Friday, April 12, 2024

Runequest: Elves

I am more of a Runequest 3 player; that is when I started back in the Avalon Hill days. If there is one thing that I change about the new rules, it is the look and nature of the elves and, to a lesser extent, dwarves. Elves and dwarves in Runequest have always been closer to the Tolkien-style ones that earlier editions seemed to embrace rather than the more alien ones in the newest edition, at least to my group.

They look like the above, more like plant people than elves. In my world, this "tree form" is a magic the elves have that gives them excellent camouflage. It also explains the art since very few see them around. This is all they can say an elf looks like to human artists since this is all they have seen.

This is not a lore-breaking change; it aligns the game with the versions I am used to and makes the elves more traditional and mysterious. The tree form is also very cool. A lot of the lore about them can be kept, like them being vegetarians and vulnerable to iron, and even skin colors can be preserved, making some brown, others green, and some yellow or blue.

Why can I do this? The book gives me the right to the Maximum Game Fun (MGF) rule. If my group and I have more fun with traditional elves with the magic ability to shift into trees, then as the rules say, "We go with it."

Just remember, all art is interpretive and in the eye of the beholder. Speaking of which...

Runequest was cross-published in Japan in the late 1980s, so if I wanted every race and character to look like manga or anime, that is within the lore since the books exist and the art was used. I can have manga elves in my game if I want, I just declare MGF, and it makes it so. I frankly love this anime-style art in the books, and I wish Chaosium had an edition of the game with 100% manga and anime-style art. The art is already amazing as it is!

...but just imagine. "Manga Game Fun" Runequest would be awesome.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Dungeon Crawl Classics: OSR 101

DCC exists because people forgot how to play roleplaying games.

It takes a lot of random charts, forced 'bad stuff happens' rolls, bad things happen, random sudden death, and insane modules to come close to how we played the game back then - but this comes close.

For some, it is too much—it was for me the first time I read this. I felt it was impenetrable—a giant book with hundreds of pages and charts everywhere. I was reading it, telling myself, "This is cool, but I do not need all this to role-play how we used to."

I would just do it.

And I could do it with any version of B/X; just pick it up and go. Something insane may happen? Make a save, or it does. The old "save or die" roll, and we interpreted that as "save or this crazy stuff happens to you."

An arm turns into a tentacle, and you are turned into a green slime. Your face melts, and your sword is destroyed. You are teleported, sans gear, into a random dungeon room. You fall into another plane of existence, and your soul is torn from your body.

Deal with it.

I feel future D&D books will ban these sorts of things from the game and forbid the DM from using these "save or die" mechanics because they are traumatic. The entire game will be written around "protecting the player's ego and mental health," and at that point, it will be time to throw the books out. We are almost there with institutionalized safety tools; even though I support their use, people will abuse them - and game designers will just keep extending what they can do into other parts of the game.

Every monster will have a safety tools section.

Most Safe (recommended): The gelatinous cube will not dissolve the character in acid but merely carry them around in a comical and slapstick way. The character will be able to breathe and speak normally. As a result, nothing terrible will happen to the trapped player character, and they will be let go in 1d6 turns (in a safe area). If the X card is touched, merely push the character back a square without encasing them. If touched a second time, the cube blocks forward movement without forcing backward movement (DM: Ask the player if they fear substances like Jell-O and do not serve them this type of food during the game).

We would not want players to have panic attacks because they fear being dissolved alive and suffocated! You may laugh, but this is the cozy game D&D is slowly turning into. I am all for non-violent solutions and problem-solving, but I do not believe in pulling punches to protect someone's character. I have had a player believe their character could not die, step off a cliff to prove it, and I ruled the character died.

Cha'alt has a simple roleplaying game (Crimson Dragon Slayer) written into the book's appendix, and it is a complete, rules-light version of 5E meant to run the adventures at conventions. With every book, this gets iterated on and improved, and I can see why it is there. For convention play, why do you need anything more? Why do we need character sheets? Say what you are and the rules. Figure out your hit points, attacks, and bonuses, and tell me what you do.

And compared to DCC? Why do we need all these charts, character sheets, rules, and dice? This game goes all around the barn to walk in the front door. You don't need all this extra stuff if you know old-school play.

Fail a spell roll? Critically hit? I will tell you what happens. I only need a few pages of charts and rules. DCC, by comparison, is old-school play with training wheels. It is a very harsh way of putting it, as I love DCC as my go-to OSR game, but I can see where the feeling comes from. The charts train you how to "do all this" without a book telling you to "just make up something cool."

The charts are a starting point; if you can think of something better now, go with that! The book tells you to. In fact, DCC tells you to go beyond the book and the rules if you want to, so the entire game is optional.

So DCC is too big and unwieldy, and if you look at it another way, all of DCC is optional - so it isn't.

But DCC does train you on how things are done and gives you ideas. In this day and age of role-playing games written to take all imagination and fun out of the game and make the events in them "reflect your mundane life," we need this game more than ever.

So, playing Cha'alt with DCC makes sense.

In other ways, it doesn't.

The old-school answer to the question?

