23 October 2017

OD&D -vs- T&T: Summary

Or ... D&D or T&T, The Final Reflection

Which game should you play? I believe it’s best to first ponder the feel of your campaign.

Comparison Point #1: rules. 

D&D provides much more structure, which grows in complexity with each new edition. Even if you, as referee, do not ascribe to the more rules = more fun school of thought? You would be well served to keep in mind many RPG gamers do.

T&T has less structure but this results in more work by the referee. For fledgling game masters, this may also lead to more missteps before settling into a viable campaign.

Conclusion: as an inveterate rules fiddler, I award this round to T&T.

Comparison Point #2: type of campaign.

Specifically, a short versus long running ongoing game world. In my opinion T&T is well-suited for one-shots and shorter focus campaigns, while D&D is best suited for a years long game.

Conclusion: I love getting to know a fantasy world and all its many aspects, point to D&D.

Comparison Point #3: numbers of players.

In this author's opinion, D&D is a the more the merrier type of game. I've certainly enjoyed games with only 2 or 3 players at the table but I've always found at least 5 or 6 a lot more fun. Though T&T can easily handle a like number of players, I would use it specifically for a group of smaller players or a one-on-one game. Obviously, as years of solo modules published for the game show us, T&T is also well-suited for solo gaming.

Conclusion: a tie, since available game participants can be highly variable in this complex day and age.

Final Conclusion: 

If I were going to run a long term campaign with a semi-stable number of adult players, I would choose D&D. If I were running a one-shot game, a game for a small number of players, or a game for younger players; I would likely choose T&T.

Recall the roots of both games. For D&D, the roots lie in simulation wargames. It's creators loved complexity and accuracy, though neither believed more complexity was necessarily better. T&T was an attempt to recreate fantasy on a simpler level for folks who just wanted to jump in and play a heroic fantasy figure. It calls to mind the old D&D debate of Batman versus Superman. In a D&D versus T&T comparison, D&D is Bruce Wayne yearning to be the Batman and with T&T your character is more like young Clark Kent on the verge of greatness; testing his powers and growing in confidence every day.

I hope this helps you, fellow gamer, with like decisions you have to make.

15 September 2017

D&D -vs- T&T: Magic

Or, Are Healing Potions Too D&D?

Being a comparison of the original 1974 boxed set edition of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and Tunnels & Trolls 5th Edition (T&T).

In the D&D rules we have a Vancian-based magic system. For those of you unfamiliar with Jack Vance's writings? Let us simply say this is a fire and forget system. The magic-user (MU) studies his spells, imprinting and storing the magick in his mind. This potential is then unleashed when the MU speaks the final part of the spell with accompanying hand gestures. Releasing the spell energy removes that spell from the MU's mind. More powerful spells take longer to both memorize and cast, and take up more room in the MU's mind. With experience, the magic-user can hold great numbers of spells in memory, making him a dangerous foe. This is balanced by the fact he cannot cast a spell he does not have memorized, as well as his relative weakness in combat (though a first level fighter in melee with a 9th level magic-user would still be candy).

T&T magic is based upon some kind of psi-factor [...] all powered by an inner strength. Any spells the wizard knows can be cast at will, provided the wizard has enough Strength (changed to WIZ in later editions) to do so. STR can be exceeded but run the risk of draining the wizard and killing him. Wizards in this system are also poorer in combat, but do have the advantage of being able to wear armor and carry a shield if they so desire.

Though it is a rather useless comparison, magic spells in D&D go as high as 6th level and eventually up to 9th in later editions. T&T's magic goes to level 20. Because the two systems are so different, however, this comparison is of little value. We mention it here because the question has arisen an number of times in discussions of the two rules sets.

Both systems allow spell-casters to research and write new spells. MUs must have a spellbook to relearn any cast spells, or to change their memorized spells to a different one. Wizards either know a spell or do not, though they can learn new spells by studying another wizard's spell books.

Wizards carry staves as an aid to spell-casting (termed a focus in later editions) in the T&T universe, the better the staff the better the magic effects of the cast spells. A wand may be used for the same purpose. D&D MUs use staves for combat. Magical D&D staves are like giant wands, holding specific spell casting abilities and a finite number of charges.

The oddest difference we have found? T&T has no potions! Obviously these would be a simple matter to add to the rules. In point of fact, out of curiosity we checked the most recent edition of the game: Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls. We found potions and rules for them included.

T&T spells aren't fixed in power, they can be increased in effect when cast by a wizard of higher level. Additionally, as a wizard increases in level he can cast spells of lower level more easily. This is shown by requiring less STR to cast them. A staff also reduces STR needed to cast spells, though no spell can ever be reduced to less than 1 point cost.

10 September 2017

D&D -vs- T&T: Community

Or, What's That Crawling Up From Under The Bridge? 

I've been struck by the stark comparison between the D&D and T&T online communities. Granted, the community for the former is (comparatively) huge. More numbers means a larger sampling of populations and greater opportunity for outliers. Additionally, my time with the T&T community is far more limited than D&D. Still ...

I have to say that I've seen a lot of ridiculous arguments over the years about D&D. I recall when Gary was alive and, both in person and online, always encouraged folks to shape the game to their vision. The one thing that would set him off in a big hurry was somebody arguing rules with him, the dreaded rules lawyer. He despised gamers who did that. He frequently answered rules questions by asking how the questioner handled it and his usual reply was "sounds good." I never had the pleasure of meeting Dave Arneson but his approach to the questions I saw him field online was similar.

