ... Great Race of Yith
38 ... Grue, Varrdig
39 ... Hordling
40 ... Nightmare
41 ... Primordial One
42 ... Shadow Demon
43 ... Troll, Spirit
44 ... Spectre
45 ... Demon, Babau
46 ... Demon, Bar-Lgura
47 ... Demon, Hezrou
48 ... Demon, Succubus
49 ... Demon, Vrock
50 ... Naga, Spirit
51 ... Slaad, Blue
52 ... Bodak
53 ... Cthuga's Flame Creature
54 ... Dao
55 ... Demon, Glabrezu
56 ... Demon, Nabassu
57 ... Devil, Barbed
58 ... Devil, Bone
59 ... Devil, Horned
60 ... Devil, Styx
61 ... Efreeti
62 ... Groaning Spirit
63 ... Invisible Stalker
64 ... Mezzodaemon
65 ... Night Hag
66 ... Yochlol
67 ... Demon, Alu
68 ... Shade
69 ... Vampire
70 ... Charonadaemon
71 ... Hydrodaemon
72 ... Demon, Nalfeshnee
73 ... Ghost
74 ... Slaad, Green
75 ... Barghest
76 ... Demodand, Farastu
77 ... Demon, Cambion
78 ... Demon, Chasme
79 ... Demon, Marilith
80 ... Devil, Ice
81 ... Marid
82 ... Xag-ya
83 ... Xeg-yi
84 ... Derghodaemon
85 ... Yagnodaemon
86 ... Ultrodaemon
87 ... Nycadaemon
88 ... Titan, Lesser
89 ... Arcanadaemon
90 ... Byakhee
91 ... Demilich
92 ... Demodand, Shator
93 ... Demon, Balor
94 ... Devil, Pit Fiend
95 ... Shoggoth
96 ... Slaad, Grey
97 ... Titan, Major
98 ... Slaad, Death
99 ... Lich
100 ... Archdevil, Daemon Lord, Demi-God, Demon Prince, Elder Titan, Old One, Prince of Elemental Evil, or Slaad Lord of DM's choice.

* 75% of the time only one creature of the rolled type begins stalking the magic-user; the rest of the time, roll the normal number of such creatures encountered, and ALL begin stalking the magic-user…
** When a magic-user is encountered, divide the Dark Energy of the PC magic-user by 10, rounding up, and add 1d6 to determine the level of the magic-user that begins stalking the PC magic-user.

Third and most potently, the use of the black lotus enables the magic-user to discover new spells and charge his spell book with that knowledge. The magic-user must engage in a black-lotus slumber for eight hours per spell level being sought. During this time his spirit wanders far and wide across the dark gulfs of the cosmos, seeking power and knowledge beyond human ken. At the end of this time the magic-user must roll his Chance to Know Spell; if successful, he has gained the knowledge of a new spell. If the roll is equal to or less than 10% of the base chance (rounded down), the magic-user may choose the spell; otherwise it is randomly determined by the DM. If random determination indicates that he learns a spell he already knows, then no new knowledge is gained, though due to the insights gained the magic-user forevermore casts that spell as though he were one level higher in ability. However, if the magic-user rolls equal to or above 10% of his failure chance (rounded up), or 00 in any case, he instead encounters some terrible creature upon the darker planes, and must escape it or defeat it before his spirit may return! In this case, roll randomly on the Dark Energy Stalker table to determine the creature encountered.

INT....Choice ... Random .... Failure .... Encounter!
9 ........... 01-03 ...... 04-35 ........... 36-93 ............ 94-00
10-12 ... 01-04 ...... 05-45 ........... 46-94 ............ 95-00
13-14 ... 01-05 ...... 06-55 ........... 56-95 ............ 96-00
15-16 ... 01-06 ...... 07-65 ........... 66-96 ............ 97-00
17 ......... 01-07 ...... 08-75 ............ 76-97 ............ 98-00
18 ......... 01-08 ...... 09-85 ........... 86-98 ............ 99-00
19+ ...... 01-09 ...... 10-95 ............ 96-99 ............ 00

Finally, gaining a spell in such a fashion adds five times the level of the spell to the magic-user’s Dark Energy, and the roll must be made every time a spell gained in this fashion is used!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Character Study

Jeff Rients recently posted several of his characters from old games. I unfortunately have very, very few characters, as I have been the judge rather than player 19 times in 20. Most of my characters never made it very far; the highest level I ever attained in campaign was 9th, one of my first characters, Thorin Oakenwolf (yup, I was real original back in Middle School).



This was from what one would call today (well, even back then, probably) a "Monty Hall" style game. I remember it as "The Awesome Campaign." My friend Thad Donovan ran that campaign, and many, many years later, ran another campaign after he and many of my old gaming friends got together and started up D&D again with Third Edition.

