Confessions of a game master

img_1010

This new edition of an old book has surprisingly many “modern” gaming concepts in it. And it is the grandfather of all BRP/d100 gaming. Respect.

As much as I like D&D and OSR-style d20-based gaming, my real RPG love is, and has always been the BRP/d100 family of games.

They are easy to grasp and have simple and consistent rules for most situations. There are also variants that will let you play high fantasy, dark fantasy, horror, modern, sci-fi – basically whatever you want.

What I like the most is that the characters, even if they’re veterans, are fragile. If you’re outnumbered or if you’re surprised in the wrong situation, you’re going to get hurt. And there are no potions of healing anywhere to be found (at least not in my games). This automatically leads to another style of play from the characters – more cautious, more thinking and planning before doing reckless stuff. There are no artificial levels, just different levels of expertise that you learn the hard way. And combat is deadly. One misstep or lucky critical hit will kill even a veteran character.

That said, doing D&D-style subterranean dungeon romps with d100 rules is nearly impossible. The PCs will surely perish before they even reach level 2 of the dungeon. As a GM, this naturally encourages me to play other types of adventures if we play d100-based games. And players that insist on solving problems the D&D way will die. Quickly.

Having been away from GM:ing d100 gaming for over a year and coming back, I realize (again) that d100 games have about all that I want from an RPG. Also, the cross-compatibility of these games lets me take a Call of Cthulhu monster and chuck it into my OpenQuest or RuneQuest game with almost no hassle.

I think I’m going to stay in the d100 field a bit longer this time around, as we always seem to get dragged back to D&D by some unseen force…

If you’re interested, here’s a link to the recap of our latest Call of Cthulhu game session

Advertisements

Short GM & publishing report

featured_getintorpg

Nice pic!

I have kept away from blogging about RPGs and even Google+ for a while now.

The combination of long gaming hiatus due to vacations and then an intra-player conflict as we were preparing to start up the fall season of gaming has left me a wee bit tired of it all.

Add to that an extremely pressed work situation with lots of extra hours and mental energy poured into work related things… Well, let us just say that it does not get you into a mega-creative game groove.

However, I haven’t given up, and I’m still around ūüôā

Two weekends ago we finished “Season 1” of our year-long Blood & Treasure game in the Lost Lands by Frog God Games. It has been a very good OSR/D&D-style experience and I will write a separate post on running OSR with B&T later, when I get the time and my spirits are up more. Some of the players have said¬†that this is the most fun D&D-style game they have ever played.

And next weekend we will start with a character generation session for Masks of Nyarlahotep! I will use the 6th ed Call of Cthulhu rules for this one. If there is enough time after chargen I will throw them right into the action as well, starting their descent into mayhem and madness in the wintery New York cityscape of 1925.

Most of the Call of Cthulhu stuff will end up on my dedicated CoC blog (Sanity Zer‚ąÖ) since I figured many of you OSR/D&D fellows might not be that interested in CoC or d100 gaming.

On the Lazy Sod Press publishing front there has sadly been little progress. I have two OSR style adventures brewing:

  • Fiery the Angel Fell is a quite long Terra Innominata (my home brew setting) fantasy horror ride to madness and destruction. I was initially planning this for Fantastic Heroes & Witchery, but will instead publish it for Blood & Treasure and D&D 5e. Maybe there will be a Swords & Wizardry edition as well. This one is half done. Just some more writing, cleaning up of the maps and then layout. I’m also waiting for a piece of illustration that I’ve paid for but never seem to receive…
  • Tomb of the War-Pig is a shorter dungeon romp adventure, also set in Terra Innominata. It pits the players against the horrors of an ancient sorcerer’s tomb and… Well, no more spoilers here… Let’s just say there will be surprises. Nasty ones. This one will be published for Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry. Maps and some writing is done. Art is to be commissioned.
  • I’m also contemplating doing a free OSR Conversion book. Basically a short and simple little book with conversion advice between the various OSR games. That way I don’t have to do OSR-game specific versions of my publications, unless they differ a lot.

If I could just find that precious time along with the energy to do it… As it is now, the little time I have to spare goes to my own game prep and to play games online. And that’s the main thing, right?

 

 

Planning games: Greyhawk Dawn

Greyhawk Dawn kopia

“Logo” for my new 5e Greyhawk game

Soon it is time to take a break from “Season 1” of our Lost Lands game and move to Curse of Strahd.

