Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Ooh, Magic Missile

Faustusnotes has an interesting post today on, essentially, why "fantasy writers don’t take advantage of the cosmology of their worlds to examine how social, political and economic relations would change in a magically-imbued world" - that is, why is it that in a D&D-esque campaign setting where clerics and wizards can cure any illness, and literally change reality, do you still end up with a "filthy, primitive, ignorant feudal world, where life is hard, racism and sexism is rife, and injustice is the order of the day"?

To be fair to fantasy authors, I think in actual fact that D&D-style magic is extremely rare in fantasy fiction. In the "core" texts of modern fantasy - Vance, Howard, Harrison, Moorcock, le Guin, and especially Tolkien - you just don't get magic that can cure diseases, shape stone, and create food and water willy-nilly. Arguably, the fact that magic can't make peoples' lives materially better is kind of the point; and usually it is depicted as a destructive force that probably makes peoples' lives worse - certainly more corrupt.

But it's a nicely done post and true, I think, when it comes to D&D itself. Technology has, over thousands of years, made life many, many orders of magnitude better for us than our ancestors living in neolithic times. Why wouldn't the same be true of D&D magic, except many, many orders of magnitude faster?

The obvious answer is just that "it isn't fantasy that way". And, let's face it, it isn't. The fantasy genre, expecially D&D (which is a genre unto itself) has a set of tropes that make it what it is, and to expect it to be different is to expect romantic fiction without the square-jawed Mr. Darcy-lite, or space opera without the space ships. Complaining that D&D magic doesn't result in the kind of society that Faustusnotes thinks it might do is a bit like complaining that in a Stephen King book we're expected to believe in supernatural entities even if we don't personally believe they exist. Well, yeah, but where's the fun in that? You suspend disbelief for the sake of enjoying the work as an example of its genre.

But I also think there's an interesting point to be made in relation to this: D&D magic is really, really banal. Over the editions the "magicalness" of it - the specialness, the rarity, the wonder - was sucked out of it and it became increasingly about utililty due, let's face it, to the demands of the game and the players. Spells like "create water" and "cure light wounds" exist not because they are cool and wondrous but because they solve in-game problems like "my character needs to drink to stay alive" or "my character lost too many hit points".

There's nothing wrong with this, per se - it is a game, after all - but there's no point in pretending it's all very exciting. It isn't very exciting. D&D magic is as bland as anything - just look at the names of the spells. Cure light wounds. Purify food and drink. Sleep. Magic missile. I know, I can hardly stand the sense of awe and wonder either.

It's for these reasons that I'm all in favour of two things: the non-magical campaign (where magic is the preserve of NPCs, thus implying great rarity) and the spell-forge generated spell name campaign, in which mage characters are told they start off with spells called things like Sage Eyes, Earth Mountain, Underground Child or Vicarious Weaver, and they have to negotiate with the DM about what the hell they do.

This has the added advantage of stopping the logical-minded of us worrying that we have priests and magic-users running around everywhere, while society remains mired in leprosy and filth.We get to keep both.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Larry Elmore and Utter Ridiculosity: A Love Story

More art, mainly because there's a bit of Larry Elmore love going round the blogosphere. I'm a fan of Larry Elmore, because it's his art that I cut my teeth on in my early years of D&D playing, and let's face it, there is no more iconic "Silver Age" D&D artist.

The thing I like about Larry Elmore art, now, is that it is all "quite" something, and never "very" anything. It is either quite good, quite cheesy, quite bad, or quite ridiculous. Some examples to illustrate:

Quite Good

Quite Cheesy

Quite Bad

Quite Ridiculous

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Freshwater Octopuses of the Lapis River Valley

The Lapis River is a cold, glacial river network flowing down from the Mountains of the Moon all the way south to the God River in Lamarakh. It is fast running, totally pure, and often frozen in its upstream during winter. So it is a surprising place to find freshwater octopuses, but actually they flourish there, feeding off the many oysters, crayfish and water snails in its depths.

There are hundreds of species, of many colours. Some are edible, some are poisonous. Some have unusual, colour changing abilities. Some are social, others are solitary. The only thing they have in common is that they are all small - no bigger than a man's hand. In an encounter with freshwater octopuses, the DM should randomly generate their species using the following tables:

Table 1: Appearance

Roll a d10 to determine main colour, then a d6 to determine pattern, and then roll another d10 to determine secondary colour (roll again if the result is the same as the main colour).


1 - Blue
2 - Green
3 - Red
4 - Yellow
5 - Purple
6 - Black
7 - Brown
8 - Grey
9 - Orange
10 - White


1 - Striped
2 - Solid
3 - Solid
4 - Solid
5 - Spotted
6 - Leopard-spotted

Table 2: Sociability

Roll a d6 to determine how social the species is, then roll again to determine the number encountered.

1 - Solitary or Pair (d2)
2 - Solitary or Pair (d2)
3 - Family (d4)
4 - Family (d4)
5 - Social (1d10)
6 - Flocking (3d6)

Table 3: Abilities

Roll 1d30 to determine abilities.

1-2 - Chameleon camouflage. Can change the colour of the skin to match surroundings. Opponents always surprised, -4 to hit.
3-4 - Minor toxin. On a successful hit, opponent must Save v. Poison or suffer weakness for d3 days (-2 to all rolls).
5-6 - Moderate toxin. On a successful hit, opponent must Save v. Poison or suffer weakness for d3 days (-2 to all rolls); a successful save reduces this to d3 hours.
7 - Major toxin. On a successful hit, opponent must Save v. Poison or be paralysed for d3 days.
8 - Deadly toxin. On a successful hit, opponent must Save v. Poison or die within d6 turns (can be magically healed during that time). A successful save results in weakness as per result 2.
9-10 - Feeds on magic. A successful hit on a magic-user causes him/her to forget a random spell.
11-12 - Psionic. Can perform a mind-blast which always hits for d6 damage; a Save v. Death defeats it.
13-16 - Electrical. Can electrify the water surrounding it like an electric eel. Anything within two yards takes d6 damage and must Save v. Death or be paralysed for d6 turns; other octopuses are immune.
17-20 - Ink. Can squirt ink 3 times per day. Acts like a Darkness, 15' Radius spell in the river.
21 - Friendly. Unaggressive and benign.
22 - Poisonous if eaten. Same effect as per result 8.
23-25 - Emits stench. This acts as a stinking cloud spell, to which other octopuses are immune.
26-28 - Emits alarm hormones which travel downstream and will be detected within 1 hour by 1) more octopuses of a random species; 2) giant crayfish; 3) river troll; 4) nereid; 5) freshwater sea hag; 6) merrow.
29 - Spits acid at land targets for d6 damage.
30 - Can phase as a phase spider.


