Thursday, March 31, 2011

Encounter Tables for Gamma World (or Mutant Future)


As I mentioned in a previous post on Gamma World, way back in the early 1980s I created a lot of stuff for Gamma World.  Recently over at James Mishler’s site, James has been writing about a post-apocalyptic game he’s running that’s set in a world similar to the old Thundarr the Barbarian cartoons.  I loved those cartoons as a kid, partly because they reminded me of Gamma World.  That got my thinking about digging out some of my old notes to post them here.

When I acquired my 1st Edition Gamma World set (used) from a friend, after a while I discovered that some of its pages were missing, including the first page of the “Monster & Treasure Listings” at the back of the book, which were perforated for easy removal.  Yeah, that did kind of suck that I paid the enormous sum of $2.50 for a used boxed set that was missing pages (and also missing dice) and had ballpoint pen hexes filled in all over the map.  Seriously, who uses a ballpoint pen to draw on the map included in the game?  Well… this guy did.  This is the same guy who sold me used AD&D module Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits, and after I bought it I found that he had colored-in the black-and-white picture on the front page with magic markers, which bled through to the page behind.  I know, I know – “Buyer Beware.”  The thing is, at the time, I didn’t have a lot of cash, so buying used products like these were the only way I was going to get to ever see some of them.  I still have that Q1 module and it still chaps my hide every time I flip through it and see the garish color job that kid did. 

Okay, back to Gamma World.  Since I was missing the first page of the Monster & Treasure Listings (#1 - #29), I decided to make up my own lists to fill in the blanks.  So, I present below my list of 1st Edition Gamma World Encounters for #1 - #29. 

A few notes regarding these encounter lists:
  • I tried to update them to Mutant Future rules since 1st Edition Gamma World is not open  content.  The main thing this affected was the mutations.  Note also that I don’t actually play Mutant Future currently so I’m not really fully versed on the rules.  A few things might have slipped past, in which case I’ll fix them if anybody points them out.
  • I did take a few liberties with the format, including oftentimes listing actual hit points instead of hit dice because this was the way I originally wrote the material.  Note also that Gamma World does not have “levels” in the same way that Mutant Future does, so I just guessed for things like the Saves and also Morale.  Also, some of the mutations just didn’t translate – I couldn’t find a similar-enough mutation in Mutant Future so I left the original names, but in the spirit of the original Gamma World, my advice is to not get caught up on the rules and just to wing it. 
  • A few encounters on my list were for members of Cryptic Alliances, which are not open content and which don’t appear in Mutant Future.  In these cases, I tried to give a vague description of the organization to which the creatures belong so you can tie them back to their Cryptic Alliance sources if you so choose.
  • I stole a bunch of ideas from different post apocalyptic novels, TV shows, and movies, and again, this information isn’t “open content”, so I tried to keep it as vague as I could while still allowing the reader to figure out the original source material. 

Here we go with #01 - #05.  I’ll post the rest later.  
The following is designated open game content per the Open Game License.

CLEAR OR DESERT TERRAIN

  1. Tribesmen (24) [AL N, MV 120’ (40’), AC 6 (leader is AC 5), HD 12 (leader has 14), #AT 2 (claws), DG 1d8 (class 14 poison) , SV L6, ML 8, Mutations: bristles/mane, aberrant form – xenomorphism (antennae that emit an anti-radiation field), intellectual affinity – tinker affinity, levitation]
    While the tribesmen are mutant humans, the leader is a pure human who carries a special pistol that fires needles tipped with a paralytic poison (Class 11).
  2. Security Protocol Droid (2) [AL N, MV 120’ (40’), AC 4, HD 10, #AT 1, DG 2d10 (see below), SV L6, ML 10, Mutations: none]
    They are each armed with an electricity pistol that does 2d10 damage with a maximum range of 200’, weighs 2 lbs., and operates on a power clip good for 10 shots.  These units are wild, and they are searching for “the creator” – the nearest main building computer. 
  3. “Thinking Brothers” (3).  Pure Human [AL N, MV 120’ (40’), AC 5, HD 11, #AT 1, DG 1d8 (crossbow or battle axe), SV L5, ML 8, Mutations: none].  Mutant Human [AL N, MV 120’ (40’),  AC 8, HD 8, #AT 1, D1d8 (sword) or Class 11 poison paralysis needles (from needle gun), SV L5, ML 8, Mutations: natural armor, spiny growth, increased balance]. Mutant Animal – Poisonous Snake (AL N, MV 90’ (30’), AC 8, HD 8, #AT 2, DG 1d4 (bite) + Class 9 poison, SV L5, ML 8, Mutations: dual headed (allows extra bite attack), chameleon epidermis]. 
  4. Mants (33) (note that these are not the “mants” described in the Mutant Future rulebook) [AL C, MV 150’ (50’), AC 7, HD 4, #AT 1, DG 2d6 (bite), 1d6 (short bow) or 1d8 (spear), SV L2, ML 7, Mutations: aberrant form – xenomorphism (pincers that bite for 2d6 damage), gigantism (human-sized), ultraviolet vision, intellectual affinity – tinker affinity , mind thrust, neural telekinesis, phobia].
    These are man-sized ants able to use two of their legs as arms.   
  5. Dromes (5) [AL N, MV 180’ (60’), AC 10, HD 5, #AT 1, DG 1d10 (bite), SV L2, ML 5, Mutations: aberrant form – xenomorphism (an organ that absorbs radiation – dromes take no damage or mutation from radiation), energy ray (always emits radiation energy, and shoots from the eyes, not the hands), bristles/mane].
    These are mutated camels, suitable for riding if they are trained. 
Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Weekend of Geekin': Part 3 - Sunday (Table-Top Role-Playing!)

