Wednesday, December 4, 2013

More Swords & Wizardry gaming, and a Way to Make Your M-U Spend All His Moneys

Over Thanksgiving, I broke out the S&W book, some dice, and "Dyson's Delve" (an old-school friendly dungeon system) for some impromptu gaming.

I had wife&kids roll up new characters on the spot, going hard core with "3d6 in order, swap two". Stats ranged from 7 to 14, with most in the 9-12 range, so no superheroes. My players chose very standard roles for themselves - Human Fighter, Elf Thief, Human Magic User. The setup was classic "Junior High" level D&D - the players are in a Tavern, when a guy named Dyson comes in, announces that after losing his party (again), he's had it with adventuring, and will give his treasure map to anyone willing to buy him a solid meal. The players fed him, got a few details about the dungeon from him, and set out the next morning.

I'll spare you the details this time, but everyone had fun and want to play more with these characters. My youngest player even told me she really enjoyed the game "even though we just rolled up characters and wrote them down on blank sheets of paper."

I think my success in this game was due to a number of factors.

First, we kept it VERY simple. We only had blank computer paper, dice and pencils. I sketched the parts of the map as they went along, describing the room and not worrying too much about scale. S&W's combat sequence is very simple, with per-side initiative and straight forward attack options. I didn't worry about movement rates and such, since the area was small enough.

Second, I tried to be more descriptive in my narrations. So instead of telling them that the passageway ends in a roughly 20x10 cave with a smooth floor, I'd outline out a rough region on the paper and say, "the passageway opens up before you to reveal a larger room. Some stalactites hang from the ceiling, but the floor is mostly smooth." I also tried to be less "there's a cave here with 10 giant rats" and more "down the passageway, you hear the squeaking of many creatures. As you approach, you can see that you've found a nest of giant rats, and their eyes glint hungrily as they turn from their scraps of food to face you."

(I'm not saying I didn't go for atmosphere before, but this time I completely disregarded any mechanical descriptions, like room sizes, etc. and relied on the sketched map to convey the rough size and shape of the room, and narration to describe the overall feeling and relevant details.)

And finally, I tried to keep some whimsey in the game to balance out the creepiness. For example, when the Fighter made his save against a ghoul's attack, I described the icy feeling of paralysis coming over the character, and his force of will to shake it off - "Not Today!" the player exclaimed. Later, when the M-U cast Sleep on a bunch of rats, he only got all but one of them. The little guy hunched over, shuddered in effort and with a baleful squeak, said something in rattish that probably means, "Not Today!" before he charged in to attack.

So, after the adventure, the players found themselves in possession of around 1000gp each. (In S&W as in all old-school D&Ds, gold is XP, so players tend to have a lot of it.) The M-U started asking about costs for making scrolls and stuff. Normally, Magic Users don't make scrolls at low level, but that ability is one of the things I really like about Pathfinder, so I came up with this:

An M-U can make a scroll of any spell he knows for 100gp + 100gp per spell level. So a 1st level scroll costs 200gp, 2nd 300gp, etc. This matches up (sort of) with S&W's treasure generation rules, and means that (as long as they keep finding gold), M-U players can bring the hurt. But a smart player won't blow a 400gp scroll to get less than 400gp of profit, unless death is on the line.

Also, I figured that an M-U can spend gp on researching spells. For any spell in the rule book that the M-U doesn't know, he can spend 100gp (double each level) to re-roll his "chance to learn" percentage. Twice that if he does not have access to either a spellbook or scroll containing that spell to work from. At high levels, this research is staggeringly expensive, and it's probably more cost effective to find high-level mages and steal their spell books. Even at moderate levels, it's worth throwing a few 1000gp at some adventurers to steal a book for you, if you know it contains spells you want. This works as motivation both for players and patrons.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Light at the End of the Tunnel

My work overtime schedule is over, and I'm about to have some time off. So naturally my thoughts return to gaming. :)

Not sure if my home campaign will resume our Pathfinder campaign, start a new Pathfinder campaign, do some Swords & Wizardry, or something else entirely. Either way, I think I'm going to steer the campaign back towards a more "old school" aesthetic. You know, "a wizard wants you to fetch some obscure spell component", "you find the map to an abandoned dungeon", "the mayor's daughter was kidnapped by <X>", that sort of thing. I'm going to try to put the mystery back into the setting.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Curious Thought About Old vs. New School RPGs, and Player's Attitudes Towards Their Characters

Something about working late hours gets me philosophical, and I feel compelled to take that out on the rest of the web. (Or at least the few sturdy souls who read my blog, and all those search bots who are my loyal followers as well.)

Probably this is an epiphany only to me, but I think I finally get what the disconnect between Old School and New School gamers is with respect to their characters. I'm going to stick with D&D and Traveller as two examples of both Old School and New School games in their various editions. Plus, they're the games I'm most familiar with.

In an "Old School Game", your characters are very random. In both D&D and Traveller, players are admonished by the rules to "make do" with their characters, and only in truly hopeless cases do they get to roll up another before at least trying to play that character. (Traveller famously advises enrolling undesirable characters in the Scouts, because that is the service they're least likely to survive chargen in.)

In more "New School" games like D&D 3e and Mongoose Traveller, (and to a much greater extent games like GURPS or FateCore) you are encouraged to dream up a character concept and then "build" towards that concept through a combination of random and deterministic elements.

So where's the big revelation, you ask?

Well, it's this - in OSG, players are "dealt" characters, but in NSG, players create characters.

The difference has a profound effect on how players approach their games. "Dealt" characters are almost "pawns" or "hands" (as in poker) that give the player capabilities to use during the game, and some characteristics to aid in role playing (OSGs are still RPGs, after all). "Created" characters are drawn directly from the player's desires, and thus more closely represent the players' own alter-egoes.

In my case, I've generally viewed characters as being "dealt" - the challenge of dreaming up a way to play the stats and to employ the powers in a useful way is fun to me. Of course I also come to identify with my characters, since it's not really possible to play a role that does not contain your own personality to varying degrees. But a character's death isn't really any more disappointing to me than the death of a character in a TV show or book that I like.

Which I suppose puts me firmly in the OSG camp, though I think I enjoy the more elegant rule systems that the NSG camp generally has.

I can sympathize with those who view characters as a form of wish-fulfillment though, and given the preponderance of more NSG style games, it seems most people identify with their characters more than a little bit.

Friday, August 9, 2013

What Does Lovecraftian Gaming REALLY Mean?

I've been a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and his peers since I first discovered weird fiction and cosmic horror back in High School. I read everything I could get my hands on - Machen, Chambers, Bloch, etc. The Chaosium fiction collections came out in my early adulthood, and I found (and still find) them a great source for stories I hadn't read before. (Aside: I had to stop reading "A Season in Carcosa" recently, because even though the stories seem innocuous enough, I found them seeping into my dreams. I'll read more once the creeping dread fades.)

But I have never had a lot of interest in "Lovecraftian" gaming. You know, lots of deep ones going after people, ghouls, big, floppy tentacled monsters, etc. Essentially, the "August Derleth" version of Lovecraft - name dropping and cataloging, but adding anything new.

While I enjoy a good historical wargame as much as the next guy, it seems to me that the general approach to Lovecraftian horror is more like quoting Monty Python skits than writing weird fiction. As a geek, I memorized plenty of M.P. in my youth, but laughing about their comedy is not the same thing as creating "Pythonesque" comedy for people to laugh at.

So, how then does one do something "Lovecraftian" without resorting to name dropping (or re-skinning)? It's a tough question, and I don't claim that I have the skill to produce such a thing. But perhaps I can categorize what it might look like.

What made Lovecraft's stories compelling to me was the way he took things that we all take for granted (or at least took for granted back in the dawn of the last century) and turned them inside out. Jesus' resurrection and plan of salvation, horribly echoed in Cthulhu's return and subsequent scouring of the Earth (recall that HLP was raised Baptist, though he renounced that faith), the fear of finding out that your ancestors were not what you were lead to believe and that you can't choose your own fate, the shock of discovering that maybe a brilliant artist is not as imaginative as everyone believes. The list goes on.

So how do you do something like that in Pathfinder/D&D or Traveller, specifically without invoking Elder Gods and Non-euclidean dimensions?

I'm not sure, but here are some thoughts.


Traveller's Third Imperium (The 3I) is in theory the easiest type of setting to convert to horror, since it rests in the conventions of the real world. However, it already has some "Elder Gods" (The Ancients - not godlike in stature, but certainly in power), hidden secrets (like who the Ancients were - spoiler alert from the 1980's: they were a mutation of a reclusive alien species found in enclaves throughout charted space), strange madness inducing phenomena (some people go mad seeing jumpspace) and hints that there was something more going on with how interstellar travel worked than anyone really knew.

These elements were not blatant expressed in the setting though. In fact, I suspect very few groups actually explored the darker side of the Traveller universe, preferring to focus on its decidedly humanistic and capitalistic themes. Mongoose Publishing's "Secrete of the Ancients" campaign did a good job of re-casting the Ancients as a living force within charted space, and had a nicely Lovecraft-y feel without invoking squid-headed super-beings. (Though there were some interesting ways that the Ancients achieved immortality.) But in the end, it was a Humanist's view of extradimensional horror seasoned with a dash of conspiracy theory, not something that contradicts your concepts of what reality is.

Clearly, something like Mass Effect's Reapers would work for Traveller, though they're more directly Cthuloid, not being "alive" as we know it, etc. But the Reapers are still re-skinned Elder Gods, returning when the stars are right to cleanse the galaxy for their own twisted reasons.

Where can we go in Traveller to reach the disturbing "We were SO WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING" state required by cosmic horror?

