Expanding the Final Frontier

Some of my readers may remember my review a ways back of Star Trek – Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier. It’s a nifty little RPG, the first with the Star Trek license, designed to accompany some metal miniatures produced by Heritage Models Inc. of Dallas, Texas. Frankly, I fell in love with it – rules lite, somewhat compatible with old school D&D, includes stuff from animated Trek – totally up my alley.

I’ve also talked a bit about my love of original Star Trek on this blog HERE and shared some basic spaceship battle rules I designed to go along with my Star Trek vapor-campaign (i.e. a campaign I’ve designed but know I’ll never actually play).

To keep the original Star Trek RPG alive, and to pass some time, I decided to produce some character stats for a few of the aliens introduced in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

A Quick Rules Primer

Before I present those character stats, and because most people do not own the Star Trek adventure game, here’s a quick primer on some of the rules:

Characters in Star Trek have ability scores … and they’ll be pretty familiar to old school gamers: Strength, Dexterity, Luck, Mentality, Charisma and Constitution. And yes – you generate them with 3d6 in turn, as God intended. There’s also a size attribute and movement attribute, and there is a 1% chance for most characters to have psionic powers; Vulcans are always psionic, and Kzinti are psionic on a roll of 1 on 1d8.

Combat is pretty standard for old gaming, but in Star Trek the attacker rolls 1d6 and adds his Hand-to-Hand combat class and modifies it by his Strength and Dexterity (-1 for each point below 9, +1 for each point above 12), while the defender rolls 1d6 modified by H-H class and Luck. If the attacker’s roll is higher than the defender’s, the defender takes the difference in damage.

For ranged combat, you have a “to hit” chance based on your Dexterity, and if you hit you then roll damage based on the weapon used, and the defender rolls 1d6 modified by Luck, taking the difference (if positive) as damage. Damage is deducted from Constitution in this game, rather than from hit points.

As an example of how species were presented in the game, here’s how they present Vulcans in the book: Pointed-eared humanoids of great emotional control and logic. Their blood is based on copper salts and they have protective nictitating membranes to protect their eyes from dirt and glare. They have limited powers of telepathy and empathy in that they usually have to be in contact with a subject for the powers to operate. Once every seven years they must mate or die. Basic size: 200cm, Basic move: 11m, ST +3, DX +2, MN +3, CT +4.

That’s enough info to give you an idea of how the game works.

The Aliens

For the aliens I chose, I did “excel-shopping” to put them in Starfleet uniforms.

Arcturian Security

Arcturians are humanoids from Arcturus IV, a very large and dense planet. All Arcturians are clones, and there are over 100 billion of them in their home system. Arcturus IV is best described as an anarcho-capitalist society, with no central government to speak of. Despite their lack of central authority, the Arcturians are militaristic, and provide the bulk of the UFP’s infantry forces. Many also work in Starfleet security and marines. They are also known to have a great appreciation for the works of Shakespeare. Arcturians are often contemptuous towards outsiders.

Basic Size: 180cm, Basic Move: 11m, ST +3, CT +3, CH -1, increase H-H Class by +1

Betelgeusian Command

Betelgeusians evolved from leopard-like birds – perhaps something akin to griffons. They have retained the talons and bone structures of predatory birds, but walk upright, and have two mouths. One mouth is used for speaking, the other for eating. Their home planet is Betelgeuse IV. Betelgeusians are known to be aggressive, but also calm and decisive. They have a strong hunting instinct.

Basic Size: 210cm, Basic Move: 10m, ST -1, DX +2, CT -1, add +1 to H-H rolls using their talons

Kazarite Biologist

Kazarites are known to be simple shepherds on their own planet, preferring the company of animals to most sentient humanoids. They possess the power of telekinesis, which they use to propel their simple spacecraft through space. Kazarites sometimes enter Starfleet as biologists. They are capable of communicating with animals.

Basic Size: 175cm, Basic Move: 10m, LK +1, MN +1, CH +3

 

Rhaandarite Communications

Rhaandarites are a child-like species, sometimes considered the “country bumpkins” of space. They have a lifespan of many centuries, and do not mature until they are 150 years old. They also continue to grow their entire lives, with the oldest topping 240cm. Rhaandarites are good at taking commands, not giving them, but they are very loyal and trustworthy. They originate on the planet Rhaandar orbiting Alpha Indi. Males and females can only be told apart by the style of jewelry they wear. The Rhaandarites are known for hiding their technology in jewelry.

Basic Size: 190cm, Basic Move: 10m, LK +1, MN -1

Rigellian Engineer

Rigellians evolved from saber-toothed turtles in ancient times (but no word on whether they are descended from a certain “friend of all children” we all know and love). They usually wear armored exoskeletons, which give them a sense of security. Their society is broken into two castes, the lords and attendants. Lords are taller (usually 200-210cm) and are capable of laying eggs. Attendants are shorter (165-175cm) and hold all real power in their society. It is the attendants who sometimes join Starfleet. They originate from Rigel III*.

Basic Size: 170cm, Basic Move: 9m, DX -1, CT +2, armored skin rating of 1, skilled swimmers, +2 to H-H combat rolls using their claws and bite

Saurian Doctor

Saurians are reptilian humanoids who come from Psi Serpentis IV, a volcanic planet of heavy gravity, dim light and poisonous gases. Saurians can breath many gases, and are generally resistant to poison. They have four hearts, and their large eyes are sensitive to bright light. They are especially known for their Saurian brandy, which even exported into the Romulan Empire.

Basic Size: 180cm, Basic Move: 11m, ST +1, DX +2, CT +4, CH -1, skilled swimmers, +1 to H-H rolls with their claws

Zaranite Navigator

Zaranites come from the harsh planet of Mu Capricornis II (or Zaran II). They have two hearts and are capable of stopping one in order to meditate on their choices in life and so one heart can repair itself. They breathe fluorine gas instead of oxygen, and so usually wear special breathing apparatus. The Zaranites have a love of logic, numerology and mathematics almost equal to the Vulcans, but they are not non-emotional, and in fact can be quite belligerent. They live past the age of 400.

