Category Archives: Role Playing Games

RE: RE: The Fantasy Trip

I am not sure this re-emergence of the Fantasy Trip (TFT) is going to be all that successful. Looking around the web in the last few weeks, I have seen a few articles covering the news, but mostly it is just rehashing the Steve Jackson Games (SJG) announcement. Surprisingly, several of the websites dedicated to the subject did not share the announcement. Not surprisingly, the discussion died down fairly quickly on the gaming forums. Even the discussion on the SJG forums seems to be 3 or 4 people talking about rules modifications they want to see. Both the Facebook Group and the Google Plus Group have nearly no discussion going on. Finally, I think this blog is the only place that has talked about it in more than one post.

I think this just bares out what I said earlier, there is really not more than a few hundred active players out there, maybe (probably) not even that many. This game was not all that popular and therefore has a very narrow appeal and I think even most people who did play it back in the day moved on. Steve Jackson said he will be doing a Melee Kickstarter this year, that probably means it will be followed by a Wizard Kickstarter and eventually one for TFT proper. So I have to wonder, will the Melee Kickstarter even fund and if it does, will the follow up Kickstarters fund? It seems unlikely to me right now.

RE: The Fantasy Trip

I have been think about why this game has been fascinating me these last few days. The Fantasy Trip (TFT) was an unpopular RPG back in the day that held very little interest for me and my group at the time. Even in the years that followed I rarely took it out and looked at it. I considered playing through some of the solo games a few years ago but never followed through. But now suddenly Steve Jackson announces that he has acquired the rights to it and will be publishing it again, that I am suddenly interested in it. This is what I have been thinking about.

Both TFT and GURPS fill the same gaming niche. I have come to the conclusion that I like the theory of GURPS, but I don’t particularly like the reality of GURPS. GURPS was not the first of the 3rd generation RPG’s, but it is the one Iliked the best. It lets you build detailed characters and has an interesting game mechanic that allows for as much or as little detail as you want, but it is more of a tool box for building campaigns than it is an RPG. In reality it has way too many fiddly bits, too many moving parts, even at its most basic level it can be overwhelming. I had hoped that the Dungeon Fantasy boxed set would sold some of these problems by building an easy to play, easy to understand stripped version of GURPS, but all they did really was add templates.

I guess, what I am excited about is the possibility of a game that ultimately fulfills the promise of GURPS. I want rules that allows me to build interesting characters with a minimal amount of effort. I like the Talent system, it is basically a skill slash special ability system, the list is long enough to be fun, but not long enough that you spend two hours trying to figure out the best character building strategy. The reality is, I will probably never play this game, or if I do it will be because I run a one off game or two. D&D 5E pretty much does everything I just described, a simple point system for attributes, a general purpose skill system and a few customization options to make it fun. So when the Kickstarter for TFT comes, I will probably not take the $250 get everything option, I will probably just go for the PDF or if I am feeling better, I might order the printed core rules in whatever form they take.

More Fantasy Trip

I sat down and generated a couple of characters. At first I was just going to do one Melee character and one Wizard character, but I decided to use the full TFT rules instead. I had not made a character for the game in many years and in fact I have never played this game as an RPG, only as a tactical combat game. Making a basic game character literally took 2 minutes, the advanced game took me less than 10. I have said for years that one of the things I admire about the Traveler game was that you could express a character in three lines on a note card, TFT characters are about the same.

There is something to be said about simplicity.

ST 13 DX 10 IQ 9 MA 10
Talents: Bard, Horsemanship, Sex Appeal, Shield, Sword, Thrown Weapons
Equipment: Bastard Sword (2+1/3-2), 2 Daggers (1-1), Cloth Armor, Large Shield, Labyrinth Kit

ST 9 DX 11 IQ 12 MA 10
Talents: Literacy
Spells: 3-Hex Fire, Drop Weapon, Far Vision, Fire, Fireball, Rope, Staff, Staff to Snake, Summon Wolf, Trailtwister, Trip
Equipment: Staff, Cloth Armor, Labyrinth Kit

RE: The Fantasy Trip Returns….Eventually

So I have been thinking about this for a little while now and I have been considering just what Steve Jackson might do with the property. Looking out at the internet, there is very little in the way of community around this game. other games of the time seem to be doing well, Tunnels & Trolls for instance has been in print pretty steadily for the last 10 years, Traveler as well and RuneQuest. So if there were a real hunger for this game, I would be able to find a some serious web space dedicated to it. Sure there are a couple of fan sites, but mostly they have not been updated in years and yes there are a couple of knock off game, but nothing that seems to be getting any traction. This brings me to the conclusion that there are at the outside a few hundred active players of this game. This is not a big customer base, sure there are more than a few people like me who remember it, but looking at the forums where the news of Steve Jackson re-acquiring the copyright is being discussed, there is really not a ton of enthusiasm beyond “Hey this is really neat” and most of the discussion has already died down after less than 48 hours. This leads me to believe that the potential customer base for this game is a few thousand at best. If I were Steve Jackson, here are the things I would be thinking about.

