Friday, May 31, 2013

In Retrospect: The D&D Rules Cyclopedia

There's one version of D&D that often gets overlooked in the Edition Wars, even more so than AD&D Second Edition. This, in my mind, is a good thing. I've never heard anybody criticize the D&D Rules Cyclopedia over Thac0, rules bloat, or any other accusations as to why or why not this version of D&D is somehow inferior or superior. Instead, in my experience, gamers look upon the D&D Rules Cyclopedia with a certain amount of fondness.

It's not hard to see why.

Finally, in 1991, all of the rules from D&D booklets (Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters, and Immortals) were compiled into one book. Here you have a complete game, none of this splitting the game into 3 core books (PHB, DMG, & MM). You can use this book to take your character from level 1 to level 36.

(Though I've always kind of wondered: why level 36? Why not 30? or 40?)

Yet back in the day my teenage self turned his nose up at this game. Somewhere I'd read that D&D was meant more for kids younger than me. Besides, I played the Advanced version of the game, and therefore I was somehow special, superior. Ah, the wonders of teen angst...

How unfortunate.

I missed out on basic rules for mass combat and sieges, more detailed rules on weapon mastery, 10 second combat rounds, rules for stronghold construction, and introductory material and colorful maps for a campaign setting (Mystara).

Where was all of this in the 2e core books?

They weren't. Not really, anyway. 2e still used minute combat rounds. And all of that other stuff could be found in rules supplements. AD&D 2e had no "default" campaign setting.

But all of this stuff was in the Rules Cyclopedia, decently organized, on top of rules for character creation, spells, and a whole chapter full of monsters....all in a 300 page book!

With all of that material is should come as no surprise that the artwork inside is rather sparse, and I wouldn't say all that inspiring. Still, the Jeff Easley painting on the cover is pretty inspiring.

Even though the book is more than 20 years old, you can still find content to use in your old school games. Want to differentiate between the combat uses of various polearms? There's a list on page 81. What about hitting somebody with a black jack? That's covered in the equipment section. Need rules for siege weapons? That's also in the equipment section.

There's a lot in this book. Perhaps too much for a beginner. As I recall, the 1991 Dungeon & Dragons Game boxed set was meant for beginners (back in the day of boxed sets with lots of goodies inside). But the book itself is all organized and straightforward--there's just a lot of stuff to read through. Use the index.  

Presentation: 8 out of 10
Creativity: 8 out of 10 (there's monsters here that weren't in AD&D 2e)
Utility: 7 out of 10 (again, use the index)

Get this if... You want a complete RPG in one book, or if you want all of the BECMI rules in one place. Or, get it for nostaglia purposes, or if you need basic rules for mass combat, stronghold building, and so on for your old school game.

Don't get this if... You're not interested in an RPG that's 22+ years old, or if don't like combat tables, Thac0, or both. (The D&D Rules Cyclopedia gives you the option of using one or the other).

And the contest winner is...

Boric G. 

Contact me to claim your prize: an Angel of Death by Reaper Miniatures. 

Thanks to all who entered in the contest. (Since there were only six entries, I just rolled a d6).

And much thanks to all who've read and continue to read d20 Dark Ages.

Boric G. runs the Dwarven Stronghold, a blog where a "Dwarven Cleric can share his love of maps, dice, miniatures, and all things involving gaming and general geekery." He even has a list of RPG acquisitions for the year. 

Now he can add another miniature to that list! 


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Miniature Contest and the Expeditions in the Northlands

Miniature Contest

Have you signed up for a chance to win a free Reaper Miniature? 

You have until 11:59 pm tonight EST to make a comment in the original post about the contest, in celebration of d20 Dark Ages's 200th post. 

I'll announce the winner sometime tomorrow.

The Expeditions in the Northlands

I ran another session of my "West Marches-style campaign" last night. Everybody had good time, especially me. There wasn't much gold or experience to be had by the party (there were 10 characters after all), but they achieved their objective for the evening, finding a monastery to St. Cuthbert. And then everything wrapped up as they went back to town. 

If you haven't tried this style of campaign before, I suggest you do. It's perfect for people with busy schedules. As a referee, you don't have to worry about developing long range storylines to only have your players trample all over those storylines. The players themselves set the objectives. 

This sandbox-style campaign really suits old-school play. I know Ben Robbins, the DM who ran the original West Marches campaign, used D&D 3.5e. But I'm really enjoying using Swords & Wizardry. Prep-time is fast and enjoyable again--unlike in 3.x where stat blocks just become a huge burden.

I can't even think of running a game like this, which uses random encounters, using 4e. In 4e, a combat encounter is meant to last for about an hour. Our sessions have about 4 hours of actual play time (not counting preliminary preparations, leveling up, post-game chat, etc). Last night the PCs had about 4 encounters in that time, but they also had lots of time for exploration and getting to know the lay of the land.

They encountered:
--an angry badger.
--a road side shrine which they didn't enter for fear of poisonous snakes.
--a strange campsite of gray earth beneath a mysterious dark tree which had rotting ropes dangling from it.
--a ruined town which had carnivorous hawks (which they avoided), a tower with zombies in it (which they ran from and sealed back up), and a large group of bandits (which ambushed them and demanded tribute before letting them go).
--a good view of the surrounding lands once they reached the top of a bluff.
--a dark forest which ended in a low wall, and beyond a wheat field
--the monastery itself which had a small band of wild dogs, a small church infested by giant rats, and a dormitory where skeletons arose to attack them.
--And then they had to get back to town, by circumventing the the ruined town with bandits in it, and enduring the howling of wolves in the dark of one night.

That's a lot accomplished in four hours.

But that's how pre-3e versions of D&D work.

And we're playing again this Sunday!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

VPA-4: Make the Game Your Own

This is the next installment of Victoria Praeparatio Amat (Victory Loves Preparation). You can read the first part of this series at this link.

Make the Game Your Own.

What does that mean?

It means taking charge of the game, whether you're a game master or a player.

It means not sticking to the rules as written and understanding that "the official way" (if there truly is such a thing) is the providence of tournaments and rules lawyers.

It means have a mindset that it is up to you to have a great time, not passively sitting there letting the game master entertain you and then complaining when you don't have fun.

