Family Game Night Reviews

Because setting yourself up for failure is fun, I’m going to take a shot at getting a post up each weekend in 2020. They might not all be strictly gaming related … but what the heck – it’s my blog and I suppose I can do what I want with it!

To kick 2020 off, I’ll do some “timely” game reviews. I had some time off this Christmas season, so the family had time for a couple family game nights. We had a few games recently purchased and un-played, so we gave them a twirl.

First up is Charlie’s Angels, published in 1977 by Milton Bradley. I’m a total sucker for any board game involving a 1970’s or 1980’s TV property (well, almost all of them), so when we saw this baby priced $20 in an antique shop, it was a shoo-in.

I instantly called Sabrina when we got the game home, but we soon discovered that each player takes control of their own team of Angels for the game, so no fighting over the individual Angels is required. The game concept is kinda cool. You have a board that is a sort of a modified grid. Onto this grid you place the Villain. The Villain moves one space on each player’s turn, the direction of the move chosen by the player in question. The player then rolls two dice and can move one of his or her angels each with each dice. If you can’t move the entire number on the dice with an Angel, you give up your move.

The goal is to trap the Villain – sort of a Charlie’s Angels checkmate. Each Angel that is in on the trapping is worth one point for their player. You play three games, total the points, and determine the winner. There are some cards that can be helpful … or harmful … so you take a risk pulling one. You also have to think a bit about how you want to move the Villain – you don’t want to be left out of the capture, so sometimes you’re really on the Villain’s side in the game. We had a good time with Charlie’s Angels, with the game ending in a three-way tie – not a bad ending for a family game.

One issue – I noted that the rules did not specifically disallow moving back on your path on your turn. They probably should have, because this seemed to make the game too easy, and it just didn’t feel right.

Next up was a funny little dice game – really a packaged version of old dice rules – called Skunk. Simple concept – you have two dice to roll. The dice replace the “1” with a skunk. On their turn, a player takes the dice and can roll them as often as they like, totaling the points rolled. If they roll a skunk, they get no points for this turn and have to pay a penalty (1 chip, or 2 if you rolled a skunk and a “2”). If you roll two skunks, you lose all the points you’ve acquired and pay a 4 chip penalty. To win, a player must get his total above 100 – she can go as high above 100 as she dares. Once a player goes over 100, the other players have to try to beat them on their next turn. The chips in the pot do to the winner of each round.

The game is really all about risk – how daring are you, and how lucky?

In our first game, I managed to zero-out midway through. When my daughter went over 100, I needed something like 60 points to beat her. I started rolling, got hot, and actually won the game. On our third game, I decided to do exactly that each turn, figuring I might eventually get hot again … and wound up rolling a skunk every time on my first or second roll.

We had a fun time with Skunk, and since up to 8 people can play it would probably make a fun party game. To make it more “grown up” you could turn it into a drinking game, with a drink taken on every skunk or double skunk. I suppose you could also play Strip Skunk … but then again, maybe not.

Finally, we have Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Game, published in 2000, also by Milton Bradley. We bought this one for my daughter for Christmas, and she was raring to play it. It took a while to read the rules, but they weren’t too complicated and we had a good time playing it.

I took control of the bad guys, while my wife had to play Oz and Xander and my daughter got Buffy and Willow. The game is fun, pretty fast paced, and pretty easy to figure out. Evil sure looked like it was going to win this one – in short order, two of the goodies were out of the game and Evil had all the magic items. In the end, though, Buffy and Willow knocked off the evil minions and then teamed up on the Evil vampire and snuffed him out. Fortunately for them, the main villain doesn’t automatically get to move every turn. My guy spent three turns in a row not moving while they beat the crap out of him. C’est la vie.

So there you have it – three fun games for the family. All were purchased in antique stores for low prices and all were well worth it.

Thoughts on Designing a Game

A couple weeks ago I came across this little image:

Brought to you by Pluto Water … and if you don’t know what that is, click to find out

It belonged to some form of baseball game. You’d spin the arrow and find out if you got a single or strike, etc. I imagined some kids back in the “olden days” whiling away a Sunday afternoon with this game. and this inspired me to write Pen & Paper Baseball, a companion game, so to speak, to Pen & Paper Football (available now).

I’m in the process now of testing the game rules, and I’m pretty happy with them. I need to “adjust the mixture” a bit, but overall I have a working set of rules, I’ve designed a fantasy league to test them with and … and this is most important … I’m having fun doing it.

So – here are a couple things to keep in mind when you’re designing a new game or an add-on or adventure to an existing game.

ONE – Make a Rough Draft

You have to start somewhere. Conceptualize in your mind what you’re trying to simulate, come up with an easy way to do it, and then put it down on paper. It will change, but you have to get the rough draft down before you can make it better. Do not get bogged down in the minutia right off the bat – work on the overall concept and do it in broad brush strokes. The details will come later.

Once you have a rough draft, play it. This will show you where the obvious errors lie, and may point you in a completely new direction. With my baseball game, for example, I initially decided on a single dice roll to determine the broad spectrum from strike to ball to foul ball to grounder to fly ball, etc. This worked in general, but the details were wrong. I tinkered with that single roll quite a bit before I decided I’d have to do it in two rolls – one to see if the ball was struck by the bat, another to figure out how hard it was struck and a third to figure out the direction. I tried to pack too much into a single roll, and the game really demanded it be spread out a bit. Simplicity is always the goal, but you can also oversimplify.

TWO – Think About Player Agency

A good game should involve meaningful choices made by the players. Candy Land, as great as it is for spending time with little kids and helping them learn their colors, is not so great a game for adults because it involved no meaningful choices.

