Anyone who has been following OSR or DCC stuff on the internet has probably seen the medieval ‘wound man’ illustrations that people have been sharing. These are illustrations from old texts that show the many possible ways that people can get skewered, slashed, crushed, slit, etc. Here is a 16th century ‘wound man’ illustration by Hans Von Gersdorff that I nicked off of wikipedia (click to make bigger):
And here is another one I found somewhere on the net somewhere (I don’t know the artist in this case, click to see bigger):
Lots of folks have suggested that these illustrations would make excellent random charts. Inspired by these fine ancient illustrations as well as some tables that I have been illustrating for one of Harley Stroh’s new adventures for Goodman Games, with a nod to the house rules of Paul Gorman from the Quickly-Quietly-Carefully blog, I drew up my own ‘wound man’ and divided him into regions. One can paste this illustration into the bottom of a shallow box and when horrible damage is scored, toss a d6 into the box… where the dice lands tells you if the injury is suffered to the leg, head, arm, etc., and the number that comes up on the dice tells you how serious the injury is. I like ‘Quickly-Quietly-Carefully’ Paul’s idea that if the player character is knocked to 0 hit points, you let them roll on the ‘critical wound’ chart to survive death with a single hit point and horrible injury. I think people call it a “drop dice” table because you drop dice on it to use it.
(click to enlarge)
I also included a version without text — print it out and add your own tables!
I’ve always had this fantasy of running a D&D campaign (or Labyrinth Lord or whatever) with player characters having their own little dramas AND a continental level wargame with country A, B and C going to war with each other, being invaded, plagues wiping out half the population and other mishaps. To the players on the player level game, these incidents might or might not have an effect on the player’s lives (much like news and current events in the real world), but, unlike the relatively static fantasy world that most RPGs take place in (or the world where all world events are orchestrated by the DM), there would always be something going on in the wider world… and even the DM (or referee) might not necessarily know what the map would like like later in the campaign. When/if player characters manage to take control of armies or perform deeds of derring do that grab national or international attention, the players may become ‘active forces’ in the world game rather than just players on an individual level. So what happens on a ‘national’ level isn’t just decided by GM fiat — it could be played out as a wargame.
Part of the inspiration for this idea comes from the original ‘Chainmail’ by Gary Gygax and Tom Keogh. (NOTE: If you are reading this blog, it is 90% likely you can skip the rest of this paragraph…) ‘Chainmail’ is probably pretty familiar to blog readers; it’s a book of rules for ‘miniature war games’ published by Gary Gygax back in the 1970s. Gygax and Tom Keogh were original ‘sand table’ gamers who would set up miniature armies of Crusaders & Saracens or refighting the battle of Agincourt or similar medieval period conflicts and ‘Chainmail’ was their rule set for deciding who won the battle. Later editions of ‘Chainmail’ included a ‘Fantasy Supplement’ that included rules for goblins, dragons, etc. According to grognard lore, Arneson was inspired by ‘Chainmail’ and some other games being run and talked about in the wargamer circles at the time (check out “Braunstein“) to run some games where each player controlled a single guy instead of an army. From these ideas, so the story goes, Dungeons & Dragons was born.
(NOTE: If you are a ‘grognard’ who is not an actual veteran of the wars of Napoleon, it is 75% likely that you can skip this next paragraph) “The First Fantasy Campaign” was published in the 1970s by Judge’s Guild. It’s a collection of Dave Arneson’s notes and some maps, incomplete in many areas and full of typos. The rough presentation, however, does not stop me from considering it a very interesting booklet. In it, Arneson describes the ‘Blackmoor’ campaign that he ran for years when he was living in Minnesota and it was this book that made me want to consider the idea of a micro/macro campaign where play might switch back and forth between ‘campaign level’ play (where armies clash on the battlefield and borders get re-drawn) and ‘player level play’ (where each player might control just one character). Back in Armeson’s day, if I am understanding the book correctly, the players often took control of the different forces and battled it out. Blackmoor Castle itself apparently changed hands sveral times. The First Fantasy Campaign also had very vaguely stated rules for allowing players to build roads in their kingdoms, build inns and canals, etc. Plus it has one of the most kick-ass maps of a fantasy campaign that I think has ever been published.
|My Campaign Map, circa 1980 something|
Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, I’ve never gotten the critical mass of interested players involved… and the huge time issue to carry out such a campaign probably makes it a pipe-dream in any case. I’ve played a few ‘skirmishes’ on the tabletop, but not every player enjoys the miniature-war-game-combat aspect and then there is the fact that my regualr gaming group suffers from what I think could politely be called ‘Attention Deficit Disorder.’ Everyone is always thinking the grass would be greener if only we were playing a slightly different (or much different) game — getting them to commit to such an endeavor would be like trying to herd 100 cats through a thunderstorm. Never gonna happen.
