Digging shit out of backpacks

I’ve always wanted to do an experiment on game night where we fill a backpack with coils of rope, blankets, different bottles of beer, soda and whiskey, thousands of coins and various tools and miscellaneous items.  One player gets the backpack.  The rest of us get broomsticks, hockey sticks, yard sticks, flyswatters, etc.  If he is playing a fighter, the player with the backpack has to wear oven mitts or thick gloves (to duplicate the effect of the diminished manual dexterity from wearing gauntlets). Then, while the players with sticks try to hit him, the player with the backpack has to try to retrieve specific items from the backpack. So the DM might shout out “Ball Peen Hammer!” or “Mini bottle of Crown Royal!” or “Can of Pork & Beans!” and the player has to retrieve that specific item while the rest of us whack at him with our sticks.  We count the number of times we manage to tag him and then multiply that by 1d6 damage which is immediately applied to his character sheet.  Every item he drops means that one randomly determined item from his backpack is lost. And you have to do this in a darkened basement with only the light of a tiki-torch to see unless you are playing an elf or a dwarf… if you are playing an elf or a dwarf you get to do it with the lights on (infravision) but all of the items are painted grey… so if the DM shouts “blue plastic cup” and there are multiple plastic cups of different colors in your backpack but you can’t tell them apart because they are all painted grey, you better grab and hope because everyone knows that infravision doesn’t let you see colors.

If the player is playing a dwarf, he has to kneel on his shoes like Tim Conway in Dorf on Golf.  If the player is playing an elf, the guys hitting him with sticks are permitted to hit him twice as hard because elves get only a d6 of hit points per level so the elf is obviously going to feel more pain. Plus the elf guy has to wear rubber Spock ears. If the player is playing a magic-user, he also will have all sorts of tiny items like erasers, paper clips, lucky pennies, packets of Sweet-and-Low, etc., stuffed in the pockets of the bathrobe he has to wear with his pointy hat.  The magic user has to retrieve these small items from his pockets at random intervals in addition to having to grab stuff from the backpack (obviously, this duplicates the effect of having to grab the right spell components from a pocket or pouch at a moments notice).

If we perform this experiment a couple of times, it should definitively prove that you can’t just casually say, “While dodging the gelatinous cube, jumping over the bear trap and avoiding the gaze of the basilisk, I’m going to dig the oil flask out of my knapsack, light a torch, make a Molotov cocktail and set fire to the troll...” without being met with guffaws of laughter.

For Gold and Glory!

Branzoll Castle in N. Italy; the ‘real life’ Castle Blackmoor

(map below courtesy of Zenopus Archives)

Way back in the 1970s, before Gary Gygax had written down the rules to what later became Dungeons & Dragons, there were, as I understand it, a bunch of guys in the Twin Cities who were friends with Dave Arneson and who played war games together.  I think they used to gather regularly in the Arneson family basement and used little lead soldiers or model ships to re-fight various historical battles.

Apparently, Arneson was a bit burned out on the whole Napoleonics/historical battles thing.  He wrote that he spent a few days reading Conan novels, eating popcorn and watching monster movies and came up with the idea of a fantasy campaign with wizards, fighters, etc., where everyone controlled just one guy rather than an army. This was apparently inspired by David Wesley’s famous ‘Braunstein’ game. I think they used Gygax & Keogh’s “Chainmail” rules as the basics and expanded from there.

Arneson told his players to pretend that they were all castle guards who had been ‘volunteered’ by their ruler to go into the dungeons of the castle and find a renegade wizard. Unfortunately for them, the dungeons were vast and unexplored, so they had to go carefully, with torches out and sword drawn, exploring as they went.  Arneson had various inventive methods of resolving different issues.  At one point, when wind blew out the guard’s torches while an enemy attacked from the cover of darkness, Arneson switched off the lights, told the players they were under attack and they should try to get into the position they wanted their character to be in and then switched back on the light to see who was standing where after they had all gotten done stumbling over one another in the dark.  By the end of the night the wizard and his pet demon had killed off most of the players with only one survivor who returned to sell the magic sword he had found to the king for the fabulous sum of 100 gold coins.  Arneson’s experiment was a success and the players clamored for more.