Maybe psionic powers are really a mental connection with higher-dimensional beings from "jump space", who can cause the familiar psionic effects, but at a terrible if not obvious price to the psionic. And maybe these beings have a plan? Maybe that's too obvious - science is wrong, mystics are right seems like a cop-out.

Maybe the dawning realization that the entire Nobility structure of the 3rd Imperium is in fact composed of "Manchurian Candidate" type Bioconstructs. And maybe they have been deliberately directing technological progress for the last thousand years, relentlessly pushing for higher and higher power jump drives. And now, misjumps seem to be happening more frequently than in the past. Recently, a long-missing ship has appeared in the outer system with only minimal power signatures on board. A local professor wants to hire a ship to investigate....

Better, even if it's a little "God Emperor of Dune" crossed with the Star Trek:TNG episode "Conspiracy". It undermines with the understanding of how society works, if not the structure of the universe itself. That fits well with Traveller's humanistic focus, which might be a drawback to the concept.

I suppose you could imagine some setting in which punching ships through jump space is disturbing some sleeping entity (reverse-Azathoth?), but then we're back to re-skinning.


(Sorry, Pathfinder doesn't have an iconic title format like Traveller does, and the web doesn't have their font. But that's not a bad match for the color.)

Pathfinder is already rife with Lovecraft inspired nastiness, but none of it is truly creepy. (ok, maybe Aboleths....) Of course that's because once you catalog something, it's no longer surprising. Many write ups have great atmosphere when you first read them, or really stop to think about them though. But ultimately, it's just another kind of monster to defeat or flee from. Paizo does a good job with huge, world-shattering plots and clearly are fans of Lovecraft (almost too much so, I sometimes think), but I wonder if it would be possible to take a more subtle approach?

What does that cosmic horror even mean in a world with magic, demons, aberrant horrors and monsters? Can you add anything that would invoke actual horror for the players?

What we need is to take something simple and fundamental to the setting, and turn it inside out, changing the significance into something more horrible than you would expect. That's not as easy as it sounds, since countless authors before you have already pushed the envelope on this one.

To really up-end a D&D type fantasy setting, you would need to do something screwy like have the entire thing be happening inside The Matrix. That's right, not magic and gods, but a transhuman post-singularity setting, where reality was a simulation that could be hacked from the inside. The "twist" is that though reality appears infinitely diverse, full of life, magic and will, it is in fact only the shadow cast by cold data, interacting in complex but ultimately artificial ways. Fantasy lives because of the wonder and infinite potential of the fantastical realty. Showing all that to be merely an illusion would be soul-crushing to a denizen of such a reality.

But would that be cosmic horror for the players, or their characters? I imagine it would cause more than a few players to stop playing, though that's only a victory for horror in a meta sense....

As I mentioned at the start, I don't have any good answers. I'm curious if anyone reading has some ideas how to bring cosmic horror to RPGs without simply invoking Lovecraft's memory.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Who Owns the Narrative?

I come to that question after getting the chance to GM some FateCore on Sunday with my at-home group (Wife+kids).

The basic setup is simple - the players are the crew of a small "Space Ranger Cruiser" in a "24th Century: Outer Space!" setting. (No FTL, but tons of space flight.) They found out that someone has started manufacturing killbots in the asteroid belt when one attacked their base on Ceres. They managed to get into the hidden asteroid base with very little opposition (I let them try out some different types of skills and a handful of simple combats), and are poised to enter "Sector 8", which presumably is where all the killbots are being built. (In other words, I went for a straight-up dungeon crawl. At least in the classic games, that's usually a safe bet, though perhaps it was a poor choice for FateCore....)

Now here's the thing. We've mostly been playing traditional games like Pathfinder, and they're having a little trouble with the idea that THEY get to decide the details of a scene or setting. They are more used to the GM (me) laying it all out for them to explore and reacting instead of acting. I've tried to encourage them with questions like, "What do you think, DO these robots have homing beacons?" but like me, they're having some trouble adapting. So rather than a collaborative effort to make an epic story, this is turning into a plain-old "GM tells us what's happening, we react" game. I do like those kinds of games, but FateCore seems like it would work best with everyone creating the story and the GM just running the bad guys and making judgements about difficulty levels.

Maybe the stumbling block is that they don't have a significant buy-in in the setting. When I asked them what sort of setting they wanted to play, they were noncommittal, though interested to try FateCore. We already have a Fantasy game, so I proposed this "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet" type pulp setting as something different. It wasn't until I suggested to my son that he could play a Telepath "Psi-Corp Ranger" that he became more than passively interested in the setting, and my daughter was only interested in playing an "Anime School Girl Brat" whose dad is a Space Ranger officer. Both turned out to be pretty cool characters in the end, but I'm afraid that having a dungeon crawl be their first outing might have been a mistake, since none of them really wants to help "own" the story.

I've also found that it's not easy to work their individual Aspects into the game. As I mentioned, this is more or less a straight-up dungeon crawl, though the characters are more tuned for investigative work. Which is my fault - I fell back on the "tried & true" without regard for how their characters turned out. To their credit, they are taking guard uniforms for disguise and the telepath is lifting names out of peoples' heads to help deceive them.

I know that attempting to GM a game I've never played for a group that's never played the game, and isn't super-invested in the setting is rife with failure possibilities. (When I put it that way, it seems insane that I even tried.) I'm not judging FateCore (which is a very slick rule set), just my ability to employ it properly with the players I have.

It hasn't all been bad - we had some pretty serious laughs when the guards caught the party in the Hydroponics sector, and the School Girl ("I'm really not as young as I look!") used her considerable deception skill to trick the guards into believing that she and one of the other characters were "just being naughty, and please, please, please don't let my dad find out!" She distracted the guards with her Legendary Deception long enough for the "hitter" to slug one in the Jaw (lights out!) and the third character secured the second guard with zip ties and duct tape. (Because even in C24, duct tape is the answer.)

It might be best to, after we finish this scenario, say, "Ok, that's how FateCore works, more or less. Now what sort of game do you REALLY want to play?"

And I have to be OK with it if they say, "Pathfinder!"

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Due to the enthusiastic recommendations of a friend whose judgement I value in all matters related to gaming, I've been interested in Diaspora for some time now. Diaspora is a hard-scifi RPG that is built on the Fate rules engine, and which is greatly (and explicitly) influenced by my favorite SFRPG, Traveller. Up until now though, I haven't had the impetus to plop down the 25 bucks to pick up a copy from the FLGS.

Recently, my son got to play the new Fate Core rules at the FLGS's "RPG Summer Camp" (man, do I wish we had such things when I was a kid...), and I've been reading over the rule book they gave him with great interest. Fate Core is analogous to the core GURPS rules - it's a playable game in its own right, but has no setting in mind, and will generally be extended somewhat to fit whatever type of game you want to play. My wife proactively picked up the Diaspora book for me, since she could see where this was going. :)

You can find a lot of very coherent and informed discussions of Fate with a quick google search, so I'll spare you my "complete newbie's impression of Fate". But the thing to know about Fate-based games like Diaspora is that the game system turns your character's quirks (called "Aspects" in Fate, like "Ace Fighter Pilot", "Attracted to Shiny Things", "I HATE ROBOTS!", etc.) into actual game mechanisms. Everything (characters, items, rooms, starships...) has Attributes, and because of that, players and GMs must understand the rules for how Fate and the "fate point economy" works.

This means that while the rules are simpler than just about any RPG I've played, and a player's imagination is more important than a solid understanding of (for example) how to min/max their character builds, Fate is not quite as friendly to very casual gamers who mostly just want to know "what do I need to roll?" I suspect that WDINTR is a symptom of d20 type games, and any player would quickly adapt to the "How can I exploit the situation to my advantage?" mind-set, but having not had a chance to play yet, I don't know.

So what is Diaspora?

Diaspora is a full RPG written against a pre-Fate Core version of Fate, but is only different in the details. Word on the street is that you can port some of Diaspora's setting ideas to Fate Core and just run with that, and things work out very well. I've already mentioned that it was made by Traveller fans in order to have a harder-science Space Opera game. (Which seems ironic, considering Traveller is MUCH crunchier than Diaspora, but yet less "hard".)

Diaspora only makes one "magic" assumption - the slipstream, which is basically a wormhole between two or more systems. No anti-gravity, no "thruster plates", everything is reaction mass and zero-G (unless you're under acceleration). Diaspora is set in the far future, in a small cluster of worlds, which the players roll up at character creation time. (More of the "Player Buy-in" that's typical of Fate games. Players don't get served the setting, they help create it.) Because of the size of the default "universe" (6 systems, each with 1+ worlds in it worth visiting), players will care more about each world than they do in Traveller. I'm curious to try gaming in such a setting.

One of the more interesting aspects of Diaspora (and Fate in general) is how they handle wealth. Fate in general doesn't concern itself with money. If you want to be rich, give yourself the "Moneybags" (or whatever) attribute. What Diaspora does have is the idea that events (like a ship's maintenance schedule) can do Financial Damage to you which you have to Defend against. You can use the ship's Economic potential to aid your defense, and you can even invoke aspects like "I can get you a deal" or "I know this guy..." to help out, too. If you fail, you take "damage" in the form of a Consequence ("Owes Jabba Bigtime" or "Chartered by Local Noble") that you'll need to take steps to recover from.

You get similar rules for acquiring expensive gear. You make a Wealth skill test against the object's price. If you fail, you still get the object, but you pick up some consequences. It's a novel (to me) way of dealing with possessions, and I'm anxious to see if it works out in practice.

I think Fate and Diaspora sound like a blast, but I must admit that I'm still a fan of more traditional rules. I have to say though, that Fate combat sounds like it will be more narratively satisfying that most d20 combats wind up being.