It may mean having attitude adjustment prior to the game, leaving your problems at the doorstep with your shoes. Your character will be experiencing enough drama at the tabletop anyway.

It means not relying on the latest adventure or the hottest rule supplement from whatever RPG company to have a good time. All of these things are just tools. It's up to you to use them how you see fit.

If you're a game master, it means tailoring an adventure to fit the needs of the players and their characters.

If you're a player, it means actively using your character to interact with the game master's creation, aiding in the act of creation itself.

Ultimately, making the gaming your own means taking possession and responsibility of having a great time with the game itself.

Gaming companies out there will continue publishing product after product. But nothing really compares to a homebrew campaign setting and adventures the GM has created specifically for his or her players.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Behind the Edition Wars (AD&D 2e Apologetics--Part 2)

First, have you checked out my "Win a Reaper Miniature Contest" in celebration of d20 Dark Ages's 200th post?

Wizards of the Coast is both the cause of, and solution to, the Edition Wars.

By "The Weem"

During the last AD&D 2e Apologetics we covered why rules bloat and Thac0 are the deal-breakers when it comes to promoting AD&D Second Edition. We refuted the accusations that Thac0 and rules bloat are inherently bad, or at least if a gamer dislikes them, they can be easily circumvented for the enjoyment of AD&D 2e (use ascending AC/BAB, and just say "no.") 

Then we ended with the question:

Where do you think these arguments against Thac0 and rules bloat originate? 

I enjoyed reading your responses on that post. A lot of you were dead-on with your answers: Wizards of the Coast.

Now, I'm not branding WotC as an evil corporation bent on wrecking the hobby. What amazes me, though, is that even today I harbors feelings toward WotC's acquisition of TSR. On the upside, it lead to the OGL, and without the OGL there would probably be no OSR On the downside, AD&D 2e got kicked to the curb and we're all told it was a good thing.

To paraphrase something Ryan Dancey, the creator of the OGL, once said in the early 2000s: The greatest competition to the current edition of D&D is a previous edition D&D. (If anybody can find this quote, I'd be grateful. I believe I remember reading it on EnWorld.)

The original goal of the Open Gaming License was to prevent another financial disaster like TSR happen. Let third party companies vie for niche markets like Planescape or their own homebrew settings. "Rules Bloat" became associated with TSR, and by default AD&D Second Edition. You can read all about Ryan Dancey's visit to TSR during the company's final days at (which was copied from the original site). Dancey blames TSR death on "deafness" and inability to listen to its customers.

Just beyond the middle of that letter, Dancey blew 2e out of the water:

"Our customers were telling us that 2e was too restrictive, limited their creativity, and wasn't 'fun to play.' We can fix that. We can update the core rules to enable the expression of that creativity. We can demonstrate a commitment to supporting >your< stories. >Your< worlds. And we can make the game fun again."

And by "we," I'm certain he means WotC.  He goes on to talk about cutting back on the number of products they (TSR/WotC) produced because customers wanted it that way. Apparently the jargon in Planescape was too confusing. He keeps saying that he, along with WotC, will somehow "fix" D&D. 

AD&D Second Edition was somehow broken. He blamed the rules themselves, as if they were the cause of TSR's bad business practices. Rules bloat didn't sink AD&D 2e; rules bloat sank TSR. There's a difference. We all know the rules in all of those supplements were optional. The core rules themselves were fine, and if you didn't like it, you can alter it.

In this light, the argument against Thac0 comes as no surprise.

In July 1998, in Dragon #249, about a year after the acquisition, Peter Adkinson revealed that he had replaced the Thac0 system. Instead, a character would have Attack Values (ATV) and Defense Values (DFV). You just had to use a formula once to find the ATV and DFV for your character (see right). "When a character rolls 1d20 to hit, he or she simply adds (which is more easier and intuitive than subtracts) the d20 roll to the character's ATV. If this total equals or exceeds the DFV of the target, it's a hit."

The whole d20 System was supposed to be more intuitive--that word keep appearing again and again in the WotC marketing of 3e at the time.

So there you have it: Rules Bloat + Thac0 = AD&D 2e bad. 3e would "fix."

Of course, hindsight being 20/20. We all know what followed. If you thought 2e was rules bloated, then 3e was even more so. Just look at the stat-blocks, just look at all of the supplements WotC cranked out for 3e, before turning it around and doing it for 3.5e. I found 3e/3.5e to be more restrictive believe it or not, especially as a DM.

And hence, the Edition Wars burned ever forward as WotC marketed that their current edition of D&D was the best, while many resisted these claims.

I get it though. WotC's acquisition of TSR happened about 15 years. Ancient history, right? Why should I be talking about it?

Well... AD&D Second Edition is back. You can buy the core books on Amazon. WotC has allowed the sale of older edition pdfs on, including those infamous 2e splatbooks.

WotC is really piling on the good will. D&D Next/5e/whatever you want to call it is supposed to appeal players from all editions of D&D. The question is: can they do it?

This is why I asked in an earlier post,  "Do other games have edition wars?"

With all of these earlier edition products released and the announcement of 5e, the Edition Wars have cooled.

At first I thought this was a good thing. Maybe we can all get back to just playing games we enjoy in whatever edition, retroclone, or variant.

For those who've been reading this blog, you know I have my reservations on this.

 Believe it or not, I'd rather have people arguing about the qualities of various editions than silence. I just won't participate as much as possible (though sometimes it can be hard, I'll tell you about the "Boiling Water on an Ant Hill" story sometime).

I'll cover "Why the Edition Wars matter: in an upcoming post in the next few days.

Further Reading:
1. The Death of TSR, Ryan Dancey's letter formerly posted on (Scroll Down to view)
2. Most Dangerous Column in Gaming, by Ryan Dancey
3. "Simplifying Thac0 and Armor Class," Dragon #249, by Peter Adkison

Win a Free Reaper Miniature! 200th Post!

I can imagine the headlines now: "d20 Dark Ages Sends 'Angel of Death' to Contest Winner!"

This morning I realized that I had nothing planned to celebrate the d20 Dark Ages's 200th post, and I think every hundredth post for a blog is a decent milestone to note.

Then I thought, "I know! I'll offer up a free miniature. That Reaper Angel of Death looks cool. I've had that thing for awhile now, I don't think I'll ever get around to painting it."