Ok, so in the real world I need to fix shit (or hire someone to fix shit) all of the time… or replace shit that has worn out. Pipes leak, shoes wear out, food rots or gets eaten — even this sack of blood and meat I call my body needs the occasional repair. In D&D world, stuff never really seems to break. You can buy that sword at 1st level, and, assuming you don’t hit a rust monster or a black pudding with it, still be using when you are 10th level without ever even having sharpened the damn thing. Of course, by the time they are 10th level, most player will have a pile of magic swords to choose from (unless their DM is a real skin flint), but you get my drift.
I remember in 1st edition AD&D, Gygax suggested you charge player characters x amount per month per level for upkeep (I don’t remember what he called it) and I guess that was supposed to represent hair cuts, getting your boots resoled, the occasional clean shirt or new pair of socks, armor and weapon repairs, etc. I don’t remember ever enforcing that rule (or having it imposed on my character when I was a player), but the Gygaxians will claim that ‘Saint Gary already covered that.’ And I’m not sure that having players deduct 3 silver pieces from their inventory every time they need to get a haircut or their bowstring replaced is going to feel like the ‘stuff of high adventure,’ but since D&D first caught my fancy because it was ‘less abstract’ than other games I had played up until that point, the occasional lack of abstraction within the game can sometimes be jarring or amusing. Greyhawk city is probably chock full of shoe repair shops, but the rules don’t have any accommodation for forcing the players or NPCs to go get their shoes repaired… so how do all of those shoe repair shops stay in business?
Two of my favorite video games, Fallout 3 and Oblivion, have some accommodation for repairs. In both these video games, armor and weapons wear out as you use them… every time an enemy hits you, the degree to which your armor protects you drops a little bit. Every time you use a weapon, it wears a little bit and gets a little less effective. In Oblivion, you can purchase ‘repair hammers’ and use them to repair your weapons or armor (how much they repair it depends on your character’s repair skill, but, bizarrely, these little blacksmith hammers disappear as you use them). As an alternative, you can take your equipment to a blacksmith and they will repair it for a price. In Fallout 3, there are merchants who can repair things for you for a price, or, if you have 2 items of the same type (like 2 laser pistols), you can use 1 item to repair the other, leaving you will 1 item in better shape. The item you used to repair with disappears (and the game makes a little ‘repair’ sound which sometimes sounds like someone tearing off a length of duct tape — which always makes me chuckle). In both games, how high your repair skill is governs how well you can repair. After a while, in both games, I find the ‘repair’ concept gets a little tedious, although I do wonder how my Fallout 3 character takes 4 worn out shotguns and with the click of a mouse creates 1 really good shotgun with no parts left over. Since it’s a computer game, though, you don’t have to track the current condition of your armor and weapons; the computer does it for you. If you had to keep track of that using paper and pencil, it would require too much effort.
And ‘too much effort’ probably describes why I won’t have rules for wear and tear and repair in Aldeboran (although I guess since the combat “fumble” tables I use have a chance for your weapon to break, so there is a chance a player might need to seek out a repair person from time to time). Things needing repair seems pretty mundane — certainly not what I imagine when I say “adventure.”
I was reading Paul’s “Quickly, Quietly, Carefully” blog recently where he was posting about treasure and XP. Paul was looking at a published dungeon and pondering how much XP could be gathered from it in the form of XP for monsters, gold, etc., and whether or not that would be enough to raise the average party to the appropriate level for the next dungeon or adventure and it made me think a bit on of one of the staples of the old school games that seems to have fallen out of favor with many contemporary players… a little thing we call “The Grind.”
“The Grind” is where you have to earn x amount of experience points in order to advance in power so you can advance to greater challenges. The adventurer’s desire for more power turns him/her/it into a little XP whore who may start killing everything and looting everything just to earn the needed XP for ‘one more level.’ This can seem dull and mechanical, hence the term, ‘the grind.’
