Archive for July, 2011

Weekend Quickie: Repeating Crossbow

An interesting invention from ancient china, the repeating crossbow was designed to allow high rates of fire at the expense of accuracy. Mostly used as a defensive weapon or from under the cover of shields, a team of repeating crossbowmen could rain down nearly 4 times the number of bolts at their enemies as compared to a standard crossbow. Unfortunately the repeating crossbow had little penetrating power, and it’s design and firing position made it less accurate. For this reason the bolts were often tipped with poison, to maximize the lethality of the weapon. Sounds like the perfect addition to any RPG’s arsenal, so here it is in Swords and Wizardry stats:

Crossbow, Repeating :
Damage: See Bolts, Poison
Rate of Fire: 4
Range: 50ft
Weight: 5#
Cost: 10gp
Bolts, Poison (20) :
Damage: 1d3 + Poison (+4 save)
Rate of File: By Weapon
Range: By Weapon
Weight: 1#
Cost: 4gp

Design Thoughts:

The repeating crossbow needs a shorter range than the standard crossbow, but equally something longer than a sling I think, so 50′ puts it at the same range as a short bow. At 4d3 damage per round (assuming the player chooses to fire all 4 bolts) the average damage should be 8. This is just slightly higher than the expected 7 from a short or long bow, which to my mind is a good representation of the lower fire power but higher rate of fire effect. The slightly cheaper cost reflects that this was apparently a common weapon among peasants to defend their homes. On the other hand, the more expensive bolt costs reflects the added costs of obtaining a poisoned tipped bolt.

The poison gives a +4 to save, mostly because giving 4 chances per round to poison a target seems to me like a huge advantage to the player. The effects of the poison are left to the game master, but my thought is 1/2 ongoing damage per round per bolt. This makes the poison relatively ineffective with just a single bolt, but can add up if the player (or monster) can land multiple hits to the same target. An alternative might be a higher ongoing damage, but no multiplier for multiple hits or simply declaring that the poison will cause death in 2d6 rounds.

Other alternatives a game master might wish to include is a negative penalty to hit with the repeating crossbow to reflect its inaccuracy.

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Trusting yourself

I’ve recently been reading through the Q&A threads with Gary Gygax over at the DragonsFoot forums and I’ve been noticing a common theme running through his replies. In particular he seems to be constantly reminding people that the final word, indeed the only word that matters, in a D&D game is that of the DM (well, with the consensus of the players). Even though this is something spelled out in almost every rule book, it seems like so many GMs and aspiring GMs have a problem with this concept.

I think there are a number of reasons why this might be so, but ultimately I think they boil down to not trusting yourself. It can certainly be hard in the face of rules lawyer players and your own desire to be an incredible story teller and a master DM, to trust that a change you make to the rules, or a decision you make regarding an unclear rule, is a good one. Ultimately though, as long as the rule increases the fun that everyone is having, you really can’t go wrong. Even Gygax himself often ignored his own written rules in order to improve the fun.

So what is an aspiring DM to do? Well for one, if a rule is unclear, make a decision and run with it. It’s only a game, and if it winds up being the wrong decision you can always change it, no harm done.

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Direct Magic

Over at Mythmere’s Blog, Matt appears to have discovered a mystery of an old, perhaps forgotten, perhaps typo-ed magic spell called “Direct Magic”. His research leads him to believe it was a typo for Detect Magic which was edited out, but the heading slipped past the editors. Even so, I like the idea, so it got the hamster running, and I think I’ve come up with a plausible Direct Magic spell. Matt notes that it was a 1st level spell with a 60 ft range and a 20 minute duration. So let’s start with the more powerful “Dispel Magic” as a template. From the S&W book:

Dispel Magic

Spell Level: Magic-User, 3rd Level Range: 120 feet Duration: 10 minutes against an item

Dispel Magic, although not powerful enough to permanently disenchant a magic item (nullifies for 10 minutes), can be used to completely dispel most other spells and enchantments.

The chance of successfully dispelling magic is a percentage based on the ratio of the level of the dispelling caster over the level of original caster (or HD of the monster). Thus, a 6th-level Magic-User attempting to dispel a charm cast by a 12th-level Magic-User has a 50% chance of success (6/12 = .50, or 50%). If the 12th-level Magic-User was dispelling the 6th-level Magic-User’s charm, success would be certain (12/6 = 2.00, or 200%).