Are you having fun?

If you say yes, then it doesn't matter.

Off the Shelf: Runequest

Runequest is the best-kept secret in Roleplaying. It has been around 40 years in nearly the same version for a reason, and it shares DNA with Call of Cthulhu. My copy has been sitting in the closet, but with the release of the Basic Roleplaying game, I took another look at this system, and everything I felt about it was still valid.

It is high fantasy but set in a fictional Bronze Age fantasy setting.

Combat is deadly, so you try to find ways to avoid it. Sound familiar? Oh yes, this is an old-school game. Why fight when we could figure out another way around it? 5E trains you to fight first and think last. Even things like perception and insight are put on autopilot, so you don't need to consider them. 5E is brainwashing its players into being more aggressive and bloodthirsty problem solvers.

D&D has always had this problem, so we all dropped it in the 1980s for GURPS, Shadowrun, and Runequest. If Stranger Things wanted to get it right, they would also drop D&D and move on to better games, just like we did in the 1980s. TSR didn't bankrupt themselves; the players walked away for better things. We did that.

But D&D's nature of "making combat fun" was put on crack by Wizards of the Coast, and every version from 3E to today has been a game more focused on killing and death than anything else. There is also this troubling notion of "you can't die" and "you will be the hero" in 5E that eerily mirrors what dictators tell their soldiers. Tie that with "combat is the only solution," and you see where the problems pile up with how the game presents conflict resolution.

And you see the design of D&D move more and more towards killing from 3E to 5E. With fewer skills, most of the game is focused on numbers and combat, passive skills, and the game is refining towards that violent, heroic, never-die ideal.

I love D&D, but as a child of the 1980s, I know its problems well. And I don't say any of this out of hate; these are valid and troubling parallels that are still true today and, in some ways, even worse. I love the game, but parts of what designers do today to attract video gamers and violent audiences are very troubling.

We can do better. And we should.

Suppose you go back to video games and movies in the 1980s and 1990s. In that case, you will see the same arguments about "violence being the only way presented to solve problems" and "violence being glorified." This subject isn't new, and I was around the first time people saw this happening.

It was a different world back then. Gamers saw the parallels between the arms race in the Cold War and the propaganda coming out from both sides about inevitable war and conflict, and we all turned away from games that presented solutions in a violent manner. The populations of the USA and USSR were being trained and pushed to war, and gamers, being progressive and free-thinkers, saw right through that.

Nobody wanted to die in a fireball.

This is why we had so many skill-based games in the late 1980s, and D&D eventually died in the 1990s. This is where "deadly combat" became a thing in gaming. The designers of these games wanted combat to be deadly and the worst possible option for conflict resolution. They were far more progressive than the designers today since they could design a more noble and realistic social training into their games that reflected the tastes of their audience. There was a massive distaste for "killing all the goblins in a tribe" since "they were all worth XP." The more progressive games of the 1980s wanted to treat combat seriously and create systems of alternate problem resolution. The audience wanted something better.

Video games offered people a better way to fill the "combat for fun" need, and games like Battletech did it well, too. Magic: The Gathering was also a PvP combat game.

In Runequest, you can present a village with many problems, including the local farmers' inability to rotate crops and irrigate correctly. A player with farming skills could recognize that and help them out. If D&D, there will most likely be an ankheg under the ground causing these problems. Runequest can do the combat stuff, too, like a tribe of hostile raiders, but alternate ways to resolve problems could be added to the adventure. Let's say everyone is hungry, and that is why they are fighting. A non-violent solution would be to show everyone how the land can feed everyone and then solve the problem of finding food for the coming winter instead of killing everyone over it. Those raiders could be negotiated with and turned into a group that protects the valley and helps the characters raid a chaos den to get the treasures inside and use that to stock the food stores up for the winter.

The only combat here was against the corrupting forces of chaos and evil. The raiders could help the characters in the final battle and be given homes by the villagers from those who passed away in the famine. Most of this could be solved without combat, but the final struggle shows former enemies working together. Violence was a last resort, but a positive end came from it.

A great game with skills that make combat a serious choice makes creating these adventures and situations easy. In 5E and even Pathfinder, this is more likely a series of rooms and encounters you must kill through. The passive skills turn the referee into a DVD player, reading the text in the boxes and running the next combat. With a skill-based game, the referee can write adventures to use those skills, and players can feel like they are solving their problems with creative thinking rather than number-crunching for combat.

Skill-based games with deadly combat will always be more socially progressive than a pen-and-paper video game. I can still have fun with the games that do "combat for fun," but video games are better for that, which was another thing my generation figured out. I also know how video game designers can manipulate you with designs and game systems, and I am also aware that all problems don't need a violent resolution.

The games that give me those options appeal far more these days.

And they did back then, too.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Too Many Power Systems

Divine Magic from 1,000 gods!

Infernal!

Arcane Magic from infinite sources!

Nature!

Music!

Sorcery!

Battle Magic!

Elements!

Ancients!

Ki!

Psionics!

Crystal Magic!

Dragon Magic!

Storm Magic!

