17 March 2018

Rob Kuntz's Next "Old School" Project

On another spot here on the internet Rob Kuntz made the following observation: (quoted with permission)

We were already doing the DIY ethos correctly with the Supplements, Monster and Treasure Assortments, Geomorphs, hex pads. graph paper pads and the variant materials appearing in SR and the Dragon.  If left to its own devices more and different design philosophy routes would have manifested (no doubt including something akin to the main matter in DATG where we, much earlier, would have understood what an RPG derives from, that is its whole and not just  a limited strand plucked from it to promote a very narrowly conceived market/production cycle); instead it got side-tracked by AD^D and the market driven nature of it all through the pm adventures, tournament stuff, etc. and the original path was literally abandoned; and what remains of it today is really a mix between the two extremes in what we would consider our niche; but the mainstay is still the latter-TSR model.  I detailed this in DATG.  I have many workable ideas of what to do with the market if it were to be directed more towards the DIY ethic again than it now portrays. But until the current mindset that predominates this market driven hobby exhausts itself of its own repetitious nature, I'm not talking.

I found the thought of another of the Old Guard leaving us without his insight into OD&D and gaming would be a great loss. When I asked him to please reconsider? He said this.

Thanks for the compliments.

But let me clarify a bit. These working ideas (and modeled prototypes) are an exercise in design thinking that leads to expanding perceptions of design and play and do not represent an original style of play but instead the continuous expansion of our original way of thinking as first prodded along such a path by Arneson.

For instance, going back to Dave Arneson’s design attitude (and I recommend folks who have DATG to reread the second essay contained in it, Dimensionality in Design, where I give it a broad treatment with some specific information related to the formation, description and throttling (stepping) of his systems architecture), one must appeal to the concepts he extolled which was to break from standards. This is the only way to create something original.

In current parlance, that would supposedly mean (to the average designer) to create a new game. That is not my trajectory with the ideas I have hinted at. They are congruous with ideas of expanding thought and their implementation by way of intersecting with Arneson’s design attitude as exampled by the initial condition state of D&D.

This would more likely side, to lesser or greater degrees, with “complexity” as referenced in Gary Gygax’s quote, ‘...create a game of simplicity or ultimate complexity”. This complexity is accomplished not by scaling or additional linear inputs, but iby reorganizing the standard model (and thus realigning the assumed tenses and applications of its information) which dimensionally alters the ancient model still in use to this day while at the same time allowing for the game’s base mechanics and structures to remain in place. IOW, I have rearranged the focus of the (math) sets to function as an appendage to the system, thus creating a sustainable and overlapping model.

Thus we have a dimensional shift which looks like the following (notation) for a premade module (EX1) when compared to my proposed remodeling (EX2):

A0.......... A1 The ellipses repeat A0 as opposing resources which are overcome in game terms until A1 is reached, which is the zero-sum modification of <WIN> (or ending of the math stream), such as in completing the objective. This is the current ancient model, EX1.

Think of the above as a flat, linear plane which I will label as “A”

EX2 proposes that “A” is only a subset of a greater dimensionality (for example, A+B+C+F) which I have modeled and works.

Now, I will not reveal any further information about how I organize EX2, for that would be giving away the game.

What I will propose is this: If the community can get 300 purchasers to pledge to buy what I am proposing (not pledge money, but just to pledge to buy it when it is produced) then I can speculate on this and write it up and invest my funds in having it printed.

  1. It will be a useable adventure.
  2. Moreover, it will contain a design philosophy that is explained and exampled so as to make the expanding ideas and system organization available for others to understand and implement.

The logistics regarding the pledges would have to be nailed down. A campaign would have to be launched (quite beyond my current capabilities considering my over-burdened schedule and the need to possibly add in the crafting of the adventure, etc.). So, word would have to be spread grass-roots style and maintained as TLS collected the names and e-mails of those pledging, for example.

That is the best I can offer. It’s size and price: Not to exceed 48 pages printed and 19.95 in cost. This is the upper limit estimate. Lightly illustrated, maps, some diagrams (for design illustration purposes). So what you have here is an adventure, a new model and the described design philosophy underpinning it all.