Basic Size: 180cm, Basic Move: 10m, MN +1, CT +2, CH +1, 5% chance of psionics

* It’s a funny thing, but Star Trek used Rigel as the location of a whole lot of alien settlements/civilizations/etc., most likely because it was a star name that was familiar to people. Unfortunately, Rigel is really far away … as in far enough away to not make sense in the context of the show. As a result, I treat references to Rigel as being to the much nearer Alpha Centauri A in MyTrek, since it is also called Rigil Kentaurus.

Star Trek at Rules Lite Speed

Playing around on the Internet Archive recently, I came upon some old issues of Different Worlds magazine. This was a magazine I was unaware of in my youth, and I’ve enjoyed looking at another take on the RPG world in its infancy. One article in particular, “Kirk on Karit 2” by Emmet F. Milestone in issue No. 4 (1979) brought to my attention the first licensed Star Trek RPG, Star Trek – Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier. I did a little hunting, and found a copy for sale, and I’m glad I did.

Written by Michael Scott in 1978 for Heritage Models to support their range of Star Trek miniatures, Star Trek (which is what I’ll call it from now on in this review to save time and space) is a dandy little game – very old school, very rules lite. In fact, some folks seem to think it a little too rules lite, but not me. I love discovering these little games from the hobby’s origins, because they remind you just how much you can do with a very light rules set.

Here are a few highlights –

The game is very focused on its mission, which is to simulate Star Trek landing parties – I think it does this pretty well. In fact, you could spin this thing into doing Star Trek dungeon crawls with very little trouble.

Being written in 1978, it is all original Trek, including the animated series, which I really dig. This means you get stats for creatures like the K’zin and Skorr.

The rules are really simple – in the basic and advanced versions – and meld pretty well with old school D&D. The six ability scores are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, Luck and Mentality. Not too difficult to track those to D&D. Ability scores range from 3 to 18 (3d6). Characters get a modifier that is positive for every point a score is above 12 and a negative for every point a score is below 9. They also have a hand-to-hand combat value and equipment. In th basic game, you play one of the characters from actual Star Trek – Kirk, Spock, McCoy, etc. In the advanced game you can roll up a character yourself.

Sometimes hand-to-hand means butt-to-face

Combat is simple – roll 1d6 to attack, adding strength, dexterity and hand-to-hand bonus to determine total potential damage while the defender subtracts 1d6 plus luck and hand-to-hand modifiers. The resulting damage, if there is any left, is deducted from the defender’s constitution score. If damage equals more than half of the character’s remaining constitution, they are knocked out. Ranged combat is a little different, but just as simple – you have to roll below a number based on your dexterity score, with modifiers for a few common situations. Damage is based on the ranged weapon used.

The advanced game has more hand-to-hand weapons, which involve rolling more d6’s for the attack, and armor to reduce damage suffered.

Skill checks are a roll of 3d6 which must be less than or equal to whatever ability score makes the most sense. If Spock is trying to use his tri-corder to pick up signs of life, he makes a roll against his Mentality. Easy … but I would personally change it to a d20 roll rather than 3d6.

Psionic powers work basically the same way – roll under Mentality.

There is no experience point or leveling system in the game, but the author mentions that as characters succeed in adventures their hand-to-hand rating can improve or they can get bonuses to certain tasks. I like the idea of advancement being kind of arbitrary, though you would need a good Mission Master to keep things from getting out of hand.

The game has stats for all sorts of Star Trek monsters – again, a Trek dungeon would probably be lots of fun. Given that Kirk and Spock had to deal with ancient Rome, the Roaring ’20s and the Old West, a dungeon crawl would not be too outrageous … and nicknaming the hirelings “red shirts” would be entirely appropriate.

Spock: “I use my tricorder to scan for life forms on the other side of the door.”

MM: Rolling … “You detect no life forms.”

Kirk: “I bust open the door and somersault into the room.”

MM: The room contains four Klingon warriors – roll for initiative!

I really grok how simple this game is – you can pick it up and get going within minutes if you have players who understand the basics of role playing games and Star Trek. I especially love that it instantly lit a fire in me to play it and play with it – why not work up quick stats for Doctor Who characters and creatures, or Star Wars or Next Generation or whatever – it would be so easy!

If you get a chance, check it out. Expect simplicity, “rulings not rules” and lots of thinking on your feet, but also a game that you can get up and running quickly.

Also – check out that article I mentioned above – Emmet F. Milestone came up with a dandy little scheme for characters falling in love with one another – a must if Kirk is in your boarding party, though as Emmet often remarks, “Kirk has no luck in love, so his Luck modifier is never added in a Romance Roll”. I instantly want to use this in my next D&D dungeon crawl.

Heritage Star Trek miniatures – image found at Noble Knight Games

Gathox Vertical Slum – A Review

I have recently been given the priveledge of perusing Gathox Vertical Slum by its author and artist, David Lewis Johnson. For readers of this blog who also read my NOD magazine, Johnson should be well known, as his art has graced many issues of NOD (and will grace many more, God willin’ and the crik don’t rise).

I approach game materials in two ways – as stand-alone, run-as-written products (i.e. can I grab it off the shelf and run with it) and as tool boxes. David’s book, I am happy to say, works well in both in capacities.

As a “module”, it is fantastic. A well-developed city, incredibly imaginative with new things around every corner, that can play host to all sorts of adventures. Explorers will not be bored in Gathox, and players who like mysteries, puzzles, interaction and, of course, fisticuffs, will find plenty to do in Gathox provided their referee knows what he or she is doing. While Gathox is fully fleshed out and ready to go, I think one could also make modifications as needed for their group.