To compare, here's one of my more recent PCs, from a 3E game I played in down in Chesterton, my old stomping grounds; this campaign was run by Thad as well, though he was one of several DMs in that game, which we switched off from DM to DM. Never got very far with this character, though, as we were only playing once a month, and I ended up having to bow out of the game even then due to lack of time. Usually my current characters are kept in a standard Word file, and together with histories and adventures, a character sheet can run several pages.

I have another 3E character from an earlier campaign run by Thad exclusively, the Alapania Campaign. I'll have to dig up the character from that one; Solgran Athraell, a half-elven Marshal/Ranger, IIRC. Cool character and another Awesome Campaign, though not remotely Monty Hall...

Anyway, Kazagarak shows you how in-depth I can get with my characters, when the opportunity presents...

Kazagarak Goblinfoe
A.K.A. Garak Garakson, Thane Garak XIII Garakaran, the Garak of Garak, and the Last Garak
Race: Kazadaran (Mountain Dwarf)
Homeland: Thunderhold (Roglaras)
Class/Level: Cleric 3
Experience Points: 3,925 (need 6,000) + ________________________________________
Alignment: Neutral Good
Deity: Kazadarum
Socio-Economic Class: Lower Upper Class (He is the Garak of Garak, the Thane Garkaran)
Social Caste/Social Level: Thunderhold: Thane (Gentleman/SL 8); CSIO: Mercenary (Military/SL 4)

Strength........... 18……. +4
Dexterity……... 11……. +0
Constitution…. 18……. +4
Intelligence….. 14……. +2
Wisdom…........ 18……. +4
Charisma…….. 12……. +1

HP 21 (8 + 4) (5 + 4) (___ + 4) Current HP: ______

AC 19, AC 19 Flatfooted, AC 10 Touch (half-plate + heavy shield, ACP -8), +4 AC vs. Giants

Fort +7 (+2 bonus vs. poison) (+2 bonus vs. spells and spell-like abilities)
Ref +1 (+2 bonus vs. spells and spell-like abilities)
Will +7 (+2 bonus vs. spells and spell-like abilities)

Skills: [16r + 4r + 4r]
Appraise +2 (+4 total with stone, gems, or metals) [0r+2]
Climb +4 or -2 in armor without shield [0r+4]
Concentration +8 (+12 defensive casting) [4r+4]
Craft: Weaponsmithing +5 (+7 total with metals) [3r+2]
Diplomacy +1 [0r+1]
Heal +8 [4r+4]
Hide +0 or -8 in armor with shield or -6 in armor without shield [0r+0]
Jump +4 or -4 in armor with shield or -2 in armor without shield [0r+4]
Knowledge: Local Area (Roglaras) +4 [2r+2]
Knowledge: History (Recent) +4 [2r+2]
Knowledge: Religion +6 [4r+2]
Listen +4 [0r+4]
Move Silently +0 or -8 in armor with shield or -6 in armor without shield [0r+0]
Read/Write: Dwarven [1r], Common [1r]
Search +2 (+4 searching stone walls, floors, etc.) [0r+2]
Sense Motive +4 [0r+4]
Spellcraft +4 [2r+2]
Spot +4 [0r+4]
Swim +4 or -2 in armor without shield [0r+4]
(Stonecunning: +2 with all things stone; +2 Appraisal and Craft with stone and metal)

Feats: Martial Weapon: Dwarven Waraxe (Bonus from War Domain), Weapon Focus: Dwarven Waraxe (Bonus from War Domain), Combat Casting (1st), un-chosen (3rd)

Languages: Common, Dwarven, Terran, Goblin, Orc. Reads and writes Dwarven and Common.
Spells Memorized
Clerical Domains: Strength, War
May spontaneously cast cure spells from standard spells
0th: Detect Magic, Detect Poison, Guidance, Light
1st: Bless, Doom (DC 15), Shield of Faith; Domain: Magic Weapon
2nd: Bull’s Strength, Consecrate; Domain: Spiritual Weapon

Darkvision 60’
Turn Undead 4/day
Strength Domain Ability: Feat of Strength, 1/day, +2 to Strength for one round.
War Domain Ability: Bonus feats, listed above (the PGW book lists “battleaxe” as Kazadarum’s favored weapon, but it should, of course, be “dwarven waraxe,” which for dwarves counts as a martial weapon.

