Sunday, 19 January 2014

My approach to sandbox and ruleset creation

There are two things that I want to write about today, namely my sandbox and the ruleset that I will use for running it. I don’t know if somebody besides myself will ever find this text useful, but I want to write it nevertheless, both as a kind of a statement, a promise to myself and a way to verbalize what is running around my head (and keeping me away from studying for my finals, exams etc.).

First and foremost, my sandbox. For the last few years I have had a couple of attempts to running a sandbox, each one was an utter failure. Yesterday I made another map and this time I was really happy about it… but only for an hour or so. Later, I started to give it more thought and things stopped looking so pretty. I’ve got the impression that the scaling is wrong, the hexes are too large, the distances are too big etc. So, a lot of my effort goes to waste simply because I’m not good at creating maps. Hell, I never was. I hated geography at school, and I guess that now it shows.

The map now lies before me and I’m really thinking about throwing it away, as I don’t think that I want to run a campaign in the world that I’ve drawn. I think that this can be a problem for anybody that is relatively new to  the hobby (I started playing RPGs at the 30th birthday of D&D) and hasn’t been raised on sandboxes, real freedom of choice etc. But as always, the Internet has an answer. I can generate each and every hex of my sandbox (at least in theory), even during play. Then the world will be as surprising for me as for the players, and I won’t have to dedicate horrendous amounts of time to create a map that I won’t even like. I’ve found some ideas about how to determine the contents of every hex. Of course, that means that I’ll have to generate a batch of places before each game. But in reality I would have to do it either way, so it’s not a big deal. And as each place will be reusable (places will stay there, dungeons can be restock, each hex can host more than one lair), after each session of play I will have more stuff to get back to. For me it’s a win-win situation. Of course it can lead to funny situations, like a bunch of villages clumped together, some shrines and temples dedicated to different gods standing almost on top of each other, but it’s still the beauty of chance rolls. I like the idea and I want to create my sandbox that way.

The second topic for today’s post is the ruleset I want to use. I love reading retro clones, I love the TSR D&D stuff, but there is a high probability that my players won’t like that. Almost everybody that I talked to is excited about playing in my sandbox (I will have it with me on various occasions and if another campaign isn’t available I’ll just run the baby of random), but they can and will get confused about some rules that are inherent for many old school games.

So I decided that actually I won’t be making a retro clone of my own devise to use in my games, neither will I use something available. I do want to create my own set of rules and I do want it to be like D&D (the SRD enables me to do so, luckily). What will I do? I will mix the old with the new, make an eclectic choice (at least from the modern gamers perspective) of rules and hopefully will be able to brew something simple, fast and easy to run.

For now, I have a few ideas running inside my head. So, the things that I want to have in the basic version of my game:
  • Prime attributes and the bonus exp.
  • Some form of bonuses and penalties for high and low scores, but I will cap it probably at +3.
  • Static AC, so each armor type has a set AC score, not a bonus to AC
  • BAB. As hideous as it may be, I want to have it, as it’s easier than checking the tables to hit. But I’ll probably have the Monster HD vs AC table, because I like it.
  • Three classes (Fighter, Magic-User and Cleric) and three races/classes (Dwarf, Elf, Halfling). I’m still uncertain about the Thief class. If I ever actually finish the booklet of my rules, it’s possible that I’ll add subclasses later on.
  • S&W WB (or OD&D, I’m not sure yet) format of spells and monsters. It’s easy, not too detailed and I simply like it.

Those are the things that I have come up with for now. This is all prone to change, and there is actually a possibility that I will post my materials here before I’ll compile a pdf.

Oh, and what with possible generators? As You can see, they are basically system-free, and I like creating them, so if You visit this blog for that type of content, rest assured that from time to time I’ll post something new (or other type of system-free content, like description of a god or a place). That is, if I have the time and stop procrastinating. And if You like my monster ideas, as my game will still use this format of the stat-block, the stuff that I’ll make will have that pleasant, OSR style feel to it.

Fight on!