Shadow Magic!

Fae Magic!

Undead Power!

Ley Magic!

Superpowers!

Mutant Powers!

...and on, and on, and on.

I am sick of games with too many power systems. No choices or complex decisions exist, and the world has too much power. Fantasy is a far worse offender than sci-fi or even super-heroic worlds. Some games have over a dozen magic sources, and new ones appear daily.

High fantasy turns on the firehose, and suddenly, everyone can perform magic.

Imagine a world with one source of magic, an evil force known as The Dark Eye. You would need to pay tribute for power, and there would be no gods or other ways to "get magic power." That is an exciting world. The cost of magic is steep, and there is no other place to get it.

Today's high fantasy games are cereal aisles in a supermarket and hundreds of brightly colored boxes of carbs and sugar. Very little of it is different and meaningful; most are the same ingredients with minor chemical differences in flavoring.

You get a game with over a dozen power systems, and I bet it uses those as system lock-in. Great novels usually never have a dozen power systems; they are typically one and rarely two or three. Any more power types become meaningless, and any hard choice evaporates since there are too many options and paths to power. Too many power systems in a game is a terrible design choice and does not lend to great storytelling.

And then you have multiclassing, where someone can master six different power styles and break the rules because a bonus action granted by a martial source was never intended to be used for arcane casting.

Double fireball!

Double lighting bolt!

I cast wish! Twice!

These games do not appeal to me anymore, and I am selling them all off. I get this trash feeling when I see a lazy design like this, like designers trying too hard to appeal to everyone, making the referee's job impossible to tell great stories. At most, I like two: divine and arcane, and those magics have a heavy cost. Or I want a generic game engine that lets me add and remove power systems at will.

There is such a thing as too much power, and we are hitting it in many of today's games.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Do Bards Help or Hurt?

Oh, here we go.

Lots of sarcasm in this one, so be forewarned, and a lot of this is humor.

Most of this is frustration at how badly most games treat the bard. I love the class, but 90% of the bards out there flat-out suck.

The classic bard as an OSR class needs to be discussed. I have a few issues with them in modern games due to how terribly they are designed. In AD&D, the bard was the game's first "prestige class," something that needed more fleshing out. It is stuck in an appendix, making the entire class a "who cares?" sort of addition, like a thought piece in Dragon magazine.

The trouble begins in AD&D 2nd Edition when they are made a magic-using thief subclass with spell casting, NPC manipulation, and party buffs. They could replace thieves or wizards and be highly useful in roleplay situations. They began to get healing spells in 3rd edition when Wizards started changing the game for the worse. Casting them as a magic-using rogue sets up the horrible place we are today.

What are they?

AD&D did them wrong by making them a prestige 'jack of all trades' class when they really needed to be their own thing. They did a little of everything and have stayed the same since.

But then again, is bard just a profession elevated to a class for no good reason? I could make all the same arguments about the blacksmith and how that is a front-line dungeon class that buffs armor, repairs it in the middle of battle, and can fix a broken shield on the spot (for all those Pathfinder 2 players who constantly complain about the rules breaking their shields). We need the blacksmith class now! They are also roleplay experts for bare-chested male dwarven types! Taking them away ruins the game for me!

The chef too! We need a front-line foodie class! How am I supposed to play a fantasy game without someone in the front rank preparing the dishes and foods we love that give us combat bonuses during battles? The chef and their magic frypan, throwing pepper in enemies' noses, making them sneeze, and floating plates of delicious foods in front of our fighters to give them fortitude and combat bonuses! This is not a real fantasy game without our battle chefs! I won't play it!

I started something here, but I don't care. The game designers, divorced from reality, ruin their games with stupid ideas. It is part of the grift used to sell you new books with ideas that are 100% dumb, but now you feel you need them to have a 'complete' game. Stupid is contagious.

I won't play 5E again until I take a battle chef class!

Subclass a battle barista in there, too, while you are at it, because that Wizard's adventure was not brave and did not go far enough. I need a party barista for my dungeon adventures, giving me designer coffee blends every turn.

Where's the Kickstarter?

Just imagine all the AI art!

4E and then 5E compound the bard issue with specialized diplomacy (4E) and persuasion (5E) skills. Now, a CHR class is trained in this skill and is incentivized to min-max CHR - and have mental power-like spells. The concept and design are horribly lopsided toward "screwing with minds" and little else, with a few +1 party buffs tossed in there or strange inspiration gimmick mechanics.

Bards? Here, take all the roleplay! Hide spells in your music so nobody knows! By default, 4E and 5E hand the entire social pillar of the game to bards and give every other class the roleplaying bag of rocks.

Dungeon utility? What more do you want? We gave you all the role-playing! Be like a thief and have a half-caster class. There. Now, be quiet and waste most of the game session time in town while everyone at the table gets to watch. Everyone knows fighters and clerics can't role-play!

My massive issue with bards is they monopolize roleplay. Everyone should feel they are good at roleplay, and to give one class mechanical benefits to roleplay through specialized charisma skills few other classes may be proficient in is unfair. We end up with a character class that doesn't excel at healing, casting, thieving, or much else when in a dungeon - and steals all the roleplay like a dry sponge when in town.

