The Traveller Book – Introduction

Recently I picked up a POD copy of the Game Designers’ Workshop book The Traveller Book. First printed in 1982, this book is a collection of the Traveller rules first published in 3 separate books by Marc Miller in 1977. Traveller is a science fiction adventure RPG set in the “far future”, an age where mankind has spread out amongst the stars, travel faster than the speed of light is possible, and merchants, militaries, pirates and others vie for a piece of the universe to call their own. Largely a “space opera” style game, traveller envisions a massive universe with a powerful (but distant) government, and communication speeds that are limited to the speed of starship travel, and intends players to be “retired” characters from a previous career seeking some new fame, fortune, glory or home.

Over the next few posts, I’ll be reading through the book calling out some sections and thoughts as I go. So let’s get started…

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S&W Appreciation Day – Because Three Heads are Better than Two

In this 3rd installment of the S&W Appreciation Day series, I thought I might pass along some new monsters, scavenged up from my favorite medieval bestiary:

Creative Commons License
As usual, all the original work  below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License except where included material is licensed under the OGL in which case that material remains licensed under the OGL.

First up is the Amphisbaena


Hit Dice: 6
Armor Class: 5 [14]
Attacks: Bite (2d6) + poison
Saving Throw: 11
Special: Poison (+2 save or die in 1d6 hours), Immune to Cold, Can not be attacked from behind
Move: 9
Alignment: Neutral
Challenge Level/XP: 8/800

A fearsome serpent, this beast has two heads. One in the usual location, one at the end of its tail. Amphisbaena are spawn when the blood of a gorgon spills upon a common serpent. They are, unlike many serpents, often found in cold environments where they lure lost and weary travelers with their glowing eyes which, from a distance, appear like lamps from a village. Their jaws drip with venom and their poison causes painful convulsions which can last for hours before the victim finally dies.

Next we have a Leucrota

Hit Dice: 4
Armor Class: 6 [13]
Attacks: Bite (1d6) or Kick (2d4)
Saving Throw: 13
Special: Suggestion, Intelligent
Move: 12
Alignment: Neutral
Challenge Level/XP: 6/400

This swift beast has the head of a horse, the chest of a lion, the hind of a stag and cloven feet, the twisted result of a mating between a hyena and a lioness. But it’s most distinguishing feature is its mouth, which grins widely from each to ear, and is not filled with teeth, but rather a single bone where the teeth should be. Wiley and cunning, it is said that the Leucrota can imitate the speech of humans, and that it is dangerous to listen to its voice, lest it place you under a spell.

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S&W Appreciation Day – Son of S&W Appreciation Day

When I first ran an S&W game, I did so using a bookmarked copy of the 4th printing of Swords and Wizardry, the Stickies application on my computer and a whole lot of flying by my pants. While it went well, and the book marks made jumping from chart to information very easy, I quickly found myself wishing I had a GM screen for Swords and Wizardry. Ultimately, I didn’t stick with the S&W game I started long enough for that desire to turn into a desire to make one myself. Eventually I did make one for Labyrinth Lord (which I should post some time) which worked out pretty well, but I never made one for Swords and Wizardry. For todays festivities I’ve decided to correct that failing, so without further ado I present a Swords and Wizardry GM screen:

GM Screen

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S&W Appreciation Day – Part the First

Welcome to the Swords and Wizardry Appreciation Day at iDungeon Crawl. In case you wandered here without knowing what’s going on, today across the OSR community we’re showing our appreciation for Swords and Wizardry, a retro clone published by Mythmere Games. If you don’t have it yet, you can download a free copy of the core rules from the previous link. You can also find more information about what S&W is, but the short version is S&W is a cleaned up clone of an early version of D&D. S&W and other retro clones can exist legally due to the existence of the OGL and some various functions of copyright law. More reading on the OSR in general, and retro-clones in particular can be found elsewhere on the web, but are outside the scope of today’s events. For more Swords and Wizardry appreciation today check the list of participating blogs over at Tenkar’s Tavern.