Last Sunday finished off my 3-day geek-fest with a session of my World of Samoth D&D/Pathfinder game.  As you'll recall, the weekend started off on Friday night with an opening night showing of Sucker Punch along with beer and Scotch.  Saturday's festivities included the Battlestar Galactica board game and some awesome California Rose, Zinfandel, and Syrah. 

Sunday we met over at my friend Brian's house, who is now the only player left in my World of Samoth game who was at the very first session back in May 2001.  He's playing the same character he played all the way back then, too, which is kind of cool.  Before you start thinking that I'm one of those softie DMs who doesn't like to kill his player's characters... well, I guess that is kind of true.  But, we've definitely had character deaths in the game, and I've also had players who got tired of their characters and retired them and started new ones.  But Brian's character, the infamous Jeremi Udall, has been with us since the beginning. 

At one point I had as many as eight players in this game, but it's dwindled down to three, including my friends Cal and Nick (and of course Brian).  My wife used to play, but ever since our daughter was born, that's no longer been an option.  A couple of other players moved away, and quite a few quit just due to the time constraints of having kids that needed shuffling around to different activities on the weekends.  At this point, I'm pretty sure that these three players will be involved into the campaign wraps up, which I think could be a soon as within a a year, depending on how often we're able to play between now and then.  We're supposed to play every other week, but the schedule ends up being about once a month if we're lucky. 

We started playing with D&D 3.0 rules back in May of 2001, as I mentioned, then shifted to 3.5.  Ever since Pathfinder came out, we've been slowly migrating to that ruleset, and also grabbing things here and there from Trailblazer.  But, honestly, the changes are so minor and the players some lax about the rules that we haven't really bothered to fix a lot of things since we're in mid-campaign. 

The characters currently consist of: 

  • Jeremi Udall, a priest of Æton and member of the sinister Illumination.  The interesting thing about Jeremi is that he is a multi-classed sorcerer cleric, but he belongs to a religion that condemns the practice of arcane magic as being evil and demonic.  Somehow his superiors in the church have not found out, and even promoted him into an inquisition-like organization that hunts down and kills arcane magic-users and other non-believers.  An interesting campaign arc occurred several years ago when Jeremi lost the power to cast his cleric spells for quite a few sessions because he had lost his faith - he couldn't reconcile how his deity allowed him to cast both divine and arcane magic.  
  • Sameer, a warrior of the desert, played by Cal.  Sameer is an interesting combination of warrior and sorcerer, and is one of the only males in his tribe ever born with the ability of sorcery.  He's an absolute beast in combat, partly because his player, Cal, loves to figure out how everything in the game works together (feats, spells, magic-items, etc.) to create interesting and powerful combat combinations. 
  • Sombra, aka Nicodemus, played by Nick.  Sombra is a relatively new addition to the group, having only played with us for maybe two years or so.  He is basically on the run for having killed his superior in the knightly order to which he belongs.  Although Sombra's actions would seem to be justified (his superior was about to slaughter a bunch of innocents), the situation has not been presented that way, so Sombra had to flee and is constantly being pursued by bounty hunters... and worse.  
 I have a very vague sense of where the campaign seems to be going, and I think we're going to wrap things up soon.  Years ago in my younger years when I started developing the campaign, I had it all planned through and knew "how it's going to end."  Now that I'm a little older and (hopefully) wiser, I realize that's not really fun and I'm letting the players' actions drive me to the next steps.

Recently, as a matter of fact, I had an evil dragon all statted up and ready to engage them in combat.  He was very clearly evil - there was no doubt about that.  However, when the players encountered him, they instead opted to engage him in conversation.  They figured out (correctly) that the dragon wasn't evil by choice - he had been corrupted by virtue of serving as a prison guardian of absolutely evil creatures for thousands of years.  There was no redeeming him at this point, but the players took the opportunity to talk to him and learn some history of things that happened when he was alive.  I made some dice rolls and... success!  He spoke with them and we had about a two-hour long in-game conversation about the history of the world (from the dragon's perspective).  It was stuff I had thought about a lot before but never thought would ever make its way into the campaign.

This was all accompanied by some tasty beer, and even more tasty leftover chocolate birthday cake that Cal's wife had made the day before and which Cal brought over to Brian's.  And of course I got to spend a great portion of the day, and of the entire weekend, with my best friends. 

If only I could be so lucky every weekend.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Weekend of Geekin': Part 2 - Saturday (Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game)

My weekend of geekery continued on Saturday.  After an outing on Friday night to see the disappointing "Sucker Punch", I was looking forward to a day spent gaming with friends. 

Those of you with kids will understand how much importance my wife and I put on this event, because we were able to get my mom and dad to come over to watch our sub-two year old so we could play games with our friends in an unfettered mode.  After my parents arrived, my wife and I packed up and headed over to our friend Wil's house to give him a ride, since he mentioned that his wife couldn't make it until later because she was doing "tax bullshit."  Once Wil, my wife and I were all settled in the family truckster, we headed over to the West Side (or "West Sigh-EED!" if you prefer) to meet my friend Cal and his wife to celebrate Cal's birthday with a day of playing games and drinking some spectacular wine.

