Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Design Decision Tuesday: Classes (Part II)

The Beast Master
One of the first D&D classes I tried to create,
circa 1984 or so. Check out those level titles.
This is a continuation of a post I made back in July regarding my use of character classes in D&D and how they impacted some of the design decisions I made in crafting my campaign world.

[By the way, I started this last night but fell asleep before finishing, so I'm still calling it "Design Decision Tuesday" even though it's Wednesday now when I'm posting it.]

In Part I of the post, I mainly tried to get across the idea that for a Class & Level (hereafter, C&L) game, one can look at different character classes as part of world building. Have unique, customized character classes beyond the "core four" can help to define a culture or a race if, as a GM, you don't get caught up in the mindset of thinking, "There are too many classes!" and instead think, "How would this particular class, given how it's defined, shape my world?"

As an example, let's take the Druid class, which first appeared as a playable character class way back in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry. Druids as a character class were defined in the earlier editions of the game as neutral priests of nature, who revere mistletoe, and who less involved with humans and more involved with protecting animals and plant-life. They specialize in magic of fire, natural forces, and living things, only use a small suite of peculiar non-standard weapons, and eschew metal armor.

"You Don't Need a Druid Class"
There are many out there who would say that you don't need a Druid class. Talysman over at the Nine and 30 Kingdoms has written pretty extensively on the idea that the game only needs Fighters, Magic-Users, and what he calls "Talents" (aka, Thieves and other skill-based classes such as the ones he's created like the Miner, Smith, and Tinkerer). Talysman sees the Cleric as a hybrid of the Fighter and Magic-User and posits that with the basic three (Fighter, Magic-User, Talent), you could then create a hybrid combination for each - Fighter/Talent, Magic-User/Talent, etc.

In Talysman's opinion, a Druid wouldn't be a separate class, but instead just be a Magic-User that's played differently. You'd call him a Druid, make a few tweaks to his spell-list (I guess), and be good to go.

Class & Level Systems Are Partly About Having Classes
I think that kind of misses the point of the nature (pardon the pun) of C&L type games. By having a Druid class (or a Monk, or a Bard, etc.) as a playable character class, the game system is essentially providing the GM with the tools to figure out how (or even if, which is just as telling a question) those types of characters exist in his world. If the GM decides that Druids exist, then he needs to figure out which races are allowed to play that character, which parts of his world those characters operate in, if there are organizations of Druids that protect certain wooded areas of the world, and more. It also means that the GM is saying that forests and natural areas are important in this campaign, and that most likely there's not going to be a lot of urban exploration.

Sure, you don't need a specific class to address these types of things in your campaign world. You could do it without. However, as I mentioned in my first post on classes, that's really only something that an experienced GM would probably even think of, and only an experienced player who knows what a Druid is would ever come up with the idea of saying, "I'm going to be a Magic-User, but I want to play him as a Druid." These aren't the types of things that come naturally to new players, who most likely would never have even heard the word Druid before, let alone know what it actually is.

If You Have to Tweak More than 1-2 Things, It Should Be a Separate Class
For me, another point in favor of having a separate class like a Druid is that it's more than just one or two tweaks on a basic class. Yes, in the original game they were called a "sub-class" of Clerics, but that's mainly because they used the same attack and saving throw matrices, as I recall. In every other way, they were completely different from Clerics. They couldn't wear metal armor, yet wearing the heaviest Plate Mail you could find was a hallmark of the Cleric class. They couldn't turn Undead nor cast as many healing spells, two other iconic powers of Clerics. The Druid spell-list is completely different, and they also have class-based abilities that are completely different from Clerics. That's a lot of things to "tweak" just for the sake of not having a separate class.

Again, you could go the easy route and just skip all that stuff, and simplify it to rely on the player to only pick appropriate spells from the Cleric list, and to forgo wearing heavy metal armor and turning undead and just hope that your player is cool with that. But, really, what's wrong with having a separate class for this? If you're playing a Class & Level game, why not embrace the idea of classes and have more than just a small handful?

