Saturday, January 24, 2015

little rules

More like A Game of Kicking Ass
So last night my old BattleTech boxed set caught my eye and I pulled out the rule book and flipped through it.  You won't find a lot of posts here on the ol' Gameblog about BTech, but it is probably my number 2 tabletop game in terms of sheer hours of play logged.  My junior high/high school attended Frontier Wars, the vaguely Traveller-themed Bloomington, Illinois convention (GDW's home town, after all), not long after a letter from George Lucas's lawyers prompted the name change from the original BattleDroids to the now famous BattleTech.  A few guys had the whole set up with miniatures and everything going.  We were hooked.  I bought two games that weekend, BattleTech and Call of Cthulhu.  Not a bad haul for a snot-nosed farmboy with no idea what he was doing.

Anyway, I started flipping through the rulebook because I always loved the probably untenable Post-Apocalypse in Space vibe of the early BattleTech fluff.  The further along the game got, the more space operatic it seems to go, and the less I dug any part of it except the big robots blowing the bejeezus out of each other.  The one-two punch of the Clan invasions and  new rules in the Solaris boxed set soured us on the game.  But before those came out we played the crap out of this game.  I'm talking weekend long games with 36 mechs a side, plus whatever shorter games we could fit in during the week.

Which is why I surprised that as I flipped through the amazingly familiar rulebook that my eyes fell on a rule I do not remember.  I've played and read a jillion games with a jillion rules, but the two rule sets I know best are Moldvay Basic D&D and this rulebook.  To find a rule that I have no memory of whatsoever just flabbergasted me.

BattleTech normally uses a 2d6 hit location system to see what part of the mech you blasted.  A roll of seven hits the torso.  If your shot comes in from the right, it's a hit to the Right Torso, from the left its a hit to the Left Torso, and from the center arc the hit lands in the Center Torso.  With me so far?  A roll of snake-eyes on the same chart indicates the same locations hit, except that after the location listing it says "(Critical)".  Critical Hits are the key to defeating a BattleMech.  The normal way you get them is by blowing away all the armor in a location so you can start scoring internal damage.  A roll of '2' on the hit location chart is the other way.

For the more common way of scoring crits (piercing the armor shell) you go to the Critical Hit Effects Table and roll another 2d6.  2-7 means no critical.  An 8 or 9 means you get one roll on the location based critical chart for your target Mech (more rolling, yay!).  A 10 or 11 gives you 2 rolls on the appropriate crit chart.  A roll of 12 either scores 3 hits, or if the location is a limb, the limb is blown clean off.  Sweet!  One legged mechs are hilariously bad at hopping around the BattleField-I mean battlefield.  And other mechs can pick
No, no, no.  That's a Crusader
from BattleTech.  You're clearly
mistaken.
up your lost limb and beat you with it using the club rules.  Fun times.

Anyway, prior to yesterday I would have bet cash money that a 2 on the hit location chart sends you to the same Critical Hit Effects Table, or as we usually called it, the Possible Critical Chart, to see if you inflicted 0, 1, 2, or 3 rolls on the appropriate Torso chart.  It doesn't.  A rule at the bottom of page 14 says you roll 2d6 as per normal.  A 2-7 is no effect again, but an 8 or higher destroys the location.  Note that destroying the Center Torso destroys the Mech.

The consequences of this rule is that 1 in 36 hits to the front or back of the mech runs an almost even chance (41 and change percent) of being killed with one shot.  That doesn't sound like a lot but when you fire more than 36 shots per game and play regularly for several years, that ought to add up to a nice little pile of dead BattleMechs.

I've got a point here beyond complaining that I'm owed more kills than I am credited with in BattleTech.  (So are my friends from those days, to be fair.)  With the exception of super-elegant games like S. John Ross's Risus: The Anything RPG, little rules like this can fly under the radar.   I run up against these all the time in various editions of D&D.  The crummy helmet rule in AD&D1, the 1 in 6 chance of dropping anything held if you are surprised in Holmes Basic, the chance for anyone to find a trap in Moldvay are three examples off the top of my head.  Forgetting any of them won't kill your game, but remembering them add a little spice to the game.  Moral of the story #1: reread your rulebook once in a while.  You might find something cool even in a game you've been familiar with for 3 decades.