For my baseball game, there are fortunately some meaningful choices built into the game being simulated – should I try to steal a base, do I throw out the runner heading to second or the one heading to first, etc. At this point, my rules don’t have quite enough meaningful choices, so I’m now engineering an additional choice to make the game more interesting. I’m not sorry I waited to do it. My current set of rules has allowed me to get quite a few of the probabilities right – chances of throwing a strike vs. a ball vs. the ball getting in play, chances to catch a fly ball, etc. Now that the basic rules are working, I can play with modifying them.

THREE – Don’t Forget About Random Chance

Chess is a great game, but it’s all about choices. Awesome for strategy … but maybe not the best simulation of warfare, which is rife with random chance screwing up brilliant strategy and tactics. You want to achieve a balance between player choice and random nonsense – after all, every batter is planning on hitting a home run, but few actually manage it. In the game simulations I’ve run so far, I’ve had some wonderful random chances figure in to make the games exciting – unexpected home runs tying up games in the ninth inning and line drives that were certainly going to win the game for a team being surprisingly caught out.

FOUR – Do Your Research

Do your research. It can come after you have made your rough draft, but it does need to happen. I have a massive database of firearms, aircraft, automobiles and tanks that I built when I was designing Grit & Vigor because, frankly, I didn’t know nearly enough about those things to design a simulation that felt right. Most of that data remains unused … though it won’t forever … but all of it was vital to getting the game real enough – and I mean “enough” – that people could make informed decisions within the game about what to do. I did a tremendous amount of research into professional football games for Pen & Paper Football – from numerous eras – to get things like the likely yardage gained on different types of running plays pretty close to correct. Not exactly, mind you, but pretty close and accurate enough that somebody who understands football can make an informed in-game decision about whether they should run or pass in a 3rd down and 4 yards to go situation.

Even if the game you are working with is fantastic, many of the physical laws of the universe are going to apply, or at least are going to apply until magic enters the picture. If everyone has a good chance at jumping 20 feet forward, what’s even the point of having magic. Do your research – it’s important and will not be wasted.

FIVE – The Fun Factor

Some folks are genuinely happy with exacting, detailed simulations of things that take hours and hours to play. I’m not. I like games to be light, fast and fun. I like games that leave enough time in between rolling dice and making decisions for chatting and snacking. I like fun, and I try to make games that allow groups of people to have fun without too much investment of time and money – because we never seem to have quite enough of those things, do we?

Shadowlord! – A Timely Review

Once upon a time, a young me and my best friend Josh played a wondrous game of universal conquest. I have no idea where Josh got the game – maybe a gift, maybe stole it from his brother’s room. No idea. But it was awesome. There was this board with all these circles on it, and cards with cool pictures of people, including this one really hot chick that Josh and I both wanted on our team, and you did stuff in it and … stuff.

That was around about 1985, and years later I had no freaking idea what game I had played and enjoyed so much, and a few searches based on my scanty memories yielded nothing.

And then, one day in 2017, I was searching games on Etsy for some inspiration and found it. Shadowlord!! There are two exclamation points there because the game has a name ending with an exclamation point. I bought the game on Etsy, it was delivered a couple weeks ago, and last night, I finally played it again, this time with wife and daughter.

So how did it go?

Still awesome. Shadowlord! is a cool strategy game, with some nice random events and a requirement to think things through. This, of course, is why I was out on my second turn after going all in on a silly gambit. I was stupid, and the rules rightfully destroyed me.

The game involves playing one of four factions led by the Fire Lord (actually a lady), Air Lord, Water Lord and Earth Lord. The board is divided into numerous “galaxies”, including the “Lost Fortress” at the center of the board where resides the Shadowlord. The Shadowlord has many minions, who pop up in the galaxies and who can be used to mess with the other players. On your turn, you roll a random event (usually good for you), build spaceships, move around the board finding new allies in the galaxies to add to your faction and maneuvering to fight. I won’t go deep into the mechanics – the rules take a little while to learn, but they seem sound to me and after a few goes the game is pretty easy to play. The art is cool – the game was published in 1983, and the graphics show it in a good way. The game also has a time tracker – eventually, the Shadowlord takes control of the whole universe and beats everyone if the players take too long to win the game.

The game we played ultimately came down to wife vs. daughter, and really to my daughter’s quest to rescue one of her captured merchants, Svein, from one of my wife’s warriors. Svein, you see, is an anthropomorphic pig, and my daughter loves pigs. Yes, it all boiled down to a galactic Pig War, which my daughter ultimately lost. It was getting late, so we didn’t play things out completely to have my wife take on the Shadow Lord for control of the universe, but we had a good time.

Dragon by Dragon – April 1979 (24)

April of 1979 – those heady days of stuff that was happening and things and stuff. Okay, I’m too lazy at the moment to look up what was happening back then, but hey – who cares, right? We know the Dragon was happening, so let’s focus on that.

What did the Dragon have to offer in 1979? More importantly, can we use any of this stuff now?

Lost Civilizations (A Fantasy Supplement for Source of the Nile) by J. Eric Holmes

When you see Dr. Holmes as the author, you know you’ve got some quality material in your hands. Hell, I’ve never even played Source of the Nile and I know this article has to have something useful in it. The article is all about adding some fantasy to the more realistic game of African exploration, specifically of the sort you might get in an H. Rider Haggard or E. R. Burroughs novel.

First up, I love the list of explorer types used in Source of the Nile: Missionaries, Doctors, Zoologists, Geologists and Adventurers. If you were doing an RPG of Victorian exploration, you have your class list right there.

