Thursday, August 30, 2018

It's Contest Time

Some of you know that I like to do RPG craft projects. Whether its painting miniatures, making foam board projects, or anything else crafty to do with the RPG hobby. For the entire month of September I want to have a contest where people can show me their crafting skills. With the fall just around the corner and Halloween coming up, one of my favorite times of the year, I want to see some spooky crafts.

What I'm looking for are a classic Halloween monster or scary terrain project you made yourself. It could be a miniature you painted, some terrain you made and painted, an adventure module you wrote, or even a drawing you made. I want to see pictures of the project from start to finish and a brief write up of whats going on in each of the photographs. Pretend you're writing a how to blog post for someone who has never done any crafting before. If it's an adventure module I want to hear your thought process on how you came up with the idea and how you worked out the writing process.

The contest deadline will be October 8th or Columbus Day for the folks in the United States. I will then select a winner and announce them on this blog. The winners entry will be showcased on the blog and will also get some cool shit. I'll send them a brand new set of Ultra Pro roleplaying dice and I'll throw in a pair of extra d6's to make it an OSR set. But wait, these extra d6's arent just any old ordinary dice. No, they are exclusive Thoughts Of A Barbarian custom dice. One translucent blue and one smoke colored dice. To go along with the dice, you'll also get a softcover copy of White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game. Then on top of that I'll throw in a card game. That's right. You will get a freaking cool card game, Tournament at Camelot. That’s nearly a $30 value.

You can send your submissions to Make sure to put "Fall Creativity Contest 2018" in the subject line. You don't need to provide any personal information as I will contact the winner after the contest is over. I've also just created a G+ community for my blog where you can share your thoughts and ideas. You can find that right here. If the email file is too big, you can always put it in a Dropbox or Google Drive and send me the link via email.

I look forward to seeing what you guys and gals come up with.

Be sure to head over to the Nerds-International Google + community and don't forget about NIV Con on September 15th and 16th. You don't need to be a member to sign up to run or play in games. So head on over to the sign up page here. I look forward to hearing some new voices or even seeing new faces during the online convention.

Oh, and one more announcement. Come join the Nerds-International at Con on the Cob this year. It’s in Richfield OH, at the Days Inn & Suites. We will be in the Atrium by the pool. I’ll be running an OSR game on Thursday afternoon and a yet to be determined game on Friday morning. Both of my games are off the books so come over, say hello, and join us in some fun games.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Can you hear the Lamentations?

As I’ve been getting into the OSR scene, I noticed that there was some controversy over a game called Lamentations of the Flame Princess. To be honest, at first I made a snap judgement that this game was not for me as it appeared to be predisposed to an attempt to shock the readers with graphic images. I had only read a few posts on a forum up to this point so when I saw the book in my FLGS I picked it up to look at it. I put it right back down into the bin because I saw a $25 price tag on this thin little book. I know, the cost shouldn’t have been a factor and I know several publishers that would scold me for making this statement but I’m being honest here. That thought made me think twice about it and picked it back up before I was heading out the door. As I flipped through the book, I was astounded by the amazing artwork and construction quality of the book.

Even though this book is 176 pages, its A5 size and page thickness made it look like a puny little thing. I think this is where my cost vs. matter kicked in and I bought it. This book is a hardcover with a smyth sewn binding that lays flat easily and every part of the book is expertly utilized. The inside front and back covers have charts and tables that continue on to the flyleaf and include artwork on the normally blank backside. The quality of this book is A+ top notch. My only wish would be to have a ribbon bookmark included. To me this would set it apart from the rest of the competition. Well, that and an edge index. Speaking of an index, this book is missing one. Not to fret though, the table of contents is very thorough.

As soon as I got home, I started reading this gem. Right away, I noticed that there wasn’t any kind of theme or background info included. Before I continued reading, I needed to do some more research. That means trying to find interviews of the author James Edward Raggi IV. What I found out is that the overall feel of the game was intended to be a weird horror set in the real world 17th century Earth. When I heard that, I was like oh, ok, that makes sense now and the choice of art throughout the book resembles that. I think the fact that there isn’t a setting included in the book is a good selling point for me. This is the rules and magic book and the lack of a setting allows me to use this in any setting I desire.