But now? Both these innovators have left us. Those among us who actually played D&D back in the day (as current OD&D revivalists often term it) are being increasingly shouted down by persons who weren't around then. Of course, this doesn't prevent them from informing us and the gaming community at large how it was really done back then or even what Gary (or Dave) actually meant when he wrote that. Often this is merely doubled down on when presented with a direct quote from the authors disproving their supposition, or contradiction to their statement by the players who were actually worked with Gygax or Arneson or regularly played in their games.

But even that isn't all of it. The so-called Old Guard representing the TSR staff of core gaming group members during the formative years of D&D's development are increasingly active in the community. Most of them are supportive of the old school gaming movement but a vocal few spend most of their time criticizing everything the fans do. In these cases (no, I won't ID them) the critique has ranged from snarky but somewhat helpful up to strident and outright taunting. The latter is becoming more frequent as the same arguments about this, that, and the other thing get repeated or old threads revived.

I can't help but contrast this with my interactions with T&T fanbase and still active folks who brought that game to reality. I've only interacted with author Ken St. Andre on non-gaming related issues on Facebook but he seems to very approachable. I just haven't known enough about his rules to be able to even cogently frame a question about them. Same with Flying Buffalo notable Rick Loomis. I was looking for an out-of-print edition of the game and Loomis was very helpful. I also interacted with him during the dT&T Kickstarter and, again, he was approachable and willing to answer all my questions.

Finally, this brings me to the one major remaining forum for T&T gamers: the TrollBridge. As a neophyte I have been online and asking questions I'm sure they've heard many times before. Not a single person has given any trouble over these inquiries. Every time my question has been answered in a way that didn't make me feel like something scraped off the bottom of one's shoe for asking. I appreciate this. I don't feel I'm thin-skinned but I have grown weary of the constant bickering over playing a freaking game that bedevils the D&D community.

09 September 2017

What's The Difference? The Various T&T Editions

This list was swiped from the T&T Trollbridge Forum in response to a poster's questions. The answer was written by Aramis of Erak and can be read here. I've edited his words slightly, so my apologies to Aramis.

4E and earlier have lower dice for monsters and weapons, and Rogues are limited to 7th level. Original Monsters! Monsters! (M!M!) is 4E variant. Citizens originate in M!M!... but are different in 7.0.

5.0 is the 25 year baseline. M!M! 2E is 5E subset, but with only 2 types: Monster and Citizen. Shorter spell list. Loads of monster races with special abilities.

5.5 adds options in the back: skills ala Mercenaries, Spies, & Private Eyes; an additional statistic (WIZ); with the optional SPD stat being made a prime; TARO for stats.

6.0 is a fan job. it's got loads of little differences.

7.0 is essentially a redesign from first principles. Same 8 stats as 5.5 and same basic combat mechanics as 5.X. Spells differ in casting procedures, level requisites, and spell lists. Adds a different skill mechanic, Ken's Talent system. Types are: Warrior, Wizard, Specialist Wizard (4 sub-types), Rogue, Leader, Ranger, Citizen. The Citizen here is different, and less limited than the M!M! one. There is an implied extra type (monster), but that's a debate for another day.

7.5 nerfs the talents, and lessens the experience costs. It's better edited than 7.0, but is essentially the same except for talents and experience costs.

05 September 2017

D&D -vs- T&T: Classes & Races

Or, Magic-Users Still Can't Use Swords!

Being a comparison between original edition Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and 5th Edition Tunnels & Trolls (T&T).


D&D: Fighting-Man or Fighter
T&T Warriors

Note: these two classes are very similar. This is hardly surprising, since an adventurer with a bad attitude and a sharp blade is a basic and fairly easy archetype to render into most game systems. In D&D a fighting-man's skill is illustrated by his slightly higher and more favorable hit dice progression. T&T takes a slightly different approach, instead allowing armor to provide double the protection when worn by a warrior (and only for warriors). I believe both methods serve their respective systems well. In both systems fighters are unable to cast spells but can fight with pretty much anything they can get their hands on, though T&T does further limit weapon selection with minimum strength and dexterity requirements.

D&D: Magic-User
T&T: Wizard

Note: members of both professions should have high Intelligence, both are limited in weapon selection. Magic works differently in T&T, being psi-based rather than Vancian. Wizards in T&T face limitations on the power of magic spells they may cast based upon their IQ score, a feature added to D&D with the first supplement (Greyhawk). Unlike any pre-1983 edition of D&D the T&T rules also factors strength and dexterity into spell-casting, and allow the wizard class use of armor and shield. Wizards gain the use of the best magic staves, though this ability is shared with the Warrior-Wizard.

D&D: Thief (from Supplement I: Greyhawk)
T&T: Rogue

Note: The rogue is much more in the vein of "almost wizard" per Lieber's Gray Mouser than the Thief. Though limited as to accumulation of magic spells and capped with regard to spell power he can employ, the rogue is very much a spell-caster in T&T. Rogues, unlike thieves, have no rules-based thieving skills listed, just a stated mandate to live best by their wit and luck.