It attracts a specific player who wants to constantly be in the limelight and the center of attention. Classic dungeon games are more about a team working together. A bard in a town setting is like the hacker in the Shadowrun game, waiting for the entire session to take over the game while everyone else waits for the town part and the particular class hijinks (bard or hacker) to be over. Most of the time, they aren't in the limelight and suck at everything.

Bards have never been done well. Some games pass them off as a Viking "skald" type class, but that doesn't fit most high fantasy games. What use are they in a dungeon? Music is noise, and in old-school games - noise is terrible. Even Shadowdark sidesteps the bard (though there is one on an expansion card), not wanting to offer a less-than-ideal choice for new players.

I like bards a lot, but how they are implemented is a mixture of half-classes, trash MMO mechanics, and appealing to roleplay divas. They excel in towns and take vital "dungeon time" away from the party with solo play as everyone waits, adopting the hacker class problem. They outshine everyone in a town adventure (except maybe the rogue).

I am still looking for an old-school bard that works well. The one in B/X Options looks weak, but when you read the description of the bardic songs, they basically get a charm person spell, sleep, protection from evil, or shield for all within earshot. And it lasts as long as the bard can play uninterrupted after 1 round.

You could hit 50-200 people with a charm person spell or sleep at level one.

You were all wonderful! Thank you, and good night! Good night, literally. I put all of you to sleep. The thief will be by shortly to collect the admission fee. If you have a problem with that, please ask the members of yesterday's performance who are still charmed.

In 5E, it is a video game; they just use party buff mechanics from MMOs and do not care about noise or old-school play. They invent this floating, magic, gotcha mechanic of bardic inspiration. It is just a reroll gimmick and has little to do with what bards do. Do you mean everyone hears the music, and only one is inspired? Or does one person somehow remember a song?

I can see why Dragonslayer did not include bards; the designer said he did not want them in the game. In a classic, old-school game, they would be a distraction to the classic style of dungeon crawling play that focuses more on mapping, sneaking, and avoiding fights in underground spaces where monsters lurk about. You don't go in "guns blazing" in these rules, just like you don't in Shadowdark - and avoiding fights and denying letting the referee roll for anything is the key to success.

We are trying to be quiet down here.

Would you stop playing that damn lute?

I can always mod them (B/X Options); it is my game, but I am keenly aware of the problems they bring to the table, and they open up single players to monopolize one part of the game, burning up time the group could be playing together, and sideline everyone until the silly part where only one player has fun is over.

If I really wanted to, I could give everyone a "profession pick" like leatherworker, blacksmith, miner, woodworker, and add bard to that list - and just give a flat +2 to any roll using the profession. There would not be a "magic" or "automatic charm" effect; it would just be for making dice rolls regarding that profession when determining a task outcome. So, any class could be "the bard, " which would not prevent others from roleplaying and feeling like they can contribute. Someone who knows their blacksmithing could convince a fellow smith of something far better than someone screaming and trying to play music over the constant hammering.

In some games focusing on dungeons, the bard should be a profession, not a class.

It is like trying to take "armorers" and force them into a dungeon party role by giving them the ability to buff armor in the short term and make instant repairs. Then they need defensive magic and get a half-caster class on top of all these odd abilities. Nobody asked, "Do they belong down here in the first place?"

What role do they serve in a dungeon?

But a part of the game is built around them now! You will break the party balance! Who is going to buff armor in a group? I would rub my eyes and tell them old-school games never needed someone wandering around the battlefield with armor patches, duct tape, and protection buffs. People who know nothing about medieval combat try to create a fantasy game, and they go straight for the video game mechanics.

A design that monopolizes social interactions and "makes them the best" sucks. While bards and their players may not be toxic, the game design of the class, as we know it today, is weak and can lead to one player hogging the limelight and an entire pillar of the game. Don't get me started on the disgusting bard memes that paint bards as sex workers. The less said about that, the better.

Everyone should feel like they can roleplay and have fun in town and social situations.

And we don't need to equate "music is magic" in every fantasy game. If it is, some cultures would start banning music because it would seen as witchcraft. Playing a song would instantly raise suspicion. The "hidden magic" of a piece of music becomes "obvious casting" and possible mental manipulation. Bards without "magic music" are likely more powerful than those with "obvious magic music" since they need to be craftier and more sneaky about what they are trying to do.

Once bards have magic music, everyone knows their game. Getting a lute out is like waving a magic wand around. Once someone starts singing, they are probably casting a spell. The world isn't stupid.

I don't have this problem in GURPS. Everyone can buy social skills to have a smooth-talking thief and a noble and suave fighter. They aren't, by default, given to one class as a skill monopoly with a class ability score as a double buff. Advantages and disadvantages - available to everyone - level the playing field.

Bards are better in GURPS since there are dozens of instruments and musical styles to specialize in, along with history and research skills. You could play a game with "adventuring Mozart," going around, dunging to find lost musical compositions, writing and selling music books, and playing in competitions from town to town.