  1. How to get people interested in the game again: Running a Kickstarter and putting out a huge Dungeon Fantasy style boxed set will take 2 years, assuming nothing goes wrong. Two years is a long time to let the enthusiasm die down. I would be thinking of ways to get this into customer hands as quickly as possible, even if I eventually wanted to do a big boxed set.
  2. How to keep it from competing with GURPS: Steve Jackson has a huge investment in GURPS, it has been their staple RPG for decades. Unfortunately gamer money is limited and it is good possibility that every dollar spent on TFT is a dollar not spent on GURPS. Both games fill the same niche and will naturally compete with each other.
  3. How to make this more than just a vanity project: The reality is, TFT is an old system that was never super popular and had this not happened, practically no one but Steve Jackson would have regretted it. The only reason this is happening is because on some level this has been bugging him for the last 35 years. At its core this is a vanity project for Steve Jackson, however he is also a business man and everything he does needs to make at least a little profit. Moving a new edition beyond this will be a challenge.

Here is how I would handle it. First I would try to get this back into the hands of gamer as quickly as possible. The original game was published back when they still had to typeset printing presses, so there are no real electronic versions available. First thing is to hire a transcription service to type those 8 books in word for word, update the new books with errata and commission some new art. This process will likely take less than 6 months, then put them out in PDF format and sell them for $5 each. This will solve problem number one, it will get people playing the game, it generate interest and give you breathing room to produce the big boxed set.

Once this is done, launch the Kickstarter, get the ball rolling on the big boxed set. Spend the time updating the rules for the 21st century, I know this will upset some people, but if you want solve the 3rd problem, you will need to publish a modern game, not rehash an unpopular game from the 1980’s. This needs to be a game people will play, not a box that will sit on the shelf. Remember you are selling this game to new players, the 200 people who are still playing the game are not your target audience, if this game is going to be more than a nostalgia buy for aging Baby Boomers and Gen X, the new edition needs to appeal to the new generation of gamers.

As for keeping it from taking sales from GURPS, this is more difficult endeavor. Basically, I would not move TFT beyond the fantasy genre. If gamers want a truly universal system, where they can bounce between genre without learning a new system, then that is what GURPS is for. If they want an easy to learn, fast to play fantasy game, then TFT is what they will pick. This is mostly an exercise in marketing. One of the things I would not do is dual stat. Dual stating is one of those things that everyone loves in theory but never works in reality, and is frankly mildly insulting.

Now, I seriously doubt this is how Steve Jackson will handle this. I expect we will see a Kickstarter for Melee which will have a boat load of miniatures and some nice maps, he himself has said as much. Then later we will either see a Kickstarter for a similar Wizard product or we will see one for a more compete system, but all of this will not see the light of day before 2019 and more likely 2020. The question will then be, will anyone besides Steve Jackson really care anymore.

The Fantasy Trip Returns….Eventually

Steve Jackson announced yesterday the copyright for the 8 The Fantasy Trip (TFT) books he wrote for Metagames has been returned to him. One of the rules under the current copyright laws is the original author can ask for the copyright to be returned after 35 years under some specific rules, which TFT obviously fell under.

I remember playing the micro game spin off of this RPG, Melee and Wizards in High School with my friends in the school library, which mostly consisted of Wizards facing off against each other in an arena. I still have most of the game books and I am looking forward to see what Steve Jackson does with this material.


I do not really remember this game as an RPG. As you can see I do own the advanced books, I bought them at GenCon in 1988, but I have never played the advanced game and I am not really sure I am interested in playing it now. I remember it as a tactical combat game that as I mentioned earlier, we played at lunch time. What I would like to see is Steve Jackson reprint Melee and Wizard in the original micro game format, sort of what they did with the Ogre Pocket Edition they put out a few years ago.

Stranger Things D&D Map

So it has been tough finding a decent shot of the map used by the kids to play D&D. Judging from how they use it, it seems t be a plastic coated grid sheet to which they tape things to it to represent objects. It is kind hard to figure out what everything is and of course I skipped the 10 foot thick walls. Anyway, here is what I think is going on in the room prior to Demogorgon showing up.

More ebay fun

This is my latest purchase on ebay. It is a D&D 5E starter box set, I already have a copy of this, but this particular one came with the starter PDF’s printed out and nicely spire bound, the purchase was worth it just for these alone. It cost me $15 + $3 shipping. This is going to become my crash pack for D&D 5E

Swords and Spells

I have owned a copy of the original Dungeons & Dragons for many years. When I say original I mean it, The original three little brown booklets, along with that I have the four supplements, Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry and God, Demi-Gods & Heroes. The only part of this that I have been missing is Swords and Spells, the mass combat book that TSR published to replace the aging Chainmail rule set, which predated D&D and was not entirely compatible. I never acquired a copy first because they were too hard to get and second they were always too expensive and not really worth the price. Fortunately, DriveThru RPG recently added it to their Print on Demand products for a whopping $10 plus $3 for shipping, even with the added tax, I was still under $15. As a bonus, it was printed in Austin Texas, so even though it was shipped by turtle back, I still got it pretty much over night. Keep in mind, this is not a replica and is not intended to be, the cover is glossy and it is perfect bound rather than staple bound, so there is no passing this off. But for the sake of completeness I am not going complain one bit.