D&D: Elf
T&T: Warrior-Wizard

Note: the elf, as originally presented, was a rather odd character. He could be a mage or a fighter for an adventure, but not both simultaneously. As written an elf serving as fighter was only a fighter and unable to cast spells, and elf magic-users could not wear armor or use swords. Whereas the warrior-wizard is both classes at once. They suffer some limitations to both classes, but overall function rather effectively. By the time 5th Edition T&T (the rules used for this comparison) come about, the W-W is limited by ability score requirements. The W-W gains a bonus, smaller than that for full warriors, to their armor protection.

Further note the similarities between the rogue and the warrior-wizard classes. The rules go so far as to state the latter is what the former tended to evolve into (case 2.11.3), but as a tyro to these rules it seems to me both still have their places. I would play a rogue as the traditional sneak and the warrior-wizard as the mage filled with battle-lust (Tenser, anyone?).


D&D: humans, dwarves (and gnomes), elves,  hobbits (renamed halflings in later editions)
T&T: humans, dwarves, elves, fairies, hobbits, leprechauns (and weres)

Note: while technically OD&D doesn't have "race as class" one sees in other pre-1983 editions of the game, it does practically. Dwarves can be fighting-men, as can hobbbits; while both are limited in progression. Neither can be anything else. Elves are an odd mix of fighting-man and magic-user almost everyone house-rules. Only humans can be anything.

On the other hand, in T&T every race, with the exception of leprechaun, can be any class. Even the warrior-wizard, though tough to qualify for, is attainable by all. Players can be were-creatures, werebears and werewolves are specifically mentioned, and allowed to remain under player control. Leprechauns are excepted because of their size rather than race or class, leaving a loophole for a clever player to exploit. At least I, as referee, reward clever play and I assume most others do as well.

In both systems, fighters are unable to cast spells, while wizards are poor at martial skills (though T&T's wizard has a bit of an edge in combat over the D&D magic-user). T&T has no cleric class though the wizard does have healing and curative magicks. Both have a stealthy class, and both have a combination of warrior/wizard, though the D&D version is rather clumsily implemented and (some feel) poorly explained.*

Humans: are the baseline in D&D, able to be a member of any class. T&T uses a similar idea, but rather than the various special powers such as infravision or secret door spotting, this game instead adjusts the ability scores per race chosen. Humans use ability scores as rolled, all other kindred (the T&T equivalent of the demi-humans) adjust some scores upward and others downward. Since ability scores play a much greater roll in every aspect of T&T, this represents some significant differences in the races.

*I've never had an issue with it. It is sparsely explained but what one needs is there. It's just that most folks don't like the explanation. Particularly in light of the PC Class the elf eventually evolved into. 

30 August 2017

D&D -vs- T&T: Character Generation

Or, How To Roll Yer Own! 

Being a comparison of original Dungeons & Dragons (1974 Boxed Set) with 5th Edition Tunnels & Trolls (T&T).

D&D: polyhedral dice, based on platonic solids
T&T: six-siders only, but bring a bunch of them

Note: and here we encounter the first notable difference between the two systems, the dice. However one may feel about this design decision, in 1975 when T&T was published (and 1 year after D&D was published) d6 were a lot easier to come by than polyhedral dice.

Character Record
Both: use 3 x 5 index cards, though D&D quickly moved away from that model.

Ability Scores
D&D: strength, intelligence, wisdom, constitution, dexterity, charisma
T&T: strength, intelligence, luck, constitution, dexterity, charisma

Note: at first? The only difference is a seemingly cosmetic one. Instead of wisdom T&T uses luck, and T&T refers to all 6 abilities as prime attributes. As one reads this section of rules, however, more differences arise. Abilities, all of them, can and will change as the character gains experience. Ability scores also figure much more prominently into T&T's rules system.

  • Strength: determines how much you can carry and which weapons you can wield, and depleting your strength to zero kills your character. 
  • Intelligence: used similarly to D&D to determine number of languages spoken. It also determines how high a level of spell your wizard can cast, a feature added to OD&D with the release of its first supplement. 
  • Luck: used for a lot of saving rolls. Luck's D&D counterpart, wisdom, would come to modify saving throws in later editions of the game though not in OD&D. 
  • Constitution: these are basically your hit points in T&T and if they reach zero? Better grab 3d6 and get to rolling. 
  • Dexterity: used similarly to D&D to modify missile combat rolls. But, see below. 
  • Charisma: similar to D&D's charisma, though negative scores are possible. 
  • Strength + Luck + Dexterity = "Adds" and Adds are added to your combat rolls, though it's worthy of note adds can also be negative so one may wonder why they weren't termed "mods." 

Starting Gold
Both: use 3d6 x 10

Both: short list of general supplies, somewhat longer list of weapons.

Note: T&T weapon damage is variable by type and weapons have both a strength and dexterity requirement; you can also poison your weapons if you wish (poison is not "save or die"). The best armor in T&T is out of reach of starting players.

D&D: Law, Neutral, Chaos
T&T: no alignment

Note: no alignment sheds a lot of role-playing baggage with regard to D&D's wargaming roots. 

D&D: human, dwarf (and gnome), elf, hobbit
T&T: human, dwarf, elf, fairy, hobbit, leprechaun, were-creatures

Note: T&T also includes height and weight charts for your player-character.