Combat
Speed: 20 ft.
Initiative: +0
Base Attack Bonus: +2
+1 to hit goblinoids and orcs
+4 against bull-rush and trip attacks

Masterwork dwarven waraxe
+8 to hit (+2 BAB, +4 Strength, +1 MW, +1 Weapon Focus)
Damage 1d10+4 slashing, Critical x3

Heavy mace
+6 to hit (+2 BAB, +4 Strength)
Damage 1d8+4 bludgeoning, Critical x2

Light crossbow
+2 to hit (+2 BAB)
Damage 1d8 piercing, Critical 19-20/x2
Range 80 ft. x10

Dagger
+6 to hit melee (+2 BAB, +4 Strength)/+2 to hit thrown (+2 BAB)
Damage 1d4+4 piercing or slashing/piercing, Critical 19-20/x2
Range 10 ft. x5

Equipment: Masterwork half-plate (dwarf-forged in Thunderhold), heavy shield, masterwork dwarven waraxe (dwarf-forged in Thunderhold), heavy mace, light crossbow, (19) _____ bolts, dagger, holy symbol, signet ring, dragon-head beard beads (50 gpv), explorer’s outfit, two belt pouches (flint and steel, wooden pipe, and tobacco pouch in one; coins in the other). Chest in his digs contains spare explorer’s outfit, extra dagger, coins in a small sack, backpack, two vials of holy water, and his holy book, the Canon of Kazadarum.

Coins in Chest Coins in Belt Pouch
PP 0... ... ... PP 13
GP 94 ... ... GP 147
SP 0... ... ... SP 1
CP 0... ... ... CP 0

Party Treasures I Hold: Bone statuette/pendant (55 gpv), Black velvet patch with rich sapphire (1,400 gpv), 6 arrows found at the battle site before the walls of the CSIO.

History
Born Garak XIII Garakson (the Garak of the ancient, wealthy, though much-reduced Clan Garakaran), our intrepid hero grew up in Thunderhold a dissolute wastrel, spending his family’s dwindling fortune in the dives frequented by merchants, humans, and other ilk. It was, truly, his only real opportunity, as his clan, through an ancient award of munificence due to bravery and heroism on the part of the first Garak, had no need to work, and for several generations had been, in the words of their more productive and laborious neighbors, been “mostly honorable but rather less than hard-working gentledwarves.”

Howsoever much he desired to spend his time losing good gold on the gambling tables, slipping silver coins to the human dancing wenches, and having his so-called “adventures” with his equally rake-hell friends, his idyllic bliss was not to last, as his father, the controller of the family largesse, was desirous of his producing an heir. Thus, he unhappily spent many months meeting various dwarf maidens through the matronly matchmakers, despairing always that they were all nothing more than dour, boring old dwarf maidens that were after nothing more than his money.
And then a matchmaker introduced him to Buri. Buri Snurisdatter was her name, not that her mother was pleased with that fact, for she was an uncontrollable wench given to drinking, partying, and mayhem-making.

It was love at first sight, for both of them. A match made in heaven, so to speak (or perhaps somewhere slightly warmer, as one observer opined). A whirlwind romance and engagement, and the couple were more than ready to light their troth — for the “maiden bride,” were it not for creative dressmaking, would have been showing quite a bulging belly at her wedding (Garak’s mother’s shame at the wedding being more than balanced out by his father’s joy at the forthcoming heir). The nuptials were held at a highland valley in the hills north of Thunderhold. The merrymaking was great, as Garak and Buri had made sure to have only the finest and most potent Dwarven cordials and ales for the feast. In fact, the feast was so fine, and the whole of the wedding party — all of Garak and Buri’s family and friends, even the wastrels — was so deeply into its cups, that when the far-ranging war-party of goblins and orcs fell upon them, nobody could resist.

Garak, the deepest into his cups of the lot, had already passed out, and was thus passed over in the melee — he awoke to find his beloved bride and family and friends slaughtered around him.

He went mad.

Weeks later, he returned to his own state of mind confined in a monkish cell, in the nearly abandoned Temple of Kazadarum (the Thunderhold Dwarves having all but abandoned their creator god in favor of younger, less demanding and more mercantile-oriented deities). He had been taken there by the patrol that discovered him, for the Garakaran Clan was one of the few patrons of the temple. There, amidst the seven remaining clerics, his gentle, if debauched soul sought solace — instead, he found revenge.

The clerics of the temple were, each and every one, zealots. Zealous in their love of their god, zealous in their love of dwarvenkind, zealous in their hatred of goblinoids and orcs, zealous in their mistrust of elves — zealous in every way, as defined by the Edits and Laws of the Canon of Kazadarum. Garak, they claimed, had been through the Crucible of Kazadarum — he had everything, and yet without his faith in Kazadarum he had nothing. So Kazadarum took everything he didn’t need away, and placed him in their hands, to turn him into a True Son of the Dwarf Lord.

After more 20 years of penance and study and training, Garak the Last, as he had come to be known, became Kazagarak, “Blessed Garak.”