D&D 5E Crash Kit

So here is my Dungeons & Dragons crash pack. This is the third one I have put together, I did one for GURPS and one for Original D&D. The idea is if I ever get the chance to run a pickup game, I want something I can just grab and run with, sort of a just add dice thing. I printed out and bound the free PDF’s Wizards of the Coast provides which constitutes the basic game. I also copied and printed the pre-generated characters from the Starter set along with some blank character sheets and finally a first level dungeon, Tower of the Mad Mage.

D&D 5E Play Analysis Part 3

So I have spent the last couple of weeks re-reading the various versions of Dungeons and Dragons, from the Holmes boxed set, to AD&D 1E, 2E, right through 3E and I even reviewed 4th edition. I love those old editions of the game. Simplicity is really what shines in OD&D and AD&D1E, nothing was terribly over thought and players were given broad power within the framework to do what they wanted. The problem was the rules often did not make sense and had multiple dice mechanics to remember and sometimes those dice mechanics did not make sense even in the framework of the rules. AD&D 2E cleaned a lot of this up, organized the rules better and added a credible skill system, but it still retained the wonky dice mechanics. 3E and 4E went the other direction, while they built a unified dice mechanic, they added way too much crunch to the game. Even at the beginning there was a ton of crunch that would complicate the game and clever rules lawyers would bully their way into ridiculously over powered characters.

Having looked at all these games, I have come to the conclusion that D&D 5E is in fact the best edition of the game so far. The unified dice mechanic makes rolling the dice and judging the results quick and easy, you know you are rolling a d20 and you know you will have just a couple of easy to remember modifiers to that roll. If you like a simple game with very little crunch, where the players add the depth to their characters via back story and life experiences, You can play the game basically for free by downloading the basic game PDF from Wizard of the Coast. It has a very simple broad set of skills that define what a character can do well and what he is not so good at. At the basic level there are no feats, but in the intermediate level, feats are a good way to allow interesting abilities to be added without breaking the game. At the basic level the game is not to different from playing the Holmes basic set. However, when the scope of the game is expanded, there are lots of interesting options to build a wide variety of characters while at the same time limiting the ability of rules lawyers to produce characters with ridiculously high armor classes and hit bonus’s.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I love the old versions of the game and I would certainly play them again and I will most likely run games in the future using AD&D 1E. Again, there is no arguing with the simplicity of those games, the innocent wild eyes wonder of playing the game. Unfortunately it is not 1980 anymore and we have a higher expectations of our games. I am also not 17 anymore, I don’t have enough time these days to build my own campaigns from scratch. I depend heavily on published material and even with the OSR in full swing, there is not enough quality published material out there to keep things fun and interesting, this is why dead games are dead. When I go to Dragonsfoot, THE bastion of old school gaming, most of those people do not actually play the games they are talking about. For the most part, they are re-living their glory days, some are running campaigns, most are not, most are playing D&D 5E or Pathfinder. When WotC reprinted all the books from earlier editions, the sales were not all that good and if you go to, the best sellers are from the current edition. So I think most people, even the ones like me, who love the old games have pretty much come to the same conclusion, Dungeons and Dragons 5E is the best version of the game so far.

Homemade Gaming Books

Okay so here it is, I used my laser printer to print out a couple of (legally purchased PDF’s) game books. Since my current obsession is with the 1977 Holmes edition of D&D, I went with that and B1 In Search of the Unknown. Both are fairly small page counts, a nice test run before I go on to bigger books. I considered buying a book binder, Amazon sell them for around $50, but I am just not planning on doing that many projects. PezWitch suggested Slide binders, available on Amazon for $10 for 10, which include plastic sleeves. Overall I am happy with the results, these would make fine table copies. The plastic covers, along with the heavy stock paper I used for the first and last pages, should make these resilient to wear and tear of normal use. Of course the downside is they are pretty ugly and I think even if I had a color printer I would not be particularly happy with how they look. Again though these are not meant to be collector copies, these are meant o be brought to the table and used week in and week out and making them needs to be cheap. Laser printer generally cost around 5 cents per page to print in black and white, the rule book is 50 pages, so including the slide binder, this means the rule book cost roughly $3.50 for me to make myself. The module cost around $3 to make, so $6.50 in total, considerably cheaper than buying on Ebay.