Frequency: Rare
AC: 5
Hit Dice: 1/2*
Move: 150' (50') Sw
Attacks : 1 bite
Damage: 1d4
No. App: See above
Save As: F1
Morale: 6
Treasure: M (scattered around territory)
Intelligence: 2
XP: 6

Friday, 26 August 2011

On Steered Imagination and the Random Generator

As we know, restriction of options is usually a spur to creativity rather than a hindrance. The narrower the scope in which your imagination is allowed to run riot, perversely, the more productive it usually becomes (within reason). An illustration: Give a man a pen and paper and he might spend 6 hours just thinking of something to write about. Give him a pen and paper and say "Write me a story about a murder" and he'll have a finished piece in half the time it took for him to even think of an idea in the first scenario.

Random generators are such a great aid to creativity, I think, because they embody this fundamental truth. They steer imagination and make it more productive. The simplest illustration of this is the random encounter in D&D (much maligned by people who don't actually really think about their gaming). Without random encounters, traditional games become stale and stressful for the DM, who has to spend unproductive and boring hours trying to think up interesting scenarios from the aether to entertain his players and keep the game going. With random encounters, his creativity becomes focused: why are these goblins here, and where have they come from? Bang: Focus. Interest. Post hoc narrative. Story. If he knows his game world reasonably well, he has it made.

This is also why generating random results on a table is enjoyable in its own right, even taken outside of the context of a game. I can't be the only person who feels this way - a peculiar glee in having a big set of d30 tables and just generating results to find out what happens. What is this treasure hoard, what is its history, and who put it here? What is this group of giants doing in this area, what are their names, and what do they own? What spells does this spellbook contain, and who is its original owner? Your imagination is steered, and consequently becomes productive, and the endorphines begin to flow.

Of course, without the ultimate random generators - players - even generating random results becomes boring after a while. Random generators need a game, just as games need random generators. It's a yin-yang thing, or something.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Ah, The Big Purple

I don't like to partake in rpg.net bashing too much, but I just had to link to this thread, which is just priceless, as it contains everything that is bad about that forum in one go: the snooty, unfunny, hackneyed old joke contained in the OP, the weird in-joke acronyms that nobody understands, the horrible spectacle of geeks being smug about having a "sense of humour", and then - the icing on the cake - a moderator stepping in with red text to ban somebody for a week for a trivial "personal attack" which nobody understands, as if everybody involved is 5 years old (which they sort of are). God, I love that website.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Risus Sorcerers

Apropos of nothing at all, I was thinking about Risus this morning on the way to work and how you could use it to make magic systems in just about any game. Or, you could use it to create a game in which the characters are all uber-powerful archmage demigods who can bend reality to their very will. Sort of like Exalted or Nobilis, except good.

For those who don't know anything about Risus, a brief precis: characters are created with four attributes, ranked 4, 3, 2, and 1. These numbers represent the size of the dice pool (in d6) for the relevant attribute. Attributes can be anything, though usually a noun-phrase is preferred: e.g. "Tough guy", "Poet", "Womanizer", "Slimy courtesan", etc. The beauty of the system is that it models physical and social combat very simply and effectively, before the Burning Wheel or Dogs in the Vineyard guys were twinkles in their respective fathers' eyes. Basically, it boils down to rolling the dice pool for a chosen attribute, with whoever scores highest whittling away the dice pool of their opponent until they have none left, whereupon the winner decides the fate of the loser. (It could be "I blast his face off with a fireball" if it's magical combat, or it could be "I win the argument and convince the King to let me marry his daughter" in a social combat.)

I have two ideas for a Risus-based magic system:

  1. Characters begin with 4 "schools of magic" attributes, a la Warhammer, Magic: The Gathering, Elements, etc. They can make up their own or choose from a big "I'm the DM and these are the magic schools in my game world" list. So you might start off with Fire 4, Earth 3, Water 2 and Air 1 (say). This is in addition to the standard 4 attributes that a Risus character gets. The DM might set restrictions on what kind of stuff a player can do with that given magical school (green magic is for healing, blue magic is protective, yellow magic is to do with time, that sort of thing) or they might limit it only to player creativity.
  2. Characters just have one "magic" attribute from among their four, allowing them to do literally anything they choose with their innate magical ability.
PCs would be able to cast spells as and when the situation requires, narrating what they do - for example, "I cast an earth spell and open up a chasm beneath the feet of the orcs!" or "I cast an air spell and summon a breeze to blow our ship safely to port!", or "I use my magic to blast the blacksmith's sanity and turn him into a gibbering moron!" The fun comes in coming up with interesting descriptions for how you use your magic ("I cast a fireball" is okay, "I summon a demon from the plane of fire to burn out the eyes of my enemies" is better.) Spells would go off without a hitch unless it came down to magical combat, in which case dice pools would come into play. Or, for the slightly less uber-powered game, the DM might assign target numbers depending on how ambitious the player is being: casting a fireball might have a difficulty of 5, but summoning an Efreet from the plane of fire to lay waste to an entire army might have a difficulty of 22.

The style of campaign it would support is, of course, one in which the characters are already extremely powerful at the beginning - able to smite mere mortals with impunity. The only genuine limit on what they can do is what the players can think of. As with Amber Diceless, the assumption from the start is that PCs can beat an ordinary human, and can only be challenged by mightily powerful opponents. Or each other. Usually, I prefer my campaigns to be more low-level and "gritty". Still, could be a lot of fun for a Very High Fantasy game of adventuring archmages.

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Relationship Hexmap

Following on from yesterday's post, and drawing from ckutalik's interesting sequence on Top Secret and network linkages from earlier this year, I did some thinking last night on how to come up with a conceptual hexmap for non-geographical sandbox play. This post is just a summary of my preliminary thoughts - it's basically some rough ideas.

What I want, and what I envisage, is a hexmap revolving around interpersonal space rather than physical space. Instead of the players exploring a geographical area hex by hex, with encounters and events taking place as they go, in the Relationship Hexmap they explore a network of interpersonal relationships instead.

The key to this, as I see it, is that it has to retain the elements of what makes a hexmap work when you're using it for a D&D-esque sandbox. It has to be loose, it has to allow for random events, and (crucially) the GM shouldn't have any preconceptions about what will happen.

This last point is probably the most important. What I like about a fantasy sandbox is that, although the DM has set up the basic framework and scattered the thing with interesting locales, it's as much a voyage of discovery for him as it is for the players. This means that, although there needs to be some pre-existing information on the contents of each hex, it should be as vague and nebulous as possible until the players discover it.

Maybe it's best to give a physical example of what I'm talking about. Here is a small relationship hexmap that I came up with this morning when I should have been working. (Something about drawing it using paint's "crayon" feature appeals to the inner child in me.)