And ‘grinds’ seem to have fallen out of favor, at least in gaming circles I am in touch with. I used to count up every monster killed, treasure found, etc., after the session and calculate it all up, then divide it by the number of participants (with NPCs getting 1/2 share) and then letting everyone know how many XP they had at the start of the next session. I was never particularly good at (or fond of) math, but I remember enjoying this bit of book keeping, maybe because it made me feel like the rewards (XP) were not handed out by me via some system where the DM gives the players XP like some nobleman distributing favors to his courtiers. I liked to establish rules (you will get XP for X, Y and Z) and players knew the rules and would get whatever XP they earn.
One of the arguments against the grind is that it can lead to ridiculous situations in which players will notice they are just a handful of XP away from gaining a level and will then wander around looking for some weak little monster to kill so they can earn the last few XP they need to level up. Many groups of players I am familiar with simplify or handwave the process — “everyone earns X number of XP per session” or “You level up every X number of sessions,” etc. I understand why people would want to do of this: less book keeping and the rules for XP seem somewhat arbitrary (i.e.: 1 xp per gold piece FREX). I also remember the silly players in my teenage group (myself included) would do in order to earn the XP needed. I seem to remember a debate as to whether or not fireballing a herd of sheep would earn the handful of XP needed to push a character over the threshold…
However, the ‘levelling up by DM decree’ or ‘everybody gets XP just for showing up’ can also feel like the race where everyone gets a trophy no matter when they finish. One loses the feeling of accomplishment you get when your little hero earns just enough to hit the next level. When you have had to scrabble for every point, a ‘level up’ can feel like a real accomplishment.
I was reading the blogs this morning and stumbled on Noism’s Monsters & Manuals blog where he had recently posted an interesting read about ‘Life Lessons.’ One of the things that struck me was his ‘life lesson #1’:
You really, absolutely, definitely, unquestionably, indisputably, do not need a detailed character background before play begins. In fact, all you really need is a name, a class, stats, and some equipment, and you’re good to go – because within five minutes of the game beginning you will without fail find your character beginning to take on a personality of his own. This strange and almost mystical emergence of character through play is one of the best things about the hobby, and it amazes me that people have been so determined, for decades, to kill the concept.
I thought it was a good summation of some of my recent disenchantment with ‘new school’ rpgs (if I may use such a broad term).
But as I thought further on it, I began to question if the ‘character’ (or ‘avatar’ or whatever you want to call it) really needs any personality of his/her/its own. If I sit down to play D&D and I create the character ‘Stumbo the Dwarf,’ do I really need to justify what I have ‘Stumbo’ do beyond the idea that I may want to do it? Is “Stumbo will open the door because he is by nature greedy and curious and he hopes to find treasure,” to be considered better roleplaying than, “Stumbo will open the door because I want to see what is behind it“?
I’m starting to wonder if all characters can’t just be an excuse for ME to have fun exploring the fantasy construct of the imaginary world with my fellow players (without death and other consequences). Sure, as Stumbo I’ll do things I would never attempt in real life, like staring down medusa or jumping over pits filled with poisoned spikes, but start to think that creating a ‘character’ in terms of personality attributes begins to fell a bit artificial to me, or a case in which we are trying to make Dungeons & Dragons more like a cooperative novel. And I question if it is suited to that role.
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 hodge–podge 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.
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.
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. …
I’ve read a lot of good advice so far — do this, don’t do that, etc., but I wanted to see if I could try to boil it all down to one very simple rule that would cover just about everything.
I think my basic rule would be ‘don’t be a dick.’ ‘Don’t be a dick’ could apply to so much more than DMing, but I think games are primarily a social activity that count on interaction with other humans (would apply to playing over Skype or internet). Most of the games I haven’t enjoyed have been ones where someone (or several people) were behaving like dicks.
Women can behave like dicks. When I say ‘dick’ I don’t mean like a penis — I mean being stubborn and selfish and rude all at the same time.
So if everyone gathers to play a game and you show up without books, dice or preparation and expect everyone else to sit and wait while you get ready and you need to borrow a pencil, borrow dice, borrow a book, “Oh, I lost my character sheet but, give me a moment and I can recreate it…“, you are being a dick. You are treating other people like their time doesn’t matter (stubborn/selfish/rude).
If someone else is trying to talk and you keep interrupting them or talking over them or not paying attention and then when it is your turn you need to be told what is happening and you make everyone wait while you consider all the options, again, you are being a dick. God I hate that one.