And then a doubt crept into my mind: "Why would anybody want an Angel of Death sent to them?"

Still, I'm gonna do the contest anyway!

This is an awesome miniature. It comes with the wings already glued on to the back. 

I believe that miniatures should be painted, admired, and pushed around on a tabletop, instead of languishing unpainted in storage. This one has been in storage for far too long. 

Its time for somebody else to have the chance to paint up such a beautifully sculpted miniature. 

If you want a chance to win this miniature, post a comment below.

This mini normally retails for $9.99, but the randomly determined winner will get it shipped to him or her for free!

The contest ends this Thursday, 11:59pm, EST. I'll announce the winner sometime on Friday.

Good Luck!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Do other games have Edition Wars?

This post is sort of a follow-up to AD&D 2e Apologetics--Part 1, and an intermediary to AD&D 2e Apologetics--Part 2, which I'll post tomorrow (Tuesday)

Do other games have edition wars? Heck, do other players of other games in general have edition wars?

Does anybody get upset at, say, when a new design for a boardgame comes out? I remember when WotC released a version of Axis & Allies that didn't have enough pieces to play the game--that was major gripe, but I've seen or heard of many Axis & Allies players yell at each other about it.

On larger scale, I've never heard of Warhammer players debating over the differences between the editions of Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40k. Games Workshop churns out another edition or army book. There's lots of grumbling, some threaten to quit the hobby, some even quit, but other than that die hard players pony up their cash without much debate.

Even with CCGs like Magic: The Gathering another edition comes out with whole new cards, essentially resetting the game--at least in the official sense. There's grumbling and complaints, but I have yet to see Magic players spout vitriol over editions of Magic like D&D players do over the various editions of D&D? 

Do other RPGs even have edition wars?

As far as I can tell, D&D and its derivative are unique in this regard. Yes, other RPGs have GMs, referees, or whatever you want to call them. But only  D&D has "Dungeon Master" as a trademark.

I think that little fact plays a key role in understanding what the Edition Wars are really about.

More tomorrow.

Mini Monday: Tiefling Fighter

First, have a great Memorial Day. While you're grilling up burgers, having a few beers, remember those who've given their lives so you can have that privilege.


Next up is another figure for 52 weeks, 52 miniatures, a Tiefling Fighter from the old D&D Chainmail figure line from the early 2000s. They made some great figures for that game, but WotC decided to take the pre-painted plastic route and the rest is history.

Here's how I painted it:

I primed the miniature with black spray paint from Games Workshop (I'm almost out. Since I'm no longer supporting GW, I'll find another primer).

The numbers indicate the step-by-step order I painted a given area, covering largest/deepest areas first and going outward. So, for example, I painted the flesh Rainy Grey, then the metals, and then the hair.

1. Rainy Grey, by Reaper
2. Aged Bone, by Reaper--Heavy Dry Brush
3. Fair Skin, by Reaper--Heavy to Light Dry Brush

Metals (Armor/Weapon)
1. Bolt Gun Metal, by GW
2. Chainmail, by GW--light Dry Brush

1. Liche Purple, by GW, Heavy Dry Brush
2. Lich Purple, by Reaper, Light Dry Brush

Weapon Shaft

1. Oiled Leather, by Reaper
2. Woodland Brown, by GW--Heavy Dry Brush

1. Ash Grey, by Reaper
2. Rainy Grey, by Reaper
3. Misty Grey, by Reaper

Small horns and hair straps--Skull White, by GW
Gold Band--Bright Gold, by Reaper
Leathers--Oiled Leather
Eyes--Lich Purple, by Reaper

I finished off the miniature with some black ink by Games Workshop.

Overall I'm very pleased with how the Tiefling Fighter turned out. I've had her for about a decade and now she's done.

The guy in the background is a WIP, called a "Paladin Initiate" from Reaper Miniatures. Given his "sentinel-like" appears, I was half tempted to paint him as a statue or a golem. Instead I've decided to use him to experiment with the color purple.

I can't wait to see how he turns out.

So, with the Tiefling Fighter done, that's 8 out of 52.

(Yeah, I've got some catching up to do...)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Soundtrack Saturday: Conan the Barbarian

"Maybe the best D&D music ever comes from Basil Poledouris's soundtrack for Conan the Barbarian. Every player of a fighter or barbarian wants to be Arnold. If you play this, they will be. Of course, if you play it, don't expect them to find diplomatic solutions to problems."

--Mike Selinker, "The Definitive D&D Soundtrack," Dragon 272, Sept. 2000.

Let's face it: the original 1982 Conan the Barbarian movie would probably have sucked without this awesome soundtrack. Yes, there's bloody combat as Conan carves his way across the world, but there's lots of introspection, wherein the music plays as prominent role in carrying the story forward.

And if you haven't seen the original the movie (sorry, the 2011 version doesn't count), then you need to watch it.

The "Anvil of Crom" is the staple song of the soundtrack. It can used for combat, dramatic entrances, and so on.

"Theology/Civilization" is one of the more introspective of the tracks.

"The Battle of the Mounds" features a slow build up and then its with a climax suited for an epic battle.

I can't stress this soundtrack enough. If you don't have it, buy it. Get it. Watch the movie.

You'll see why both the movie and soundtrack have been popular among gamers for more than 30 years.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The House on the Rock (Adventure Ideas)

Have you been to the House on the Rock?

It's a tourist attraction in Wisconsin.

Decades ago, a man decided to build a house on that rock and he turned it into spectacle. It opened in 1959, and is now a full fledged resort with gigantic rooms filled with oddities of yesteryear. I went there some twenty years ago, and it took about 5-6 hours to get through. I don't remember a lot of it because there was just so much stuff. Sensory overload.

If you've never been there, don't expect some sort of educational odyssey, just expect to look at a lot of strange things. Don't think of it as a museum trip, think of it as going to a Barnum and Bailey show.

Still, I can help but think there's material here to inspire a RPG scenario. You have an enigmatic figure who built a house on top of a rock, filled with galleries of treasures. Rumor has it that most of the treasure is false, but what is real and what isn't? What is the fabled Infinity Room? Is it true that the Organ Room was inspired by Dante's Inferno?