So ... how can you express your interest in this product? I don't have to sign up for another service, do I?

No, you don't! Just shoot him an e-mail: (emphasis added, quoted with permission)

...We can use TLS's enquiries address for now: enquiries@threelinestudio.com Topic Field on e-mail: "EX2 Pledge"

The full name and e-mail address must be in the communication

05 February 2018

Why I Won’t Believe It’s Your Honest Opinion

Or, It’s Just The Same Ol’ Song & Dance ... 

A genre film is announced. 
This movie will suck! Look which studio is making it! 

The movie poster is released. 
This movie will suck! Look at the font they used for the title! 

The teaser trailer is released with a few tightly edited seconds of film. 
This movie will suck! You can tell the whole 2 hours from these 10 seconds! 

The trailer is released. 
This movie will suck! This almost whole minute of footage shows it! 

The movie comes out. 
This movie will suck! I won’t go see it. 

A few days later the naysayer spends a great deal of time and effort online dissecting the film. This is done while acting like he or she holds some kind of intellectual high ground for not liking a movie everyone seems to enjoy. Yet they evince a near-encyclopedic knowledge of a movie they continue to maintain they “never saw” and never will. 

And this, in a nutshell, is why I don’t believe you when you state you simply “do not like it.” You hated the idea from its inception and you never wavered from that hatred. 

Like or dislike whatever you wish. There are no shortage of popular films I don’t enjoy and more than a few stinkers I enjoy in spite of the fact that, from most standpoints, they really reek. I just keep quiet about when folks who obviously like the movie are discussing it. I will tactfully render my opinion if directly asked, but otherwise I’ll let them be. 

29 December 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), A Review

Spoilers ahead. You've been warned.

I enjoyed this latest episode in the Star Wars franchise. It told a story consistent with the Lucas universe while moving away from being a retread of an earlier film in the series ... yes SW:VII I'm looking at you.

First a couple of fun trivia points:
  • the "spaceship" that actually turns out to be a closeup shot of an iron is a nice nod to one of the earliest Star Wars fan spoofs "Hardware Wars" (1978). 
  • nobody utters the increasingly annoying and intrusive "I've got a bad feeling about this" (though the director has stated BB-8 "says" the line in his beeps, I'm not going to count that).
  • Yoda's force ghost appears and is portrayed by Frank Oz using a puppet, not CGI. 
  • the golden dice appearing in a single scene in "Star Wars" (1977 and later subtitled "A New Hope") make a reappearance in this movie and, by cracky, I want a pair! 
  • And now we know where blue milk comes from. Okay, fanon states blue milk is actually bantha milk, and this milk was more green than blue, but it was a fun scene anyway.

Many fans have strong feelings about how the Star Wars universe should play out on film. I'm not one of those folks, I just like watching Star Wars movies. If you're looking for a hardcore review? This isn't it. Now, on with it!

The Resistance is in trouble. Like the Rebellion in Episodes IV-V-VI they are underfunded, meagerly equipped, and on the run. Ace pilot Poe Dameron ignores his orders and needlessly squanders some Resistance assets and putting the remaining ships in peril. This places him at odds with his commanders and leadership.

Meanwhile, Luke casually ignores Rey's request for training and goes about his daily routine. Some good scenes here, though, with Luke reuniting with Chewie and stepping into the 'Falcon cockpit for the first time in long years.

And Finn goes on a covert mission with a new face (Rose) to find a hacker with the skill to get the Resistance out of its current tight spot. Did I say tight? The situation seems hopeless. The few remaining capital ships of the Resistance are being picked off one by one, and none of the sympathetic but uncommitted factions will come to their aid. Leia is injured and at the point of death, necessitating a Vice-Admiral (played by Laura Dern) to assume the role of leadership after Ackbar's death. Yes, things are grim.

Let me cut to the chase here: the Resistance survives. The struggle between the Resistance and the First Order are merely the backdrop for the struggle between Kylo Ren and Rey, with a side dish of Luke Skywalker being all "crazy hermit Jedi." Skywalker says the Jedi are all but gone and he is the last of the breed. Further, he believes this is what should happen. Rey sees her sole chance at real Jedi training pass her by. Ren shows signs of wavering in his desire to become Darth Vader II, and begins a dialog with Rey. They even join forces in a battle which sees the death of Snoke and a Class AAA butt-whoopin' of a bunch of elite palace guards.