Also, mentalist bard powers at low levels are quite often resisted. You need to work at these charm spells to make them worth anything, which takes time and precious character points. In the late game, you will be powerful, but you will need to earn it the hard way in a deadly set of rules.

Bards also have specialized musical spell lists in Dungeon Fantasy, where many effects are sound or charm-based. You aren't stealing other class's spells and can be a bard who blasts enemies through walls with the power of a rock guitar.

GURPS is so much better for bard and music-based games. You get the social skills and musical powers you want. Other characters can outshine you in roleplay in many ways. You need to be innovative and spend wisely to do well. You can dive into history and lost compositions. You can compete with other bards with differing musical skills and knowledge in contests. You could be a tribal musician with magic drums of power. A magical piano player. A lute-based sound mage. A magic flute playing piper. A dwarf with magic bagpipes. A dancer of any type or style.

Or a rapper, even.

Your magic can work off those art forms, and you can create special effects.

You don't suck, either. You are cool. Yes, you belong in a specific campaign, but if you want to play that - go right ahead.

I can also set up ground rules when my GURPS game starts, like, "This is going to be a dungeon game;  we are doing mostly tactical hex-combat; there is little need for social skills." Or I can run an all-social game with light combat and let players know they will need to wheel-and-deal, charm, and socialize in many situations where getting the trust of factions is critical to survival.

The Wizards of the Coast bard (3E to 5.5E) can cause problems in a game. The monopolization of social skills and CHR to one class leads to "one person being the best role player" due to a game's built-in design bias. It leads to situations in towns where the rest of the party sits around, and one player does all the talking.

It can also lead to a focus in the game shifting away from dungeons and towards social roleplay. Very few B/X and classic class designs are designed to do city roleplay well - it is not that important, or are social interactions gamified. Putting one class in here that is the expert at all roleplaying can lead to a situation where 5 people designed for dungeon crawling are waiting for the one person best at socializing to finish up in town "for everyone."

Mail Room: Basic Roleplaying (BRP)

The Basic Role-Playing game is one of those systems I always had a soft spot for, like Tunnels & Trolls or even Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes. My brother and I tried playing this but ran into the generic game wall; what do you do with it? It was a little bit of everything, fantasy, modern, and sci-fi, but not one specific thing. We never had a setting or campaign for this game, so it fell flat.

I get it; this is the Call of Cthulhu system and Runequest. It is a solid system for those games. But for any game? I always liked GURPS better for generic games because the character designs were so strong, and the system leaned towards realism and meaningful combat options based on skill and abilities. BRP is the more straightforward percentage version of a GURPS-like game.

So, we have a new version, which is now under the ORC license. Some of the things unique to the CoC or RQ games are left out since this is more of a generic system, and those games need things that make them unique and flavorful - I get it. The ORC license is a very nice touch here, and it makes me far less likely to support older versions under the now-worthless OGL. Going forward, the ORC license will be good enough and allow the community to build on an excellent system.

The licensing here is better than a GURPS, to be sure, but I get why Steve Jackson Games likes to tightly curate publications for their game. They do business by keeping the system (and every book for it) higher quality. However, the OSR has proven the opposite; you can have many high-quality books on an open license and let the market decide.

If you convert, I would be careful about cross-pollinating OGL content with ORC-licensed content if you are building something for the community or for sale. If Paizo is any guide, rebuild it all and base it on historical sources, then fill in the rest with your imagination. The Pathfinder 2 remasters would be good sources of ORC-licensed inspiration, and you probably want to stay away from anything OGL or D&D.

Conversions for yourself? Have fun.

Keep it ORC, and ditch the old stuff. I am tired of the old standard monsters; yes, they are like comfort food and familiar, but the red dragon, goblin, orc, etc., are a bit overdone. I love my classic rock, but there is other music to enjoy. Something tells me that the classic "chroma dragons" limit our imaginations, and some of them are poorly designed. Why would a white dragon have ice breath when most of their enemies would resist cold damage in their home environment?

You get into this D&D synergy mindset, and your imagination suffers.

The same goes for the axis alignment system, the great wheel, and having an X version of Y for everything. Where are the ice orcs? Fire orcs? Sea orcs? Air orcs? Orcs of law and order? If you only have one type of dragon in your world, called a dragon, that is fine. If you have new monsters that players don't know what to expect from, that is great, too.

I like the game, but I need something it can do. Perhaps I will read it, and it will come to me.

It is an excellent system that deserves another chance.

You Don't Own Those Figures

This mass-extinction event by Games Workshop of 40K armies is a shot across the bow to the rampant 3d printing in the hobby. They control the figures by controlling what can be played; thus, despite all the work you do assembling and painting figures, you don't own those models.

They do.

This is another chapter in the war on physical media; companies are "rolling it back" and pulling it all off the shelves and out of your hands. To play D&D, you need to sign up for a website. Games Workshop controls its stores, so unofficial figures won't be let in the door. Physical books and playing on a table will all go away. The fact people use 3D-prints becomes meaningless. Buy more from us!

