Five Colors

Kilgore on March 8th, 2011

Here are the stages our homebrew game (now called Wizards & Warriors) has gone through in the past year:

  1. Tweaked Labyrinth Lord game
  2. Heavily house ruled Labyrinth Lord game
  3. Modified Labyrinth Lord game with new write-ups for monsters and spells
  4. New game based on Labyrinth Lord/B/X with a lot of OD&D influence on presentation
  5. New game based on Labyrinth Lord/B/X/OD&D but with 5 Color magic
  6. New humans-only game based on LL/B/X/OD&D but with 5 Colors for everything
  7. New 5 Colors game that sort of resembles LL/B/X/OD&D with a fair amount of classic Traveller influence

It was this seventh stage that freed us from the shackles of trying to pretend it was still just a modified version of D&D. Yes, the play will still resemble oldschool D&D, but the rules are not going to be constrained by attempts to “remain true” mechanically. I think the oldschool D&D spirit will still be there, and I even suspect that someone listening in on a session might not quite realize that we aren’t playing early 1980s D&D.

Either way, late last week I decided I was sick of always WORKING ON a new game and decided it was time to PLAY a new game.

So over the weekend my kids and I got in a short session of a new campaign, and here is what I’m using for our initial setting:

L1: The Secret of Bone Hill

L1: The Secret of Bone Hill

I’ve already made a lot of headway converting NPCs and monsters to our new system (and have worked out more details of that system while doing so) and am looking forward to getting more done.

My current plan is to use the Restenford area as a sort of base for a sandbox-type setting, with a number of other oldschool D&D modules placed here and there, along with some one-page dungeons and a number of my own creations. For instance, up the road from Restenford is a keep, and beyond the keep are what the locals call the Borderlands. Also, rumors of a certain ghostly tower can be heard whispered in the dark corners of the Dying Minotaur Inn, and tales from those who have ventured into the Borderlands tell of an ancient ruined city inhabited by….well, the PCs haven’t heard those rumors quite yet.

Why not the Forbidden Jungle? Well, to be honest, I’m having trouble convincing my current players (mostly my own family) that it’s a fun place to adventure. I’m now wondering if I should work on developing the Forbidden Jungle using Labyrinth Lord (+/- AEC). We’ll see about that, as well.

I do plan to incorporate at least parts of the other stuff developed for the L series into the campaign at some point, but we’ll have to see what effect the players have on the area before deciding exactly how and when.

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Kilgore on February 22nd, 2011

Believe me, I know that skill-based systems are gamea non grata in oldschool D&D circles. And I know that one of the main reasons so many oldschoolers love to hate thief is because it’s a skill-based character class. And that many like to ask if their character just falls off a horse because he doesn’t have the Horsemanship non-weapon proficiency.

We all get it. So can we get over it, now? Please? (And I won’t even mention the Ranger’s tracking ability that looks suspiciously like a skill and yet never left anyone asking “why can’t my magic-user try to follow these tracks?“)

So, in that vein, I’ve decided to avoid working on Forbidden Jungle some more by trying out an idea that has been buzzing in the back of my mind for, oh, close to 30 years. It’s not an original idea, by any means, and I even think that someone put something together not too long ago along these lines. I’ve not looked at it yet, in part because I want to pursue my own take for the time being.

So, without getting into details or admitting how woefully incomplete the system is, take a look at these characters that I rolled up tonight.

