Saturday, December 15, 2012

Hex Grids

Hey readers, I'll be visiting family over the holidays but finally was able to find myself a useful hex grid creation tool. 

Previously my attempts at getting a blank hex grid ended in failure but the DrawHexGrid tool seems to work pretty well.

If you're skeptical about it, see the picture below.  You should be able click the picture (it will enlarge, depending on the browser you use) and then right-click and save it.  Once saved it should be in the resolution I created it at.  25 x 19 sized, giving a decent sized map for creating a region.

When printed in landscape mode from the 'paint' tool in windows, you get a decent sized map with a margin on the right for keying locations in or whatever other notes you want to make.

Cheers, happy holidays and happy new years!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another essay about alignment

Few topics plague a Referee/DM/GM during play like alignment can.  All it takes is one pesky player with a slippery justification for his morally ambiguous act for the entire table to erupt in argument.  It may not happen often, but I've seen it enough to warrant a quickly written essay.

Having started playing RPGs with 2E D&D (as described in a previous post), most of my gaming experience has involved the nine alignments conjured from the ingredients of Good, Evil, Law (order), Chaos, and Neutrality.  For me it's always been the way things were.  3.x and PF use this alignment system as well and I'd say its the alignment system most people use these days.  The thing I liked about it was that it seemed to cover all the bases.  Evil could be lawful, seeking it's own twisted order.  It could be chaotic like a mass murdered, and so on. Now granted, neutral always seems to be the thorn in a DM's side.  "Oh no, that's not evil, I'm just doing what my character would do because I'm chaotic neutral."

Now compare that to 0e or most OSR recreations.  Law (order) vs Chaos.  Now for me, it's easy to see how that alignment system turned into the modern one.  It certainly seems confining.  Perhaps because of the original implied setting, the world is seemingly split into forces for Law and forces for Chaos.  Further, these are essentially guidelines for Good and Evil.  Most products allude to the good guys being Lawful while the force of Chaos seek to do evil things to us.  This is a hard pill to swallow for me, coming from a more modern background.  What if the syndic of the city is bringing Order to the land by being oppressive?  That sounds like Lawful Evil but it seems hard to define to me in the scope of the old alignment system.

What's seems better in my eyes?  Well, with the way players act in the game world, I think a different approach would work better.  The single-axis of the old style seems odd but the method is sound.  What feels better, is to largely ignore alignment completely when playing.  The only real alignments that exist are 'Vaguely Good' and 'Vaguely Evil'.  There are some things, like angels and demons/devils that just seem too polarized to be too ambiguous (not counting overly zealous angels who harm blasphemers or something, etc.) so some declarations are needed for the extremes.  Otherwise, all actions or persons/things in the world are somewhere in between, to the point of not bothering to categorize it.

I think this is how I will be running my own games from here on out.  I never quite understood how an axiomatic weapon worked any way. =P

Friday, August 24, 2012

Review: Hideouts & Hoodlums

Hideouts & Hoodlums is a variant of Swords & Wizardry written by Scott Casper of Great Scott! Games.  You can purchase the PDFs of the rules, supplements, and newsletter at DriveThruRPG here.

In the introduction to S&W, author Matt Finch states 'Take this framework, and then imagine the hell out of it!', which I think Scott Casper really took to heart when he wrote H&H.  In the introduction to H&H Scott describes his love for comic books and 0E D&D as a youth.  He had wished there was a way to combine the two passions, and now it seems he created his own solution.

H&H is an old school rules game of Golden Age Superheroes.  It features the charm and attitude of those comics while keeping the basic rule structure (or lack thereof) of S&W.  Since this game runs off S&W mechanics, Scott makes sure to notate in the text what is directly lifted from the S&W Whitebox rules and it helps show that all in all those 0E rules are very adaptive.

Before the modern age of superhero comics, the stories of the time were a bit more simple and 'pulp-y'.  Scott does a good job of infusing that into the game, referencing characters like Doc Savage and Dick Tracy as examples of the main character classes.  This time around you have the Fighter, Magic-User, and the Superhero.  For the most part the Fighter and Magic-User do not differ from the original game, but the Superhero could be seen as a re-themed Cleric.  Instead of turning undead, they 'wreck' things, which is an easy way to represent your superheroes abilities.  No trying to figure out if your character's unique powers don't fit the ruleset, the 'wreck' mechanic is all inclusive.  Scott also accounts for 'alter-egos' in the form of Superheroes being Fighters when 'out of costume'.