I was happy to see some of my other friends there whom I haven't seen in a while and chat with them about what's new.  One of them is a screenwriter who has written some movies that I know you've all seen, and when he told us what he was working on in the future, we were all floored.  Somehow he's gotten tapped as "the guy who writes geek movies."  I'm not going to vouch for how many of these are really good ideas for movies, but some of them sound pretty cool.  He's working on movies based on a Marvel Comics property, an old Japanese toy property, and potentially a fantasy game (non-video) property.  He's also really into gaming, both of the strategy kind and of the table-top RPG kind.  And he had agreed to teach us how to play the Battlestar Galactica game, which I was super excited about.

The thing is, I've owned this game forever.  Or I should say my wife has owned it forever - I gave it to her as a birthday gift about three years ago on the recommendation from my friend Cal, who said that it was a great game.  Well, actually, what he said was, "I've heard it's a great game" but I didn't hear it that way, so I bought the game hoping that Cal would teach me to play it because that's how I've learned to play 90% of the games I own.  Once I learned that Cal had never played it, I cracked it open and started trying to read the rulebook.  As anyone knows who has tried to learn to play games from reading the rules versus being taught, game rules typically are written horribly and aren't much help in actually learning to play the game.  It doesn't help that the BSG rulebook is so many pages long that it's bordering on RPG-like complexity. 

I put the game back on the shelf and it's been sitting there for almost three years now. 

So, I was definitely excited to learn to play the game.  Tom has a great way of explaining games, which we all discussed at length.  "Explaining games is really an art form," Tom noted to us, and we were forced to agree.  We have another friend who is honestly pretty terrible at explaining games.  It takes him longer to explain playing the game than it does to actually play the game. 

Again, I'm not going to post a full review of the BSG game.  You can read that somewhere else on a site dedicated to discussing those kinds of things.  But, I did really like the game a lot.  It's really not as difficult as the rules would make it seem, and there are some very elegant design elements that make it fun and also a little intense.  Our game came right down to the wire and unfortunately for those of us playing humans, the Cylons won.  But if the game had gone one more turn, it was pretty clear that the humans would have won.  That's how close it was.  My understanding is that this is pretty typical for a game of BSG.

It's a cooperative game (mostly), but depending on how many players you have, one or even two of those players are going to end up being Cylons.  However, there are two "loyalty phases" during the game, so a player might start out being human and then later in the game discover that he is a "sleeper" when he draws a Cylon card during the second loyalty phase.  So, it has some similarities to "Shadows Over Camelot" if you're familiar with that game.  Unlike SoC, though, in BSG, the Cylon traitor players have to actively work on trying to sabotage the humans.  In SoC, a traitor player can just fly under the raider and never do anything overtly bad and still win the game because the loyal players lost.  In BSG, if the Cylon players don't actively take actions to go against the humans, then the humans will always win. 

In our game, the two women players (my wife and Cal's wife) ended up being Cylons and betraying all of us.  Rest assured many jokes were told about the women being traitors and the men being weak and unable to stop them. 

Sadly, this particular game took quite a while to play and combined with drinking copious amounts of wine from Cal's awesome wine cellar and then eating dinner and dessert, we were all a little tired and we ended up just chatting afterward instead of playing another game.  Then again... there's nothing sad about that at all.  I wouldn't change a thing. 

And I'm definitely looking forward to my next game of BSG.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Weekend of Geekin': Part 1 - Friday (Sucker Punch)

This past weekend I experienced a geek trifecta - something good and geeky on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  It was great!

Part 1 of the weekend started on Friday night when my best friend Brian picked me up and we headed over to the local watering hole for some beverages and bar food before catching an opening night showing of "Sucker Punch" at the Pasadena Arclight Cinemas.  I was already a little skeptical about seeing the movie, but it was taking the place of our regular Friday night beer-and-pizza game night.  We figured that we couldn't really go wrong by seeing a movie featuring scantily clad women armed with machine guns and samurai swords fighting robots, zombies, and dragons.  It seemed right up our alley.

However, the evening did not get off to a good start for me when the bar we went to was out of Campari and also did not serve Hendrick's Gin (they only had Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire), which is kind of a tell-tale sign for me to get the Hell out of Dodge.  However, we toughed it out and I instead had a Deschutes' Porter, which was okay. 

We then headed over to the theater, somewhat excited that since we had bought our tickets to the Arclight online, we didn't have to wait in line and we already had assigned seats in the middle of the middle row, which is always my preferred place to sit.  After meeting another member of our group, we walked in about two minutes before the movie was supposed to start and immediately had a bad feeling.  The theater was nearly empty, on opening night.  There might have been a dozen other people in there besides us.  I know the economy is bad, but come on!  This is scantily clad chicks with guns! 

There are plenty of real reviews of the film online you can read for a more critical review.  I will say that unfortunately all three of us were disappointed, and that was after going in with low expectations.  As I mentioned to my friends during the obligatory post-movie cocktail, the well-choreographed battle scenes were too few and too short in my opinion, and sadly there was no sense of real danger during the battle scenes. Once the first opening fight happens and you see how the main character, Baby Doll, handles it, from that point on as a viewer you never think that anything bad can happen to any of the girls (Baby Doll, Amber, Rocket, Blondie, and Sweet Pea) while they are in "video game fighter mode." 