Swords and Wizardry was the very first game that brought the OSR and it’s related community to my attention. Some years ago (2009 if the timestamp on the file is any indication), I was browsing the web searching for information about the older editions of D&D. I’m not entirely sure why or what path led me there, though it might have had something to do with the death of D&D creators Gary Gygax (2008) and Dave Arneson (2009). Regardless I soon stumbled upon the Swords and Wizardry core rules, which had just had their 3rd printing. Here was a chance for me to play original D&D and give it a try without dropping a bundle of hard earned cash on some books from a collector. Ultimately, the core rules make some (very handy) changes to the original rules that made it “less pure” than I was aiming for at the time, and that “impurity” sent me on a hunt through out the rest of the OSR in search of more “pure” versions. This caused me to discover such great games as Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Dark Dungeons and many of the blogs and links listed in the side bar. I still had though a soft spot for S&W and eventually returned to it (in its 4th printing, with my custom bookmarks) as my go to game for my first attempt at DMing a game.

Unfortunately, there was one thing that appeared in that 3rd printing of the rules that were subsequently eliminated from the 4th printing, which were the race-as-class versions of the Dwarf and Elf classes. While I’m generally ambivalent about race-as-class, I very much enjoyed the 3rd printing S&W interpretation of the Elf, which was a dual classed fighter / magic user that could switch classes each day as the need arose. A similar version of the class is preserved in the Whitebox version of the S&W rules, but I still liked the original. So to kick off today’s festivities, here’s the advancement chart for the elf variant as it appeared in the 3rd printing:

3rd Printing Swords and Wizardry Elf

3rd Printing Swords and Wizardry Elf

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Pre-Swords and Wizardry Appreciation Day

If you haven’t heard about it yet, Erik over at Tenkar’s Tavern is putting together an Appreciation Day for Swords and Wizardry on the 17th of this month. In anticipation of that day, I decided to post some revisits to some of my older swords and wizardry related posts:

The Corpse Crow post introduces a new monster. Looking back on it now, I notice that it’s a very Stirge like monster, which leads me to wonder if I might have over estimated its CL. The stirge is listed as a CL 1 monster, though if you follow the monster creation guidelines, it appears that it should be a CL 2 monster (1HD + Auto Damage). The corpse crow works in a very similar way, attacking and then dealing auto damage, though the crow then gains the ability to possess the corpse of its victim. The question is, does that possession ability make the crow 3-4 challenge levels tougher? I’m honestly not sure.

My post on the Repeating Crossbow introduced a new weapon that on reflection I think I did poorly. The basic concept is fine, but I think it might do too much damage. A user of a repeating crossbow gets 4 chances to hit per round, and each does damage and a chance to inflict poison even with the +4 save. Were I doing this again, I think I might say that a repeating cross bow user has two choices of ammunition. The first is the ordinary 1d3 bolt. The second choice is poisoned, but rather than doing damage and poison, I think I would say that a hit deals poison damage only (no save) and that the effect of the poison damage is 1/2 hp (or even 1hp) per round cumulative.

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In Defense of “3d6 (or 4d6-) in Order” Stat Rolls

Over and Papers and Pencils, LS has a post up with an incredibly awesome and useful stat rolling system that bakes in racial ability modifiers. It’s a very neat little thing that wraps racial modifiers into a nice simple package, so go read and enjoy, then come back.

Are you back? Good. Did you see the most important (IMHO) paragraph in that post? If you blinked you probably missed it, and it’s so subtle I doubt even he saw the genius in it. Allow me to quote:

Typically, the first thing I ask my players to do is to roll their ability scores. Which means that their first glimpse of the game is “Roll these dice, record the resulting sum. Repeat this task five more times, then assign one score to each of these six abilities, the functions of which you probably don’t fully understand yet.”

Generations of D&D players have chafed at the original proscription that ability scores should be rolled 3d6 in order. Gary Gygax himself appeared to prefer 4d6, drop the lowest and arrange to taste. Other systems use point buy, or more lenient rolling systems and it all sort of culminated in 3.5/Pathfinder and 4e with the “standard array”, eliminating the randomness entirely for pure calculated consistency. And for experienced TTRPG players, this is perfectly fine and acceptable. When you know what you want in the game or from your character, there’s no reason that the rules need to prevent you from playing the character you want.