BRUTAR — Red Warrior — Lvl 2 — Age 17
STR 10, WIS 5, DEX 6, CON 11, CHA 4 — 29 Hit Points
Armor-3, Sword-2, Shield-1, Brawling-1
60 Gold Pieces

VERGALYN — White Warrior — Lvl 4 — Age 24
STR 10, WIS 8, DEX 7, CON 10, CHA 10 — 33 Hit Points
Mace-3, Hated Foe (Zombies)-2, Armor-1, Shield-1, Toughness-1, Bow-1, Leader-1
Heal Others-1
70 Gold Pieces
+1 Save vs Disease

DENTRAMANTIUS — Blue Wizard — Lv 2 — Age 18
STR 5, WIS 10, DEX 9, CON 3, CHA 5 — 14 Hit Points
Find Traps-1
Magic Blast-1, Read/Write Magic-1, Detect Magic-1, Light-1, Message-1, Mirror Image-1, Shocking Grasp-1
+1 Save vs Blue Magic
20 Gold Pieces

NAZRAT — Green Warrior — Lv 3 — Age 19
STR 7, WIS 4, DEX 8, CON 11, CHA 11 — 29 Hit Points
Bow-2, Short Sword-2, Armor-2, Shield-1
50 Gold Pieces

AGGER ‘The Dagger’ — Black Warrior — Lv 5 — Age 23
STR 5, WIS 2, DEX 12, CON 9, CHA 8 — 31 Hit Points
Dagger-2, Open Locks-2, Climb-2, Armor-2, Short Sword-1, Surprise-1, Pick Pockets-1, Sling-1, Appraisal-1, Hide-1, Disguise-1
40 Gold Pieces

DRALAVIN — Black Wizard — Lv 8 — Age 36
STR 1, WIS 8, DEX 11, CON 8, CHA 6 — 27 Hit Points
Surprise-3, Sneak-1, Pick Locks-1
Blindness-2, Scare-2, Speak with Dead-2, Ventriloquism-2, Detect Magic-1, Read/Write Magic-1, Light-1, Darkness-1, Shadow Cloak-1, Deafness-1, Amnesia-1, Suggestion-1, Wall of Shadow-1, Unseen Servant-1
40 Gold Pieces

The ability scores are on a scale slightly lower than the D&D-standard 3d6. The italicized items are magical spells or powers.

All of the powers, spells, and special abilities a character has are stated as [ability]-[rating]. Higher ratings are better. There are only a few skills that an unskilled character may not attempt.

If you’re wondering just exactly what the skill/power ratings mean and exactly how they improve the chances of success, or exactly how those spell-looking powers are going to work…I don’t quite know yet. That’s still being worked out.

Part of me wonders if this is similar to the WoTC versions of D&D. I’ve seen the massive stat blocks for everything, but I haven’t really done more than look through the 3e books a few times in passing and barel more than that for 4e.

You’ll note that none of them are first level. And also that, despite an apparent previous career, none of them can apparently ride a horse. (Well, there is no horsemanship skill…)

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Kilgore on February 7th, 2011

Readers have probably figured out that I am quite streaky when it comes to posting here, ripping off a post a day for stretches lasting weeks or even months, then going almost totally silent for periods just as long. That is no way to run a web site, and I apologize. I knew when I started this that I didn’t really have time for it, and I was right.

Anyway, my game playing, sadly, runs in the same sort of cycle. When other demands aren’t hogging all of the discretionary time (and then some), we usually make an effort to play more and, as a result, I end up creating all sorts of new material and posting some of it here.

Over the past few years, I’ve waffled on just what we’re going to play when we have time, and just how we’re going to play it. My initial plan to play Labyrinth Lord by the book and Swords & Wizardry White Box heavily house-ruled gave way to reality and the lack of time to play two different systems, let alone one that required a lot of tinkering. So we decided to go All Labyrinth Lord All the Time, with the idea that we’d incorporate a number of house rules and ideas that we had planned to use in our modified S&W White Box game.

My guess is that what happened to us happens to many gamers. Once we started tinkering, we couldn’t stop. A plan to make some adjustments led to the need to create modified rule outlines and accompanying tables, and once we crossed the line into creating our own material we failed our save vs. “houseruling.”

Our separate experiment with Five Color Magic resulting in a desire to incorporate this system into our game, and at that point, needing a fully-written player’s guide, we were looking at a totally separate system. Which is what I had been trying to avoid.