Including Certain Classes Says Something About Your Game World

In a way, I look at character classes in a somewhat similar way as 3rd Edition D&D looked at Prestige Classes - Prestige Classes in 3E were originally intended to say something about the campaign setting in which they appeared. The idea was that you wouldn't necessarily have a generic Prestige Class, but rather something specific, such as the Forgotten Realms' "Red Wizard of Thay" which came with a whole description and background of what that organization was, and in turn helped the GM to flesh out that section of his world. I'm not advocating for Prestige Classes in all editions of D&D, but the idea of having some classes that are unique to the setting and different enough from the standard "core four" classes is one that has merit.

Let's go back to our Druid example again. If the Druid is a separate class, then a GM who doesn't include it is also saying something about his campaign setting - there could be a dozen different reasons why, but he's saying that playing a wilderness-oriented nature-priest is either not important (maybe it's a city-based type of game) or just not available (maybe he has plans to use Druids as NPC adversaries). It's almost instant-world building from just one simple decision.

Archetypes Bridge the Gap
While I like the idea of having a wider array of classes to choose from beyond the core four, I also agree that there are many separate classes that have been created over the years that don't need to be separate classes, and which lead to "class bloat." I'm really not a fan of having a bunch of classes that essentially just replicate 90% of a core four class with only a few tweaks. In that case, I really like the idea of using "archetypes" as Trey Causey mentioned in the previous post on Classes, and which is something that the Pathfinder RPG has adopted. You don't need a separate "Geisha" class for an Asian-themed game. Just make that a Bard archetype and swap around a few things. A GM with a list of archetypes for player characters can help his players get a feel for the setting, and again, it acts as world-building. If a GM says that "Samurai" is a fighter archetype and "Ninja" is a Thief archetype, he's defining his setting, just as easily as if he said that "Knight" was a fighter archetype and "Court Mage" was a Magic-User archetype.

Applications in My Campaign Setting
I did this quite a bit in my own World of Samoth setting, where I provided an idea of an archetype for each character class for each race in my campaign, including humans (which were country/culture specific). For example, I mentioned how many Dwarven Bards had come into fashion as "Composer Historians" for human princes, dukes, and counts. The dwarves in this campaign are a bit down on their luck and tend to be treated a second-class citizens, so preserve their disappearing heritage, they weave subtle information about their own Dwarven history into the songs that they perform for their human patrons, with the humans none-the-wiser. Dwarven Paladins were mainly "Ancestor Champions," who kept detailed family trees of their clans and used their healing powers to tend to the sick and destitute dwarves who live in Dwarven ghettoes in human cities.

I could've created all of that information without having a Bard or Paladin class, but in this case I was looking to define how a Dwarf would approach each of the classes listed in the Players Handbook. If I were working with just the core four, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have come up with any of that information above, because I wouldn't have had a need to figure out why a Dwarf would become a Bard or a Paladin and what being one of those classes meant to a Dwarf. The core four classes, while broadly drawn on purpose, are sometimes too broad to generate this type of thinking I'm talking about.

Class vs. Archetype: An Initial List
Based my thoughts above, here's a quick summary of some classes that often appear in D&D and related games, and which ones I think should be separate classes versus handled as an archetype. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject. I actually tried to keep this edition-neutral, so the comments should theoretically apply to whatever edition of D&D (or retro-clone) you're playing. 