Even in classic social-progressive theory, this is nuts. You are ceding money and power to the elite ruling class. The working and peasant classes get nothing.

Nothing.

The things you create with your hands and resources are not yours. They are not community-owned.

I'm sorry, but all those figures, rules, character creators, and support systems are owned by the rich. They say what you can do with them. Please pay to retain access.

Capitalist theory? Individuals own the tools and means of production. Socialist theory? The community owns them. This? The rich own the tools and means of production; please pay a subscription.

It is modern serfdom. A digital monarchy.

Everything is owned by the King.

Even you, by what you choose to support and how people attack others seeking alternatives.

The fact socially progressive people or even the more capitalist side of the hobby still supports this boggles my mind.

Why?

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Good Video: GURPS combat too slow? (Basilisk fight)

Here is a good video, an excellent example of GURPS combat. This dispels the myth of GURPS combat being overly complicated. This is a combat with no character sheets, done all in mind, with assumed skills and average hits and abilities.

What stands out the most is how the combat is similar to 5E. Make a roll for something (like willpower or stealth rolls) occasionally. Roll to-hits. 5E's action types and interrupts are the complexity of that game, while here, those are gone and replaced by "knowing your attack options" and "remembering the movement and to-hit penalty."

Otherwise, GURPS is 90% similar to the flow of 5E. In some ways, it is more straightforward, and the complexity you learn gives you so much depth to your tactics that it is worth the effort to understand - and it isn't all that much to learn (the three all-out attack options and the movement/attack penalty).

The thing about 5E is that when you level up, the turns get slower since your character complexity scales up steeply. In GURPS, the complexity starts at slightly higher but is pretty much linear as you improve. Once you understand the system, GURPS is likely easier to run high-level fights than 5E and faster since the combats are more deadly.

Win-win.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

One Page Rules

https://www.onepagerules.com/

To me, if a company pisses you off, you leave. I was watching my YouTube channels yesterday and came across a massive outcry of Warhammer 40K players moaning that their entire armies, ones they paid good money for, painted, and played with for years, were banned from official and store play. You buy into that brand, and they sell you things they then get to take away, which is what that company does; this is not new.

Then I see people saying, "Well, we will just go to One Page Rules!"

We will!

I warn you!

See my foot out the door?!

I did not know this existed. An open, 3D-printing-friendly, DIY tabletop wargame community that looks and feels like the classic D6 wargame systems played in hobby shops? You can bring in any model, even 30-year-old plastic Heroquest figures, and have a good time?

And my mind instantly clicked into the mode, "Why aren't you supporting this?"

This can't be used as a threat to make a bad-behaving company do good since it will never work. Walk away en mass like the OSR and do your own damn thing.

Gaming YouTube loves complaining. D&D YouTube is the same thing. They take abuse from billion-dollar companies, complain, and monetize that into cash. They take that cash, buy more of the same, support the abusers, and repeat the cycle. And they sucker you into watching. It is too much fun to see people bitching about hobbies.

But there comes a point when you realize you have wasted too much of your money and too much of your life you will never get back on stupid outrage and supporting companies that bleed you dry.

Great, supportive, community alternatives exist like One Page Rules.

They give away 3D-printer STL files! If you had a 3D printer, you could join the fun and print your armies! That is cool, and it is community-supportive! You could even do your own thing, make your own 3D models, print your own armies to paint, and give them stats in the game. You can even sell or give away your STL files.

Ever want a reason to get into 3D printing?

Here is your chance. Spend your money on that instead of 50-dollar blister packs.

And your 3D prints can be turned into cash.

Could I make a bunch of cool, dirty-dog, 3D-printed motorcycle bikers, give them tiny plastic guns and armor, and play a war game with others? Yes. No company tells me, "Your models aren't supported; sorry, you can't play with other people."

Some companies exist to abuse people, and some people are happy to give them all their money.

The OSR is a beautiful place.

Open Gaming is also fantastic.

Stop accepting the abuse, take your toys, save your money, and walk away. Don't sign up for subscription services to play your game.

And stop buying into this dumb, moronic, YouTube outrage clickbait. All you are doing is supporting the abusers and those who profit from them. Play OPR or OSR, put those games on YouTube, ignore the abusive and clickbait side of the hobby, and be a positive force in the world.

But I get it—there is no money in doing OPR YouTube! Warhammer is where the money is! YouTubers just flock to where the views are. Well, that is also dangerous. It breeds negativity and hate and supports an abusive cycle that becomes impossible to break away from. The major gaming communities on YouTube, Magic the Gathering, Warhammer, and D&D are becoming so toxic that the entire platform quickly becomes a worthless hate-fest of anger and negativity.

I am unsubbing from 5E channels and moving to better hobbies. The same is happening to my Warhammer and MtG subscriptions. The negativity is dumb and a waste of time. YouTube is killing tabletop hobbies.

And there are better, more positive hobbies than the ones talked about there.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Castles & Crusades, Still the King

You can rewrite B/X all you want, tack on random charts until the book goes over 1,000 pages, or try to patch 5E for another ten years - there is still no getting any better than Castles & Crusades.