The other thing going on here is the effect of the BattleTech reference sheet.  The back page of the rulebook is all the key charts of the game.  Early on my group made photocopies for easy reference.  If we ever knew the special rule for snake-eyes hit locations we probably forgot it because the chart sheet didn't mention it.  Meanwhile, the Possible Crit Chart is right on the same piece of paper.  Why wouldn't we use it?  Moral of the story #2: If you think a fiddly little rule is important, put it in your easy reference sheet or on your screen.  For example, whenever I run a new edition of D&D, I make sure I have the specifics of Sleep on my screen or otherwise handy.  I've never seen an official screen that has the rules for one spell on it, but my screen for my game needs it.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Dye-jobs and Doxies


There is no Volume II.
I honestly don't know how many times I've read the classic Judges Guild compilation Ready Ref Sheets.  If I recall correctly I bought my first copy (I own two) at a local convention back in the eighties.  Probably from the booth run by Castle Perilous of Carbondale, Illinois.  I've never been to their store, but for a very long time they were always my first stop at cons.  As Bubs likes to say, they got all types of crazy crap.  
"All types of crazy crap" does a pretty good job of describing the contents of the Ready Ref Sheets, now that I think about it.  Imagine if you took the 1st edition DMG, removed everything but the charts and sprinkled it with extra pixie dust and nonsense.  That's Ready Ref Sheets.  It's so jam-packed with random dice charts, slim but potent rules and useful charts that I discover or rediscover something upon every reread.
This time I found a gem in the section on Women (pages 5 and 6).  This part of the book is infamous for the small chart that allows one to calculate the bust, waist and hip measurements of female characters based upon their Charisma and Constitution scores.  But that's not what is intriguing me today.  Instead, I want to look at this chart:


Following this chart, nearly a quarter of all women in the City State of the Invincible overlord have fantastic hair colors, except for the 1% of them that are bald.  Note that, as written, neither race nor age modify this chart.  Furthermore, although Auburn is listed as a hair color, Red Sonja style full on redheads don't appear here.

The other column is even more amazing.  1% of the women in the City State are Newhon Ghouls/Carcosan Bone Women.  The asterisks indicate that furred women also have cat tales (evidence of cat girls in a D&D manual circa 1978!), feathery women have wings (are they functional or vestigial? the note doesn't say), and scaly women are "half mermaid."  Would that be one quarter fish, three-quarters woman?  If this chart is to be believed, the demographics of the Wilderlands is pretty wild before you even take monsters and demihumans into account.

The situation with Tress Tints gets even more interesting when you look at the modifiers.  One kind of woman you can encounter in the City State (via the gorgeous chart filling most of page 2) is "Daughter."  Few details are given, but the intent is clearly for the PCs to try to make some time with one of these gals and get in trouble with dad.  Daughter's are listed as taking a -30% penalty on the Tress Tints roll.  That means a Daughter can only have Sable, Auburn, Blonde or Brunette hair, with Brunette being the most like color by a large margin.  My read of this is that all the other listed colors are dye jobs.  The fathers of these Daughters won't allow them to wear their hair silver or lilac, so they all end up going out with their natural hair color.

Since Houris (i.e. prostitute) roll a +30% on this chart, I think the intention was that only women of dubious reputation or daring fashionistas dye their hair in the City State.  But here's the weirdest part: because a 00 is a result of Bald, any Tress Tint roll for a Houri of 70 or more will result in a bald sex worker.  

What the heck is going on in the City State that 3 out of ten prostitutes shaves their head?  Is this some kink that's popular with the local johns?  Is shaving your head part of the initiation ceremony to join the Courtesan Guild, which according to the random guild chart on page 3, is a real thing?  I don't know what the deal here is, but if your City State campaign does not include bald harlots then you are clearly doing it wrong.

Bubs says "Buy Ready Ref Sheets today!"

Friday, January 02, 2015

new Wyrminghall campaign, session 1

Wyrminghall before it fell into ruin
In the world of blind drunk adventurers, the one-eyed dwarf is a key member of the party.  Xorth the Insinuator, drow cleric (Zak Smith); Radomir the Rad, fighter (Eeri Oikarinen); and Sir Ward the Paladin (Reynaldo Madrinan) showed up to the dungeon totally blotto.  Initially, only the dwarf Otto One-Eye (Paul C.) is sober, but later the creep known as It Lives! (Robert Parker) joins the party.

The party had some difficulty gaining entrance to the hall, as Sir Ward accidentally pulled the massive front door down onto himself.  The noise of this nonsense drew the attention of some wandering killer platypi, one
the new face of terror
of whom tried to eat Sir Ward's face as he laid trapped under that damn door throughout the entire combat.  You know what I like about running FLAILSNAILS games?  Half the party pulled out guns and shot the platypi.  I had no idea that was going to happen.