  • Alchemist: Many would just say this is a Magic-User. I think it's a bit too different to be played that way. Sure you could just say that all of his spells are really potions, but that's just too plain for my tastes. I think you can use the Magic-User as a starting point but then make enough changes that it goes far enough to warrant being its own class. 
  • Assassin: This is probably just a Thief or perhaps a Fighter, with some kind of code about killing people for money (a role-playing choice) who might be good at disguise (a background which is most likely not mechanical). Maybe you give him a Ranger's tracking ability to account for him tailing his victims, and take away some Thief skills or Fighter weapons/armor.
  • Barbarian: This is a Fighter with a different background (not based on game mechanics) and a penchant for wearing light or no armor, and perhaps an aversion to magic (a role-playing choice, not a mechanical one). Perhaps you bump up his hit dice a bit or give him a bonus on his saves or AC to account for wearing light armor, since having access to heavy armor is one of the fighter's main class abilities. 
  • Bard: I'm not saying you need to have bards in your game, but if you want to include them, they should be handled as a separate class. There are too many differences and abilities behind this class to make it an easy one to play as a tweak or archetype of either a Thief or a Magic-User.
  • Cavalier: This is a fighter who is part of the nobility and good at horseback riding (this is a background, not game mechanics), who also follows a code of honor (a role-playing choice, not game mechanics). You could also call him a Knight.
  • Druid: As mentioned above, I think this should be a separate class. Once again, there are too many abilities and restrictions that can't easily be handle with one or two tweaks to an existing class. 
  • Illusionist: This is just a Magic-User whose player should limit himself to only picking specific illusion/shadow/sleigh-of-hand spells. Maybe give the player a bonus on those spells to offset him not taking the standard magic missile and fireball spells that most magic-users are expected to take. This example works for all types of magic (e.g., a "Summoner").
  • Inventor: I've seen many people try to make a class like this, and it's one that in certain more "advanced" settings could make sense. The Clockwork Mage kit for the Sha'ir class from 2nd Edition D&D for the Al Qadim setting comes to mind, but I think in this case it's substantially different enough to warrant being a separate class rather than trying to shoe-horn it as an archetype for an existing class. 
  • Monk: This should be a separate class. I really don't see anyway to handle unarmed fighting with the existing rules of pretty much any edition and give the monk a fair shake. You could try to play him as an archetype of Fighter without weapons or armor, but you're taking away the two things that the Fighter is good at and exchanging that for some really bad unarmed damage and cumbersome pummeling and/or grappling rules. I'd keep it a separate class. 
  • Ninja: This is a Thief (or "Rogue" in 3E+ parlance) who belongs to a clan or family (a role-playing choice). The Thief's back stab ability (or the Rogue's sneak attack) account for the ninja being good in combat under the right conditions.
  • Paladin: This is a tough one, but given the way they are portrayed with all of the different things they can do, I'd probably keep this a separate class. 
  • Ranger: Another tough one because I really like rangers from the early editions of the game, but I think they can be handled as an archetype of Fighter. They are Woodsmen (a background) who are good at tracking (keep this mechanical ability and swap out the ability to use some of the heavier Fighter armor). Having woodland animal followers is fine but probably doesn't need all those rules. Just say he has a pet [whatever] and let it go at that. The more recent additions of two-weapon fighting, as well as the whole "bonuses to kill giant-class creatures" goes away. 
  • Samurai: This is a Fighter with a code of honor (a role-playing choice) who is good at horseback riding (a background with no game mechanics) who is in the service of a noble (a role-playing choice). He's probably also educated in a few different fields like calligraphy or painting or writing poetry (backgrounds with no game mechanics). 
  • Witch: This is probably just an archetype of either a Druid or a Magic-User, depending on whether you see a witch as a nature-oriented pagan (Druid) or as an evil servant of the dark one (an evil Magic-User). Maybe give them a bonus to use scrying magic-items or tweak the spell lists for the player accordingly so that the spells make sense within the fantasy/fictional version of what witches as thought to be good at. 

Obviously the list could go on and on, but hopefully you get the idea.

As a fun little background while I was writing this post, I went into my files and found a bunch of classes that I had created shortly after I began playing. The list included:

  • Beast Master: An "NPC" class (following Dragon magazine's format that any class not created by Gary Gygax was unofficial and only intended for NPCs), that could train any animal given one week, ride a horse without a saddle, Bless friendly animals, train and ride a Unicorn (if a female Elf), gain animal followers like Rangers, cast Druid spells... the list went on and on. I included a copy of the first page of the character write-up from my old notebook above.
  • Assassin-Acrobats: Obviously this was a really stupid idea, but it seemed logical that if Thieves could have a "split" class with Acrobats, then Assassins could, too, since in AD&D an Assassin was essentially just a Thief (two levels lower) who killed people and used poison. 
  • Forest Runners: These were like "super Rangers" who ran really fast. They could track as Rangers (but better), had the Thief abilities of Move Silently, Hear Noise, Hide in Shadows, and Climb Walls, Surprise 75% of the time, pass through overgrown areas like Druids, and were resistant to Charm, Sleep, or Slow spells. 
What can I say? I was like 13 or 14 when I made these. 

