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Showing posts from June, 2012

Reboots, Reality Shifts, and Retcons

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In the 1980s DC Comics felt they had a problem. If you were new to comics you could pick up two comics with Superman in them and be unaware they took place in different universes. All the DC Heroes of the 1930s, 40s, and early 50s were from a universe called Earth-2. More modern heroes lived in a universe called Earth-1. Both Supermen had a secret identity Clark Kent, though the Superman of Earth-2 began his career in the 1930s while the Superman of Earth-1 began his career "a few years ago". Similarly the Flash of Earth-2 had as a secret identity Jay Garrick, also beginning his career in the 30s/40s while the Flash of Earth-1 was Barry Allen, beginning his career "a few years ago". Sometimes characters from these universes met each other.

Add to these universes ones where heroes and villains swapped, universes for characters from companies DC Comics had acquired, etc. and DC felt their continuity had become convoluted. Their solution was Crisis on Infinite Earths…

Fiction Review: C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

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My gateway into fantasy literature was not, as seems standard for my generation, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings but rather C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, of which The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the first novel.

I'm not 100% certain but I believe I may have watched the 1979 animated version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe prior to reading it for the first time. I do remember the Narnia novels displayed prominently in the children's section of my local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

So to start, lets talk a bit about The Chronicles of Narnia. They are a series of seven juvenile fantasy novels, originally published in the 1950s, telling tales of children from our world who visit the magical land or Narnia. Narnia is a land of talking beasts and fantasy creatures, where a Son of Adam or Daughter of Eve is meant to sit on the throne of Narnia. By that terminology one can quickly see the novels have a religious component and indeed Lewis i…

RPG Review: Caves and Caverns

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Examining my history with D&D I find it interesting to notice some of the products that I missed. For whatever reason, my early gaming was entirely devoid of any Judges Guild products.

Judges Guild was one of the first (maybe the first) licensed 3rd party publisher for D&D. They produced lots of supplements, from settings to adventures to reference charts. For whatever reason, I never encountered any of their products.

A number of their products are available for download at RPGNow, though to be honest, the quality of their scans is pretty horrible. I've been occasionally sweeping up reasonably priced physical copies of their books that I find online.

Recently I acquired their Caves and Caverns product. It is described as "Forty-Eight Caves & Caverns with Nine Pages of Charts & Guidelines using the City State Campaign Hexagon System." With that description I was expecting something resembling TSR's Dungeon Geomorphs. Their mention of the Campaign Hex…

Clerics, Blunt Weapons, and Christian Assumptions

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One of the neat things about digging up many of pre-1970s works that inspired D&D is finding the origins of some of D&D's concepts and rules.

One items which received a lot of humor back in its day was the restriction of clerics only being able to use blunt weapons as they were forbidden from using weapons which shed blood. Anyone who has seen a medieval mace knows that a solid hit with one of those is going to shed a lot of blood, blunt weapon or not.

Recently I was reading Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. It included the following statement:
[The knight] also had available, either attached tio his saddle or carried by his squire, a longer sword for thrusting like a lance, a battle-ax fitted with a spike behind the curving blade, and a club-headed mace with sharpened, ridged edges, a weapon favored by martial bishops and abbots on the theory it did not come under the rule forbidding clerics "to smite with the edge of the sword.&qu…

Inspirational Reading for Classical Rome and Late Antiquity

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This isn't so much of a full review as it is some quick thoughts on some of the  inspirational pieces I've perused in preparation for my current campaign. Many RPGs are set in different historical eras and D&D tends to be in a setting that has some resemblance to the Middle Ages. This was probably more true in older incarnations of D&D - later generations of D&D tend to crank the fantasy dial up quite a bit.