I also appreciate the fact that Gathox, as designed, can be dropped (almost literally) into any campaign and a wide variety of games, from pure fantasy to sword & planet to post-apocalyptic to sci-fi. The city is a wandering entity, you see, and it could show up in the World of Greyhawk just as easily as my Nod campaign world or wherever you happen to play.

As a toolbox, Gathox has all sorts of goodies between its covers. There are new and very imaginative monsters, a pretty boss little mutant class and clever rules for running competing gangs in a city setting. The rules as written are compatible with old school games of the D&D variety, so it should be as easily converted to other systems as other old school games.

Gathox Vertical Slum is published by DIY RPG Productions (just look for the sign of the flipping bird), with chapter fiction written by Josh Wagner and editing and layout design by Mike Evans. It is a well designed book – easy on the eyes, easy to read and well organized. Johnson’s art is great (but hey, obviously I’m biased there) and the fiction does a great job of conveying the intended feel of the setting.

Folks, I give David Lewis Johnson’s Gathox Vertical Slum my highest recommendation. It’s a great book – so great that I’m going to shell out some hard currency for a physical copy. I have some 5E D&D-ers that might get a fun surprise if they walk through a shimmering portal one day in the depths of Stonehell.

You can grab a copy (and I recommend you do) HERE.

Dragon by Dragon – February 1982 (58)

The Clyde Caldwell cover to the February 1982 Dragon Magazine is chock-full of fantasy tropes. You have the warrior woman in weird, revealing armor and a gnome fighter mounted on a giant lizard. You also get a Clyde Caldwell trope, namely lots of feathers. That said, I adore Caldwell’s work, and consider it fundamental to 80’s D&D.

We’ll begin this rule with the editorial – which is rare for me. This one deals with “assassin” and “killer” games, and is written on the subject due to an incident in December 1981 in which a college student playing Assassin was shot by police. I bring it up because I played a game of TAG (The Assassination Game) in junior high school. Well – briefly. I managed to get assassinated while walking from first to second period, but remember that by lunch period we were informed that the school had put an end to it due to one idiot performing an assassination during class. I suppose these days the entire school district would be put on lockdown if some kids were playing “assassination”.  What odd memories we nerds have of youth.

The first big article this month is by Len Lakofka, who is “Beefing up the Cleric.” This article introduces a multitude of new cleric spells that will show up later in official AD&D product. They include ceremony, combine (a neat idea), magic stone, magic vestment, messenger, dust devil, enthrall and negative plane protection. One spell I didn’t immediately recognize – readers of this blog might have better memories than I – Death Prayer (2nd level). This spell reduces the likelihood of a corpse being animated at a later date.

The Dragon’s Bestiary includes the sull and beguiler by Ed Greenwood and Magenta’s cat by Roger E. Moore. These last monsters are the descendants of a cat familiar who was made psionic by its mistress, Magenta, and in the process freed from its obligations as a familiar. It went out and made babies, and they inherited the psionic powers. It’s a very cool idea – a psionic cat causing trouble in a village, trouble blamed on some legendary menace the adventurers try to hunt down.

Michael Parkinson offers up “Medusa’s Blood”. This article details the many creatures that were born from Medusa’s blood, including old fantasy favorites like Pegasus, the Lernaean hydra, the chimera, Cerberus and the Theban sphinx. Some new monsters from the lineage of Medusa include Geryon (the three-headed and three-bodied giant, not the demon lord), Echidna and the Blatant Beast.

The Medusa article is followed up by “Four Myths from Greece”, with stats for Atalanta the huntress (9th level fighter), Daedalus (sage/engineer), the Sybil of Cumae (16th level cleric) and Chiron (15th level centaur ranger).

Dragon 58 has a special section all about dwarves, featuring “The Dwarven Point of View”, “The Gods of the Dwarves”, “Sage Advice on Dwarves” and “Dwarven Magical Items”. Dragon did a few of these series, and elements of them became standard parts of Dungeons & Dragons in later days, especially the dwarven pantheon. Roger E. Moore’s “The Dwarven Point of View” is one of those articles that represents the inflection point of the original DIY days and the middle phase of “explain it all”. It’s a useful article for folks new to fantasy gaming, but I suppose some folks didn’t like the Dragon magazine doing articles that might tie their creative hands, what with it being “semi-official” in D&D world.

I liked this bit from “Sage Advice”:

“Why aren’t ettins mentioned among the bigger creatures which attack dwarves and gnomes at -4?

Ettins may be big and dumb, but they don’t suffer any penalty “to hit” against dwarves and gnomes because of the most obvious difference between ettins and other big humanoids: their two heads. In the words of the Monster Manual, “One of the ettin’s heads is always likely to be alert, so they are difficult to surprise.” And, presumably, also difficult to sneak up on in any other way.”

Now let’s be honest – the answer here is “crap, we forgot to include the ettin”.

Another question that struck me is one that shows a clash of mindsets that I’ve seen myself in our hobby. The question writer asks:

“What would be a reasonable spread of races and sub-races for adventurers and NPCs? For instance, what would be the chance of a PC dwarf being a mountain dwarf?”

An interesting question, and one that would be answerable in a particular campaign, or if there was really such a thing as dwarves and we have solid demographic data on  them. I appreciate the answer:

“The chance of a player character dwarf being a mountain dwarf is 100% — if the player wants to be one, and if no circumstances of the campaign prohibit such a choice.”

I’ve fielded a few similar questions from people reading my games, as though I had some special right to tell them what they could and could not do in their own homes. Some folks have the mindset that there is a “right and wrong” to these games we play, and they seek answers from “authorities”. This isn’t a dig against these folks – it’s just a way of looking at things that differs from mine that I find interesting.

On the topic of “The Gods of the Dwarves” – I really loved Moradin when I was a kid. The demi-human pantheon was another case for me, as a young man, of being amazed that you could make up pretend gods and goddesses for a game. This article also introduces a new undead monster – the rapper.