I'm hoping that I can at least take some cues from Fate into GM-ing my other games, though given Fate's elegant and integrated system, it's not going to be as easy as "drop in some attributes". What I probably will do though, is to more formally adopt the concepts of using actions to create advantages. We do that sort of stuff already ("Can I slam the door and run for it?" "What if I throw a pouch of coins at them, do they stop to pick it up?"), but maybe I need to shift how I conceptualize the action some.

<Shrug> At any rate, Now "Fate Core" is on my radar. My at-home group is mostly anxious to give it a try, so we'll see what happens.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Korm Garkson, Half-Orc Monk

In keeping with my somewhat "cartoon character" approach to Pathfinder, here's another character. He's a friend and travelling companion of Jala Stormborn (my previous stereotypical character), and plays the anvil to her hammer, after a fashion. As usual, I rolled his stats with 4d6(drop 1), and arranged them to taste.

I am working up one more character for this little party - an Elven Bard who joined Jala and Korm to chronicle their adventures, figuring that there is no way that these two wouldn't be getting themselves into some saga-worthy trouble.

Korm Garkson
Male Half-Orc Monk 1
LN Medium Humanoid (human, orc)
Init +3; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +7


AC 17, touch 17, flat-footed 13 (+3 Dex, +1 dodge)
hp 10 (1d8+2)
Fort +4, Ref +5, Will +5
Defensive Abilities orc ferocity (1/day)


Speed 30 ft.
Melee Unarmed strike +2 (1d6+2/x2)
Ranged Shuriken +3 (1d2+2/x2)
Special Attacks flurry of blows -1/-1


Str 15, Dex 16, Con 15, Int 8, Wis 16, Cha 11
Base Atk +0; CMB +2 (+4 Grappling); CMD 19 (21 vs. Grapple)
Feats Dodge, Improved Grapple, Improved Unarmed Strike, Stunning Fist (1/day) (DC 13)
Skills Acrobatics +7, Intimidate +2, Perception +7, Sense Motive +7, Stealth +7; Racial Modifiers +2 Intimidate
Languages Common, Orc
SQ ac bonus +3, stunning fist (stun), unarmed strike (1d6)
Other Gear Shuriken (10), Backpack (8 @ 12 lbs), Bedroll, Belt pouch (2 @ 2.96 lbs), Flint and steel, Trail rations (7), 144 GP, 4 SP

Special Abilities

AC Bonus +3 The Monk adds his Wisdom bonus to AC and CMD, more at higher levels.
Darkvision (60 feet) You can see in the dark (black and white vision only).
Flurry of Blows -1/-1 (Ex) Make Flurry of Blows attack as a full rd action.
Improved Grapple You don't provoke attacks of opportunity when grappling a foe.
Improved Unarmed Strike Unarmed strikes don't cause attacks of opportunity, and can be lethal.
Orc Ferocity (1/day) If brought below 0 Hp, can act as though disabled for 1 rd.
Stunning Fist (1/day) (DC 13) You can stun an opponent with an unarmed attack.
Stunning Fist (Stun) (Ex) At 1st level, the monk gains Stunning Fist as a bonus feat, even if he does not meet the prerequisites. At 4th level, and every 4 levels thereafter, the monk gains the ability to apply a new condition to the target of his Stunning Fist. This conditio
Unarmed Strike (1d6) The Monk does lethal damage with his unarmed strikes.

Raised in the Ulfenlands, Korm has always been at war with his nature. Rather than denying or giving in to his feral ancestry, Korm has chosen the path of balance as a monk. Focusing on stealth, acrobatics and perception, Korm follows his instinct as well as relying on his physical abilities. Never cruel, but perfectly willing to return violence with violence, Korm uses violence as a tool in his quest to find meaning to the universe and his place within it.

Korm views his childhood friend and adventuring companion Jala as a headstrong showoff who gets them in more trouble than she gets them out of. Though he respects her command of sorcery, he worries that his friend will lose herself to her chaotic impulses some day.
Still, Korm enjoys Jala's company and values her intellect and free spirit, two things he does not himself have.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Mostly Chewin' Bubble Gum. Kickin' Ass On Hold For Now

Hey, sorry for dropping off the radar. I love my job, but sometimes it gets a little clingy. :)

Here are a couple of updates:

* I got my Reaper Bones package a week ago. MAN does that box have a lot figures in it. I sprung for a few extra dragons and such, and they're pretty awesome. Sized nicely for playing with other miniatures. Many (less than 1/3) of the figures are warped from packing, but apparently you can simply boil them and reshape them, so long as you dunk them in icewater to re-set them. Soft plastic techniques are definitely not like metal techniques. I plan to start on easy stuff (assembly, elementals and skeletons) and then maybe tackle some of the dragons. The Griffin is particularly amazing, with exceptionally fine detailing on his feathers.I'm concerned that my meager painting skills will not be able to do him justice.

* I picked up "Psionics Unleashed" for Pathfinder recently during a sale. I have yet to really have time to digest the rules, but from my first go-through it looks very promising. We never used psionics in AD&D because most of the players couldn't wrap their heads around the rules. And also there was a vanishingly small chance of getting them during character generation - we had moved beyond "cheating" by the time we decided to read those parts of the PHB. I never used psi stuff in 3e or 4e, though one player in my group is forever doing crazy psionics stuff (he plays a shard mind), and I'm familiar with the rough concepts, which seem to have not changed drastically in character since 1e. I'll probably have more to say after I get more chance to read. I was gratified to see old standbys like "Tower of Iron Will" and "Id Insinuation" in this book.

* Mekton! The kickstarter was a success, and sometime next year, we should have a new version of Mekton to kick around. It's not really a new "edition" in the classical sense of the word, it's more like the "D&D Essentials" approach - compatible with MektonZ but not as crunch-oriented. The author says Mekton Zero is going to be focused on RP and not wargaming (MZ is as much a mech construction kit and wargame as it is an RPG), but will maintain design and character compatibility with MZ. M0 (what I'm calling Mekton Zero) will focus on setting, lifepath and campaigns. I'm very excited about this new game, and I hope when it arrives, I can convince some people to play it with me. As it is, I've already dug out my old Mekton and Jovian Chronices stuff for daydreaming material.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Free RPG Day Loot

I went to my FLGS (Dragon's Lair in Austin) today for Free RPG Day. I'm glad I got there early; by noon, they were almost out of their freebies. Here's what I scored, in no particular order:

  • Cosmic Patrol: Quick-Start Rules and The Eiger Agenda
    A cute little 24 page, staple bound book about 4x8 inches.
    This one looks like tremendous pulpy fun.
  • Pathfinder: We Be Goblins, Too!
    A follow-on to the previous goblin-centered adventure, this time your "heroes" (and I use the term very loosely) are trying to impress a new tribe of Goblins by chasing of an ogre and his unsavory companions. Assumes you know how to play Pathfinder.
  • Castles&Crusades: A Pot of Broken Bones (for 3-4 adventurers, 3-8th+ level)
    They're confident enough of their product not to include any rules primer.
    The adventure looks pretty good, and clocks in at around 10 pages of scenario. I'll probably use it for a Pathfinder game.
  • Swords&Wizardry: Hall of Bones
    I was happy to see S&W representing; I think the game is virtually unknown here.
    There are about 6 pages of scenario and maps, and the rest includes a rules overview and a few pages of "Old School Philosophy". So, a very nice introduction to S&W, but definitely an introduction.
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Better Than Any Man
    This one is even marked "Ages 18+, Explicit Content".
    No rules, but 96 (yes, 96) pages of setting, adventure and some disturbing artwork.
    This one is fascinating but probably has a very limited audience. Set in the 30 Years War during the Swedish Intervention (yeah, sue me, I'm kind of a history dork too), though this is a D&D based fantasy game, the setting is very realistic, except that there is something horrible going on. (I mean, aside from the viscious wars of religion.)
    I'll probably write about this one once I've had the chance to read it.
  • Star Wars: Edge of the Empire
    Fantasy Flight Games' new SW game, though not with any of the fancy dice.
    40 pages of rules intro, pregenerated characters, and a multi-part scenario. I'm not sure about the game system yet (I've only skimmed it), but the presentation is good.
  • A double-sided book that has Battletech&Shadowrun RPGs in it by Catalyst Games
    Like the SW one, this is well produced, but on initial skim, I'm not excited by the rules of either game (they're different). To be honest, I'm more into Mekton's "Mech RPG" system, though I do rather like BTech's history. (BTech is actually what got me into miniatures so many years ago.)
I'm hoping to play either "We Be Goblins Too" or "Cosmic Patrol" tomorrow with my kids. LoTFP:BTAM (now that's an acronym) is on my short list to read. Pot of Broken Bones will get converted to Pathfinder and inserted into my campaign. The others I'll get to as time allows.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jala Stormborn, Pathfinder Sorceress

Here's my latest version of the Jala Stormborn, an Ulfen Sorceress with an Air Elemental bloodline. This version is similar but not identical to the one I put up a few days ago. The statblock below was generated with HeroLab, which I find indispensable for making Pathfinder characters.

(I'm trying to build a Half-Orc Barbarian who might be her travelling companion, but I'm having a little trouble getting his concept right, so his stats will have to wait.)