While I'd indicated that D&D tends to be rooted in the Middle Ages I'm tweaking that assumption for my Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign. This campaign, while not set on Earth, is taking a page from Adventurer Conqueror King and is using the period of Late Antiquity as its primary inspiration. What is Late Antiquity? Its exact timing is a matter of debate, usually including some or all of the period between the 2nd and 8th centuries. It is the period where the western half of the Roman Empire fell and its eastern half found itself fighting for surviv…

RPG Review: The Rogues Gallery

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The D&D Basic Set had a spell known as "Floating Disk". It created a magical platform that would follow you around. Obviously its purpose was to provide a way to carry loot out of the dungeon - though you have to pity the poor magic-user who had that as his only spell. Congratulations, you studied magic for all those years to become a pack horse for a barbarian warrior!

When I purchased the AD&D Players Handbook thinks changed. The Floating Disk spell was changed. Now it was "Tenser's Floating Disk". And this wasn't the only named spell - you got all sorts of spells from the wizard Bigby to allow the creation of grasping hands, crushing hands, clenched fists, etc. There were spell immunity spells from Serten. It gave a glimpse of a game that was played by real people. Reading articles from The Best of Dragon Vol. 1 (which I encountered at a Brooklyn bookstore where I also purchased The Fellowship of the Ring) I got more glimpses of Gary Gygax's…

Developing a New Campaign Setting - Welcome to Kraken Isle

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I've spent a bit of free time working out the details for my campaign setting for Dungeon Crawl Classics. It actually took a bit of debate going back and forth between that and Adventurer Conqueror King System. In the end I decided on DCC, largely due to its somewhat lighter workload for the Judge, though I definitely want to run or play a game of ACKS at some point. I've posted some previous musings on this setting and this may contradict some of them - as the game gets closer to its first session the setting is becoming more concrete as some ideas are modified or discarded.

As I mentioned previously I'm inspired by what I consider to be TSR's old "mini-sandbox" adventures. I don't foresee running a "true" sandbox game with everything wide open but I do want to incorporate a large element of player control. This is what I observed TSR doing in several of their early adventures. While the Lendore Isle series of adventures remains a big inspirati…

Film Analysis: Prometheus

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(Warning - there be spoilers for the movie Prometheus as this is more a discussion than a proper review.)

As I mentioned previously, I saw Ridley Scott's Prometheus over the weekend. I've long been a fan of the Alien series of movies (though for some reason my parents didn't take me when I was seven years old to see the original when it first came out. Going through high school and college I was a fan of the Dark Horse Comics various spinoff series (which manage to get more and more invalidated with every new release, though they are still well worth reading in their own right).

The nasty chest-bursting xenomorphs from the series inspired tons of creations in my science fiction gaming - I added my own xenomporph's to my FASA Star Trek game, coming up with the idea of the critters being biological weapons.

So, what of Prometheus? Despite clearly taking place in the same Alien universe, it is not truly an Alien movie. A variation of the familiar Alien xenomorph appears …

RPG Review: Expedition to Barrier Peaks

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Having just seen Prometheus this weekend science-fiction is a bit on my mind right now. This has me thinking about one of the odder 1st edition AD&D adventures, Expedition to Barrier Peaks.

Expedition to Barrier Peaks was, according to its preface, written for the Origins II convention as a way to introduce players to Metamorphosis Alpha, the 1970s TSR RPG about the inhabitants of a lost generation ship (who are no longer aware they are on a ship). In this adventure a space colonization expedition was struck by a plague. Attempting to stop the spread of the plague the components of the ship separated and went their separate ways. The one the adventure takes place on found its way through a black hole to the World of Greyhawk (obviously one could move it to another fantasy setting). Per the story worker robots cleared the cargo hatch and released various alien fauna, some of which prospered (providing an interesting explanation for some of the odder D&D monsters).

Of late local…

Speed Factors and Weapons vs. Armor

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Back in the 80s my gaming group quickly "graduated" from D&D to AD&D. Though it sure would have been nice if TSR could have gotten out The Temple of Elemental Evil a bit faster.

