Add-Vance or Sub-Vance?

Allow me to preface this by saying that I have not read any of the D&DNext development releases in detail.

Having said that, I am abreast of the development trends, thanks mostly to Tavernmaster Tenkar and his regular updates. The latest brouhaha is swirling around the inclusion of At-Will Powers for Magic Users Wizards. This is but one of many Bones of Contention the designers will be faced with. They are trying to merge disparate systems. Some of the subsystems are going to be mutually exclusive. What 4E player is going to want to have his At-Will Blaster Ray watered down so his Wizard will be balanced next to the old geezer’s Vancian Magic User? What old geezer will be content to blow his wad on memorizing nothing but Magic Missiles, when the 4E rock star wizard can toss them out like Mardi Gras beads?

I’m developing a certain detached cynicism with this whole “Next” development. I may end up eating those words if they do succeed in rolling out the best thing since . . . well, since D&D. Until then I view this entire episode with a certain smug detachment.

Something about this particular point struck me, though. Ever since the words “house rules” were first uttered, Vancian magic has been under the gun. I have no scientific proof to back this up, but I would bet the farm that making combat more realistic and Vancian magic are the top two house rule categories. Spell points, casting rolls, lumping all the caster’s available spell levels into one enormous pool, fatigue, it goes on and on. In the callous inexperience of my youth, I, too, railed against it. I still like alternatives, although I can now appreciate the intricacies of it. For years I preferred point-based casting. Now I like something a little more unpredictable, but I digress.

Now that Monte has forwarded the notion of some sort of 4E-style At-Will powers for Wizards, there is no shortage of champions for Vancian magic. All of a sudden it is one of the gilded chestnuts, a virtual cornerstone of the foundation, of what is D&D. I’m not accusing anyone of vacillating, just observing how polarizing events brings out the masses. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that many of those rallying behind Vancian casters have house ruled that system out to some degree. Maybe they even play with a different magic system even now. I fall into that camp, since I am currently mostly working with the M74 Swords & Sorcery Edition. Yet, even those in that camp recognize the value of Vancian magic to D&D. My snide comments aside (made only in fun, btw), Vancian magic is one of the underpinnings that makes D&D D&D. In any sort of “Edition to Rule Them All” it has to take center stage, and it has to be the standard against which any other included magic methods, no matter how “modular”, are balanced.

M74 Swords and Sorcery

I like most of what I see from Randall, especially the M74 stuff. One thing I’m not thrilled about, though, is the layout. Sorry to be nitpicky, that’s just the truth. To that end, I’ve taken his beta swords and sorcery rules and reformatted them. I’ve used different fonts, and used different layers of headers. It is all black and white. I’ve even added some Frazetta b&w drawings. They are very evocative, and I just love his work. I also slightly modified his Tactical Expertise ability. That’s the only house ruling in the document.

I have it here in .odt format, used by LibreOffice and OpenOffice, so if you want to hack it up and add your own house rules, change my fonts/layout, or whatever. Being an odt file, no preview will be generated, but you should be able to click File -> Download.

It is also available here as a pdf, if you prefer.

Oh, one more thing, the fonts are sized so that it can be printed in booklet format, for those that prefer that sort of thing. Nothing says old school to me quite like little folded and stapled booklets.

Is It Just Me?

Many, many moons ago, my best friend Dan and I regularly attended midnight movies. For the most part we saw Mad Max, Dawn of the Dead (original), Life of Brian, and a healthy dose of:

Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The volume at these events was shattering, but we didn’t care. You see, Dan and I have  . . . let’s just say, odd senses of humor.

(We laughed until we almost threw up at the “Bigus Dickus” scene in Life of Bryan.)

Anyway, even though I can quote that movie front to back, I was missing something: Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a rousing good D&D adventure. Think about it. We have:

The Adventuring Party
     See above photo. That was a straight up PARTY. It had a leader. It had the talented, but brash warrior. The wise companion. Comic relief. Not exactly your D&D mix, but still all were filling a particular niche and never stepped on each others’ toes.

Set-Piece Fight
     Establishes the leader’s prowess. The encounter with the Black Knight shows that while Arthur is open-minded, he is not to be fucked with. Like any good D&D player, when the NPC reaction roll doesn’t pass muster, he calls for Initiative.

A Crazy Hermit Gives Enigmatic Advice
   How many times have we seen and/or used this old guy, cackling and dispensing enigmatic advice?

(of course this is the bridge keeper, but they are one and the same character)

Sex-starved Virgins
     More of a staple of games played by adolescent males, they did make an appearance.

Divine Intervention
     Break out Gods, Demigods, and Heroes, the party is about to get hit with a divine Quest. What page was Yahweh on?

Ancient Artifacts

And the number of the counting shall be three.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  It’s all there.

A Rant (You’ve Been Warned)

For several days now I’ve tried to avoid thinking about this. It was to no avail, as I can’t seem to stop. When I think about blogging, it is uppermost. Now, when I even think about gaming, it is there. I know I am allowing it to take up far too much of my thinking, so, I’ve decided to get it off my chest. Maybe then I can move on. If you don’t want to read any further, it won’t hurt my feelings.