But for a B/X, advanced, or any other OSR-style game? Do I need Old School Essentials, Dragonslayer,  Labyrinth Lord, or Swords & Wizardry? Not really. Some of them are very nice, but when playing classic adventures (and new ones), you can't beat C&C.

I tried switching to 5E, but it failed horribly. I had boxed up C&C and tried to adopt 5E without other games on my shelves to compete, and 5E crashed and burned. I ran an entire 5E campaign and got bored with the invincible superheroes with too many powers who never die.

I realized that even Open 5E won't fix 5E's problems. Level Up A5E, base 5E, or even ToV - I get bored around level six. The characters get too filled with junk that designers thought was cool. I get to class, ancestry, background, and subclass abilities I don't want or need. 5E characters are junk drawers. Bloated, huge, messy collections of random junk that get worse over time.

I still like GURPS for my detailed, blow-by-blow realism system. GURPS and a fantasy world are excellent; I cannot get enough of this highly immersive, realistic, fantastic simulation. This game is more suited for single-character solo play, and the most I would ever run here are two or three. The characters are detailed and have incredible depth; I only need one or two to run a campaign.

GURPS is a fantastic solo game. Every point I spend matters, every second of time matters, and every choice could be life-or-death. I choose the areas to improve, pick my disadvantages, and live with them. My design is very tight and focused. I make hard choices between combat, social, story, and exploration skills. The experience feels real.

I don't get that from 5E.

When you realize that any 5E designer can add any power, change any rule, create new subsystems, give bonus actions, and do whatever they want in a subclass, race, or background pick, you will see the game's fatal flaw. The game needs standardized systems that designers must adhere to and balance against.

The game didn't start this way, but this design could have been more solid. It allowed future designers to add anything they wanted, exploit players for expansions, and sink the game under its weight. The core engine is solid, but the class, subclass, and skill systems are where most of the problems start. When they had to invent tool proficiencies to cover up the fact the game did not have a complete skill system, that was when the curtain was opened.

5E is a run-on sentence of game design. I have add-on books that made it up as they went along. A lot of the game and third-party content feels like this: Give this class a new power here, tack this new subsystem onto a subclass there. Tool proficiencies are an excellent example of creeping complexity. They don't create a complete set of rules with total skill and task lists; they give you a corkboard to tack rules and systems you need to support as you level.

Many games have a flat complexity level as your character gains experience. 5E rockets up in complexity, so hard players get choice paralysis every combat turn. At level six, even I was sitting there, staring at my sheet, feeling dumb, trying to piece together a worthwhile turn.

I began to miss the GURPS combat turn—one second, one action. You do one thing, even ready a two-handed weapon if you don't have the ST to wield it. It is good stuff. You feel like you are there.

C&C starts like 5E, with ability scores and a resolution mechanic. The classes have iconic powers; you can gain abilities at any level. But it stops there. You don't subclass and constantly jump classes, you don't collect skills, and your character sheet isn't a massive 4-page document.

But C&C can be tweaked to play like anything from 0e to 5E. If you give max hit points at first and minimum average rolled past that and offer a 5E-like feat every 2 levels - you have 5E's power level in C&C without all the complexity. Give 5E's ability score modifiers, and you will begin not to notice a difference.

Play rules-as-written and stick to the original ability score mods? Don't use the optional feat system? You have B/X.

The characters can be played from a 4x6 index card. There are no silly things like saving throw tables, thief skills, a messy skill system, or a 1-30 DC system for ability score checks. We have one universal mechanic that works the same way for everything. If your class level applies to the action, it does. The target number is whether the ability score is primary or secondary.

Full stop. There is so little complexity to this game it puts many rules and light games to shame, yet it is still a full-featured fantasy game.

What I love about playing C&C is that it feels like playing AD&D. The power level can be tweaked from 0e to 5E. Plenty of optional rules exist, and the game is simple enough to make your own. Good is good, and evil is evil. There is a full set of classic monsters, demons, and gods. The multiclassing options beat the tar out of 5E or any other OSR game.

Adventures? Troll Lord sells many amazing ones, and any OSR, B/X, or advanced adventure just works. Barrowmaze? Arden Vul? Tomb of Horrors? Keep on the Borderlands? Rappan Athuk? The Mystara Gazeteers?

Yes to all of the above.

Adventure compatibility is one of the reasons I am dumping all of 5E. If I want to play any of these with my own adventuring parties on my 4x6 cards, it will need to be C&C. Forget 5E; I am not resorting to PDF character sheets or printing out 4-page character sheets at every level; it is a waste of paper, time, and toner. I leveled my thief to level two in C&C, added some hit points, and wrote down a new ability. I am done. With 5E, I am printing pages of rules.

I understand why Gary Gygax finished his gaming career playing C&C. It removes all the mess over the years and keeps the best parts. You can just play and not worry about referencing endless books, tables, charts, percentage tables, x-in-6 skills, or any of this other mechanical cruft and garbage the zeitgeist has enshrined over the years as canon. Junk is junk; throw it out! Some parts of the original edition games were mistakes; we treat them as genius rules and concepts.