In 1st edition AD&D I recall there were two rules we pretty much totally ignored (well there were probably more than two...) These were rules for weapon speed factor and for weapons getting different bonuses and penalties vs. different types of armor.

These were decent ideas in theory but in practice we really could not makes heads or tails of the rules. That's not entirely true - we couldn't make heads or tails of the speed factor rules.

With that in mind let's start with Weapons vs. Armor. This one is simply enough to understand. Any given weapon is more effective against some armors than others. This makes sense. Consider the medieval knight. He did not go around with a single weapon. At the very least he had his lance, mace, and sword. (As an aside, raise your hand if you…

Assembling Resources for a DCC Campaign

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With a nice sized group of players I'm in the process of gathering my resources for a Dungeon Crawl Classics game. With a family and job the days of creating everything from scratch are in the past but I still generally like to have my own setting and adventures, though borrowing where possible.

One of the neatest resources I've found is the set of tools developed by Purple Sorcerer Games. They've developed a set of character generators which will randomly roll up a group of four zero-level PCs, including starting background, equipment, all stats, etc. Perfect for an opening adventure. The tools also have a dice roller which has dice-rollers for all the types of dice DCC uses. Adding to its usefulness it also roll for fumbles, critical hits, corruption, spell effects, etc. It includes summaries of various rules such as aspects of combat, special abilities, etc.  Purple Sorcerer has a Kickstarter campaign to make this available as an Android and iOS app - I'd encourage …

Fiction Review: Tom De Haven's "It's Superman"

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I love superheroes, New York City, and the 1930s. To be honest, I really only have a legitimate connection to New York City, being originally a Brooklyn boy. But the art deco cityscape of the 1930s always held a high fascination for me and my grandfather, a New Yorker his entire life save for a tour in Italy in World War II, often shared with me his love and knowledge of New York City.

Tom De Haven's novel It's Superman takes one of, if not the most, iconic superheroes - the original, Superman. In the wrong hands Superman is a boring character. He's a boyscout and is never conflicted. He's too powerful, forcing many writers to think of ways to de-power him. Though in the right hands he is an amazing character.

But what I've been describing above is the character of Superman as he evolved over history. When he first appeared he was not the familiar character of today. His costume, while fancy, wasn't all that exotic, recognizable as a union suit or workout clot…

RPG Review: Slave Pits of the Undercity

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Dungeon Module A1, Slave Pits of the Undercity, is one of the classics of the 1st edition of AD&D. It was later collected into the "supermodule" Scourge of the Slave Lords. A sequel appeared very late in the 2nd edition of AD&D with the Wizards of the Coast-published adventure Slavers.

I got a lot of mileage out of this series. I know I DM-ed Slave Pits of the Undercity at least three times, possibly more. One of the more memorable times was in its collected version. Just my brother and I gamed our way through it, making liberal use of the pregenerated PCs in the adventure, with Karraway the cleric and Blodgett the halfling thief playing major roles in later adventures (and the poor ranger Freda turned to stone for a basilisk and stuffed into a portable hole for later restoration but hence forgotten and rediscovered years later during an inventory - "this fascinating statue I refer to as 'terrified ranger'"...

I recently made the discovery that sev…

Player vs. Character Abilities

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On a recent Google+ conversation I found myself discussing what makes an "old school" D&D game. Part of the conversation involved whether throttling back character abilities is what makes something old school. For example, in AD&D your magic-user can cast a single 1st level spell once per day at first level. He might have as few as 1 hit point and can wear no armor nor master the weapons of a fighter. In the 3rd edition of D&D your 1st level wizard may have multiple spells per day with high intelligence, is guaranteed to start off with at least 4 hit points (barring low constitution), can wear armor if he wants to risk spell failure, can learn how to use fighter weapons, etc. Moving on to 4th edition this wizard at 1st level now has an unlimited amount of magic missiles available to him.

Clearly character abilities, especially at low levels, is something that has increased with newer editions of the game. I'd argue that is certainly part of what one finds in …