5th Edition Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser

In pure ability in their area specialty, Fafrd and The Grey Mouser are probably in the high tier 2 power level, but because both have spread outside their niches, both have become “Jack of all Trades” of sorts and are very capable of facing off with tier 3 opponents. I would like to say as well, these are very basic builds designed to give a feel for the characters, I did not invest any time in figuring out Archetypes or anything of that nature.

I was thinking about replacing Fafhrd’s 1 level of Bard with the Actor feat, this would probably be more faithful to the books, because even a 1st level Bard can cast spells and Fafrhrd never demonstrated that ability in the books. I also considered removing Grey Mousers 3 levels of Wizard and replacing it with Magic Initiate and Ritual Caster feats, which would account for the bulk of the magic ability he demonstrated in the books. I opted for levels in different classes for the flexibility they provided to the characters.If you decide the feats are better options, make Fafhrd Barbarian 10 / Rogue 4 and make the Grey Mouser Rogue 10/Fighter 4. You will also have to fiddle with their hit points a bit.

Str 19 (+4), Dex 17 (+3), Con 19 (+4)
Int 15 (+2), Wis 10 (+0), Cha 17 (+3)

Barbarian 10 / Rogue 3 / Bard 1

Hit Points 208 (10d12+3d8+1d8)
Armor Class: 17 (10 + 3 (Dex) + 4 (Unarmored defense))

Skills: Acrobatics (+3), Animal Handling (+0), Arcana (+2), Athletics (+9), Deception (+3), History (+2), Insight (+0), Intimidation (+3), Investigation (+7), Medicine (+0), Nature (+7), Perception (+5), Performance (+8), Persuasion (+8), Religion (+0), Sleight of Hand (+8), Stealth (+8), Survival (+5)

Feats: Alert, Athlete, Durable, Keen Mind, Savage Attacker, Tough, Weapon Master

Fafrd is not terribly different from Conan as a barbarian/thief. Fafhrd favored weapon is a Great sword, which refers to as Greywand and a dagger which he calls Heartseeker. He has also been known to use handaxes and Long bows as well.

The Grey Mouser:
Str 15 (+2), Dex 19 (+4), Con 17 (+3)
Int 16 (+3), Wis 11 (+0), Cha 17 (+3)

Rogue 10 / Wizard 3 / Fighter 1

Hit Points 150 (10d8+3d6+1d10)
Armor Class: 16 (11 (Leather Armor) +4 (Dex) +1 (Dual Wielder))

Skills: Acrobatics (+9), Animal Handling (+0), Arcana (+8), Athletics (+7), Deception (+3), History (+3), Insight (+5), Intimidation (+3), Investigation (+8), Medicine (+5), Nature (+3), Perception (+5), Performance (+3), Persuasion (+3), Religion (+8), Sleight of Hand (+9), Stealth (+9), Survival (+0)

Feats: Alert, Athlete, Dual Wielder, Keen Mind, Lucky, Observant, Skulker

Grey Mouser is a Dual weapon finesse fighter, he uses a rapier and dagger combination to great effect. Grey Mouser rarely uses magic and tends toward utility magic rather than splashy fire or effect style magic.

5th Edition Conan the Barbarian

Str 20 (+5), Dex 18 (+4), Con 17 (+3)
Int 14 (+2), Wis 15 (+2), Cha 16 (+3)

Barbarian 12 / Rogue 5 / Fighter 3

Hit Points 274
Armor Class: 17 (10 + 4 (Dex) + 3 (Unarmored defense))

Skills: Acrobatics (+10), Animal Handling (+8), Arcana (+0), Athletics (+11), Deception (+8), History (+0), Insight (+8), Intimidation (+9), Investigation (+2), Medicine (+2), Nature (+8), Perception (+8), Performance (+0), Persuasion (+3), Religion (+2), Sleight of Hand (+4), Stealth (+10), Survival (+8)

Feats: Alert, Athlete, Durable, Great Weapon Master, Inspiring Leader, Keen Mind, Savage Attacker, Tough, Weapon Master

This is Conan at the height of his abilities, but prior to becoming King Conan. He is among the greatest warriors in the world. Conan does wear armor occasionally, but even without it he is incredibly difficult to kill and often defeats his enemies with stamina alone. His equipment varies heavily, especially early in his career where he is basically equipped with whatever he has taken off the dead bodies of his opponents. His preference for weapons is Great Sword, but can use anything within arms reach to deadly effect.


5th Edition Elric of Melnibone

Str: 5 (-3) Dex: 20 (+5) Con: 5 (-3)
Int: 20 (+5) Wis 20 (+5) Cha 12 (+1)
Wizard 20 / Fighter 8

Hit Points 30
Armor Class: 25 (Plate Armor 18, Shield +2, Dex +5)

Skills: Acrobatics (+5), Animal Handling (+5), Arcana (+11), Athletics (-3), Deception (+1), History (+11), Insight (+11), Intimidation (+1), Investigation (+5), Medicine (+11), Nature (+5), Perception (+11), Performance (+1), Persuasion (+11), Religion (+11), Sleight of Hand (+5), Stealth (+5), Survival (+5)

Feats: Alert, Great Weapon Master, Keen Mind

Spells: At this level, Elric can cast pretty much any spell at will, however Elric rarely has anything other than Summon and Conjure spells memorized and ready.