His idea is that when you enter a completely uninhabited hex, there is a chance of it containing a lost city (a roll of 2-3 on 2d6). If in a desert, the city is uninhabited. Otherwise, it is inhabited by survivors of lost Atlantis. The people use bronze weapons and wear ornaments of gold and gemstones, and then you roll dice to determine the city’s organization. Roll 1d6; on a 1-3 the city is ruled by a warrior-king with 1d6 x 1d6 x 1d6 + 10 warriors; if the roll is 4-6 it is ruled by an evil high priest and a white goddess who command 1d6 x 1d6 x 1d6 + 5 warriors. I include this bit because it could be adapted to almost any hex exploration style fantasy game.

When exploring an uninhabited desert city for treasure, you roll 1d6: 1-2 he discovers that the ancient gods still live, his expedition is destroyed and he escapes completely mad; 3-4 traps kill half his askaris and bearers, but he escapes with a bag of diamonds and rubies worth $500 and the secret passages are closed off forever; 5-6 he loots the city for $1000 worth of gems and $200 worth of gold.

This brings to mind something I once did for a game. I was starting with characters above 1st level, and they were from various places in my campaign world (Nod – you might have heard of it). For each character, I came up with one past adventure for each level, each adventure leading them from where they were born to where the adventure was to start. In this way, I gave each player a bit of knowledge about the campaign world and some cool tidbits about their characters. Something to consider.

Keeping the Magic-User In His Place by Ronald Pehr

A classic of old Dragon (hell, a classic of modern articles as well, in as much as it addresses the idea of “balance” between characters). Ronald includes a few ideas of controlling these damn wizards so they don’t mess up the game. Interesting, because it introduces the idea of forced fairness to the game – i.e. I want the game to go one way, but the rules aren’t allowing that to happen. Think of the article previous – the explorer explores a lost city and you roll a dice and that determines what happens – amazing wealth or complete insanity. That’s it. Why? It’s a game, and those are the rules, and playing the game is more important than winning. Or, to state it another way, winning or losing should be a product of the game experience, not a preconceived idea that the game play must support. Why not have wizards who “ruin” the game with fireballs and charm spells? Let everybody have their time to shine, and play it smart. A fireball is a tricky thing, and over reliance on them might be a wizard’s undoing.

Chinese Dragons by David Sweet

One day, these fine monsters will appear in the Fiend Folio, and they were always pretty cool. In fact, it might be fun to do something similar with occidental dragons, replacing the red-blue-green-etc. dragons with ones based on the famous dragons of European myth.

Another Look at LYCANTHROPY by Jon Mattson

This article throws in the idea of different types of lycanthropes that a bitten character might turn into. They are as follows (in summary):

A. Turns completely into the lycanthrope that bit him; i.e. new alignment, etc.
B. Remains in human form, but takes on the mentality of the lycanthrope.
C. Character takes lycanthrope form, but retains his own mentality.
D. As A, but only changes under a full moon or great stress.
E. As B, but only changes under a full moon or great stress.
F. As C, but only … well, you know.
G. Under full moon or great stress, changes into a hybrid of beast and man.

Under option G, he actually writes, “This may sound something like the “Incredible Hulk,” but that is the general idea.” Love it.

There is also a percentage chance for figuring out the character’s new alignment. The new lycanthrope has half the character’s spells and abilities while in lycanthrope form and some modifiers to his ability scores.

Another great quote:

Note: To many people it may seem strange that a wolfs constitution would be better than that of say a bear, but remember that wolves often survive through incredible hardships such as hunger and cold, and I’ve yet to see a bear do as well.

What the?

Ultimately, this is a pretty cool article as it allows the chance that a PC can remain a PC and an interesting party member even after succumbing to lycanthropy.

Roman Military Organization, A Classic Warfare Update by Gary Gygax

An interesting article on the organization of the Roman army.

A Viking Campaign in the Caspian Sea by James E. Brunner

This is a nice history of an actual (well, I assume actual) Viking foray into the Caspian Sea for plunder. A sample:

“In the tenth century the Caspian Sea lay like a great pearl in an ocean of endless steppes and towering mountains. The prows that cut its placid waters belonged to poor fishermen and merchants from every land. Unlike the Black Sea that lay to the west, no northern pirate fleets had ravaged its shores and carried off its great wealth. To the north and the east lay the powerful Khazar Khanate whose capital, Itil, on the Volga Delta, controlled the major trade route to the north. Any merchant or pirate that sought wealth in the Muslim lands to the south had first to deal with the Khazar Khan, whose greed was legendary.”

Primarily interesting to me as it reminds me of Howard’s Vilayet Sea and the adventures had in and around it. When you find fantasy that interests you, take the time to find the reality that underlies it. You might find it even more inspirational.

The article also includes rules for fighting the Battle of Barda’a using Classic Warfare.

The Melee in D&D by Gary Gygax

Here, Mr. Gygax offers up some thoughts on how melee combat is supposed to work in D&D, specifically it seems to answer the complaints of folks who would like more realism in the system. A few important points:

– The game is mostly about creating fantasy personas and their adventures, and that means more than just fighting

– Hack and slash shouldn’t be the first resort of characters

– The system isn’t too unrealistic – it’s built to ensure relative speed of resolution without bogging the ref down in paperwork or creating a high probability of character death

Here’s a bit I found interesting:

“Don Turnbull stated that he envisioned that three sorts of attacks were continually taking place during melee:

1) attacks which had no chance of hitting, including feints, parries, and the like;

2) attacks which had a chance of doing damage but which missed as indicated by the die roll; and

3) attacks which were telling as indicated by the dice roll and subsequent damage determination.

This is a correct summation of what the D&D melee procedure subsumes. Note that the skill factor of higher level of higher level fighters — as well as natural abilities and/or speed of some monsters — allows more than one opportunity per melee round of scoring a telling attack as they are more able to take advantage of openings left by adversaries during the course of sparring. Similarly, zero level men, and monsters under one full hit die, are considered as being less able to defend; thus, opponents of two of more levels of hit dice are able to get in one telling blow for each such level or hit die.”