Overall the game is a great twist to the rules you might be used to seeing.  Though it's a lot of re-skinned 0E stuff, it just WORKS.  Scott also seems to be writing material for the game in much the same way 0E was originally released.  In the PDF bundle from DriveThruRPG, you get Book I: Men and Supermen, Book II: Mobsters and Trophies, and Book III: Underworld and Metropolis Adventures.  A big nod to the Little Brown Books, the content is relatively easy to digest.  Of course, after reading through I was trying to figure out what class Batman would be...

And then I read the supplements!  Here again, Scott mirrors 0E, and the first supplement 'Supplement I: National' reads almost just like the original Greyhawk supplement.  It adds the 'Mystery Man' class, which functions similar to the Thief but is the 'Bat-Man' or 'the Shadow' archetype.  The supplements function the same as the original supplements, adding more things to the existing classes, adding more monsters, treasure, and rule options.  Interestingly one includes the infamous body-hit-location rules from Blackmoor.  

Scott has also been releasing a newsletter of sorts called The Trophy Case.  The PDFs are available at DTRPG but are FREE.  They are a nice addition and include a lot of interesting tid-bits like comic history and plot hooks from reality and past comic adventures.


I'd say H&H is a fun variant that is worth looking into.  The PDFs are cheap, you can get every bit of material for under $20.  A complete game ready for your tabletop.  There is one caveat that I should point out.  The material is spread out much like the original books.  This can make organization a real hassle when you are looking at all the different tables and relevant information.

My recommendation to GreatScott! Games would be to go the way of S&W and compile the books and supplements into one larger PDF/book.  The organization of S&W is one of it's high points and H&H could benefit from the same sort of re-work.  Further, it'd be neat to see this compiled book placed on (or other vendor) for some Print-On-Demand goodness.  I'd happily add H&H to my growing OSR bookshelf.

In other words, head over to DriveThruRPG and check it out!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Review coming soon.

Just thought I'd leave a quick update.  I'm currently working on a review for the S&W variant Hideouts & Hoodlums by GreatScott! Games.  The variant is for playing an RPG set in the Golden Age of Superhero comics.  Very neat idea.  I'll get the full review up when I can.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Swords & Wizardry Monster List

With the imminent re-printing of Swords & Wizardry I find myself preparing for possible S&W campaigns yet to manifest.  Part of that was compiling a full list of every monster in the soon to be re-printed Monster Book as well as Frog God Games' Tome of Horrors Complete.  These two books serve as a HUGE resource for any type of monster you'd want in a S&W game.

I couldn't quite wait for the Kickstarter to end so I bought the less-art-filled PDF off of Matt Finch's Lulu storefront.  Serves as a good preview for what's coming soon.

I've pulled each monster entry into an excel formatted spreadsheet.  One page for the Monster Book, one page for ToH, and a final page with all the monsters included.  They are listed with their S&W Challenge Levels and which book the monster is from.  Is a great way to find a fun monster to use if you have a particular challenge level in mind.

Monsters with varying Hit Dice have separate entries for each level of difficulty.

All in all, over 1500 encounters between these two books.

Check it out!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

WotC announcement and what it means for the OSR

Yesterday, during my usual rounds of checking blogs and looking for GenCon news, I came across this post from Mythmere (Matt Finch).

It seems along with some D&DNext announcements WotC has stated that starting next year they will be releasing the back catalog of D&D products from 'all editions' in electronic format.


The first thing that that came to mind was "wow I can't believe they are actually doing something people want".  Now forums across the RPG community are discussing what this will mean, whether the electronic format will be PDF or some sort of other DRM format.  Even if it were the case, I think this is a great thing.  WotC will presumably be making available classic modules like the GDQ series and the original Ravenloft.  My heart flutters at the thought of Dragonlance materials being attainable.

Of course, a lot of this material is already available out there in the internet, but WotC is giving a legal path to getting these materials.  Having once removed their PDF materials years before, perhaps they have realized any lost revenue is already lost and it's time to get some sales.  I suppose this will be their revenue stream for the D&D brand while D&DNext is in development for 2 years.  I only hope the quality of whatever scans or re-doctoring they do is good.  I also hope they don't quit part way through this endeavor.  One has to ask, what qualifies as material that can be reprinted?  Are all the 2E splatbooks going to be released?  Does Basic/BECMI D&D count as an edition?  I guess we'll have to wait for more news.

All this said, this puts the OSR in a precarious position.  Those who have been using the original books for years will have access to electronic versions and other official material for their games.  This is mostly a good thing.  Though it will also mean a division and possible marginalization of those who have been independently writing their own old school materials that work with the game rules as represented by the retro-clones.  It will be a balancing act I think for those in the OSR.  For someone like me who hasn't experienced a lot of the old material first hand, I'll be heavily interested in checking out some of the iconic legacy items.