D&D: fighting-man, magic-user, cleric
T&T: warrior, wizard, rogue, warrior-wizard

Note: OD&D has no thief but added one quickly with the release of its first supplement. T&T has no cleric but never added one to its rules. T&T's warrior-wizard is much improved over D&D's closest analog, the elf, being able to function in both classes simultaneously with most of the benefits of both. Unfortunately, the warrior-wizard is difficult to qualify for.

D&D: each class has its own progression chart
T&T: every class uses the same chart, and adds to their abilities with progression

Next up: more on player classes, with additional information about the races.

29 August 2017

D&D -vs- T&T: The Basics

A Series Of Essays

This is the first in a series of articles comparing the 1974 boxed set of Dungeons & Dragons and 5th Edition Tunnels & Trolls, abbreviated hereafter respectively as D&D and T&T. Your comments are invited, but be advised I'm not seeking a debate as to which is better or which edition of either I should be using. I'm merely curious as to how the basic systems compare.

As an aside, I stated yesterday I'd begin with classes but, upon review of both texts? It seems to me comparing the introductions and basics of the systems in the order as presented in T&T was thematically a better choice. Please forgive this editorial decision. A comparison of classes will be put off until later. 

A basic thought I've heard about 'net seems to hold true upon closer inspection:

D&D was a fantasy RPG written by wargamers to appeal to wargamers, while T&T was written for persons not otherwise drawn to wargames but loved fantasy literature and fairy tales. 

If this proves true? I may continue to explore this theme throughout these articles.

The Basics

In a nutshell, D&D arose from a couple of ideas. Wargames can include fantasy elements, these fantastic bits gave rise to the idea of heroes of similar heroic stature, and the players not wanting their heroes to die an ignoble death. In time and through the efforts of Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax this thought went from interesting idea for a continuing wargame campaign to an ongoing fantasy campaign. A game in which characters not only continue from game to game, but have a history and personality. When D&D started spreading to non-wargamers it inspired a librarian in Arizona named Ken St. Andre. Ken liked the idea but had two big problems with D&D as written. First, it was too expensive. Having lived in this time, the author will attest that $10 was a lot of money. Second, it was too complicated and contained parts he didn't like. So, like a lot of gamers then and now? He rewrote the rules to suit himself.

St. Andre spends a few sentences in his introduction defending his game about being a rewritten D&D. He states T&T can no more be an imitation of that other game than Chevrolet is a derivative of Ford. I'll leave you, gentle reader, to decide the merits of that statement. For my part? It doesn't matter if it's a derivative or not, I think he wrote a great game and it most assuredly has a distinct personality apart from D&D.

So ... was it cheaper? Yes, his first few printings were being sold for $2. Was it simpler? I believe so, yes. Of course, simplicity has its own cost and much is left for the potential game master (GM) to do for himself. This not a mark against T&T, the first edition of D&D did likewise, though the latter did include more information to get the new referee started on his campaign.

Playing The Game

Not much difference in this section! Create a dungeon or tunnel, key it with monstrous encounters and treasure. Of course, the creation of a campaign and starting scenario is how all role-playing games start.

Both games tell briefly the overall scope of what the referee or GM is taking on. What will be needed to begin the first session of play follows. Both include encouragement to use one's imagination and include notes on recommended party size.

Then, of course, we come to character creation. Here is where the games begin to diverge a bit more. Character Generation will be covered in the next essay in this series.

28 August 2017

First Thoughts About Tunnels & Trolls

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) way back when it was first published in the mid-70's. I lived in a small town Texas lacking even the rather limited means of communicating with fans of games and gaming in other states available back then. As a result, T&T escaped my notice for a long time. When I asked around nobody really knew anything about it. When I got to college another gamer I met told me it was just a badly written knock-off of D&D. I was firmly embedded in the TSR camp at that time and let it go at that.

Then years later I joined the Kickstarter for Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls. Maybe it was a renewed interest in a game I knew nothing about, maybe it was just a desire to support a company that helped promote the gaming hobby back in the day. At any rate? Deluxe Edition was a lot of book so I decided to read the 5th edition of the game first (available as a PDF from DriveThru et al.).

So in the following weeks I'll be presenting a series of posts regarding my thoughts about T&T. These will often be given in comparison with D&D, specifically the 1974 boxed set edition of the game though I may reference some of the supplements and other pre-1983 editions of the game.

Right away one may be excused for thinking "but is really fair to compare a later edition of T&T with the first edition of D&D? Shouldn't you compare the first editions of both?" This isn't really a comparison with a desire to find which is the best game. I'm really no more interested in game rules wars than I am D&D edition wars. I'm just interested in how the D&D I'm most familiar with compares to the version of T&T many players of same like the best.

You, fellow gamer, are invited to share this journey of discovery with me. I'll discuss a variety of observations and opinions about both sets of rules, you're invited to join in if you so desire. First post will be tomorrow and will cover player-character classes. I'll try to post once per week until I've covered the T&T 5th edition rules from cover to cover.

Until tomorrow!

23 August 2017

In The Interest Of Fairness

Here are some free hobby-based products I've released into the wild. Its been implied I should go out and do the same rather than criticize the efforts of others. But taking the points about pod-casters I posted into account, I won't do that because I don't feel I have a pleasant speaking voice at all. But, I have made some of my creative efforts available and free to the community. Here are some of them.