Jala Stormborn
Female Human (Ulfen) Sorcerer 1
CG Medium Humanoid (human)
Init +2; Senses Perception +1


AC 12, touch 12, flat-footed 10 (+2 Dex)
hp 7 (1d6+1)
Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +2


Speed 30 ft.
Melee Dagger +0 (1d4/19-20/x2) and
   Spear +0 (1d8/x3)
Special Attacks elemental ray (6/day)
Sorcerer Spells Known (CL 1):
1 (4/day) Feather Fall (DC 14), Color Spray (DC 14)
0 (at will) Mage Hand, Open/Close (DC 13), Detect Magic, Drench (DC 13)


Str 10, Dex 14, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 10, Cha 16
Base Atk +0; CMB +0; CMD 12
Feats Arcane Strike, Eschew Materials, Persuasive
Skills Bluff +7, Diplomacy +6, Intimidate +9, Perception +1, Use Magic Device +7
Languages Auran, Common, Skald
SQ bloodlines (elemental [air])
Combat Gear Oil (2), Sunrod (2); Other Gear Dagger, Spear, Backpack (15 @ 17.5 lbs), Bedroll, Belt pouch (1 @ 2.5 lbs), Candle (5), Chalk (5), Flint and steel, Mirror, Silk rope, Soap, Trail rations (5), Waterskin, 117 GP, 2 SP, 6 CP


Dagger - 0/1
Elemental Ray (6/day) (Sp) - 0/6
Spear - 0/1
Sunrod - 0/2
Trail rations - 0/5

Special Abilities

Arcane Strike As a swift action, add +1 damage, +1 per 5 caster levels and your weapons are treated as magic for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.
Elemental (Air) You may change any energy spell to use [Electricity] energy.
Elemental Ray (6/day) (Sp) Ranged touch attack deals 1d6 Electricity damage
Eschew Materials Cast spells without materials, if component cost is 1 gp or less.

Jala is the daughter of an Ulfen merchant, born at sea during a particularly violent thunderstorm. Always slight person and pale even by Ulfen standards, Jala has always known that she is different from her friends.
(ed: she does not yet have Appraise skill even though it fits her background; she'll grab it next level.)

Jala channels her elemental power into a quick temper, and she is not without the legendary Ulfen forceful will and competitive spirit. Though she is capricious by nature, she respects honor and honesty, and if she does take an oath (an unlikely event - like the wind, Jala will not be bound), she will hold to that oath.

Though many find her sense of humor odd, Jala is an accomplished diplomat, able to bluff or intimidate her way through any situation her Diplomacy fails her.

In combat, Jala fights with a lightning-charged spear, and always has a dagger on hand to handle dangerous situations in her down time. She will seek to engage at range with her Elemental(Lightning) Ray when possible, and will use Color Spray to incapacitate groups of opponents whenever possible. Her Ulfen pride does make her inclined to "play fair" with singular opponents, but she is aware of her physical limits and will not easily be tricked into a losing melee situation. ("How is me using magic any different from you using your muscles?")

As a novice sorceress, Jala mastered a handful of electrical and air disciplines, She has the greatest affinity for air transmutations and pattern illusions, though she also understands conjuration and divination to an extent, especially when the conjuration relates to air or rain.

Jala delights in using her powers (especially her cantrips) and can be a bit of a show-off. In public, She would sooner use Mage Hand or "Open/Close" than her own hands, and she has been known to use Drench to deal with problematic social encounters.

Beneath her playful displays and bravado though is a deep fascination with magic, and a drive to understand her connection with the elemental plane of Air. She knows full well that her soul and fate are entwined with the elements, and she eagerly seeks out new knowledge of the mystic realms which she believes will one day be her home.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Conquest of the Bloodsworn Vale, Day 3

Days 1-2 were taken up by the party's foray against the Rose King.

Upon returning to Forth Thorn, Sir Tolgrith tasked the players with seeking natural resources, investigating a reported Owlbear lair and determining the cause of a strange, monthly pollution in the nearby river, scheduled to happen again in roughly a week.

The players decided to seek out the reputed Owlbear nest, though the Catfolk Rogue decided she would rather stay back at the fort, as she'd heard a rumor of a particularly fine cream being served. (CN rogues played by 9yo's are not reliable party members.)

The remaining players (A fighter, Wizard and their Cleric NPC) decided it would be faster to take a raft down the stream. Which it was, but going back later proved to be a chore. ;) I had them make some Survival rolls to figure out how to control the boat and a Fort save to avoid becoming fatigued. They made it to within a few miles of the foothills they believed to be the owlbears' likely home, and grounded their raft to rest and eat.

The Bloodsworn Vale is not a civilized place however, and their meal was interrupted by the angry snort of a Dire Boar, intent on defending his beach and maybe eating the cleric (a gnome). The wizard combined Arcane Strike and Hand of the Apprentice to good effect, keeping his distance from the brute, whereas the fighter tested his fancy new Adamantine blade on the beast's skull. Though it fought on well beyond wounds that lesser creatures would have succumbed to, in a few rounds the boar was bested, and the party set of towards the foothills.

Their progress was unimpeded, and after a few rather astute observations, they located a likely cave. Steeling themselves and saying a prayer to Desna, they crept into the darkness.

Rounding a corner, the fighter discovered that they had not been as stealthy as he had believed, and two of the great beasts were waiting for him. The wizard was the least startled of the group, and lobbed a fireball into the cave beyond, gravely wounding all three resident owlbears. The owlbears were far from finished though, and immediately charged the fighter, who found himself nearly dead and grappled by one of the great beasts. Being no slouch at melee though, the fighter worked his way free of the beast's clutches and downed a potion to regain his fight. The wizard meanwhile had summoned a flaming sphere which he was directing to good effect against the owlbears. The cleric, not a strong combatant, nevertheless managed to position herself behind the largest of the beasts, and even inflicted a few minor wounds on his backside, providing support to the (frankly overmatched) fighter, who was once again suffering the effects of numerous bites and claws.

The wizard's sphere of flame dispatched one of the owlbears, giving the cleric an opening to radiate healing energies to fortify her comrades and herself (selective channeling feat - very handy in a melee) as the fighter cleaved across the two remaining owlbears, critically wounding one of them and dispatching the still burning one to his right. Another chop, and the three owlbears were finished. The wizard managed to avoid any damage (as wizards often do), but the cleric and fighter were badly beaten, requiring the remaining powers of the cleric to heal up before they dared continue on.

The party soon discovered why the owlbears had fought so fiercely - three owlbear chick/cubs were in a room to the back, shielded from the fireball which opened the combat. Recalling "sleep", the wizard pacified them, allowing the party to bind them and carry them back to the raft. Additionally, they discovered that the pups/peeps had been feasting on the body of a lost scout, whose medallion they claimed to take back to the keep, and whose equipment they took, as per their employment agreement with Sir Tolgrith. (You can keep anything you find outside the walls, but you will need to follow the law inside the walls.)

They buried the scout's remains and poled their raft back up the river, arriving well after sundown, tired, dirty but victorious.

Now they have three owlbear cubs to sell if they can find a buyer, a new cloak of elven kind and a masterworked longsword they plan to give to the armory to curry favor with the quartermaster.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

When given the choice between S&W and Pathfinder....

...the kids prefer Pathfinder, while my wife prefers Swords & Wizardry.

I probably shouldn't be surprised, and it may be as simple as the fact that the Pathfinder campaign is about 5th Level right now, whereas the S&W campaign is on the tail end of 1st Level. And really, who doesn't like playing more powerful characters?

S&W of course follows the OSG convention that characters start off being n00bs, and are barely less inept than peasants. They frequently have to hire people (meat shields and torch bearers) to accompany them, and those hirelings often run afoul of the "Save or Die" traps that most OSG dungeons seem to have. But my players (also not surprisingly, given their ages) think that's "mean" and (more thoughfully) that getting too many hirelings killed will anger the people in the town(s) from which they're hiring people. Kinda hard to argue with either point, except that the hirelings knew the dangers when they signed on, and if you give their cut of the reward to their families, you'll at least get the reputation of an honorable party. Though that may come at the price of a reputation for being the kind of party you really don't want to be invited to join...

Pathfinder characters start off pretty tough though, even at first level. Not as tough as 4e characters, but certainly not the sort of people an average peasant or even city guard would want to mess with. And with all those feats and skills, you can make some pretty spectacular themed characters, as long as you don't mind ignoring the whole "min/max" aspect of 3e gaming, and just choose powers to fit your concept.

For fun, I rolled up an Air/Storm Elemental bloodline Sorceress (loosely based on a miniature I have), whose statblock I've included below for illustrative purposes. Her stats are fairly average, and only the racial +2 for any stat pushes her over into heroic territory. I don't remember, but I suspect I used the "Roll 4d6, drop lowest" method, and arranged my results in order of preference. I'm intending to introduce her as a friendly rival and sometimes ally to my party, but like many characters I make, I find that I'm now anxious to play her in a campaign. :) Maybe someone I know will start a Pathfinder game I can get in on sometime later in the year.

It must also be said that HeroLab makes creating new Pathfinder characters exceptionally easy and fun. If only they supported all the games I play. I don't think I'd enjoy making characters for d20-based games very much without software support. (Which, of course, is why I like S&W. Sigh.)

Jala Stormborn
Female Human (Ulfen) Sorceress 1
CG Medium Humanoid (human)
Init +2; Senses Perception +1


AC 12, touch 12, flat-footed 10 (+2 Dex)
hp 7 (1d6+1)
Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +2


Speed 20 ft.
Melee Dagger +2 (1d4/19-20/x2) and
   Spear +0 (1d8/x3)
Special Attacks elemental ray (6/day)
Sorcerer Spells Known (CL 1):
1 (4/day) Color Spray (DC 14), Shocking Grasp
0 (at will) Mage Hand, Open/Close (DC 13), Breeze, Jolt


Str 10, Dex 14, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 10, Cha 16
Base Atk +0; CMB +0; CMD 12
Feats Arcane Strike, Eschew Materials, Weapon Finesse
Skills Acrobatics -1 (-5 jump), Bluff +7, Climb -3, Diplomacy +4, Escape Artist -1, Fly -1, Intimidate +7, Perception +1, Ride -1, Stealth -1, Swim -3, Use Magic Device +7
Languages Common, Auran, Skald
SQ bloodlines (elemental [air])
Other Gear Dagger, Spear, Backpack (21 @ 27.1 lbs), Bedroll, Candle (5), Chalk (5), Explorer's outfit, Mirror, Rope, Trail rations (5), Waterskin, 120 GP, 3 SP, 7 CP

Special Abilities

Arcane Strike As a swift action, add +1 damage, +1 per 5 caster levels and your weapons are treated as magic for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.
Elemental (Air) You may change any energy spell to use [Electricity] energy.
Elemental Ray (6/day) (Sp) Ranged touch attack deals 1d6 Electricity damage
Eschew Materials Cast spells without materials, if component cost is 1 gp or less.