An article well worth the read.

DUNGEON – More Variations on the Theme by George Laking

This is a collection of extra rules for the DUNGEON game. Since it’s being published again, this might be a good article for folks who love it.

Armies of the Renaissance by Nick Nascati

This is the second part of an article from last issue (I think – too lazy to look at the moment). It covers The Swiss. I’ve long thought the Swiss would be an excellent folk on which to model dwarf armies.

Narcisstics by Darrel Plant and Jon Pitchford

Some monster humor of the disgruntled geek variety, statting up jocks and their female groupies as monsters. I’d convert them to B&T format, but the format in the article is hard to make out, and frankly they’re not just worth it.

Psionics Revisited by Ronald Pehr

This variant takes some of the random chance out of the powers psychic characters receive, tying them more closely to their professions (or so the article says). It appears to divide the powers into two categories: Cognitive Powers and Kinetic Powers, adding a few new powers to the game.

Disease by Lenny Buettuer

This is a set of tables for determining how long it takes a disease to kill a person, and what symptoms are suffered in the meantime. The fatality interval goes from immediate to 10 months, based on a percentile dice roll. Another table determines how many symptoms are suffered and a third what those symptoms are. Honestly – a great idea and one I wish I’d thought of. After all, why do I care what the disease is called? All I want to know is how long the adventurer has to live (more on this below) and what happens to him until he can receive healing.

The other thing I got from this article is the point of diseases in the game. There are many ways to die in D&D, and each should offer up different challenges to the players. Disease in this case becomes a race to be cured.

Bergenhome ’77: the CAT’s Test of American Armor by Stanley Schriefer

If nothing else, this article presents an interesting moment in the history of the magazine. The article is about how well American armor (as in tanks) did in a NATO competition. No stats here. None. Not tied to any game. Just military news that might be interesting to wargamers.

The Return of Conan Maol by Paul Karlsson Johnstone

Weird little article about bagpipers and such.

Choir Practice at the First Church of Lawful Evil (Orthodox): The Ramifications of Alignment by Lawrence Schick

Another interesting article about the three-tier alignment system and their relationship to gods and the powers of those gods. It also divides the three alignments into several “sects” or versions of each alignment. Lawful, for example, is divided into the following:

(A) Absolute Order (High Law)
(B) Harmony/Goodness
(C) Justice/Vengeance
(D) Knowledge
(E) Evolution (Social Darwinism )
(F) War

It then gives information on each of these versions of alignment – its tenets, its practitioners, it’s prime deity. Here’s one example:

Law: JUSTICE/VENGEANCE (Monks, Paladins, Assassins)

Tenets: Good (Law) must be rewarded and Evil (Chaos) must be punished. All creatures are judged impartially by weighing their “good’ and “evil” deeds. Transgressors will be punished according to the depth of their depravity. Criminals must be diligently pursued until brought to justice. (Examples of this alignment’s enforcers might include Solomon Kane, The Shadow, Mr. A., and Javert.)

Prime Deity: MARLY
AC: -4 HP: 300 MOVE:24”
MAGIC: Standard plus See Past plus Detect Truth/Lie.

Honestly – one of the most usable alignment articles I’ve yet read. A great take on the subject, and quite usable. Bonus: Nice piece of art!

Naming People, Places and Things in Petal Throne by G. Arthur Rahman

This article provides a random table for generating the rather non-European names common to MAR Barker’s campaign world.

Monty Haul and the Best of Freddie by James M. Ward

Another adventure in the annals of Monty Haul. A sample:

“The Bronze Dragon was of tremendous size for its breed, measuring over 80 hands long and able to rear to a height of more than half that. The creature had gleaming claws as sharp and damaging as scimitars; buffed with gold dust. Its fanged jaws were kept sharp by biting heavy platemail vests that were a part of its horde. Its massive scaled body rested regally on an altar made of its own gold and silver. Chalices of platinum and coffers of gems and jewels were all about, arranged to please the delicate sensibilities of the dragon. Its giant eyes, that had been but a moment before closed in dragonslumber, opened, aware of the tread of footsteps down the echoing marble corridor, designed for just that echoing effect.”

In Defense of Extraordinary Characters by Rodford E. Smith

A very quick bit about why high level characters make sense, giving as examples from literature Odysseus, Daedalus, Hercules, John Carter, Conan and “everyone’s favorite Kryptonian.” So there you go.

The Society for Creative Anachronism by Allen Hammack

An overview of the society and their doings. These days, this would be what we term a “web page”.

And there you have the April 1979 issue of The Dragon. Not a bad issue all told, with at least two or three articles that I think most folks would find useful.

Dragon by Dragon – December 1978 (21)

Just imagine all the spiffy Ronco products people were unwrapping on Christmas day in 1978! A few folks might have also been perusing the December 1978 Dragon magazine while they were waiting for Christmas lunch or dinner. Let’s see what it included …

First up, we have a groovy little advert from Ral Partha that would make a good elven army list or encounter list. Let’s make it random …

01-05. Wood Elf Archers (Longbow and Shortsword)
06-25. Wood Elf Infantry (Longbow and Longsword)
26-30. Woof Elf Cavalry (Lance)
31-50. Sea Elf Pikeman
51-60. High Elf Swordsmen
61-75. High Elf Spearmen
76-95. High Elf Cavalry (Two-Handed Swords)
96-100. Elfin Command Group – Elf Commander (5th level fighter/magic-user), Elf Lieutenant (3rd level fighter/magic-user)

First article this issue is a revisit of the Search for the Nile game. This is basically a response to the article in the last issue of The Dragon by the games creator.

