Saturday, January 25, 2014

Just One Dragon

"...There is only One, child. Oh, it has held many names. The Great Wyrm has suffered countless deaths, at the hands of true Champions - but, what is death to ashes, flame, and broken stones?

" Well young fellow, the common fly, of course, spills forth from dead flesh too long kissed by Mistress Time; snakes, it is known, are born upon liar's graves; bats are wrought from the screams of lost children; and goblins are birthed from cesspits. But the Dragon, it rises from the ashes of Kingdoms.

" It is change. It comes anew, reborn at the fall one people to guard against the rising of another. It is hardship, lad; it is drought and famine and pain, blood and tears. Only when it is wrought again asunder will the land once more bear fruit - and a new people.

" Oh, woe to you my child that you were brought forth into a Serpent's age! These rheumy eyes remember the unblotted sun. Mayhaps soon, the Champion will come. The Skyfire may well have been a portent..."

Saturday, January 18, 2014

My D&D Was Different (Not Old or New But Middle School*)

I started playing D&D in the late '90s with Second Edition AD&D. We didn't have any older players to show us the ropes. What we did have was a huge hard-on for Tolkien and mysterious books with black borders and cover art of some overly muscled dudes (one with a fucked-up hand). So we wound up playing D&D very differently than most people apparently did.

  • There were almost no "Dungeons" (plenty of Dragons, though). Pretty much everything happened somewhere out in the wilderness between points A and B. It was all sweeping vistas, attacks in the night, survival/camping, and small 1-2 room lairs. Travelling wasn't handwaived; it was the adventure. We were all Boy Scouts so outdoor adventuring just seemed natural.
  • We built sandboxes (though we didn't know the term), but the characters were created to adventure (and save the day). They actively looked for exciting situations and typically bit whenever the hook was bated with "save the world (for fun and profit)". The old plot-hook was almost always bated with "save the region" at least.
  • If you wanted to buy some more arrows (and keep track of your arrows damnit!), you went and did it in-character. We roleplayed through everything. The thought of not doing so never occurred to us. Besides, we enjoyed it (and had essentially limitless free-time).
  • All magical items were a big damn deal. They were also very rare (even potions and scrolls), and obtaining a single magical item was often the endgame of whole "story-arcs".
  • There was very little magical healing. After (I think) the first two campaigns, nobody wanted to play a cleric. "I don't wanna be some god's slave-bitch." The murder-hobos survived just fine due to cleverness, the travel time between encounters, and the Healing Nonweapon Proficiency.
  • Speaking of, the Weapon and Nonweapon Proficiencies were a big deal to us. It was how you defined your character to a large extent. Proficiencies made Xanthar the Wiley (with his broadsword and thrown daggers and rope-use) different from Gurtnor the Facebreaker (with his two handed sword and swinging cod). 
  • Taking a beat from the Proficiencies system (as well as Combat and Tactics), we used the hell out of Stat checks. Need to jump across a chasm? Make a DEX Check (roll under your character's Dexterity on a d20 to succeed.) Need to wrastle that Staff of Bad-Assery away from the Necromancer? Make opposing STR Checks (whoever rolls the highest w/o going over wins).
  • I gave out +1 or +2 bonuses for smart maneuvers in combat like they were fucking candy. If you had a clever/fun idea about how your character was gonna murder something, you got a bonus. I think there was something, somewhere (DMG maybe) that told me this was a good idea. It totally was.
  • Thac0 is easy. Seriously. Subtract your roll from your thac0 and that's the best AC you can hit with that attack. How the fuck is that difficult? It strikes me as much easier than rolling d20+34.
  • The idea of a "balanced" party was an anathema to us. We played the classes that appealed to us at that moment and figured out how to make it work. (I don't think I'll ever forget the raid on a goblin lair by a level 1 Illusionist [out of spells], a level 1 Thief, and a random dock-worker the Illusionist had charmed. It went comically awry and most of the goblins [and very nearly the PCs] died of smoke inhalation.)
So that's my D&D.

(In my mind, the idea of D&D still conjures up images of sweeping landscapes, campfires, and lots of walking [also dragons, giants, pig-faced orcs, and gleaming swords].)

