Just needs some minor editing…

S&W plus Cut-Ups… Continue reading

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Dealing with Death and Worse

One of the assumptions of an OSR games (generally) is that characters get changed. They level up, gain power and magic items, and also they are cursed, poisoned, have their levels drained, and even die. You could choose to play without some or all of that, but to me that’s a general qualification of what OSR is, particularly in comparison to some more modern forms of D&D. In fact, when these things are brought into / retained by modern-system backed play it’s often referred to as ”old-school feel”.

I think it’s also reasonable to say that most players don’t want bad things happening to their characters. In fact I think that most DMs don’t really want bad things happening to the PCs either, or at least not things that are actually bad for the player (ie: not merely a dramatic setback or an inconvenience). In both cases there are times when it’s completely appropriate and beneficial for something bad to happen, even character death… Better for a character to have played out her story, struggled, failed, and died, than to simply get by on the ”mercy” of the DM. That’s one big reason why we retain negative impacts in games (even newer ones), the other being that we want to allow the threat of bad things to drive the gameplay. Steamrollering through the dungeon may be amusing for a while, but I think most players and DMs enjoy something with a bit more ”challenge”.

I’m not entirely happy with the way that RPGs typically handle the fallout of these ”bad things”. Level drain, for instance; this is one I’ve often seen described as the absolute worst thing that can happen to a player’s character – worse than losing magic items and far worse than a dead PC. And I can see the reasoning behind this (even if I don’t 100% agree with it): XP are the valuation of success in the game, both your success as a player and your character’s success within the game world (such as: level titles, the ability to construct a keep or other holding…). So how does the aftermath play out: either you can get access to a Restoration spell, or else you just have to claw your way back up the ladder…

I’m really not sure how you go about handling this. The most significant insight I’ve had was actually reading (and I must have skimmed over it in my youth, but I must also have missed the import of it, as I was dead-set on starting new characters at zero XP) Gygax’s suggestion that new characters added to existing campaigns begin at as high as 3rd or 4th level. And so, for level drain as an example, I’d consider giving the player a pool of XP equal to what was lost, and allowing them to double or triple normal gains by supplementing with XP from that pool until it runs out. I base this idea on the concept that lower-level characters should ”catch up” to higher-level PCs because each level requires more and more XP to acquire. (Most likely I think this pool should probably be capped so that a character can’t use it to zoom ahead of any other PCs?) I wonder if that’s not wandering too far afield, however – both is losing the old-school ”hard-core” vibe, and in added complexity.

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The Temple of the Golden Hornet

The Temple of the Golden Hornet is a dungeon complex with a number of rooms, chambers, etc. Various objects, rooms, etc. within the complex are filled with hornets. The hornets in these objects, rooms, etc. are held in a magical slumber until the object, room, or etc. is breached, broken, opened, etc.; whereupon the hornets are immediately awakened in an enraged state.

At the end of the complex’s winding passages and maze-like collection of rooms lies the chamber of the golden hornet.The golden hornet rests at the center of this vaulted space upon a wooden pedestal carved with images of a sun-blotting mass of hornets destroying everything, forever. The pedestal actually continues 30′ or so below the room’s floor, extending into a water-filled cavity.

The pedestal’s buoyancy (including the effects of the golden hornet resting upon it) is carefully balanced; if it shifts downwards even a fraction of an inch a trap will be set off that will release various hazards that will in turn chase any interlopers present towards the entrance of the complex… (While, immediately after the trap is triggered, the entrance chamber will rapidly begin to fill with an infinite swarm of demonic hornets.)

The golden hornet weighs about two pounds, but it also has an enchantment on it that will increase the buoyancy of the pedestal as long as it remains in contact with it, such that it effectively has a negative mass…

The original golden hornet – two pounds of solid gold with priceless gems set into it, is long gone. In it’s place has been left a ceramic fake, covered in gold leaf and worthless glass. It is hollow and is filled with hornets.