Unlike those bitter old zealots, however, Garak retained the innate goodness that remained after his rake-hell tendencies were burned away (though converted to Neutral ethically, he remained Good morally). It is his belief that Kazadarum has a special purpose for him — to go out into the world and make of himself an example to all dwarves, everywhere, who have fallen from the reverence of their creator god and his ways. He knows, from his own example, that Kazadarum can be a harsh god when the need arises, though he truly loves his people, and thus, if an example can be shown to the lost brethren, an example need not be made.

Thus, after equipping himself with the best armor and weapons Dwarven smiths had to offer and leaving the last of the family wealth in the coffers of the temple, he made his way south, to the land where the largest contingent of his “fallen” brethren could be found — the City State of the Invincible Overlord (where 16% of the population is City Dwarves). There he sought out distant cousins of his beloved Buri — Bobar, Berkal, Bomash, and Bungri, who serve Thinway Abun, the gatekeeper of the North Gate (#36). Through them, he met Llangwellan the Blue Wizard, and took service with as a chaplain and weaponsmith. Kazagarak believes that through his service to Llangwellan, he will be given an opportunity to rise as an example of valor and piety to all the dwarves — and through working with non-dwarves, he can show them what being a True Son of Kazadarum is all about.

2nd Level Experiences: After the shocking revelation at the Well of Secrets and the events that followed, Kazagarak threw himself into learning more about the City State and the local region, and decided to learn how to read and write Common. He also spent many nights laboring away at the forge, to release frustration.

Short Term Goals
1) Meet more local City Dwarves, and find out more about their society
2) Gain the trust of Llangwellan through valiant service
3) Make allies and friends of all kinds, the better to show all what dwarves are really like

Long Term Goals
1) Become a leader of the dwarves in the City State, and convert most if not all of them to worship of Kazadarum through example
2) Build a large temple to Kazadarum in the City State, worthy of the fact that one in eight inhabitants of the city are dwarves
3) Restore High Dwarven culture throughout the Dwarven towns and settlements of the Roglaras, in the process extirpating goblinoids and orcs

Appearance: 4’7” and 200 lbs (Mountain Dwarves are tall and stout, plus, he’s incredibly muscular and hale); wild red hair like Heat-Miser, broad and long flowing red beard and mustaches ornamented with gold beads in the shape of dragon heads. He wears a gold signet ring, the ring of the Garak of Garak. Clothing is plain but sturdy and functional (white shirt, black vest, brown breeches and boots, with purple hat, gloves, and cloak) when armor is not worm. His masterwork half-plate armor is the black steel of Thunderhold, as is his masterwork dwarven waraxe (capped with a screaming dragon’s head) named “Buri’s Vengeance.” His tabard, shield, and helm all bear the holy symbol of Kazadarum, a golden dwarven waraxe on a purple field. Other than his beard beads and signet ring, as a sign of reverence he wears only one other piece of jewelry: a gold holy symbol of Kazadarum set with purple amethyst flakes (a holy symbol bought for the temple by his ancestor, Garak the Great, and given to him in trust on his holy mission).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Recovering

My sweetie and I were on the road this last weekend, visiting family in Chicago, attending an Eddie Izzard show, and walking about the Brookfield Zoo. Poor Jodi caught a bug and was sick all day yesterday, so I played nursemaid and got very little sleep. I'm back up and around today, and will be playing in Matt's Pathfinder RPG game tonight.

On a side note, Original D&D Discussion is a forum I've lurked at from time to time, and finally took the plunge and joined last night (well, early this morning). In the Gamma World section you will find my fevered scribblings on the Horseclans and combining the GURPS Psionics system from GURPS Horseclans with OD&D and the OD&D spell system with GURPS Psionics. I love the Horseclans series. This is what you get from me with three hours sleep in 48 hours... Yeah, needs some work. please feel free to point out mistakes, errors, and incomplete bits. I'm not even sure I wrote in English at times...

Ideally tonight after the game I'll get a chance to write up last week's Village of Hommlet adventure, in which the party discovers Tarnish the Geoffite shackled to a torture rack in the Moathouse dungeons, and find out the hard way they should not have trusted their new ally, Zert.

And then tomorrow on with other more important scribblings...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Taking the bad with the good

So the first negative review of Adventure Games Journal has been released. Up on Gaming Report, of all places. At least they can never accuse Gaming Report of playing any favorites!

Wayne Tonjes gave AGJ #1 four out of 10 stars.

I find it interesting that he took the time to count out the number of typos in my magazine, yet obviously did not proof his own review! Okay, petty shot, but hey, quis reviewiet ipsos reviewes, right?