There was a somewhat intriguing raw kernel of an idea for this movie that unfortunately wasn't executed well, which is a real shame because I've liked some of Zack Snyder's other work.  I'm beginning to suspect that he might be better at adapting other peoples' material than he is at writing his own. 

Ultimately, though, how much complaining can you really do when you get to hang out with your friends, drink beer, and watch some eye-candy blow stuff up?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Memories: First Attempt At a Module

A few days ago, Matt Finch over at the Swords and Wizardry blog mentioned that he was going to be posting some scans of at least one level of a mega-dungeon he'd worked on when he was 11, which reminded me that I'd been meaning to blog about something similar: my first game group's attempt to create a "professional" module.

This was probably around 1983 or so, and our group had changed slightly to allow a new player - a guy named Russ.  I was about to say that Russ was just one of those kids who didn't quite fit in, but then again, this was Jr. High School and honestly, who really fits in at that age?  Everybody is awkward, even the so-called cool kids.

Let's just say Russ was different from us.  Two of the people in our game group were already growing their hair out in defiance of the very conservative Utah social norms of the time, and were always wearing faded jeans and shirts promoting bands and albums that the rest of us had never heard of.  Of course, nowadays these are considered required uniforms in the wardrobe of any self-respecting gamer-geek, but back then, it was social suicide to dress different than the other kids.  I was not quite as adventurous as those other two guys, as at the time I had no allowance and most of my clothes were still purchased for me from Mervyn's by my mother.  But then there was Russ - overweight, and dressed in a nicely pressed button-up shirt tucked into his very neat khaki slacks with pleats so sharp you could slice bread with them, and polished loafer shoes.  This is what Russ wore to Jr. High School.  He was extremely well-spoken (although a terrible speller, as you'll see in a bit), but had not learned the Jr. High School survival technique of "duck-and-cover."  Russ was a totally sarcastic SOB and thought nothing of insulting the toughest kid on the block "just because."  Russ, in his mind, figured that he was smarter than everybody else and that he could overpower people with his keen intellect, at least until the day that creating a super-science evil death-ray machine and enslaved the world.  I'm pretty sure he was planning that.

One thing about Russ, though - he didn't have a lot of friends, but his parents spoiled the heck out of him, so he had tons of D&D stuff.  His collection was probably the second biggest I'd seen in private hands.  So, we let Russ in our group and he was a pretty decent player and actually ended up taking over DM duties for our group, which we all liked because at the time, we all just wanted to play, not spend time reading the modules and DM'ing them.

Like a lot of kids our age who played D&D a lot, we of course decided that we were just as creative as the professional game designers who were publishing all of the books and modules we purchased, so we figured that we might as well just form a little group (we called ourselves by the very original name "Swords & Sorcery") and write our own material.

Module SA1: Dwelling of the Death Knights was our first (and, as it turned out), only attempt.  I posted the cover that my friend John drew - it's primarily just pen and black ink, although he used some bits of red on the hooves, eyes, mane, mouth, and nostril of the nightmare, and oddly singled out one character, a fighter-type, and colored his jerkin and boots brown.

In case you can't read the cover, here is the text in all of its 1983 dot-matrix printer glory:

Adventure from Swords & Sorcery
By Marty Thomas and Russ Mickler
An Adventure for Characters Levels 4-8

On a hilltop, the lonely keep Dragonfire, now leads a strange life.  Can you unlock the secrets and rescue the fabled Elfneld?

Dwelling of the Death Knights is the first installment in a series of three modules compiled by the Swords and Sorcery Club in Sandy, Utah.

TSR Hobbies, Inc.

Printed in U.S.A.

I think my favorite part of the whole thing, really, is our complete brashness at putting "TSR Hobbies" on the front.  We really just assumed, "Hey, we'll type this up and send it off to TSR and they'll be so impressed by our brilliance and creativity that they'll pay us an publish it, probably 'as is'!"

Russ typed everything himself because he was the only one in the group with a computer (again, this was 1983 - to the rest of us, a computer was something that powered the USS Enterprise, not something you'd have in your house), and also the only one of us who knew how to type.  As I mentioned, he wasn't a great speller, or even very good at grammar as identified by the extraneous comma in the descriptive text above.  I'm also not sure how exactly the castle itself "leads a strange life" but at the time, that sounded good to us.  Inside there are dozens of typos including "speek with mammal", "conseild door", and "spere" (instead of spear). 

There's also some great instructions on the first page of the module: "DM, do not judge this module by apperance [sic], look at it, and see what you think."

The plot was very derivative, of course, and honestly a little hard to follow.  As this was intended as "the first installment in a series of three modules" (the other two of which were never written), it's difficult to remember what we had planned.  What I do remember is that an evil wizard stole a powerful sword called Elfneld and used it along with his death knight followers (we had just gotten access to the Fiend Folio and thought that death knights were the coolest thing ever) to try to take over the mysterious Dragonfire keep.  Once the wizard won the keep, he had no more use for the death knights, so he betrayed and tried to destroy them.  They fought back, and the wizard was killed, but not before most of the death knights had been consigned to the Abyss.  The sword was left untended in the keep, but no one dared venture there.  Now, hundreds of years later, the death knights have returned and declared war on all wizards.