The final consideration is that for retro-clones.  In the past few years they have served as vehicles for developing material for the old editions of D&D and getting quality prints of said rulesets into gamers' hands.  My book shelf is already lined with some of them.  With this announcement one wonders what the future of these retro-clones will be.  With the 'official' versions available again in some format, some people may just use those.  However, until we understand what we can do with printing out our electronic copies or some Print-On-Demand solution, I think the print versions of the retro-clones may see a surge.   I know I'd rather have a book at the gaming table and the print retro-clones provide a cheap alternative.  If you were to buy the AD&D reprints, all 3, it would cost well over $100 US dollars.  By comparison, the OSRIC rulebook costs only $26 and contains most of the relevant rule information for that ruleset.

The way I plan on doing things is leveraging the compatibility of all the old rulesets.  AD&D and the original books (which are translated as Swords & Wizardry) are close enough in terms of rules that I can run nearly any Basic/BECMI or AD&D module with S&W.  I'll continue to support the S&W ruleset, while getting some of the materials from WotC.   

I was once loath to give WotC any more money after 4E came out, but it seems WotC is just wily enough to find a way.    

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Thoughts on Old School Rules vs New

To follow up on a point I made in my previous 'Introduction' post, there is a fundamental difference between the way old school and new school rule-sets approach a character frameset.

When I first started playing RPGs starting with 2E Dungeons & Dragons, I had no real concept for how the game should be played.  I understood fantasy tropes to a point so when it came time to create my very first character, I tried to come up with something 'cool'.  Prior to me ever playing or understanding D&D my uncle Bob would tell me about how he and my cousins would stay up late at night when they were younger and play a game with dice and graph paper.  He had a character named 'White Cloud', a reference to his imposing stature and tendency to wear white shirts I would later find out.  When I made my first character I named him Gray Cloud as a tribute of sorts.  I assumed my uncle's character was good, but since my character was going to be a chaotic neutral thief, 'Gray' seemed more apt.  Gray Cloud wore a black trench-coat lined with daggers on the inside.  He had a preference for throwing daggers, or so I envisioned.

Since this was 2nd edition, there was no 'character builds' to look up.  I simply had his attributes and some of the Thief ability percentiles (open lock, move quietly, etc.).  When I joined the party the rest of the group were of varying levels but I was the squishy level 1.  I could count my hit points on one hand.  My friend Bruce was the DM and happened to roll his dice in front of us for the most part.  In my character's very first battle, against an ogre, my strategy of going for the backstab was a faulty one.  The ogre didn't like my backstab, not one bit, and proceeded to attack me.  Natural 20, in front of everyone. Bruce was ruling a natural 20 was double damage, and with that, Gray Cloud poofed into a very big puddle of blood.  Max damage was rolled.  Oh dear.  Bruce felt bad but hey, it happens.  I rolled up a new thief, a chaotic good one (karma?), presented myself happily to the party, and was accepted.  This character even got Gray Cloud's old stuff.  I liked that trench-coat.

No what does that experience have to do with my original point?  Well consider that experience.  I created a character with a concept (trenchcoat wearing knife thrower), he indeed had a bit of personality, did not use a 'build' as modern gamers would be used to, and he was unceremoniously obliterated in his first combat.

Had this experience been done in a modern ruleset, such as 3.5 D&D or Pathfinder, I would have been worrying about what feats and skills might have fit the character concept or abandoned it entirely to use a good 'build'.  I think the 'build' mentality comes from the fact 3.x plays well with a video gamer attitude and those who play WoW or Diablo will know that good 'builds' are the key to victory.

Modern gaming also seems to support the idea (at least PF does) that the characters should succeed because they are the player characters, the heroes, for which the story and world revolve around.  Granted this is usually left up to the DM, but the feeling I get from most others in the hobby who play PF is that is the standard.  A character is something precious with a detailed back story and likes/dislikes planned out far in advance of the campaign starting.

Of course, when such a character dies, the player is quite upset.  All that work for naught.  What if the solution is to just create the character and let the character evolve during play?  These days, when I roll a a character regardless of ruleset, I give him one or two personality traits and go with it.  As the game progresses and it turns out my character has some survivability, maybe I can expand his personality.  At low levels where characters are fragile, I think it's best to leave them as mostly blank slates, as I like to think I did for Gray Cloud.

I greatly enjoy the concept in Old School Rules that the PC's are just people, somewhat extraordinary, but aren't really heroes just because 'they are PC's and that's what PC's are'.  They BECOME heroes over the course of the game.  I've always been irked by players who create characters who happen to be 'royal heirs' or 'have an important destiny they don't quite understand'.  Really?  I'm sorry that pitfall was your character's important destiny.  I guess it's a matter of preference, but my characters have always been nobodies who just MIGHT achieve greatness. Might.  Probably not.  But might.