As to the substance of the review, I shall pick out only a few of the pertinent points:

This was a rather difficult article to read, due to a being incomplete and badly arranged so that it lacked an eye leading flow.

More worries of style over substance. Nice typo, by the way. Actually, I think that counts as three?

Regarding the map of the Maze of the Mad Mage:

A simple use of different fonts for the labeling system would have fixed the problem to avoid the numbers 1 to 11 appearing three times in different rolls.

At first I thought that he was speaking of three different tables in which you had to roll dice, but then I realized he meant roles. Though as the point is a valid one, I'll cut him some slack on the typo.

Regarding Esgalbar:

The fact that there is not a direct reference to the corresponding map on the back cover and the first two maps conflict only undermines the work.

Actually, there is: it states in the upper right that this is Hex 5: 3119, which to those versed in the Wilderlands means Hex 3119 of Campaign Map 5; in all honesty, I suppose I could have (and should have) made it clearer for new readers. [Actually, while proofing this post, I just noticed that he apparently means "no reference in the article to the map on the back cover," though the sentence is not quite clear (is lack of clarity a typo? or just poor writing?). As to this point, see my point below about the cave and tree maps.]

As to "the first two maps conflict," somehow he missed the first map marked "The Cozy Cave" and the second map, a side perspective of Esgalbar. Perhaps if he had actually read the article for content rather than for typos, he would have noticed that there is a difference between the cave and the big honking tree.

As for those who actually do read the article and still can't tell the difference between a map of a cave and a tree from the context and from "The Cozy Cave" being written on one of the cave-like maps and the other map looking like, well, like a big-ass tree... please, don't buy my products. I don't want the dumb to rub off on me. I'm not out to appeal to the too-large-contingent of people out there who can't find their country on a globe.

He then goes on to whine about the art (aligned straight to the text, horror of horrors, as opposed to, I suppose, all kinky and jagged, as is de rigeur these days) and all "dull line art in the same style." That last I feel is indicative of his absolute lack of taste in art, as all the art is by Peter Bradley; I suppose he would have complained about the art in the Mentzer D&D sets, all being line art by those "hacks," Elmore, Holloway, and Easley, and all, horror of horrors, aligned to the text! What were they thinking at TSR? My belief about his lack of artistic taste is only confirmed by his claim that the Southern Reaches map is "simply a reprint" from the Necromancer Games boxed set, which shows that he not only lacks taste, but is also blind... and has no clue about the Wilderlands whatsoever.

See for yourself in a snippet:

Necromancer Games Map 18

Adventure Games Publishing Map 18

I suppose you might come to that conclusion if you hadn't, you know, actually looked at the maps involved...

I actually got a chuckle out of this: "Even the cover is black and white ink and the binding is simply stapled to the pages." Because short of perfect binding I'm left with what, harsh language and chewing gum to keep the pages together? Dear gods no, a STAPLE! Run!

His conclusion includes, "Given that for the same price an edition with perfect binding, twice the pages, and color pages and covers can be had, there is not a lot going for this volume" showing that Mr. Tonjes knows what he wants: cookie-cutter products light on content and long on, I dunno, lack of typos and color pages with art running jaggedy through the text? Though where he's going to find a book with 96 full-color interior pages and perfect-binding for only $12 MRSP I've no idea. Pathfinder products of that description run $19.99 MSRP (and, I should note, are excellent, and worth every penny). Should I count his misreading of their price as a typo, too?

Finally, he concludes with, "If you have some for this specific setting and its particular game system, take a look." If I have some... what? Hankering for typos? I suppose that's actually not what he was trying to say, as I apparently serve up merely 31 typos in 48 pages, whereas he's had what, a half-dozen in five short paragraphs? And I'm not even bothering to look, these are just the ones I've stumbled upon.

Altogether, I've wasted too much time on a poor review by a lackluster reviewer who obviously wouldn't have gotten the point if it was handed to him on a silver platter. So this is all I'm going to say about this little review.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Continent of Rhadamanthia Preview

Here's a little preview of the map of Rhadamanthia, the continent upon which the Wilderlands can be found:

Continent of Rhadamanthia

Rhadamanthia is divided into 15 districts, five east to west by three north to south. The map is 3,465 miles east-west by 3,168 miles north-south. The Wilderlands is the central district, centered on the Pazidan Peninsula. The general information on each district is found in the first issue of Adventure Games Journal. The Rhadamanthia map will be available soon, likely in an 11" x 17" format; originally I wanted to go with 13" x 19", but then that would require two folds to ship, making the folded map very small; 11" x 17" requires only one fold. The cost of doing it at 17" x 22" or 22" x 34" is, unfortunately, prohibitive.