That's basically what I remember.  The sword had tons of special abilities including the ability to cast spells, and was full of gems that turned a different color each time the blade was used to slay a chaotic evil creature.  Once a certain number of CE creatures were slain, the gems would hold the power of 9th levels spells in them.  It was all a little ridiculous.

The interior of the module included two poorly drawn maps (one of the upper ruins inside the keep, and one an area map of the surrounding territory), and the descriptive text of the rooms and denizens of the keep.  All told, including the cover, the entire thing was eight typewritten pages.

Inside the keep were trapped chests, a suit of "magical +4 magic armor" which was inhabited by a Sandman (who for some reason telepathically warned the death knights of the coming adventurers), a bergalang, an iron golem, a magnetic room that stole all of the characters metal items, some giant trolls, a needle man, a forlarren, a "death worm" (some kind of undead giant purple worm thing we made up), a tribe of kobolds, a total of 12 death knights, and then just to keep the Fiend Folio theme going, a room called the "Drow Headquarters" full of 10 Drow that had nothing to do with the rest of the module.  One of the death knights is of course wielding the "fabled" sword, Elfneld, in stark contradiction to the description of the sword at the front of the module wherein it is explained that the sword is intelligent with an Ego of 17 and will only allow itself to be used by Neutral characters.  

To sum up: it sucked.  Of course.  We were 13 years old.  But we had fun making it, and it felt like we'd really accomplished something to type if up and print it out, with a cool cover illustration.

I'm sure there are tons of people out there with similar stories.  I'd love to hear them.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Martian Death Flu

I came down with some sort of severe flu over the weekend that's really bothering me.  I just can't seem to shake it.  So posting has been much lighter than usual.  I hope to get back up to speed soon.

In the meantime, I offer this little goody you can use in OSRIC, although I'm sure you could use it in LL or S&W or whatever, too since there are really no stats to it.  Enjoy. 

(I'm being kind of funny here and saying things like "there is no save" and pointing out the "profuse sweating" part which just happened to me while on an important business phone call.  Do with it what you want!)

Disease: Martian Death Flu

This disease can be spread by any humanoid creature.  From Spring through Fall (3/4 of the year), the chance of encountering a creature with the Martian Death Flu is 1%.  During the Winter, the chance of encountering a humanoid or demi-human creature with the Martian Death Flu is 5%.  
If you encounter a creature with the Martian Death Flu, there is no save.  After an incubation period of 1d3 days, the character will suffer a penalty of -1d4 to Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom for the course of the disease, which lasts 1d3+1 days.  During the time the character is afflicted with the Martian Death Flu, he cannot get a full night's rest, meaning that the recovery of spells becomes difficult if not impossible.  When engaged in highly stressful activity (combat, intense negotiations, etc.), the character will begin sweating profusely, causing a further -1d2 penalty to his Charisma score for the duration of the stressful activity.  He also has a 25% of dropping whatever he is holding during these periods.  At the end of the disease, ability scores return to normal at the rate of 1 point per day. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Friday Afternoon Game Day

A few days ago, my friend Wil texted me and asked if I was available to come over on Friday afternoon to play some games with him, his son Ryan, and Ryan's friend and girlfriend.  Wil works from home like me, so we tend to make our own schedules, sometimes taking an afternoon off and then just catching up on work later at night.  That's the beauty of not working for "the man." 

"I'd totally love to come over.  I'll warn you, though, that I suck at strategy games.  I like them, but I suck at them.  You have been warned."

"It's okay, we'll just be playing casual games."

Although this promise of playing "casual games" was inviting, I was still a little afraid because the thing is, Wil (and his son Ryan) are really into playing strategy board games, and they both have this ability that most of the other smart people in our game group have, which is to figure out the ultimate strategy is behind how a game works (after only about 2.3 seconds of having the rules explained to them) and then very slyly use that strategy to completely crush the other players.  Or really I should say, to completely crush me since most of the other players are also good at figuring out the strategy, whereas I am usually the guy who is checking to see if there's another piece of pepperoni pizza left. 

So I headed over to Wil's today for some "casual games", which started with Give Me the Brain, a card game I've never played before.  Wil started out by explaining to Ryan's friends, who are not used to these kinds of games, how it worked.

"This is a nerd game.  The difference between a nerd game versus the board games that you're used to playing is that a nerd game has a theme, which in this case is about zombies working at a fast food restaurant.  Usually the theme doesn't have anything to do with the actual mechanics of the game play."

With that, we learned that we were all playing, yes, zombies who worked at a fast food restaurant and our goal was to finish work and go home.  To finish work, we had to complete tasks, represented by playing cards from our hands.  Some cards could just be played automatically, where other cards required possession of the "brain" (represented by a 6-sided die).  Because brains are slippery, there was a very good chance that you might drop the brain on your turn, at which point the brain goes into the center of the table and each player takes turns bidding on it.  The goal of the game is to get rid of all of your cards.  You start with seven cards, but during the course of the game you'll eventually be forced to pick up more, for various reasons.

We played the game twice, and Ryan won both times.  The second time he won (after having gotten rid of all seven of his cards), I went to put my hand into the discard pile and discovered that I still had five cards left.