Monday, 13 January 2014

Marsh Spider, Brood Mother

Marsh Spider, Brood Mother

Armor Class: 5 [14]
Hit Dice: 4 +2
Attack: bite (2d6 + poison), web (special)
Special: See Below
Move: 18
HDE/XP:  6/400

Brood Mothers are the Marsh Spiders’ equivalent of a hive queen. They are the largest females in the nest, and the only ones eligible of laying eggs (if a Brood Mother dies, the function goes to the next largest specimen in the nest), and due to their responsibilities are also the meanest spiders that an adventurer can meet. They share the special abilities of  normal Marsh Spiders, but can also use a web that functions like the Web spell. For unknown reasons, Brood Mothers prefer lizardman and dwarf meat.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Marsh Spider

Marsh Spider

Armor Class:     6 [13]
Hit Dice:           1-3 +2
Attack:              bite (1d6 + poison), web (special)
Special:             See Below
Move:               18
HDE/XP:          4/120 , 5/240, 6/400

Marsh Spiders are cousins to Great Spiders. They inhabit various marshes, bogs, swamps and some forests. The come in many sizes and colours. Marsh Spiders usually live in broods led by a Brood Mother, although solitary specimen and packs of these creatures are also possible to encounter. The toxin of Marsh Spiders (even the larger ones) is not as potent as that of a Giant Spider, so it requires a normal save vs. poison. 3/day Marsh Spiders can try to use a Sleep like effect with their bite and they have a 50% chance to succeed. They prefer to do so on large prey before hauling it back to their nest to devour it slowly. Marsh Spiders can also throw a gobbet of their web on their enemies, blinding them for 1 round. Lizardmen sometimes attempt to tame these beasts.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Lairs seem fun

When I was doing my first  research on Old School gaming, the term Lair appeared sporadically and I didn’t even bother to check it out. I mean, as a non-game term it denotes a place in which something lives and it’s usually nasty. Boring, isn’t it? My first association was a cave with one creature inside. And in my imagination it wasn’t even a dragon (during my entire dm/gm/referee career I’ve used a dragon only once, in my first game. It was a white wyrmling, and it was slaughtered immediately)! So I ditched that concept altogether and read more on Dungeons, Megadungeons, Modules, Wilderness etc. And basically everything else that a person can throw into a sandbox, excluding only Lairs.

A text that I’ve recently read proves that I was a fool by throwing Lairs away. Before further reading I recommend taking a look on the linked article (it’s the last in a series of three, but it has the most meat on it).
Ok, so once You’ve read that, I can continue with praising Lairs. Why do I find them appealing? Using the template from the article, they are fairly easy to create. You create a theme, some rooms (2 to 5) with creatures (monsters, constructs, bandits, whatever You like, actually) that fit that theme, a short backstory, a couple of rumors that the players will hear, and You’re done. Oh, wait. You can always make a map, and  doing so is quite advisable, unless You not only have eidetic memory, but are also able to draw a map in Your imagination. The last part is to put it in Your sandbox. This is so easy that You can make a whole batch of different Lairs at once, place them in different places in the world and wait until Your players stumble upon  them. And then look what those witty little creatures will do. In my case it depends on the ‘set of players’ that I’m working with. Some would explore each and every lair. Some would slay everything inside. Some would try to parlay with creatures that possess reason, tame the beasts, try to find a way to control the constructs and make the best looking lair their base of operations. Some would visit only the lairs that they had found amusing.

Another advantage is that Lairs are a very good rest from other sandbox stuff. From exploring a dungeon that will take several generations of PCs to even get the idea of its extent of (and from what we learn from Gygax, there should always be some unexplored levels), checking the modules and taking parts from the adventures therein. 
Lairs are concise, small, and plainly fun.

To sum up, I’m glad that I’ve stumbled upon the article and revised my opinion on Lairs. I think that my players will see some quite soon.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

OD&D Premium?

For quite a long time I was blissfully oblivious of the news regarding RPGs in general, and WotC stuff in particular. Some time ago I discovered that Wizards published not only AD&D 1st, but also 2nd and D&D 3rd in their premium editions. And today, when I’ve been skimming through various blogs and posts I’ve noticed two reviews  in which at first I could not believe (namely: here and here). I mean, they have also released 0e? How cool is that!

Of course the price is also premium (150$ retail and 109$ on amazon), but, hell, it’s still much less than trying to get the set from the original run. The problem would be that it’s temporarily out of stock on Amazon. Why would be and not is? Because I plan to ask my flgs to get me a copy when it’s possible.
And why would I like to have it? First, look at it. It’s beautiful, it’s aesthetic. Second, it would be a gem in my collection of sourcebooks (and I really am a dragon for that matter, in my 10 years of gaming I’ve accumulated more than 200 books for about 30 games and I still want more and more). Third, it’s like having a piece of history on Your shelf. Fourth, because I want to. I just do.