This issue of Dragon also has a bit of fiction from J. Eric Holmes called “The Bag”. It involves a character of his called Boinger. I haven’t read this one, but I’ll include the first couple paragraphs as a taste for those who might want to delve deeper:

“Perhaps the small master is looking for something special?”

The muscular young halfling put down the leather backpack he had been examining and looked at the person who had addressed him. He was worth looking at, Boinger decided. For one thing, his species was not one the adventurer had ever seen before. The creature was obviously not human; his complexion was slate grey and his face was covered with wrinkles so that it looked like a folded piece of linen with a long, pointy nose sticking out. He was shorter than Boinger himself. Some sort of gnome, the halfling thought, out of the north, I suppose. Shorter than a dwarf, taller than a Lilliputian …”

In Robert Barrow’s “Aiming for Realism in Archery: Longer Ranges, Truer Targets” you get another article trying to make the game more realistic. This one has a useful little table about archery accuracy derived from medieval tournament data:

This article is followed up by “Bowmanship Made More Meaningful” by Carl Parlagreco. This one introduced the idea of minimum strength scores for different bows – a 16 for composite longbows, for example, or 8 for short bows. Using a bow without having the strength required presents a -2 penalty to hit per point of strength deficiency. There’s more – so check it out if you like more realism in D&D.

David Nalle presents “Swords – Slicing Into a Sharp Topic”, which gets into the weeds on that fantasy staple, the sword. You get information on its history and construction. No game stats in this one, but good information for folks new to the topic.

There is also an article by Glenn Rahman on the Knights of Camelot Game. I’ve never played the game, so I cannot review the article, per se, but I love the bit on “Acts of Villainy”. These include:

  1. Distressing a Lady
  2. Imprisoning Persons
  3. Looting a Shrine
  4. Piracy
  5. Seizing a Castle by Storm
  6. Slaying a Good Knight
  7. Slaying a Goodly Hermit Man

This is a great checklist for Chaotic/Evil characters in any game – try to do three or four of these things in every game. The article also has two awesome little tables – the kind of random fun that screams old school gaming to me. The first deals with the merchant ships you might run into while being a pirate:

The second is a random table of dying curses from goodly hermits:

It is so hard to keep track of things like this, but I love the idea of using them during play.

Speaking of useful stuff, Jon Mattson’s “Anything But Human” is for Traveller, but could be useful to anyone. It is a collection of random tables for creating aliens. As always, my review of this article consists of using it – here’s my random alien:

It’s a mammal, feline, average of 67 inches tall, that has a bonus of +1 to education and a penalty of -1 to strength and social standing (which in D&D-esque games would be a bonus to intelligence and a penalty to strength and charisma). The creature has a -3 to their psionic rating. It has no special abilities.

“What’s New? – with Phil and Dixie” covers love magic in D&D. I had a crush on Dixie as a kid … and probably still do.

This issue also has cut-out counters of all the magic-user spells to aid magic-user players in keeping track of what they’re doing.

As always, I’ll leave you with Wormy …

Grandeur from Tramp

Sniffing the Flowers in No-Man’s Land

The concept of “Edition Wars” never really struck a chord with me. I started my D&D life with Moldvay/Cook, and then bolted on all the cool stuff from AD&D (classes, races, monsters, spells). I later went to 2nd edition AD&D, ignoring anything I didn’t like and using the things I thought were cool (kits – at the time – being one of them). In 3rd edition I got tired of all the rules and hour long combats that would have taken 10 minutes in older versions of the game and ultimately abandoned it, but I never hated it and there were things in 3rd edition I thought were pretty clever.

And so it came to last Saturday night, when four of my daughter’s friends – aged 17 to 22 I think – gathered around my dining room table to learn D&D. To be more precise, they wanted to get their own game going, but since none of them have ever DM’d, and they knew I was a D&D-er from way back, they wanted to see how I ran a game. My daughter asked me if I was willing, and I was, and so the date was made.

Just a few weeks ago, I had started another D&D game because the wife of an old friend (and D&D player) wanted to try the game out. This game also included my daughter (who had played a couple times with me when she was younger), my friend (as I said, an old pro) and our wives, who had never really played. For this game, I decided to use Moldvay/Cook D&D for two reasons. The first is that I had just bought vintage boxed sets of both and wanted to play with my new toys. The other reason was that I wanted to use a game with few options and few rules so that people could ease into the game playing aspect without being overloaded with rules and regulations. We’re now three sessions in, adventuring in Jeff Rients’ Under Xylarthen’s Tower and I’ve only killed three characters … all of them belonging to my buddy, the most experienced player at the table.

So, having just successfully launched a game for novices with Moldvay/Cook, I figured that would be the best way to go with this new group. But then a complication arose … the kids had all gotten together (no including my daughter) and rolled up characters. With what version of rules I asked? D&D 5th Edition. Hmm.

The problem was that I didn’t have 5th edition and, frankly, I wasn’t going to get it. Nothing against it, but I just didn’t need another version of D&D and I didn’t have time to learn those new rules. I could have nixed the characters and required people roll up new ones for the session I was going to run, but I hate to quash youthful enthusiasm. I could have converted the characters to B&T, but since I knew they were ultimately going to play 5th edition I wanted this training session to be as useful to them as possible. My ultimate solution – I decided to wade into the No-Man’s Land between editions and cling to the faith that D&D is D&D and I could make these different editions work together with absolutely no preparation on my part.

It worked!

What did I end up running? I ran Michael Curtis’ Stonehell dungeon, which was written for Labyrinth Lord with my Blood & Treasure rules behind the DM screen and characters created in 5th edition D&D, except for my daughter, who ran a valley elf fighter named Moon Unit done in B&T. And – I want to stress – I went in 100% cold, with no knowledge of 5th edition other than the fact that lots of people think it’s pretty close to traditional D&D.