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Hulks & Horrors

Hulks & Horrors, currently funding on Indiegogo, seeks to present ”a classic dungeon crawl experience with a mashup of gonzo sci-fi and space opera tropes from the golden ages of the genre, with a touch of good humor, shocking horror, and good old fashioned fun.” I think it’s awesome, and I’d really like to see it funded. Hopefully some of you out there will think it’s awesome too…

Meanwhile, I’ve picked up a copy of Star Frontiers; actually two copies of the main rules (both the basic and expanded books) as well as several of the supplements and two modules… Most of my gaming buddies back in the day didn’t give the game much notice, but I did get to play a bit with my brother and some of his friends. Just flipping through the books is bringing back a lot of memories, although mostly pretty vague. I had forgotten how simultaneously simple / elegant and weird / clunky the system was… (And then, of course, Zebulon’s kind of half-changed everything only to leave us hanging in the end…)

I doubt I’ll have a copy of H&H by then, but I’m thinking I should run some impromptu SF in the tabletop area at PAX in a few weeks…


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So, there has been some drama concerning the OGRE Kickstarter, and specifically it’s segue into the Car Wars pre-Kickstarter. There’s been a fair amount of drama surrounding Kickstarter in general already, of course. Personally I’ve had to give up on the idea of supporting projects, as such. Not that there is some kind of need to abandon that reasoning for contributing to a crowd-funding appeal; but I find that I need to limit myself to pledging for specific products that are either part of the initial goal or from levels of funding that have already been achieved. I just find that too much baggage comes along with pledging simply to try and achieve something, especially when it comes with ”rewards” that I really don’t care about.

But the thing that really worries me about the Car Wars project (or potential project – although I think that holding a Car Wars update hostage is kind of dumb, and I think that SJG is simply losing out on revenue if they do not go forward with the project) is that they want to crowd-source the actual design. We’ve seen this already with D&D Next (and quite possibly other projects that I’m unaware of), and it’s pretty obvious that the surveys and such that have been put out there do not represent any kind of heavy-lifting in terms of design. Even so, this kind of thing bothers me – in the sense that it makes me less able to simply enjoy the idea of a game.

One of the things that already bothers me about a lot of games is that they aren’t really designed for me – for the kind of player I am. And I do not at all feel that the aggregate of gamer input makes that any better. My data, anyone’s data really, gets lost in the mix. I don’t really want a game designed by committee, regardless of the composition of that committee. If I’m going to have to adapt my expectations to the game as designed (or not) in any case, I’d rather adapt to something that was actually someone’s idea of a good design, not just the least common denominator.

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Reading a post on Blog of Holding, I’ve had a small epiphany: respect for the game-world, and by extension for myself as a GM, is a part of what I feel I’ve been missing in my games. I’m not sure if it actually has been missing, but if it’s not then I’ve been bad at recognizing it. Or perhaps I’m falsely equating the two: players who don’t respect the game-world (or at least not the way I want) may still respect me as a GM, at least to some extent. I will say that I have run into some players who don’t seem to understand GMing, and specifically what would motivate me to want to be a GM, and it’s been really frustrating.

What I want out of a game I run is a lot less direct (but not usually a lot different, I don’t think) than what the players want. I don’t want to beat them up, or take their stuff, but most of the tools I have for giving them what they want revolve around that sort of thing. And I think that without an understanding that I’m at the table to collaborate with them, but to do so by way of throwing obstacles in their path to greatness; without that connection it’s really hard for the players to in turn give me a game experience that I’m going to be particularly satisfied with.

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Shut up and play.

Well, more likely shut up and GM in my case, but it’s basically the same thing. And maybe not shut up, really; I just need to stop using ”thinking about RPGs” as an excuse not to actually be playing.

(Oh, and yes – I’ve been slacking on this blog something fierce…)

I want to be GMing. I want to be doing something constructive / creative with my free time, and GMing is a thing that I do that could accomplish that. I like to think I’m a pretty good GM, except that I haven’t been GMing for a while. And for a while before that I have run several games that were just generally unsatisfactory. Continue reading

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