Elric of Melnibone is the greatest mage in the known world. His specialty is Conjuration and he is adept at summoning all manner of entities to aid him to include gods. Normally when encountered Elric will have recent access to his potions and his Strength and Constitution will be 15. When fighting, Elric will invariably use Stormbringer rather than cast spells, preferring to use magic only to solve great problems. Elric’s high Dex, Int and Wis are directly connected to his being an aspect of the Eternal Champion.

Potion of Invigoration: +10 Strength, +10 Constitution. While Elric is using his potions, his Strength and Constitution are 15 (+2), and has 170 Hit Points.

Ring of Kings: Allows Elric to summon Elemental-Lords, Beast-Lords and Plant-Lords as a Bonus Action. Upon summoning the entity, it must make a DC 20 save, if the save fails, the elemental must obey Elric, if the save succeeds, the summoned entity may decide for themselves if they wish to help Elric or not.

Stormbringer (Great Sword): +3 to Hit, damage 5d6+3. Upon a successful hit, Stormbringer reduces the target’s Constitution by 1d6 points. For each 2 points of Constitution drained in this manner, increase either Elric’s Strength or Constitution by 1, up to a maximum of 20. Stormbringer will also regenerate Elric up to  half of the damage inflicted on the target. Elric’s hit points max out at 340. Stormbringer will continue to regenerate Elric until it becomes satiated after transferring 2000 hit points to Elric, at which point it looses interest in fighting and will no longer provide any benefits to Elric and will act as a normal weapon, after a long rest Stormbringer will again become hungry. Undead and constructs which have no life energy are unaffected by the Constitution drain. Any creature killed by Stormbringer can not be resurrected even by the most powerful of magic.

Review: BlueHolme

Product Summery:
Name: BlueHolme Journeymanne
Author: Michael Thomas
Line: OSR/Basic D&D
Cost: $9.99 for PDF
Pages: 118

Someone may have finally come up with a retro clone of Basic D&D that does not piss me off. In the past, these things have stuck very close to the original rules, even to the point of including stupid and outdated rules, like the race as class nonsense I have complained about in the past. The author of BlueHolme seems to have come to his senses and left that shit out and that is why I shelled out the $10 to get the expanded version of the rules, even though I can get other retro clones that are 90% identical to these rules for free.

Like all retro clones, BlueHolmes set out to re-imagine a specific game from a bygone era. In this case it was the Blue Box D&D Basic Set from 1977 written by J. Eric Holmes, thus the name BlueHolme. The writer originally put out the BlueHolme Prentice rules, which like the game it is based on, only went to third level.In that book he used public domain art from various sources, which gave the book an interesting vibe. Recently he decided to expand the rules to 20th level and get some original art done for the expanded book. He ran a kickstarter and raise a nice chunk of change to commission this art and the end product was the Journeymanne rule book.

What did I liked; the book does a very good job of re-imaging the game it was based on. Quick easy to build characters with very little crunch to get in the way. Classes are limited to the 4 base classes, Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User and Thief. Here is the interesting part, there is no limitation. on races the player may choose from.

Page 5: Just about any being detailed in Part 6: Creatures is suitable for use as a player character with a little work by the referee,

So yes, the player can play a small dragon or a giant beetle if they so desire. I felt this was an interesting twist on the game, something not really done in the past that sets this game apart.

Things I did not like; I think my problem with this game are really problems with the Original D&D, so I would like to be clear about it. This is not a modern game and falls into many of the same traps that old school games fall into. Unbalanced classes, wonky rules, too much hand waving of rules and terrible scaling at high levels. Of course there will those who say, this is what makes these games so much fun to play. But I think there are some areas with these OSR games that are ripe for improvement.

For instance the “All weapons to 1d6 damage” rule, okay I get it, its simple and straight forward. The problem is there is no reason to ever use anything other than a dagger, it does 1d6 damage just like a long sword, my character can carry 25 of them and I can throw them as well as use them in melee. This is something I would house rule, small weapons do 1d4 damage (dagger, dart, short sword, hand axe), medium weapons do 1d6 (long sword, mace, battle axe), large weapons do 1d8 damage (two handed sword, great axe, pole arms). Or even if you wanted to stick with the 1d6, you could do, 1d6-2 for small, 1d6 for medium and 1d6+2 for large. This gives fighters a reason to use a two handed sword other than “Its cool” or “I am a barbarian so…”.