I’m a Linux guy (Mint, if you’re interested), and by extension, open source. I don’t have Windows anywhere, except whatever embedded version my son’s Xbox360 runs. As it relates to Linux, one of the things open source means is that I can take a piece of software you wrote and tweak it, modify it, and call it something else. I can even sell it. But one thing I must do is make it freely available. Not necessarily on DVDs with full documentation, but at least a download version must be freely available. Not crippleware, either, but fully functional.

I believe the retroclones should operate on the same principle, since they are made possible only by the auspices of the OGL (which I know differs in details, but the “open” spirit is what’s important here).

It offends me that there are those who will take the work of others, work made freely available in good faith, and use it to profit. I am specifically speaking of Crypts & Things. Maybe there are others, I don’t know. Before we go any further, I want to make something perfectly clear:

I do not own this game in any form. All of these comments are based on the ad write-ups and reviews I’ve seen. If I am misinformed, it is due to my sources.

Something else I want to be clear about: I know that C&T includes a background and that there are mechanical ties woven into the rules. In all sincerity, I congratulate the folks behind the design and development of that background. Taking your raw creativity and turning it into a living is a wonderful thing.

My issue lies not with the original background material or house rules to support it. It isn’t with making that background a commercial product. My problem is with using someone else’s work to help sell it. Swords & Wizardry is freely available. Akrasia’s house rules are freely available. Those two documents are the engine that drives the setting in C&T. Without them, and the OGL S&W was written under, C&T would not exist as it does.

As far as I know, all the other games that are directly derived from clones, or the original rules, have a freely available option. Some are full versions, such as S&W Core, and some are missing the art, like Labyrinth Lord. But they all make a full, free version available. That is within the spirit of the “open” movement. I’m not campaigning for a free version of C&T for myself. I don’t need it. I have S&W and Akrasia’s house rules. I can house rule out races and add rules making magic dangerous (in fact, I have posted about it already). As good as I am sure the background is, I don’t need it, either.

I’m arguing for a principle here. If you’re going to take advantage of the work and imagination of others, work that is made freely available, you should give back. Otherwise, taking advantage is all you’re doing. The open community, whether open gaming, or open source, is symbiotic. Don’t be a parasite.

A New OSR Blog

One of my followers has recently entered the OSR blogging arena. Dienekes has opened The Gygaxian Bag of Holding for business. If his first posts are any indication, it should be one to watch. He plans on featuring Dave Trampier’s art on Thursdays, which is nice. He also has a very detailed and well-thought out examination of a certain old-school module posted. Go on by and see which one . . .

Microlite Free Goodness

Randall has released a beta of his Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery hack. It looks like a lot of fun, and he has incorporated some changes to Microlite 74 that highlight the swords-and-sorcery style of play.

The first thing that caught my attention is the rolling method for character creation. It is the same as Microlite 74, it just didn’t catch my attention in that. The player rolls 3d6, and assigns the roll to the desired stat. Then, he rolls again, assigns that roll, and so on. I find this very intriguing. It gives the player a hint of the “arrange to taste” method, but not without a dose of choice-and-consequence. It impresses me as having a subtle, yet important, impact on rolling characters.

There is only one race, human, and two classes. We have the catch-all Adventurer, and the dark and mysterious Sorcerer. The Sorcerer is able to use any armor/shield and any weapon. However, the use of shields or heavy weapons can interfere with spellcasting.

Each class has an advancement table, listing two new things: Physical Combat Bonus (PCB)/Magical Combat Bonus (MCB), and experience points. There is no “experience multiple”. The PCB is added to a d20 roll + STR bonus in combat. It can also be used for other overtly physical activities, such as bashing down doors. I would hazard to say it would make a nice addition to things like intimidation, as well, since a character with a high PCB would have an air of menace about him. I didn’t see any reference to the use of the MCB, however. This is the first beta release, though, so I am sure it will turn up.

There is a listing of class-specific special abilities to choose from. Players select one at 1st level, then additional abilities at levels 2, 4, and 6.

Magic is a blend of the standard Microlite take on magic (casting costs HP) with the Colours of Magic house rule from Akrasia (man, that dude’s house rules are getting some press lately, and deservedly so). In true S&S form, it is also noted that “Sorcery takes a toll on the caster’s body”. At 2nd and 5th levels the sorcerer suffers a handicap. It is either selected, by referee or player, or determined randomly. Interestingly, there is no chance to avoid said handicap, but there is also no chance of “extra ones”, such as from botched casting rolls or whatever. I don’t see that as a problem, it’s merely an observation.

Magic Users Sorcerers are only able to cast 1st level spells until 4th level, when they gain access to 2nd level spells. This is the highest level they may cast from memory. Spells of 3rd level or higher are only cast through Ritual. Generally speaking, any sorcerer can ritually cast spells of any level, provided he has access to the ritual. Rituals take longer, and in some cases, require more HPs to cast. There is an optional section covering sacrifices, which if allowed, will help mitigate ritual casting costs.