Okay – have to share this next ad with everybody …

Next up, we have a neat little table of titles for powerful NPCs by Brian Blume. This one works like the old menus at Chinese restaurants – choose one bit from column 1, one from column 2, etc. Here are a couple examples:

The Lord Protector, His Most Distinguished Illustriousness, The Crown Prince Bob, the Incomparable Slaughterer of Dragons

The Guildmaster, Her All Triumphant Laduyship, Lady Cassandra, The Terrible Scythe of Honor

Kinda groovy – worth checking out. I’ll probably turn it into a random table and use it for Nod now and again.

Willie Callison now presents a Cure for the “Same-Old-Monster” Blues. Every long-time DM has gone through this. Mr. Callison’s suggestion is to look at the world around you and draw inspiration from nature. The giant snake, for example, can be described as any real species of snake – different types of attacks, different color patterns, etc. You get the idea.

Callison also provides the next article – Inflation in D&D. In 1978, inflation would have been foremost on people’s minds, and Willie complains about the lack of realism inherent in the D&D economy – i.e. too many gold pieces floating around. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really give any solutions to the problem. So, kind of a pointless article.

Prophet Proofing (or how to counter foretelling spells) by David Schroeder attempts to throw a monkey wrench into spells like clairvoyance, clairaudience, wizard eye, ESP and x-ray vision. I’m generally not a fan of ideas on how to screw up powers that players should rightly be able to exercise with the characters. I mean, a fighter with a high strength and two-handed sword sure does kill lots of orcs – shouldn’t there be a way to screw that up? Sneaky tricks are a good thing in D&D – keeps the players on their toes – but at the same time, the clever use of spells to overcome obstacles is one of the points of the game.

Sensible Sorcery is an article by Ronald Pehr that explores ways to make researching spells more difficult for magic-users. I think I’m detecting a theme in this article.

Robert Wagner (no, probably not him) now delivers a Boot Hill Encounter Chart. The chart is for town encounters, and is divided into two parts – Town till 8 p.m. and Town after 8 p.m. The early chart gives a 1 in 6 chance of an encounter, while the late chart gives a 2 in 6 chance. Early encounters include pickpockets, various job offers (a very good idea!), being shot at by 1 or 2 people, being mugged by 1 or 2 people, being falsely arrested or have 1 or 2 deputies after you. The late encounters include jealous husbands, being challenged to a gun fight, seeing a bank robbery, more job offers and being arrested by a U. S. Marshall (maybe this guy!). It’s a very good chart, and easily adaptable to a fantasy game or one set later than the Old West period.

Rod Stevens delivers Encounters with Personality. Here, he provides a few ideas on giving monsters and NPCs a bit of history and personality for encounters. Did DM’s actually not do this back in the day? Perhaps – old D&D had a few elements of wargame/boardgame to it back in the day, but articles like this show the progression to a more story-based game. A couple examples:

1. BLARG: Ftr. Cha/Evil. Hobgoblin. Blarg hates everything but ogres. These he emulates but they hate him.

3rd 20 5 16 7 7 6 8 6 +1 +1 shrt. sd.

8. CLARENCE LINDIR: Ftr. Law/Good. Human. He is a constable who is always accompanied by 11 other constables. He will do anything to make an arrest including arresting jaywalkers, people with water in wine skins, or anything else he can think of. He often makes up absurd charges. When in court he will then charge resisting arrest if the party didn’t come peacefully. Of the hundreds of arrests he has made, he has only gotten 2 convictions. The townspeople pointedly ignore him and call him “Clarence the Clown” behind his back.

1st 9 7 1 7 9 1 0 9 7 8 + 2 + 2 mace & spear

Next come the game reviews. Olympica is set in 2206, where a human colony on Mars is being conquered by a group mind called “The Web” (prescient in a way, huh?). One player controls the assault group being sent by the U. N., while the other player defends the Web generator from the assault.

Don Turnbull of Cambridge, England presents a section of his Greenlands Dungeon – The Hall of Mystery. It’s quite a long description, but it involves riddles (sort of), mirrors (one a mirror of opposition, the other of life trapping containing a succubus) and a host of monsters in rooms. I will share the map …

Gary Gygax pops in next with a strategy guide for Rail Baron. I’ve heard good things about this game (one wonders if it could have been used in concert with Boot Hill), but I’ve never played it. Since I haven’t played it, I won’t chime in on how good a guide it is, but it does look as though it’s quite thorough. In fact, I think it might be the longest article in the magazine.

A couple more game reviews follow. King Arthur’s Knights, which reviewer S. List describes as being similar to TSR’s DUNGEON. Players choose to be a knight errant, knight at arms or great knight, which increasing levels of power and obligations, as well as tougher victory conditions. The map was apparently gorgeous, the rules book 16 pages long and there were 11 decks of small cards. There are several Magic Places on the board, and on each one places a magic treasure and magic guardian.

Timothy Jones now presents some optional rules for DUNGEON. There are new characters (halfling, dwarf, cleric, thief and paladin), new prizes (including a bag of dung!) and new monsters (red dragons, blue or white dragons, witches, evil wizards and evil priests).

T. Watson then has a review of Tolkien’s Silmarillon. Watson describes it as the bible of Middle Earth, with the Valar as the angels, Melkor/Morgoth as Lucifer and the elves as the chosen people. Watson seems to like it, despite it being long and dry, but also seems to indicate that it’s for folks who really want to know more about the imaginary Middle Earth.