The continent is based on a series of 25 maps Bob Bledsaw sent me; he hand-drew each district in separate north and south sections and put in the major details, while I filled in some holes and expanded upon some areas. Note that the Wilderlands district already was described, while the northern section of District 14: The Demon Seas and District 15: The Infinite Islands, were all merely small islands with no maps. Peter Bradley took the map I stitched together and drew this thing of beauty. The published map includes text; this preview is without the text layer.

"Rough Edges" or "Alas, John Carter, we hardly knew ye"

James Maliszewski said it first and probably better than I would have said it, so go check out his post on 4E on Grognardia. He pretty well hits every basic thing I would say is wrong about 4E for me. I'm not saying 4E is a bad game, necessarily, I am sure it will be a very fine game for a lot of folks raised on a very different set of expectations from games and fantasy. It is just not a game designed to appeal to me, and to others who appreciate an older, less regimented kind of game.

I was speaking with Jim Ward the other day about how expectations have changed in what players want out of their gaming experience, most specifically to the fantasy tropes and themes that the younger set have grown up with and find most appealing. With 4E, the designers have completely "gone around the bend" into an area of fantasy and design that is essentially foreign to the experience of older gamers and fantasy fans. It is a generational thing.

I grew up reading the works of Howard and Tolkien and Lewis and Burroughs and Lieber and Vance, yes, even Baum. I grew up on the cusp of the old school fantasy literature and modern fantasy literature. Were you to mention Conan, Aragorn, Aslan, John Carter, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Cugel, and The Nome King to a gamer under, say, 30 or even 35, odds are they would recognize Aragorn from the LotR movies and Aslan from the Narnia movies, and maybe, just maybe know of Conan from the movies (or the excrable Conan: The Adventurer TV series), but the other names would draw complete blanks. It was as I was in high school that the modern fantasy novels really came to the fore, spurred on by both games and gamefic such as the Dragonlance series and the Forgotten Realms novels and by the success of the Star Trek novel series, which put book publishers onto the whole "mass publishing for the fans" mode of production.

Odds are most young gamers, if they have read any fantasy fiction at all, were first introduced to it by Drizzt or Tasslehoff or any one of dozens of gamefic characters, or non-gamefic novels by authors whose concepts of fantasy and heroism were heavily influenced by games and gamefic. The influence of the TSR Book Division now floods fantasy literature, such that it is nearly impossible to escape. There are few modern writers of the old style, the best being the late David Gemmell, who I felt was the nearest thing to a Howard the modern generation will ever have seen. But the modern gamer has been influenced by a type of fiction designed not to emulate the classic fiction, but to emulate the game. Similarly, they are influenced by a computer game fantasy convention that was born, not suprisingly, from tabletop RPGs.

And so from that point, like Ouroboros, the self-contained self-created fantasy circle was complete, and began to feed on itself. 2E AD&D developed in that primordial stew, and the adventure modules thereof were the first to show the influence; most 2E modules stank of literary device rather than adventure, with railroad plots and more flavor text than actual character development. 3E D&D showed the greatest influence in its very core design; unlike previous editions, it already assumed that the characters were heroes, rather than heroes-in-training, and so set them high apart. 4E D&D takes this even further, creating a world where, were it not for the efforts of the adventurers themselves, civilization would fall apart, the so-called "Points of Light" setting.

I had mistaken this at first, prior to seeing any design elements of 4E, for something similar to the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The 4E PoL setting combined with the design of the game is such that the world revolves around the heroic PCs, and the "story" will have a happy ending, with every player guaranteed a 30th level character with plentiful phat lewts provided he does not purposefully off himself; in the Wilderlands, the opposite is true, in that the world goes on, with or without the PCs, who may or may not be heroes, and can die by making simple mistakes.

Which is better? Strictly speaking, on a cosmic level, neither. Which do *I* think is better, which do *I* prefer? That answer should be obvious.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

4E Phat Lewt breaks this gamer's back

This is so very, very wrong.

This one article about the 4E economy distills everything that I've felt was wrong about 4E into one simple chunk to consume. I thought the 3E economic, XP, and magic item "predestination" system was wrong. But this? This system turns every character into the RPG equivalent of the Soviet Five Year Plan.

And what does he mean by being a "conscientious" DM? Is he saying that because in earlier editions we DMs didn't make sure that every character had his level-appropriate "phat lewts" that we were bad DMs?

I'm fairly sure it is a good game. But if so, it is a good game for someone else. Not for me.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

No school like the Old School


I hate it when I find a cool new site (like RPG Motivational Posters) and end up blowing WAY too much time checking out every freaking entry. Like most of the night and some of the morning. Sigh.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

HR AD&D 1E: Spell Points

I uses this system not just for 1E, but for all iterations of D&D. I prefer to use this system with Castles & Crusades as well. I'd use it for 3E, but people like the Sorcerer/Wizard dichotomy for some reason.