Over all, I liked the game, I think it is well written and accomplishes what it set out to do. I doubt I will ever play it, I think if I were inclined to play this sort of game, I would simply run the Original D&D in some form. However if you are not interested in scouring ebay for copies of the original, but want to play a game approximating it, then this is definitely the game for you.

Saturday Night Game

Tonight we had what I consider a really great game. I think this is one of those games we will look back on and say, “Remember that time when….?”. So after last games TPK and the activation of everyone’s proteges, the party was hired to clear out the dwelling of an old mage who had passed away. Simple right, well except for all the mad mages pets and weird experiments, so you know, nothing is ever easy. In the very first room, they just kind of glance into, because they get distracted by an animated suit of armor. While the other players were horsing around trying to figure out how to use the animated suit of armor to their advantage, the party thief went noising around that first room looking for money in the sofa cushion. The thief of course gets knocked out and replaced by a Doppelganger. David, the player, played along with it. He waited in the back of the party until the group got into t fight with something else and then attacked the character who was in front of him. He grabbed the character and covered his mouth so he could not raise the alarm. I told him he could only suffer and take damage until he either made a Strength roll or died. He missed 4 consecutive Strength rolls and was down to just a couple hit points when the party finally turned around, saw what was happening and saved the poor bastard. This was just part of the whole game, there was a little bit of everything. Puzzle solving, roleplaying and good old hack-n-slash, interspersed with plenty of “Holy Shit” moments. It was a well rounded and fun game.

Attribute point buy for early edition D&D

I have written before about my preferences for standard array or point buy system rather than rolling the dice for attributes. I prefer this because it starts everyone out on more less a level playing field. The problem with rolling dice, while fun and often challenging, often produces an unbalanced party. There is always someone who rolls an 18 and there is always someone whose highest stat is 13. Back in the day we use to use a 90 point system, which was way to much for a starting characters, later I trimmed that down to 80, but that was still too much.

Today, I have come to the conclusion that 70 is about right, however, there should be some limitations on this, because players being players, they will bugger it up. My solution to this is a D&D 5E like Standard array each player may assign as they please and then apply racial modifiers. The array I have settled on is, 15, 14, 13, 10, 10, and 8.

For players who want a bit more flexibility and want the chance to have an 18, there is the point buy system; All attributes start at 8 and you have 22 points to divide between the 6 attributes as you see fit, no attribute may exceed 18. This would allow for two 18’s, but that would leave only 2 points for the other 4 attributes.

I think either of these systems would produce fairly equitable characters that most players would be okay with playing. I think this would work well for all edition from the original through AD&D 2E. Beyond that, the later editions have their own systems for dealing with this.

D&D 5E Play Analysis Part 2

Last time, I discussed scope, in this post I am going to talk about power level. This is a generalized list of the power levels in D&D 5th Edition.

Tier 1 (levels 1-4): Characters are effectively apprentice adventurers. They are learning the features that define them as members of particular classes, including the major choices that flavor their class features as they advance (such as a wizard’s Arcane Tradition or a fighter’s Martial Archetype). The threats they face are relatively minor, usually posing a danger to local farmsteads or villages.

Tier 2 (levels 5-10): Characters come into their own. Many spellcasters gain access to 3rd-level spells at the start of this tier, crossing a new threshold of magical power with spells such as fireball and lightning bolt. At this tier, many weapon-using classes gain the ability to make multiple attacks in one round. These characters have become important, facing dangers that threaten cities and kingdoms.

Tier 3 (levels 11-16): Characters have reached a level of power that sets them high above the ordinary populace and makes them special even among adventurers. At 11th level, many spellcasters gain access to 6th-level spells, some of which create effects previously impossible for player characters to achieve. Other characters gain features that allow them to make more attacks or do more impressive things with those attacks. These mighty adventurers often confront threats to whole regions and continents.

Tier 4 (levels 17-20): Characters achieve the pinnacle of their class features, becoming heroic (or villainous) archetypes in their own right. The fate of the world or even the fundamental order of the multiverse might hang in the balance during their adventures.

Tier 5 (levels 21+): Characters at this level can and do challenge the gods themselves.

In my game I tend towards the first two tiers. My campaigns tend to last roughly a year, which is about enough time to obtain 8th-10th level. Occasionally we peek up to tier 3, I think the highest anyone has gotten is around 16th level. In our last HackMaster campaign, the Doombringers of Cotedela, everyone was above 12th level. The big problem with this was the PC’s were for all intense and purpose the most powerful people in the realm and were among the most powerful in the world, even demi-gods thought twice about screwing with these guys and anyone who did, brought an army with them.

As a DM, I like the first two tiers, while the later two become too difficult to deal with. As a player, I would dearly love to play a Conan or Elric like character, who are just ridiculously powered for their environments. I am going to do write ups of both Elric and Conan in the near future. Elric is definitely in the epic 5th tier, he is easily a 20th level Wizard, and perhaps an 8th level Fighter, he fought gods and won. Conan fits nicely into the high end of tier 4, at 15th level fighter and 5 level Rogue. If I get really ambitious, I may do Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser as well, I think these two are excellent examples of tier 3 characters.