First off, an explanation of what all the pretty colours mean:

  • Blue blobs are actual sentient entities that have agency in the game world. Each could represent an individual, a gang, a corporation, a cartel...really anything that could forge communicative or personal links with another blue blob. For the sake of this hexmap, I'll call them "people", but remember this could refer to one person or many people in one unit.
  • Red lines represent a strong, positive link between two people - basically, where an alliance, agreement, or mutually benefecial relationship exists. It could be love, it could be a military alliance, it could be a free trade agreement - anything you can think of.
  • Orange lines represent contact. Simply, two people linked by an orange line have had some sort of communication with one another, whether regular or not. It could be they've just had one interaction in the distant past, or it could be that they're in regular email contact but the relationship is not positive enough or close enough to be "red".
  • Yellow lines simply represent awareness. The two people are aware that the counterparty exists.
  • Arrows are used to indicate whether contact, or awareness, is one way. Yellow and orange lines usually work in both directions, but in some relationships one party is always contacted by the other and not the other way around (a spy who recieves communiques via encrypted SMS messages, for example), and sometimes a person can know about another person without the same being true in reverse. Arrows indicate this.
  • Black lines represent hostility. They are the opposite of red lines. Here, an antagonistic relationship (open or covert) exists.

So how does all this work in actual play? The answer is that I'm not sure yet, but my basic thoughts on how it might break down are as follows:

  • First, the GM draws up the hexmap in a random(ish) way, as I did this morning. I haven't decided on who any of the blue blobs represent yet, or why their relationships are the way they are. I just had fun with crayons.
  • Second, the GM picks a number of the blue blobs and gives them a personality, history, and description. It doesn't have to be all of them, and in fact, it shouldn't be. Around half will do. This is the equivalent to the way in which a D&D DM draws up a hexmap but only details what's in some of the hexes - the rest will come as and when it is necessary.
  • Third, a handful of the blue blobs/people are selected as the locus points at which the PCs could "start" the campaign. As with a fantasy sandbox, there needs to be a beginning point, but it would be too restrictive to select one blue blob/person and say "You know this guy and he tells you [x]" (although the Mr. Johnson routine is fine if you're into that sort of thing). I imagine that most Cyberpunk sandbox campaigns begin with the fixer-types using their streetdeal skills to find contacts and rustle up jobs. This could give them a number of different "leads" (each being a separate blue blob). 
  • Fourth, the immediate relationships (orange, red, yellow, black) around those locus points are fleshed out in a bit more detail. 
  • Fifth, the GM puts in some "other interesting information" relating to each hex. I imagine this introducing some sort of temporal element to the process. For instance, you might write that on Day 5 of the campaign, Person 0402 will attempt to assassinate the head of Company 0503. Or, on Day 8 of the campaign, Person 0307 will be contacted by Person 0402 in relation to Gang 0607.
  • Sixth (and this is hazy) there need to be random tables changing the nature of the relationships on the map. At various points in time, the GM needs to be rolling dice to find out what is going on on the map irrespective of what the players are up to. I'm picturing a table of stuff like "relationship deteriorates because of X" or "communication breaks down because of Y".
  • Seventh, profit.
I imagine it working especially well for investigative play - for instance, if the player characters are police, engaged in corporate espionage, that sort of thing. This is fitting, since I cribbed a lot of the ideas from ckutalik, who in turn cribbed ideas from Top Secret.

Anyway, more on this to follow as I ruminate some more.

The Cyberpunk Sandbox

Trollsmyth has been doing a series of hexmap-related blog entries lately, and what can I say? I have a case of sandboxitis going on.

There are a million and one blog entries about making sandboxes "out there" in the blogosphere. (I recommend these three in particular: by Rob Conley, Chgowiz, and of course ars ludi). It's as you would expect - the OSR has sandbox play as its totem, its modus operandi, its raison d'etre, and a whole lot of other words in Latin and French.

But these sandbox articles are all to do with fantasy, and D&D in particular, which has from the beginning been designed for sandbox play - in particular, for the kind of hex-based, hexcrawl adventure which the OSR recommends. All well and good, but for those of us who have swallowed the Kool-Aid and accepted the One True Way of Sandboxism but who want to apply it in other genres of games which we enjoy, there are some problems with the assumption of a hexcrawl and its associated mores. (The exception to this is, perhaps, Traveller and maybe post-apocalyptic Gamma World or pleasingly bastardised versions of Rifts.)

After fantasy, my go-to genre has always been Cyberpunk. Actually, in my gaming career, I've probably had more 'face time' with Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun (the latter to my slight shame) than with D&D. So naturally my thoughts turn from time to time to the notion of Cyberpunk 2020 in the sandbox.

The crucial thing about a CP:2020 campaign is that it is a) usually urban and based in one city; and b) it is set in the future. You don't hexcrawl in that sort of environment - a taxi, subway train or gyrocopter can take you anywhere you want to go, and all the information about everywhere is available online (except the top-secret stuff, and probably not even then). So the hexmap has to be conceptual rather than physical; the surprises have to come from interpersonal relationships and behind-the-scenes shenanigans as well as vast amounts of tables of random events, because there is nothing geographically interesting about the actual physical space of the setting. So where rumour, conflict and player-motivated change are important in the D&D hexcrawl, in the CP:2020 hexcrawl they are everything.

Because I like a good project, I'm going to do a trollsmyth-esque series of posts on developing a CP:2020 sandbox setting over the next couple of weeks, interspersed with my usual ranting and miscellaneous musings. And so it was written, and so it shall be done.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Choose Your Weapon

Apropos of nothing, I thought I'd introduce you to some of "the boys". Apologies for the crappy quality of the lighting - I took these earlier at the local gaming club, which as well as being a wretched hive of scum and villainy is also very poorly lit. This helps members not to notice the thin layer of grime which covers everything in it.

This is "old pinky". He is a very poorly-made and cheap d12 I bought at The Yellow Submarine in, I think, Shinjuku South Exit. I hate having to roll this dice because it rolls further and longer than any I have seen in my gaming career. d12s are usually worse than other dice in this regard, but "old pinky" will roll for entire metres across a table top, fall off the far edge, continue rolling across the carpet, and head inexorably - almost deliberately - towards the heaviest and largest item of furniture in the room to lodge somewhere underneath it.

These are my elemental dice - earth, air, fire and water. These are probably the oldest dice I own: I got them when I was about 16. They're no Gamescience dice, but they have reasonably sharp edges and roll well; they also have a nice chunky feel that I appreciate - you feel as if the results will have import, which is of course as it should be.

This is "the horde" - a fuckload of d6s I bought mainly for the purposes of Burning Wheel dice pools. I like to line them up on the table and roll them in turn; those that score 4, 5 or 6 get recycled and return to the back of the line, but those that score 1, 2 or 3 have to go back to the dice bag and think about what they've done. When they've had some time to reconsider their positions they can come back into play.