So if we think of “Direct Magic” as a weaker version of “Dispel Magic” we end up with something like this:

Direct Magic

Spell Level: Magic-User, 1st Level Range: 60 feet Duration: 20 minutes against an item / permanent spell effect

Direct Magic is not powerful enough to dispel a magic effect entirely, but it can redirect it to another valid target if the original caster or item/effect and new target are within range of the directing caster. A redirected spell still operates as normal, just against the new target. If an item or permanent spell is redirected to another item or target, that redirection lasts only 20 minutes at which point the magic returns to its original item.

The chance of successfully directing magic is a percentage based on the ratio of the level of the directing caster over the level of original caster (or HD of the monster). Thus, a 6th-level Magic-User attempting to direct a charm cast by a 12th-level Magic-User has a 50% chance of success (6/12 = .50, or 50%). If the 12th-level Magic-User was directing the 6th-level Magic-User’s charm, success would be certain (12/6 = 2.00, or 200%).

A spell like this can act as something of a weaker counter spell where instead of nullifying the spell completely, the magic user simply turns it aside. A useful utility spell for sneaking past some magical warding without dispelling it (you might want to get through, but you’d rather that goblin hoard outside not). What do you think?

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Swords and Wizardry Bookmarks

If you downloaded the older printings of S&W, you probably enjoyed (as I did) the fact that the PDF had chapter bookmarks for easy navigation. Unfortunately, the most current PDF does not. After spending a few hours last week working on it, I finally have a bookmarked PDF of S&W 4th printing. I used a wonderful program called JPDFBookmarks to create the bookmarks. The program also allows me to dump the bookmarks as a text file so that other people can apply them to their file. If you’d like to bookmark your copy, download the program and then download this file and apply it to your PDF. Enjoy.

Changes from the PDF layout to the bookmarks:

  • The index of tables are bookmarked in alphabetical order
  • Spell descriptions are bookmarked both alphabetically and by class/level
  • Monsters are bookmarked alphabetically and by challenge level
  • All the little side note boxes are bookmarked in their own section at the end
  • Attack tables, encounter tables, equipment tables, stat tables and treasure tables are also all in their own sections at the end of the bookmarks list. They are bookmarked in their standard positions, but grouping them together like this was also useful for me, and I assume will be useful for you.


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What I wish from OSR

ChicagoWiz and others around the OSR community have recently been pondering the current state of OSR, where they are and where to go from here. I am not part of the OSR community, indeed I didn’t even really get into pen and paper RPGs until some time after high school, but the OSR has been a fantastic thing in my book. My first pen and paper RPG system was a home brewed system developed by a friend and his father over 15 some odd years, later I dabbled in the MicroLite20 stuff, and eventually found my way into my current D&D 4e group. No where along that path did I ever get a chance to play an OSR system (though these days I would argue that the home brewed system I played could be considered OSR in spirit. Also there was Dragon Strike). I was familiar with the terms and some of the basic mechanics (spell slots, 3d6 stats etc), and had heard plenty of stories, and as I delved deeper and read more about it, I increasingly wanted to play it. And this is where OSR payed off for me in spades.

To someone who has never played a D&D before 4e, digging into D&D’s past and discovering the multitudes of versions oe, 1e, BCXMI, 1eAD&D, 2eAD&D, 3e, 3.5e and the variations within each of those categories, it was a bit daunting to try and pick out what system to run with. I wanted to play “Original D&D”, but as I was quickly discovering “Original D&D” didn’t mean the same thing to everybody (except for maybe if you said “Original original D&D”, and then most people assumed you meant Chain Mail). The first version I came to was Swords and Wizardry, either the first or second printing. I downloaded it and it seemed great, but simpler than I expected. Digging deeper into things and I discovered that while S&W was very very similar to 0e, it had been modified a bit to simplify some things. Also, it didn’t appear that 0e was the edition that I had in mind when I pictured “Original D&D”.

Eventually this led me to reading about the Rules Cyclopedia, which as near as I could figure was the most authoritative collection of “Original D&D” if I didn’t want to get into AD&D. Some more digging later turned me on to a retro-clone Dark Dungeons which appears to be an attempt to clone the Rules Cyclopedia as completely as possible. This seemed like exactly what I wanted, except for one problem: it was way too much information. If I was going to run an OD&D campaign with my group (primarily 3.5e and 4e players) I needed something simple and quick for them to pick up. They weren’t going to slog through all 344 glorious pages of Dark Dungeons. Besides, the advanced level play (strongholds, immortality and beyond) seemed so far away so I really didn’t need that stuff now.