It is important to note, that even at the bottom of tier 2, the characters are among the elite of the world. Even veterans soldiers will generally be 0-Level Men-at-Arms, Sergeants and Captains will rarely be higher than 3rd level and even a Sergeant Major or General will be perhaps 4th level and the Captain of the Kings Royal Guard, might be 5th level. In a world were 90% of the population has 3 hit points, a 5th level anything will be a power to reckon with.

D&D 5E Play Ananlysis

One of the things I like about 5th Edition D&D is how well the rules scale both in power level and in scope of play. Power level is easy to talk about. All the classes are well balanced, none of them out shine any other particularly and this is true at virtually all levels. Scope on the other hand is is a bit more complex to talk about. When we talk about scope, I am talking about complexity of and depth of play.

Basic: At its most basic level, 5th edition is a fairly simple game, the only allowed rules are those presented in the free downloadable basic PDF. Only 4 classes and 4 races are allowed along with a very narrow field of additional background crunch. Characters are easy to roll up and virtually all of depth is provided by the players.

Intermediary: This type of game uses only the core three hardbound books. There are 9 races and 12 classes available, along with several customization options for each class. Character generation is more difficult and the different niches can be filled in interesting ways by a couple of different classes.

High: This game includes, in addition to the core books, the Players Companion, the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and Volo’s Guide to Monsters. Basically everything published by Wizards of the Coast as a D&D supplement is fair game, including Unearthed Arcana articles. The options available to players and DM’s is mind boggling. The first two levels are static and never change, at this level, something new is available every couple of months. The only things not allowed are rules produced by 3rd parties.

Very High: This is where things go nuclear. This type of game can include virtually anything available from the DM’s Guild. All manner of classes and races are available and I doubt any group could or would even want to allow all of it, but it is in the realm of possibility. Niches are almost non existent at this level as virtually any class can fill any niche with just a little customization. DM’s have to be very careful at this level as to not allow anything unbalancing or disruptive to play. Of course at this level, it probably does not matter if something is unbalancing or disruptive, because everyone will have access to things that are unbalancing or disruptive. The problem with this level of play is, it is difficult to move characters from one campaign to another.

My game falls pretty squarely in the Intermediary level, although we do poke into High here and there. I can also see the utility in running a Basic game, in fact I think at least one of my players, Bruce, sticks to the basic form of the game, for all I know, he may not even own a Players Handbook. I think most published adventure modules are designed for the Basic level of play, but the best ones scale to Very High. At the Basic level all the work to make an interesting character is on the player, a fighter is pretty much a fighter when you look at him on paper. It is the other things that define the character; Who he is, is defined by what he did, where he came from, how he got here and why it all matters to him.

Did I say D&D 5E scales well? What I meant is, it scales well upwards. A character made for a campaign at the Basic or Intermediary level can easily play in the other two categories, the reverse is not true, especially at the Very High level. Some of the variant Ranger Classes I have seen are ridiculous in their power, even at the lowest levels and don’t get me started on the various near godlike spell casters that abound. So if anyone wants to play a Werelion Witch Hunter in your game, be very wary, even if he is only 1st level.

Another big ebay score

I got this for $30, I am mostly interested in the box, since I pretty much had everything else. It was surprising though that it was actually in really good condition. Both the rule book and the module still has the glossy sheen on them. Of course the dice are not original, the seller just threw in what he had laying around, which is fine, he was not claiming otherwise. I think whoever owned this, opened it, rolled up a character, lost the dice and then put it on the shelf never to be opened again. The character sheets are still in the box, I am totally going to make Bruce play Zoltar the Dwarf Fighter with an intelligence of 7 and a dexterity of 6, AND there are some giant centipedes in the Tower of the Mad Wizard Zenopus with his name on them.

There and back again

One of the things I have been thinking about for the last couple of months is the complexity of modern roleplaying games. Bruce and I were talking about it not too long ago and he commented, if you need a computer program to make a character, your game is too complex. This of course got us to talking about the “Good Old Days” when it literally took 10 minutes to build a character. Since then I have been thinking about, what is the simplest RPG I could possibly run. I think the answer to that is probably the old Holmes Blue Basic Set published in 1977. Obviously 3rd level would be too big of a limitation, however there are a couple of expansion PDF’s out there that expand the game to 14th level and building on top of that would not be terribly difficult. I rolled this character up a few days ago. I used 4d6, take the best 3 and re-roll the lowest score.