This is my d8. There is nothing to say about my d8.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Lord Spare Us

A commenter on a post here wrote this:

Robin D Laws has already written that it would be cool if we (the gaming community) finally could get a marxist critique of D&D (you advance by killing and looting) and that it would signify maturity of the medium (being able to think itself in such way). But my question would be what kind of marxist critique. Some easy, neo-zhdanovist and vulgar (obvious product of a capitalist society that indoctrinates young minds…) or one more sophisticated (for example one that is incorporating nuances like the fact that most D&D characters are outsiders and fringe elements that was nicely grasped by Mieville in Perdido Street Station) that would echo that old Brechts joke that we (communists) probably know everything but that for propaganda purposes we must select questions that we will claim that we have no answer to.

And I had to respond; to wit, I can't think of anything less likely to signify maturity of the medium than having a Marxist critique of D&D. The existence of such a critique, I submit, would signify the horrible overintellectualisation of something that needs no overintellectualising, not its maturity. Maturity is something else. Maturity is, in large part, being able to compartmentalise different facets of ones life and being able to embrace and be comfortable with mutually contradictory positions - for instance, that you like playing a game about killing things and taking their stuff in a hyper-individualised Randian wet-dream of a fantasy world, but do not like killing things and taking their stuff in reality nor entertain that particular Randian wet-dream in other spheres of your life.

That isn't to say that pseudointellectual overanalysis of D&D isn't fun. It is. God knows I engage in it frequently enough, as any long-term reader of this blog will know. But I would never for a second pretend that this or this signify my "maturity". They mostly signify that I am often a bit of a pretentious twit.

Perhaps I can summarise my own position in an oblique manner by referring to the Robin D. Laws essay which the commenter in question refers to. In it, Laws begins by saying:

"Role-playing games have existed for many years as an art form without a body of criticism. Reviews of RPGs have been common for nearly as long as the games themselves. Criticism, however, remains an unploughed field. This means that we probably ought to look at the basics of criticism as applied to other art forms before we go charging off to rev up the metaphorical tractor."

To which I would reply, no, role-playing games have existed for many years as games, which means they do not need a body of criticism whatsoever. (Art doesn't need that either, by the way, but let's pretend for the sake of argument it does.) They are created for a reason, and that is to be played. Everything else is incidental. It may be fun, as pseudointellectualisation often is, but let's not kid ourselves that theorising about RPGs is necessary, worthwhile, or would signify 'maturity' of any kind whatsoever.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

On the GM as Frustrated Novelist

I think a lot of what I dislike in RPGs arises from what I call "Frustrated Novelist Syndrome". This psychological disorder affects approximately 67.8% of geeks, according to my impeccably-conducted empirical research, and has a definition in the DSM-IV as "Wanting to be a novelist very badly indeed - so much so that it manifests itself in ones gaming in all manner of undesirable ways".

Frustrated Novelist Syndrome (FNS) is primarily responsible for a heck of a lot of game-manual fiction, which is without doubt the worst sin committed by game designers anywhere, in any context. (By definition, if you were a fiction writer worthy of being published, you would be being published as a fiction writer, not as a game designer.)

But it is also, I believe, responsible for the worst sin committed by GMs in general: railroading. Having a 'plot' which the players are supposed to follow in a more-or-less predetermined path, fudging a large percentage of dice rolls, and assigning missions and goals to the players from the beginning - all of these make for less interesting gaming in my view, and they are all problems that arise deep within the psyche of a GM who really wants to tell a story of his own devising. It is the frustrated novelist inside him wanting to get out. It is FNS manifesting itself in destructive and foolish behaviours.

The only known cure for FNS is random generators, and lots of them, combined with burning the sufferer's DM screen so dice fudging becomes impossible. Another, more experimental, cure, is being conducted under the auspices of the Indie Game/Story Game movement - with the aim of removing narrative power from the GM. Results so far appear to be mixed.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A Return to Escapism

Because I have a giant ego, I google the title of this blog on a fairly regular basis to see what "word on the street" is. Yesterday, while doing this, I discovered that the podcast Canon Puncture has talked about entries from my blog at least twice. The episodes in question were back in 2009, so it took a bit of digging to find them, but when it comes to ego-stroking there are no time limits.

I really enjoyed hearing people talking about Monsters and Manuals - it's a nice filip. But I have to take issue with some of the comments regarding this old post of mine, from the second of the episodes in question. This won't make much sense to you if you haven't heard the podcast and haven't been reading my blog for a long time, but indulge me: I'll be back to rambling on about monsters and Yoon-Suin tomorrow.

The critique of my position that Judd makes in that episode seems to me to be rather unfair, as it mischaracterises what I was saying, essentially, as follows: "Gaming is purely about escapism, and there's nothing wrong with that, and narrative/story-telling gaming is not escapist and is inferior for some reason that I won't make clear."

He rebuts this by making the following argument: whether you make it implicit or explicit, and even if you think you are indulging in "escapism", by participating in the act of gaming, you are still bringing yourself, your world, your assumptions, and your politics, to the game. It is impossible not to do so. As he puts it, whether you like it or not, "Your game says something about the world", because your opinions, background, and assumptions make their way into the game whatever you might think. You are therefore not, in any real sense, "escaping", and in fact you are best off admitting that and making it explicit.

Now, I should say first of all that I am more than familiar with this sort of analytical approach. Listen; I have a degree in English lit, a Masters in Law, and I'm currently finishing off a PhD in legal philosophy. The kind of argument Judd is advancing is not at all unfamiliar to me. It's basic critical theory.

The point I wanted to make in the initial post is that, irrespective of whether or not I am bringing my self, my world view, my politics and my beliefs to the game, irrespective of whether or not I am "saying something about the world", and irrespective of whether or not that is a good or a bad thing, I don't care. Analysing it is not enjoyable to me. It is a game that I indulge in for fun, because I like imagining weird shit. The way in which I imagine weird shit may be deeply political and may say all kinds of things about the world: I don't care to find out.

For other people it may be fun and enjoyable to analyse their own gaming in that way, and I'm perfectly willing to accept that. Different strokes for different folks, etc. For me, it doesn't work - analysing things is my day job. Gaming is sacrosanct.

This doesn't mean, by the way, that all I'm interested in is imagining killing orcs in dungeons or being "the good guy" versus "the bad guys" (as is implied in the podcast). I'm perfectly capable of playing games with far more nuance than that - and I resent the false dichotomy created in the podcast between subtle narrativist gaming which is "about the world" on the one hand, and braindead escapist heroic fantasy nonsense which is also "about the world" but doesn't admit it to itself on the other. And finally, I have to say that I find the podcasters' insistence that they are not being snobbish a bit rich, given that they explicitly state that their own mode of play is (quote) "best" - without giving any reason why - and portray my position as advocating a stance of sticking ones fingers in ones ears and saying (quote) "la la la la la, I'm an escapist".

I'm happy to entertain the notion that it is impossible to game without "saying something about the world", but in the same way that I will watch a game of cricket without worrying about what that says about the world, because I like watching cricket for its own sake, I don't want overanalysis to get in the way of my imagining of weird shit. Simple as that.