Hanging: Partly home office (laptop) and partly living room cough (iPad)
Drinking: El Segundo Brewing Company's Two-5 Left Double IPA
Listening: "Moonlight in Vermont" by Stan Getz

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pulp Noir Monday: Noir Wars

"Detective Dante Victor"
Image ©2013 Sillof
Continuing in my posts of pulp-era themed games, books, comics, movies, and TV shows, today's post covers a bit of a different source - customized action figures by a true artist, Sillof, from Siloff's Workshop. This particular line of customized action figures is called "Noir Wars" - Pulp Star Wars. For more pulp era posts, including "Tales of the Gold Monkey," RPG supplements like Weird Adventures and Heroes of Rura-Tonga, and comic books like Masks, Half Past Danger, and Black Beetle, check out my Pulp Noir tag.


What Is It?
Sillof (not his real name) creates customized action figures that are based on well-known properties like Star Wars, DC Comics, or Marvel Super Heroes, and then puts a twist on them by putting them into a different era, such as Feudal Japan, Victorian England, the Wild West, or World War II.

This particular line of figures showcases all of the main Star Wars characters such as CP30, R2D2, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, Obi Wan Kenobi, Boba Fett, and the Stormtroopers, and re-designs them as though they were characters in an old Film Noir type movie taking place in 1930s or 1940s San Francisco.

Unlike every other Pulp Noir resource I've posted about to date, this one is pretty much just visual. Each character has a line or two on the website that describes that character's personality in the setting (e.e.g, CP30 becomes "Chip Pepperdino" - a reporter the local newspaper who wants to be close to the action without actually being part of it). But, looking at the visuals and knowing the source inspiration for the characters just opens up a ton of imaginative ideas.
Femme Fatale, Lola O'Gannon
Image ©2013 Sillof


Cool Bits
Seriously, this whole thing is just cool. I have posted about Sillof's work before, and that post has consistently been my #1 or #2 post of all time in terms of page views. So, clearly I'm not the only one who gets how great his work is.

It's an extremely creative endeavor to come up with the idea in the first place - how various characters from the media would act and look in a different setting. But then to actually have the artistic chops to pull that off by custom-making actual action figures to represent those thoughts -  especially when you consider that Silllof is not a professional artist but a teacher by day who creates action figures as an artist outlet - is nothing short of amazing.

Sillof also creates a unique setting-appropriate persona for each character, giving an instant role-playing hook for using these as PCs or NPCs in a pulp-era RPG.

Any Good Ideas Here for My Role-Playing Games?
As with all of the sources in this series of posts, the answer is of course "yes." You may be thinking it's odd to use a series of action figures as inspiration for a tabletop RPG, but as noted above, the real beauty here is that Sillof has re-imagined popular well-known characters and placed them in a different setting. He doesn't just say "This is what Darth Vader would look like in a pulp setting." Even if he did, that might actually be enough because his sculptures are so well done artistically and very evocative of the eras he portrays. But, Sillof goes a step further by writing little backgrounds for the characters and how they integrate into the setting. Darth Vader becomes Detective Dante Victor - a "classic dirty cop. Paid to clean up the crime but actually taking payoffs and making sure the mob has protection."

As Sillof notes in the introduction to the series, "The line is meant to be a pure film noir with no elements of fantasy or sci fi.  You have all the archetypes of classic noir:  old disillusioned cops, reporters, dirty cops, the mob, the femme fatale, the private detective, etc."

