Sunday, February 19, 2012

My LL Referee Screen

Since I've been so busy with other non-game-related stuff lately, I haven't had a chance to show off my AWESOME Labyrinth Lord Referee Screen, which came (pre-ordered) in the mail several weeks ago. Here it is:

The Labyrinth Lord Referee Screen!

Kudos to Dan Proctor of Goblinoid Games for making this project happen.  I have been using my screen for the past couple sessions I've refereed, and it is just terrific. It's very well-organized (my beloved reaction roll tables are front and center!) and check out the great art by Steve Zieser.  I am particularly fond of the left-hand panel depicting (what I take to be) the thief and his torch-bearing associate:

The Referee Screen interior -- reaction roll tables in the middle!

Kudos to Goblinoid Games for a job well done and a fine, very useful product!

Even Roscoe the cat is interested in the LL Referee Screen!

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Tower of Death Lives!

Sometimes working on an exciting project gets me enthused about other, related projects as well.  I suppose a kind of synergy develops; the thrill of the first project spills over a bit and fuels my productivity toward the second.

Spawn of Endra and I have been making great headway lately on the Lands of Ara Compendium 2011, due out as a free pdf in a couple of weeks.  The compiling, revising, and copy editing of the material for the Compendium has gotten me re-jazzed about The Tower of Death, my OSRCon-inspired adventure module project.  This past week or so I have taken three key steps toward developing that module for eventual release:

1.  I emailed Spawn to see if he would be interested in doing the module's cartography.  He said yes!

2.  I emailed Johnathan Bingham some ideas about the module's cover illustration, and he agreed to take the job, which will likely evolve as another full-color collaboration sketched by Johnathan and colored by his wife Daisey. Hurrah!

A glimpse of my OSRCon notes for The Tower of Death, plus some new ideas on the right-hand sheet.

3.  With these great talents onboard, I felt morally obligated (and genuinely inspired) to dig out all my handwritten notes and drawings and scribbles and half-formed ideas from OSRCon, and to begin typing them up.  I got on a roll: over the course of this week, the text for The Tower of Death has gone from a scattering of mostly handwritten notes scrawled on maps and a few bullet-pointish descriptions to nearly eight pages of typewritten material broadly organized as a module.  I have even made some expansions and revisions along the way, streamlining certain parts of the module and elaborating certain other areas that were only very vaguely sketched for OSRCon play. 

Compendium first, I know!  Nevertheless, it has been fun to let another Lands of Ara Enterprises project take me over this week, especially since I couldn't pester Spawn too much over Compendium matters as he is completing final revisions on his doctoral dissertation.

More to come!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Compendium Progress Report and Art Teaser

I am happy to announce that as of today, Spawn of Endra and I are well dug into the task of compiling, selecting, and copy editing the material for the forthcoming Lands of Ara Compendium 2011. Barring any unforeseen hiccups, we anticipate releasing the Compendium as a free pdf by the end of February or thereabouts.

Artwork-wise, Johnathan Bingham and colorist Daisey Bingham have completed a full-color cover illustration, of which a tantalizing snippet appears above. And Kelvin Green has provided us with the interior creature illustrations, my favorite of which you can also see in partial form below. Obviously, these folks' artwork is top-notch, so I only hope our gaming content will stand up to it!

"Rawr!  Out of my way!  I have to get down off this mountain and into town to download the Lands of Ara Compendium 2011!"

Friday, February 10, 2012

I Play A Cleric

So says the Spawn of Endra:

I play a cleric in Carter's Lands of Ara campaign, and Cleric is a class that back in the olden days always seemed fairly lame. Not really a super Fighter, not really a great Magic-user. Maybe with the passage of years I've figured out the mechanics that make a B/X/LL Cleric pretty awesome. Maybe I've figured out that in real life I generally act like a Cleric without meaning to. That's just how I behave. But what is it that I'm trying to do for rest of the team?

A few years back during my dissertation work in archaeology in Belize, I was talking to a newer project member who was trying to figure out how to get her project going. She had hundreds of questions about how she was going to understand the (seemingly infinitely complex) interactions between subsistence farming decisions and practices of the local Maya farmers in the village we were working with. One evening as we talked she had multiplied the questions and the possible confounding factors to the point of an intellectual deadlock. If there are hundreds of variables each varying along hundreds of confounding axes, you've instantly got tens or hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of variations to account for. And there is no way to conceive of a dissertation project that will account for them all.

I went through the ideas she had and laid it out, pragmatically. Here's what we (I) know about maize farming here. Given your interests and the questions you're posing, here's what I think you should focus on in this field season. I think you can advance these 2 or 3 ideas out of a million very productively in the next 4 to 6 weeks. You can make these the core of your proposed dissertation, and then you can elaborate on them as you learn more.

And she nodded her head and said "Okay, that sounds right. I'll focus on that."