How did I handle the rules clash? If I was rolling it behind my DM screen, I was using a blend of Blood & Treasure (surprise, skill rules, saves) and a little old-fashioned D&D (listen at doors checks and reaction checks). If the players were rolling, I let them use what was on their character sheets, sometimes interpreting it through an old school lens. The first thing that took me back was the presence of more bonuses and higher ability scores in 5th edition than in old school games – not a shock, though, since I had played 3rd edition. To make up for the stronger fighting ability of the 5E crowd, I decided to bump monster Armor Classes by 2 points, and I rolled d10 for their hit points. This was after it looked like the characters were going to cut through the monsters like a hot knife through butter. After I made the change about halfway through the session, the fights got tougher and more fun.

I allowed the 5th edition healing rules and death rules to function as-is. If we were playing by old school rules, I killed three characters (including my daughters), two of them with a zombie who rolled really high on damage and who had as many hit points as he could have. Boy, did that zombie scare them. Since we used the new death rules, nobody died – which is fine. I’m not a killer DM, and hey, just getting knocked out scared the crap out of them and made the fights more fun.

The only hurdle I’m not 100% sure how to handle is XP. By 5th edition’s character XP chart, it seems like the group would advance very quickly through levels, making Stonehell too easy for them quickly. The group wants to stick with me as DM for a while longer and they want to explore the dungeon, so I need to keep it viable. For that reason, I think I’m going to use Blood & Treasure’s XP system, which they can then translate into 5th edition’s XP values when I hand over the DM’ing to the player who is planning to become the new DM.

So – moral of the story. Do not fear different editions. Though I can’t speak for 4th edition, which was a departure from the norm, I can say that different editions can work together IF … and this is important … IF you don’t care about getting things perfectly right from a rules standpoint, and just want to have an enjoyable, engaging, exciting game. Work with the players to make a good session, regardless of the rules, and you’ll all have a good time.

Oh – and I found an online character creator that allowed me to turn my daughter’s B&T elf fighter into a 5th edition elf fighter in about 5 minutes, with the exception of picking a feat or feats.

Thinking About Armor

While playing with Blood & Treasure’s second edition, I was thinking about armor and it occurred to me that you could characterize the armor table as follows (with AAC standing for Ascending Armor Class, and DAC standing for Descending Armor Class):

Leather = AAC 12 / DAC 8

   mixture of leather and metal, but mostly leather (like brigandine) = AAC 13/ DAC 7

   mixture of leather and metal, but mostly metal (like jazeraint) = AAC 14 / DAC 6

Metal mesh = AAC 15 / DAC 5

   mixture of mesh and solid, but mostly mesh (like mirror armor) = AAC 16 / DAC 4

   mixture of mesh and solid, but mostly solid (like plate & mail) = AAC 17/ DAC 3

Solid metal = AAC 18 / DAC 2

The values above are for a full or almost full suit of armor – from shoulders to lower arms and torso down to knees. For half-armor – shoulders to upper arm, maybe covering upper legs – you deduct a point from the Armor Class value. You could probably take it further, and drop the bonus by 2 for “quarter-armor” for those punk barbarians out there who like to accessorize with armor without really committing to it.

A shield still gives the normal 1 point bump (or in Blood & Treasure, a 1 point bump for bucklers, and a 2 point bump for larger shields).

The point of this would be to make it easy to figure out what protective value different types of armor should have – not just real armor that doesn’t show up on the old leather-mail-plate table, but also illustrations of fantasy heroes and heroines in the fantastic armor artists often dress them.

Also …

GRIT & VIGOR

In print

200 pages of rules and ideas for modern adventures

Gunslingers, daredevils, private eyes, samurais, scoundrels and even scholars!

Hard cover $26.99 | Paperback $18.99

As always, if you purchase a hard cover and email me the receipt, I’ll send you a download link for the PDF

Dragon by Dragon – September 1980

September 1980 is the time.

Between the covers of a Dragon Magazine is the place.

I’m pressed for time today, so let’s get down to business and discover the top ten best things about Dragon Magazine #41 (then I need to kill weeds, mow the yard, get a haircut, edit Mystery Men! and commission art).

1. METHODISTS AND MELEE
Our first article is a time capsule of what was going on in the RPG world at the time, namely the backlash by pseudo-religious folks against D&D. 

Written by Arthur W. Collins … or more properly Reverend Arthur W. Collins … who created the neutral dragons from a few issues ago, this one seems like a “let’s get a religious guy who digs D&D to write an article about how great the hobby is, so the other religious people who hate D&D will look worse.”

For example …

“The non-churched population generally views the Christian faith (and religion in general) in terms of a body of rules and regulations designed to keep one from enjoying oneself. This is a false view, but a prevalent one, and voices in the Christian community have been raised of late saying that such things as Dungeons & Dragons are questionable at best (damnable at worst). The double effect of misunderstanding and misguided righteousness on either hand have made fantasy role-playing games a hot topic in the religious community. It is my purpose to lay out a Christian understanding of the uses of fantasy, and then speak from a pastoral perspective on the value of role-playing games.”

It’s a fine article, and worth reading.

Side note – although I cannot be sure, this might be the fellow himself.

2. JIM HOLLOWAY

Holloway is beginning to appear in Dragon at this point (I think I mentioned him in the last review), which is cool with me. I was always a big fan of his stuff – it had an Osprey quality about it that I always liked – grounding the fantasy in some gritty reality. He’s still learning at this point – the cover is him as well, and isn’t as crisp as later Holloway covers will be. Still – it’s fun watching these artists grow.

3. MOLDVAY’S GIANT IN THE EARTH

Such a great series of article, if for no other reason they offer wonderful opportunities to argue with other nerds about which fictional character could kick which fictional character’s ass.

This one includes stats for some female fantasy favorites, and a couple fellows from the sagas.