And in case You haven’t already seen the reviews that I linked, I’ll write down what can be found in that marvelous wooden box:
  •          3 LBB, 6th print, from what I’ve read. With a better organized, justified interior. Sweet!
  •       All 4 supplements. Even though the new numeration is from I to VII, not I to III and Supplement I to IV, if somebody wants this set, that person probably knows what is what
  •       A set of premium dice. New dice are new dice, who could complain for having more of those?
  •       The box itself. If You remove the elements that hold the booklets in place, You can easily fill in more stuff, like Your homerules, campaign and other little booklets.

So, wish me luck, I really want to get my hands on that!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Unexpected Inspirations

No, it's not that I'm not writing because I don't have anything to write about. Actually I do have a bunch of ideas floating inside my head at almost every waking hour, and for this blog at the moment I want to write some more lizardman stuff: some more creatures, my take on their religion and culture. And maybe a lizardman class for S&W. But for now, I have quite a tight schedule (thankfully not without hobby related activities), and the useful things have to be postponed.

The unexpected inspirations that I have in mind are board games. There is a game, Small World. It comes in two variants. In both of them one gets to choose some fantasy races during the game and then tries to conquer as much land as he can and gain the profit (namely, gold). And during yesterday's game, two things stuck in my mind. Firstly, we had an actual situation in which a creature resembling Balrog stood on an ancient fortress, being the only occupant. With a little background and spicing it all up it can be a fine location for a game. Secondly, now theoretically, we thought of a race of trolls that fortify their lairs, and the remains of this now dying breed live in the highest mountains. Now, we have a whole set of possible locations, and with a little bit of creative thinking we can even link the Balrog creature to the trolls.

Other thing, one of my players said "Oh, I'd like to finally play a sandbox campaign". He wasn't the first to suggest that I should run such a game, but with a bit of talk and recalling the things I've read on the subject before, its quite possible that I'll finally manage to offer my players a sandbox campaign. My problem with this kind of gaming was the amount of prep needed beforehand. I mean, as a GM who improvises almost all the time, even the idea of compiling my own set of tables is quite overwhelming. And making a whole continent of hexes filled with everything seems even worse. But I can try doing it the other way around. Start the sandbox with only 6 or 8 hexes available, and slowly build upon them, depending on where the players went. This way, the world will actually be a living thing and I will be able to provide more and more details.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Musings over the First Part of D&D Next Playtest

Honestly speaking, I have already written something on the subject on my blog in Polish (it's title could be translated as Scribblings of a Part-time Monster), but as some linguists try to prove, the character of a person changes while he or she speaks in another language, so I decided to give it try and see what my "English self" has to say about D&D Next, or rather this little part that we've gotten our hands at for now.

But before that, I have to state something: I am by any means not a grognard. I'm far too young to remember the Golden Age of RPG as some people call it. Or the beginnings of the hobby, for that matter. Hell, in 1974 my father was 9 years old! So all I know about D&D of that time I know from reading.

That being said, D&D Next seems to be a step backwards, but this time it's not a bad thing. I mean, I ran a couple games of 4ed. But I do tend to play by the book (I have something around 30 games on my shelf, not to mention all those available as legal, free pdfs), and before DMG 2 that was not a game for me (and when it came out, my group did not want another run of that game, as I could run loads of other things). Honestly, I'm not the type who likes to design multiple encounters in order to let the team advance.I like to improvise, and on my sessions people sometimes don't even unsheath their weapons. I do remember a game in which the PCs spent half of the time in a tavern.

I began my adventure with the hobby with D&D 3,0. And the current iteration of the playtest goes even further in terms of some aspects of the game, but onwards in others.

I do enjoy the idea of a more static AC, of simplified weapons etc. Right now I don't see any rules for BAB, and it's possible that there will be none. Getting rid of the majority of the skill system is a great thing (but I thing they will be included in the final version, as Backgrounds provide training in certain skills).

The new statblock for monsters is marvelous. It's simple, without things that you can't use. I do get the impresion that some of them have too many hit points, but that will be verified as soon as I give the game a try (damn you, Finals!). Oh, yes, the fact that the hit points for a given monsters are set is another thing that I don't like, but the format being neither as long as in 3,x nor as complicated as in 4 ed (yes, everything was written in the statblock, but the monster could have one attack normally, one if you rolled a 5, other when he's bloodied etc.) really suites my taste.

And the great novelty: Advantage/Disadvantage. I've read the article of the curve of probability with the additional kept die, but... Honestly, I see it as a great thing. Again, testing will verify my opinion, but I always preferred die over static bonuses.

That's all for now, if I have any more musings regarding D&D Next, I'll definitely post them.