EDIT: I feel compelled, because I'm such a nice guy (as if you can't tell), to insert the disclaimer that generally speaking Canon Puncture is a good, snappy, fun listen, and Judd is a very eloquent and thoughtful speaker in general. This particular episode just made my hackles rise.

Forge Some Monsters. You. Do it Now.

I've blogged about The Forge before. No, not that Forge. This is one which randomly generates fantasy personal, beast, spell and land names. The names it generates are resolutely High Fantasy, and can bring to mind the worst excesses of the DnD 4e bestiary writers (Phase Acid Slaughter Orc, etc.), but they can also be pretty evocative. Viz: Dusk Butterfly, Pebble Monster, Scream Crab, and Grin Monkey, which are the names I've just generated.

So, here's a blogging game that anyone can play. Go to The Forge. Click "BeastForge". Four beast names will be generated. If they're crap, do it again until you find some more to your liking. Names can also be changed slightly (e.g. Scream Crab = Screaming Crab; Grin Monkey = Grinning Monkey). Then stat the resulting monsters up in the DnD edition of your choice.

Here are mine:

Dusk Butterfly

Dusk Butterflies are, as the name suggests, butterflies which appear in the evenings in meadowy areas, just as the sun is dipping towards the horizon and before twilight descends. They come in various colours, pale blues and pinks and yellows, and flock in eerie silence in their hundreds. Dusk Butterflies are harmless but feed off magic; for every turn that a magic-user is surrounded by Dusk Butterflies there is a 10% chance per turn that he will forget a random memorised spell, a 5% chance that a random scroll will become useless or a wand lose all its charges, and a 1% change that a magical weapon will lose a +1. They can sense the presence of magic and will fly in its general direction.

Frequency: Rare
AC: 6
Hit Dice : 1 hp*
Move: 150' (50')
Attacks: None
No. App: 5d20
Save As: F1
Morale: N/A
Treasure: None
Intelligence: 0
Alignment: Neutral
XP: 6

Pebble Monster

On shingle beaches lurk nameless malicious spirits who embody a number of pebbles and form them into vaguely humanoid or quadrapedic shapes. They typically wait unseen in the shingle to ambush the unwary and appear to outsiders to have no discernable motiviation other than the thrill of murder. In fact, they worship the ocean as a God and attempt to "feed" it with the bodies of the dead.

Pebble monsters do not have a uniform appearance. Sometimes they appear small and dwarf-like in shape; at others they manifest themselves as resembling giant beasts; at others they are formless vorteces of whirling stone. They attack by thrashing themselves against their opponents in a haphazard fashion. Being comprised entirely of animated pebbles, they are immune to damage from non-blunt weapons.

Frequency: Very rare
AC: 4
HD: 4*
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: Typically 2 "fists"
Damage: 1d8/1d8
No. App: 2d6
Save As: F2
Morale: 9
Treasure: M
Intelligence: 9
Alignment: Chaotic
XP: 125

Screaming Crab

Screaming crabs are ordinary-looking purple-coloured crabs which roam beaches in loose colonies of several dozen. They spend their lives picking over dead fish and seabirds washed up on the shore, along with general flotsam and jetsam.

If they are approached by anything they deem to be dangerous - adventurers being an obvious choice - they will emit an extremely powerful high-pitched whine in its direction. This whining sound is so powerful it can temporarily deafen those hearing it; those who are exposed must Save vs. Death or be deafened for d3 days. A successful save means that deafening only lasts for d3 hours. Deafening can be healed by a cure serious wounds spell. (This ability requires at least 6 Screaming Crabs to be present, otherwise the scream is irritating but ineffectual.)

Frequency: Rare
AC: 7
HD: 1hp*
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks : none
No. App: 4d6
Save As: F1
Morale: 6
Treasure: None
Intelligence: 1
Alignment: Neutral
XP: 6

Grinning Monkey

This is a breed of simian which inhabits snowy bamboo forests high in the Mountains of the Moon. Their fur is white and their faces are red, and their usual facial expression is, as you might expect, a rictus grin. Their teeth are sharp and they have a taste for flesh; typically they hunt and kill other monkeys and small deer, but they are not averse to feeding on carrion of all kinds.

Grinning Monkeys are small and will not attack groups of armed humans in good health. But they can scent blood and will opportunistically attack weakened prey. If at least one member of an adventuring group in such forests has lost 50% or more of his/her hit points, they are 10% likely to attract a group of Grinning Monkeys per hour. The Monkeys usually attack from on high, pelting their prey large nuts (1d3 damage). They will only descend from the trees if they make a kill. They are easily scared off, but will return each hour to attack again until they lose 25% of their number.

Frequency: Rare
AC: 6
HD: 1+1
Move: 120' (40')
Climb: 120' (40')
Attacks: 1 bite/1 throw
Damage: 1d4/1d3
No. App: 2d12
Save As: F1
Morale: 6
Treasure: None
Intelligence: 6
Alignment: Neutral
XP: 15

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Most Useful RPG Blog on Teh Interwebs

Go right now to Roles, Rules and Rolls and start downloading from the Rules and Tools section. Do it at once. Do not pass 'Go' and do not collect £200. Its contents are hands down the most useful of any RPG blog, anywhere.

A particular highlight for me is the PowerPoint Dungeon Mapper, which does in 2 PowerPoint slides what no piece of mapping software I have ever seen can do: create a good looking dungeon map with ease. (Don't be put off if your browser can't preview PowerPoint documents - just download it and enjoy.) And the innovation involved is seriously impressive: never in a million years would it have occurred to me to use PowerPoint for dungeon mapping, but it's perfect.

I can't recommend Roger's stuff highly enough.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Bapele, Whose Belly is Empty

In the haunted jungles west of the Yellow City live many ghosts. Some, like Yapefulu the Skinner, have lived there since time began. Others are of a more recent lineage, being the souls of travellers lost in the forest.

One of these latter types is Bapele, Whose Belly is Empty. Bapele was an explorer who left the Yellow City in search of a lake in the forest that was said to be carpeted with emeralds. He never found it, and starved to death alone in the dark of the jungle, abandoned by his sherpas and comrades. Now his spirit wanders the forest, forever in search of more food, though his appetite is never satisfied. The pain of his insatiable hunger drives him ever onwards.

Bepele appears as a small man in rags with a distended belly and wizened arms and legs. If he manages to catch a living thing he will try to eat it, whatever its size. His mouth opens wide like a python, growing bigger and bigger and bigger, as he forces his prey down his engorged throat. Yet his body never seems to grow in size, no matter what he swallows. His victims simply disappear deep within him and are never seen again.

Bapele, Whose Belly is Empty

Armour Class: 2
Hit Dice: 7**
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: 2 fists
Damage: 1d8/1d8
No. Appearing: 1
Save As: F7
Morale: 18
Treasure Type: Nil
Intelligence: 10
Alignment: Chaotic
XP: 1250

Special Abilities: Bapele is a ghost, and immune to normal weapons; they simply pass through his body as if it were not there. If both of his fist attacks are successful he will overpower his target and begin the process of swallowing him/her; this takes 3 turns (2 for a halfling). Once swallowed, the victim is lost forever and cannot be resurrected, even by a wish spell.

