Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sigh. I'm bad at this whole "blogging" thing. I don't update near enough, despite my preoccupation with gaming and gaming related sites. I hope to change that in the future.

Something made me think of this blog again today, though. Unfortunately not directly related to Swords & Wizardry, but in a round about way it's connected. I was having an email discussion with my wife - also an avid gamer, and our conversation revolved around the differences between old school and newer gaming engines.

My opinion runs towards liking a game that makes you work for the answers. I feel that there is much more reward in a difficult game, where results aren't based on a check made by a 'character', but a game that challenges the 'player'. Therefore, I find it perfectly acceptable to [i]lose[/i] when playing an old school game. And I don't just mean a good old-fashioned TPK. Those can and will happen in any system. What I mean by lose goes back to the inherent design philosophy from the 70's.

If the mighty thief Michael Sandar doesn't find the secret door necessary to move forward in the adventure, and neither do his companions, well... he doesn't proceed. There's no "well, you didn't make your spot check, so give me a knowledge: dungeoneering check to see if it looks like there may be a secret door here." And you can fail. I like that. It's realistic.

My wife... well, she doesn't like to lose. I see her point, but if we keep pandering to the players so that they always win, have all the powers and get all the lootz in the dungeon, clear every level... why even bother rolling that knowledge check. Just tell the player.

To me, that's not satisfying.

Anyway, to wrap this up, I wrote an email response to her that was only half serious, but was very much a "blowing off steam rant". I found it funny to write, and hope all two of my followers find it as amusing to read. I promise to make the effort to get back to this blog, and not have it sit here stagnant.

Rant Below

"And to continue on this thought… to me, being given the answers is a slap in the face. Roll a check – here’s everything you needed to know. Well… why did I even bother rolling? Why not just tell me to begin with. If the DM is just giving everything away, where does it stop? Pathfinder? 4e? Let’s plan our characters and have the DM make sure they don’t die. Nothing can happen to them because they’re the hero’s of the story. It’s not fair and not fun if all that work I did making a character is gone to waste because the DM put me up against an encounter that was 3.75 CR’s to high. We’d already had our allotment of encounters that day. The DM shouldn’t have rolled a random encounter, it wasn’t fair! I QUIT! Or how about ability scores? We should just stop rolling them, because Timmy might not roll the four 18’s he wanted. Now, let’s give everyone the same array of scores. Yeah, that way everyone is balanced. Of course, the classes aren’t balanced, so let’s make sure that they all do the same thing, get the same powers, get the same number of feats an skills… forget it. Let’s just make one character class and call it “adventurer”. Now everyone is the same, and no one feels left out and no one can complain about how Timmy’s character sucks but Bobby’s has five ability scores above 20. And let’s make them all half dragon, half angel, half demon, part tiefling, warforged, star pact, quarter hobgoblins who can dual race into humans for the extra feat if they need to.


My game, 3d6 down the line, suck it up and play a fighter with a 13 strength, roll your hit points at first level, and we call ‘em hobbits, not Halflings.


Rant over."

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Return

Boy, when real life intervenes, it really hits hard!

I've been gone from the blog - which had barely gotten it's feet wet - and the G+ boards in general. Fortunately, I've run in to some free time as my band slows down for the fall / winter season, and I'm back to talking about Sword & Wizardry, and old-school gaming in general.
As before, I'll be sharing my thoughts, house rules, reviews and general opinion of things gaming.

For today, getting back into the swing of things, I'll talk briefly about Kickstarters. Kickstarters are a great tool, that in my mind (and frankly limited marketing experience - I'm in the quality assurance field) cater best to established customers looking for one of two things: quality or quantity. Now, these are not mutually exclusive, but let's take a look at two current kickstarters that hit the 'net this week, Reaper Bones II, and Frog God Games' Sword of Air.

Reaper Miniatures Bones II will (and already has) pulled in huge numbers.

Seriously. Huge.

They hit their $30,000 goal in under two minutes. In 24 hours they had over one MILLION dollars in pledges. And for those that pledge (I got the first one, I'm still on the fence) they will get a great deal. There are already over one hundred minis in the core set, not including add-ons. This banks on quantity - though again, not being exclusive, the quality will be high as well.

The Frogs' Sword of Air (SoA) is chugging along nicely. They are over a third of the way to their goal of $75,000 at the time of writing this, with plenty of time to go. I'll be getting in on this, myself. Here's where it get's interesting.