In James Ward’s Monty Strikes Back, we get another installment of gonzo dungeoneering done right. Here’s a sample:

“The three ancient white dragons guarding the door were no problem. It was just a matter of running in the chamber hasted and invisible and throwing three hold monsters at things. They didn’t have any treasure, they were just there to slow us down a bit. As we walked through the door ‘Monty gave his “evil” chuckle (which always meant we were in big trouble) and we were told that we were sliding down a sheet of glare ice. We wound up pinioned against a mass of ice spears and everybody but Freddie had taken damage. He then thought it would be a great idea to use his flaming power to melt the spears away. Ernie and I, knowing the horrors Monty could think up, tried to stop him but it was too late. We were hit from above by partially melted ice stalactites and again Freddie was the only one unhurt.”

This was my point about D&D once being something like a wargame/boardgame. The fun was in moving around the pieces, not telling their life stories.

And that’s it for December. The reviews were interesting, a few of the articles useful, but honestly not among the best issues I’ve read.

Enjoy your Saturday gang!

Dragon by Dragon – August 1978 (17)

No, I didn’t stop doing Dragon by Dragon, just got busy last week. Now that I’m back, let’s see what the August 1978 issue (number 17) has to offer.

First and foremost, we have a cover that reminds me of some of the pinball machines of the era, or perhaps the side of the bitchin’est van to ever ply the byways of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Article #1: Vampires in the Dungeon by Clayton J. Miner

The article seems to work off the notion that vampires are total party killers, which may be true, depending on the level of the party. The article goes on to explain why, taking into account their different abilities and how to use them to best effect – including charming multiple party members and having them wait to be drained of blood later, using the dungeon rodents as a spy network, etc. Some of the article seems to assume things about vampires that I don’t think were addressed in the rules – i.e. the older a vampire is, the more resistant it is to holy symbols (which may be true, if you’re considering the vampire’s Hit Dice correspond with age). It also posits the best ways to destroy a vampire. Not a bad article, but to be frank, the monster description and a little imagination from referees and players would be just as good.

Article #2: Chainmail Revisited – Jousting in D&D by Jon Pickens

Ah – anyone who has tilted in the FLAILSNAILS Jousting Tournaments run by the excellent Mike Davison is already aware of these rules. This article works on addressing a few perceived shortcomings of the rules, i.e. “I’m a Lord, and he’s a lowly Level 1. IT ISN’T FAIR!”

There is also a cartoon from Will McLean, who will go on to be, in my opinion, one of the shining lights of Dragon’s humor department for many years to come.

Article #3: Dragonlord review by Glenn Williams

If I’m honest, I never spent much time reading reviews in Dragon Magazine. Reading reviews to old games is even less interesting to me, but I’m going to do it anyways. Williams finds the art, by Morno, to be top drawer. The game concerns battles between dragon riders. Williams points out that the map, while pretty, is screwed up because it shows everything from the side, when it really should be top-down. In addition, the map sections do not align correctly, and the grid is a set of Cartesian squares – a hex grid would have been better. The rules, Williams says, are also too complex. Still, he likes the concept, and thinks the game can be improved, such as playing it with the Warriors of the Green Planet map.

I couldn’t find the game online for sale, but there are some other Wee Warriors products at EBay.

Article #4: Faceless Men and Clockwork Monsters

Why wasn’t that the name of an actual game? This article presents a Dungeons & Dragons adventure aboard the Starship Warden (from Metamorphosis Alpha). I’m pretty familiar with this story, but if you haven’t read of this genre-bending excursion, you should try to find it.

Next comes a great add from Dragon Tooth Fantasy Figures, proclaiming the war between the Saurian Empire and Amphibian Confederacy. Love the art …

 I think I get more inspiration from the ads of Dragon Magazine than the articles – quick, dynamic ideas with catchy art.

Article #5: A Wizard with a Difference by James M. Ward

Love the editor’s note …

“ED. Note: The following is recommended as a source of bedevilment to be used by DM on their NPC’s. Some of the possibilities here will drive the average group of PC’s wild when trying to deal with running NPC‘s.”

Prepare for a piece of pure opinion by yours truly – D&D is more fun when the DM is trying to kill the characters. I don’t mean by cheating, but by being a clever, inventive bastard.

The article presents the idea of specialist wizards, using the following types: “Wizard of Aggression”, “Wizard of Defense”, “Wizard of All Things Rustic”, “Wizard of Control”, “Wizard of Tenaciousness” (yeah, I’m picturing Jack Black), “Wizard of Detection”, “Wizard of Fire” and “Wizard of Movement”. One can see some overlap with the later specialists – Conjurer, Necromancer, etc., but these do sound more fun.

The concept is that these wizards get two spells of their specialty per level (I think, the rules could be a bit clearer) and have a percentage chance of casting them based on the level of the spell and the level of the magic-user. Ward suggests these wizards are best used as NPC’s, which is a good point. The average NPC has a short lifespan in combat, so doesn’t necessarily need a vast list of spells, many of which are designed for exploration, which the NPC doesn’t need.

There are plenty of new spells or modified spells – a really fun article to read.

Article #6: Sights & Sounds in Dungeons & Dragons

Another one of those darned useful sets of random tables, this one for random sounds and random sights in a dungeon. Both use a d20, though the sounds table actually runs to 21, with 21 being a bit of a joke (rattling dice/dungeon master’s scream of anguish/garbage disposal/etc.)

Article #7: Variant Monster Dept.

This article gathers a few monsters, including the Magic Munchkin by Michael Kolakowski, the Scholar by Patricia LaPointe, and the Crs’tchen by Dennis Chapman. I love the fact that none of them share the same statistical arrangement – heck, the Munchkin has no stats to speak of. Just for fun, I’ll convert the Scholar for Blood & Treasure:

Medium humanoid, Neutral (N), High Intelligence; Symposium (1d10+10)

HD: 1 to 3
AC: 10
ATK: By weapon
MV: 30
SV: 1 HD = F15 R15 W12 / 2 HD = F14 R15 W12 / HD 3 = F12 R14 W11
XP: 1 HD = 100 (CL 2) / 2 HD = 200 (CL 3) / 3 HD = 300 (CL 4)

Scholars are short, bearded men in tweed robes with leather patches on the elbows. They smoke foul-smelling pipes than can produce enough smoke to provide an obscuring mist. There are three levels of scholars.