C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry (14th level fighter with 18/49 strength)

H. Rider Haggard’s Ayesha (27th level cleric, 9th level fighter with ability scores ranging from 15 to 18/00 – I’m guessing her player used the “roll 20 dice, take the best 3 method”)

Robert E. Howard’s Valeria (17th level fighter, 8th level thief)

Sigurd Fafnirsbane (20th level fighter, 12th level magic-user, 8th level cleric) – this fellow also includes a bit on the Norse runes

Starkad (23th level fighter)

4. DRAGONS HAVE ONE MORE REASON TO WORRY

This issue has two interpretations of the effects of bathing in dragon’s blood, via the sage of Sigurd / Siegfried.

The first is by Robert Plamondon, who gives us the following:

1. AC benefit is one step for every 10 hit points of the dragon, dropping fractions.

2. Successive applications are cumulative to AC 0 (or AC 20 using ascending AC).

3. The only way to beat AC 0 is to slay Tiamat or Bahamut, who give AC -2 and AC -6 respectively.

4. The formula for combining armored skin with actual armor is AC = AC of armor + AC of skin -10. So, AC 9 skin and AC 8 armor combine for AC 7 (=9+8=17-10=7). The formula works for ascending AC as well.

5. The dragon must be dead and must have been slain with edged or piercing weapons. Initial damage cannot have been delivered by heat, cold or electricity. Poison ruins the blood. The magic in the blood lasts for 1 hour. Only one person may bathe in the blood.

6. The toughening of skin is permanent, and only protects against attacks that would pierce the skin, so the bonus can be added to saves against poison needles).

7. There may be a weak spot, where the blood did not cover. The DM knows this, and perhaps assassins could discover this weak spot as well.

The second way to go is Moldvay’s. He points out in the original myth, Sigurd does not bathe in blood, but rather accidentally sucks a blood-covered finger and gains the ability to speak with animals.

To Robert’s system, Moldvay would make the following changes:

1. Armored skin and armor do not stack – use the better of the two.

2. The blood must be the dragon’s heart blood.

3. Only the character that delivered the killing blow can get the benefit of the blood.

5. MAGIC DOORS

Alan Miller in the Bazaar of the Bizarre has a nice random table of magic door abilities, which include intelligent doors, wizard locked doors, illusions, doorknobs that cast fear and doorbells.

6. PRIMITIVE COMPUTER GAMES

There’s a nice article reviewing several Avalon Hill computer games from back in the day. These babies were for the TRS-80 and Apple Pet, and were loaded via cassette. They cost $15 in 1980, which corresponds to about $43 today.

What I really found interesting was the size of these programs, which ranged from a low of 8.5 K to 15 K. Boy, they could do a lot with a byte back in the olden days.

Also this:

“A final note here about pirate copies. Computer programs are just like books and games; they have copyrights. The manufacturer charges the customer for what it costs to research, produce, package, and distribute the games. Some profit is thrown in on top of all this. Without the profit they wouldn’t be in business . . . and you wouldn’t get the games! They are not out to gouge the public. Our markets (oil excluded) are still competitive; if someone else can make a better product for less, the expensive line will either lower prices or fail.

Unlike the recorded music industry, the home computer game field is in its infancy, and there is no real standard yet for just how to market such things. Some companies cloud their programs in machine language, which makes the game harder, but still not impossible, to copy. What it does do is make the program, and the game, next to impossible to change. Other manufacturers, and I heartily applaud Avalon Hill for doing so, put their programs in BASIC (the language most hobby computers speak). This allows the gamer to “play” with his game. You can modify each program in a thousand ways to customize it as you see fit. A gamer can look at every facet of his copy of a board game, throw out the rules he doesn’t like, and make up new ones to suit his fancy. A computer program is no different; let’s keep it this way—and respect those copyrights!”

7. NAPOLEONICS

William Fawcett has a neat article with skirmish rules for 25mm Napoleonic figures. Obviously, I won’t republish them here, but they are well worth a look. If you just added a fantasy supplement to these bad boys …

SIDE TREK – RIDES NEEDED

Yeah, the old days were sure different. Dig this little tidbit …

RIDE NEEDED: I would like to go to Dundracon ’81 and I need a ride from the Los Angeles area. I will help pay for transportation. John Salguero, 449 East Avenue R-7, Palmdale CA 93550.

(Note: Requests and offers for rides to/from convention sites will be printed in this space free of charge for anyone who sends notification to Rides, c/o Dragon Publishing, P.O. Box 110, Lake Geneva WI 53147.)

8. MONSTER ART

The “Dragon’s Bestiary” in this issue features the Silkie by Tom Moldvay. Good monster, and indicative that the game had already started moving beyond the dungeon.

What I really liked about this, however, was the art by Roslof.

Likewise – Ed Greenwood’s Tomb Tapper is all well and good, but dig the art!

9. FINIEOUS FINGERS

I didn’t love this strip like I loved Wormy, but it was probably more D&D than Wormy and probably the first good effort of translating the game into a comic strip. Here’s a nice collection of NPC’s for your own game:

10. THE HALLS OF BEOL-DUR

This is a full adventure by Dave Luther, Jon Naatz, Dave Niessen and Mark Schultz. You have to love an adventure that starts with this:

“It is highly preferable that a large party begin the adventure (attrition will take its toll), and it is essential to the success of an expedition that most, if not all, party members be 8th level or higher.”

It also has a formula for an “original procedure for saving throws” which is really a system for ability checks:

“Roll 3, 4, or 5d6 (the number of dice varies) and subtract one point from the dice roll for every two levels of experience the character has attained. Compare the resulting number to a specified ability (this also varies), and if the adjusted dice roll is less than the character’s score for the ability in question, the saving throw is considered made.”

It’s a solid dungeon delve, with tricks, traps and monsters galore. Also some pretty neat art.

  
That will do it for Dragon 41, folks. Not the best issue, but a good one overall. Enjoy the day, the Super Bowl, the sunshine, etc. 