Also of note is that the support materiel for Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) is not a unified product line. This is much like Savage Worlds in the fact that new supplements don’t use the same setting and are vastly different. For more information on this go to the LotFP webpage ABOUT tab or just click on the hyperlink. As far as I can tell, LotFP is based off the D&D B/X rules with his own twists included. For more information on B/X, see my previous post. It should also be noted that I saw recommendations on line to be a little familiar with the B/X rules because it would help me to understand the LotFP rules better. I decided to forego this advice because I wanted to see how well the book stands alone on its own.

Back to the book. The first criticism I have that jumped out at me were the page numbers. Say what? What do you mean the page numbers? I know that seems like such a trivial thing to criticize but it really, really, irritates the shit out of me. The book has two different locations on the page where the numbers can be located. On most pages they are on the top outer edge. At the start of a new section they are at the bottom center of the page. Then you have instances where the pages don’t even have numbers on them. Why did this irritate me so much? It’s because every time I flipped through the book to find a certain page number I didn’t know where to look. Scanning the page to find the number makes me feel lost. Sometimes I even had to count pages backwards to find the right page.

LotFP character creation is straightforward and shouldn’t surprise anyone. They did change the Thief class to a Specialist and allow the Specialist to start with points to use for improving skills. All classes start with a 1 in 6 chance for all skills. Some classes like the Dwarf will increase a skill. Yes, they are still using race as class in this game. Even though the game is intended to be real world 17th century Earth, he included Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling classes. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the race as class of D&D old but you can remove it or ban its use if you want to in your game. There also appears to be a typo in the description of the Specialist on page 17. It lists the skills and that everyone starts at 1 in 6 but they omitted the 1 in 6 next to the sneak attack skill. This did confuse me a bit at first but luckily, there is an excellent cheat sheet for character creation in the back of the book on pages 166-167. This cheat sheet is invaluable. If you’re starting a game up, I suggest you copy these two pages and give them to each player.

My next bout of confusion comes on page 35. Here we see rules on some hazards such as ability score loss, aging, and diseases. My problem comes from the table in the upper right corner of the page. Here we see a chart that references the aging rules, which could be important if magical effects cause a character to age rapidly. The chart gives the starting age that a character must make a saving throw versus Paralyzation, at what age there are penalties, and how often they are made. The table has all the information except that the interval, or how often to make a save, is just a number. It doesn’t tell me what the number means. Am I supposed to have the player make the save every round, every day, or every year? I suppose I’d just make something up during the game but I would expect this to be defined in the rules.

This next little bit is a slight departure from the old skool D&D, at least I think so anyway (I’m probably wrong). Character death doesn’t occur at 0 HP. Instead, you are unconscious at 0. When your character reaches -3 HP, it is mortally wounded and will die in 1d10 minutes. If your character reaches -4 HP it is dead, dead, dead. Another great little feature is the language skill. Even if your character doesn’t have a known language listed on the sheet, you can always roll to see if you understand it. There is a 1 in 6 chance your character can understand a foreign language. This roll is also affected by the characters Intelligence modifier. A +1 Int modifier means that your character has a 2 in 6 chance of understanding the language.

I’m not going to go into detail on all of them but there are a total of 9 skills available for everyone to use. They are Architecture, Bushcraft, Climb, Languages, Search, Sleight of Hand, Sneak Attack, Stealth, and Tinker. Tinkering is important for the specialist because this is what is used to disarm traps and unlock doors. There is a caveat of course, the character must be able to see the device they are trying to disarm or unlock. Things like a pressure plate can’t be disarmed because the only way to see the mechanism is to activate the trap. “A character gets one attempt to use Tinkering on any particular object. If that one attempt fails, the character must gain a level before attempting to manipulate that object again.”

It’s refreshing to see that I’m not the only one who wants maritime rules in their game and Mr. Raggi does too. Next up is a four-page spread on Maritime Adventure rules that start on page 43. Here we have ship stats, water conditions, manning the ships, and encounters at sea. Encounters at sea include chases, ship-to-ship combat, ramming, and boarding. It’s in the ramming rules where I came upon another oversight. The ramming rules are separated into two categories, small and large ships. The problem is that these categories aren’t defined. I didn’t see anywhere, where he says these ships are small and these ships are large. This is important because smaller ships do less damage than larger ships when ramming. If I had to make a judgement call on the spot, I’d say ships that require a crew of 20 or less are considered small but that’s just my opinion and others may say that 75 or less is small.

It wouldn’t be D&D B/X if we didn’t have retainers, or cannon fodder as it’s more commonly known as. LotFP has five pages of retainers including a chart on the first page followed by a short description of each type. There are 27 different retainers detailed here and their loyalty/morale rules confused me a bit here as well. This confusion was short lived though as I kept reading these particular rules were better defined nine pages later. I’m not really sure why people do this because this happens more that you’d think. It’s kinda like acronyms, first you define the acronym then you can use it. Same goes for rules. First defined the rules then reference back to them later.