Back to the drawing board, I next discovered OSRIC and then Labyrinth Lord, each brought a different version of Old School to the table and each one had things a liked and didn’t like. And that’s when it started to click with me. I had read plenty of times before about how OD&D games were full of house rules, and how almost no one played the Rules As Written™, but up until now, I had still been laboring under the delusion that this was because people didn’t understand all the RAW when they started playing, or were taught by someone else who had already house ruled and so they didn’t know any better. While that may have been true for some, I was starting to discover that part of the fun of OD&D. Part of why so many looked back so fondly on OD&D was because that little bit of tinkering to make a given rule set your own, that mixing and matching, permeated the entirety of the game from the wacky solutions to the wacky traps, to the wacky house rules that just make things a little bit more unique for your game. Tinkering was built into the very soul of the game.

Suddenly it was all clear to me, that I didn’t need to find the perfect rule system, whether retro clone or original rule books, I just needed to find a rule set that mostly matched my mechanical requirements, and then mix in the fluff I needed from elsewhere to make it my own. Which of course led me full circle back to S&W which I started last week.

So what was the payoff the OSR gave me? Well, this whole process of evaluating each system and learning my way through the history (and variations) of D&D took me almost a full year. Over that year I evaluated all 5 of the systems listed above, plus a few minor ones I came across. How much do you think buying all the rule systems to have them for a few months each to evaluate would have cost me? A quick trip to amazon shows the Rules Cyclopedia alone is over $50, other books are individually from as low as $5 to as high as $25 used. I haven’t done the math exactly, but I estimate buying and evaluating the same number of original rules would have cost me upwards of $100. Because of the OSR, the Retro-Clones and the generosity of everyone involved, it didn’t cost me a dime. And now that I’ve settled on a version to work from, making sure my players have their own copies won’t cost me a dime either. OSR lets me experiment, and lets my players and I get invested into a system without having to invest our money first, just our time.

So given that the OSR community has already given me so much to work with, who am I to ask for more? Well no one honestly, but since people are asking, this is what I (as someone new the OSR has brought to OD&D) would like to see next from the OSR community.

  • More Adventures/Modules : Sure, making my own campaigns and epic worlds can be fun, but I love modules and adventures too. If not for running them straight out, then for the ideas they give me for my own things. This is especially important given that what really seems to have killed OD&D is that when new versions came out, people switched, and publishers stopped producing modules. Now that we have the rules, let’s get some adventures to play. OSR needs its own Keep on the Borderlands at the very least.
  • More Generic Pieces and Parts : To go along with the above, I’d love for the OSR publishers to work together to keep module and add ons as generic as possible, and where not possible maybe provide some worked out conversion mechanics. Not that most people can’t figure these things out on their own, but a commitment to making things as generic as possible I think would also open up people to picking up modules that aren’t technically for their system, but with confidence that they can use them easily. Obviously not everything is possible to convert easily, but look at the One Page Dungeons, they do a pretty good job of being detailed while still being generic.
  • A Better Comparison of the Major Rule Systems: As I said above, digging into what is “Original D&D” for someone that never played it can be confusing and overwhelming. It would be awesome if someone could get all the OSR publishers to describe exactly what parts they’re trying to emulate and what they each bring to the table, so that someone coming in can get a better grasp on what is available and what works with what.
So there you have it OSR folks, if you want to know where to go from here, make more modules. We have the rules, now lets do something with them. And lets try to make it really about the role playing. Whether its OD&D, S&W, LL, OSRIC, Dark Dungeons or anything else, it’s not the specific rules that matter, it’s the game itself.

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Game Master

Get Game Master Here

When I set out to map out my game for last week’s S&W session, I spent a bit of time looking at some RPG software online for something I might be able to use to do some basic notes organizing with. Of course there are various gaming programs out there to do all sorts of wonderful things. The folks at rptools make some excellent (if not complex) software for mapping, tokens and PC gen. The Gametable Project is far and away the best simple no-frills white board / game table if you just want something that can easily simulate you sitting at a table with nothing but you and some wet erase markers for your game surface. And for something with a smaller learning curve than the rptools software, but still powerful, you can’t go wrong with Battlegrounds. All of these are excellent tools (oh, and they’ll all run on your mac), but they weren’t what I wanted. I just needed something that I could write some notes about each room and the creatures and treasures contained inside, and then keep all those distinct, yet grouped notes together. I wanted a sort of virtual source book. Unfortunately, I didn’t find anything in the gaming software. Others have found various other solutions to this problem, Greywulf found to be an adequate solution, and indeed, ultimately my screen wound up looking something like that, but I didn’t want to use a tool that I had to be online for.