But take a moment, gentle reader, and consider the humble new player. The beginner. The n00b. Imagine you are brand new to the game, you don’t know what AC is, THAC0 sounds to you like a brand of potato chips and the last +1 anything you saw was a social networking button on a web page. You sit down at the table ready to roll up a new character and your DM starts throwing numbers and jargon at you and tells you to assign the scores to these “attributes” which makes only a small amount of sense in that you know what each word means on its own. Sure the GM tries to help, but really, how important is it for your character that they have a 14 DEX vs that 13 that you rolled? No one knows until your character is fully fleshed out, but this assignment is the first thing you need to do (or perhaps the second after you made a bewildering whirlwind tour through the list of races and classes).

Now, gentle reader, imagine instead you sit down at the table and your GM tells you “OK, roll 3d6 6 times and write the numbers down one after the other. Those are your attributes, don’t worry about what they mean right now, we’ll get to that later. Now based on your scores, here are 2 or 3 classes you’re eligible to play with this character, pick the one that sounds coolest to you.” Suddenly character creation is a lot easier, a lot quicker and ultimately a lot less intimidating, and because you didn’t get blasted with learning a whole bunch of jargon and attributes and classes and races and how they all relate together so that you can make an informed decision, you’ll feel much more comfortable with the idea of “simply” rolling up a new character if you don’t like this one.

Ladies and gentlemen, looking at it from this perspective, the seemingly restrictive and punitive character creation system in OD&D was a thing of simple elegance and genius. It was a simple and un-intimidating way to approach what is in reality (and certainly as the generations have worn on) a complex and interlocking system with plenty of room to experiment and grow. In a world without optimization forums, character builders or in many cases even an experienced DM to show you the ropes, the original character creation method was a brilliantly simple device that allowed players to jump right in by hiding complexity and flattening the learning curve. Even better, unlike a pregen character, it allows a small amount personal choice, just enough to invest you in your character without requiring you to understand everything first.

Going forward I think I’ll require all of my new players to generate their character randomly and in order. Let them get to the good stuff first, and then if they want to change things around later, once they have a feel for things, they’re free to do so. They can discover the character creation mini game later, for now, it’s time to buckle some swash.

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Google Glass and Technology Chicken Little

So assuming you’re a tech person and you haven’t been under a rock for the past few months, you’ve likely heard a number of things recently about Google’s Project Glass. As we near the expected developer and public release dates, there has been considerably more talk about Glass, what it will do and how people might use it. I’ve noticed what I consider to be a very odd trend in the tech coverage of Glass, a lot of baseless and speculative hatred of the product. To be fair, Google’s proclamation that cell phones are “emasculating” haven’t endeared them to the tech press at all, but it really seems to me like the tech press really wants to hate this one.

What’s interesting to me though is not that they seem to hate it, as the tech community often likes to hate on the new and different (see coverage of the original iPhone), but rather how that hatred is being expressed. Rather than declaring that “Glass is too expensive” or “it can’t wash my car / hax0r the Gibson / play crysis / run windows and is therefore useless to the average consumer,” the tech press has taken a new tact: they’ve declared Glass as the end of society as we know it.
All around the net there are examples of the tech community declaring Glass a social disaster like nothing we’ve ever seen before.

And yet I can’t help but hear in my head, as I read these diatribes, a old man standing on a street corner decrying the advent of the personal Walkman, or the cell phone, or instant messaging. If we go far enough back in time, i can even hear an old story teller decrying the first books as the end of the social event that was verbal history communication. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe that if Glass catches on that it will be a game changer, and it will change our social lives and interactions, but the fact is there have been many such inventions before, and there will be many after. To dismiss Glass this early out of some fear of the change it will bring to the social structure is, to me, an act of great hypocrisy on the part of the tech community. We have all been responsible in some way for ushering in a new era of technology that people before us felt would fundamentally of horribly ruin society. On the whole, these changes have been for the better, and assuming Glass catches on, you wouldn’t go wrong wagering that the changes it brings about will be for the better too. So go on, grab your new bad Sci-fi cyborg glasses, and wear it and enjoy the future, or don’t because it can’t was your car, or it’s too expensive, but don’t dismiss it out of hand because of its potential to change society. Changing society is what new technology is all about.

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On Female Dwarves

So it’s been a little while since I last wrote anything hasn’t it? Mostly that’s because nothing particularly new has been going on around here. The two campaigns that I was running found themselves on temporary hiatus while the craziness of summer wrapped everyone up. Luckily things are winding down and should be back to normal. I the meantime however, hopefully you’re all enjoying the new play test packet from WotC. I’m certainly excited about the possibilities that the fighter combat superiority dice bring to the table, and the new magic classes look interesting so far.