There are tons of ideas here to use as characters, either as a GM looking to expand his repertoire of NPCs, or as a player looking for an idea for a new PC in a pulp game. 

Who Will Like It?
If you can't appreciate the artistry of these figures or look at them and think of ways that you'd want to use these characters in your games, I don't know how to help you. Seriously... there's no reason that everyone shouldn't like these.

Is It Good for Kids?
Absolutely. Your kids will get a kick out of seeing Sillof's reinterpretation of classic characters re-imagined in new and inventive ways. You're sure to end up poking around the entire site and seeing all of the various sets of figures, and it's something you can definitely sit and enjoy with your little ones. Unfortunately most of the figures aren't available for sale, and the ones that are have a very high price-tag as they're all custom one-of-a-kind creations, so your kids won't be playing with these toys. But they'll enjoy the pictures just the same.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: The Dudes' Double Trunk IPA
Listening: "Ramblin" by Ornette Coleman

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Daddy Is Now a Maven...

Yep! According to All-Around Cool Cat +Trey over at From the Sorcerer's Skull, once you reach 80 followers in the OSR blogosphere, you are considered a Maven.

I hung at 79 followers for nearly two months before getting that last follower.

Of course, Trey has 428 followers himself. Then again, he does blog every day and he did write the super cool Weird Adventures book.

Anyway... yay, me.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: water
Listening: "Hounds of Winter (Live)" by Sting

Pulp Noir Monday: D20 Past

Continuing in my posts of pulp-era themed games, books, comics, movies, and TV shows, today's post covers a somewhat under-the-radar supplement for WotC's D20 Modern game, called D20 Past. For more pulp era posts, check out my Pulp Noir tag.

So, firstly, for those Old School types who strictly only stick to games that stopped publishing back in 1988, I'll just point out that almost all of my Pulp Noir inspiration posts are actually not even game-related. I've covered comics and TV shows, and the only two game-related releases that I have covered so far are really mostly setting material - the game mechanics are negligible.

I look at D20 Past the same way - I've actually never even played D20 Modern and didn't acquire the core rulebook until about two years after I picked up this release. But, I figured I could mine this book for ideas for future games and also for a D20 Call of Cthulhu game I was playing in at the time, and it came in really handy for that.

What Is It?
D20 Past is a supplement for the D20 Modern role-playing game that was published by WotC shortly after 3rd Edition D&D was released. This particular supplement was written by James Wyatt (not my favorite game designer) and Gwendolyn F. M. Kestrel in March 2005. Most notably for Pulp Noir fans, it includes material from the "Pulp Heroes" material from Polyhedron #149 by David Noonan, and "V for Victory", by Chris Pramas, which was originally published in Polyhedron #156.

The entire book covers the time period from about 1450 to 1950, divided into three main sections: The Age of Adventure (pirates and muskateers), Shadow Stalkers (characters hunt "creatures of shadow" throughout the 1870s, whether as gunslingers in the Wild West or detectives in Victorian London, for example), and most relevant for us, Pulp Heroes (private eyes, bold explorers, mad scientists, and fascist generals in the 1920s and 1930s).

Each section covers things like character archetypes, an overview of the types of campaign styles, friends and foes, including new monsters, prestige and advanced classes, and some sample adventures.

Before all of this comes an overview of historical campaigns and various ways to run them (strictly historical or semi-historical including adding varying levels of fictional elements, thoughts on starting occupations for characters, technology levels at various points in history, and new skills, feats, and equipment.

So again, people who hate D20-type games might be thinking that this is too rules-heavy, but I disagree. Sure, the starting occupations include a few rules tidbits (recommended skills, bonus feats, etc.), but that's easily ignored for what's really important - ideas on typical character backgrounds and how they fit into historical settings. There are tons of great ideas in here, including "Cloistered" (characters who grow up in a Himalayan fortress, hidden Vatican chapel, or other places isolated from society), which is actually a background idea I ended up stealing and using for my player character in a Call of Cthulhu game that started with the D20 system but has since switched over to Savage Worlds.