So here we are in 2011 and I am again looking at the options and wondering how to proceed.

Do we play a mostly-by-the-book Labyrinth Lord? If so, with or without the excellent Advanced Edition Companion? The advantage here is that it’s virtually 100% compatible with nearly everything else out there, including most OSR clone material and original TSR D&D material.

Do we play a heavily-modified Labyrinth Lord? If so, do we worry about our modifications breaking easy compatibility with standard LL? Giving thieves d6 hit dice or letting clerics use swords is no big deal. Re-organizing all spellcasters into five color-based classes or changing all monsters to use a one-roll lower-damage attack is. This is closer to what we want but not nearly so compatible.

Or do we play our homebrew Five Color Wizards & Warriors game, with two only two classes and five versions of each? We are 90% done with the rules guide, and we’re liking what we see. The problem, of course, is that no one else plays this game. The only ready material that exists is what we’ve written, and a lot of what I create won’t be terribly useful to blog readers, at least not as-is.

The freedom to create your own professional-looking material is a blessing and a curse. Back when the options to “publish” your own stuff was limited, my willingness to tinker was was limited to a few sheets of houserules that I’d photocopy. Things are so much better now that you can incorporate your changes directly into the text of the rules and print them up nicely, but that capability removes a reason to minimize your alterations.

What’s the best way? Whichever way gets you the game you want to play the most and gets the most use.

For us, that looks like our homebrew game.

We’ll always have the option to play another system, of course, but we’re going to throw our effort into this. Our playing has languished and that needs to change. I think our little creation gives us the best chance to do that, so that’s the plan.

What I post on the blog will probably remain fully-compatible with standard systems so as to be most useful to readers. I’m also left with the dilemma of how to proceed with the Forbidden Jungle. I’ve got a fair amount of work into it already and it’s looking pretty good (if I may say so myself), and I know that there are at least a few readers interested in seeing more FJ material. But how to make that material most accessible to those not playing my own little game? Not to mention the possibility of considering it for publication some day.

We’ll see.

UPDATE: I should add that the dilemma of “which game to play” is sometimes a contributing factor in our lack of playing. Without a clear direction, our effort has sometimes been splintered between things and we haven’t settled down and just done it. Time to do so.

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Kilgore on November 9th, 2010

The Five Color Game we’ve been working on for a few months is coming along (slowly) and, since player characters are all human, I’ve decided to spice things up on the demi-human front. Most of the races are going to be nudged away from the “character” side of the scale and much closer to the “monster” side. Dwarves won’t just be short humans with beards and dour attitudes, and halflings won’t be even shorter humans with jovial attitudes and a love for food.

Elves, especially, won’t look or act at all like either the fairy-inspired originals or the Tolkien-descended types that followed. While still demi-human, the emphasis will be on the “demi.” There will also be elves of different colors, and I’m thinking that their skin will reflect their basic alignment.

In fact, this pretty much sums up what I’m going for with the blue elves:

tsu tey from avatar

Blue Elf?

Let’s just say that random encounters with elves won’t usually end with singing ancient songs or a week spent healing in Rivendell.

Height-wise, I figure they’ll be roughly human-sized or a little shorter. I’m not sure about the tail, though. I might keep it just to underscore their non-human-ness.

Green elves will probably be quite similar, maybe a little less warlike and a little more druidy. Will there be elves of all five colors? Who knows, but I figure that most elves will strongly deny the existence of any black elves at all.

I think we’ll probably do something similar with the humanoid races, as well, though the differences between our color-ized versions and those in the original game won’t be nearly so great as orcs, goblins, gnolls, and the like are monsters already and players are used to seeing them as such.

What about dwarves? Does anyone have any suggestions for us to rip off use for inspiration for the short folk?

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Kilgore on October 10th, 2010

As my son and I continue to plow ahead on our homebrew Wizards & Warriors game, we’ve reached the point where we have started to write up magic items. We’re using B/X and Labyrinth Lord as our starting point with these, leaving the items listed in LL’s Advanced Edition Companion off of our lists. One reason for this is space; I’m trying to get our 8 level game to fit into 48 pages and if we included all of the advanced magic items we wouldn’t make it. As this ruleset is not intended for general release, I don’t have to worry about pleasing gamers I’ve never met or making sure that everything we’ve written is put together in such a way that it’s usable by anyone who picks it up.

I’m thinking that magic items will be a bit more common in our game than normal. I’m usually pretty stingy with permanent items, but the nature of our Wizards & Warriors game will probably mean that we’ll be seeing more items than usual, many of them color-specific in some way or other.

Another reason that we’re sticking with the more limited number of objects is that I’ve always sort of felt that the extensive lists of magic items were a bit much. Great reading and good for inspiration, but not necessarily a key requirement for a set of game rules. A few basic items listed and described to give DMs an idea of how such things often work, and let the imagination run wild after that. If the items don’t really follow the accepted norms for how magical objects work because the creator is unfamiliar with the existing standards, SO MUCH THE BETTER.

I considered including random tables of items but no descriptions. When the dice roll up Gauntlets of Ogre Power, for instance, it would be up to the DM to rule how the item worked. No two pairs of Gauntlets of Ogre Power would be exactly the same, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

I also thought about writing up the items but using only those from the Moldvay Basic set and not including those in the Expert set. This would give a few things to randomly generate if needed and would set a baseline for how magic items worked, but the relatively small number of items (54 total) would still leave things wide open.

In the end we chose to go with the B/X/LL lists and short descriptions as a good compromise. Like our spell and monster write-ups, we’re working hard to boil each magic item down to its bare essence and spelling it out as briefly as we possibly can.

Compare this Labyrinth Lord write up:

Staff of Withering [C]: This staff functions as a +1 staff that deals 2d4+1 hit points of damage when a charge is used. By using 2 charges and successfully striking an opponent, the staff ages a victim by 10 years. If three charges are spent in this attack, one of the victim’s limbs will shrivel into a mummified, useless member (saving throw versus spell-like devices is allowed). The aging effect will automatically kill most creatures that have a short lifespan. Also note that effects of spent charges are cumulative, such that if 3 charges are used, the victim will not only receive damage, but he will be aged and have a withered limb.

With ours:

Staff of Withering +1 to-hit, 1 charge causes 2d6 damage, and a second charge also ages hit target 10 years. One additional charge will cause hit limb to wither and become useless.

Note first that they aren’t exactly identical, as we’re tweaking a few things here and there as we go and also standardizing some stuff such as making staves do damage in multiples of 1d6 as a normal staff is a 1d6 weapon. Secondly, a lot of the details are left to the DM to sort out. The 1e DMG (which devotes 44 pages to magic item descriptions) notes that the aging effects of the staff of withering won’t do much to a dwarf and may actually help a dragon. We’ve decided not to make such notes a part of our ruleset.

Finally, a lot of the details in magic items and spell descriptions seem to be codification of rulings made at some point in the past. I noted this when looking at spell descriptions a while back.

For instance, the LL chime of opening item description notes that it will not work if used in a silenced area. That makes perfect sense, but we’ve elected to not include that note and leave it up to the DM to decide whether or not it is the sound of the chime that opens the locks and can be defeated by silence or if the sound itself is incidental and the chime works anyway.

Another example is the LL write-up for dust of appearance. It notes that the dust “likewise negates the effects of mirror image, cloak of displacement, and elven cloaks” despite having earlier specified that the dust “coats all objects within a 10′ radius, making them visible even if they are invisible.” We’ve decided that since we’ve specified that the dust will “all objects in 20’ area even if invisible, ethereal, etc.,” we don’t need to spell out that it affects those specific instances cited. Does this mean that we may run into a situation where someone with a cloak of displacement wants to argue that the dust shouldn’t affect him? Yes. And DM will have to make ruling, which is one of the DM’s main responsibilities. Also, we didn’t even bother mentioning how to go about blowing the dust through a tube; that sounds like an ingenious idea that some player had at one point and was ruled on by the DM. Then it was added to the rules themselves. We’re just dispensing from that last step.

With the infinite nature of magic item lists, we think that we’ll be just fine with a basic collection of standard-type items that can help inspire unique creations which will probably be found as often as the old stand-bys.

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Kilgore on October 6th, 2010

As we continue to tinker on our Wizards & Warriors Five Color Game, I am once again looking at spells and how they grow in power as the caster gains levels.

Numbers in this post will all be from Labyrinth Lord’s Advanced Edition Companion. It appears that the spells that were in the core Labyrinth Lord rules, which were based on the 1981 B/X D&D rules and used a lot of fixed durations and ranges, have been copied directly into the AEC. Spells in the AEC which were not in the core set, including virtually all of the druid and illusionist spells, seem to make a lot more use of effects which ramp up as the caster increases in level. This approach wasn’t used much in B/X but was quite common in AD&D.

There are a number of basic methods of spells increasing (or not) in power as the caster improves:

  1. Some spells are completely static. Sleep, for instance, has a fixed range (240′), duration (4d4 turns), total number of hit dice affected (2d8), and maximum HD level (4+1) that can be affected. These numbers do not change as the caster goes up in level. Sleep , even when cast by a high-level magic-user, only affects that number of that HD creatures for that long. There is no difference between a sleep spell cast by a first-level magic-user and a ninth-level magic-user.
  2. Some spells are static, but there are “improved” versions of the spell available for higher level casters. Cure light wounds, for instance, is a fixed first-level spell (cures 1d6+1 points of damage) that has an improved version, cure serious wounds (cures 2d6+2 points of damage) at 4th level. The improved version is also fixed. So while there’s no difference between a cure light wounds cast by a first-level cleric and ninth-level cleric, the ninth-level cleric will have cure serious wounds available.
  3. Some spells increase in power as the caster increases in power (level). There are many ways this is handled.
    • Fireball, for instance, does 1d6 damage per caster level. A third-level caster does 3d6 damage while a ninth-level caster does 9d6. The fireball is simply more powerful.
    • And for every five levels a caster has gained, two additional magic missiles may be fired with each spell. A first-level magic-user fires one while a ninth-level magic-user fires three. Each missile is as powerful as any other, but there are more of them for higher-level casters.
    • Range and duration are often dependent upon caster level, such as pass without trace (lasts one turn per caster level), warp wood (range of 10′ per caster level), and phantasmal killer (lasts 1 round per level and has a range of 5′ per level).
  4. Some spells use other various methods of taking the caster’s level into account. Examples include exorcise and dispel magic (where the chance of success is dependent in part upon the caster’s level), and raise dead (where the length of time since the subject died can increase as the caster goes up in level).

I’m considering changing all the spells in #2 (improved versions available at higher levels) to #3 (spells ramp up in effectiveness as the caster increases in level). This would negate the possibility of a caster knowing the better version but not the basic version. An illusionist, for instance, could know improved invisibility but not invisibility? I’m not sure if that makes much sense. And in our game we require clerics to learn spells like magic-users rather than having all spells available to be memorized, so a cleric could potentially know how to cure critical wounds but not minor ones?

Sorry. I know I was just able to heal the dwarf after his battle with the troll left his spleen hanging out, but I can’t do a thing about that smashed big toe of yours.

A discussion about our series of cure spells brought this up last spring, but I’ve resisted the idea until now.

Lately, I’m thinking about adjusting a few things that will negatively affect compatibility with the standard game, but we’ve already got a significant gap and I’m hesitant to stick with things I want to change just to preserve compatibility. After all, this game is meant for us only (no plans to publish it in any way other than making it available for others to look at) and I don’t have others’ ability to convert things to worry about.

What do you guys think? Is there a reason to NOT make a simple cure wounds spell that looks something like this:

Cure Wounds

Level: 1
Range: Touch
Duration: Instant

Permanently heals 2d4 hit points of damage. For every two levels the caster gains, add 1d4. Alternatively, the spell may cure paralysis instead of healing damage.

So a third-level cleric would cure 3d4, a fifth-level cleric would cure 4d4, and so on.

In addition, I’m wondering if at least some of the spells on the #1 list (completely static) might not be worth considering for the #3 list, as well. I believe that at least a few of them do have level-based specs in AD&D.

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Kilgore on September 18th, 2010

My apologies for the lack of posting. As we all know, sometimes the Real World interferes with both gaming and blogging. When I started this blog, I knew I didn’t have enough time available for it, but I did it anyway. I’ve done ZERO gaming for a month now, including no work on the Five Color Game. Very disappointing.

Anyway, I want to point out this list of houserules over at Telecanter’s. It’s a great collection of quick and easy systems for simplifying any old school game and deserves a look.

The one that sticks out at me, snagged from Raggi, is list-based encumbrance. Encumbrance is something that gives nearly everyone a fit. You want to track it because you want at least a base level of realism, but adding up the numbers and constantly re-doing it as the game progresses is a hassle. Delta’s stone-based system makes the numbers much more manageable and is something I’ve been considering, but I wonder if the list method is the way to go.

I’m reminded of the very early 1990s when I was working on turning 2nd Edition D&D combat into a Battletech-like game (yeah, I know…how new school of me) and was working out a way to track possessions (weapons, especially) by location by giving so many “slots” for each arm, upper torso, waist, etc., similar to how the ‘mechs in Battletech assign weapon and armor by location. That was, in retrospect, not the direction to go. But the “slot” system, not unlike computer RPGs, was a good way to handle equipment and encumbrance.

I haven’t checked out the whole system in Raggi’s game, but I’ve been thinking about this and am going to give it (or something much like it) a serious look. I think it might hit the sweet spot between realism, fun, and playability.

And I will endeavor to not ignore this site so much in the future.

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Kilgore on August 22nd, 2010

Here is the what we’re calling the Alpha version of our Five Color Game Wizards & Warriors:

Wizards & Warriors 5 Color Game Alpha by Lord Kilgore

Wizards & Warriors ALPHA
Free PDF

It’s the 22 page player’s section and still needs some work. But a number of readers have expressed interest in this project and we’ve got a rough version of the player’s half ready, so here it is. Check it out if interested and, by all means, give us some feedback.

This product is not intended for any sort of professional or money-making publication, and so there is currently no art other than the frontpiece currently serving as the “cover” of the coverless Alpha PDF. I doubt there will be any art in the “finished” product.

Something else that is “missing” from this are how-to-play tips, in-depth descriptions of game concepts, and detailed examples of gameplay. As this is not intended for sale or for non-gamers to pick up on their own and learn, none of that sort of thing is included. It’s D&D with a few different classes and variant rules; no reason to start off explaining what a role-playing game is or give too many details about what armor class represents or how hit points work. The mechanical crunch is defined in simple, easy-to-tweak terms. And that’s about it.

Be aware that this has undergone nothing resembling playtesting in its current form. Many of the rules are our house rules from Labyrinth Lord and have been used for a while, but the chracter classes are brand new and untried. I think we’ve got a great start here, but no doubt some tweaking will be required along the way.

I can’t say when the GM section is going to be ready. I’d been thinking we were mostly done with monsters but upon looking again I see we’ve got quite a ways to go. And magic items have not even been started yet. Also, I’m not exactly sure what else is going to go into the GM section. I want a 48-page book when we’re done, so we’ll have to see how much room is left.

So check it out if interested, and let me know what you think. We like what we’ve got so far, but we also realize that we’re probably overlooking some obvious issues and we know that it can be improved.

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