The Most Mammoth Bestiary-related RPG Download Ever is Available for Your Perusal

Well, The Most Mammoth Bestiary-related RPG Download Ever is finished and available for download.

You can find it here, or, alternatively, you can look at the sidebar to the right of my blog and click the link under "Noisms' Miscellany of RPG Downloads".

I'm not happy with the formatting, because it took forever and as I was checking through last night I was still finding orphaned text all over the shop. But whatever; that's part of its rough and ready charm, and the content is what matters.

For those who are wondering what this is: It's 2200 pages of in-depth analysis and creative brainstorming by a large number of rpg.net geeks regarding EVERY SINGLE MONSTER IN THE 2nd EDITION ADnD MONSTROUS MANUAL. Doesn't matter what flavour of DnD you prefer - just enjoy the ideas.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Thoughts on Being a Prodigal Son; Or, an Excuse to Link to Lots of Blogs

On my long hiatus from blogging I became totally disconnected from the "old school" blogging scene (though I never considered myself to be part of the OSR, those were the blogs I read, and their readers were the ones who read Monsters and Manuals). When I "left" it still seemed small: the number of blogs with more than 200 public followers was comfortably less than a dozen, and it was possible to more-or-less read everything that was being put out into the blogosphere through my Google reader. No longer. There has been a serious OSR blogging boom in the last 6 months, it appears - so much so that it's impossible to keep up with it all. I like that, as it's a sign that these stupid and weird little games we enjoy have an audience that is growing at an impressive rate. But blimey if it isn't a little overwhelming.

It also makes me feel slightly outside of everything. I'm the most contrarian person I know - I can't bring myself to like anything that I deem to be popular - and if I'm perfectly honest a key ingredient of my interest in "old school" gaming was precisely its lack of popularity. Now that it is becoming more popular I find my enthusiasm correspondingly waning; I'll probably be playing 4e before the end of the year. But for now, I'm liking it still.

Particular discoveries of note include:
  • A Hamsterish Hoard of Dungeons and Dragons is no longer being updated. This saddens me, as it was not only brilliant but also BECMI-focused, and there aren't many of us out there. (BECMI isn't as much of a red-headed stepchild as AD&D 2nd Edition is, but it's close.)
  • There are a plethora of blogs that I'm now regularly reading, among them The Land of Nod, A Character for Every Game, Teleli, Hill Cantons, Appendix N, What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse, and Gorgonmilk.
  • Tekumel seems to have taken over the universe.
  • Zak S is all grown up. I can remember when he was knee-high to a grasshopper, asking me for a link to his blog to generate some readership when he first started out; now he's gargantuan. This is a good thing: he has a can-do attitude, (see here, here, and here, for proof) and there isn't enough of that in RPG geekdom.
  • I like this. And it shows that the OSR thing is actually 'a phenomenon', at least of a kind. It wouldn't be getting satirised otherwise.
  • Trollsmyth, who is by the way an excellent DM, is hexmapping like a crazed baboon.

Yes, fuck you, this post is just a glorified excuse to post up loads of links.

    Saturday, 13 August 2011

    [Dog Variants] The Paladin's Dog

    This is for 2nd edition ADnD rather than my usual go-to of BECMI.

    Usually, a paladin character gains a special war horse at 4th level after performing a certain quest. Instead of this steed, the paladin's player may instead choose to have his character gain a canine companion. Usually a large breed such as a wolfhound, leonberger, or mastiff, this dog will be loyal and protective of its owner, and almost preturnaturally attuned to him or her, with no need of training.

    The paladin's dog seems to somehow grow in size and exude power when it stands alongside its master; it causes fear in evil creatures of 2 HD or less.

    Paladin's Dog

    AC: 4
    HD: 3+1
    THAC0: 17

    Friday, 12 August 2011

    A List of Books

    I'm taking a break from dog variants to do something else: rant about literature.

    Brian and Lord Gwydion have both recently blogged about the USA National Public Radio's Listener Poll of the Top 100 SF/F Books of All Time.

    These polls are always a bit silly. They never actually represent public opinion, because the shortlist is always decided upon by 'experts' who get to tell you which 100 books you are allowed to like and in what order. And they are always dictated by fashion: A Song of Ice and Fire is in there mostly, I think, because it has become a popular TV series. (I loved the first 3 volumes, but it's gone awry since then, and more importantly it hasn't even been finished yet.)

    Some absolute greats are conspicuous in their absence. There is no Jack Vance, for one, which seems like a horrific omission: Jack Vance is easily in the top half of the best 100 writers of all time, full stop, let alone the best 100 SF/F writers. And although it is churlish to dispute the order of the list, given that it was decided by popular vote, are we seriously saying that R. A. Salvatore is a better writer than Gene Wolfe or Kim Stanley Robinson?

    There are also some plain head scratchers. Animal Farm just isn't science fiction or fantasy, unless you're also going to include Aesop's Fables in the list. And the Outlander series (setting aside the fact that it's awful) is surely a series of historical novels. As for Wicked... the 80th best science fiction or fantasy book of all time?

    Thursday, 11 August 2011

    [Dog Variants] The Azümchefe Climbing Dog

    In the steaming jungles of Azümchefe live many human tribes. These peoples breed a strange type of dog that seems almost as much a simian as a canine; it is unlike any type of dog found in any other human society.

    Climbing Dogs have thick, dark green fur and long prehensile tails, but their strangest feature are their forepaws, which are hooked like the feet of a sloth. This unique adaptation allows them to climb trees and even leap from branch to branch in the high jungle canopy with great speed and agility. The tribesmen use them to hunt monkeys in much the same way that other cultures use dogs to flush birds or deer; once a group of monkeys is on the run from a pack of Climbing Dogs it is a simple task for the hunters to trap or slay them. But Climbing Dogs are equally capable on the forest floor, as their hind legs are still doggish and built for running.

    Very rarely, Climbing Dogs can be found for sale in some locations surrounding Azümchefe. They are valued by the wealthy for their novelty, and by wilderness explorers for their versatility in forest surroundings.

    Climbing Hound of Azümchefe

    Armour Class: 5
    Hit Dice: 2
    Move: 150' (50')
    Climb: 120' (40')
    Attacks: 1 bite
    Damage: 1d6
    No. App: N/A
    Save As: F2
    Morale: 8
    Treasure Type: N/A
    Intelligence: 2
    Alignment: Neutral
    XP: 20

    [Dog Variants] The Ghost Hound

    Those who spend a lot of time with animals often suspect that the creatures can see things that humans cannot. Cats, dogs, and other beasts in the household can often be found staring deeply into space, or starting at something when there has been no apparent noise.