The Gnome's Jewel: a rather odd bar in a pocket universe. [link]

The Carcosan Grimoire: I am the editor of this document and author of a few of the included items. These are random articles for use with McKinney's Carcosa. [link]

Something Rotten In Riverton: a first level dungeon intended for use in an OD&D clone. [link]

Journeys In The Land Of Khordesh: a supplement in the vein of Greyhawk and Blackmoor intended for use with OD&D and its clones. [link]

Feel free to read, evaluate, and critique all you wish. Knowing what my audience wants is the only way I'll get better. The stuff I write for my home campaign, on the other hand, only has to satisfy my players and myself and is therefore not included.

These works are all flawed in their own way. I'm learning, and with a staff of 1 its a slow process. But I welcome any input, positive or negative.

22 August 2017

Addtional Advice For Podcasters

In addition to the post about podcasts I made [here] I'd like to add the following thoughts.

Don't exclude your audience. If you have an hour of podcast and spend 10 minutes yucking it up with your co-hosts over a private joke? One you don't care to explain to your listeners? You're wasting our time. We don't listen to your podcasts to be excluded from yet another social circle, we tune in to hear your thoughts about something we love. In-jokes are great, but let us in on the joke!

Assume your bumper music is too loud. I realize the value of using music to distinguish your podcast and set the tone. But, honestly? When I have to turn up the volume in my earbuds to hear your dialog clearly ... only to be assaulted by music with the volume dialed to 11? It's rather startling  On a related note ...

Get a sound technician. You've got one or two hosts in-studio and another on what I hope is a clean 'phone line but the volumes are poorly balanced. That, coupled with a host with a loud and commanding voice paired with a soft-spoken guest can make dialogue difficult to follow.

17 August 2017

Travelling In Style

In brief, my first exposure to Traveller was rather unimpressive. I'd been running OD&D in the 1970's for my friends but I've always loved science-fiction more than fantasy. Still do. There are lots of reasons but the fantasy novels I truly enjoyed were far fewer in number than sci-fi books I had on my bookshelf. So, when I became aware of the Traveller boxed set of rules I bought a copy right away. I pored over the books, designing a subsector and starting world, an interstellar government, a minimal history of present day Earth to the time when the campaign was to take place, and even alien races. Then?


Everyone was so gung ho over D&D I couldn't get a campaign going. I tried offering a few one-shots to get everyone interested but even that didn't work. I eventually quit trying and put all the books away, taking them off the shelf from time to time and sighing "if only." It would be a few years before I actually ran a game.

So ... How Did It Go? 

It was a lot of fun, but we were all learning and there were a few issues. It was enough to tell me I really liked the game in practice as well as theory and would run it over all others if given the choice. Anyway, I basically ran the '77 version of the game, with a few mods and house-rules.

As a game mechanic I really liked the range band based starship combat system, swiped from the '81 edition. Don't get me wrong! The grease-pencil using vector based system is really cool but not that easy to implement in a college dorm room with a make shift table.

I also used, after a time, the 12 additional "Other" classes from JTAS. They were pretty handy to have but rarely came into play.

No Third Imperium. As this setting didn't exist in the '77 edition, not having it didn't cause an issue with me. I was aware of it after a while, but I'd already established my own interstellar authority. The United Star Systems Alliance (yes I know, I was a college kid okay?) was a loose and rather contentious assembly of aligned systems. Much like the territories of the Old West, one could outrun trouble by staying on the move. Well, you could outrun for a while at least!

What I Liked About the Game

Besides the fact it was science-fiction and I really dug sci-fi?

Traveller has a great built in impetus to adventure. If you have a Merchant vessel, it's quite easy to get behind on payments if you only transport cargo and passengers. If you've been giving a Scout on detached duty, having the life support system flushed every week or two requires Credits, baby. The best way to get that kind of brass is to take side-jobs and ... oh, by the way? There is a someone whose fancy clothes and haughty air mark her as out of place in this seedy starport bar. She appears to really wish to speak with you and your band of misfits.

You can die in character generation. This is common knowledge now but, at the time, it was revolutionary. It also serves as a great balancing mechanism. Your PC gains skills with each term of service, but faces a chance of dying before ever getting to play. Even further, you may not get the skills you want. 

Combat is deadly. Unless you have a truly exceptional character there is a very real possibility the first shot you take in combat will kill you. So, you want to avoid combat as much as you can. When you do get in a fight you'll want to think tactically, striking from a position of strength with the best weapons and maneuvers you can muster. As opposed to D&D, your PC will not be tempted to go into a backwater town and shoot up the place ... if they're smart they won't anyway.

Sky's the limit. You could build virtually any world you wanted, wrapping your own backdrop around the world. An Imperium? A Federation? An evil galactic Empire? Didn't matter what you wanted, you could make it if you so desired.

30 July 2017

[Fiction] Awaken Online: Catharsis

What follows is a mini-review of author Travis Bagwell's "Awaken Online: Catharsis" (AOC) which is available on Amazon as both softcover and ebook. This review is written primarily from the standpoint of a reader and gamer and not as an editor.

Why? Well, speaking as an editor I must say this is definitely a first novel. The writing lacks polish and Bagwell makes some freshman errors in grammar and usage. So if one is a grammar pedant it may be wise to avoid this work for now. For the rest of us? I recommend you give the book a read.