Following the Retainer section is one on property and financial investment. This is an interesting idea to include in the rules but these really should have been put in the appendix. Even though they seem fun, they would rarely be used. Characters with a substantial amount of disposable wealth can buy properties and make investments that will have an annual return/loss. With the roll to see how it turns out only happening annually in game, I would certainly forget about it and would rely on the player remembering for me.

Next up are some encounter rules. Again, I haven’t brushed up on the B/X rules so if this is standard fare forgive me. Spell casters in particular will have a slight problem if they plan to cast anything in combat. Casting the spell takes an entire round and the caster can’t move. Then at the start of the next round, before initiative, the spell activates (unless the spell is labeled as instantaneous, then it goes off immediately). This only works if the spell caster doesn’t take any damage during the round of combat, as this will negate the spell. Does it use up the spell slot if my caster took damage during the attempt? I don’t know the answer to that one. As a referee, I’d say no.

Oh, and firing missile weapons into a melee combat with your friends is an easy way to gain more enemies. Everybody in the melee has a chance to be hit by the missile. The referee randomly assigns a number to each combatant and rolls a d6 to see who is hit. If the shooter takes a full round to aim then the enemy combatant counts as two people for the purposes of determining who gets hit. I’m pretty sure this rule is in B/X.

The oil and fire rules seem a little too conditional to me. When you throw a lit oil flask and hit the opponent, you roll 1d4 damage. If you rolled a 4 for damage then the enemy has to make a Breath Weapon saving throw. If the saving throw fails then the victim must take an additional 1d4 damage on his next action. If this comes up a 4 again, they are engulfed in flames taking 1d8 damage every round thereafter.

After the eight pages of full color, full-page illustrations, we come to the start of the magic section. Just like the rest of the book, those color illustrations are fabulous by the way. The magic section pretty much rounds up the rest of the book except for the appendix. First up are the Clerics, they can cast any spell on their spell list and don’t use spell books. A first level Cleric can cast any 1st level spell. Each day they must pray for their divine powers at a rate of 1 hour per casting level (otherwise known as memorizing spells). Once they cast a spell, it is lost from memory and must re-memorize it.

Magic-Users start with 4 spells in their spellbook, which are Read Magic and 3 more randomly selected (roll a d20 three times) first level spells. Elves start with only Read Magic in their spellbook. Just like the Cleric, Magic-Users must prepare their spells. They must study their spellbook for 1 hour per casting level at which time they have memorized their spells for the day. Again, once the spell is cast, it no longer is available for use until re-memorized the next day.

These magic rules effectively make casters useless for the first few levels. 1st level is 1 spell slot, 2nd level is 2 spell slots, and so on. This really sucks and it would pretty much make the supplement Vaginas Are Magic (VAM) a requirement in my game. VAM allows casters to use unprepared spells even if they are out of spell slots for the day. This comes a risk though. Hence, Risky Casting, the caster must make a Magic saving throw or suffer random consequences. The rest of the magic section is dedicated to the spell lists and descriptions of the spells. I’m not going to cover those but there are some really fun ones like summon. You never know what you’re going to summon or if you’ll even be in control once it gets here.

The last section of the book is the appendix, which contains a glossary, an 8-page section on firearm rules, and the character creation cheat sheet. I’m glad the firearm section was moved to the appendix. That makes if feel more like optional rules than if they were in the main rules section. No, there aren’t any modern firearms included. They’re all of the muzzle loading variety.

Would I recommend this book to anyone? Absolutely! The production value of the book alone makes the price worth the purchase. The pdf is thoroughly bookmarked and easy to navigate. With a digital edition only costing $5, I say you should not be without it. There are some minor issues I have with it but I can overlook them. The writing is concise and easy to understand. It adds more crunch than the White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game (WBFMAG), but that is to be expected since they are based on different versions of D&D. I would say LotFP could almost be my favorite OSR version. That spot still belongs to WBFMAG. There are some free supplements on the LotFP webpage, which I suggest you grab if you’re interested in this game. There are two I suggest at a minimum; the old Grindhouse Edition LotFP Referee Book and Vaginas are Magic.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Weird on the Waves, a LotFP supplement book by Kiel Chenier. He is currently taking pre orders for his weird sea adventuring rules which sound like fun. As far as I know, he’s only planning on releasing a digital version which only costs $5.99.