No really, I'm serious, take a look at some of these pictures from the House on the Rock's website:

The World's Largest Indoor Carousel.

Now imagine that's some sort of evil contraption the adventurers must destroy but there's those winged demons trying to stop them.

Here's a closer look of the carosel--with an evil looking doll on it! It she the leader of all the evil dolls in the place--a carrionette straight out of the Ravenloft adventure The Created?

A strange fire place and nearby shelf full of ancient tomes and grimoires--but are they real... or fake? Just ignore the "Tour Continues" sign.

The Infinity Room--where does it go?

If you deep enough, you're discover whole other town--a merrier version of the Vault of the Drow?

The medievalist in me cringes.

You can find more at The House on the Rock website.

Here's more about the House's history on Wikipedia.

Review: Lotus Dice Bags, by Games by Gamers


The best dice bag I've ever owned! 

It's a "Lotus Dice Bag" from Games by Gamers, based out of Mason City, Iowa.

Apparently, these bags have been around for awhile, but the first time I've noticed them was at Treefort Games in Fayetteville, Georgia. My girlfriend bought one for me as a gift.

A standard-sized Lotus Dice Bag...

--can hold up to standard 250 dice.
--is durable, handmade.
--when full, the dice don't rattle around.
--comes in lots of assorted colors.
--when opened, you can see most of your dice, making choosing your dice a lot easier.
--closes up a lot better than other dice-bags.
--run between $8-16. (The larger ones cost more).

They're available on Paizo, but I suggest you to your FLGS and take a look at them yourself.

Here's their website: 
You can also find them on Facebook.

I really enjoy my Lotus Dice Bag. My old leather bag was showing its age.

Here's a couple more pictures:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I won! The Teratic Tome, by Rafael Chandler

Once upon a time I had a character in Middle Earth Role Playing who not only got beaten to death by an angry mob, but ended up getting half of the group killed, too. All of this happened because he wanted to try out his "public speaking" skill to convince the mob that the agent of Sauron was the real enemy, not the PCs.

While the incident wasn't a total party kill, it was pretty much the end of the campaign, since the sole survivor really had no reason to continue with the campaign goals (he just wanted to run away).

At the time, the other players and GM were kinda upset with me.

But now, after all of these years, its all paid off, after sharing my story over at Tenkar's Tavern. I won the Teratic Tome, by Raphael Chandler, in the "Best Character Death" contest. Chandler, has already sent me the pdf copy.

I've already given it a quick skim. Yeah, there's some pretty horrifying monsters in here, sort of like a combination of Ravenloft and H.P. Lovecraft with a dash of, say, the old Scarred Lands campaign setting by Swords & Sorcery Studios.

I'll do full review once I get the hard copy in the mail.

But for now I'll tell you that halflings are evil, very evil. 

Thanks to Erik Tenkar for running the contest, and thanks to Chandler putting up the prizes to win.

If you haven't already, read the other entries in the contest. I can see why they had hard time picking the top three.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

VPA-3: Do you trust your GM?

Do you trust your GM?

It's a pretty straight forward question. If the answer is "no," then you should probably reconsider gaming with him. If the answer's "yes," well then "game on!"

At least is should be that simple. What about gaming at conventions? Or gaming with a GM out of some sense of loyalty? Or what if that particular GM is the only game in to town? What if the GM is a close friend?

Then things get tricky.

Victoria Praeparatio Amat (Victory Loves Preparation) is a series devoted to making gaming sessions great, the best they can be. Often what determines if a session is great or if it sucks happens before the players sit down at the table. Be prepared to have a great time. 

As GM, I do enjoy putting my player's characters through harrowing experience, but the game itself should not be an harrowing experience for the character's player. You don't become a GM simply to tell and story, but watch what the players do--especially when they screw up. But you have to make sure when do screw up, its because of their actions, not because you screwed them over.

Screwing players over breaks the trust between players and GMs.

So what do I mean by "trust?"

In a nutshell, the GM will play fair for the players (not necessarily for the characters). The GM won't...
--show favoritism to a particular player.
--run a death trap scenario without telling the players beforehand.
--railroad a session to fit into a his story as an aspiring novelist.
--cheat against the players (some monster always seem to crit, some villains always seem to get away (etc).

If the GM has broken that trust in the past, it becomes harder for you to approach subsequent sessions without some lingering doubts. Such doubts can get in the way for a good time, and make a great time impossible.

If you have such doubts, it important that you bring them up before the session starts, preferably in private between you and the GM. You don't want things to boil over during a session. But if you're gaming among friends (remember, Be a Friend), then this shouldn't be much of a problem.

The same goes if you're playing a wargame with a referee or a boardgame at somebody's place.

Gaming at a convention, on the other hand, is a whole new ball game. The whole point of a convention is to try different things. Usually you'll know if you can trust the GM or not within 15 minutes of playing--believe me. You'll sense something--maybe he's not organized. Maybe his attention is off. Or maybe he can't get that evil grin off of his face. It all depends on the situation; conventions are an almost random assortment of individuals and experiences--box of chocolates and all that, with some of the chocolates stale.

The best thing you can do is be a friend.

If things get so bad, however, just walk away. You're time is fair more valuable that to spent it getting jerked around by a jerk GM.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thac0 and Rules Bloat are Bad? (AD&D 2e Apologetics-Part 1)

Erik Tenkar says that he's played AD&D Second Edition more than any other edition, but he detests it because of its rules bloat. 

Meanwhile, at the same time, a discussion in defense of Thac0 arose on G+.

AD&D 2e has been largely passed over in the Edition Wars, I feel. But when it does come up, rules bloat and Thac0 become the deal-breaker. Critics won't even try 2e because of these concepts. Even though everybody seems to agree that the 2e campaign settings are neat.

I've heard these arguments since the early days of 3e, and these arguments are unfounded.

Back then I used Thac0, and I didn't know any different. It worked. Now I use Base attack Bonus /Ascending AC, but I can still calculate Thac0 in my head. Its not that difficult. Also, using Thac0 to condemn an entire system just shows a person's ignorance and fear; ignorant that they can easily replace Thac0 with BAB/Ascending AC, and fearful of trying something that worked fine in the past. Perhaps even the fear of not keeping up with the Joneses.