But the shaky alliance does not endure. Rey resists Ren's overtures to rule the galaxy at his side and bringing order to the unwashed masses. It turns out Ren may have only wanted Snoke out of the way so he could take over his spot. Kylo Ren orders the remnants of the Resistance to be wiped out.

The movie ends with the Resistance all but wiped out, Luke Skywalker dead, and the First Order still in charge. Which leaves us with:

Will Kylo be an effective leader? Is he beyond redemption, or does he waver in his devotion to the Sith ideals?

Luke Skywalker has become one with the Force, but obviously he'll be back as Force Ghost in the next installment ... won't he?

What will happen with the Rey/Kylo dichotomy? Are they destined to found a new Order neither Jedi nor Sith? What role does Luke have yet to play in this aspect of the story?

Is Rey/Finn/Rose a clumsy and poorly written love triangle? I've always held the belief, only rarely proven wrong, sci-fi writers do a poor job with romance. Further, romance makes for poor drama unless handled very cleverly. What little we have seen on-screen is IMO neither convincing nor cleverly handled. 

The Rebellion is a small handful of folk on an junk freighter ... but there are sympathetic factions out there. Was Skywalker's sacrifice enough to ignite them into a unified New Rebellion?

How will SW-9 handle the lack of Carrie Fisher to fill Leia's role, since that character is one of the few "old hands" to survive?

Bottom Line: I enjoyed this movie a great deal and look forward to the concluding episode. All the things that made me love Star Wars are there, though a few are "stood on their head" (so to speak), and I had a great 2+ hours for my $8. See it in the theatre, it's worth a trip to your local cinema.

It's Getting To Where You Can't Like or Dislike Anything

Or, How To Ignite Yet Another Internet Flame War

I liked [ABC]!  But [XYZ] is better.

On its face, this is just a simple statement of opinion by someone who enjoyed watching the latest episode of a popular franchise film.

What I saw, and still see, is an unintentional troll challenging other trolls. Note the word "unintentional" before opening fire, please. I myself have posted things in all innocence that brought a real firestorm down upon me and others; so I've nothing but sympathy for anyone experiencing the same fate.

The first half of the statement is going to set off the section of fandom who didn't like it. Because, hardcore fans being what they are? If they don't like it that means they hate it. If they hate it, you'd best hate it, too. Or you open yourself to doxxing, death threats, rape threats, etc. All this has happened to people who refused to join "best film ever/worst piece of trash ever" club.

The second half of the statement will likewise provoke anyone who believes the second film (book, tv series, comic, etc.) was obviously superior to the first. Once again, battle is joined.

Then, of course, is the "I'm not a troll, but..." guy who wanders in-thread and makes the observation everyone involved (even those striving to remain civil and somewhat cogent) are idiots and wanders back out.

Thought #1: why can't a fan say he liked or didn't like something and not get a lot of flack over it?

Thought #2: why the thinly disguised dig at another title?

Thought #3: why are fans' identities, their very sense of self-worth, so firmly wrapped up in yet another let's pretend story?

Conclusion: can't we all calm down and just get along?

Conclusion #2: okay, the above conclusion was too simplistic. I have no solution, to be frank. Feelings are hurt, friendships ruined, cool online gaming hangouts are rendered toxic by these discussions. Discussions which, by their very nature, are inherent to that hangout (or forum, 'blog, convention, etc.).

21 December 2017

A New Traveller Race

Uplifted Monkey (Cercops)

I've always liked the concept of the Niven & Pournelle's "watchmakers" so I've adapted and broadened the concept for MTU. I've used the Blue Monkey as a base for my new race. IMTU they were research subjects on a remote planet before The Fall (a space-based Dark Ages) who thrived in those times in the absence of humans.

Average Specimen: ~15 kg (~30 lbs), 90 cm (~36") 

Cercops have a prehensile tail about the same length as the body and opposable thumbs. A cercop's hands and feet are equally dexterous and they will often remove their footwear for intricate tasks. Cercops are extremely adaptable and adept at improvising and customizing equipment.