Str: 13 Int: 13 Wis: 8 Dex: 16 Con: 11 Cha: 10
Class-Fighter Race-Human Level-1 Hit Points- 6

Chain Mail and Shield (AC 4)
Battle Axe
Iron Ration x5
Flask of Oil x2

He probably would make a better thief than fighter, but I figure if you do what is not expected you probably get a better character. We use to play for months with characters that looked just like this. No special abilities, no feats, no skills, we pretty much just made shit up as we went along. Of course the real problem would be talking some of our younger players into such a crude game.

Total Party Kill

Total Party Kill (TPK), the bane of every D&D group. A situation where the characters get into a situation they cannot get out of or they make a bad choice and the entire party dies a horrible screaming death.Tonight that is just what happened in my game. This is only the second TPK to occur in this group in the last 15 years. I know it is a bummer when you loose a character, I have lost more than my fair share over the years and a TPK is magnified by the fact that everyone in game is bummed. There is almost always some passive aggressive “I blame the DM!” stuff going on and I totally understand that, because at the end of the day, I could have let them win, although I always point out, I never present PC’s with unwinnable fights, in fact just the opposite, I generally rig fights in their favor.

In this case they made an error in judgement, they assumed that destroying a Dracolich’s phylactery would destroy the Dracolich, when in fact it does not, doing so just keeps it from coming back later. They also assumed the phylactery would be unprotected, all the signs were there, but they charged in anyway. Between the blasting wards and the Dracolich recovering his breath weapon, the already wounded party was overwhelmed.

Fortunately for my players, we had adopted the Protege system from HackMaster, where the players could have a secondary character who is related to the primary PC in someway. The Mentor PC can transfer up to 25% of their experience points to the Protege PC. They can also provide the Proteges with gold, equipment and even magic items. The purpose of this is so if the players character dies, and they do not have access to Raise Dead, the player does not have to start over from 1st level, they have an established Protege who can step in with ease. They all decided to activate their Protege’s, I suspect it will be interesting later down the road when they come back to seek revenge on the Dracolich for the deaths of their Mentors.

Variant Magic Items in D&D

After playing D&D for 40 years, the stock Acme magic items have become boring. Even a very useful item like a Ring of Spell Storing is almost “Meh!” now. So I was thinking, how to make a nice variant on the Ring of Spell Storing to make it more interesting and fun magic item.

Skull of the Wizards Assistant: Although this skull appears to be some sort of undead wizard, it is actually a golem like construct. The older the construct, the more personality it will have and the very ancient ones will be eccentric and may even appear to be insane, while the very youngest ones may not even talk. However even the very oldest of these constructs will unleash the spells the owner wishes. These skulls can memorize spells from a spellbook or from a scroll, they can hold the equivalent spell slots of their designated Level. For example a skull that was built to act as a 5th level wizard will be able to hold 4 Cantrips, 4 first level, 3 second level and 2 third level spells. Once the level of the skull is set, it will never change. Each of these spells can only be used once and can only be used at the baseline level (no using a higher level slot). Once each spell is used it must be stored again, including Cantrips. Storing spells in the skulls require a long rest.

First and second level skulls are fairly common and easy to make. 10th level and above are considered artifact level magic items and many of these have become homes to Lich’s and Demon’s, or have become sentient in their own right.

Skull of the Wizards Assistant Level 10

Level 1 Skull of the Wizards Assistant


2001 heralded in not just the 21st century, but also my return to gaming. At this point, I had not played in 5 or 6 years. I was in a Barnes and Noble bookstore, and I decided to check out what was happening in gaming, when I saw HackMaster, the cover caused a huge rush of nostalgia, I sat down and started reading it on the spot, I think I was there for 20 or 30 minutes before PezWitch found me on the floor wide eyed with glee. In mid 2002, I discovered a program called OpenRPG which allowed people to play RPG’s over the internet, it used chat to communicate, it had a die roller and it had a shared map. It was then that I put together the longest running game group of my life. In the last couple of years we have tried to get away from HackMaster and start playing other more modern and supported games. We have tried the latest version of GURPS and we have been playing Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition for the last several months. While I think we will continue to play D&D 5E for awhile, I definitely see us eventually going back to HM, or perhaps AD&D 1E, with some HM rules added in. One of the big reasons I like the game is it does not take itself seriously, the writers really just wanted everyone to have a good time and oddly, this is a rare thing in modern RPG’s.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition

The 90’s were not good for me in the realm of gaming. I did do a bit of it, but not much. I played briefly in 1991 at Ft Gordon, when I lived in the barracks, but the game was very short lived, we did not play more than 4 or 5 times. I also ran a campaign in Germany around 1995, which lasted 6 or 7 months. We would have went longer but our unit ended up deploying to some god forsaken eastern European shit hole. This was really the only time I played AD&D 2E. I wish I had some excellent memories of the game, but I really don’t. Half the players in the game were not really into it, the other half I don’t think really cared for my DM’ing style and I think we did not particularly click as a group. I suspect everyone was just looking for something to kill the boredom. Don’t get me wrong, it was not a terrible game, it was just not a very good one either.