The same goes with the idea of rules bloat. It's been touted time and again in both rule books and in the Edition Wars: you only need the core books to play D&D, in whatever version. Everything else is optional. From 2000 to 2008 we saw two whole cycles of official "splatbooks" from Wizards of the Coast, the first for 3e, and then they recycled the material for 3.5e, all of which produced dozens of standard and prestige classes, hundreds of feats, spells, and so on. This doesn't count all of the stuff churned out by third party publishers.

I concede, it was annoying back in 2e when a player kept hounding me to play a Bladesinger from The Complete Book of Elves. Yet it was also annoying during 3e/3.5e watching players sift through a stack of splatbooks to find the key feat, spell, or prestige class so their characters can be min/maxed. And then they get upset when I told them "no." So I can empathize with Tenkar.

What's even more interesting is that these criticisms often come from people (at least in my experience) who've never played 2e. Or, in the case of the G+ poster, come from those playing 4e. In the mid-to-late 2000s, my gaming group was convinced that 3.5e was the best. At that time, I'd gotten weary of running 3.5e and wanted something more simpler. AD&D 2e called to me.

And yet my group, even though I'd been running great games, refused to try 2e. Thac0 and Rules Bloat were the deal-breakers. I tried to explain that we'd use BAB/Ascending AC, and that I'd limit what you can use from the splatbooks (just as we had been doing with 3/5e). But to no avail.

So if Thac0 isn't that bad or replaceable, and rules bloat easily curable (just say "no"), then where does the idea that AD&D 2e is compromised by Thac0 and rules bloat come from?

The real answer, I've discovered, really has little or nothing do with Thac0 and rules bloat at all...

Where do you think these arguments against 2e originate?

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Expeditions in the Northlands Resurrected (The "Next Big Thing")

"A View Near Tivoli", by Thomas Cole
After about a month of promoting my Expeditions in the Northlands Campaign, things came full circle yesterday afternoon at Treefort Games with four players, with a few more people interested, but couldn't play at that time. We had a great time in this West Marches-style campaign.

I started them off with 0-level characters, 10 total (two the players had two characters--because they already had characters from the last session, the other two had three characters). At the end of the session, 5 characters survived. A wild board had gored three of them to death. One went crazy, attacked another character with a shovel, who promptly hit him back with a torch. The character caught fire and when tumbling down the slanting tunnel they were in and down into a bottomless pit. A fourth character took a strange fever and just got up in the middle of the night and left the group.

The rules of course, were Swords & Wizardry, with a couple sheets of house rules. I told them that the basic classes were available (Fighter, Wizard, Cleric, Thief), which they could find in the S&W free rulebook download. The more "advanced" classes are, of course, available from S&W Complete. One character even expressed interest in playing a witch, using Timothy Brannan's The Witch--which you can win a free copy of The Witch over at The Other Side Blog. And here's my review of The Witch.

I even threw in stuff from Al Krombach's Beyond the Black Gate Compendiums--Scroll down to "stuff I wrote" (and where is Mr. Krombach these days? I miss his posts.)

All of this is one reason I love Swords & Wizardry, and the OSR in general. You just take stuff from old school games and mix it all together with little or no problem. You can even take stuff from new editions of D&D and plug it in. For example, in one of Krombach's compendiums, he tells you how to use feats from 3e/3.5e by applying them to magic items (i.e. +1 Battle Axe of Cleave).

Hey, maybe now's the time to get more use out of the Tome of Magic--who wants to play an elementalist wizard?

How many versions of the Bard can you find? Which one would you like to play?

Okay, you can play a barbarian from AD&D's Unearthed Arcana but only if your character meets the ability score requirements, doesn't hang out with magic-users, wants to destroy magic-items, and you, yourself, are willing to deal with your character taking a long time gain levels (6,000 xp to get to second level!)

I'm encouraging my players to go out and find this stuff--or better yet, make up material on their own. For those who just want to play casually, the basic classes are available--no big deal.

At this point, I'm find myself not even interested in what 5e, or D&D Next (or whatever you want to call it) has to offer. Maybe it'll be the "next big thing," maybe it'll bomb. I really don't care.

With Swords & Wizardry, Matt Finch reminded us all that we, ourselves, possess the magic of creation, that genie in the lamp that Finch mentions in the Introduction of the Swords & Wizardry rulebook. Corporations like WotC, Paizo, and Games Jerkshop (yeah, I said it) possess this power only if we let them.

I'm not waiting around for the next big thing along with the grumbling, drama, and edition wars that go along with it.

The Expeditions in the Northlands is my next big thing.

And it's already here.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Soundtrack Saturday: Diablo II

The Diablo II video game soundtrack, by Matt Uelman is pretty much a staple at my gaming table. Why? Because, unlike most movie soundtracks, you can play this music in the background without a problem. Most movie soundtracks are cued for dramatic purposes, but this soundtrack meant for easy listening while playing a video game. There's few ups and down, sudden bursts of music, or anything like that. Which is perfect to play at the gaming table for your dungeon or horror-themed RPG. 

Just listen to it. 

The only downside is that the physical copy of this soundtrack can be hard to find now, given its popularity. You can find it on iTunes. And there's a 15 year anniversary version available that contains must from the original Diablo video game. 

Oddly enough, the Diablo 3 soundtrack isn't as good. I'm not sure why. Maybe they were trying too hard to surpass the second game. It just doesn't have the same appeal. 

Anyway, here's a few selections from Diablo 2.

Friday, May 17, 2013

In Retrospect: The Rod of Seven Parts

[Obligatory Spoiler Alert]

As I've said before, I miss the days of boxed sets. I liked buying a $30-35 adventure or campaign setting boxed set, opening it up, and looking at all the goodies.

The Rod of Seven Parts, by Skip William is just one of those boxed sets. It was part of the Tomes series of adventures that focused on a powerful artifact or location. The Return to the Tome of Horrors, and The Axe of the Dwarvish Lords. These adventures are meant for high level (13+) characters.

You get lots of goodies in this boxed set:
Book I: "Initiation to Power" (96 pages)
Book II: "The War Against Chaos" (64 pages)
Book III: "Might and Menace" (32 pages)
Book IV: "Monsters"
6 two-sided reference cards
6 full-color poster maps showing locations and 1 inch grid battlemats for key tactical encounters.