When you continue to dispute a rule or a call long after everyone else has decided to move on, you are being a dick.
If you eat and drink stuff but never contribute anything, that is a dick move. If you make a mess and don’t clean it up or don’t help the host set up/clean up or treat the host or other guests (or the place you play) with respect, then you are a dick.
If you consistently show up late, that is dick-ish. I understand that people’s schedules can be unpredictable, but some people (we all know them) are ALWAYS late. If you think there will be traffic, leave a little earlier. If you want to stop off at a store, leave a little earlier. If you figure out that you are running late, call and let people know.
If other people are completely bored because you insist on dominating the proceedings, then you are being a dick. This applies to both the DM and players. I remember one DM who would insist that the players do whatever he wanted that session… “You are going to do this quest…” even if we wanted to do something else or had gotten interested in some other quest or location. I know a player who just talks about whatever the fuck he wants to in the middle of the game even though people were at first rolling their eyes and giving hints that he was going off track, and, after he had just ignored them and kept going they would say, “Come on, let’s play the game,” and he would get huffy and say, “Don’t interrupt me!” After that, I didn’t play with him anymore. Because he was a dick.
There was one guy who would come over and just get bored when other players were doing something and he would start wandering around, pulling books of the shelf and reading them, etc. Then, after the action would move on he would come back to the table and suddenly announce that he wanted to go to the alchemist to buy something… and as DM I would tell him, “Well, the rest of the group is already traveling through the woods; since you were with them I would assume you are no longer in town — unless you wanted to stay in town, then you will have to wait while the rest of the group fights these bugbears, etc.,” and he would complain that “no one had asked him” even though he was right there but too busy going through my books to pay attention (and, seriously, if you are going to go through someone else’s stuff, ASK first. They might not want you poking through their shit).
If you don’t let other people have their turn or try to tell other players what they ought to do when it is their time to act, then you are being a dick. I was a player in one game where another player kept trying to tell me what spells I should cast. I quit playing with that group because that player was such a dick.
Feeling a little wonky today, so laying low and resting. But this paragraph from page 53 of the DCC RPG gets it exactly right and “fixes” one of the things that drove me nuts in all of my time playing D&D 3e with all of the skill check rolls:
Skill checks are designed for use when a system of abstract rules is necessary to adjudicate a situation. Only make a skill check when practical descriptions by the players will not suffice.
The rules go on to give an example of players entering a room where a door is hidden by clay tablets against the wall. The book suggests that if the players say they remove or look behind the clay tablets, they find the hidden door without having to roll a dice.
Resolving actions ‘just through talking’ was a big part of my introduction to roleplaying games (first using the Holmes set in 1978) and was a big part of the ‘role’ in ‘roleplaying’ in those early days… and that was how we liked it. Talking like a pirate or saying, “My character wouldn’t do X because of some pre-determined personality trait” was NOT a part of my early role playing experience — even though that seems to be how many people define ‘roleplaying.’ My definition of ‘old school roleplaying’ was mentally inserting yourself into the situation that the DM described and attempting to reason out a good course of action using your own noodle and the information at hand. Confronted with a room full of tablets, instead of just saying ‘I search’ and rolling the dice, one could attempt to read any inscriptions on the tablets, move the tablets to look under or behind them, etc. If a treasure was hidden under the bed, you would find it if you thought to say, “I look under the bed” instead of rolling a 12 or better on a dice.
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.”)
OK, if you didn’t download Goodman Game’s “Dungeon Crawl Classics Beta Rules” yet, then shame on you. Someone told me it was free only today (June 8, 2011), but it does not say anything about that on the Goodman site so who knows.
I haven’t read it yet, but I’ll give you 2 reasons why this book rocks so hard:
This guy’s work just blows me away… he has taken the ‘old school’ look and done something very dynamic and whimsical with it. But there is a lot of great artwork in the book — including Jeff Jeff Easley, Jason Edwards, Tom Galambos, Friedrich Haas, Jim Holloway, Doug Kovacs, Diesel Laforce, William McAusland, Brad McDevitt, Jesse Mohn, Erol Otus, Jim Roslof, Chad Sergesketter, Chuck Whelon, and Mike Wilson (shameless self promotion: and even some by me)! It occured to me as I ‘flipped’ through the PDF earlier that the Roslof work may well be Jim’s last since he died so recently… R.I.P., Jim, you will be missed.
Anyway, here is one of the Mullen pics: