In-Person Old-School

Forgot to mention that I recently got in my first in-person B/X game for over a year. It was also the first time I’d gamed in-person with my son since about 2015. So it was great.

Also the first time my son had encountered RUST MONSTERS, and there were some disappointments about the results.

For the record, I rule that a +1 weapon that rusts becomes a +0 but still magical weapon. Though it’s reduced in effectiveness, some enchantment remains and it is still capable of hitting monsters that can only be hit by magic.

Over the past year I’ve become used to some of the features of online play and definitely see a lot of advantages to virtual tabletops. Still, sitting around a table and rolling real dice is the best way to play.

I am thinking about ways to combine in-person play with VTTs to get the best of both worlds, both for old- and new-school. I might have a chance this weekend to try out a few things and will report on my results if it happens.

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Mayday, Mayday…

Recently, I did a little Traveller starship combat using the Book 2 vector system. Today, I decided that May Day was a great time to do a little Mayday using the standard rules rather than the Traveller-ized system I generally use. Loads of fun, but the fight was inconclusive.

The best chance I had as green had was my first missile, but anti-missile laser fire took it out as it closed in. A red missile was zeroing in on my ship, but it ran out of fuel before it could intercept.

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Twilight: 2000 NPC Motivation Card System

Back in the 1980s I followed the development of GDW’s Twilight: 2000 game in their newsletter and picked it up shortly after it’s release. Unfortunately, despite liking the system and absolutely loving the concept and setting details, we never really did play it very often. It’s one of those games that I didn’t use nearly as much as I read it.

One of my favorite parts of the system, and something that I used in other games, is the playing card system to determine NPC motivations. I’m not sure if it was original to Twilight: 2000, but I still recall where I was when I first read it. I almost immediately began to use it in Traveller, AD&D, and eventually 2e AD&D.

For those unfamiliar with it, motivations of semi-important NPCs are determined by two draws from a deck of 52 standard playing cards. The suit determines the particular motivation and the number determines the intensity of that motivation. Clubs represent a motivation of “Violence,” diamonds represent “Wealth,” hearts represent “fellowship,” and spades represent “power.” For example:

SPADES: Power: The NPC seeks personal power and influence. At low levels this manifests itself mostly as boastfulness and a desire to impress the NPC‘s peers. At middle levels it indicates a wish to be in a position of real responsibility in an organization. At high levels it indicates a desire to manipulate and control the people around him, to become a ruler of men.

Two cards are drawn, with the lower motivation being secondary to the higher. This can quickly and easily add a second dimension to an NPC. A 7 of Diamonds and a 5 of Clubs, for example, means that not only is that NPC motivated by a desire for riches but that he or she is not above using violence to get it. That same 7 of Diamonds with a 5 of Hearts, however, could mean that the desire for wealth is tempered by loyalty and even a little generosity when called for. Two very different people motivated by the accumulation of money.

Aces are high in this system, and aces and face cards represent extreme motivations related to that suit’s general inclination. For example, the Ace of Clubs is a “War Leader” experienced in violence with great morale and coolness in the chaos of battle. The Jack of Spades is “Pompous,” motivated by power and quick to lord it over others when he has it (or even if he doesn’t…).

I don’t think I’ve used the system since the 1990s, but I’ve meant to give it another look and try it out again.

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25% Sale at D&D Beyond

One of the things I like the most about 5E are the online tools and apps at DNDBeyond.com. Very useful and getting better all the time. I like that it’s a RAW implementation of the character rules and can be used to make sure you’ve got all your modifiers right. They recently added full access to sources for the player app, and I use the app as my character sheet when playing.

One thing I don’t like is that after buying the books I have to turn around and buy them again on D&D Beyond if I want access to those rules. (And even again on Roll20 if I want access there, but that’s a different post.) However, they frequently run good sales and they’ve currently got a 25% off all books deal running. I’m adding a few. It includes the upcoming Ravenloft book, too, though I’m holding off on that for now. Sale runs through May 2nd.

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City Encounters

A comment online made me look to see what I’d ever written about the City Encounters supplement by Matt Finch. And it turns out I’ve written nothing about it, which is weird because I think it’s one of my favorite and most-used game supplements ever.

I bought the PDF in 2008 or 2009 for use with both Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord, and all of my games have featured it since. Many adventures have started out as random results in the list of 600+ encounters, many interesting roleplay moments resulted from others, and some of them became seeds for things that are developing to this day.

The results have a great sword & sorcery vibe and just enough info to launch an interesting interaction, a fun chance meeting that becomes a recurring thing, or sometimes a full-blown subplot or adventure.