Ryan had gotten rid of all seven of his cards and won the game, whereas I had only gotten rid of two.  This is what I mean when I say I suck at strategy games.  No, Give Me the Brain is not a hard-core strategy game like Puerto Rico, but it involves significantly more strategy than something like Settlers Of Catan which relies a much more on the luck of the dice. 

Then Ryan said, "I've been wanting to teach my friends how to play Talisman."

I hadn't played Talisman in probably at least 20 years.  I remember it had tons of expansions, and we used them all: Talisman Space, Talisman Dungeon, Talisman... Marketplace?  Parking Garage?  Discotheque?  It got a little ridiculous.  I remember it had 9,431 different character types, and each new expansion had new ones that totally broke the game but nobody seemed to care.  And, I remember the most important thing of all: it takes forever to play. 

"Forever" as in "Mom, PLEASE!  Can't we eat on TV trays for the next week?  We have our Talisman game set up on the table and I'm just about to be able to cross into the middle region because I found a Talisman and got a water bottle and I have six followers and the axe so I can build a raft and that way I can avoid the Sentinel but Brian already got into the middle region and he's totally going to kick my butt so I need to catch up and we can't remember where everything is so can't we just leave it on the table for just like a week or maybe a week and a half please PLEASE PLEASE!" 

It's kind of like Risk but without the satisfying feeling of world domination at the end.

So, we played Talisman.  Wil got the Priest (so he always defeated spirits in combat), Ryan's friend got the Sorceress (so he always had a least one spell), his girlfriend got the Assassin (so she could attack and kill things easily since they usually don't get to add any dice to their Strength of Craft scores), Ryan got the troll (Strength SIX) and I got... the Dwarf.  Easily one of the lamest characters in the game.  "Ooh, I'm always safe in the Crags.  Unlike you guys who... well, I guess since you get to pick which direction your character goes, you can totally AVOID the Crags anyway." 

Lame.  The dwarf sucks. 

Later, two hours into the game, Ryan's girlfriend's Assassin (who at this point had the most "stuff") had the misfortune of having all of her items and gold taken from her and teleported to the middle region, while we were all still on the outer region.  My dwarf was, of course, sucking.  Wil and Ryan's friend were holding their own, amassing followers and gathering objects and beating up on the other characters, like you do.  Ryan was complaining that his troll sucked and he wanted to have the troll commit suicide so he could get a better character. 

At this point, I unfortunately had to leave, so I discarded my dwarf and put his measly treasure into the discard pile and bid my farewells, having had a nice reminded as to why I had avoided playing Talisman for 20 years. 

But, even with all that, I still had fun because, ultimately, game day for me is about hanging out with friends.  And I'm lucky enough to have been in a position to take my Friday afternoon off to do that.  I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Two hours after I left (so, four hours after we'd started playing), I got a text from Wil.

"Ryan won Talisman."

::Sigh::

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

World of Samoth: First Two Adventure Logs

The World of Samoth is my personal campaign I've been running since May 2001, based on a world I've been tinkering with since my freshman year of college.  I used to have a website for it, based in Yahoo! Geocities, but since that site folded I haven't had a campaign website until recently.  I've started to rebuild a lot of the information on a Google Sites Campaign Website, which you can find here.

The campaign started out using D&D 3rd Edition rules, mainly as a way to teach my team at work how to play D&D since we had just landed the advertising account for Wizards of the Coast.  And, of course I was also eager to place some adventures in this campaign world I'd been working on at that point for about 13 years.

Through the years, we changed the campaign over to D&D 3.5, and we're now using a mixture of Pathfinder along with some old 3.5 stuff that we were too lazy to change over, and also adding in a dash of Trailblazer.  Basically - I adjudicate a lot of things on the fly, and lately have been just trying to speed things along rather than get bogged down looking up the rules.

We are still actively playing this campaign, and I try to be diligent about writing up the adventure summaries after each game.  In order to keep everything in order, I'm going to go back and re-post all of the original summaries dating all the way back to May 2001.

The first two summaries can be found here

Hanging: Home office
Drinking: Pasadena's finest tap water (although I had a margarita at lunch!)
Listening: "That Sound That Sound (Quantic Soul Orchestra Remix)" by Ohmega Watts

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Monsters Reimagined: Pig-Faced Orcs

© Martin R. Thomas 1988
Last Friday, James Maliszewski over at Grognardia made a post about re-imagining old school D&D monsters, with the hope of starting an OSR blogosphere trend similar to the Hot Elf Chick trend earlier last week. 

So, I'll jump on the band-wagon (again) and present my re-imagined pig-faced orcs from a 2nd Edition D&D campaign that I never got around to actually running.  Back-in-the-day, before 3rd Edition had come out, I had always envisioned my orcs to be pig-faced based on the illustration in the 1E Monster Manual, which I think would make James happy

I drew this picture around 1988 or 1989 to illustrated what I called a "Red Orc" (I also had Black Orcs and Mountain Orcs in this campaign world).  The Red Orcs had been infused with demon blood from an otherworldly race of alien-demons who came to "Earth" (I never named the campaign world for this particular campaign) and basically provided magic, technology, and education to a group of orcs they found, forever changing them.