A few days ago I was approached by a friends of Bagwell's, who enthusiastically recommended AOC to me. Right away her description of the books put me off:
It's about a virtual reality game that becomes almost like real life to its participants and eventually starts having an effect on the real world!
It's been done! And done, and done, and done ... She kept after me, eventually bringing me her personal copies of both books and again urging me to read them. Well? One simply cannot beat a free read so I decided to humor her and at least give the books a try.

What I found what a delightfully fresh take on the whole players confuse virtual reality with real life and an AI wants to rule the world scenario. The story revolves around a brilliant but limited by its creators artificial intelligence (AI) and details the AI's struggles to meet the goals assigned by its programmers. A second story line involves a player in the games, which is known as Awaken Online, who is an underdog in the real world but becomes a major player in the virtual.

Yes, there are Mary Sue elements to the story but the entire novel skews toward YA Fiction and is thus in good company (Eragon, Hunger Games, Twilight). This does not detract from some fresh ideas and rather entertaining story telling, both in the virtual game reality and weaving in real life elements and how the whole thing might actually work if the concept actually existed for us.

Further, one could really see the format used in this book as an excellent basis for a true D&D big screen film. It deftly weaves elements of the player's workaday world and artificial reality, with short interludes for dealing with game mechanics such as assigning attribute bonuses and increasing abilities when leveling up.

Bottom Line: Awaken Online: Catharsis and Awaken Online: Precipice are a refreshing take on a time-honored science fiction theme. Author Travis Bagwell is apparently set on writing a series of novel based upon this idea and has, so far, presented some very entertaining tales. Keep on eye on this author and I recommend this book to sci-fi readers, RPG'ers, and computer gamers.

29 July 2017

There Are No Bad Magic Items!

I was listening to three 2nd generation referees of D&D* discussing the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh editions of Basic D&D and Expert D&D (B/X) when a certain magic item came under discussion. The Helm of Telepathy description from the Basic rules is cited here (emphasis added):
Helm of Telepathy: This item looks like a fancy helmet. The wearer of this helm may read the thoughts of any creature within 90' by concentrating on that creature. To make the helm work, the wearer must concentrate on the creature and not move. The wearer will understand the creature's thoughts, and may "send" thoughts to the creature; however, the creature may refuse to respond.
For reference Holmes' Blue Book, an edition with which all three claimed to be familiar, states creature or characters. Going even further back, OD&D's Book II reads any creature. So the ridiculed part about any creatures is nothing new, though it is held up as such. Additionally, the jokes about how useless this was as a magic item went on for a full couple of minutes and included jokes about convincing a herd of docile bovines to wander off the road and stop blocking traffic.

Really? Let's set aside the observation sapient beings are creatures too. So making an attacking pack of wild dogs see their pack leader as a wounded deer or a bloody raw steak with your powers of telepathy doesn't sound useful? Making a hungry owlbear see an empty hallway as he searches for the hapless PC who disturbed his rest doesn't sound like a great idea?


I'd tell them the same thing I told a player who wished to play a thief-acrobat in my campaign. Yes, you absolutely can play an acrobat but understand something right up front. I do not write specifically to your tight-rope walking or tumbling skills. Finding a use for those is up to you. I set up the situation and you figure out how to get around it and get your thieving hands on the nice, shiny gold-pieces and gemstones at the end.

Your players will surprise you every time. Throw the gear you can't figure a use for into your dungeon anyway ... because they can! They will! As a referee I like creative play and I'll reward it accordingly. Don't allow your limited thinking to limit your players. You're only one person and there's a whole team of them.

*meaning they started playing with Holmes or B/X but before 2nd edition. 

20 June 2017

Some Good Guidelines For Players

This is quoted (except for changing defendable to defensible and adding emphasis to item #1) from a post by user Scott Anderson on The Ruins of Murkhill forum. I'm no longer a big fan of forums and am not a member, but if you like them this seems to be a good one.

1. Always ask, "how do we get the loot without putting ourselves in much danger?" Loot is how you level; combat is how you die.

2. Always have a larger plan. You might be able to afford to build a castle at level 8 but who's going to actually build it? Who will man it? What peasants will support it? A random castle in the wilderness is worse than useless. It's a huge mausoleum.

3. Build up the towns you visit through industry and military power. Make them remember you by leaving a mark on their town.

Industry: build a work house. Like maybe there's clay nearby. You can hire a master potter from the nearby city to show the hapless sods how to throw clay pots, and then build a pottery factory. Or maybe invest in some looms and start a rag maker's shop. Something to improve the lot of the least among the townsfolk.

Military: spend some time with the men showing them how to fight. Introduce them to your gods. Offer to take them out adventuring nearby. And when you leave, give them a way to call out to you if they ever need your help. This will build you an army and make sure the town is safe when you return.

Family: if you are a boy character, take up with a maiden and have a baby. That will tie you and the town together in a way no mere physical connection can. Given enough down time, a lady character could make a baby and leave it with the dad in the same way.

If you plan to stay a while, finance a palisade around the town or at least a bailey. That way you will have a defensible position and the beginning of a fort or castle in the future.

All of these tasks can be completed in several different towns in order to establish a real territory.

4. Clear areas systematically. You will be able to build new frontier out of wilderness piece by piece.

5. Spend treasure to buy legitimacy. Titles and political favors are as valuable as military might.

6. Have stuff your guy wants, and tell the Ref he wants it. Then a good Ref will give you opportunities to find or earn those things. It makes things go easier for him to get input.