#406 Food vendor Smark and his steamed eels (“Ten for a gold! You’ll wish you’d bought twenty!“) is a perennial favorite in the city of Vanderbridge, and those eels have satisfied many an adventurer’s hungry appetite and been surprisingly useful in some surprising situations. I probably rolled Smark in 2014 and he has been keeping things slimy ever since.

There are also some useful tables in the back for random spellbooks, NPC traits, and such, though I didn’t use them a lot except back when I was playing S&W White Box for a while.

Sadly, City Encounters doesn’t appear to be available any longer. I’m not even sure if it was ever available in print. But, if you have an opportunity to get hold of a copy–or if you’ve had an unused copy of the PDF sitting in a subfolder somewhere for the past decade or more–check it out. Though originally designed for S&W, its lite approach makes it useful for not only all oldschool games but the newschool as well. Highly recommended and definitely the most-used OSR-type supplement I’ve ever owned.

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What’s our vector, Victor?

That hole-punched Book 2 is actually my original from Deluxe Traveller in 1982.

Most of the Traveller starship combat we’ve ever done was “theater of the mind”-style descriptive. More recently, I’ve used Mayday rules a few times. I’ve never even tried the Starter Traveller band system, though I think it would probably work just fine.

In my early days, I really struggled with the vector system outlined in Book 2. I really wanted to be able to do it, but I didn’t quite get it. I remember even asking my dad to help me with it but he didn’t really get it, either. It took a long time for me to grok, and I think a huge issue I had was that lines 1 and 2 in the example–explained as 75mm and 25mm in length, respectively–were BOTH THE SAME LENGTH. As a kid, it never occurred to me that a book like that could have an error in it, and I assumed that I just plain didn’t understand something about what the rules meant. Also, the talk about the vector’s angle in degrees is not necessary and only added to my confusion.

When the lightbulb finally went on, I was able to figure it out…mostly. The 100mm per G length was too large for me (I didn’t have a gymnasium floor to play Traveller on) so I reduced that to 10mm. And I proceeded to fight out battles on paper with a pencil and a ruler, sometimes needing to tape another sheet on the edge, and watching a web of vectors grow.

Tonight, for probably the first time since the 1980s, I busted out a ruler and drew some vectors, thankful for a whiteboard. It all came back pretty quickly, and 30+ years has helped me figure out even quicker ways to lay them down. I think that the original vector system is a lot of fun, though I need to brush up on some of the combat rules. In play, I’d probably erase the previous vectors, but I wanted to watch the track grow and be able to make sure about what I was doing.

I probably should get a larger whiteboard. I’ve often contemplated putting a 4’x8′ sheet up on the wall of my study. Maybe this is the excuse I need.

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50th Anniversary of the first Blackmoor Game

April 17th:

50 years ago today, a group of gamers gathered in the basement of the Arneson home in St.Paul, Minnesota.

They were there for the monthly meeting of their war game club, the Midwest Military Simulation Association. For the gamers who played with Dave Arneson, this night would be similar to every other game night. No one could have known that this would be the beginning of Fantasy Gaming as a hobby industry worth billions of dollars.

It is easy to romanticize an event such as Arneson’s first foray as a fantasy game master. To the Blackmoor Bunch it was just another Braunstein role playing game which was already a very familiar play style to them.

They had also been given some idea that this game would be different from the historical wargaming they had been doing due to a tiny announcement in the previous issue of their fanzine, The Corner of the Table Top.

I was not even two years old at the time. I started playing RPGs in September of 1982 when I asked for and received Traveller for my birthday and was introduced to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons that December. So the industry had grown and begun to mature by the time I got my start, and for a long time I was not terribly interested in the origins and the playstyles of the early days. But over time my appreciation for the way things developed and especially why they developed the way they did has become an increasingly-important topic for me, both out of historical curiosity and to be able to understand and run the game more like it was originally meant to be run.

As time has passed, I’ve discovered that many of the bits and pieces that I most enjoy about the game seem to be from Arneson’s contributions. And I sort of suspect that a lot of inspiration for parts of Traveller come from what we now see as “Arnesonian” ideas, though I have no facts to back that up. But I’ve been a little surprised to learn that when there were two ways to do things, I usually come down on the Arneson side of the line. It’s a little like one day suddenly realizing that your answer to the “John or Paul” question is “George.”

I’ve been wanting to re-watch the excellent Secrets of Blackmoor documentary again, and the passing of this 50th anniversary is an excellent reason.

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Character Sheet for B/X and OSE

Here is my one-sided sheet for my Kilgore’s Advanced Old-School Essentials (KAOSE) game. It uses the letter codes from OSE for saving throws and abilities, but should be usable in almost any oldschool D&D game. It’s very basic, which is the point.

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