Assuming what I read in things like ‘The First Fantasy Campaign’ (Judges Guild) is accurate,  Arneson developed more and more of the rules as he went along. One player, inspired by the Dark Shadows TV show, wanted to play a vampire, so Arneson made up rules for vampires. Other players wanted to beat dragons into submission and force them to serve them; again, Arneson (or his fellow players) invented rules.  As they invented the rules, they wrote them down. Arneson claims that this eventually became the skeleton that was fleshed out to become Dungeons & Dragons; Gygax tells a different story.  Because of a court case and settlement, we may never know the truth (and I question if it matters).

One of Arneson’s original maps from the First Fantasy Campaign book.

Arneson and his friends also ran ‘fantasy’ game versions of the battles they had played in Napoleonics, substituting orcs, elves, dragons and wizards for artillery, cavalry and grenadiers. In this domain level game, the rules were expanded to include allowing players who raise armies and attack the castles of other players.  In order to build castles and hire armies, the players needed money.  One way of getting money was to ‘improve’ your kingdom. Arneson had guidelines that a road cost x number of gold per mile, and inn cost y, etc.  If you built roads and inns and canals and towns, you could attract traders and craftsmen and villagers who could be taxed and allow you (the player) to gather taxes and raise an army, build castles, etc. It was like a computer game like ‘Stronghold,’ but played exclusively with pencil, paper, maps, words, dice and minis rather than the computer. The in-game accumulation of gold, then, was a means of allowing players to move from being adventurers scrapping around in dungeons to being generals and conquerors (which may have led to the idea that ‘gold’ should equate experience points — in the FFC, Arneson says he gave XP for gold spent in various fashions rather than just accumulated; players could trade XP for gold by spending it on “wine, women and song,” or on expensive hobbies like collecting art or exotic animals).

None of what I am writing here is ‘news.’ People with even a passing familiarity with role playing games will know all this as a matter of course (and will probably be able to offer a lot of details and corrections). But I find the concept of the original Blackmoor game fascinating, especially since it involves players engaging in both the one player = one player character style of dungeon and wilderness exploration AND the larger scale campaign/resource management game; a duality of scale concept that I find fascinating.

Major David Weasley (on Braunstein): “The key thing was letting them (the players) do whatever they wanted to do and not worry about who won or lost the game.

I’ve wondered if this “Strangler of Castle Blackmoor” movie has anything to do with inspiration for Arneson’s original Castle Blackmoor game.

Fallout 3


I seem to play video games 3-4 years after everyone else has already gotten sick of them.  Part of it is just my contrary nature; when something is being hyped, I don’t want to like it… which helps me to continue to delude myself into seeing myself as an independent thinker.  And I am in need of a tech upgrade before I can run any of the newer titles.  So, Fallout 3 (released years ago) has finally made it to my desktop.  And I love it.

If you don’t know anything about Fallout 3, look at things like this wikipedia article.  Fallout 3 is to Oblivion what Gamma World was to D&D.  Back in the Halcyon days of my youth, when I was less jaded and still liked things and video games needed you to put a quarter in to enjoy the sweet stick figures of games like Venture, we played D&D a lot.  And we loved it.  Then one day, my friend Alan picked up Gamma World, and that was even more fun, simply because the game lent itself to a certain black humor and had fewer pretensions to realism or seriousness (at least in our game group).

I really like the art direction that Bethesda used for Fallout 3.  Ruined technology and cars looked like what people in 1950s America thought the future was going to look like — lots of rivets and vacuum tubes rather than transistors and solid state.  Everywhere is dangerous.  And there is some great old-timey music in the game, including Bob Crosby’s “Good Hearts and Gentle People.”  When you shoot people and creatures, their limbs and heads tend to fly off if you score a critical.  If you use V.A.T.S. (a special targeting system), they explode in slow motion and you get to watch it in 3rd person.  And there are lots and lots of guns.  My only complaint is that the monsters and NPCs are sometimes just pretty stupid, and I wish the game had a more extensive bestiary — thus far I have fought mole rats, mirelurks (which are crab people), human bandits, bloatflies (which are giant flies that shoot larvae at you like bullets) and giant scorpions… and as I get tougher, I suspect other monsters will be encountered, but, still, I’d like more variety. D&D spoiled me because there was always a new monster.
I’m only about 5-6 hours in, but having a blast.  It is usually the simple things that make me happy.