Jala is the daughter of an Ulfen merchant, born at sea during a particularly violent thunderstorm. Always slight person and pale even by Ulfen standards, Jala has always known that she is different from her friends.

Jala channels her elemental power into a quick temper, and she is not without the legendary Ulfen forceful will. In combat, she fights with a spear, and always has a dagger on hand to handle dangerous situations in her down time.

Though many find her sense of humor odd, Jala is an accomplished diplomat, able to bluff and intimidate her way through many situations, and her fascination with magic has lead her to an understanding of magical constructs and their proper operation.

As a novice sorceror, Jala has mastered a handful of electrical and air disciplines, as well as Color Spray and Unlock - to talents she has found useful when adventuring for gold.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mekton Zero!

Wow, R. Talsorian is Kickstarting another Mekton edition.This one promises to be the best yet, and if the kickstarter goes well enough, it will be a fully supported line of splatbooks, minis, manga, etc.

All of this is set on the world of Algol - a planet whose technology is entirely mecha based. The kickstarter page describes it better than I can, but in essence, it's a world where you will find scenarios that would be at home in any settings from Patlabor to Robotech to Pacific Rim.

I was mildly excited about the release until I watched the video. Now I'm very excited. Could this edition be the one that anyone (not just hard-core fans of crunchy, stompy mecha action) could get into?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Traveller Tuesday, Session #1

We had our first gameplay session of the "Traveller Tuesdays" campaign today over lunch. With only an hour to play there are limits to what you can get accomplished, but the group got pretty far - they established reasons to travel together, where their next stop is, and cleared any legal hurdles to departure. Now, they need to pick up passengers and crew, and take the sky.

Next week if all goes by schedule, I'll introduce them to their passengers and available cargoes, guide them through a gas giant refueling dive and fire the jump drives for Jenghe! Here are some highlights of the session:

  • The crew of the newly refurbished and registered Karman Brevit, or K.B. for short, having been given the runaround for a while about their Exit Visa (I decided to spare the players actually RUNNING the "Exit Visa" scenario), were blowing off steam at Regina Startown.
  • The recent death of a major econo/political figure (actually one of the players) has the system on high alert, which is part of the reason that the K.B. has been denied Exit Visa. Duke Norris swore vengeance on whoever killed "his great friend, Sir Charles Ponzi" and appears to be using Ponzi's "death" to advance Norris' own political ends. 
  • The "dead" character's accomplice (a doctor of no mean abilities) approached the crew seeking passage offworld, but found that the crew, while willing, was not able to travel yet. In return for passage, the doctor had Sir Ponzi (still incognito) assist the crew in clearing up their legal troubles. A Diplomacy briefing from Ponzi (with a ridiculously high effect) assisted the engineer's next meeting, and after a few tense minutes (and 50Cr slid to an officious but receptive admin), the K.B. was given a 48 hour launch window.
  • However, the crew of the K.B. is still broke, and cannot afford to outfit their ship yet. They decided to carry some passengers (the two incognito players were unamused but decided to not draw further suspicions on themselves) and plan to make a deal with the local starport supply clerk against future earnings. (In essence, they'll get X% value once they prove they have boarded their passengers, and the tickets will be surrendered to the harbor master on the next world.)

The Karman Brevit is a 40 year old safari ship originally converted into a Far Trader, then captured by pirates, and now "rebranded" as a legitimate trader, though with only J-1 capability. A measely 5MCr will fix that drive up though. Three players scored a "Merchant Ship" (5 ship shares), so I let them take a 40 year old ship "for free".

Mongoose Traveller didn't keep the (IMHO excellent) MegaTraveller concept that starship drives are composed of modules, and that you need a certain number of modules to get a certain level of performance out of any given hull displacement. So, I've decided to retrofit the concept. The KB's jump drive is composed of 3 units, 5MCr each, which in concert can propel the ship 2 parsecs per jump. However, one of the modules is damaged beyond repair (in fact, they had the useless hulk of it removed during refit), the ship has the equivalent of a Type-A drive, and until another jump module is acquired, they can only achieve 1 parsec per jump. Each additional jump module they install will give their 200dt hull another parsec of range, but they'll need to convert 20 tons of cargo into fuel for each module and add another power plant module to provide the energy required.

As a side note, I decided a Ship Share is 4%, rather than 1% of a ship's cost. So a single "ship" result (5 shares) is effectively a downpayment on a new ship, and 25 shares (5 "ship results) get you a ship free and clear. 20 years of age is equal to 5 ship shares. Which means a 100 year old ship is effectively free, but will be in such poor repair that it is essentially junk.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pearl of Portal

I had an idea for a magic item over the weekend. I can not in any way claim much creativity for it, as you'll see. The flavor of this item should be different between OSR and D20, so I'm providing both versions. Needless to say, if you like one version over the other, don't let my arbitrary preconceptions get in your way of your game.

Pearls of Portal, Swords&Wizardry/OSG Edition

The Pearls of Portal are a matched set of flawless but otherwise unremarkable pearls, often stored together in a small felt pouch. To use the pearls, first touch them together, then place (or throw) one of them to another location no more than 360 feet away. While touching the pearl you still have, speak the command phrase ("the cake is a lie") and you will instantly be transported to the other pearl. Transportation works in both directions, and includes any items you are carrying and up to two friends with whom you are holding hands.  The pearl does not teleport with you, and if you were holding it, drops to the ground where you were standing.

You may use the pearls to teleport 3 times per day, after which the pearls must be reunited and exposed to moonlight for at least an hour before they can be used again.

Pearls of Portal, D20 "High Magic" Edition

Pearls of Portal are a matched pair of flawless pearls with a limited dweomer placed on them. To use the pearls, touch them together, then leave (or throw, etc.) one pearl wherever you wish. To activate the pearls, hold the pearl in one hand and speak the command phrase ("the cake is a lie"), and you and anyone else holding onto the hand with the pearl will be instantly teleported to the other pearl. Both pearls are consumed by this action. The pearls have a maximum range of 100 feet, and cost 1000gp.

Essentially these are a Dimension Door spell (Wiz4) crafted into a wonderous item that uses one of a pair of pearls as the destination. The S&W version is a permanent item that needs a "ritual" to recharge, the d20 version is more like a scroll or potion, and is priced accordingly. Players will hopefully come up with clever ways to place the target pearl (slings, henchmen, monsters who believe they found a treasure, etc.) and in the case of the S&W version, will hopefully be equally inventive about how they plan to retrieve the pearl(s) once they have used them. (Remember, the pearls do not transport themselves - someone has to go get them.)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Just a quick shout out to "Standard Action"

I just wanted to make a quick shout-out to "Standard Action", a fun web-series that chronicles the events of some adventurers in a D&D 3E/Pathfinder-inspired game world. They're going for funding to make more episodes, and they've already reached their first goal, so the only question now is how far will they make it?

The episodes are admittedly "low budget" level productions, though to be honest the video quality and makeup is surprisingly good for the shoestring budget they must have, and the writing is entertaining if you're a D20 geek. (And if you're not, why are you reading a gaming blog?) If you've seen "The Gamers: Dorkness Rising", (and if you haven't, you should) that's a similar level of production, though I think Standard Action's costuming and effects are a touch better.

Search for them on YouTube and watch the first two seasons. As you might expect, the second season is more polished than the first, but the first season has some fun moments in it. The cast and crew has a lot of heart and clearly loves what they're doing. It's no Raimey production (alas), but I like to throw a few extra bucks and projects like this, especially ones that make me smile, which this one did.

So check 'em out and see if you feel compelled to drop a few bucks in their tip jar as thanks for the laughs and funds for the next installment.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

So What's This "Swords & Wizardry" Thing Anyway?

The very short answer is, S&W is a "Retro-Clone" of the old, original Dungeons and Dragons game.

The complete rules are online at, and you can buy printed copies from the same site. The same site gives a good description of S&W's goals and history. Much like their Pathfinder sister site, the d20swsrd is an invaluable resource for search for rules and such. Also, the downloads section contains character sheets, adventures and other aids.

"Why not just play the old D&D?" you ask? S&W has cleaned up many inconsistencies and vague wordings, and has added optional rules to smooth over some of the clunkier aspects of the original D&D, such as the crazy "low is good" armor class system. S&W includes both that system and a more d20-ish "ascending AC" system, which is supported through all of their creature lists and such. For gamers like me who have lived through the "to hit" tables and THACO, I'm happy to have the modern system available, as in my opinion it is the "right way" to do AC.

And, more subjectively, I believe Matt Finch's (the author of S&W) writing style is very clear and engaging. I first read S&W when I got a copy from the Reaper Kickstarter, and reading it made me want to play so much that I ordered the hardback version from Frog God Games.