I actually didn't change the stats for my "Red Orcs" in this campaign, partly because at the time, I didn't have a need to.  I just knew that they were partly infused with demon blood, and gave them higher intelligence scores.  I also knew that they were capable of taking class levels and could be magic-users and fighters.  Other than those slight mechanical changes, everything else I did to change these orcs came from just background that I wrote.

The Red Orcs were the "public face" rules of the Empire of D'Kagt (yup - I used an apostrophe for maximum coolness factor) and basically the enemy of every other country on the planet.  Behind the scenes, the alien demons really pulled the strings and ran everything, but they wanted to keep their presence secret, so they modified the Red Orcs to be able to run a stable government and to wage war in a more modern military fashion.

The Black Orcs in this campaign were the standard D&D cannon-fodder orcs, and the Mountain Orcs were a sort of in-between group of tribal orcs who were somewhat more civilized than the savage Black Orcs, but did not have the intelligence, technology, or magical ability of the Red Orcs.  The Red Orcs oftentimes used the Mountain Orcs as army scouts.

If you want to see some of my other races re-imagined, check out the races section on my World of Campaign website!

Hanging: Home office desk.
Drinking: Pellegrino Sparkling Water
Listening: "Comin' Home Baby" by Herbie Mann

Friday, March 11, 2011

Related Genres: Animation - Max Fleischer Superman Animated Shorts


This series of “Related Genres” posts will discuss things other than RPGs, but which also had a huge influence on me growing up. 

First up is a discussion of the 1940’s Max Fleischer Superman cartoons, which, if you’ve never seen, seriously stop reading right now and go order them from your Amazon.com or rent them on your Netflix thingy-ma-jig, or use that Youtube gizmo that all the kids are using.  Or, if you’re old like me, you might even seek them out at a store, assuming you can find an actual brick-and-mortar store that carries them. 

Did you go watch them?  Great.  Welcome back. 

I stumbled across these gorgeously drawn animated shorts back in the late 1980s or so when one of the local independent networks here in L.A. showed a bunch of them one weekend.  It’s possible that it was on a national cable network, but it’s been too long and I don’t really remember.  What I do remember was being instantly sucked in by the very lavish illustrated style and the spectacular music. 

Paramount Studios released 17 of these animated shorts in the early 1940s, created by Max Fleischer of Fleischer Studios.  The history of why the shorts are so beautifully produced is kind of funny – Max (and his brother Dave) were actually too busy and didn’t want to commit to working on the series, so they told Paramount that each episode would cost $100,000 to produce, which was about four times as much as they had been paid to produce their Popeye the Sailor animated shorts.  They hoped to price the episodes so high that Paramount would pass.  Instead, Paramount agreed to a budget of $50,000; half of what the Fleischer’s requested, but still double what they’d been given for Popeye. 

There are lots of firsts in these shorts, like making Superman fly (before that, in the comics, he only “leapt tall buildings in a single bound”), and the famous opening line of the radio production and live-action TV series that came after the animated shorts (“Faster than a speeding bullet…”). 

It’s difficult to talk about why I like these shorts so much if you haven’t seen them, but the style is just amazing. There is a very art-deco look to them, which is natural given when they were made, but there’s also this futuristic early science fiction look and feel to the shorts which anybody who appreciates early science fiction would love.  The music, by Sammy Timberg (who also wrote the Popeye and Betty Boop music for Fleischer Studios) fits just right with the artistic style, especially the opening “Superman March” theme.  It has this very retro and somewhat kitschy feel, but is still majestic in its way. 

To be sure, some of the themes in the shows are dated by today’s standards, and some might be offended by a few of the shorts, which were made right at the beginning of the United States’ entry into World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  I don’t make apologies for that kind of thing – it’s sadly part of our history and if it bothers, just skip those episodes.  It’s easy to tell which ones I’m talking about when view the titles. 

Later on when I watched Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series from the early 1990’s, it was clear that their style (especially Batman: TAS “dark deco” style) was influenced by these early Max Fleischer Superman shorts.  That’s quite a compliment to Max and Dave, over 50 years later. 

My buddy Jeff forwarded me a link to a short fan-made animated short on Youtube called Superman Classic.  It’s a loving tribute to the style of the original Max Fleischer Superman animated shorts from the 1940’s and I would totally watch a Superman animated series that had that look to it. 

But then again, I’ve watched every DC heroes animated series that’s aired since Batman: The Animated Series came out, up to and including Young Justice, currently on Cartoon Network.  What can I say?  I like DC Comics.  But, other than Batman: TAS, which is a close second for its look and feel, I haven’t ever really enjoyed any of them as much as I enjoy the Max Fleischer Superman shorts. 

Free Game Content: Gunslinger

Although most of my blog primarily deals with my memories of growing up with earlier versions of the game, I have mentioned before that in addition to the 1st Edition AD&D game I'm running, I'm also currently running a Pathfinder game that started as a D&D 3.0 game back in May of 2001. 

I like Pathfinder as a system, even though it does get pretty fiddly with the rules.  And don't get me wrong.  There are a lot of rules in Pathfinder.  Each class has dozens of options you can select as a player to build exactly the type of character you want to play.  But, they are just that: options.  You don't want 'em?  Don't use 'em.  Basically, they're like any RPG.  Use what you want, and forget the rest. 