So about that post title… A few years back, I came across a blog post, or perhaps a forum post that I can no longer find. I would love to finding again and link to and credit the original author, but so far my google-fu has been weak. The post came to mind for me the other day while thinking about various fantasy race tropes and stereotypes and it was a brilliant and imaginative way to handle the “female dwarves with beards” bit that shows up every now and then. What follows is my hazy recollection of that post, if for no other reason than to preserve the idea. If anyone can recall the original author, please let me know.

Many a traveler through the wilds and the world will have noted that dwarves women are a rare sight. Indeed, aside from children, no one is really ever sure if they’ve seen one, leading most people to assume that they must have, and therefore that dwarves women must have beards, which is why you never seem to be able to tell them apart from the men. The truth my friends, is even stranger still. You see, it is well known that the dwarves have a love of mining, and a love of gold and shiny rocks. It is equally well known that they are master craftsmen when it comes to stone, building grand halls and caverns the likes of which even the giants would feel small inside. Perhaps even more well known is the ill temper of the average adventuring dwarf, but why should this be so? What drive possesses dwarves to produce monumental caverns? What need does a dwarf have for a cavern a hundred dwarves tall? Similarly, why the lust for gold and gems? Surely there are enough dwarves miners that others could set themselves to another task? And really, why are so many adventuring dwarves so grumpy? My friends, I tell you it is all for their women. To understand, you must first understand a bit about dwarven love. Dwarven children are often kept away from the outside world, kept safe in dwarven cities under the mountains until one day, the males begin to set off on their adventures, or set off for a life in the mines. But what of the girls? During their younger years, when a male and female dwarf fall in love, they will be married in a grand ceremony, to commemorate the marriage, and the male’s new eternal purpose, for you see, every male quests for his bride. To find her the treasures she adores, the room she needs to grow and blossom into her beautiful self. And what might that beautiful self be? Ask yourself my friend, what other creature do you know that seeks large caverns underground and massive amounts of gold and gems? Yes my friend, the great secret of the dwarves is that as they age, their females slowly change from the figure that we recognize as dwarf, to an altogether more awesome sight, that of a dragon. Her husband spends his life accumulating treasure for her to make her nest upon, to live comfortably. I assure you friend I am not joking, for this explains so much of the world. It explains the ongoing quest of every dwarf to find more treasure and gems. It explains the great halls and caverns, and it explains how so often when an adventurer encounters a dragon, they are at the bottom of some great dungeon, whose halls the creature could not have fit through, and with a pile of treasure that would have taken a dwarf a lifetime to move.

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Dear Google …

Dear Google,

Many years ago you were the plucky upstart that everyone rooted for. You had a clean, simple interface, with quick, and relevant search results. Most of the time, even when searching for a complex topic, one could find the results they were looking for in the first page or two. You  were showing the world just how simple and awesome search could be. In fact, you became so awesome at it, that your name is practically synonymous with searching. Your name has been verbed, and you used to provide such good results, that they made a website just for snarky internet posters to direct other users to just goole their questions.

So what the hell happened Google? Today, if you search for why your macbook pro optical drive might be rejecting cds, you get 2-4 good results, and pages and pages of “Bigresource” (not linking them) results. Bigresource is a link aggregator. Spam. Useless drivel that is another annoying step between me and the results I want. Searches for programing questions often result in pages of link aggregators just scraping StackOverflow for their content. And god help you if you want to search for how to solve your printer problems. If it’s not a problem with the most common of HP printers, chances are you’ll be staring down a list of FixYa all of which are worse than useless. It’s gotten so bad that they made a site to let you search google and exclude all of those sites that we all know are just link spam.

And that doesn’t even begin to touch the crap your intentionally doing to mess up my searches Google. Look, I appreciate your suggestions when I mispell a word and your offer to search for the other term, that’s great. What’s not great is when you decide you know better than me what I was intending on searching for and changing my results without asking me. Yes google, I meant the word “reject” not “eject”. And damn it, when I start editing the search query and scroll the cursor to the end to add a quote stop trying to change it to your recommended search in your search suggestions. And while I appreciate your shopping results when I search for specific products, can you please stop listing prices that I can’t get. Don’t tell me I can get a new monitor for $25 when the cheapest price when I click your shopping link is $75 before shipping.