A nifty innovation of S&W is that there is only a single save number, which is used for all saving throws. The author did include the original save table as an optional rule, but the standard S&W save is a single number. Certain classes get bonuses for different kinds of saves, such as the Magic User's "+2 for saves against effects caused by spells". At first, I wasn't sure about this system, but the more I use it the more I like it. The old system was often vague (is a wand of petrification a paralyze/petrify or a wand save?). Also, others have suggested using the Save for any situation that requires a throw of some sort that isn't covered by another rule, since the save improves with level. I've used it for a "three strikes" type of death system, sort of like 4e's, where once you drop to zero hitpoints, you must make saves each round until you either pass three and stabilize or fail three and die. A friend can stabilize you as their round's action.

Well, that's it. If you're at all intrigued, head on over to the SRD site and see what you think.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Traveller version of the Spectrum of Awesome

Following the excellent idea proposed on Venger's old-school gaming blog, I have adapted his "Spectrum of Awesome" table to work with Traveller's 2d6 idiom as opposed to Venger's original percentile system. Visit his link to get the basic concept, which I won't repeat here.

Note that my probabilities are not exactly the same as his, and since 2d6 has 11 "bins" that do not map directly to Venger's 9 categories, this is not a direct conversion anyway.

I've provided two variants - Classic Traveller and Mongoose Traveller. In both cases, I've "repurposed" existing game mechanisms to get a similar effect.

The CT version applies SoA principles to CT's reaction table. If you determine that the players have advantage, add a +1 DM to the roll. And naturally, apply a -1 DM for a disadvantage. The original reaction table has "critical fail' rolls, which I have retained. It does not have "critical success" rolls, so I've left them out as well. Complications should be things like, "got away but dropped something important" and mitigating factors would be things like, "captured, but were able to hide a weapon on you before you were thrown in jail".

Spectrum of Awesome, Classic Traveller Style
2 ~ critical failure, worst possible result
3 ~ failure, critical failure on 5+
4 ~ failure. critical failure on 8+
5 ~ simple failure.
6 ~ borderline failure, impose mitigating factors
7 ~ stalemate, mixed result; some success and some failure
8 ~ borderline success, impose complications
9 ~ minor success
A ~ solid success
B ~ high degree of success
C ~ critical success, best possible result

The Mongoose Traveller version is really just the standard MgT task roll against an average difficulty.

Spectrum of Awesome, Mongoose Traveller Style
Throw 2D, Average Difficulty
6+ ~ critical success, best possible result, +2 to relevant follow-on tests
1 to 5 ~ Average success, +1 modifier for relevant follow-on tests
0 ~ success with complications
-1 ~ failure with possibility of recovery by accepting complications
-1 to -5 ~ Average failure
-6 ~ Exceptional failure

Friday, April 5, 2013

Twilight's Peak Preparations

I have a large-sized group willing to subject themselves to my attempt to referee (what Traveller calls "Dungeon Masters") the Classic Traveller Adventure #3, Twilight's Peak.

Hopefully none of my players will google the adventure and get spoilers. I'll avoid spoilers on this blog as well.

I am still deciding if I'm going to use Classic Traveller+DGP Task System or Mongoose Traveller. I'm sure I'll continue to angst about it until the game starts, and none of the players has expressed a preference yet.

The setup is simple - the players are captain and crew of an old merchant starship, the Empress Nicholle, which is just about to set out on a trading journey down the local branch of the "Spinward Main". The Spinward Main is a chain of star systems with no more than one parsec between any two systems in the chain. The 'main meanders and branches around the sector, and provides a slow and steady route for inexpensive Jump-1 capable ships to traverse. "Tramp" freighters are the lifeblood of those marginal backwaters that the big boys with their fancy high-jump number drives just jump over.

The Empress Nicholle is of a class of ships known as "Far Traders", which means that she can make 2 parsecs per jump - In theory. Unfortunately, her jump drive is old and run down, and can only make Jump-1. To fix (really, replace) her drive will cost 3.5 million credits, which is a whole lot more money than the crew has lying around. Getting that money is the owner's primary reason for taking on this trade mission. The rest of the crew will have their own reasons, but will also be expecting to make money.

The plan is simple: cruise down the 'main, looking for sweet deals and bulk cargo when there are no deals, and maybe (ok, definitely) do some "odd jobs" to cover for the inevitable dry runs. If they get lucky, they'll find leads relating to even more wealth. The Empress can theoretically carry passengers, but there are few enough staterooms that most will be occupied by the crew. Still, passengers often pay lots of money, and it could be worth it to double-bunk for a few dozen extra Kilocredits from time to time. You never know.

Being an "old school game", this will be a semi-linear sandbox. Semi-Linear, because their ship in its current condition can only go further down or back up the 'main, and will have only a few branches to choose from. "Sandbox", because though I plan to have possible encounters and patrons planned out for each world they visit, there are very few if any "must do" missions in the story line. (There *is* a story line though.)

I'm going to rely on the players to handle the ship's finances on their own. I'll tell them their costs and present mercantile opportunities to them, but aside from the crew charter, it will be up to them to decide how they want to split things up. Since only the captain has an ownership stake in the ship, I suspect the first order of business might be to work out how they intend to save up for their new jump drive, and if other players will "invest" their own cut in the venture. (Spoiler alert - they are not going to be able to make enough money hauling bulk cargo to buy the new drive.)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Traveller Damage in Various Incarnations

Traveller, in its "Classic", "Mega" and "Mongoose" incarnations (the only versions I have access to) has an interesting system for tracking wounds. Here are some random thoughts about this system.

Rather than abstract "hitpoints", damage is tracked by reducing your three physical stats (Strength, Dexterity, Endurance) directly. If for example your Dexterity is damaged, you're going to have more trouble firing weapons or doing delicate tasks. The details vary by version, but essentially when you "zero" one stat, you are lightly wounded, when you "zero" two you are seriously wounded and require surgery, and zeroing all three means you're dead. (Death can be averted in some versions by quick application of medical procedures.)

Oddly, animals and vehicles use a different system, where they list the number of points needed to incapacitate, and the number of additional points to kill. They don't worry about "stats".

Classic Traveller is the most straightforward. All damage is in "Hits", where each "hit" is 1d6 points of damage. Armor makes you harder to hit, but if you do successfully attack the target, you roll the Hits of damage immediately, applying each whole dice to a random stat. (We always played that you could choose the stat, because that's more fun.) The first hit in any combat is supposed to come entirely off of one stat, on the theory that your first wound could knock you unconscious. I use that rule for "mooks", but not important characters. For animals, the points all go against their "hit points".

MegaTraveller takes a different approach. You add your physical stats together to get a "lifeforce rating", which indexes a table that gives you an animal-style "incapacitate/kill" hitpoint track. The difference from CT is, these numbers are in "hits" not "damage points". Armor in MT reduces the number of hits (possibly to zero), and only after combat do you take all hits and then apply them to the stats of combatants you care about (usually only PCs). The downside of MT armor is that the rules for penetration are complex and involve a somewhat complicated set of fractions. It's no worse than THAC0 in D&D 2e, but it lacks the immediacy of "roll to hit, roll damage".

Mongoose goes the exact other direction, giving animals physical stats, but specifying that the first hits always come from Endurance. Damage is rolled at the time of attack, and armor blocks damage points. MgT armor seems much less effective than CT and MT armor, but I believe that's a side effect of how they brought the MT armor values over.

I've always found CT's "armor modifies your chance to be hit" to be an odd abstraction. For example, rifles get a big bonus to shoot at unarmored targets, and it's practically impossible not to hit someone at 10 meters with a shotgun. Someone posted a "fix" for this that involves first rolling to hit without armor modifiers, then rolling to hit with ONLY armor modifiers to see if you penetrate. I like this idea a lot, especially since against unarmored opponents, it generally means that you won't need to bother rolling penetration because the hit will be automatic. However, I feel like that system would work better with MT's "track the hits, roll the points later" approach.

T20, being a D20 derivative, has an interesting take on damage. "Hit Points" are renamed to "Stamina", and you always take damage to your Stamina when you are hit. At zero stamina, you pass out, but are not seriously wounded. In addition, you have Constitution worth of "Lifeblood", which you only lose if the damage penetrates your armor or you are unconscious when you take the damage. So in other words, get shot without armor, and you'll probably die, no matter how high level you are. But a veteran is going to be able to keep going a LONG time with some decent armor. I like this system a lot, and it would be interesting to try to graft it on to a more standard version of Traveller.

Something to think about for another entry....

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Traveller - have I come full circle?

I found a piece of what for me is Traveller Archaeology - a full set of Megatraveller rule books, and a ton of DGP's "Traveller's Digest" issues. The TD was DGP's version of the old "Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society", which in turn was basically like "Dragon Magazine", but only for Traveller instead of D&D.

The Traveller's Digest articles are always a ton of fun to read, and the style of adventure presentation DGP had is to me much more evocative than GDW's style. Even if I'd only picked those magazines up, I'd be a happy man. But the Megatraveller rules, now that's really something to dig into.

Megatraveller (which uses the abbreviation "MT" on the web) came out almost exactly a year after I stopped playing Traveller. So though I was aware of its existence, I never saw a copy in person until now. In fact, it turns out that I'd confused it with "Traveller: The New Era" in my mind, which as it turns out is a very different game system whose rules I also have never read.

The MT rules are very much like a straight-line extrapolation from Classic Traveller (CT). If you're fluent in "D&D speak", MT is the AD&D 2e to CT's OD&D. The analogy is very apt, since MT adds a TON of chrome and optional rules in supplements, and even the basic rules are considerably more full than CT, though the core concept of character creation is nearly identical. As an example, the core CT has 6 "services" you can join to gain skills (analogous to D&D classes), but core MT has 18! MT  adopts a uniform task system and then re-creates the entire Traveller game around it. CT has skills to, and though there was a certain logic to how they work, MT takes the concept way beyond anything CT offers. (DGP did actually publish a version of their task system for use with CT. This system was popular enough that it ended up in MT.)