    Speculation that these animals are really seeing ghosts, spirits, or invisible entities is generally bunkum. Yet a very rare breed of dog, the Ghost Hound, in fact does have the invisibility to see non-corporeal and invisible beings, be they ghosts, spirits, or even magic-users who have cloaked themselves in unsight.

    Ghost Hounds are grey in colour, and long-limbed and rangy. Their fur is short and soft, and their muzzles are long. Their eyes are a deep emerald green. When sitting up straight - their favourite position - they remain entirely motionless, sentinel-like, until they see, smell or hear an intruder.

    Usually they are trained as guard dogs, but their ability to alert their owners by barking at invisible intruders elevates them far above the norm.

    Ghost Hounds can see invisible.

    Ghost Hound

    Armour Class: 6
    Hit Dice: 1+1*
    Move: 180' (60')
    Attacks: 1 bite
    Damage: 1d6
    No. App: N/A
    Save As: F2
    Morale: 8
    Treasure Type: N/A
    Intelligence: 4
    Alignment: Neutral
    XP: 19

    Monday, 8 August 2011

    [Dog Variants] The Dungeon Terrier

    When dungeoneers venture into the underworld, be it natural caverns, ancient temple complexes, or ruined castles, they are often accompanied by dogs. One specialised breed of dog that is highly sought-after by adventurers is the Avenillish Cur - or, more popularly, the Dungeon Terrier. Originally bred for the purposes of hunting Jermlaines in narrow subterranean tunnels, these dogs have found widespread use as scouts, fetch-and-carriers, and burrowers, in the 'employ' of adventurers.

    These dogs are typically small, sturdy and tough in physique, and fierce and snappy in personality. They tend to have a mongrellish appearance, with a wide variety of different coat colours and patterns. They have a number of abilities which aid them in dungeon scenarios, including excellent darkvision (infravision to 10') and all-round senses (they are only ever surprised on a roll of '1' due to their excellent hearing and sense of smell; human companions, by keeping a close eye on their terriers, can also benefit from this).

    Dungeon Terriers also have a natural and typically terrier-like propensity to attack small prey with great savagery. Foes shorter than 2' will be gripped in the dog's jaws and vigorously shaken; on a 'to hit' roll that succeeds by +4 above the required result, double damage is done and the victim must save versus death.

    Dungeon Terrier

    Armour Class: 5
    Hit Dice: 1*
    Move: 180' (60')
    Attacks: 1 bite
    Damage: 1d6
    No. App: N/A
    Save As: F1
    Morale: 8
    Treasure Type: N/A
    Intelligence: 2
    Alignment: Neutral
    XP: 13

    Sunday, 7 August 2011

    Educating Noisms

    I have a nuts-and-bolts question: my Monster Manual PDF is close to completion, but the unedited version is 2200 pages long and around 8 MB in size. The final version will likely be even longer.

    Can anyone recommend a good, preferably free, file hosting service to which I can upload it?

    SUPPLEMENTARY EDIT: Seeing as this is a 'meta' sort of post, I'll take the opportunity to say that I'm catching up on 'following' all the blogs that I subscribed to manually via the RSS feed on Google Reader. So if I suddenly appear as one of your 'followers', it's not that I haven't been reading your blog for years; it's that I was doing it in alternate form.

    Saturday, 6 August 2011

    [Dog Variant] The Basilisk Hound

    In the Tafilalt desert, where basilisks are common, the local tribesmen breed a dog known as the sijil masabaq, or 'eyeless dog'. It is usually known to outsiders as the Basilisk Hound, because its special use is the hunting of those beasts.

    Despite their original name, Basilisk Hounds do have vestigial eyes, but are entirely blind. This is thanks to a deliberate process of selective breeding that has continued for centuries, and the reason for it is obvious - it allows the dogs to resist the main threat of the basilisk: its ability to petrify those who meet its gaze.

    Basilisk Hounds are rangy and tough, but they are hounds, not fighting dogs. Their task in the hunt is to distract and harass the prey, drawing its attention (and its gaze) away from the human hunters, who can then approach and attack from the rear with long spears. The hounds have an excellent sense of smell and hearing which guide them in the chase; but this does not entirely compensate for their blindness, so they typically do not approach within striking distance. Instead they circle, dart, bark and snap out of arm's reach. (They suffer a -2 penalty to their attack rolls.)

    Basilisk Hounds are not usually sold, but are sometimes given by tribesmen to outsiders as gifts, or traded for opium, which they prize.

    Basilisk Hound

    Armour Class: 6
    Hit Dice: 1+1
    Move: 180' (60')
    Attacks: 1 bite
    Damage: 1d6
    No. App: Never appear in the wild
    Save As: F2
    Morale: 8
    Treasure Type: U
    Intelligence: 2
    Alignment: Neutral
    XP: 15

    Friday, 5 August 2011

    [Dog Variants] The Orc Mastiff

    The Orc Mastiff is a large, powerful type of fighting dog specially bred for hunting and killing orcs. They are large and muscular, often weighing over 200 lbs, and are covered with thick, coarse black hair.

    These dogs are prized for their ability to both detect and fight orcs. They have an excellent sense of smell and are usually raised from puppyhood to recognise the scent of orcs and distinguish it from other humanoid beings. This allows them to detect orcs at a range of 120', and also means that they can track the creatures if their trail is less than a week old (70% chance if the trail is a day old or less, 60% for two days or less, and so on.) Their thick black fur insulates their body heat against infravision during the night or when they are underground; all infravision is ineffective against them, allowing them to operate in near-invisibility when in an orcish lair. Finally, they are highly intelligent and assertive, and can be trained to fight against armoured humanoid opponents; a favourite tactic is to grab an ankle and pull an enemy to the ground before attacking it at the neck.

    Naturally, Orc Mastiffs are extremely expensive. A single one will cost 75 gold pieces or more, so that a pack of a dozen or so of these dogs may cost 1,000 gold pieces; and typically they will also be given special padded armour by their owners, which costs a considerable additional sum (25 gold pieces per dog). But noblemen in remote and uncivilised areas which orcs frequent will often have ancestral packs, bred by their families down the generations. These packs are rarely used in open battle but instead as guards or terror weapons for rooting out and killing orc females and children, or hunting and slaying males routed in a fight.

    Orc Mastiff

    Armour Class: 6 (4 with padded armour)
    Hit Dice: 3+3*
    Move: 180' (60')
    Attacks: 1 bite
    Damage: 2d4
    No. App: Never appear in the wild
    Save As: F3
    Morale: 12
    Treasure Type: U
    Intelligence: 4
    Alignment: Neutral
    XP: 75

    Thursday, 4 August 2011

    But the Dogs, Well They're Only Dogs

    Having just read this piece, in which a modern-day war-dog (a Belgian Malinois) plays a starring role, I got to thinking about dogs in RPGs. As any old schooler knows, dogs are indispensable to an adventurer - especially to magic-users. They give muscle, an extra set of eyes, an extra nose, and, if push comes to shove, meat. Forget hirelings. No 1st level character should ever leave home without a dog or three.