The SoA Kickstarter has a higher price point than the minis, though for a single book. But what you're getting is a very high quality book. This caters to a more niche market looking for cool exclusive add-on's and stretch goals, as opposed to the Bones 'more, more, more' approach. Still, as the numbers rise, the Frogs promise more stretch goals (and frankly have some pretty cool pledge levels... hello Nuclear Edition!) and the quantity of product will rise. Again we see - these are not exclusive. Just more prominent.

I'm not knocking one over the other. Assuming I can scrounge up the $$$ I'll be in for both. Most importantly, I think these are good for gaming - the hobby in general.

Kickstarters make not only great platforms to create, but also great advertisements and marketing both in and out of the gaming populace. So, to wrap up this long-winded "hey, I'm back post", check out the kickstarters, and support the gaming scene. Because that's what these kind of things do, at their heart, whether by providing a quality product, a quantity of products, or both.

I'll be around, see you soon!

(btw, I don't work for either of these companies, and these are just my opinions!)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A look at S&W Classes - the Assassin

Today I will start a series looking at the different classes of the Swords & Wizardry Complete world.  Walk with me down this dark alleyway.  No, no, ignore the rats.  They’re everywhere in the city.  Some of the classes are fantastically well written, others I feel leaves a little to be desired.  Now, watch that pile of… trash, I guess.  It’s hard to tell. We’ll go through the classes alphabetically, starting naturally with the assassiurghk!*

A look at classes – The Assassin
A rare subclass of thieves, according to the Swords and Wizardry Complete handbook, the assassin is a member of a secret guild of killers.  In game terms this means that the ‘contracts’ that an assassin may receive are strictly regulated – however, as Chaotic assassins are mentioned, one would assume that there are ‘rogue’ assassins as well, using their abilities strictly for the advancement of Chaos or Evil. 
One of the things I like about the Swords and Wizardry version of the assassin is how ‘playable’ it feels as a character class.  Terms like ‘Assassin-adventurer’ and the mention of the Original Game assassins being Neutral, “similar to the Druidic allegiance to the powers of nature, and they are not indiscriminate of their actions” really make this more viable for a group oriented party.  Certainly any Referee in AD&D could have made this change, but having it in writing makes the ‘feel’ of the class more accessible. 
Mechanically, the class is difficult to achieve if using the 3d6 down the line approach, even harder to qualify for the prime attribute experience point bonus.  The mechanics of the class are naturally similar to that of the thief, gaining a small percentage chance to mimic thief skills at third level (in AD&D we extrapolated the skills downward to be available in even smaller percentages at level  1).  Similar to a gripe I had with AD&D, the Climb Walls skill starts way too high, and the others feel too low.  I never quite understood this convention, and think an interesting house rule would be to take the noted percentages, and allow the player to choose which ability to assign them to – for instance, instead of starting out with 85% in Climb Walls, a player could choose to swap the Open Locks progression (starting at 10%) with Climb Walls.  The only one this wouldn’t work with is Hear Sounds, which is expressed as an X in 6 chance as per the Original Game.
The ability to Disguise themselves is actually an incredibly powerful tool for the assassin that (at least in the games where I’ve seen assassins run) has been underused.  In an urban or even dungeon setting, this could be utilized for many, many situations – don’t forget to use this if you are playing an assassin!
Poison is always a touchy subject, as issues of Good / Evil / Law / Chaos are concerned.  S&W however, steers away from this in the assassin description, leaving the matter in the hands of the Referee (justly, I believe).  Assassins have the ability to use poison without the threat of accidentally poisoning themselves, another Referee decision.  In fact, very little is mentioned about poison with the exception that it is an alchemist that brews them, not the assassin himself – thought that would be a cool 7th + level ability, brewing poisons. 
I was surprised to see that there was no ‘insta-kill’ that I had grown used to in AD&D.  Instead, assassins are given the thief’s Backstab with an option to add their level to the damage.  I find this to be suitably ‘assassiny’ and think I would only add the caveat that this could also be performed with a ranged weapon when the target is not aware of the assassin.  In all, a powerful trait to have.
Establishing a Guild.  The apex of the assassin.  Much like the ‘name’ levels of the other classes this trait is a great way to integrate the assassin not only into the story of the campaign, but into the campaign setting itself. 
Overall thoughts:
The assassin in S&W feels more playable than in AD&D and other ‘clones’.  Their fast progression and d6 hit die make them a force to be reckoned with early in the game, though at higher levels they suffer from the same pain as the thief in that 150,000 experience points yields little gain after 11th – 14th level.
I give it a 7 / 10 overall.