The basics of it are simple. Whatever your spell-casting character has listed as spells per day per level refers to two separate and distinct numbers: the number of spells of that level you can memorize, and the number of spells of that level you can cast per day ("spell points" broken down by spell level). To both of these numbers are added your bonus spells. In AD&D, magic-users gain bonus spells from Intelligence just as clerics gain bonus spells from Wisdom. C&C already has bonus spells, and I use the same methodology of bonus spells for B/X as is used in C&C (and yes, this means a cleric with high Wisdom can get a spell at 1st level in B/X).

A spell once memorized takes up a memorization slot of its level, and remains memorized until it is specifically forgotten (not cast... forgotten). Memorization of a spell otherwise takes up the same amount of time as normal for the system being used. I view spell memorization as similar to "brushing up on equations" for a test.

A spell requires expenditure of a spell point of its level when cast, though you can also use a spell point of a higher level if you wish (you gain no bonus for doing so, though). If casting is spoiled, such as by an attack, the spell point is lost, but the spell itself remains in memory. Spell points are regained in the normal manner as per the system as well (in 1E, 15 minutes of study/meditation/prayer/etc. per spell level), while Black Lotus can regenerate spell points in between rest, or even "overcharge" spell points... at a cost.

For example, a 1E 3rd level magic-user with a 16 Intelligence would be able to memorize four 1st level spells and three 2nd level spells (2 + 2 and 1 + 2), and cast four 1st level spells per day (four 1st level spell points) and three 2nd level spells per day (three 2nd level spell points)... but if he wants to blow all seven spell points on casting magic missile, he can do so.

The spells chosen for memorization are as important as before, but this system allows for a broader choice at a lower level, giving spell-casters wider opportunities to be useful magically in each session. I've found that the increase in power has not unbalanced circumstances, as NPC spellcasters operate under the same rules, too.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

HR AD&D 1E: Learning a New Spell and Spell Books

There are two magic-users in the current Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1E campaign, and both have been very pro-active in seeking out ways to increase their magical knowledge and power. And so I've had to brew up some rules for learning new spells, as the rules in the books are a bit on the light side, and where they do exist are sometimes contradictory or just plain wonky.

Here are the rules (in progress) for learning a new (yet existing) spell, and the rules for spell books; I'm not yet to even an "alpha" version of rules for researching an entirely new spell.

Learning a New Spell
Note
: All methods require that the learner cast read magic upon the spell to be learned in the scroll or spell book before scribing can begin.

Note: The chance to learn spell is only rolled after all expenses have been paid and time has been taken to scribe the scroll.

Note: When a magic-user fails to learn a spell, he can attempt to learn that spell again once he has gained a new level. Each time he re-tries, he must subtract 1% per spell level from his chance to learn, cumulative. "Minimum" spells per level is ignored, as there are an unlimited number of potential spells to be learned of each level.

Note: Only the write spell allows a magic-user to successfully scribe a spell he does not know into his spell book, whether it is of a higher level than he can cast or a spell he has not learned.

MENTOR METHOD
The most common way to learn a new spell is to have a mentor teach it to you from their spell book. This requires having a fellow magic-user being willing to take the time to teach you the spell.

Time: 1 week per spell level
Scribing Cost: 100 gp in spell book ink per spell level
Pages Used: Same as in the mentor’s spell book, though if you roll 10% or less of your chance to learn, you tighten up the script by 1 page
Chance to Learn Spell: Base plus 5% for each level of mentor above your own up to 95%, then 1% per level thereafter, max 99%. When using this method, if you fail to learn the spell at the end of the mentoring period, you have wasted the ink, but you may erase the spell from your spell book and use the pages over again.
Method: During the mentoring period the mentor goes over his notes in his spell book with you and discusses with you the intricacies of the magic involved. When using this method the spell in the mentor’s spell book is not erased.
Note: Two magic-users may “co-mentor” each other on spells at the same time; or one magic-user may mentor several other magic-users at once, up to the number of bonus languages he is entitled to due to Intelligence.

FOUND/STOLEN SPELL BOOK
A similar method is to use another magic-user’s spell book without the benefit of mentoring from the original writer of the spell. This can be done in one of two ways: quick and dirty or slow and steady.