Once inside the hall the players the menaces of weak floorboards, time slippages, mysterious purple mists, and a monstrous domestic dispute in the room next door.  The party came *super* close to a confrontation with the deadliest creature in the above ground portion of the dungeon with nary a clue that they were that near to their doom.  They recovered a single treasure: an elaborately carved ivory box containing a matching self-grooming appropriate for a dwarf lass, which was promptly sold off.

Sorta what they found under the pillow-monster's bed
Not too shabby for the opening session of a new campaign.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

This may seem somewhat familiar...

Official Wyrminghall Background Info

Lo! You have heard the story of the Dragon-Knights of old, now hearken to the tale of kind King Ægidius founded the realm known as the Little Kingdom. The former alehouse bully achieved this feat by subduing the great dragon Locheed and claiming its great hoard of treasure. He was able to achieve this victory with the aid of a phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range. The king imprisoned his pet dragon in a great pit and built over it a great feast-hall, which became known as Wyrminghall, owing to the great wyrm contained below it. From his mighty hall the king founded Order of the Wyrm, a small order consisting of His Majesty and his nine bravest vassals. Although he paid nominal tribute to Alfred the Great, the lord of Wyrminghall ruled the Little Kingdom free of outside interference. 

Despite the king's ineptitude as an administrator, the Little Kingdom flourished, owing in large part to the fear of neighboring kings. None dared make war against the realm, for fear that the last thing they saw would be a flash of green scales shimmering in the bright sunlight, followed by an enveloping gout of fire. Another factor in the success of the kingdom was the influence of Queen Matilda, wife of the Lord of Wyrminghall. More shrewd than her husband, she was also known as a witch. It was said that she first expanded the pits below Wyrminghall, adding a series of vaults to better protect the treasures of the realm and fiendish traps to guard the vaults as well as a series of dungeons and torture chambers for the benefit of local tax evaders. Some tunnels below the hall are said to be the result of the dragon attempting to burrow his way out of bondage to the king. Another tale suggests that some of the excavations originated from deep below the hall, made by the the undergnomes known as the smurfnibblins in an attempt to locate the gold and silver of the king. 

The first Lord of Wyrminghall enjoyed a long reign, as many as eighty winters by some accounts, before dying in bed of a bad sniffle. His wife ruled as regent for several years until their son returned home from fighting as a mercenary in France. The son of the original king and queen of Wyrminghall, George, ascended to the throne. Barely adequate as a warrior and terrible at everything else, the second Lord of Wyrminghall's reign was short and disastrous, with most of the Dragon-Knights dying in battle against marauders or seeking service with a more worthy liege. The second lord died without issue, leaving the tattered realm in the hands of his henchman Sir Suovetaurilius. Eventually the hall was abandoned completely. What remained of the Little Kingdom was absorbed into the Kingdom of Wessex. Much later, Wilchester the Mad, one of the founders of the Invisible School of Thaumaturgy at Christminster University, briefly took up residence in the now ruined hall. No one knows when the dragon left Wyrminghall to return to its native Wales, but all authorities agree the beast is long gone from the vicinity.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Wyrminghall Campaign Info

Here I am trying to blog while my buddy Pat has put on the RiffTrax version of the Star Wars Holiday Special.  I haven't seen this thing in its entirety since the original broadcast.  Anyway, I wanted to talk today about my new FLAILSNAILS game.  Here are the basic details.

  • We'll begin with some standard dungeoneering.
  • The game will run from about 4 to 6 am Central Time (UTC -6) on Fridays.  Please don't sign up if you aren't regularly available during this time.
  • Since this is a FLAILSNAILS game, you can import some sort of terrible PC from other games.  PCs above 3rd level will be subject to the standard FLAILSNAILS handicapping chart.  Or you can make a PC of your own using the rules below.
  • The rules will be based upon Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  A free no-art version of the Rules & Magic book is available for download here.  For those unfamiliar with LotFP, it's not that different from D&D Basic/Expert.
    • Since the setting is pseudo-historical (mid 12th century England plus elves), some items on the standard LotFP price list are not allowed.  I'll get a revised price list up eventually, but for now the key item is no plate armor of any type.  (FLAILSNAILS visitors wearing platemail may find their armor subject to Chronotonic Degradation, whatever that means.)
    • Clerics must pick a religious affiliation that they obsessively champion: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Satanism, and Paganism are all legit options.
    • MU's and Elves must pick a starting Blasphemy.  This is some sort of idiosyncratic, heretical belief about the universe.  Basically all arcane casters are cosmic conspiracy nuts.
    • Fighters can begin play as Knights if the player so desires.
    • Halflings are ridiculously, horribly French.
  • Interested?  To get into the player pool, fill out this brief Google Form.  On Wednesday or Thursday I'll contact some folks from the pool to put together a party.
Questions?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Timeliness is next to Godliness

One of the most mocked and most important lines in the first edition Dungeon Masters Guide is “YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT” (page 37).  