*Stabbed in the dark.  Hopefully it wasn’t Matt Finch taking me out for criticizing his classes.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

So a quick trip to the ER yesterday (I'm fine, but better safe than sorry) stopped me from posting the couple of spells I had for Swords and Wizardry appreciation day.  Regardless, here they are:

Arcadle's Fiery Bolts
Level: Magic User 2
Duration: Instantaneous
Range: 90'

This spell was created by a young magic user who often found his party in dire straits with trolls and other regenerating creatures.  It became a go-to for when Magic Missile wasn't good enough, and a dash of fire was necessary, but a Fireball was too big to use.

Description:  A bolt of fire streaks towards the target, striking for 2-8 points of damage (save for half).  In addition, if the saving throw is failed, anything flammable ignites.  Unattended objects that are flammable ignite instantly.  For every two levels of experience beyond 3rd the magic user has gained, he can add one extra Fiery Bolt.

Arkus' Icy Whip
Level: Cleric 2, Druid 1
Duration: 4 rounds
Range: 10'

This spell is often used by shamans, druids of the far north and clerics who's deity holds the elemental or cold specific portfolios.  It was created as a means of defense and safe passage over watery dangers.

Description:  A ten foot long whip of fluid ice is created in the hands of the  caster.  The whip can be used to strike at enemies for 1d6 damage (this does not count as a magic weapon).  The caster uses his normal attack bonuses, and is proficient with the whip.
The caster can also choose to extend the whip over standing water.  Each round this is done, it will freeze a path, one foot wide and ten feet long for 1 turn.  The ice is thick enough that one man-sized creature can traverse it without fear of falling through.  Anyone on the ice after the turn is up, falls through as it breaks away.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Well, for starters I think we need to send a big 'thank you' out to Erik Tenkar, Matt Finch and the gang at Frog God Games.  Not only has Swords and Wizardry Appreciation Day proved once again that the hobby has been reinvigorated, I forsee many years of succes in the future!

Now that that is out of the way, here are some house rules and variants that I use in my home campaign - feel free to steal anything you find, I hope to have some more - new spells - posted this afternoon.

·         Races:  All races from Swords & Wizardry Complete are allowed. 

o   Races from other sources should be approved by the Referee prior to use
o   Race-as-Class is available to players who request it.  This is the same as the Swords & Wizardry White Box rules.
·         Classes:  All classes from Swords & Wizardry Complete are allowed.
o   Any race can be a cleric, with non-human clerics advancing up to 7th level of experience, fighter or thief.
o   Non-standard race / class combinations are subject to DM approval.
o   Neutral clerics are Druids.
o   Wizards gain a bonus first level spell at INT 13-15, or two bonus first level spells at INT 16-18
o   Clerics gain a bonus first level spell at WIS 13-15, or two bonus first level spells at WIS 16-18 (after they attain second level or higher).
·         Level limits: are still in effect, but are three higher than stated in S&W Complete.
·         HP:  All PC characters (not NPC’s) will receive a +1d6 hp ‘kicker’ at first level.  This represents their ‘above average’ status.  Note that the first 'normal' hit die is not maximized.  You only receive this kicker once.
·         Ability Score Generation:  Roll 3d6 down the line, but generate (7) scores.  Your extra score can be swapped out with any one score (if you wish).  No other rerolls allowed.
·         Alignment:  PC’s may be Lawful, Neutral or Chaotic as they see fit, unless required by class.
·         Initiative:  1d6 per side.  If necessary, the Referee can call for individual initiative. 
o   Individual initiative will be 1d6 per character modified by Dexterity

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Here we are again, one day away from Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day.  Today's topic: Balance.

Balance:  a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equal distribution of weight, amount, etc.
Source: Dictionary.com

So let's delve in, shall we?  We’ll start with one definition of game balance.