Swords & Wizardry

My friend Jon C. is starting a “Swords & Wizardry” game which will (hopefully) kick off shortly after I get back from St. Louis next week. Some members of our game group seem to doubt that ‘old and simplistic’ games can be any good or any fun, but I am really looking forward to it.

Part of what I have been missing is the fun we had wondering, “what happens next?” back in the day and I miss games that put the players (and what they want to do) in the driver’s seat rather than the ‘story based’ games where elements are planned out beforehand or more complicated rule systems where players are rewarded with more options for gaming the character creation rules. It’s been a while. Thanks, Jon.

The illustration above right is one I did for The Barrowmaze.” And, yes, the fighter IS supposed to look like ‘Alley Oop.” Alley Oop is the shiznit.


Posts on religion seem to be making the rounds; never one to waste the opportunity to ride on another person’s coattails, I thought I would get in on the game.

The D&D games I have been involved in never seem to have taken religion terribly seriously (which might be ironic since I learned to play D&D while going to Catholic school). Priests of Thor and Mitra always rubbed shoulders with other faiths; individual priests might not have been happy with the arrangement, but players were unconcerned with the finer points of theology and just wanted to get on with their tomb-robbing. Most ‘priest’ characters were pretty much interchangeable. And it was fine.

The real world, however, is much more complicated (as posts and replies on Grognardia, LotFP and other places will show). Up until a few years ago, if you had told me that pantheism involved the worship of cooking pans and polytheists believed that god was made of plastic, I might have believed you. What a strange hobby this is — it constantly forces me to learn new and weird things. But, cruising around the blogs, I learn that some people take religion in the fantasy world pretty seriously and ponder the questions of, well, “how do all those gods get along?”

I’ve written about my own take on religion in the fantasy world before. The people of Aldeboran worship a hodgepodge of gods and goddesses including some drawn from/inspired by real world religions and some yanked from the zany and pretentious art-psychobabble of the Church of the Subgenius… as well as a few made up ones just tossed into the mix. I respond pretty positively to Stuart Robertson’s premise that the game really is “a cultural Borg … that rolled around borrowing from just about every source it encountered.” (sourced from Grognardia), so the ‘buffet style’ of religion doesn’t bother me anymore than having Scandinavian/Germanic gnomes/dwarves occupying the same world as Javanese Naga. However, some folks really seem to want to understand how having a bunch of competing deities might work, though, which could be a fun project for the philosophically and theologically inclined.

I’ve been fond of the idea suggested by reading stories from Leiber’sLankhmar‘ series and L. Sprague DeCamp’sNovarian‘ tales that suggest that an individual god or goddesses power might wax and wane depending on the number and fervor of his or her followers. I suspect such a system might be in place on Aldeboran, although I have not confirmed that.
Current, real world religions seem a bit of a problematic source of inspiration, though, mostly because many ‘real world’ faiths require their followers to reject other faiths as ‘untrue.’ That kind of becomes a problem in the fantasy world when the temples of Neptune and the temples of Thor are just down the street from one another and offer pretty similar services at competing prices. On Aldeboran, I imagine that most people are functional polytheists (like many ancient Romans). If they are trying to seal a business deal, they go to the temple of the god of money and burn a candle; before an ocean voyage, they drop off a few coins at the temple of the sea god, etc. Individuals might like one god more than another or feel like they have a ‘special relationship’ with one deity (much like many old school Catholics have a particular patron Saint), but it wouldn’t occur to most people on Aldeboran to insist that someone else’s god does not exist.