To let you in on how rules-light this book is, we don't see any rules or tables or anything until page 9, and on that page and the next few pages, the tables are actually just the various movement rates of different vehicles such as trains, ships, horses, etc. so you can compare speeds.

Cool Bits
From a pulp noir standpoint, there are tons of really fun and cool things in here that can help with a game that takes place during this era.

We get pictures of various period planes and zeppelins, descriptions of fire arms, sailing ships, aircraft, and ground vehicles, and some cool pictures of various characters that you could use as PC or NPC portraits.

In the Pulp Heroes section specifically, one of the things I really loved was the description of "pulp science." The section explains how Pulp Heroes scientists are eggheads who publish academic papers, but rather are tough adventurous inventors who test their own unproven inventions themselves to work out the kinks. Science in this type of setting is both promising and threatening, as secret societies and fascist nations also have scientists working on making giant attack robots, death rays, and super bombs.

We then get a staple of OSR games which should make a lot of you happy - the Random Table! In this case, it's really clever and fits right in the setting - It's two tables that work in conjunction to make a naming convention for "pulp science." Table I tells you how many Catalysts, Functions, and Prefixes the name has, and in what order, and Table II presents a column of Prefixes, two Catalyst columns, and two Function columns. Rolling on the tables, you might get a name as simple as "Zortillium Emitter" or as complex as "Atomic Hyper-Reactor Sphere."

Just looking at the tables makes me want to start creating a mad scientist guy to have my players face in a crazy lab full of half-finished and dangerous experiments, each with a pulpy-sounding name. I'm reminded of some of the crazy scientist types from the old Silver Age comics I used to read, and also one episode in particular of the old Max Fleischer Superman cartoons from the 1940s.

The Pulp Heroes section also covers everyone's favorite pulp-era villains, the Nazis, and various types of Nazi foes (athletes, "mentalists," pilots, scientists, soldiers, spies, and SS Officers). There's also information on playing a Flying Ace, Gangster, or Scientist.

Lastly, we get two adventures with plenty of background and information that you could easily run them using any system of your choice. There are a couple of maps, including a relatively detailed one for a large ship on which part of one adventure takes place.

Who Will Like It?
Obviously this is a cool book for fans of pulp-era gaming, and again I must stress, this book is really more about the setting and giving ideas than it is about the game mechanics. Don't let the D20 name scare you away from an otherwise good resource.

On the "down side," only part of this book deals with pulp noir. There are two other settings, as mentioned above, that may or may not be of use to you in your games if you only want to strictly focus on the pulp stuff. That said, you should most likely be able to find this book for relatively cheap so it should still be a good QPR (Quality-Price Ratio) even if you only look at the pulp chapters.

D20 PAST
  • Format: 96-page full-color softcover book
  • Where to Buy: Used copies start at $6.49 on Amazon.com
  • Price: Original cover price was $19.95
  • System: D20 Modern (relatively rules-light presentation)
  • More Information: The official WotC D20 Past product page

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Listening: "Rock the Casbah" by the Clash
Drinking: Stone Smoked Porter

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Review: Meckwick's Challenge (OSR Adventure)

The so-called Old School Renaissance (OSR) movement in gaming has been around for a while now, and has seen a wide array of rules systems developed - I just rattled about 8 off the top of my head including OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Castles & Crusades, Adventures Dark & Deep...

It's for this last system that the adventure Meckwick's Challenge has been created by fellow blogger and All Around Cool Cat Random Wizard. (As a side note, many of you might be wondering why I keep referring to all around cool cats here on my blog. These are people who have chosen to follow Daddy Rolls a 1 over there on the right-hand side-bar. Yup, it's that simple - with just one click you, too, can join the illlustrious ranks of the All Around Cool Cats).

Note that this will be a spoiler-free review for those intending to participate in the adventure as a player. The goal is to help you understand if this sounds like fun so you can run it for your players, or ask your GM to run it for you. 