Hell is for Geniuses

In working on my Blood & Treasure revision, I started thinking today about one of the aspects of monsters that often gets overlooked – intelligence. Starting in AD&D, monsters started getting intelligence ratings, and I think most referees note them and use them to help play a monster encounter, but I wonder whether they really take them into consideration.

Let’s take Hell for an example.

Illustration by Thomas Theodor Heine

Many devils have a high intelligence rating, making them the equivalent of college graduates or even geniuses. A few are super geniuses – and we’re not talking Wile E. Coyote super geniuses, but the real deal – folks smarter than Einstein, Elon Musk and Tony Stark put together. They’re also lawful (evil, but lawful), which means they can work together. Imagine it – thousands of super geniuses working together to create a tech boom in the depths of Hell.

There is some literary precedence for this idea. Milton, in Paradise Lost, noted that the rebel angels used engines of war – possible cannon – in their battle against the Heavenly Host. This was probably an early version of casting “modern” warfare, with its noise and smoke and fire, to our typical vision of Hell, or a Hellish landscape.

We could go a step further, and let the devils in a campaign go full steampunk. What a surprise for high level adventurers, who are expecting the cover to a heavy metal album, and instead enter a nightmarish “World of Tomorrow” when they visit Hell – something more Kirby-esque than classical art. This would also mean that the allies of Hell on the Material Plane would have access to some interesting “magic items” – cannons of course, but also rocket packs, difference engines, steam-powered tanks, etc.

This could make for an interesting campaign, as Hell embraces sorcery and super-science and begins equipping mad wizards and anti-clerics with steam-era technology to conquer the Material Plane, with the adventurers left to discover what this stuff is, how it works, where it comes from and, ultimately, how to stop it. Maybe they’ll need to engineer a rebellion in Hell – the low-order devils against their masters, like something from Metropolis. Or maybe they’ll need to ascend the Seven Heavens and petition the solars and planetars for help in storming the Hellmouth – thousands of aasimars and elves and dwarves brightly arrayed against an undead army that looks like it might have crawled out of the trenches of the First World War!

It could be epic.

Illustration by Thomas Theodor Heine

NOD 28, Revisions and Goodies

It’s a bad sign when you start all of your blog posts with “I’m sorry I haven’t posted lately …”. Still, I’ve been a busy boy, so I have a good excuse. Here are my current RPG projects and a glimpse at what I would like to do moving forward, as well as a few RPG odds and ends mixed in to make this more than an advertisement.

NOD 28

First and foremost – I’ve put NOD 28 out for sale today as a PDF! It’s going for $4.99 – 78 pages, with part one of the Trollheim Mountains hex crawl (trolls, pseudo-Russians, elemental folk, a crazed demigod, etc.), a Swiss mercenary character class, new rules for handling disease in RPG’s and a campaign idea for a “World of Atlantis” game drawing from Theosophy’s notion of “root races”. Tons of fun for $4.99. GET IT HERE or HERE.

BLOOD & TREASURE 2nd edition

I’m about 80% complete with editing and laying out the new B&T Player’s Tome, and about 35% complete with the Treasure Keeper’s Tome. The 2nd edition will not be a major departure from the first, but I’ve made some adjustments to saving throw values, XP requirements, I’ve tried to give the sorcerer some personality and make the ranger the cool cat I remember from youth, streamline any rules that could use streamlining, etc. The goal is still RULES LITE – OPTIONS HEAVY. Most of the work I’ve done is concerned with improving the layout and incorporating the first edition errata. I’ve also commissioned new covers from David Williams, which are being colored now. Here’s a sneak peek – half of this image will be the Player’s Tome, the other half will be the TK’s Tome.

If anybody has an ingenious old school idea they think would improve fantasy gaming, let me know and I’ll see if I can’t incorporate it into the rules.

QUICK MONSTER: GOATMAN

Goatmen live in hidden valleys, deep within forbidding mountains. Half mad, chaos flows through their veins. When the moon is full, they descend into the lowlands, seeking out people to torment or torture.

Goatman, Medium Monstrous Humanoid: HD 1; AC 16; ATK 1 slam (1d6); MV 30; SV F15 R13 W14; XP 250 (CL3); Special-Auras.

Goatmen cause fear (as the spell) to all within 10′ of them. Each time a person succumbs to this fear, the goatman grows larger, gaining 1 hit dice (and all that goes with it). At 6 HD, they become large creatures and their aura changes to one of madness (save or go temporarily mad). Each person that goes mad causes the goatman to gain another HD. At 12 HD, the goatman becomes huge, and the aura becomes one of death. All within 10′ of the beast must save or die. Each creature that dies increases the goatman’s hit dice by 1. At 18 HD, the goatman explodes into shadow and ceases to exist. The land where he explodes becomes permanently blighted and haunted by the souls of those who died.

MYSTERY MEN! Revision

I’m further along with the MM! revision than B&T. The book is laid out, the rules tinkered with, and now I just need to give it a thorough editing. This version will still have the sample Shore City setting and the sample adventure, but will also include several write-ups of heroes and villains.

NEW SPELL: UNWITTING ALLY

Magic-User 2
Range 10′ radius
Duration 1 minute

One enemy helps you despite himself. When this spell is cast, one enemy within 10′ chosen at random must pass a Will save or become your unwitting, unwilling ally. Every move the creature makes has the possibility of helping you. For each action, roll 1d6.

1-2. The creature’s action proceeds as normal.
3-5. The creature’s action proceeds as normal, but has a side effect useful to you.
6. The creature’s action is twisted to your purpose entirely.

Help, in this case, is up to the referee, but would include things like the monster making a move, but also accidentally tripping or running into one his allies, the monster making an attack, but accidentally attacking an ally as well, etc.

BLACK DEATH

The latest Quick and Easy RPG is Black Plague, which really just needs some editing and it’s ready to go. This one is set in the era of Europe’s religious wars (mostly the Hundred Years War), and is intended to be grim and gritty – more survive than thrive. This Q&E is a bit heftier than past editions, due to containing a bit more setting info and some rules for disease and damnation.