(My only annoyance is really with the maps, and its something TSR did for years. The posters are unwieldy and difficult to use without showing players locations you don't want them to see).

The goal of the adventure is pretty self-evident: the adventurers must find and assemble the Rod of Seven Parts, and prevent the forces of evil from also collecting the pieces. It's not an easy quest by any means, they may not even realize they have parts of the Rod in their possession for sometime. Furthermore, the heroes end up getting entangled in the ancient war of law against chaos, the Wind Dukes of Aaqa versus the Queen of Chaos and her spyder-fiend minions.

Spyder-fiends entering via a chaos gate
The adventure itself expands upon the artifact's history and powers.  In Book IV presents stats on the The Rod of Seven Parts as written, you can take these creatures and use them in your own game.
Aaqa called the Vaati, the androgynous agents of law and their minions. The Queen of Chaos and her favored general Miska the Wolf-Spider get write-ups, along with the various spyder-fiends. Even if you don't use

Once even one piece is gathered, a character becomes influenced by it. As more pieces are gathered, the bearer slowly becomes Lawful Neutral to the extreme, but they can get lots of cool powers. The downside, of course, is that there's a chance that the Rod will break and scatter its pieces.  See, even though the Rod of Seven Parts is an artifact of Law, it's been tainted by Chaos.

The unpredictability of the rod is why the adventure itself is fairly non-linear. Skip Williams has design The Rod of Seven Parts in a more matrix-style play. Book I "Initiation to Power" features a handful introductory adventures, but they don't have to be run in order. It all depends on the goals of the party. You get a classic dungeon crawl into a naga's lair, a battle over a footbridge, an encounter at an Inn, and so on. The last adventure is really cool: a raid on a cloud giant's castle!

Book II: "The War Against Chaos" is where the adventure becomes more linear. At that point, the PCs have assembled enough pieces of the rod that the almost cannot help but partake in the War in Chaos, ending with the assault on the Queen of Chaos's citadel itself.

Book III: "Might and Menace" features side-treks and optional encounters for the DM to set the PCs back on track, usually by the intervention of a Wind Duke. There's even rules for a new card game, Dragonfire, which can be played with normal playing cards.

Overall, the material is laid out fairly well. A DM wanting to run this adventure (which is actually a campaign) has the daunting task of reading all of this material. There are some key things that might get missed if a DM isn't observant, such as the method to restore the character's world back to order after chaos as altered it.

Another caveat: a DM needs to understand this isn't just an adventure, its an entire campaign in its own right. Its one grand quest that can take many gaming sessions to complete. Some groups might not want that kind of a long slog.

 (In fact, I myself, have run parts of the first book, but the PCs strayed away once they realized they were dealing with the Rod--yeah, I know, crazy. But the characters were of mostly of good alignment and the didn't like the idea of becoming agents of law. They also didn't want to spend a lot of session completing the campaign--they had other goals in mind).

A DM also needs to be prepared to enforce the artifact's side-effects. The Rod of Seven Parts itself can really take away a character's free will. A paladin PC can lose his paladinhood because the Rod enforces law over good.

But if you're players like epic adventures, this one has it in spades: lots of awesome locals, evil creatures to find, and the ever popular quest for a lost artifact. And lots of goodies for the DM.

Presentation: 8 out of 10
Creativity: 9 out of 10 (lots of cool adventuring sites and creatures)
Utility: 7 out of 10 (the poster maps lowered this score because they are hard to use)

Get this if... You want your characters to go on an epic quest in the name of Law, or if you want to learn more about the background of the Rod of Seven Parts, or for locals and monsters you want for your own game.

Don't get this if... You not interested in running a long term, high level, campaign or your feel your players aren't interesting in basically become agents of absolute law.

A couple of last remarks...
1. The novel, The Rod of Seven Parts, by Douglas Niles, was actually quite decent. But you don't need the novel to understand the module and vice versa.

2. There's a part in adventure where chaos starts altering the character's world. Mountains become deserts. Seas become plains, and so on. The odd thing: nobody else besides the PCs understands that things are different, and worse. Famine and inclement weather or more inclement.

I've wanted to run sort of a montage for the players, describing these changes, as their characters travel across their world stumbling upon deserts where there shouldn't be deserts, and swamps there should be mountains. And somehow, "Kashmir", by Led Zeppelin, seems to fit this weird apocalyptic motif.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

VPA-2: Make New Friends

In the last installment, I said "be a friend." In this one, I say "make new friends." You might think it sounds like contradictory advice. But it isn't, because even the best of friends can grate on each other's nerves.

Even more so, sometimes you might find yourself in a gaming rut. Maybe all of your roleplaying buddies started playing D&D 4e and you'd rather play Pathfinder. Or maybe everybody is kind of tired of you beating them at your favorite board game.

The solution: make new friends. I'm not suggesting ditching your old gaming group. But going out and discovering new game can help you appreciate what you've got at home...

...or shed light that you might be gaming with a bunch of morons and its time to move on.

Victoria Praeparatio Amat (that's Latin for "Victory Loves Preparation") is a series that explores what makes a gaming session great, and what makes them suck. This series focuses on players of RPGs, yet players of wargames and boardgames can benefit from this advice, too. Furthermore, while there's lots of advice for Game Masters out there, VPA addresses both GMs and Players. 

You might be trapped in a "gamer ghetto" and not even know it. You're miserable but you don't know why. You might be a victim of one of the Five Geek Social Fallacies, namely "Friendship Before All." You'll come to one lousy game after another because these people are your friends. Well, that's your choice.

Here's a true story:

One day a fellow GM came to me and said: "I really wish you were back in my group. You're the only one who interacted with the adventure and actually tried to figure things out. As for my players now, its like pulling teeth to get them to take action. And then they wonder why the bad guys always get the upper hand."

He was right. He had a great story going along, but none of the players were really interested in actually playing--they just, for the most part, goofed around. And, worse, every time my character did something to advance the adventure, the other players would get upset and complain how it wasn't fair. So I left the group.

I told the GM to find new players.

Three years later--
"I really wish you were back in my group..."

Gah! Find new players! Make new friends!