    They're also historically accurate. Real-world D and D parties - for instance, bandeirantes and conquistadors - were constantly surrounded by dogs and pigs wherever they went. Dogs were used for hunting and fighting (the conquistadors used armoured mastiffs specially trained to disembowel their semi-naked native American adversaries), and pigs were slaughtered for food (it is believed that escapee pigs were one of the major disease spreaders in native populaces). It would be extremely unusual for a group of roguish adventurers in a fantasy world to venture out into the wilds without a pack of hounds.

    I've always been fond of the AD&D 2nd Edition DMG's 'Horse Personality' table, which allowed you to randomly determine a set of traits for any given horse (from being a good jumper to being a notorious biter). So without further ado, here's the equivalent for a conquistador's best friend:

    Dog Personality Table

    A dog will have d2 traits, randomly determined from the following table (roll 1d12); if the dog is expensive (+10% cost), add +1 to the roll, and if it is particularly expensive (+25% cost), add +2 to the roll; corresponding negative penalties should be applied to the roll for cheap and particularly cheap dogs respectively.

    -2: The dog is extremely bad tempered. It will attack anybody except for the owner who approaches within 5 feet.
    -1: The dog has only three legs. It moves at half rate.
    0: The dog is very bad tempered. There is a 25% chance it will attack anybody except for the owner who approaches within 5 feet.
    1: The dog is a coward. Before a fight it has to check morale (10) or it will cower behind its owner.
    2: The dog is stupid. It cannot be trained to do anything, though it will attack enemies of its owner and is generally docile otherwise.
    3: The dog has an unfortunate body odour that doesn't seem to go away. The stench can be detected within 15 yards.
    4: The dog is easily distracted. It will try to chase anything fast-moving that it sees.
    5: The dog is a nipper. Anybody except the owner who tries to touch it will be bitten (roll for attack as normal; damage is 1 hp).
    6: The dog has a strange taste for a certain type of food (player's choice). It will try, remorselessly, to eat this food if it ever comes across it.
    7: The dog is greedy. It will eat uncontrollably at any chance it gets, and if it kills an opponent will stop to feed rather than continue the fight.
    8: The dog is very intelligent. It can pick up new tricks very easily (+3 bonus to Animal Training proficiency checks).
    9: The dog is very tough (maximum hit points).
    10: The dog is very fast (+2 to initiative rolls).
    11: The dog seems to be a very good judge of character (will growl at any evil human it comes across).
    12: The dog is extremely brave and loyal (always passes morale checks).
    13: The dog has animal perception (can see invisible things on a 25% chance).
    14: The dog is immensely powerful (+4 damage)

    The Most Mammoth rpg.net Bestiary Related Thread(s) Ever; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Ankhegs

    Once upon a time there was an Englishman sitting in an office in Ichigao, Yokohama. It was a boring office and he was a very bored Englishman, so approximately once an hour he would visit rpg.net in an attempt to get some sort of creative and intellectual input into his life. What he mostly found were a lot of very pretentious people talking about 'doing' Cyberpunk 2020 with Spirit of the Century using ORE mechanics. But he also discovered that there was a large and silent majority of very interesting people indeed.

    The bored Englishman noticed that every so often somebody on rpg.net - usually on the DandD Spotlight forum - would post a "Let's Read" thread. These threads, often insanely long, usually halted before ever reaching their goal, consisted of a single poster 'reading' an RPG text and posting their thoughts as they went along, with other posters chiming in and a dialogue developing. The bored Englishman liked these threads. He thought there were a capital opportunity to pontificate at length with ready-made starting material, and the Englishman was fond of pontificating.

    He had also recently got his hands the ADandD 2nd edition Monstrous Manual from a fellow ex-pat fleeing Japan and heading back to Canada, and overcome with feelings of nostalgia and childish excitement (because it was the first RPG book he had ever bought - from a shop in Tel Aviv, no less) he decided to write one of these threads. Every day he would post a new 'entry' - a comment on one single monster entry - and invite readers to offer their thoughts. He was expecting perhaps one or two people contributing their thoughts each day. What he got was something entirely different: over 5000 posts spread over 5 separate threads, spanning nearly 2 years. Those 5000 posts are quite literally some of the best bad craziness that RPG geeks can offer, a smorgasbord of creative, unique, and often silly ideas that no self-respecting DM should be without.

    The threads are here: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. But the Englishman is currently undergoing the arduous process of editing them all into one big fat PDF file for the enjoyment of the reading public. Watch this space for details.

    Wednesday, 3 August 2011

    Count 'Em

    Somebody has counted the number of games of each RPG booked in to be played at Gen Con this year.

    Normally I couldn't give a flea-sized shit about what goes on at Gen Con, and we should be wary of sample bias - people who go to Gen Con are by definition among the strangest and silliest people on earth - but I found some of these results interesting. For instance:

    • AD&D (1st edition) is the second most popular variant of D&D after 4E, with 3.5 and 2nd edition some way behind. 2nd edition is the least popular by a considerable distance - which is not altogether surprising, if regrettable in my eyes. Of the other games, HERO seems quite popular, along with Savage Worlds (depressingly).
    • Indie RPGs are even less popular than I would have expected, with only 20 games being played in total, as opposed to 97 of Shadowrun and 98 of Call of Cthulu alone. Given the prevalence of one-shot-based games within the 'Indie' community, I find this especially surprising: you would have thought such throwaway systems would be perfect for convention play.
    • Rolemaster is now so unfashionable that there appears to be no sign of it at the convention at all. Thankfully, it seems White Wolf games are seeing a long-awaited decline in popularity, though this is off-set by a strong LARP showing. (There will be nearly 8000 people LARPing at Gen Con, a figure which staggers me from numerous directions. How do these people even tie their own shoelaces, let along get it together enough to make their way to Indianapolis?)
    • There is a bit of a showing for the OSR, but not much.

    Gen Con is not a representative sample, but food for thought, nonetheless.

    Back in Action

    Hello like before, Monsters & Manuals. I'd never have come here if I'd known that you were here. I must admit though, that it's nice to see you, dear...

    I've missed writing this blog. It's been a long time since the heady days of 2008/2009 when updates flowed daily. They've since slowed to a slow drip. But, to continue this rather hackneyed metaphor, there is a melting glacier of good ideas at the top of the mountain, and it's about to come pouring downstream.

    Picture yourselves, dear readers, as a hydroelectric dam of role playing, ready to be re-energised by all that water.

    Or something.

    Anyway, to everybody who hasn't deleted my RSS feed; thanks. To everybody who has; I'd say fuck you, but you won't be reading this anyway. To anybody who is new: this blog was great once. Read through the archives and see. It'll be like that again.