The notable exception to this rule are two religions modeled on real world religions. The Aldeboranian ‘Church of the Allfather‘ is fashioned after the medieval Catholic church in some of it’s less than admirable moments (what with the burning or heretics, inquisitions and all). They consider elves to be corrupt monsters (and will attempt to kill them on sight) and dwarves as ‘subhumans’ worthy only of being slaves. They have a highly organized hierarchy of priests, bishops, etc., and are always going off on crusades.

Another exception is the Church of Jeebus, in which the members practive all sorts of speaking in tongues, exorcism and other strange practices. Although less hierachical than the Church of the Allfather, there are several competeing sects in The Church of Jeebus and a few of the charismatic leaders are extremely influential. One of the most famous is James The Baker, a former owner of a bakery who saw the face of Jeebus in a griddlecake one morning and set off to create his very popular ministry. Baker and his wife ride around decked out in jewels and furs in a golden carriage, preaching the gospel of buying shares in their ministry in order to assure yourself a place in the afterlife.

Some people might find the inclusion of these two parody religions offensive (I don’t really think they are, since my mockery is reserved for the misbehavior of the human agents of these faiths — I don’t care if people want to beleive or go to shurch, but I also don’t think the misbehavior of the clergy should be above mention). I’m not running any games on Aldeboran right now so it doesn’t really come up.

see also:
A to Z: P is for Priests
Apr 18, 2011
Those who don’t know me might assume that, given the nature in which I portray religion and priests in this post that I am an atheist or a cynic or something similar. I will admit a distatse for organized religions… mostly due to how …

Welcome To Aldeboran
Feb 28, 2010
After discarding the rather pompous and unoriginal pantheon of my highschool years, I just toss in any and every god of religion I can think of, with Cthulhu cults rubbing elbows with pagans of every stripe, authoritarian churches and …

My Favorite Adventures
Mar 13, 2011
4) The Haunted Monastery: In my own homebrew world, I have a religion I call “The Allfather.” The Allfather’s followers are somewhat like the medieval Catholic Church; basically lawful but inclined to an excess of zeal and dogma. …

It can’t be the hardest quiz if I got 60%

Happy Birthday, Gary Gygax. I was surprised I scored as high as I did since so many others seem to know so much more Gygax-lore than I do.

Stefan took the Hardest Gary Gygax Quiz in the World and got 60%!

You are a Gary Gygax Myrmidon. You are mighty in the ways of Gary Gygax. You’re probably a First Edition or OD&D player, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you had an original copy of the Chainmail rules.

Paladin Code: You completed this quiz without using Google.

The Success and Failure of Gygaxian Naturalism

One of the fun things about D&D that was integral to the whole concept of the game from day one was the idea that ‘things’ in the D&D world more or less worked like they did in the real world but with magic and the fantastic and mytholgy just rolled in. So rats ate dead adventurers, kobolds ate the rats, goblins ate kobolds, etc., and a big gelatinous cube came through and cleaned it all up in order to prevent the dungeon passages from getting impassibly clogged with bones, torch stubs and orc dung. I think some people call this “Gygaxian Naturalism” (although I don’t know who coined the term or how it was originally intended; this is the meaning I have gathered through the context in which I have seen it used).

“Gygaxian Naturalism” is probably not good enough for science, but a vague outline of the circle of life exists in the fantasy world, allowing us to sit down and enter the fantasy world with enough ‘real world’ knowledge to help us along. It’s one of the things that helps a new player easily immerse themselves in the game. So one might know, without having been told, that in the fantasy world water is wet and our newly rolled up dwarf characted will drown if held underwater. The fact that one had to employ knowledge of the real world to navigate the fantasy one made immediate intuitive sense to me when I first sat down to play. How far my character could move in my turn was deduced by how fast I wanted him to move (did I want him to stroll or run?) and whether or not he was heavily burdened with armor, weapons, treasure, etc. It is difficult for me to convey how ‘different’ this was in my circle of friends in 1978 when we first started playing.