As I was thinking of how to introduce the players to Ravenloft this time I decided to have them drawn into the mists, old school style. And then I need a world to draw them from.

As I have mentioned before, Forgotten Realms isn’t really my cup of tea. One thing I dislike is the extent of canon for FR. Another is the generic high fantasy feel of the FR books as well as the assumption of a vast quantity of magic items on the market as well as all those high level NPCs that are running around.

Also, I wanted to move this game to a new setting that I can use for future 5e games and I wanted to play in one of the TSR classics: Mystara, Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk.

So I have been digging out my old TSR world-boxes and read some as well as studying the maps. For me, Forgotten Realms fell away at once (I have the 2e box set as well as the 3e book). Then, Mystara was discarded as well (I have the 2e box set) despite my old love for the Known World setting, which I disliked more and more as I read the official Mystara books.

Which left me with Greyhawk. I have the 1983 box and a bunch of 2e stuff as well as the 3e Living Greyhawk book. And the Paizo maps on top of that.

Funny thing is, that back in the day, we never used the Greyhawk setting in any of the groups I played with. It was all home brew back then.

IMG_0749.jpg

Das ist ein groovy combo, yes?

I think that it will be fun to try out 5e D&D in this classic setting. This is also where all the old classic modules are located. Maybe we’ll try out one of the converted classics after our foray into the Mists…

After playing through Curse of Strahd, I might also go for a pure Ravenloft game based on the Domains of Dread tome in combination with the 3e Ravenloft books from Arthaus.


Anyway, when deciding to use Greyhawk as my material plane world, I decided to check if there’s any online resources usable for 5e Greyhawk, and it turns out that there are some:¬†

World of Greyhawk for 5e (very good base site for 5e GH)

Canonfire 5e Greyhawk forums

From the Sorcerer’s Scroll blog

Greyhawk Grognard blog

Anna B Meyer Greyhawk Maps

Paizo Greyhawk map(s)

Classic Modules Today (about converting classic modules to 5e)

 

 

GM thoughts: Not as old school as I once thought

path-to-the-gothic-choir

Ze Cultists Conspire…

Since my return to D&D back in 2010-11, I have played and GM:et a bunch of D&D-ish games: Rules Cyclopedia, Mentzer D&D, Labyrinth Lord AEC, Swords & Wizardry Core, Swords & Wizardry Complete, Blood & Treasure, D&D 5th edition, Pathfinder and Fantastic Heroes & Witchery.

And despite all sharing a fairly similar base in scope and concept, I would say that every edition and clone has its own specific flavor, which is cool.

In the start I was very much into the minimalistic and simpler versions of the game, but over time I have¬†noticed that I¬†definitely prefer games with a little more choice and crunch. I will never be a 3rd edition D&D/Pathfinder guy but these days the more minimalistic editions of the game goes away, as are the ones using “race-as-class”.

I have also felt my interest in pure old school style adventures waning, slowly gravitating away from the old classics in favor of more “modern” style adventures. This is also true rules-wise.

However, the new mega-modules from Wizards of the Coast have left me quite unimpressed (except for the new Curse of Strahd, which will be my next GM:ing project). I don’t know exacly what it is, but some modern ideas and concepts are extemely off-putting to¬†me.

And while¬†I find the 5th edition core rules pretty OK, they’re not my favourite rule set as there are some things¬†that I have a hard time accepting.

I have come to the conclusion that what I want from my D&D games these days is a hybrid game:

Old school rules with new school hacks added. (Or, new school rules with some old school concepts added). Adventure-wise it is the same. And I have found a few game companies that provide just what I like:

Frog God Games’ adventures are pretty old school, but with a modern touch, making them ideal for me. I buy¬†the Swords & Wizardry versions because I feel that they are the easiest to read and get a grasp of, and also the most versatile in terms of what game system to use. Most of their adventures have been¬†available in Swords & Wizardry and Pathfinder editions, but now they have added 5th edition D&D to their stable as well. I know that some old schoolers are a bit sceptical towards 3.x/PF adventures being converted to old school format, but in my book it works really well. The only downside for me (being a resident of Sweden, i.e. Northlands) is that there’s no Swedish or European reseller of Frog God Games products, meaning in turn that their already quite expensive products get super expensive when adding currency conversion, international shipping and import tax. At the same time, the books are top notch quality with real sewn backs and in my opinion they give serious bang for the buck. We have been playing Stoneheart Valley (supplemented with some OSR side trek adventures) for about a year (we play about one or maybe two 6-8 hour sessions per month) and we still have lots of things to explore. I really like Frog God’s mix of old and new. And yeah, they are also the publishers of Swords & Wizardry Complete, of which¬†I’m sure that you have heard of.