One of the things that I really like about how Pathfinder operates is their willingness to playtest things with their community before they go to press.  That way, the large majority of the kinks are worked out, and you get a much more superior product.  It also makes it cool to get kind of a full-version "sneak preview" of things that are coming out later. 

As a case in point, I direct you to the Ultimate Combat Playtest: Round 2 (Gunslinger) PDF, which you can download for free on the Paizo website.  Ultimate Combat is a book that will be coming out later in the year, and it includes three new classes: Samurai, Ninja, and Gunslinger.  A few weeks ago, they put the write-up for all three characters online for free and asked players to use them in their games and then post back on their message boards what they did and didn't like about them.

The Gunslinger class got the most feedback, and a lot of it was pretty critical.  Some people don't like the concept of mixing firearms and magic, but really, this class is not for them.  But a lot of people had some really interesting things to say about the class, including one guy who basically said the best Gunslinger build was to take 1st level as a Gunslinger, immediately sell the free firearms that come as part of the class features, buy a bow with a +6 strength modifier, and then progress as a straight fighter for the rest of your career.  There was a little more to it than that, but the playtester caught a pretty fundamental flaw in the design of the class. 

So, Paizo actually went back and basically rebuilt the class from scratch to address the open playtest concerns, and revised the class again.  And now they're asking for feedback on this revised class. 

I think it's awesome that Paizo allows these open playtests and doesn't keep things secret until they come out with something.  It gives everyone a chance to feel like they're contributing to the game in their own way. 

And, for those of you who don't play Pathfinder but only play earlier versions of the game, there's still stuff in here for you.  As I've been saying a lot lately, an RPG is an RPG.  It's really the ideas that are key, not the mechanics.  Blackmoor definitely had firearms in it as I recall, and there were firearms rules in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide.  This free write-up of the revised Gunslinger class includes a side-bar discussion on ideas of how to integrate firearms into a fantasy campaign, and the various technology levels you can apply (firearms are rare, firearms are just emerging, etc.).  There's also content regarding various different types of firearms from early primitive types all the way through revolvers.  And there's some great imaginative stuff regarding spells and magic items that apply to firearms.  Even if I weren't playing Pathfinder, I'd be able to find some things in here to use in whatever system I do use.

I hope you check it out.  Who knows?  You may find other stuff on the Paizo website that interests you.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hot Elf Chick For Your Viewing Pleasure

© 1983 John Stireman III

So, it looks like a lot of people are jumping on this bandwagon, and I thought I'd join them.  Yesterday, James over at the Underdark Gazette made a post about his fiendish plan to grow the OSR (Old School Renaissance.  Or Old School Revival.  Whatever you prefer).  Read about it here

A few points:

1) What is the OSR?  It's not easily defined.  The quickest way to understand it is to say that you are part of a group who prefers playing versions of Role-playing Games that were published in the 70's and early 80's.  Basically, anything prior to AD&D 2nd Edition (1989) can broadly be called "old school."
2) Yes, that's an elf, damn it!  Her pointy ears are covered by her lustrous locks of hair.
3) The guy who taught me how to play D&D, and who also exposed me to the breadth of fantasy and science-fiction pulp literature, and who also taught me the basics of drawing, drew this picture around 1983 when we were about 13 years old or so.  He's was an amazing artist way back then, but I've lost touch with him.  It doesn't look like he's kept up with it. However, this is technically his drawing even though he gave it to me all those years ago, so I'm going to put his copyright information on it.
4) Most importantly - did you stumble across my site while looking for a (possibly scantily clad) hot elf chick?  Sorry if I disappointed you.  However, please stick around!  If you're into elf chicks, then I'm sure there's plenty of stuff here that you'll like.  This blog is devoted to writing about my memories of playing RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons while growing up, as well as recapping my thoughts on my current games I'm running/playing, and also miscellaneous ramblings about comics, science-fiction, and fantasy in general. 

"Current games I'm running/playing", you ask?  YES!  There's actually a very vibrant community of gamers here on the Internet.  Are you a lapsed D&D player from back-in-the-day who is now interested in seeing what the current state of the hobby is like?  Check out some of the other blogs in my links to the right.  If you had to pick just one, I'd go with Grognardia, but there are lots of good ones.

In a nutshell, if you've been absent from the D&D community for a while, here's a quick run-down of what you might want to check-out:

  • Did you play Original D&D with the "Three Little Brown Books"?  You'll want to check out Swords & Wizardry, which is a "retro-clone" of that version of the rules.  Their blog is here.
  • Did you play Basic D&D (also known as Basic/Expert/Companion/Masters/Immortals)?  If so, then Labyrinth Lord is the retro-clone for you.  
  • Maybe you were an AD&D player?  Then check out OSRIC (the Old School Rules & Index Compendium).  

The best news?  All three of the above rules sets can be downloaded for free!

If you'd rather "look forward" instead of backward, then you can check out some more current versions of the rules.  The brand-name Dungeons & Dragons game is currently on the 4th Edition of the rules.  You can find them at the Wizards of the Coast website.  If you ever heard of 3rd Edition D&D and are interested in that, another company is keeping that rules set alive with their Pathfinder game, by Paizo Publishing.  I'm currently running a Pathfinder game myself. 

Enjoy!  Oh, and if you click on some of the links in my blog list, you'll inevitably come across some more scantily clad hot elf chicks than the one I posted.  Good luck.
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