One of the places where ‘Gygaxian Naturalism’ breaks down for me is in the intersection between monsters of myth/legends and those same/similar monsters presented in D&D. Initially, learning that in D&D, ‘Medusa’ was not the proper name of one of the gorgon sisters killed by Perseus but rather the species name of a woman with snakes for hair and a parlyzing gaze was somewhat confusing. Discovering that “gorgons” were not the daughters of a sea god but were, instead, a bull covered in iron scales was, similarly, disconcerting. This made my meager knowledge of mythology less useful in the gaming context but delivered the advantage that in the Greek myths, Perseus could defeat Medusa only once since once she was dead she was gone, whereas in our D&D games we could kill (or, more likely, be petrified by) medusas every session. I think the trade off is well worth it.

Inside the Echochamber

Over on his blog, Mythmere announced that he added another version of ‘Swords & Wizardry’ to his Lulu shop which differs from the current version in only one way: This 4th edition S&W has the same font on the cover as previous editions… of course, 4th edition versions without the ‘retro’ font are also still availible.

He said that he did this in response to the emails he got from a number of people who all said they liked the older font better than the new one. That’s one of the advantages of print on demand like ‘Lulu.’ It probably wasn’t too hard for Mythmere to put the old font on the new book and now everyone can get exactly the font they want on the cover of their book.

One of the interesting things I once heard from a marketing executive was the idea that happy customers seldom communicate their happiness… and thus the unhappy customers can come to dominate the thinking of many organizational strategists. Sometimes, as in the case of Mythmere’s font options, it’s relatively easy to offer multiple solutions that will make everyone happy. Maybe it’s the sites I visit or the people I talk to, but I’ve been a bit surprised at the level of ‘negativity’ directed at the products being produced by the OSR in general (and the DCC RPG in particular lately). My hope is that the producers will not just listen to the negative criticism; hopefully they will also remain true to whatever idea drove them to create whatever it is that they are making in the first place rather than changing everything up in hopes of making some grouchy pants somewhere happy.

As one example, I’ve heard a lot of people bitching that Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord are ‘too much like old D&D.’ “We already have circa 1982 D&D,” these naysayers whine. “It’s just the same old game with a new cover and a few superficial changes. We can play the Moldvay version original… we don’t need a facsimile.” I guess that’s true… but even if Mythmere (or anyone else) never make a dime off of Swords & Wizardry, what if the process of putting it together was gratifying for him? What if that book gets people to pick up the dice and play? We probably don’t really need any RPGs… at least not the same way we need food, water and oxygen. I’ve had about enough of ‘uber-grognards’ carrying on like the existance of the ‘retro clones’ are somehow ‘bad’ for people who like playing games or ‘dillute’ the community. Prove that point or shut it.

It has also reached my ears that people are really bugged about the screwy dice in the new DCC RPG. What a silly arguement. Other people are bitching about the ‘tone’ of the book (too confrontational, assumes the reader has already played D&D, too elitist, too nihilist, etc.). I, for one, am glad to read an RPG book that reads like it was written by a person with some passion rather than a technical writer. They don’t like the ‘wizard patrons’ and moan about the ‘race as class’ thing. Others complain about the art (“too retro” or “not different enough” or “more cowbell”).

I, for one, hope that the writers of the DCC keep the screwy dice, the retro art and the tone. If Goodman follows all the advice he has been getting, I probably won’t be interested anymore. I like the game, funnel and all.

Palin says "Fuck U" to the Press, DCC RPG thoughts

I started this post with a thing about Sarah Palin not because I have anything important or intelligent to say, but only because I am trying to maintain my cred as a left leaning liberal retard who hates the party of tea. But Alaska’s decision to release emails requested by the press under FOIA from Palin’s brief time as Govenor in the form of documents printed on paper in boxes instead of just transferring them electronically is a pretty blatant FUCK YOU to the press and FOIA. Printing out emails? Who does that? Way to go, Alaska. You have put the ‘goober’ back into ‘gubernatorial.’

Interestingly, it took Alaska longer to comply with the FOIA request than Palin spent in office.

At least there were no crotch pictures.