Troll Lord Games is¬†another game company that provides an old school philosophy but with a more modern take. This company also publish their own excellent rule set ‚Äď Castles & Crusades which is a modern but more simple game engine than for example Pathfinder. Basically, they have simplified D&D 3.x mechanics and turned the game back to a very 1e AD&D philosophy. For example, in C&C, bards, assassins and rangers cannot cast spells. TLG also publish their own game worlds, Aihrde and Haunted Highlands,¬†which are awesome game worlds and usable with whatever game you prefer, complete with large beautiful colour maps. And they have a huge selection of adventures for those that prefer pre-written adventures. Old school philosophy with a modern take. We have not played Castles & Crusades yet though. I recently got into the game and have been reading their stuff a lot and I really like it as it is very¬†complete and they offer books on subjects that no other publisher has done. Their books are also top notch with real sewn backs. Price wise they are also reasonable and on top of that¬†they have both Swedish and European resellers, meaning that I don’t have to import them myself, which saves me a ton of money.¬†After Curse of Strahd, this is where we’ll be going. Finally, as a note, TLG has also started to convert some books and adventures for¬†5e D&D.

Finally, I don’t think that anyone has missed that I really, really like John M Stater‘s games. He writes and publishes his games on his own and his neo-old school game Blood & Treasure has been a favourite of mine since it first came out in 2012. Blood & Treasure can be described as an old school clone but with lots of new school stuff thrown into the mix. It is very complete but still simple at heart. If Castles & Crusades is a 1e AD&D-ified version of 3.x, then Blood & Treasure is a OSR-ified version of 3.x. In Blood & Treasure, many of the concepts from 3.x are retained – bards, assassins and rangers have limited spell casting abilities for example. I like to think of Blood & Treasure as Swords & Wizardry Complete on steroids. Lots of options. Simple rules engine. This is the game we currently use, and it can easily be used to play adventures written for any version of D&D or clone thereof.

As an honorable mention, I would like to add Fantastic Heroes & Witchery published by Dominique Crouzet and his own publishing imprint DOM Publishing. I was really stoked with this game when it came out but it is not a complete game in the sense that it lacks both monsters, treasure and magic items. It is meant to be used as an alternative game engine along with your old books. For me, it has become a go-to GM source for inspiration and alternative rules ideas and concepts that I cannot find in another rule set. However, there is a monster book in the works right now. Between Blood & Treasure, Castles & Crusades and 5th edition D&D I’d say that I have alternative flavoured D&D-ish rules to run games indefinitely and while I’d really like to try out Fantastic Heroes & Witchery with my group, they have already signaled a certain “try-out-new-rules-fatigue”, so in the choice of letting something go, it will be FH&W for me. Still, an amazing game.

Sadly, I seem to one of the few that like this style of gaming. Pathfinder and 5e fans seem to scorn as soon as someone mentions old school or OSR style gaming and many old schoolers think that including things like skill checks in old school gaming¬†is heresy. Sad, as I think that all gaming styles have cool ideas to offer. Or maybe, gamers like myself don’t care about “gamer politics” and aren’t that vocal¬†of it online. I don’t know, but I feel quite alone in my game philosphy.

So, my mission when writing my own adventures for publishing is to show that older style games can be used for newer style gaming and vice versa. And while I won’t sell as much doing just that, rather than catering to peoples’ preconceptions of¬†how an adventure should be if it’s “pure old school” or “pure new school”, it is my gaming style and I like to promote it.

Game on. Have fun.¬†Mix and match. Don’t let others tell you what is OK and what is not.

 

 

GM report: Blood & Treasure from behind the screen

525736-bridges-drawings-fan-art-fantasy-art-ice-mountains-snow-winter

Winter Dungeon…

For a while now I’ve been wanting to write a Game Master report on Blood & Treasure. I mean, the game looks great on paper, but how does it work in real play?

I have used Blood & Treasure Complete as the game engine for my latest D&D style game. First a few one-shots to try it out, then for my current campaign set in Frog God Games Lost Lands setting. As usual I’m taking liberties with the “canon” so up to now I’ve put in stuff written for Pits & Perils as well as Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I also use my own added variant rules (such as horror/sanity) et cetera.

