Showing posts from April, 2013

D&D Products of the 1970s and Sandbox Games

One thing I've noticed is the D&D products of the 1970s seem awfully different from the material produced now. Not totally - looking through the material that companies like the Judges Guild and TSR produced, adventures have always been popular. (Though the adventures of the day were a lot more open/easy to drop into a campaign.)

But what I see is a lot of products designed as resources for Dungeon Masters. You had your Monster & Treasure Assortments and Dungeon Geomorphs. Judges Guild produced a gazillion products with dungeon and wilderness maps, random encounters, etc.

As I'm prepping my first "real" sandbox style game I have to confess I see the utility in them. Not knowing precisely what the players will do has me going through my not inconsiderable gaming library (stretching, if not back to the 1970s, at least to the 80s - when a lot of those old products were still in print). Lots of adventures I've used in the past seem just perfect for location …

ACKS Campaign Setting - The Corrin Empire

It's been a little quiet here over the past week as I prepped for my new ACKS game. I thought it might be interesting to share the results, both in terms of general interest and as a resource for my campaign.

Starting Points Unlike most fantasy RPG settings, ACKS does not have a pseudo-medieval setting as its default setting. Rather it is set in a period called "Late Antiquity", a period more commonly referred to as the Dark Ages. The Roman Empire had fallen - at least the western half of it had. The eastern half endured for another millennia, with its periods of growth and decline - at one point managing to reconquer much of the western empire. New nations came into existence, though it should be noted our idea of a nation is a rather new one. 
For my setting I am making my Roman analogue the Corrin Empire. It still exists, though in a much reduced form. Several of the nations on the map nominally owe it allegiance though in practice they are self-governing. To the west…

A Rough Week in Boston

Pretty much the whole world is aware of what happened in Boston this past week. It began with a bomb going off in Boston and ended with a manhunt that involved multiple shootouts and the entire area shut down.

I've lived in the MetroWest suburbs of Boston since 1996, living about 30 miles away from the city itself. Being born in New York City I have to be honest that my sports allegiances remain those of my youth - the Mets, Giants, and Knicks. Yet my wife and I have grown to love the city and its surrounding area. (And I was most definitely rooting for the Red Sox to beat the Yankees in 2004.) Being a history buff, especially that of the American Revolution and early national period, I love the fact that Massachusetts celebrates Patriots' Day, commemorating the start of the American Revolution with the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.

Part of the celebration of Patriots' Day is the running of the Boston Marathon. It is difficult to describe the importa…

Swords & Wizardry & Me: Reflections and Applications

A second post in one day. Eek!
My earlier post today for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day was more on the practical side. I wanted to provide the community with something that might be handy in their games. I'm probably most proud of the idea of short-duration scrolls. What I was looking for was a way to give the magic-user a little extra while not unbalancing him, either at low levels or high levels. With scrolls that don't last indefinitely no magic-user is going to stockpile them and assigning a cost to them will make sure they aren't used flippantly. But it gives low level magic-users just a little something extra while still keeping them rather delicate at low levels.

For this follow-up post I wanted to reflect a bit on the Swords & Wizardry game as a whole. I've never been at the core of the "Old School Renaissance" - I've played and run lots of games, old and new, and bear none any particular ill will. Some I have more fun with than othe…

Balancing Classes in Swords and Wizardry

DM: "The box is the size of a small trunk; it is latched but not locked."  Dougal: "I'm looking for traps on the box."  DM (rolling for Dougal's "find traps" ability. The roll indicates that Dougal has failed to find the poisoned needle in the latch.) "You don't find a trap."  Morgan (the group's leader): "Black Dougal will open the box."  DM: "Black Dougal, you find out that you missed a tiny discolored needle in the latch. Roll a saving throw vs. Poison, please!"  Dougal (rolling): "Missed it!"  DM: "Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."  Fredrik: "I'm grabbing his pack to carry treasure in."

Game balance. It's a tricky concept in RPGs. D&D 3rd and 4th editions made a very strong effort to balance the character classes with one another as well as to balance encounters. For my purposes, they went too far. As a Dungeon Master I f…

First Steps in a Sandbox - Going Forth Without Strider to Protect Us

Something that gets discussed in the "old school" gaming community is the idea of a sandbox game. I'm not certain I'd consider myself an "old school" gamer - I've played all sorts of games, starting with D&D Basic to some funky indie games like Risus and Wushu. So I'm the last person in the world to be an evangelist.

The idea of a sandbox game is the Dungeon Master/Game Master/Judge (I'm just gonna go with GM) sets up the environment and lets the players adventure. There is no plot the players have to follow - heck there is no dungeon the players have to go to. They can go wherever they want. For some, the preferred sandbox is a "megadungeon". For others it is a wilderness setting. And for others it could even be a political game. I'm having visions of a game based on the legend of King Arthur where players get to choose their own destinies. "No, we do not acknowledge Arthur as our king." And such players could conce…

Fiction Review: "Starship Troopers" by Robert Heinlein

I first discovered Starship Troopers in my sophomore year of college, as I dove into the world of "good" science fiction novels. It's a novel I've read several times. I also had the misfortune of seeing the film that is apparently based on a thorough reading of a few sentences of the back cover of the novel...

Starship Troopers tells the tale of Johnny Rico's joining and service in the Terran Federation's Mobile Infantry. The Federation is at war with  Arachnids (aka "bugs").

However, the plot of the novel is somewhat secondary - almost incidental. It is really a political manifesto. What is interesting is in the multiple times I've read this novel my own politics have shifted. Socially, I've always been liberal but over time my other views shifted from the right to the left.

The Terran Federation of Starship Troopers is a government in which the right to vote is only earned through at least two years of Federal Service. This service is impl…

RPG Review: Ready Ref Sheets

As I've mentioned in the past, my first version of D&D (and first exposure to RPGs in general) was via the "Magenta Box" D&D Basic Set. Some of the early D&D books I picked up advertised the "Original Collector’s Edition" of Dungeons & Dragons but I never encountered such a version. I had hints of what it was like with my copy of Best of Dragon Volume I which I encountered in a book store in Brooklyn's King's Plaza mall.

I was also therefore unfamiliar with the Judges Guild licensed products. I recall an advertisement or two for the Mayfair Games version of City State of the Invincible Overlord but that's about it.

The reason for this prelude is for a large number of the older RPG products I've reviewed in this blog I acquired them in the period they came out. My first encounter with this product was via purchasing a digital copy at RPGNow a few years ago (unfortunately the scan at RPGNow is of petty poor copy and it appears to …