To hell with that kind of loyalty. Friends don't let friends attend bad games. Friends don't inflict bad games on other friends.

If you're going to be a socially mature gamer (and person, for that matter) it's psychologically healthy to go out and meet new people. Why? Because you become like the six people you hang out with the most. You pick up their bad habits and quirks because you want to fit in, even if subconsciously.

And we all know that gamers can have some pretty bad habits. There's truth in the stereotype of the terribly out-of-shape gamer with terrible body odor who gulps down a 2-liter bottle of diabetic-inducing soda who couldn't get a girlfriend even if he was rich.

But he's a nice guy, right?

Go ahead and ask your girlfriend (or almost any woman for that matter), why she doesn't like going to your favorite local gaming store. Meanwhile, I'll be laughing at Big Bang Theory when Penny encounters Captain Sweatpants at the comic shop.

If you do fit into this stereotype and don't like it, then change and meet new people. And don't do it just because I said so. Do it for yourself.

On the other hand, there's plenty of gamers out there who break the stereotype...

Still, whenever I read or hear somebody say, "I've been with the same group of gamers for the last 20 years," my first thought is: that's great. My second thought, I hope they've gamed with other people.

It's because I've known three gamers who'd gaming together for over twenty years, every week. Even though their friends had moved on long, long ago.

This is why we have conventions. This is why there's now social networking sites. There's lot of other stuff going on out there, new people to meet, new opportunities to enjoy and stay young at heart.

Don't risk getting stuck in a "gamer ghetto." Make new friends.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mini Monday: Works in Progress

Sometimes I feel like I've got too many "nerd-irons" in the fire, especially when it comes to painting miniatures. I have the tendency to start mulitple projects, get overwhelmed, and then take forever to finish them. Recently, "real world" stuff has taken priority over painting, but I've still made some progress toward my goal of 52 Weeks 52 Miniatures for this year.

It really comes down to focus. Munnin's Brush is focusing on finishing a miniature-a-day for the month of May. Mike over at Mikeopolis can churn out painted armies like nobody's business, it seems.

Speaking of Mike, he gave in a really useful tip for rebasing. Use soap and water.

See those Hundred Years' War foot knights up there? I bought them a few years ago and they were put on individual 20mm square bases. I'd always wanted to rebase them for Neil Thomas's Ancient and Medieval Wargaming but was too afriad of damaging the figures--it appeared that they'd been glued to the base by some sort of hard cement.

It turns out I was wrong. I soaked the bases for about an hour in water with a dash of dish soap--just enough water to over the tops of the bases. Afterward, the miniatures came right off with little trouble. It turns out they'd been glued on with Coarse Pumice Gel Medium (see picture below).

Now I just need to flock the bases and they'll be ready to go.

While I'd like to claim that I painted those figures, I didn't. I don't know if I could focus my energies enough to do that great of a paint job. I don't know if I have the time.

Instead, I've settled with the Army Painter Method for painting foot knights.

These, like the ones before, come from Black Tree Design. They're going to be generic foot knights for almost any army in the Hundred Years' War. I primed them metallic and am painting on a variety of colors.

At this point I just want to get them done. 

Just like this Tiefling from the old Chainmail rules from the early days of D&D 3e.

She's almost done--just needs a few more highlights, details, and perhaps some ink shading. I had every intention of finishing her by today. But again, I got unfocused. When she's done, she might become some sort of half-demonic adversary in my Expeditions in the Northlands campaign.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Soundtrack Saturday: The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

The United States is filled with beautiful landscapes. Everytime I travel and see the mountains of the West or the forests of the East, The Last of the Mohicans motion picture soundtrack comes to mind. Yesterday I passed through the mountains of eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, and once again I heard the music by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman.

I don't think there's any other movie soundtrack that brings to mind most of epic wilderness adventure. Epic--there's plenty of those. Adventure--of course. But epic wilderness adventure? If it surpasses The Last the Mohicans, I'd love to hear it.

Yes, the soundtrack is that good.

It features prominently in my Expeditions in the Northlands Campaign, which is all about epic wilderness adventure.

The samples below should give you a good idea of what I'm talking about.

I'd like to post more, but I've noticed confusion between the original soundtrack and the one released by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 2000--they are not the same. Get the original. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

In Retrospect: The Tome of Magic, AD&D 2e

Looking back, I remember trying to get more use out of this book, with emphasis on try. There's all kinds of neat stuff in the Tome of Magic, published in 1991, but I think it serves (at least for me) that supplements beyond the core books of an RPG stand a good chance that they won't get utilized.

The introduction states that the book is for both Dungeon Masters and Players, but in reality a DM has to approve of the material herein. What you get is fairly eclectic, which should come as no surprise since the book has six designers (and that's David Cook, not Monte).

So what have we got?

Wild Mages and Wild Magic, Elemental Wizards, new spheres of influence for priests, new spells for both priests and wizards, and new magic items. All in all, there's some good stuff here, and other stuff that I'd rather not bother with.

Like Wild Mages, for example. I like the idea of magic being wild and crazy with a chance of random effect. I really do, its part of magic's unpredictable nature.

Yet the Wild Mage character class is rather cumbersome and even harmful to other characters They're like specialist wizards, gaining and learning and extra spell slot for Wild Magic spells. But every time they cast a spell they have roll 1d20, consult a chart, and see if they're spell functions higher or lower its normal spell level. There's also these boldfaced results on the chart, which indicate a Wild Surge. The player or DM then rolls 1d100 on a chart that's basically a Wand of Wonder on steroids.

The results vary wildly, from the annoying ("Caster smells like a skunk"), to the incredibly annoying ("Cause Fear" within 60' Radius"--including other PCs). Fortunately, most results effect either the caster or the target. Still...

I like the Elemental Wizard. They basically specialize in either Air, Earth, Water, and Fire. Once per day, they can cast a given spell in their element 1d4 levels higher. Some may find this a bit over powered. But they can't cast spells from their opposing element and have a -25% to learning non-elemental spells.  It's a fairly straightforward class.

Priests aren't left out. But I've never been fond of quest spells and some of the new spheres of influence (That's old school for "Domains") Numbers and Thought are highly philosophical. The War sphere got nerfed because its primarily meant for Battlesystem--TSR's rules of mass combat.