Diet: omnivorous when needed but primarily frugivores supplemented with seeds, flowers, and insects.

Social: gregarious and inquisitive, cercops can be found in a variety of Traveller settings. They are most often encountered in technical or engineering capacities. They rarely serve as scouts, most eschew being alone (though exceptions exist).

Unique: cercops have developed a needler that attaches to the tail. It is carried in a small back holster, the tail slips into it and the needler can be in play in a split-second. Short of a combat situation, this is typically their preferred weapon.

20 December 2017

Replacing Lost Limbs

Inspired by a thread on a D&D forum ...

Pyka "Zil" Zilarra, human female

Zil lives in the largest city in your campaign (Coleston in my Khordesh). She is a talented smith, capable of making ornate customized armors. She is best known for two things: (1) ornate helms inspired by hunting birds (raptor-helms), and (2) her silver limb replacements. These replacement limbs are fully functional within the individual user's DEX score, and are custom-made to match the original in exacting detail; excepting the fact they are shiny silver. They are not available in a matte finish or other metal/color, roll for reaction if they customer asks for this with a bad roll indicating refusal of service.

Hand, foot, eye, ear, and similar: 5,000 gp & 1 month
Forearm, shin, similar: 15,000 gp & 3 months
Whole limb such as leg, arm: 25,000 gp & 6 months

Half on order/fitting, half on completion. Prices and times are non-negotiable. Subjects must be available for the first week of the process for refits and adjustments. Zil cannot replace a missing head without some rather creative refereeing, but let's say it would be 200,000 gp and require a year of work.

Zil is tall and burly, dark-haired and swarthy. She has a short temper, though she is slow to violence, and very proud (justifiably so) of her work.

08 December 2017

Resolve All Actions!

Or: Okay, Now Roll For Initiative! 

How you conduct combat makes a difference. This is not, of course, a revelation to anyone running a D&D campaign. This post is just a quick look at how changing initiative and order of combat alter combat and strategy.

Everybody Acts

At its simplest, combat is a question of rolling a couple of d6, with highest roll winning. The winning side acts, performing all attacks and resolving all actions. Then the survivors on the losing side get to do the same. It has the advantage of being simple and fast, a resolution for D&D I typically prefer.

Phased Initiative

Taking a cue from Holmes (among others), some referees use Dexterity based initiative, acting in order of highest to lowest. This is a nice perk for player-characters with high DEX, granting importance to ability rolls. It puts a bit more work on the referee, rolling DEX for all monsters. The default position of assigning the same Dexterity to all NPCs or rolling once for a group of monsters can help out.

Phased Combat 

Then there is phased combat, inspired by Chainmail et al. In this system, the faction winning initiative moves first in a series of steps comprising a combat round. Typically magic/missile, movement, melee. I like to call this the 3M's. This adds more subtlety to melee tactics but takes a little more time at the table. Phased combat using this order makes the magic-user a bit more prominent as the artillery of the group, also allowing missile fire or an offensive spell to interrupt the other side's wizard. The movement phase in the middle allows for split-fire and move, a big advantage of the elf class. Movement also lets the fighters maneuver to protect team members or go on the offensive against a particular opponent. Finally, we have the melee phase.

Besides adding a bit more tactical thinking to the game? Phased combat also gives the referee more options. One can decrease the potential of magic-users by moving spell-casting after the melee phase, giving two opportunities (missile and melee) of interrupting spell-casting. Or one can do as we do, adding a second missile phase after movement. This allows half-move/fire or fire/half-move for non split-move and fire characters. This greatly increases the punch of missile fire in the game.

Declaration Of Intent

We have seen games that require declarations and others in which the referee merely asks each player, in turn, what they are doing either before or after rolling initiative. Declaring a spell before knowing if one has initiative requires a bit more thinking than knowing one gets to act first before deciding.


Go with group initiative and declaring one's actions when it is time for them to act. If you want a more war-gamey feeling game go with:
  • Declaration of Intent
  • Roll for Initiative
  • Phased Combat: magic/missile, movement, missile, melee
  • Morale Check