Be sure to head over to the Nerds-International Google + community and don't forget about NIV Con on September 15th and 16th. You don't need to be a member to sign up to run or play in games. So head on over to the sign up page here. I look forward to hearing some new voices or even seeing new faces during the online convention.

Oh, and one more announcement. Come join the Nerds-International at Con on the Cob this year. It’s in Richfield OH, at the Days Inn & Suites. We will be in the Atrium by the pool. I’ll be running an OSR game on Thursday afternoon and a yet to be determined game on Friday morning. Both of my games are off the books so come over, say hello, and join us in some fun games.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Back in the O.S.S.R.

Hey everybody, it's been awhile since my last blog post. I've had lots of ideas for new blog posts but my interests have been shifting gears all over the place for the last couple of months and I hadn't been able to focus on the blog. First off, my blog had its one-year birthday back in March and I was going to do a contest give away to celebrate but it slipped past so quickly and never got around to it. So keep an eye out for that because it's coming real soon.

Hang on a sec, I gotta go look through my G+ feed to see everything I was doing 9 weeks ago.

Ok, I'm back. Some of the blog ideas I had in mind are Dark Places & Demogorgons from Bloat Games, The Fall of Delta Green from Pelgrane Press, White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game by Seattle Hill Games, Leagues of Gothic Horror by Triple Ace Games, Saga of the Goblin Horde: Countdown deck from Zadmar Games, White Star: Galaxy Edition and The Hero's Journey Fantasy Roleplaying from Barrel Rider Games, Wrath and Glory from Ulisses Spiele, Cartoon Action Hour from Spectrum Games, For Coin & Blood from Gallant Knight Games, Astonishing Swordsmen And Sorcerers Of Hyperborea from North Wind Adventures, The Pirates Guide to Freeport from Green Ronin, I was a guest on the Finding the Narrative podcast, I also worked with Pete Spahn on a GM aide for WWII: Operation Whitebox, and I did some cartography for the Undead Island module from Cyclops Games.

Whew, as you can see I was all over the place the last two months. If you couldn't tell from the blog title, I've been looking at OSR games more frequently over the past couple of months (if that title doesn't make you think of the Beatles then you're lame brah!) For those that don't know, OSR stands for Old School Renaissance, Old School Revival, or Old School Roleplaying depending on who you talk to. This is an idea of going back to the roots of fantasy role playing. As I delved deeper into OSR I learned that I've played some of these games not realizing they were categorized as OSR. Particularly a game I ran for close to a year falls into this category. Castles & Crusades, which I've blogged about in the past uses the SIEGE Engine mechanic. Another OSR game I've wanted to play but never did was Swords & Wizardry (S&W). Instead I "borrowed" lots of S&W content to use in my C&C game. The great thing about OSR is that most if not all of the modules and creatures are cross compatible.

Hmmm. I think this is going to be a rather lengthy post.

As I was looking more into these OSR games I started wondering what is so different from one to the next. Do I need OSRIC (Old School Reference and Index Compilation), Labyrinth Lord, S&W, C&C, White Box, AD&D, or any of the other retro-clones out there? For those that haven't looked into it, there is a big list of games out there. So, what’s the difference between them? Basically, what it comes down to is which one suits you best. Each one is attempting to clone the best parts of some version of D&D and insert their own "house rules".

In order to figure out what the retro-clones are trying to emulate, we must first look at the progression of the D&D books. First there was Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. They wrote the original 3 Dungeons & Dragons volumes (OD&D) or white box as it is commonly referred to. Then that was followed up with 5 supplements. These OD&D supplements are Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, Gods Demi-Gods and Heroes, and Swords & Spells.

Next up is the Basic Set. This particular set gets a little confusing as there were multiple versions released. The first version of Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set is written by John Holmes, a few years later Tom Moldvay writes one. Around the same time as Moldvay, David Cook comes along and authors the Expert Set. This is commonly called B/X (Moldvay Basic/Cook Expert). A couple of years later Frank Mentzer comes out and writes a whole slew of stuff. First, he writes the Basic Set (commonly called the Red Box), then he writes the Expert Set, the Companion Set, the Master Rules, and the Immortal Rules. These 5 items from Frank Mentzer are commonly referred to as BECMI.