As for spells, well, there's plenty of new spells to choose from for your AD&D 2e game. My only problem with them is that quite few have limited uses. Conjure Holy Symbol enables a priest to summon a holy symbol, which really would only come in handy if a priest has been capture and stripped of his holy symbol. Hornung's Guess is really only useful to count the number of enemies in an army on the battlefield. There's spells here that could the the ancestors to the metamagic feats in D&D 3e.

When it comes to these spells, your mileage my vary. Back in the day I tried tantalizing my players with them, but they didn't bite.

The same goes for the magic items found in the Tomb of Magic. You've got the Wand of Corridors, which only functions on the Elemental Plane of Earth or the Quasi Elemental Plane of Minerals. Some are meant specifically for Battlesystem. Others are just bad jokes from some body's campaign--like the Ring of Bureaucratic Wizardry, which is a cursed item that forces a wizard to fill out forms every time he casts a spell (yeah, har har, funny funny). Many seem just overly complicated, such as the Ring of Fortitude, which gives the wearer a random bonus to an ability score, but only for the purposes of spell resolution. For example, getting a constitution boost doesn't grant extra hit points, but raises the system shock and resurrection percentages.

In retrospect, Tome of Magic is an okay book. There's lots of interesting ideas here, but many can't be used "out of the box." Many of the spells and magic items suggest use for a high magic campaign like, say, The Forgotten Realms. As the name suggests, there is nothing here for non-spellcasters. Yet even priests get short shrift in my opinion.  
Is that Johnny Cash with long grey hair?

The artwork inside is decent, but I've recognized many of it from other sources. (But I do miss the days when RPG artwork looked at least somewhat "realistic," instead of this cartoonish/anime/spikey-bits/steampunk/Final Fantasy stuff often featured post-D&D 3e.)

Presentation: 7 out of 10
Creativity: 7 out of 10
Utility: 4 out of 10 (I honestly didn't get much use out of the book--and I've had it for over 20 years!)

Get this if... you want a bunch of ideas to mine for your games or if you want to complete your AD&D 2e collection. But I don't recommend using much of this stuff "out of the box." In fact, its kinda hard to do given many of the items and spells have limited uses.

Don't get this if... you really don't need another RPG book full of spells, magic items, and classes. Aside from the Wild Mage and the Elemental Wizard, not much else stands out. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

VPA-1: Be a Friend

Being a friend and gaming with friends...
(from Big Bang Theory)

Wil Wheaton says, "Don't be a dick."

I say, "Be a friend."

At first glance, both seem similar, when it comes down to it, "Don't be a dick" is passive. After all, if you're not going to be jerk at the gaming session, what are you going to be? Simple. Be a friend

Because the game really isn't about you--It's about the players around you. And you know what? They'd rather be playing with friends, too. Are you prepared to be a friend?

Victoria Praeparatio Amat (that's Latin for "Victory Loves Preparation") is a new series from d20 Dark Ages that explores what makes a gaming session great, and what makes them suck. This series focuses on players of RPGs, yet players of wargames and boardgames can benefit from this advice, too. Furthermore, while there's lots of advice for Game Masters out there, VPA addresses both GMs and Players. 

The whole "game with friends" has been passed around for years. I first read it way back in Dragon #216. Monte Cook himself  has said something like don't game with people you wouldn't invite to dinner. 

It's a good rule of thumb. My only problem with it is that I've had dinner with gamers who seem okay but end up being jerks at the tabletop.

When I say "be a friend," I mean approaching the game with the idea of helping the other players have a good time. Therefore, you'll have a great session, because everybody enjoyed themselves. Remember what I said last week: there are no mediocre sessions, either a session is great or it sucked for somebody.

"Be a friend" means going into a gaming session...
--establishing relationships with other members of the group.
--asking: "what can I contribute?" instead of "what can I get for myself?"
--making a great time happen, rather than passively letting the GM provide the entertainment.
--having the learned the rules so you can help the GM and newbies so the game can run smoothly.
--giving up a certain sense of entitlement for you and your character.
--helping everybody "win."

All of this, of course, begins with a certain mindset before the session starts. If you go into a session thinking only of what you and your character can get out of it, you'll likely have a bad time. Your desires will conflict with the other players. Even worse, if you have a great time, the other players will feel a certain kind of resentment.

Being a friend happens before, during, and after a session.

Being a friend can happen even in tournament play (though I admit, it can be difficult). 

All of this sounds like common sense, right? Yet I think we've all experienced so-called friends suddenly become jerks at the gaming table (and we've probably been that jerk at one time or another). It's the guy who plays a chaotic evil thief who tries to steal from the rest of the group. It's player who deliberately plays an outlier character with no meaningful skills. It's the player who shows up late, or not at all, and doesn't notify anybody. Its the mooch. Its the chronic rules lawyer. Its the cheater.

So "don't be a dick..." a friend.

 Being a jerk... see the difference?
(from Big Bang Theory)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Mini Monday: A Mini-a-Day by Munnin's Brush, and Dr. Holmes's Collection

Not much to report on my end of figure painting. But I'm still plugging along with 52 weeks 52 miniatures. Yet there's somebody taking it a step further and is a great painter--Munnin over at Munnin's Brush. The goal there is to paint a miniature a day for the month of May.

Check it out.

Here's the Black Knight that got painted up the other day.

Great work, in my opinion. It shows to all of us painters that the most important thing is to just sit down, paint, and finish our projects.

You can check out the first miniature of may, a "Duergar Legionaire" here.

In other news, Zenopus Archives reports that part of Dr. J. Eric Holmes's collection of miniatures is up for sale:

"Big news in the world of Holmes Basic: as posted over on the Acaeum, the J. Eric Holmes collection has been bought from his family by Billy Galaxy, who runs a vintage/import toy store of the same name. He currently has about a dozen items from the collection up on Ebay (see here), with more to come in the future once the material is sorted."

For those who don't know, Holmes edited the old "Blue Box" edition of Basic D&D back in the late 1970s.  He passed away in 2010. You can read his biography on Wikipedia.

 That Basic edition was a transition between the old brown booklets and the later BECMI rules in the 1980s. As the seventies wore on, it became more like a basic set to AD&D.

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