In other news, have only just gotten started reading the DCC RPG (I’ve spent more time reading about other people reading the DCC RPG than I have spent reading the DCC RPG, which seems as stupid as distributing emails by printing them out and packing them in boxes instead of just, you know, keeping electronic communication electronic instead of punishing all those trees because of an incovenient FOIA request). One of the things I have been reading in a few of the other views on the DCC RPG is things that people don’t like because they are different from ‘regular’ D&D. I hope those ‘differences’ make it through beta and after the test period we get a game that might be even more different than D&D.

Goodman Games DCC Role Playing Game: First Look

I read a bit of Goodman Game’s The Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Beta Test Version last night and really like what I have read so far; I hope I get to play this game. People are blogging about it all over the place; I figure I better get my comments in.

Almost everyone raves about the art, which is gratifying since I did some of it. And, for a free ‘Beta’ set of rules, the production values are very nice (although there are a few bits of art that look somewhat ‘shoehorned in;’ I suspect this will be improved in the next version). As one of the artists working on the project, I can say that there is more art on the way (I just got another art request from Goodman), so if you like the art, there is more to come.

The ‘Beta’ rules are simplified and the introduction admits that they are incomplete and there may be a few references to information that does not appear in the book; the Beta book allows players to play from levels 1 to 5… the full rules (coming in November) will bring this up to level 10 with a lot more content and options (and presumed improvements since players will offer input after test driving the rules).

The introduction makes clear that Goodman took the ‘suggested reading’ from Appendix N in the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide (Howard, Leiber, Poul Anderson, etc.,) and tried to use that as the source material — the game intends to encourage a ‘sword & sorcery’ rather than a ‘high fantasy’ style of play. A lot of people are comparing it to Hackmaster (in spirit); a comparison I think is apt after reading the humorous ‘oath’ that players are expected to swear on page 4.

The game mechanics are loosely based on the d20 mechanics from Wizards of the Coast… with rolling a d20 to hit a ‘target number’ and similar stuff. I haven’t delved too deeply into that yet, though. DCC also uses unusual dice from Zocchi/Gamescience like the d3, the d5, d16, etc. I guess I’ll have to buy a set of those. Some people seem to be really unhappy about the funky dice, but when I first saw them the d20, d12, d8, etc., all seemed pretty strange to me, so that does not bother me.

One of the ways in which DCC differes from most (if not all) of the current crop of offerings in Fantasy RPGs is that everyone starts as a level 0 nonentity — cobbler, blacksmith apprentice, beggar, etc. The book suggests that each player roll up 3 initial 0 level characters (completely at random — no ‘custom build the guy you want’ here) who will be armed with randomly determined improvised weapons like garden tools or clubs and then the first adventure will ‘thin the ranks.’ Characters that survive long enough to get 100 XP get to be level 1 and can choose a profession like ‘fighter’ or ‘magic user’ or ‘cleric’ or ‘thief.’ Thus 5 players will start with 15 level 0 characters who will have improvised weapons and no armor… and then these guys will get fed into the meat grinder and the 1/3rd that survive will become level 1. There have been some complaints about this approach, but I actually find it refreshing. One of the trends that became evident in d20 3e era D&D is that character generation became the most important part of the game — the rules were so geared to offering players choices and options and rules for tricking out your PC that I think the most interesting part of the game (to me, anyway), i.e.: as a player interacting with the environment and each other, took second fiddle. Too many players had their eye on ‘what skill points should I take next in order to qualify for prestige class X, Y or Z in 3 levels’ to concentrate on the here and now. Since player characters were so time consuming to make, the ‘deadliness’ of d20 games seems to have been dialed back. The DCC RPG is based on the assumption that player characters will become more interesting to the players if they survive… and from what I have read so far, survival is not guaranteed.

DCC RPG also brings back ‘race as class,’ i.e.: instead of being a dwarf fighter or an elf cleric, your class is ‘dwarf’ or ‘elf.’ Some people don’t like this. That’s the D&D that I started with, though, and I like it.

(the image at above right is by Erol Otus, and originally appeared on the cover of Goodman’s DCC #0, “Legends are Made, not Born.”)