Defeated in my search, I settled for using an old standby for many mac users: Antler! (or Stickies for those of you who didn’t use macs before OS X). And it worked great, different colored notes for different pieces of information, all laid out in a fairly organized and logical manner. In the end, my screen looked something like this:

Sticky Gaming

Each bar with text is a collapsed sticky, double click it and it expands to show all its juicy goodness. Ultimately, I ran into a problem: I can’t save all the stickies at once, in one file. When you quit stickies, they’re all save into the stickies database file, and when you open it again, they all appear exactly where and how you left them. I could backup and make a new copy of the stickies database every time, but that would just be irritating to have to replace it every time I wanted to change encounters or maps. Also, if I ever needed or wanted to print this out, I’d need to issue a print command for each sticky.

So it was resolved, if I couldn’t find a program to do what I wanted, I’d make one myself. And Game Master was born. A simple app, game master stores a collection of areas in a single file, each area has 3 separate note fields, one for a description, one for the game master’s notes, and one for enemies, traps and other misc. stuff. Each file also has a single general notes field, so that information that applies to the entire dungeon or map is displayed no matter what room you’re currently looking at. Last but not least, you can tell Game Master to export your file and it will dump everything into a plain text file for you to do with as you please.

Game Master is definitely not a finished piece of software, and I’m sure as I game more, I’ll come up with new bits to add, but it’s quick, it’s easy and I thought others might find it useful to, so it’s also released and free. You can use it and distribute it however you want, all I ask is a link back here. Also feel free to let me know what you’d like to see in it if you like it.

Game Master is a Mac application, and though it should run on any mac running 10.5 or later I’ve only run it on my machine, and I didn’t muck with any of the build settings in XCode so I can’t say for sure. So far the only known issue is a memory leak when closing a file and choosing not to save your changes. I don’t know why it does that, I didn’t do anything weird to the document closing behavior, but it does. I’ll try to fix it in a future version. If you want to see the source, just ask me.

Get Game Master Here


Beneath the Twisted Moon Inn

So aside from a few minor attempts, friday was my first proper GMing of a game. Ran the game using Swords and Wizardry Core. I’ve wanted to run a game for a while, but up until this point, never really had the opportunity. Either not enough players, or I wasn’t comfortable with any of the systems. S&W was simple and light weight enough to be run without needing a huge book of rules by my side. And while I enjoy aspects of D&D 4th Edition, it’s definitely a heavy system and I’ve seen it drag down some new players before. Besides, there’s something about the language of the older D&D systems that evokes a different feeling. So S&W it is.

Since it was a new game at level 1, I wanted something short and simple and of course a classic inn to get the party together. I spent some time digging through the dungeons in the One Page Dungeon archives and eventually came across a map by James Carr in the 2010 collection called Woodland Ruins. Just the right size at 6 rooms and the background he wrote provided an excellent jumping off point. Instead of a mere cave in the woods, Room 1 becomes the cellar of the Twisted Moon in and the remaining rooms have been carved out by the remnants of a goblin tribe, who sneak into the cellar by way of a secret door. They’re sneaking in because they need to steal food, they need to steal food because their leader found a couple of magical relics (really just a few minor magic items) and has gone mad with power. Not the greatest or most original premise to be sure, but hey give me a break.

The party consisted of Dorval the Dwarven Fighter, Misha the Halfling Cleric and EPAD (Eternal Pain and Death) the emo Magic User. Not having much experience with how old D&D works, I wasn’t sure how dangerous this might be for a mere 3 characters. Though there were only 9 goblins total, I was a afraid it might prove dangerous for just 3 level 1 players. As a result, I built in a chance for the players to convert up to 3 goblins to their side. They did, and with how quickly things went, they probably didn’t need it. Ah well, lesson learned.

Speaking of lessons learned, holy cow does 0e play quickly. Our 4e games can take up to 6 hours to get through just 2 encounters. Granted we’re a bit higher level in that game, but it does seem to be so amazingly faster.

In the end, the party took out the leader before he or his body guard could get any good shots in. In fact, total the party took 4 HP worth of damage, and dealt 3 of that to themselves.

In the last room, they found themselves a tattered an burned map to the first level of Dyson’s Delve, which is where they’ll be heading next. [Note to my players: Spoilers at that link]

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In the beginning …

… there was a need to organize my thoughts on running a game. Since everyone else has one of these, it seems only natural to jump off that bridge too, so here we go.

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