Instrictors (1 HD) know two spells, confusion and read obscure languages. Confusion is cast by answering a simple question, the answer being in an obscure language.

Associate Profussors (2 HD) know three more spells: Fear, time stop and book missiles. Fear takes effect after muttering about term papers being due. Book missiles works as magic missile, save the books inflict 1d8 points of damage.

Fool Profussors (3 HD) have three ultimate spells. The first is power word stun (the incantation being “Surprise Quiz Today”). Academic dust does 3d6 points of damage and can paralyze the mind for 2-4 turns.  The final spell is cause boredom, which works as a sleep spell that affects any level/HD of creature.

One powerful incantation causes scholars to be seized by instant cardiac arrest – “Tenure denied”.

Article #8: The Monk and Bard in ‘DUNGEON!’ by Jon Pickens

Always love Pickens’ stuff. This one introduces the bard and monk into games of DUNGEON!. I love that game – so sorry that I got rid of my copy years ago. I need to find a copy online (and yeah, I know Hasbro is going to do a reprint – I’d rather have an old game – I’m weird that way).

Article #9: Tesseracts by Gary Jordan

These have been covered nicely at Aeons & Auguries. Jordan covers putting cubic tesseracts into a dungeon do drive map makers nuts. A worthy goal!

Article #10: Ogre Piece by Piece by Jerry Epperson

I’ll admit it. I played it years ago, and found it somewhat boring. If you do love the game and want some variations from 1978, find this article.

Article #11: Design Journal – Boredom and the Average D&D Dungeon by James Ward

If you know James Ward, you know “average” probably ain’t happening in any dungeon he’s written. In this article, he described the idea of filling new dungeon levels with “areas of history” – i.e. themed sections based on history, like an Ancient Egypt area with minions of Set, evil high priests of Set, an 11th level grave robber thief, etc. He also covers Ancient India, The Far East and The Future Machine Age. Good advice, of course, especially for fun-house dungeons.

Article #12: A Short History of Adamantite by Charles Sagui

Short indeed. He labels adamantite as an alloy of Mithril, Carbon, Iron and a few secret ingredients – technically known as Mithriferral Carbide. It is 4/5 the weight of steel, and provides a +2 on AC and hit probability for weapons. It is much more expensive to work and much more difficult to enchant. Sagui gives some prices for different armors (plate armor is 20,000 gp, chainmail 14,000 gp, daggers 1,500 gp) as well.

Article #13: Messengers of God: Angels in Dungeons & Dragons by Stephen H. Dorneman

Dorneman introduces the idea (new at the time, of course) of some non-omnipotent Lawful beings to counter all those devils and demons. He describes four types of angels – Type I (Angel of Wrath), Type II (Angel of Healing), Type III (Archangel of Mercy) and Type IV (Seraphim). Honestly, it never occurred to me to use “types” of angels to counter the “types” of demons. Neat article.

Article #14: Natural Armor for Monsters in Monsters, Monsters by Doug Miller

This one is just what it sounds like. If you don’t have Monsters, Monsters, it won’t do much for you.


Fineous Fingers is saved from the Antipaladin by the evil wizard, because he needs a thief – not a bad way to handle an encounter in your next game, especially if the needed character is a major pain in the ass to the rest of the party.

Wormy plays a nasty trick on some goblins and tree trolls.

Article #15: Warp War review by Tony Watson

Warp War was a mini-game by Metagaming (click here for Warp War on Boardgame Geek).

From the description, it almost sounds like Car Wars in space – you have to build your ships and then use them to fight over star systems. Watson likes it, and I must admit it sounds fun.

And that brings us to the end. This one is pretty packed, with lots of great articles. Definitely one to look out for!

Dragon by Dragon – June 1976 (1)

Who drew it? Couldn’t find it in the issue.

Yeah, everyone else does the whole “review every issue” or “review every page” thing, so why the heck can’t I?

Other than Great Britain and Iceland finally ending their codfish war (such a terrible waste), the first issue of The Dragon (formerly The Strategic Review) was probably the big highlight of June, 1976. So what does this little gem contain?

We have an article by Fritz Leiber, the man himself, talking about his wargame Lankhmar and giving a brief tour of Nehwon. Leiber closes this article with a bit on houris. Here’s an adaptation for Blood & Treasure (you know, the game I haven’t actually released yet).

Every hero (4th level fighter) attracts a houri as one of his followers provided he has a charisma of at least 15. The houri requires upkeep to the tune of 100 gp per month. As Leiber explains, a houri is so “slimly beautiful” that she “make all men their helpless slaves and intoxicate even a Hero to madness”. In play, this works as follows:

– Houris have 1d4 hit points (i.e. they can be killed by a dagger). They wear no armor, and may only wield a dagger themselves.

– All 0 or 1 HD male humans, demi-humans and humanoids within 10 feet of a houri must pass a Will saving throw or move directly toward the houri, rapt with fascination and unable to attack her (unless they are attacked by someone else, in which case the spell is broken).

– All higher level male characters within 10 feet of a houri must pass a Will saving throw or have their effective level cut in half.

Sounds like a useful follower to have, but heed the Mouser’s warning – “Women are ever treacherous and complicate any game to the point of sheerest insanity.”

Larry Smith provides a guide to running the Battle of Five Armies using the Chainmail rules.