One of the things to keep in mind in old-school games, particularly D&D and its clones, is the balance, and lack thereof.  There are many times when characters can get in over their heads.  A modern convention (often seen in PC and console games) is having the world ‘level’ up around you.  Take for instance, the Elder Scrolls IV, Oblivion.  Thank goodness you weren’t running into Daedra at level one!  The games are built this way to keep the players from feeling a sense of loss or frustration when they encounter obviously overpowered encounters.
On the other hand, if a player tells you he wants to go to the Tomb of Horrors, or delve into the Depths of the Earth, or use a new-found portal to teleport directly to the deepest levels of Rappan Athuk, shouldn’t they be able to?  Of course they should.  And if they do, does the Referee change the encounters to suit the player’s level?  Well, I certainly hope not.  If a party of 4th level characters walks through G2, I would have strong words with that particular Referee!  My point in this is simple.  As a Referee, there should be areas that aren’t ‘player friendly’.  Let’s face it, if the players are scared for their characters every once in a while, they’d get rather hard to deal with…
Another form of game balance is in the mechanics of leveling and experience.
I often wonder why those old modules gave a level range instead of an experience range.  The game is balanced by experience points, not by level.  A ninth level fighter, magic-user, thief and cleric are all at various levels of power.  However, a fighter, magic-user, thief and cleric with 250,000 experience are going to be much more evenly matched.
When looking at some of those old modules and preparing to run them, I recommend looking more at the experience point values and where they fit in the called out level range than just using the levels as-is.  

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Realms in the Mist

Hello, and welcome!  For starters, this blog is about my gaming experiences in table-top rpg's, and will include such fascinating topics as - stories of my 'good-old days', reviews, thoughts and musings on gaming in general, and how they relate to my current obsession: the Swords & Wizardry rules created by Matt Finch.

A little background on my gaming experience, I've been gaming solidly since about 1993, when I was introduced to AD&D second edition.  I was hooked immediately, having already devoured Tolkein and Brooks and was already moving on towards Leiber and Vance (oddly enough, my favorites are Leiber and Brooks).  My groups immediately took to me as the DM, and for the most part, that has been my lot for the last 20 years.  As will happen, our games ran from gonzo to serious, from hilarious to depressing drama.  I have a distinct memory of a DM who ran a game for us in 2000 describing the wind rushing through our hair as the tarrasque chased us down the road in a Model T, kind of like Ian Malcolm in that scene in Jurassic Park... so, yeah.  A little gonzo.

As 2000 moved into 2001, we made the infamous switch.  My players were hooked.  It was third edition all the way, a whole new day had dawned.  I was... OK with it.  It was not my favorite, but for a while, it seemed a decent release, and I didn't hate it.  On top of that, my players were having fun - what better result is there?  Cut to 2003, and a new round of books to be bought.  Well, we were still having fun, and there was this great little company putting out old-school like modules for third edition, Necromancer Games.  2008?  More books.  Well, needless to say, I've spent way too much money on new books at this point!  Classes get more powerful, monsters get more powerful.  With fourth edition, I see an incredible balancing act.  It's actually rather amazing that they balanced things as well as they did.  It's also very boring to me.  PC's either win the fight handily because they are level equivalent or PC's get destroyed because the encounter is not level appropriate.

All this time I saw things that at the time I thought were weird, but in the heat of a game didn't really acknowledge.  In mid 2008, something else happened that brought this to light.  A local gamer posted on Dragonsfoot.org stating that he was looking for players for an AD&D first edition game.  In a fit on nostalgia, I jumped at the chance (and after a few emails and phone calls to make sure I felt safe) met with him and one other.  It was the start of a once a month game that is still going, beginning with 2 players and a DM, and now includes upwards of 12 players on some days. And this is what I saw.  Things in the newer editions that were resolved with skill checks and feats were so easily resolved with roleplaying.  And there it was.  What I had back in 1994, wrapped up in imagination was drowned in mechanics.

All this said, my interest in old school gaming was once again peaked and I began delving in a little more.  I discovered Swords and Wizardry Core and devoured it. Next was Swords and Wizardry Complete, the Rappan Athuk kickstarter, the Tome of Horrors Complete, Rob Conley's Majestic Wilderlands, old Judges Guild material... the list goes on.  To say that Swords and Wizardry has caught my attention is an understatement.  So say it is liberating is an understatement as well.

So there's my background, whether you wanted it or not (aah, the internet feeds my ego!).  So, what do I have planned for the future?  My first real topic will be balance, when it's good, when it's bad, and how a new-schooler should look at it.

Thanks for reading, and welcome to the Realms in the Mist!

Jim Stanton