At the same time the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set was released, TSR also carried a second line of D&D. This was called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D). AD&D had many books and supplements from 1977 on through to 1988. In 1989 Advance Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition is released. Then in 2000, the 3rd edition comes out closely followed by v3.5 which lasted until the 4th edition is released in 2008. That finally brings us to the current 5th edition released in 2013.

I know, it’s all very confusing when talking about the early versions of D&D but hopefully this has helped someone figure out what the folks in the OSR community are talking about.

Now we can start looking at some of the books in question. I don't own OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord so I can't really comment on them but from what I understand, OSRIC is most like AD&D (1st edition for the lay folk) and Labyrinth Lord is considered a B/X clone. Let's start with the one I know fairly well. C&C is modeled after 3rd edition but has an AD&D feel to it. I haven't quite figured out why it feels this way but it does and I like it. I don't know if I ever mentioned this before but I cut my RPG teeth on AD&D. My older brother Rob, DM'd for my friend Brian and myself around the age of 8 or 9. Several years ago I attended GaryCon with some friends and I was hooked on C&C ever since. During that same convention I also played in a game of AD&D run by Weird Dave. That was a great game but it reminded me of some of the shortcomings of AD&D. Namely the armor class system. First of all, let me say that I don't like the descending armor class system. THAC0 never made much sense to me whatsoever. I was very excited to see 3rd edition removed it in favor of the ascending armor class. Thank you, Skip Williams, Monte Cook, and Jonathan Tweet.

Shortly after purchasing tons of Troll Lord Games supplements, I was running out of published modules to use and quite frankly, I was learning that published modules weren't always very well written or even very useful for me and my group. What was I to do? I started looking around and realized that all of the OD&D, AD&D, and S&W stuff could easily be converted to C&C. In some cases, I didn't even need to do any conversion at all. So, the next year at GaryCon I was looking around the dealer hall and I came across a booth that said Frog God Games. While perusing the S&W products I talked to the sales man, who sold me on Rappan Athuk and boy did I buy into it. This is one hell of a mega dungeon let me tell you. Anyway, I'm digressing. Back to the conundrum at hand.

All of this was several years ago and then I recently came across WWII: Operation Whitebox from Small Niche Games. You can read about that in my previous post. This game made me realize how simple it is to adapt this so called White Box game. So, I did some digging around and found the White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game written by Charlie Mason which is based on the Swords & Wizardry White Box. Say what? I knew all about S&W but I never heard of a S&W White Box. Well, Charlie did a damn good job with his interpretation. So much so that I went and bought a hardcover from Lulu. This really breaks down the game and I don't think I would want anything simpler than this in my library. I highly recommend you check out Mr. Mason's White Box game.

This brings up another interesting topic, how simple of a rule system is too simple? This will be a good topic for another post so I'll leave it at that.

So now that I'm looking around at other OSR rule books, the question comes in. What makes them so different that I should get multiple books and play them all? I don't honestly think I can answer that question. Some people are trying to over simplify the games to the point where when I read the first 20 pages I'm like UGHH. It's wayyyy too simple for my tastes, I need more. Fortunately, lots of these books are free pdf downloads, so you can read them yourself and decide if you want to spend money on a printed copy.

Whilst I was perusing the OSR Google communities I also came across a post about someone finally getting the last signature needed in his DCC book. In the picture he posted were two hats alongside the book. I thought wow, those are cool. Now this isn't the first time I've seen those patches but I had no idea where anyone is getting them. I did a little digging around and finally found a blog post that talked about Thaddeus Moore's patches. Tenkar's Tavern did a great write up about it so I'm not going to re-write it. Check it out here

The person who posted that picture also got me thinking about DCC. I guess I never really thought about DCC as an OSR game. I've had the pdf for some time now and only looked at it for the artwork thus far. It makes perfect sense now though. The art is definitely reminiscent of the black and white line art style we all know and love. Crap, more OSR stuff to start thinking about.

Ooh yeah, I also found these bad boys over on Etsy. Check it out here.

At this rate, I don't think this blog post is ever going to end so I'm gonna call it quits here. I think I've got at least two more posts on this subject coming because I didn't even come close to answering the original question I had and it is such a broad topic. Another question I have is what defines a game as OSR? I don't think this is an easy and straight forward question either. Damn, this post is FUBAR. Well, at least I'm sticking to the moniker of my blog title. These are absolutely random thoughts.

Be sure to head over to the Nerds-International Google + community and don't forget about NIV Con on September 15th and 16th. You don't need to be a member to sign up to run or play in games. So head on over to the sign up page here. I look forward to hearing some new voices or even seeing new faces during the online convention.