Quick & Dirty
Time
: 1 day per spell level
Scribing Cost: 50 gp in spell book ink per spell level
Pages Used: Same as in original spell book
Chance to Learn Spell: Base plus any bonus from special tomes. If you fail to learn the spell the writing in your spell book is garbled, the spell is never useable, indelibly inscribed, and you cannot erase it; those pages are lost to use. In fact, there is a % chance equal to the amount by which you missed the learn spell roll that the pages are now a random magical curse, such that if you should read them (after scribing the spell and trying to read it again to see if you have learned it), you may be affected by the curse!
Method: Without concern for the fate of the magical writings in the spell book to be copied, the magic-user literally traces the text in the original with his quill, then dips it into the ink jar and scribes the spell in his spell book. Using this method the spell is always erased from the original spell book, literally being transferred to the new spell book as the magic-user scratches away with his quill.

Slow & Steady
Time
: 1 week per spell level
Scribing Cost: 100 gp in spell book ink per spell level
Pages Used: If the chance to learn roll is 1/2 or less total, same as per original spell book. If above 1/2, add 1d3 pages, up to maximum for spell level +1 page.
Chance to Learn Spell: Base plus any bonus from special tomes. If you fail to learn the spell there is a % chance equal to the amount by which you missed the learn spell roll that the writing in your spell book is garbled and indelibly inscribed and you cannot erase it; those pages are lost to use. Otherwise, you can erase the writing and reuse the pages.
Method: During the scribing period the magic-user is careful to research every nuance of every word, sigil, and symbol of the spell in the original spell book, and carefully scribes it without transferring it. Only if the magic-user fails to learn the spell is there a chance that the spell is erased from the original spell book; this chance is equal to the amount by which the magic-user missed the learn spell roll.

SCRIBING FROM A SCROLL
Time
: 1 hour per spell level
Scribing Cost: 100 gp in spell book ink per spell level plus the spell from the scroll
Pages Used: Random, per table below
Chance to Learn Spell: Base. If you fail to learn the spell there is a % chance equal to the amount by which you missed the learn spell roll that the writing in your spell book is garbled and indelibly inscribed and you cannot erase it; those pages are lost to use. Otherwise, you can erase the writing and reuse the pages.
Method: The magic-user reads the spell from the scroll to activate the magic, but does not cast it; instead he enters a trance during which he scribes the scroll into his spell book. If he is interrupted at any point during the scribing of this scroll, for even the briefest of moments, the spell is lost, and he cannot roll to learn the spell (but neither does he fail to learn the spell; it was lost before he had a chance to learn it). The spell the magic-user read is automatically erased from the scroll.

WRITE SPELL
Time: 1 hour per spell level (spell level limited by level of magic-user)
Scribing Cost: 200 gp in special inks per spell level; the ink is distinct from that used in normal spell book and scroll scribing
Pages Used: Random (never less than in the original spell book if used)
Chance to Learn Spell: None; the write spell is used only to scribe spells that the magic-user cannot know, either because they are of a higher spell level than he has mastered, he has failed to learn the spell before, or he has already filled the number of spells he may know for the spell level of the spell. It cannot be used to scribe spells the magic-user knows onto scrolls, to scribe spells the caster knows into a travelling spell book.
Note: If the caster fails his saving throw, there is a 5% chance per point he missed the save that the spell is erased from the original spell book; scroll spells are always erased, whether the spell is successful or not.

Standard Spell Book
The base cost of a standard spell book, before any spells are added, is 1,000 gp (2 gp per page, 200 gp for special binding). This cost, as well as the cost of scribing in the magic-user’s first four spells and bonus spells, is assumed at 1st level by the magic-user’s master as part of the apprenticeship. A standard spell book is 16” tall by 12” wide by 2” thick, a little taller and wider than, but about as thick as, the 3E Ptolus book. It weighs 150 coins encumbrance, and has 400 pages of thick, quilted paper of finest make.

Travelling Spell Book
The base cost of a travelling spell book, before any spells are added, is 500 gp (2 gp per page, 200 gp for special binding). This cost is not assumed by the magic-user’s master, and most magic-users will not start play with a travelling spell book. A travelling spell book is 12” tall by 9” wide by 3/4” thick; about the size of the 1E Dungeon Masters Guide. It weighs 60 coins encumbrance, and has 150 pages of thick, quilted paper of finest make. Spells scribed in a travelling spell book take up the same number of pages as in a standard spell book. Scribing a spell from your own standard spell book into your own travelling spell book requires one day per level of the spell, 100 gp in spell book ink per level of the spell, has no chance of failure, and does not erase the spell from your standard spell book.

A spell takes up 1d4+2 pages per spell level.

Note: If even a single page is ripped from a spell book and missing, that spell cannot be memorized! If the page is ripped out but present, memorization can occur. A page can be re-inserted permanently through use of the mending spell.

Note: If a page of a spell has been erased using the erase spell, the spell is lost, unless the magic-user retains it in memory. In this case the magic-user can re-write the spell as per scribing from a scroll. If the spell is not in memory, the magic-user must re-acquire it from another source, though there is no need to make a learning roll to do so.