7. One of the very important things that all of this requires is adequate down time between adventures! Down time requires a calendar and regular time keeping. So if you want to have a real campaign, offer to take care of time, seasons, and weather for the Ref so he doesn't have to.

05 June 2017

North Texas RPG Convention Summary

NTRPG Con 2017 After-Action Report

North Texas RPG Convention (NTRPG) ran from June 1st to June 4th this year at the Westin Dallas Fort Worth Airport Hotel. Herein follows a quick summary of the convention, from facilities to games.


  • Frank Mentzer running the auction, which included some pretty hard-to-find items and a few unique collectables. 
  • A good variety of games and settings. 
  • A well thought-out schedule. Though, obviously, one couldn't play in every game? It was easy to get a good variety of experiences in. 
  • Easy access to D/FW Airport for those traveling from distant points. 
  • The K&KA Social rocked
  • So did AustinJimm's homebrew suds. 
  • Frank Mentzer spilling the beans on his next KS, an expansion (with map and gazetteer) to a certain well-known setting compatible with and expanding on a certain predatory bird with plumage that is neither white nor black but somewhere between. Many (so-called) OSR notables from the Old Guard will be in on the project and, yes ... Darlene herself will be drawing the map (see note above about predatory bird). 
  • Special hotel menu items that were reasonably priced and delivered right to your gaming table by dedicated serving wenches. No beer, though; you had to go buy your own and bring it to the table yourself. 
  • The restaurant had a nice variety of food items and drinks.


  • Hotel was a bit on the pricey side, though I'll be the first to state their hospitality was commiserate with the price.
  • Not every room had a refrigerator, though I'm not clear why some did and others did not. 


  • One game I was in had switched venues from the location provided when I signed up and in the schedule booklet I was given when I checked in. The originally assigned table also had a copy of the sign up sheet in a stand up display, further telling me (and three others) this is where I was supposed to be. When we finally figured out what happened, the game was already in progress. I attempted to apologize to the Referee ... who cut me off and brusquely told me this change had been posted on the bulletin board so I should have known. Wait! So ... it's my fault? I didn't think an apology necessary for such a minor thing but I certainly neither expected nor appreciated the blame for something outside my control. 
  • In another game, one with only four player-characters signed up? Two of the players spent the whole time time complaining about their PC's "lack of combat skills" and refusing to take the even the slightest risk in attempting to complete the task we were given. The two also bickered incessantly with one another and eventually one got his knickers in a twist, packing up his gaming gear and storming off in a wee bit of a snit. Fortunately, the main objective had already been completed.
  • Young players. While I appreciate youthful enthusiasm? One young player had a strident voice with no "inside" volume setting. He also didn't understand the concept of waiting his turn. It made it difficult to hear the referee and, in turn, be heard when I tried to take an action. 

Tips For Future Attendees 

  • Dress in layers if you are touchy about ambient temperature. It varied from comfortable to a bit warm in one case to rather chilly in one other. It didn't bother me, but a few players were unhappy about it. 
  • If you're budget-minded but still want to attend? The Quality Inn next door or the Red Roof Inn across the street may be a bit more to your liking. Listed rates are approximately half of Westin's regular rate and well below even the convention pricing. Both are an easy walk away from Westin.
  • There is also a Denny's across the street, though the special $10 convention menu was a pretty good bargain; even compared to Denny's prices.
  • A convenience store is directly across the street with typical stock and a variety of soft and hard drinks.

03 March 2017

More Campaign Questions

I found this over at my online and real life friend Nathan Jenning's 'blog. More interesting questions to consider when creating a fantasy campaign.

Questions for Campaigns at Each Level of Scale

What is the name of this place?

  1. Backstory
  2. Size
  3. Population
  4. Army and size
What race is in charge here? Really?

Do they speak common? Something else?

Is anything illegal?
  1. Weapons
  2. Magic
  3. Something odd or absurd?
Who is in charge? Really?

Secret societies? Cults?

Who is the wealthiest? Different from above? Really?

  1. Motte & Baily
  2. Castle & Keep
  3. Curtain Walls
  4. Wood
  5. Stone
  6. Enchanted
What is the religion? Really?

Who is their cleric? Really?
  1. What are clerics?
  2. How do clerics work here?
Is this place for Law, Chaos or Neutrality?

Can we change alignment here?

Who is the most powerful?
  1. FM
  2. CL
  3. MU
  4. TH
  5. Dwarf
  6. Elf
  7. Hobbit
Who knows the most?
  1. Book knowledge
  2. Experience
Is there a:
  1. Tavern or Inn
  2. Stable or Livery
  3. Jail or Prison ... and who is in it?
  4. Church or Temple
  5. Bank
  6. Town or Guild Hall ... which guilds?
  7. School
Can we buy?
  1. Supplies
  2. Equipment
  3. Weapons or Armor
  4. Magic Items
  5. Transportation
Can we find?
  1. Healing or Potions
  2. Antidote
  3. Cures
  4. Raise Dead
  5. Curse or Remove Curse
  6. Lycanthropy Cure
Can we obtain hirelings? Retainers?