After a little while she said to me "You're going to be a really good professor. You're really good at keeping people from freaking the fuck out."

As it turns out this is one of my talents as a teacher, in the lab or in the field. I hate intellectual panic. I hate fear of the unknown. I hate the idea that there are areas of knowledge that are only appropriate for some people and not others. I argue and act for the democratization of science, and the inherently democratizing nature of scientific practice when done well.

Coming to play a cleric after all these years of disdain for them I now see that what I describe above (i.e., my behavior) is inherently code-driven. If one doesn't want to attribute an over-arching moral code to it they don't have to. I don't have to, explicitly, when I play D&D. But I do play such a pragmatic and righteous cleric -- one who is willing to smash in heads of prisoners, fly headlong into battle, probe the inner workings of local politics on the off-days in town, to beat back panic, fear, ignorance, group-think, and superstition. Ostensibly in the furtherance of democracy. I suppose this is the Enlightenment ideal applied to D&D. (Or an Enlightenment ideal applied to D&D, anyway.)

And consider the role of Keeping People from Freaking the Fuck Out:
You Turn Undead, cast Bless, Prayer, Holy Chant, CLW, etc. You Detect Evil and Magic. Later Dispel Magic, Raise Dead, etc. Those spells cap the freak-out "Game over, Man!" levels for many encounters. And the cleric also bashes some heads in to boot. In these situations the cleric has to be the most tactically aware player to be effective -- for the party to be effective. Argues I.

So if I find myself acting like the Cleric in real life (in the field context anyway), this brings up the age-old question: "Why play yourself in a fantasy RPG when you could be anything else that you can't be in real life?"

Good point. I guess that consciously playing yourself well is a difficult first step in RPGs, and then playing someone you're not well is much more difficult. That's where I'm at.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Assassination Solution?

I have posted before about my concerns over the Advanced Edition Companion Assassin class, and I have even made a "Decree" in an attempt to severely limit the in-game application of the class's "Assassination" ability.  Yet in explaining the Assassination Decree to Vivuli's player at a recent session, I could tell that he wasn't real happy to be losing what is probably the most potent ability the class is given in the AEC.  I empathize with him and I don't want to hamstring Vivuli, but I also do not like it when an Assassin can instantly kill a balrog or a demi-god with a single percentile roll.

Carl to the rescue!  My good friend Carl has proposed an extremely elegant solution to this problem to me via email, and I want to simply reproduce his idea here:

Here is a quick suggestion to mull over regarding "assassinations". How would you feel about replacing the percent chance to kill mechanic with an attack that does normal weapon damage +1d6 per level of the assassin? All the normal restrictions would apply as specified (the assassin would have to completely sneak up on and surprise the victim, and then actually hit with an attack). The "sneak attack" style of assassination that you dislike is pretty much the whole reason Vivuli's player selected that class, based (I am pretty sure) on a lot of experience playing sneak attack thiefs in the Final Fantasy video game series :) This removes the "magic" element of killing a creature outright and makes it explicitly about just being really skilled at doing damage to an unsuspecting target.

Replacing the chance to just kill outright with a modest damage increase would insure that powerful creatures like the demon/dragon/elemental/lava bird/thing
* couldn't be killed in a single shot. As an example, Vivuli's dagger attack does 1d4 damage, +5d6 for a successful assassination at 5th level would do a max of 34 damage.

This does also keep the ability useful when used against less powerful creatures, guards and the like that would be easily dispatched by someone skilled in the art of stealth who snuck up on them and slit their throat. Against creatures of same HD, it is close to the same percentage chance of killing the creature, but at least your roll as DM when generating the creature's HP gets to go against the damage roll of an attack, instead of an instant death scenario.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Assassin class as converted for Labyrinth Lord is really weak. It is really weak in the original 1e as well. It has the same HD as a wizard, but a wizard has so many more cool powers. The assassin does thief skills like a thief two levels lower. And has worse HD. Really, the whole schtick of the assassin class is the ability to jump out and do a lot of damage in a single surprise attack. It is a limited ability - if it fails, the assassin is standing there with all the d4 HPs dangling in the breeze in front of your big bad monster. My feeling was that converting the ability to a damage increase and abandoning the percentile chance of death might make the entire class easier to stomach for you. It is a sort of specialized combat class that excels in sneaking around and being ninja-y and jumping out and surprising shit with a big attack. I don't think it has to stretch any kind of understanding of what is a magic ability and what isn't.

It doesn't change the relative power that much of the class one way or the other, but it does avoid the percent chance of instant death. It also gives you a very easy way to make sure that a creature does not get instantly killed - just give it a few extra HP!

One other nice thing is it eliminates the d30 wonkiness when interacting with a percentile chart.

Agreed, and so thanks Carl for coming up with this lovely solution.

Any thoughts anybody?

* The "thing" Carl refers to here is a being the Arandish Campaign group encountered in a recent session (#51).