The down side of MT is that along with the chrome comes complexity. Ship design is wonderfully expanded, differentiating hull displacement from mass, specifying in great detail the type and power requirements of various ship subsystems (sensors, inertial compensators, etc.) that are hand-waved away in CT, etc. Combat is more rational than CT, and unifies person, animal and vehicle damage systems. There are MANY tasks listed for first aid, repair, etc., to take advantage of the new (and yummy) task system, etc. But because of all this flavor, MT loses much of CT's "rules light" charm. (You know, just like when OD&D became AD&D....)

As I read MT's rules, I do so not so much with the intent of playing MT, but maybe of raiding MT for ideas to port to CT. I've very seriously considered simply using the DGP task system with CT and hand-waving in some sensor rules. I'll leave CT's combat system alone, but adopt MT's initiative/interrupt system, and I'll use MT's "life force" rules for minions.

On the other hand,

I've been an on-again-off-again fan of Mongoose's Traveller (MgT), which I used to believe was a "modernized CT". But I'm reaching the conclusion that MgT is actually a "trimmed down MT". Could it be that I've been going about this all wrong, and that MgT is really the Traveller that I'm looking for? MgT has a unified task system (similar but not identical to MT's) and a lightly more detailed ship design system than CT.

I still think that MgT has dropped the ball on certain details, and their task system encourages the "playbook" style of role playing that I want to avoid. But I wonder, would I be better served by bringing some MT into MgT, playing MT straight-up, or using MT rules to flavorize CT?

Something to ponder as I prepare to run "Twilight's Peak" for some friends....

Side Note: I mentioned a few posts ago that I got T20, which I now recognize as being very much a D20 version of MT - plenty of crunchy details wrapped around a D20 engine - but I've found character generation in T20 to be very confusing. Much of the stuff in T20 that got me so excited appears to have been extrapolated from MT. That doesn't diminish the coolness of T20, and T20 may still have the best combat and damage model of any Traveller I've seen, but unless my players are willing to do some studying on their own (some will be, some won't), I need to stick to a Traveller that is easy to use.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Traveller Itch

I'm starting to get the "Traveller Itch" again.

I need to find some way to run a campaign. My home group is busy with Swords&Wizardry (or Pathfinder as a fallback) and is by and large not hugely SF friendly. My work crew might be mobilized for a once-a-week session if I ask nicely, but we may need to "go Mongoose" (MgT) or even T20, since I didn't get the idea that everyone was fully on-board with Classic's "Old School" (that is, "Mostly GM fiat with few hard rules") feel.

I'd like to use the "Twilight's Peak" adventure as the framework for a merchant campaign. I ran this adventure once decades ago for a group of impatient teenagers (I was also an impatient teenager at the time), and I think we missed out on a lot of the fun of the slowly unrolling story. Though one of my friends still teases me about a planet-bound search we were playing where I forgot to reveal one of the most important facts to them. Something along the lines of, "You can't leave the ATV safely, there's a blizzard." Sigh.

In order to make the campaign work, I'll need to get a player to agree to run the starship's accounting. Last time, I used an NPC (naturally, Alexander L. Jamison) as the captain and owner, and didn't have the players make any choices about mercantile matters. I don't plan to get too detailed about such matters, but on each world I'll present the crew with a list of available flat-rate and speculative cargoes, give them a moment to decide if they want to sell what's in their hold, etc. With any luck, that won't take more than 5min per world and hopefully people will take some interest in the ship's (and therefore their own) profits. The players will then get to choose how they plan to spend their time on-world - hanging around the starport (possibly getting some work from patrons or hearing useful rumors while they blow some cash), going out to "see the sights" (if there are any, and the local law allows it), or whatever else may come up.

The part of space Twilight's Peak is set in is a chain about 20 worlds long, which at normal rates of travel means their journey will take a year or so. Some worlds we'll be able to bang through in 10-20 minutes of game time, some may require hours.

I'm sure this is just another of my pipe dreams, and like so many of my other plans will either come to naught or aggravate my state of mind.  I dunno, I'll float the idea around and see if anyone bites. The usual office game is off for a few weeks anyway, so maybe....

As a side note, the by-the-book "cost of being alive for a week based on your social standing" rules will definitely be in effect, but some of the worlds that are being visited are decidedly unpleasant, so I might do something like "the lowest of Social Standing, World Population, or Tech Level" since many worlds won't be able to support a high-society lifestyle to begin with. ("Wow, are you wearing a Pirema jumpsuit? That's just sad, man.") I'll have to work out rules for things like refusing to leave the ship. ("I don't care, I'm not going out into the sulfuric acid these idiots call an atmo!")

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Current set of house rules for the S&W campaign

I've evolved a set of house rules to adapt S&W to my home campaign.

  • Magic Users spell casting expansion - Standard rules apply, but a memorized spell is considered to be a "mostly cast" spell. An MU can also cast spells from their spellbooks, but it takes a full turn (10 rounds) to do it. The spell is NOT consumed from the book under this system. So your MU can prepare Sleep, but still be able to cast Detect Magic if you have a full turn to let them work their mojo in peace.
    The Magic User still can't prepare spells for combat casting without an extended rest, so this rule is mostly a way for your MU to be able to cast those "why would I memorize THAT?" spells during an adventure, at the price of losing a turn and possibly attracting wandering monsters.
  • Cleric Temples and Healing - all temples are built around a magic fountain or similar structure that can heal 1d6 HP per day if used by a worthy person. The same fountain can cure minor ailments, but not diseases; those still require a Cleric's magic. The water itself has no special powers, so it's not a free source of Cure Light potions, but it provides the kind of divine healing that a community would need to shrug off minor daily wounds. This helps explain why the D&D world is not as miserable and festering as a real European medieval style civilization would be.
  • A character can "tag out" of a combat as a move if a friend is behind them and ready to step in. This lets characters relieve each other in a congested fight. I'm considering only allowing this when your side has initiative.
  • Likewise, if you have initiative, you can attempt to push through an enemy's position. However, they get a free attack against you, and if they hit you do not move past them.
  • By way of rationale, the Saving Throw bonuses some classes get (Magic Users get +2 vs. spells, for example) are considered to be caused by player action. For example, the MU save bonus is due to the wizard knowing certain warding runes or other arcane ways to diffuse magic. It doesn't help a lot, but it helps some. Likewise, a Cleric's resistance to poison and petrification comes from their faith that their god will protect their body. Maybe yes, maybe no, but it helps some.
  • Clerics can attempt to turn every round as their standard action. Once they've failed to turn a particular undead, they will never be able to turn it in the current combat, but if they simply did not turn enough of the undead, they can re-try turning the rest of them in a later round.
Well, that's it. Seems like a lot, but those are some spot-rulings I made during play in addition to a few logical implications of the way I see my campaign working. The twist on wizard casting that I'm using is probably the biggest change, though the difference is only going to come up during exploration, not combat.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Does a cleric choose his faith, or does it choose him?

Swords&Wizardry Clerics have a property that is unusual in the D&D world - they do not get any spells as first level. They can still turn undead, but no spells until level 2, at which point they basically track the Magic User, but one level behind.

From a game mechanics perspective, I suspect that was originally done to balance out the Cleric's power level. After all, he can turn undead things at will, which is nearly a 1st level spell's worth of power. He also has a medium level of HP, can wear any armor, and has some nice weapon proficiencies.

But from a game world perspective, what does that mean? Clerical spells are powers granted by the divine, after all.

I've decided that what it means in my campaign is that Clerics have to earn their god's patronage by proving themselves. (That is, gaining a level) Once a cleric has leveled up, his exploits will be noticed by one of the lesser gods or godly servants, who will contact him and become his celestial contact.

A starting off cleric, while no doubt well versed in the faith he's pursuing, has yet to form a real bond with his god(s). Presumably, the cleric should perform acts that make the god he's trying to woo happy. However, it's also possible that the cleric will be contacted by a god other than his chosen god. This is likely in some mythoi, as the gods will compete with each other to some extent.

Also, in my system a character would in theory not need to be exclusive with his god, though he would treat with his god's enemies only at his own peril!

I'm a bit worried that my view of Cleric is bleeding over into Paladin territory, but those two classes are similar to begin with. I figure Paladins are introverted in the sense that they seek to do their god's bidding without question, but aren't showy about it. Clerics play the extrovert, making sure everyone is aware of the power of their god, and are more inclined to work with than for their god. (As in, "Mighty Odin, we can vanquish your foes if you grant us the boon of <insert spell list here>!" Whereas the Paladin would go out, vanquish the foes and shout, "Souls for Odin's Hall!" as he's killing enemies.) It's a fine line, and one which I don't think I fully grasp, not being a big fan of Paladins.

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Traveller Patron

Here is a simple patron idea I had, originally designed for Mongoose Traveller, but usable in any system if you disregard some of the notes. I haven't followed the normal "options 1-6" format, though anyone using this should feel free to explore all sensible options, because there are a great many places this encounter could go off the rails, and I've only explored a few. I haven't run this one, so I can't say how it works out in practice. If you decide to inflict it on your players, let me know what did and didn't work.

PATRON - A Snake in the Grass

In the Startown tavern of a high Law Level world, a man approaches the players with an offer:  Retrieve a duffle bag from a free trader currently in port for 2000Cr. This bag contains some personal effects, and he claims that he was unfairly fired from the ship's crew and not allowed to retrieve his goods. He will suggest that the players pose as prospective employees (for his old job) and during the interview, get his bag for him.

Referee's Information:
The patron is a liar and a thief. Last night at the tavern, he overheard the actual crewman talking about a bag with (valuable item) that his "lucky dog" bunk mate had acquired. The crewman had already told the captain that he was quitting his job, and since he was leaving on good terms he was going to clean out his stateroom the next day. Unfortunately, that crewman was locked up on a drunk and disorderly charge the previous evening, and will be locked up for 48 hours, giving 

The players can try any technique they want to gain access to the crewman's stateroom, but Starport security is high and the captain is a busy man who will not give tours of his ship to just anyone. The captain is indeed searching for a new crew member, but if the characters ask about the previous crewman, the Patron's story won't match up.

If the players manage to impress the captain and don't sort out the core deception, they should be able to get into the stateroom without any violence, and with some Stealth should be able to get the satchel out.  If they're caught, things could get dicey. Likewise, the captain will come looking for them at his departure time. The subsequent events are up to the Referee.

If the players return with the duffle, the Patron will try to cheat them, claiming that he needs to "go get the money". If the players intimidate him successfully (Average Intimidate DM+STR) he will pay 2000cr (marginal success gets them 1000cr). If the players decide to keep the satchel or lie about retrieving it, the Patron will become VERY irate, and will possibly even attack the players with a ceramic knife.

If the players sort out the deception and inform the captain, he will be furious and will want to turn the 
Patron over to the local authorities. It will turn out that he's a known criminal who is wanted and has a 3000cr reward for his capture. The captain will let them use a spare ship's duffle for the deception. The Patron will be able to detect the deception and will produce a ceramic knife (Blade, but undetectable by local TL) and attack the players. The law enforcement officers will arrive in 1d6 turns afterwards.  On a Difficult Deception/DEX roll, the players can swipe the knife without the officer noticing.

Patron: Karl Mortensen 76957(9) (SS is a disguise - real number is 4, Steve Savage)
     Deception-2, Melee(blade)-1, Recon-2
     Ceramic Dagger (melee, 1d6)

Captain: Merchant Captain Rebart Shivvan 65A887
     Admin-2, Broker-3, etc.

Police Officer: Bran Thuragud 99977A
     Relevant skills at level 3
     Stun baton

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Old School Charm, New School Taste

A few years back, I grabbed a copy of Castles and Crusades, a D&D-ish RPG that has the distinction of being approved of by one of the fathers of D&D, E. Gary Gygax. It's a D20-license game with some decidedly old-school flare. There are a ton of reviews around the web, so I'll gloss over almost everything. The core game system is very modern in implementation though - it's d20 vs. threshold numbers all the way down. What's different is that unlike modern D20 games, there are very few rules or "build" options. What is there is elegant and simple, and quite source-compatible with old AD&D modules and newer OSG products, like OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord.

But for some reason, I didn't go for it. I ran an adventure or two, and while the game system was perfectly workable, it didn't grab me emotionally for whatever reason. I can be fickle that way, like how I dig Pathfinder but don't like D&D 3e.

Anyhow, as is obvious from my other blog posts, my current fantasy RPG "fling" is Swords and Wizardry. It's a "restating" of pre-AD&D D&D, also called "OD&D". (Original, I guess, or is that supposed to be a zero?) OD&D had a lot of loose ends in it, and S&W tries to tie them up in a consistent and interesting way. For example, S&W takes a very strict reading of the rules on strength bonuses, and ONLY lets Fighters (not Rangers or Paladins) use the bonus, thus making Fighters a more viable class - one that truly specializes in fighting.

One of the advances in recent years (aside from ascending armor class, which fortunately S&W supports) is the idea that a first level Wizard should be more than just a young adventurer who knows "much that is hidden", and has the potential to become great some day, but an active participant in combat. In Pathfinder, these beginners have "Cantrips", or Level 0 spells which they can cast at-will to do things like detect magic or maybe cause 1d3 damage to something. 4e goes farther and gives everyone at-will powers that are useful attacks, but removes a lot of the RP specific spells, or turns them into "rituals".

I think at-will and other ideas do not fit well with my understanding of the OSG aesthetic. Wizards, in game terms, are defined almost entirely by their consumables (spells, scrolls, wands, etc.) much as Fighters and Thieves are defined by their innate abilities. (Though to be honest, I rather like the idea of rituals.)

I've considered giving Magic Users an "Arcane Insight" ability that is a very light version of Detect Magic. If an MU spends 1 turn examining an item or willing subject, performing certain minor rituals (similar to spell preparation rituals or using magic items - just things MUs know how to do, not "spells" per se) and then succeeding in a Save (+2 for magic being involved), the MU can evaluate the magic of the object. In addition, if the object is cursed, the curse only attaches if the MU failed his Arcane Insight save. Using Arcane Insight requires touching the subject.

Seems like a lot of rules, but I think in essence it should be simple enough and someone more talented as rule statement could probably explain it better.

Here's how I see it being used:

Fighter: There's a door ahead. I don't see a lock, but I can't force it open
MU: Here, let me take a look. (1 turn and a lot of gesturing later). Yep, it's magically locked. Luckily, I have a scroll that we can use....

and later...

Fighter: Hey, that's a fancy sword.
MU: Wait, don't touch it yet!
Fighter: You think it might be cursed?
MU: Could be. Guard the perimeter while I examine it. (1 turn and lots of unhappy mumbling later) Well, I'm not sure what other powers this sword has, but it's definitely cursed. I think we need to seek a Cleric....

Sunday, February 3, 2013

First Swords and Wizardry Game

I got to play some S&W last night. My daughter was on a sleepover, so only my wife and son played. They rolled up two characters each, both opting for the "hard core" roll 6 sets of stats in order, then make a character from them approach. If the character had fewer 13+ stats than it did 9- stats, we discarded it and started again. With two characters each, the prospect of dying was less frightening. Both players wound up with a fighter and a caster (MU and Cleric), and all had primary stats of 13+, though in a few cases the stat was 13.) I also took a cue from Pathfinder and gave them full hit points for their class. 

I was struck how "lame" the characters seemed compared to 4e or Pathfinder characters, who routinely have 17+ scores starting off. But S&W is an old-school D&D, and the idea is that players are not heroes when they start off, they have to earn that title. By coincidence, nobody has a Charisma higher than 11 or so, and most characters have at least one stat that is lower than average. Only one of the fighters has high physical stats, and the Wizard actually has a Wisdom as high as his Intelligence. None of the characters had the stats to qualify for Ranger or other more advanced classes.

None the less, they formed an effective party. the two fighters fought bravely, dishing out more than they took, the wizard was the only one who brought the fancy stuff like mapping paper, oil flasks, etc. (It helped that he was the one with the most money....) The cleric is clumsy, and even with his ring mail didn't have much of an AC. Curiously, in S&W, Clerics do not cast spells until 2nd level, though they only take 1,250xp to level up the first time. I found I liked these "average joe" heroes. Sure, each had a stat or two above average, but nobody was near the top of their range. They'll earn the right to call themselves heroes soon enough I suspect

We played the dungeon of Akban adventure. For motive, I had a local town put out a call for adventures to investigate a newly discovered staircase, believed to be the lair of some goblin bandits that had started to cause trouble in the region. The local cleric gave them two healing potions to assist them, and the mayor told them they were free to keep any loot they found, so long as they brought back evidence that they had found and removed the goblin threat.

Some well rolled Undead Turning and a timely sleep spell allowed the players to get through most of the dungeon in a little over 4 hours. (I kept very careful track of time, had one of the players draw a map, and only told them about stuff within 30 feet, the limit of their lantern.)

Even still, the two fighters almost got killed, with one needing to use a healing potion, as he had been reduced to 1hp. They made some good and bad choices, and both they and I got used to the flow of this sort of game. (We all play Pathfinder, and the various cantrips make certain things like light sources less relevant.)

I had originally thought to use some house rules, like allowing wizards to detect magic as a full-turn action, etc, but honestly things seem to be going well without such measures. I may still do 4e's "three strikes" rule for death though, unless an opponent finishes them off while they're down.

It seems our Pathfinder game is losing steam, and with two of the three players on board with S&W, I'm hoping we can switch rules for the next campaign. Honestly, none of them really understands Pathfinder. S&W is so simple, yet familiar (since it's still D&D), that I think I'll have less trouble running the game since I won't spend as much time helping the players run their own characters.

They got the goblins and discovered that there was more going on down there than just some unruly humanoids. But after 4 hours of exploring and fighting, they were in need of rest, and had treasure to redeem. The party returned to the surface to head back into town to recuperate and sell their non-coin loot. Gold pieces become XP in S&W, so after they sold whatever loot they wanted, we found the final GP total, and divided it out. More than half of their XP came from their treasure, which was novel from a Pathfinder perspective. On the other hand, they got no experience from braving various dangers, though the adventure was pretty good about placing gold in places with traps.

They decided to rest up for a week to get their hp back up to full and prepare for their next trip into the cave. I'm using the "100gp per level per month" AD&D costs, so I charged them 25gp to cover the expenses of living, partying, getting their weapons and armor repaired, etc. Even after that, they now have around 100gp each to spend. I suspect at least a few of them are going to grab some better armor. I think I'll just let them buy it rather than try to enforce some kind of "this town is too small to sell chain" type ruling.
I know my wife was enthusiastic about S&W. I'm not as sure about my son, who, as one might expect given his age, is a bit more detail oriented.

Plus I have to admit I get a (possibly perverse) pleasure out of playing S&W, with its simplified AD&D feel. With no gods, feats, skills, etc. the game feels more wide-open. Yeah, I know I can use Pathfinder or any other RPG this way, but I'm lazy, and if you give me structure, I'll use it. I look forward to some unbelievable (or maybe barely plausible) dungeon lay outs, cunning but untrustworthy goblinoids, strange oozes and molds, golden idols, lizard folk performing strange rites, lost temples,dangerous wildlife, and small keeps on the borderlands.