When I first started I had decided to stick to the core classes and races, but then I decided to let the dogs of war free in this game and so I allow most of the classes and races in NOD Companion as well as the class variants found in Heroes of Lore. Some of the playable monsters from the monster section is also allowed. I have also raised PC hit points by one die (so if your Cleric rolls a d6 for hit points, it’s now a d8) to more or less AD&D standard. At the same time monsters no longer use d6 for hit points, but variable HD according to size.

We also use the skill system (named Heroic Tasks in B&T) as well as the Feat/Talent system, and they do not take anything from the play experience as they are simple and easy to use. (Both of these are however optional and can be easily left out if you want a more old school-ish experience). 

In a sense this particular game is all but traditional OSR. On the other hand the players have a lot of freedom of choice to create and play a different character if they like. My fears that this would slide out of hand was unfounded because most of the current characters are plain vanilla ones out of the core book. And both the aesthetics and play style is very old school, just like we did it back in the day.

So how does it work out then?

I must say excellent! Despite using modern game concepts, the game flow is very old school and we have a lot of fun. The PCs are definitely tougher than their OSR cousins, but on the other hand I can throw harder challenges at them. And if someone dies, making a new character is very quick. On-the-fly conversion from Swords & Wizardry or Lamentations of the Flame Princess is also easy, especially from S&W. Being a huge d100/BRP fan I also appreciate the skill system as it matches very well with my GM style.

Complexity-wise, the game feels like Swords & Wizardry with added 3e-isms like 3 saves, ascending AC and so on. The extra rules crunch is absent though, as is the elevated power level of 3e, as the author has tuned down the power level to about AD&D.

Being a game that “lives between editions” has also made it an easy sell to all ” edition camps” in my play group. Both old school¬†as well as Pathfinder afficionados like the game. In other words it’s a good middle ground for fans of all flavors of D&D. Some compromises, yes, but acceptable to most players methinks. The mix of ideas from all editions incorporated into the game also makes for pretty easy compatibility both with¬†older as well as newer editions of the game.

About the only thing I’m not 100% happy with is the Heroic Task (skill) system. It was written to function both as a 3e style skill system as well being¬†backwards compatible with x-in-6 chance system of old. I think that it matches the x-in-6 chance system best and it doesn’t give the GM all the tools to vary skill challenges as much as I like.


 

Basically, the skill system works like this:

Anyone can try any skill/task.

You have one of three levels of expertise (or lack thereof):

  • Unskilled (static target number 18 to succeed).
  • Knack¬†(static target number 15 to succeed).
  • Skilled (dynamic target number equal to the saving throw category connected with the task, for example Bend Bars is connected to Fortitude). It also gets better as you level up since the save number will decrease.

 

What happens in play is player¬†confusion among the player’s when they have a skill and struggle to find the correct save category. We have discussed this in the group and all the players agree on this. As a GM it’s also confusing, since the skills are named after the old school abilities like Bend Bars, Hide in Shadows etc. Which one do I use when a player says that he scans the horizon for any movement? I’d say Perception but there’s no such skill so I have to look for one to use consistently whenever someone wants to try something in the Perception-y area. Not always 100% clear. I have made some rule hacks and conventions regarding this, but I still think the system is clunky if you intend to use it as a skill system. If you use it the old school way, it makes perfect sense though.

Another thing I’ve noticed in play is that some of the Feats/Talents are a bit overpowered (at least for my tastes) despite that the author has nerfed then a lot from their 3e counterparts. This especially goes for the Two Weapon Fighting feat which we now have toned down even more.

As there’s a new edition of Blood & Treasure in the works, I hope that the author will incorporate some simpler rules variant for the skill/task checks.

To summarize, I couldn’t be happier with a rule set than Blood & Treasure. It is simple to GM and both flows and feels like the old school games we used to play back in the day, but with some cool newer things added. I also appreciate how easy it is to exclude things that you don’t like or if you want to add things from another OSR game. And the wealth of monsters, spells and gear in the core book is massive.

Blood & Treasure is easily my go-to OSR game as it can take the place of both older and newer editions of the game with ease. Moreover,¬†it’s lightness on rules makes it very easy to run at the table. And it lets your GM juices run free when creating adventures, letting you do things with ease and not get bogged down in a mire of esoteric rules. It also lets you run your old B2 module¬†along with newer 3.x/Pathfinder module, although newer stuff demands some conversion beforehand. Older materials¬†and OSR adventures can be run off the cuff as is. I just love this game and have high expectations for the upcoming 2nd edition!