The idea of Talents is introduced. It is essentially the “good at” house rule. I’ve seen it before and thought it looked good, but now for the life of me I can not find it again. So, I can’t properly attribute it to its author. I apologize for this. My google-fu has deserted me this morning. Anyway, having a particular Talent means that your character is “good at” something. There is no set list of Talents. It is understood that the player will devise whatever seems appropriate to the character’s concept. They are narrowly defined, however, basically representing an area of singular knowledge and/or ability. The player selects one at each level, beginning with 2nd level. It is possible to select the same Talent more than once, representing further mastery in the talent at hand.

There are rules for Spirits, and the summoning and binding thereof. Definitely cool, and definitely S&S.

The last thing I want to say about this S&S edition concerns character levels. They are capped at level 6. Hallelujah! This puppy is E6 right from the box. I love it. Low, gentle power curve, superheroes need not apply. This should keep things nice and gritty. Once characters hit 6th, they can still advance, through the acquisition of “Epic Points”. These can be accumulated or used immediately. They have a variety of uses, from a measure of narrative control (surviving an otherwise fatal situation) to adding more talents or special abilities.

All in all, this is a very well thought out selection of changes that brings Microlite in line with gritty S&S play, especially considering it is the first beta. There’s a couple of rough spots that need sanded down, such as a use for the MCB, and a somewhat convoluted system for tactics points. But, to borrow a phrase, those are minor quibbles. This is a great first beta, and it’s free, so give it a look.

More Swords & Shield Goodness

Whew! This guy works fast! Follow the link previously provided to find an updated Pocketmod, and the sample adventure brought up to speed with the updated rules. Also therein you will find the aptly named Longsword & Shield. L&S is the full version of the rules from the Pocketmod. Weighing in at a svelt 6 pages, it is still light. Pound for pound, though, this little gem packs a punch. All that’s missing is a more developed spell list, monster “book”, and magic items. But, hey, we’re OSR folks around here. We live to make that shit up ourselves, right?

My original assessment of this being a good beer-and-pretzels game hold true in Longsword, but it is definitely suited to more campaign play. A little setting-specific fleshing out and this game will do swords-and-sorcery with a bloody vengeance.

More Free Goodness

Sword & Shield RPG

Do not let my interest in PFBB mislead you, my friends. I remain fully devoted to light-weight, old school rules. It is with that feeling that I direct your attention to Sword & Shield. This one hits me with a real one-two punch. It’s rules-light old-school AND it’s a Pocketmod. Take little folded pad of gaming goodness and a few dice along with you and a game can break out anywhere, anytime. Give it a look, it is a pretty neat little system for quick pick-ups, beer-and-pretzel, or intro to rpgs duty.

Yet Another Open Question

     I’m somewhat polar by nature. If I love chocolate, I can’t be caught liking vanilla. I’m a Led Zeppelin man, fuck the Beatles. That sort of thing. It’s not a conscious choice, but to rise above it is. It is in that spirit that this question is asked.

Was d20 the Great Evil of its age? Since I’ve become enamored of the OSR, and freely available clones and other rpgs, my polarity has led me to fear and despise the d20 system. Reflex/Constitution/Will Saves? Horror! Ascending Armor Class? Blasphemy! Multi-class Druid/Thief?? Heresy! (Well, that part is pretty heretical.) Seriously, though, before the bloat and the power creep, right down at its core, is it that bad?

I know this query may cost me some serious OSR cred, and just when the blog is starting to pick up steam. But the question isn’t over yet.

One thing that intrigues me about d20, and more specifically 3.x (gasp!), is E6 play. In a nutshell, characters top out at 6th level. The only gains after that are Feats, every 5,000 XP. It intrigues me because one of the features I want most in a game is a reasonable power curve. I detest the idea that the ogre you pissed yourself over at 3rd level is not even a joke anymore at 12th level. I’m all with characters becoming more capable and all, but some things should always be dangerous. The combination of capping hit points, while at the same time allowing characters to advance in specialty areas through Feats, seems like a good mix. Dare I say it, very swords and sorcery.

Ok, if any of you have made it this far without deleting your membership in the blog, let me ask one more question. The real question all of this has been building toward.

One of my more pragmatic issues with E6 is cost effectiveness. Whether it is gathering OOP 3.x stuff, or getting into Pathfinder, you’re buying a whole game and using less than half. Sooo . . . what about using that new Pathfinder Starter Box? It supports levels 1-5. There would be zero issues with grabbing what’s needed for 6th level from the SRD. Being aimed at beginners, it isn’t choked with all the minutiae of the 500+ page brick that is Pathfinder Core. And, it includes everything needed to play, including monsters.

So, what do you think: Is the new PF Starter a viable choice for low-level, gritty swords and sorcery?