QUICK MONSTER: LEAF SWARM

A leaf swarm is a swarm of vicious green insects. They descend on a tree, strip it of leaves, and then take their place. When a creature nears the tree, the leaf swarm strikes, surprising on a roll of 1-4 on 1d6. The monster’s stings cause blindness. The first save a creature fails blurs their vision (-2 to hit and damage), the second failed save blinds them for 1 minute, and the third blinds them permanently.

Leaf Swarm, Tiny Vermin: HD 4; AC 13; ATK 1 swarm (1d3 + special); MV Fly 60; SV F14 R13 W14; XP 400 (CL5); Special-Blindness.

THE FUTURE

What I’d like to start doing next is producing more adventure material for the games I’ve written. No more games for me – just fun, supplemental material.

For GRIT & VIGOR I want to do setting books that cover different eras – the historical events that lend themselves towards adventure, the equipment, the personalities. Each book would also have an adventure for that era. These would be trade paperbacks, probably 40 to 60 pages.

For MYSTERY MEN! I’d like to do some short books of heroes and villains, also accompanied by an adventure or two. They might be themed, or they might just be whatever tickles my fancy. These would maybe run 20 to 30 pages, trade paperback.

For BLOOD & TREASURE I’d like to do some adventures, with a few new monsters, new spells, etc. Again, trade paperback, probably 30 to 40 pages.

I also want to start writing supplements called THE LAND OF NOD that would provide hex crawls, mini-adventures and other setting material. These would probably also be trade paperbacks, maybe in a landscape format. Page count here would probably be around 120 pages. The first step would be to collect and revise the old NOD hex crawls.

I still have a revision of Space Princess and Pars Fortuna slated for the second half of this year, and I have more Bloody Basics I would like to make.

So – that’s what’s on my agenda for 2016. We’ll see how far I get. Hopefully, as the revisions and editing slows down I’ll have more time for blogging. I have tons of ideas that need to be fleshed out, and God willing I’ll start that fleshing process as the year wears on.

Cheers!

Weapons Increase Armor Class?

I had a little notion this morning about a different way to run combat in d20-esque games. This is a departure from normal combat, but can be done pretty easily.

Here’s the plan:

Damage is not based on the weapon, but on the success at the attack roll. There are a variety of ways you can do this. The most simple would be something like:

  Roll < AC = no damage (obviously)

  Roll = AC = 1d3 damage (’tis but a scratch)

  Roll = AC +1 = 1d4 damage

  Roll = AC +2 to +3 = 1d6 damage

  Roll = AC +4 to +5 = 1d8 damage

  Roll = AC +6 to +7 = 1d10 damage

  Roll = AC +8 to +9 = 2d6 damage

And so on, adding +1d6 to damage each time. You can adjust the ranges and damages to suit yourself, of course.

So what good is a weapon in this system?

Weapons in this system would add to AC based on their length. If your weapon is longer than your opponent’s weapon, it is harder for the opponent to get close and strike. We could say for every foot difference in the length of the weapons, you get a +1 to AC, up to a max. of +3. We don’t want the weapon’s length to completely overshadow actual armor in the AC calculation. We might also want to factor in the size of the combatants, with maybe every 2′ of height (or length) equaling a +1 bump to AC, up to +3. The combination of height and weapon length, therefore, would give a max. bump to AC of +6.

Weapons also add to damage based on their stated damage in the rule books, as follows:

  1 to 1d3 damage = +0 to damage
  1d4 damage = +1 to damage
  1d4+1 and 1d6 damage = +2 to damage
  1d6+1, 1d8 and 2d4 damage = +3 to damage
  1d10 damage = +4 to damage
  1d12 and 2d6 damage = +5 to damage

Strength also adds to damage, as normal, and dexterity adds to AC.

Example Combat: Halfling Fighter vs. Ogre
We’ll pit two combatants against one another.

The first is a 5th level halfling fighter with a +1 Dex bonus and platemail and a short sword. The halfling (using Blood & Treasure rules) has a total bonus to hit of +5 (for level, no strength bonus). Her armor class is 18 (+7 armor, +1 Dex). She has 28 hit points.

The second is a 4 HD ogre with no armor and a spear. The ogre has a +4 bonus to hit (based on his HD) and AC 16. He has 17 hit points.

We’ll impose the following adjustments, based on the above rules:

The ogre is 8 feet tall, vs. the halfling’s 3 feet of height. This is a 4′ difference, so the ogre gets a +2 bonus to AC. The ogre is also using a 6-foot long spear, vs. the halfling’s 3-foot long short sword, which gives the ogre another +3 bonus to AC. This gives the ogre a total AC of 21 in this fight.

The halfling’s short sword gives her a +2 bonus to damage. The ogre’s spear gives him the same.

We’ll give the halfling initiative … her first attack roll is a 17, +5 for her attack bonus, equals 22. This beats the ogre’s AC by 1 point, and thus scores 1d4+2 damage. In this case, 4 points of damage. This reduces the ogre to 13 hit points.

The ogre rolls a 19+4 = 23. This beats the halfling’s AC by 5, which translates into 1d8+2 damage. The ogre rolls 5 points of damage, reducing the halfling to 23 hit points.

In the next round, the halfling rolls a 23, beating the ogre’s AC by 2, and scoring 1d6+2 damage. The halfling rolls another 4 points of damage, reducing the ogre to 9 hit points.

The ogre responds with an attack roll of 5, missing the halfling.

And so on … it is likely that the halfling will win the fight, though the ogre has a slightly better chance to score more damage, and he is slightly harder to hit.

Final Thoughts
I don’t think this is a better way to run combat, just different. If it has any advantage, it is that it takes into account the reach of a creature and weapon in a way that normal combat rules do not. Further development of the idea might lead to a better system, or might suggest alterations to the existing combat system that might make it better.