Wesley D. Ives provides a task resolution system, as he informs us that a “more standardized system is needed” than DM’s just making it up as they go along. New School and Old School were clashing even back in 1976.

The system works by determining randomly a type of dice (by rolling d% and adding the attribute to be tested), from d4 to d12, rolling it and multiplying it by the attribute to be tested to find the percentage chance of success.

So, let’s say I want to jump across a chasm. This involves strength, and my dude has a strength of 13. I roll d% and get a 35. I add 13 to 35 and get 48, which tells me I need to roll a d8. I roll it, get a 5 and multiply that by 13, giving me a 65% chance of success. See – much easier than saying “roll under your strength” or “roll a save vs. paralyzation” or “roll 1d6 – you succeed on a 1 or 2”. Thank goodness for systems.

James M. Ward asks whether Magic and Science are compatible in D&D. Of course, he thinks it is (else it would be a pretty boring article). He introduces a race of people called the Artificers who use a trio of interesting high-tech items.

Lee Gold delves into languages. She notes that humanoids have a 20% chance of speaking Common, which makes much more sense than 3rd edition allowing dang near every sentient creature in the multiverse speaking Common (and thus negating the point of even having languages).

Jake Jaquet tells the tale of “The Search for the Forbidden Chamber”. Check it out for a picture of the infamous “Greyhawk Construction Co. LTD” and a Recyclesaurus.

Len Lakofka presents some miniature rules that were apparently going to be used in a 64-man elimination tournament at GenCon.

The creature feature presents the ever-loving Bulette (pronounced boo-lay, except not really), with an illustration that is really quite good. The reproduction isn’t perfect, but it’s a nice action shot featuring three armored warriors (God, do I prefer realistic armor to some of the fantasy nonsense that seems to predominate these days). The stats note that its mouth has 4-48 pts and its feet 3-18 points – i.e. 4d12 and 3d6. It took me a minute, but I finally realized this was the damage they dealt.

The description notes that it is a hybrid of armadillo and snapping turtle, and that, when full grown, they can dwarf a Percheron (a draft horse that originated in the Perche Valley of northern France of course – man, don’t you guys know anything?)

Mapping the Dungeons is a neat little feature, presenting the names of active DM’s. The FLAILSNAILs of its day, I suppose.

Joe Fischer gives tips on mapping a wilderness. He uses colors for the terrains and simple symbols for features – triangles for hamlets, squares for towns, circles for cities and crosses for fortresses. Circle any of these for ports. Article has a nice Conanesque barbarian illustration as well.

Peter Aronson adds four more levels onto the illusionist, as well as a few extra spells (1st – ventriloquism, mirror image, detect illusion*, color spray*; 2nd – magic mouth, rope trick, dispel illusion*, blur*; 3rd – suggestion, phantasmal killer*, illusionary script*, dispel exhaustion*; 6th – mass suggestion*, permanent/illusion* (no – the slash doesn’t make sense to me either), shadow/monsters III*, programmed/illusion*, conjure animals, true sight*; 7th – astral spell, prismatic wall, maze, vision*, alter reality*, prismatic spray).

The spells marked with an asterisk are detailed in the article, in case you wondered who invented phantasmal killer. Lots of classic spells here. Alter reality apparently works like a limited wish, but you first create an illusion of what you want to happen, and then the … spell description cuts off.

Lin Carter and Scott Bizar present “Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age”, which reminds you of how important wargaming still was to the hobby then. I think wargaming is pretty basic to the experience, really, which is why I threw some basic rules into Blood & Treasure for mass combat. I’m hoping to test them out this weekend with the daughter. She doesn’t know this yet – so keep it under your hat.

Gary Gygax (you might have heard of him) gives rules for hobbits and thieves in DUNGEON!, a game I so completely regret getting rid of I’d like to punch myself in the face.

“Garrison Ernst” (pseudonyms are as much a part of the history of this hobby as dice and beards) presents a chapter of “The Gnome Cache”, in which he gives an introduction to Oerth and its place in the cosmos. Oerth is a parallel Earth with the same basic geography as Earth, it claims, save Asia is a bit smaller and Europe and North America a trifle larger. It is peopled by folks similar to ours, with similar migrations, but it separates from Earth about 2,500 years ago. He also explains the difference in scientific laws (i.e. magic vs. technology) and that nobody knows what lies in the Terra Incognita of Africa and across the Western Ocean.

It might be fun to draw the nations of Oerth on a map of Europe. We’ve all heard that Gygax’s campaign was originally set in a fantasy North America, but here he says Europe, so perhaps Europe it should be.

Larry Smith now chimes in with the three kindreds of the Eldar – the Silvan (or Wood Elves), the Sindar (or Grey Elves) and the Noldor (or Exiles, the greatest of the elves). Apparently they all have a chance each game year of crossing the sea to the land of Valar – that would be a fun house rule to spring on players of elf characters.

“Say Bob, roll d% please”

“Okay … got a 9”

“Sorry Bob, your 6th level wood elf just went to the land of Valar. Roll up a new character.”

The wood elves can advance as fighters as far as they want, but are limited to 2nd level magic-user spells and may not use wands or staffs and have a 10% chance of going to Valar each year. Sindars are the regular D&D elves (and have a 25% chance of going to Valar each year). Noldor are uber elves with no level restrictions and with a 150% bonus to ranges and effects of spells. They have a 5% chance of going to Valar after performing a great deed.

Which begs the question, why would you ever play a non-Noldor elf?

Note: Totally digging the art in this issue.

Not a bad issue. Lots of goodies. I like the houri bit for fighters, the elves going across the sea is fun, and you get some neat hints about Lankhmar and Oerth from the guys who invented them. Worth the read.