Oh, and I also don’t want or need your iGoogle crap, can we have a simple, unadorned front page again? It used to be my home page because it was so quick to load, not so much anymore, and I’m not even logged in. And then can we talk about your new habit of inserting ad links at the top of the results, with a barely differentiated background color. I know you want the ads to be unobtrusive, but since they’re included in the search results, it would be nice if they were a bit more prominently marked as ads.

Oh, and lets not talk about your ignoring the “do not track” stuff in browsers ok? I’m sure that was just the result of a bit too much drinking.

Now I get your primary business isn’t search, it’s selling me, my life and everything tangentially related to every salesman in the world. But you didn’t get to have the user base you do on the backs of the same dirty tricks that all the other search engines used to pull. You were different, you weren’t evil. Now … not so much. So in closing, can you please get back to making awesome search engines again?


(The Subsection Which Agrees to Allow Me to Speak For Them of ) The Internet

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On Complexity vs Options

Sometimes, when I argue that we need to keep and maintain simple classes in D&D (and usually this comes up in discussions over the current D&D Next Fighter), people mistake that desire for simplicity with a desire to not have options. When I argue that there’s no need for a fighter (or indeed any class) to have a massive list of abilities to choose from, I’m not arguing that they shouldn’t have that option, just that they shouldn’t have to take those options to be effective. I did a little bit of math on this that I think exemplifies my point.

Lets say you sit down at a table with a bunch of players. You hand them the primary rule book and say “We’re going to run an adventure here, roll up a character you want to play, start at level 10.

If you were using Labyrinth Lord, your players would need to read and parse 42 pages of material, assuming that they read all the equipment lists, and all the spell lists. If you wanted them to choose some magic items from the treasure tables, add another 16 pages for a grand total of 58. At the minimum they would need to read a mere 18 pages if they didn’t review the spell lists.

If you were using Advanced Edition Companion from LL, they would need to parse (including all spells and equipment and magic items) 96 pages, and a minimum of 24 pages (including multi-classing) if they didn’t read through the spell lists or treasure.

If you were playing Dark Dungeons (a Rules Cyclopedia clone) and including all the weapon proficiencies, skills spells and treasure, 110 pages, with a minimum of  22 pages without skills, WP, spells and treasure, or 48 with skills and WP.

If you were playing OSRIC, 155 pages, including all spells and treasure. A mere 31 pages without spells and treasure.

So what we have so far is

  • LL – 18 / 58
  • LL AEC – 24 / 96
  • DD – 22 / 48 / 110 (depending on whether you play with out without skills and WP)
  • OSRIC – 31 / 155

So what does it look like for a new player of 4th edition? 20 pages of basic character information, 17 pages of races, 125 pages of classes and their mandatory powers, 13 pages of skills, 19 pages of feats, 45 pages of equipment and 19 pages of rituals. A whopping 258 pages of material that a new player must read through to make a character. If you drop the rituals (as only some classes use them) and the equipment (including magical) you’re down to a minimum of 194 pages just to get started on the game. And unlike previous editions where skills or weapon proficiencies were truly optional rules, 4e doesn’t work if you don’t take powers and feats and such, and so you have to parse all of that.

  • D&D 4e – 194 / 258

That is why I support having simple classes, where powers, feats and special tricks are optional, rather than mandatory and baked in. In my ideal dream system, characters would level as normal, perhaps with general bonuses to hit, damage or stats. As an option, players could choose from among lists of powers, and each of these powers would make the character a bigger specialist in something rather than making them all around better. So as a quick off the cuff example, When leveling from 9 to 10, the fighter would normally get +1/+1 to hit and damage. Instead, the fighter might choose to take the skill “Crushing Blow” where in some limited number of times per combat, the fighter can choose add an addition weapons worth of damage when using any heavy weapon. Under such a system, players who chose the standard leveling method would still be able to hold their own at level 20 against a character that took specializations.

Now other may argue that this ignores places where the games could be alternatively complex, like variable weapon speeds, or THAC0 or other such early fiddly systems that have been improved over time, and they’re right. But I don’t argue that D&D needs to bring back those fiddly bits, I argue that D&D needs to bring back simpler classes. Let’s keep the improved other systems and bring the character complexity back down as well.

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