Quick Summary
Meckwick's Challenge is an adventure for characters levels 5-7, ostensibly for the Adventures Dark & Deep System, but as with most adventures for the OSR, you should be able to easily use this with your system of choice, even including the original versions of the rules such as 1st Edition AD&D.

There's a lot to like in this adventure, including some strong writing, cool character development behind the NPCs involved in the adventure, some clever mechanics behind the structure of how the adventure plays out, and clean, easy-to-read layout. To be upfront, I should point out that I haven't played this adventure as either a player or a GM, but did do a thorough read-through.

Adventure Structure
As a fun, refreshing change for this adventure, the authors present two different methods: you can play the adventure in a "linear" fashion - matching villains to specific encounter areas where the villain will most like have a reason to be there and a slight advantage for being in that area, or in a very innovative mechanic, the GM can roll a combination of an "encounter die" and a"maze die" to create a layout of a labyrinth in which the characters are trapped.

As the characters continue to roll the encounter and maze dice throughout the adventure, they create opportunities to have a "special" encounter with a main villain lurking in a unique lair, the defeat of whom opens a portal to let the characters escape. Included in the adventure at the back are templates for printing, cutting out, and assembling the maze and encounter dice needed for the adventure, along with templates for a "villain die," a "dungeon die," and a variety of dungeon and maze geomorphs that were created specifically for this adventure but developed in such a way that they will work and connect with any other standard geomorphs you may already use in your games.

The idea of having the characters use dice to randomly determine the shape and nature of the labyrinth and the encounters therein really harkens back to the propensity of old-school games to use random tables to roll for everything you can imagine. Unfortunately, what makes for a very innovative and clever mechanic in this adventure also contributes to some very difficult and complicated reading in order to run the adventure. I read the "Introduction" which explains how to use the dice to create the adventure about three or four times and I'm honestly still a bit confused. I kept looking in the introduction for when to roll the villain and the dungeon die, the templates for which are included in the section at the back of the module. I readily admit that, not having actually used the adventure in play, I may just be missing how easy it is, but it seemed rather complicated and I think that a quick once-over to re-edit the section, maybe including an example of how each of the four special dice come into play, would be really helpful.

Encounters
The strength of Meckwick's Challenge is in the presentation of the NPCs and their "lairs." The authors note that "a villain without a history is essentially nameless and the players may interpret the encounter as just another opponent to bowl over on their way to something greater" and to help with that situation, they have provided some great background and history for each of the major NPCs the characters will face, without falling into stereotypical cliches. Without giving anything away, there's just a lot of great, deep stories that are begging to be used as more than just a random encounter. Characters are almost never what they seem, but they're not completely ridiculous and different for the sake of being different. Each one has a rational reason for acting the way they do.

This section also includes descriptions of various areas the characters may visit during the adventure. The names are kept generic so that a GM can easily drop them into his own game, but don't let the names fool you - the Defiled Cathedral might sound like your average fantasy cliche, but that's not the case at all, as it ties into some of the important NPCs and their motivations. We also get a Murderer's Row (slums), a Circus of Lords (including a performing bear), a Mausoleum, the Under Sewers, and Iron Works. Again, each of these are described in a way to generate some cool ideas beyond the scope of the adventure as written. Also, one thing I appreciated is that each area's description is limited to one page - there's just enough to give you a good flavor and spark ideas on how to expand it if you want, without delving into detail that will never be used in what is really intended as a one-time adventure.

Designer Notes and Options
Another thing I always enjoy in RPG materials, whether it's game rules or adventures, is reading notes from the designers on why they did what they did. Meckwick's Challenge includes a lot of these, starting in the introduction and then continuing at the end of the adventure with ideas on "advanced options." It's here where we get a bit more into the use of the Villain's Die - it's intended to add even more randomness to the adventure so by using it you might end up, for example, with the performing circus bear encounter taking place in the graveyard instead of in the actual circus itself. The designers mention this is a chance for a game master to use the dice to help tell the story rather than having it pre-scripted, leading to the GM needing to be a little creative to explain why the bear might be there. I actually think this section, with a bit better layout, would be better served at the front of the adventure in a "How to Use the Special Dice" section.