This is one of those great moments when Uncle Gary speaks directly to us, the Dear Readers.  It is also one of the places where EGG breaks out the dread ALL CAPS.  Two more good examples of the latter can be found on page 39, where we find the rule that PC magic-users gain “1 (and ONLY 1) spell” when they level up and that hench-MU’s will “ABSOLUTELY REFUSE” to share spells.  I’m also fond of the all caps Afterword on page 230.  You might have missed that bit, as it is right above that charming succubus drawn by Darlene Pekul.

Anyhoo, today I want to yank out two words from the above all caps sentence to focus on: meaningful and strict.  I feel if that line is to be anything more than throwaway Gygaxian bloviating, then we need to parse out those two words in particular.

How does one have a meaningful campaign?  I think there are two main ways of answering that question.  The first is to do the artsy-fartsy thing, weaving a big theme into your campaign.  Despite my use of the term “farsty” I am totally on board with this sort of thing, providing one aspires to grand themes while at the same time making sure to leave room in the campaign for regular type players.  But then, I‘m perfectly happy having Johnny Beat-Up-The-Orc play at my table.  If you only want roleplaying artistes in your superthematic game then you’re probably better off running Nobilis or Dogs in the Vineyard or whatever game the cool experimental rpg folks are up to nowadays.  (Don’t let me talk you out of running D&D as hippy-dippy performance art if that’s what you really want.  Just warn players ahead of time, please.)

But that’s not the kind of meaning I think Gygax is going for in his declaration about time in the campaign.  I suspect he meant something much simpler and more fundamental about player agency in roleplaying games.  Meaning in this sense is created by player choice leading to comprehensible (if not always expected) consequences.  Keeping track of time allows for the natural unfolding of those consequences, whether we are talking about short term items, like a torch going out, or medium term, like lycanthropy or some other dungeon-induced disease, or long term, like building a castle or the aging rules catching up with you after your consistent, ridiculous abuse of the haste spell.

Now let’s talk about the strict part.  Sometimes when reading the DMG the trick is grokking the general principle and ditching Gary’s idiosyncratic execution.  So maybe the one day between sessions = one day of campaign time rule doesn’t fit your campaign.  Chuck it out.  But the basic concept, that you need some standard of how time flows in your game, remains valid.  Pendragons use of one year per session proves that other standards work well to produce different kinds of meaning.  Since I like to roll dice, I’m considering d6 weeks between sessions for my next campaign.
    

This illo (DMG p 36) has very little to do with the blog entry.  It’s just the pic nearest the passage I yammer on about in this post.  I like to imagine the guy in the chainmail is saying to these guys “Dude!  Be my henchman and you get your choice of either of these super sweet longswords as a signing bonus!”  Beardy McDarkeyes is clearly tempted, but Moptop Jones seems nonplussed.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Update

So I've got a serious offer to write a second dungeony dragony type book, even though the first one is still delayed.  (I've seen a sample of the new layout and a draft of the cover and they are both hella sweet, by the way.)  I don't feel right talking about the business details of the new thing, except to say that if I were to take this offer, here are the things that would have to come together for me:

1) The book would have to overlap with my research interests here at school.  So either a Wessex book or a book in which Romantic poets beat up goblins.  The former would be a hex-and-key, hey have some dungeons, and treasures and whatnot book.  The latter would be more like what if Masks of Nyarlahotep was set in 1816 London.  I'm up for either but I have a LOT of material already for Wessex and since my classes next semester are set to kick my ass*, I should really choose the path of least resistance.

2) I told my new player group that if I take this gig the system and setting will be determined by my writing needs and most of them were cool with that.  So I've got the green light from them.

3) As I've been thinking this through I've come to the conclusion that I need to get back in the saddle with respect to blogging and flailsnailing (yes, it's a verb now).  But I can't do this without all y'all backing me up.  I need some cool peoples to step up and promise to give me sixteen shades of hell if I let a week go by without a blog post of some kind or two weeks without running a game online.  I probably don't have time to follow the sweet new releases or to keep up on the gossip, but I am going to make time for the thing itself.

So that's the deal.  New Wessex stuff, a new dungeon, new blog posts, as long as you promise to hassle me if one week from today there is no new post or if I haven't run a game in 2 weeks.


*In my program only a fool takes two PhD seminars in one semester and I am that fool come January.