Where is the nearest treasure to recover?
  1. Is it legendary
  2. Will it make us famous
  3. Will it make us rich
Are there any problems around here?
  1. NPCs
  2. Monsters
  3. Will it make us famous
  4. Will it make us rich
  5. Will it make us landed
Is this place its own problem?
  1. Deception
  2. Intrigue
  3. Corruption
Does anyone need something done?
  1. Are they rich
  2. Powerful
  3. Will they pay: in kind, coin, land
Is this place at war?
  1. With whom
  2. How long
  3. Is it just
  4. Who is winning
Where is the nearest dragon? And hoard? Or any creature that:
  1. Petrifies
  2. Paralyzes
  3. Drains Energy
  4. Poisons
  5. Breathes a weapon
  6. Contagious condition
  7. Regenerates
  8. Enchants
How do PCs find out about these things? Rumors?

01 March 2017

[Review] How To Run A Kickstarter

Kick Starter (KS) has attracted various types of projects since its inception. Though there are folks who malign KS, deservedly so in a few cases, I would be the first to point out this a shortcoming of the format of KS offerings and the individuals behind those projects, not the KS folks themselves. I could spend a lot of time slamming certain notorious KS meltdowns, ranging from projects which began with good intentions but failed to deliver, to what appear to be outright confidence games intended to fleece people.

This is not a post about that, and I'd appreciate it if you would take discussions about such elsewhere.

Let me point out before I go further I've backed 9 KS projects:
  • I received the correct rewards for my level of patronage every time. Yes I did; every one, every time. 
  • The reward matched the description on the KS page.
  • All but one project delivered later than promised, but only one of those eight was delivered more than a month or two later than promised. 
  • In every case I received clear and (more importantly) believable communication from the responsible party or parties that (a) my project was late, (b) the reasons for the delay, and (c) a reasonable estimate of when I could expect my reward(s) to arrive. 
So, not a bad track record overall. I agree with KS in that I'm not buying a product so much as I'm supporting the development of a product. In light of my apparently unusual success with KS, what does it take to stand out from that crowd?

Douglas H. Cole and Gaming Ballistic LLC's Kickstarter Dungeon Grappling (DG). I was impressed on so many levels with how Cole conducted this project. I received constant communication about DG, fun things to read, my input/feedback was sought, and my e-mails were answered promptly (I sent two over the course of the KS campaign).

It wasn't just the communication. The product itself was exactly as advertised, save where backer feedback suggested changes the majority thought were a good idea. It was delivered on time and securely packaged to prevent damage to the product (I once received a badly damaged "collector's" version of a KS product due to the way it was packaged, no I won't tell you which one).

Now when the project is winding down? Cole is still seeking feedback. Are we happy with the product? What else would we like to see? Would we be interested in this semi-related product and here's what else the company has in the works. And, most importantly of all? Has everyone received all their rewards and are there any issues or problems with what they've received?

This is how to run a Kickstarter! Know your product, know your capabilities, know your audience. If the first 3 rules of a brick-n-mortar store are location, location, location then I'd say the first 3 rules of KS are communication, communication, communication!

Neither I, Cameron DuBeers, nor my Wobbly Goblin Press are employed by or affiliated with  Mr. Cole or Gaming Ballistic LLC. I'm just a gamer impressed to hell and gone by a well-run Kickstarter campaign.

12 January 2017

[REVIEW] Dungeon Grappling

Dungeon Grappling (DG) is written by Douglas H. Cole and published by Gaming Ballistic LLC. Neither myself, Cameron DuBeers, nor my company Wobbly Goblin Press, are associated with either Douglas Cole or Gaming Ballistic in any way beyond backing the Dungeon Grappling Kickstarter. This review is based upon the first PDF release available to KS Backers only. Gaming Ballistic is currently accepting pre-orders [here] (link updated).

I never had the opportunity to read the 'zine article DG grew out of, so I cannot directly address any differences between the two. I will say DG includes a nice introduction to grappling and what it means to your campaign. Also a nice part of the presentation is the body of text, artwork and background art are all divided into layers. Artwork and background can be turned off, leaving the just the text for easier reading and printing. Not that the two are intrusive in any, I found the presentation of the material to be well done, but I personally like plain text for reading on the computer screen.

The actual game play mechanics are logically divided into three sections: Core Concepts, Grappling Effects, and Monstrous Grappling. Also included at the back of the book are an exhaustive Index and a summary of the rules in the form of two reference sheets. The latter will be helpful when conducting grappling in a referee's own campaign, particularly the first few times these new concepts are employed.

As advertised, Dungeon Grappling presents a system adaptable to most FRPG games, particularly those emulating pre-1983 rules sets. Rules for the different gaming systems are presented with the correct terminology and level of detail, leading me to believe Mr. Cole is either adept at all these systems or had plenty of editorial assistance writing those sections.

One aspect of the game I particularly like is the division of player-character and monster grappling. This section also includes example monsters with statistics and combat examples specific to 5E, S&W: Complete, and Pathfinder.

So, how do the rules work? For S&W they work great. I found them easy to adjudicate, adaptable to the fluidity of combat, and producing consistent results. I ran several scenarios including one on one, one versus two, and five smaller opponents versus a larger, stronger opponent. The rules handled each situation without a lot of paging through the rules or having to guess how to proceed.

Conclusion? I will be incorporating these rules into my S&W based campaign rules. Is there any better praise for a work of this type?

Summary: presentation, coherency of rules, ease of use; all get top scores. This product is highly recommended for your home campaign.