We also get ideas on using time as an element to increase the suspense of the adventure, creating relationships between the various NPCs, and more, as well as details on the creation process for the adventure and the reasons for including the geomorphs.

Other Bits
The adventures includes a selection of new magic items, pages of stats for the various monsters the adventurers may encounter, and six pre-generated player characters (with character portraits). 

Writing
The writing in Meckwick's Challenge is strong from a technical standpoint - grammatically it's all correct for the most part, and the spelling is all correct. It's obvious that the designers edited their work very carefully, and it shows. It's clear that the designers took a lot of pride in putting this together, and well they should have. There are only a few minor typos that I caught, and that's very refreshing for what amounts to a self-published product.

Artwork
There's actually more art in this adventure than I would have thought given that, again, it's essentially a self-published product. All of the art is provided by Aaron Frost, who is also one of the authors of the adventure. Most of the drawings are black-and-white line drawings the do harken back a bit to the work from the early days of the hobby, but that's not meant as a criticism but rather as a feature. The NPC characters are well-proportioned and rendered, and have a some comic book style to them. I'm reminded of the style of someone like Jeff Dee when looking at those pictures. In other areas of the adventure, the style changes completely, such as on the cover and for the character portraits for the pre-generated PCs. For those characters, we get a bit more detail and some shading.

The maps are also provided by Frost, along with fellow co-writer Mundi King. These are all provided in a computer-generated style in grayscale. While they actually look good and, due to the computer-generation, have exactly correct proportions, sharp angles, etc., I actually felt like they just don't fit with the aesthetics of the rest of the adventure. There's nothing "wrong" with the maps - I just feel like the designers may have been better off creating them in whatever computer program they used first, then copying them in pen-and-ink to match the style of the art in the rest of the adventure.

The art on the various die templates, particularly the villains die, encounter die, and dungeon geomorphs, is very good.


Who Will Like It
Players and game masters of Adventures Dark & Deep should enjoy this adventure, as should any who regularly play OSR games. The adventure is well-written with well-crafted NPCs and creative encounter areas, and provides a lot of extra goodies in the form of the various die-templates and geomorphs as well as character portraits for pre-generated PCs that could actually be used by players for other adventures/games. The layout is easy to read with no overly complicated backgrounds. My minor quibbles relate to how the use of the various dice and geomorphs are explained at the beginning of the adventure. It's a bit confusing but could easily be fixed with a quick editorial once-over to make it a little easier to understand.

MECKWICK'S CHALLENGE
  • Format: 51-page PDF
  • Where to Buy: RPG Now or DriveThru RPG
  • Price: $4.50
  • System: Adventures Dark & Deep (but relatively system-neutral and can be used for pretty much any OSR type retro-clone)
  • More Information: Random Wizard's blog post on the release of Meckwick's Challenge

[Disclaimer: Daddy Rolled a 1 was provided with a review copy of this product.]

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Bear Republic "Race 5" IPA
Listening: "Renegades of Funk" by Rage Against the Machine

Monday, September 2, 2013

That 30-Day RPG Challenge Thing

I've never done one of these challenges before, but this one looked vaguely interesting so I decided to give it a go. However, in lieu of posting my short answers here on my blog, I've chosen to cross-post them on both my Daddy Rolled a 1 Facebook Fan Page and on my personal Google Plus Profile. You can find the answers at either location every day through the end of September. I'm a day behind but I'll catch up later today. My first post is about "How you got started" which I actually answered here on my blog in my second post dating all the way back to February 11th, 2011.

I've been enjoying seeing what others are saying, such as over at the Other Side, Random Wizard, and Once More Unto the Breach. I swore there were some others participating but I can't find them in my blog roll right now. If you are, drop a comment below, or of course just post in the comments on my Facebook or G+ pages.

Cheers!

Hanging: Home Office (laptop)
Drinking: A cup of very strong, dark coffee
Listening: "Learnin' the Blues" by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
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