I think this is where the idea that Old School is typically more gritty than New School.  The Old School of Thought can maybe be a 'realistic' world where people die and so often, considering the dangerous circumstances of adventuring.  New School of Thought is that the game is the player's fantasy of heroics, where everyone gets what they want or close to it, in terms of storytelling.  I think both schools have their place and use.  This is probably why I will continue to play both Swords & Wizardry and Pathfinder. 

Okay, that's enough rambling for now.  A lot of this is anecdotal and somewhat opinionated, I'd love to hear others' thoughts.  

An Introduction

Hello!  Somehow you have stumbled upon this blog and it is my duty to introduce myself as well as the purpose of this blog.

Though there are many tabletop RPG blogs out there, the most fascinating to me have always been the OSR blogs.  For those not in the know, OSR stands for Old School Renaissance or Old School Rules.  I could try to explain the OSR movement in depth but I think this post at Hack & Slash does a great job.  There is also a great definition of terms here.

Most of those who write those blogs are veterans of the hobby, having played over the course of many decades.  I, on the other hand, have only lived a little over two.  I'm one of the ever growing number of new-grognards.  Those who may not have been around for the Old School Rules but find that they work wonderfully to meet our gaming needs.

Many of my blog posts will be about the OSR and the products and projects associated with it.  I must admit though that I still have connections to modern rulesets and may include thoughts and opinions on various other things.  I have been a pretty loyal fan of Paizo Publishing the last few years and have been playing Pathfinder almost exclusively until the OSR movement came to my attention.

I think this sums things up, feel free to check out other posts on this blog.  For those a little more interested in me, read on as I describe my gaming history and why OSR is such an amazing thing.


My first interaction with D&D came when I somehow got one of my parents to purchase the 3rd Edition (3.0) starter set from the local book store in the mall when I was much younger.  I had no true knowledge of D&D at the time but the cover (adventurers busting through a door running from a red dragon) seemed pretty awesome and still has an impression on me.  I sort of understood the rules, but alas had no one to play with.  The set came with punch out tokens that I still have on my bookshelf today.

It wasn't until a few years later in high school that I approached a few people from school who I knew to have been playing the game.  By this time I had learned a lot about the hobby via the internet but had yet to play.  Those people became great friends and I still miss playing D&D with on Sundays.  Having moved to the West Coast from PA, I don't get to see them often.  The oddity was that though 3.0 (and soon to be 3.5) were the current editions of the biggest name in tabletop RPGs, my group played 2nd Edition.  This seemed to be because one particular friend had a big box of the books, gathered over years of play by his dad and uncle.  My starter box was left in my closest (though I still have the original dice) as I learned and played 2nd Edition for awhile.

I think this had an impact on my expectations from an RPG.  2E was an evolution of AD&D 1E, with only some slight differences.  The problem was that I did not have the books themselves, so it was hard to keep up with things or get a strong knowledge of different concepts with no book to refer back to.  With my paltry income as a youth I purchased the 3.5 core rulebooks, and from there spent years playing 3.5 in the rest of high school and college.  I even ran my own games for quite awhile.  Managed to get a number of my high school's football team into the hobby, much to my delight.  It helped that I played football and it was a small school.  The Lord of the Rings films were a nice incentive as well.

Eventually 4E was released and I, like many others, chose not to jump ship.  Though many people had spent many years with 1E and 2E before the change to 3.x, I had only spent a handful of years enjoying the system before it stopped being supported.  I didn't like the rule design of 4E either.  It was then that Paizo and Pathfinder hit my radar and for the past few years I've been supporting them and the system.  I've been to PaizoCon 3 years in a row and plan on continuing to do so.

The only thing was I always had an itch for something I couldn't quite describe until now.  Something I had missed since my first foray into gaming.  It was the free-form playing, the reliance on character action and not just character sheet.  It was the story being created by the players and characters.  Characters who are not invincible superheroes but slightly above average folks doing some amazing things.  I'll write more about this in my next post, but upon realizing OSR was the road to this feeling, I've acquired a print OSRIC book, the AD&D re-prints, Dark Dungeons, and soon Swords & Wizardry.

I plan on running S&W games soon, with Pathfinder and S&W being my main rulesets going forward.  Both games offer different experiences and I see value in both.

If you made it this far, I commend you.  Thanks for reading, I hope this post clears up who I am as a gamer.  If this blog interests you, be sure to check out the other OSR blogs and websites!