I like the OSR. It's one of the most creative and least pretentious RPG "communities" around. I guess I sort of consider myself a part of it, but, ya know, I never really did the "old-school" thing. Mega dungeons don't really appeal to me, but I vastly prefer Descending AC. I like Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but I hate Mëtäl.

Though I find myself struggling to draw an actual conclusion from this post, I'll plod ahead.

I suppose the point is that I find myself somewhere in between (and expect a number of others do as well). Labels are a useful tool, but only so long as they are taken to be sliding scales rather than strict categories.

Finally, because I'm always interested to see how other people do the "same" things, what does D&D mean to you?

* "5th Grade, like Junior High." Bonus Points to whomever gets the reference. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Spaceships in Spaaaace!

You know what your Scifi game is probably missing? Awesome and storied spaceship maneuvers.

The Crazy Ivan (Firefly). The Picard Maneuver (Star Trek: TNG).  The Photonic Shock Wave (Star Trek: Voyager [My favorite Trek, btw]). This.

These sort of things are a pretty simple way to give settings a sense of depth. It's language. Once you get yourself (the GM presumably) and the players using specialized language, you've got them engaged in the setting. It doesn't even have to be Tiefling or Klingon or Qualinesti or Thay or any other constructed language word. Mountain Dwarves and High Elves and Neutrino Beams and Blaster Rifles and other plain English words (now with a specialized meaning) work just as well.

Anyway, on to the fun spaceship action.

Cepheus B
Cepheus B, Hydrogen Cloud
Photo From NASA
Beauregard's Gambit - While fleeing through hydrogen clouds, a pursued vessel vents Oxygen from its stern. The front vessel then either lights the mixture itself or waits for the enemy's weapons to do the trick. The resulting explosion should (more or less) propel the fleeing ship forward and knock the chasing ship off-course. (Of course everyone might die too... If ya got shields, put all power aft on this one.) Named after a famous space pirate (or freedom fighter depending on who's telling the tale) noted for his skillful recklessness.

Cody's Shield - Using a ship's artificial gravity generators to create a large "cushion" of gravity pushing away from the vessel. Cody's "Shield" is effective in the short term against ramming vessels and projectile weapons (missiles, bullets, etc.). Problem is, you'll lose all artificial gravity so hold on tight (your grav-pumps are gonna burn out pretty quickly so it can be a major problem in the long run, too). Named after a Patrol captain who used it to slow down a rampaging kill-bot vessel.

Folly's Fusillade - To attempt this with any real chance of success, one needs a row of filled cargo bays. In essence, this is the explosive decompression of all the cargo bays at once, venting the atmosphere and contents rapidly into space. Obviously, the higher one can raise the air pressure beforehand, the more effective the volley. Still, the velocities reached by the jetsam rarely cause much damage. Folly's Fusillade is more of a diversionary tactic than anything else. Depending upon the relative masses of the jetsam and the vessel in question, this tactic can result in the vessel lurching sharply away from the direction of "fire". Additionally, such actions can put incredible stress on a ship's hull. (Ya'd better have a godsdamned good, battle-hardened engineer if you're desperate enough to try this one...) Named after "Admiral Folly", the butt of many an old spacer's jokes.

Disclaimer - I are not scientist. For entertainment purposes only. Do not try these maneuvers in your own spaceship.

Questions - Astrophysicists/Space-Engineers, on a scale from Spaceballs to Star Trek,  how far off am I with these? How have you used things like this in your games?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

It's a damn clip show...

In honor of the New(ish) Year, I went back through my old posts. All the ones I think were actually good but had really low page views are linked below.

Cue Wavy Flashblack Transition (If Wayne's World didn't just flash through your skull, you've made the wrong life decisions [or you're young enough that you should probably get off my lawn].)

In no particular order:

Dads and Dungeons and Dragons - Your character's parents should be important.
"Coin" in the Southern Marches - Trade in a materials starved economy.
Beyond the Binary - Binaries are dumb. Trinaries are better. If you don't think so, you're dumb.
Your Magical Elves Make Too Much Sense to Be Real - Contradiction is at the heart of culture.
Mass x Velocity - How to make/lose/keep momentum in an ongoing campaign.
Why Bother? - Why I do the things I do.
Also I still think my Rock and Role articles didn't cross enough monitors.

Bonus Map! Click to Enlarge.

Why don't ya take a look?