C&C is the king of tabletop games, at least for me.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Dungeon Fantasy & GURPS

I was redesigning some of the Pathfinder 1e iconic characters using Dungeon Fantasy, and I had this moment. The iconic Pathfinder characters are perfect in GURPS; they're shockingly good.

I am slowly getting system mastery over characters in this area, and I can express a lot of different weapon combos and fighting styles, along with quick draw options, special attacks, amped skills, advantages to support special combat moves, and armor training to increase protection.

I look at Pathfinder 1e, B/X, 5E, or even Pathfinder 2E. Why?

I feel like a computer programmer going back and being asked to use a "toy" programming language to complete a task. What do you want me to do, roll ability scores, pick a class, and roll hit points?

Why?

I can't do anything with this.

Merisiel was a good example; her bio says, "She isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer." But she solves all her problems with her knives. High DX, drop IQ for skills and abilities. Her IQ thief skills suffer, but her DX ones are great. Her sleight of hand, traps, concealment, and other IQ skills are below average. Her stealth, climbing, and escape skills are all 18-20. Her knife skills are equally high, giving her options for special attacks.

I don't get that in Pathfinder 1e; maybe she has fewer skill points. So what? Well, um, some of the DEX skills she could have bought with those skill points from INT, she can't buy - so she could be better at them. Sorry! INT gatekeeps DEX skills in this version! In GURPS, she buys points in skills linked to DEX. If her IQ is low, so are her IQ skills.

I can work on those and improve them or lean into DX and combat abilities. She may need to do social things. Perhaps she will learn magic? Does she go more dodgy or more armor-skills? I don't know.

The campaign will determine how she progresses.

And every campaign will be different.

She could progress a million ways depending on the story she goes through.

I am not looking at a thief progression chart and planning it all out. I don't know what's coming for her. She could get corruption and a disadvantage and gain dark shadow magic powers. She may lean more into thief IQ skills and need to disarm traps and do all sorts of smarts-thief stuff.

For solo play, this is super high motivation. Her starting character sheet is just that, a starting point. I will probably copy this starting character and use a duplicate for her first campaign. It is a good design that meshes with her gear, skills, and backstory. If I learn things, I can tweak her starting build.

She can go infinite ways, depending on the story's needs and how I will take her.

I look at 5E and B/X, see those build paths and skill progression charts, and sigh. There it is. It is all planned out for me. No imagination, story, or future experiences are needed. Follow the charts or the best build paths on some forum somewhere or multiclass away - you will be fine. You will have high DPS. Your passive perception will spot all traps. That old list of thief skills will always be 50% since modules scale in difficulty anyway.

I am not interested in soloing along a preset path.

I can't do anything with this.

I get this sad feeling that today's players think they know what roleplaying and character-building are. They think multiclassing, some broken class combo the play-testers never found, is "good character building." They don't even know 1% of the joy of building a character and not having a path to follow. The freedom of making your own build. Yes, there are broken things in GURPS, too, but once you find those, you can avoid them for the game's good. Or only dip into them a little and not lean so hard it breaks. But there are a million other ways every character can go.

In level-based games, my fighter will get 5 levels of roleplaying and story XP and somehow be better able to fight and kill. It doesn't even make sense. How did that happen?

If you don't have a say in your character builds, I can't say you are truly roleplaying.

You are just pushing a build along a level track predetermined for you.

And very little that happens to you matters anyway, since your character doesn't reflect those experiences.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Dungeon Fantasy vs. Pathfinder 1e

 

The two fantasy games I have fighting it out on my most-played shelves are Pathfinder 1e and Dungeon Fantasy. 5E is off to the side, and I am waiting for Tales of the Valiant to drop. Unsurprisingly, the final two on my shelf are the games that give me the best character-building options.

Pathfinder 1e has a decade of options and choices.

Dungeon Fantasy has infinite choices.

A traditional class framework is where I begin in Dungeon Fantasy, a 250-point build that gives me the equivalent of a level 5-8 Pathfinder 1e character - the established hero. In Dungeon Fantasy, you aren't starting out as a level-one cannon fodder newbie. This leads to the game being less new-player friendly, but you start off pretty capable and the baseline established hero.

The excellent Delvers to Grow series of books for Dungeon Fantasy solves the complexity problem by creating lower-point starting builds. These are way less capable and will have a higher mortality rate, but the complexity is lower, and the things you start with are much less, so you can grasp game rules better without choice paralysis.

Pathfinder? I like the build system, and I loved the original 1e world before it turned into a modern steampunk setting, an overly safe and non-triggering space. The new world feels far too contemporary for me; the age of adventure is over, and we have moved into the 20th century. The 2010s version of Golarion is far superior to the 2020s, and it still feels like Conan - it is epic, whereas the Pathfinder 2E world feels like a tourist attraction with Harry Potter vibes. The new team just can't recapture the spark of the classic world, and they changed it so much that it lost the feeling of classic 1970s fantasy.

The 2E rules are better than 1e. They are just not my thing.

The 2E world is a YA novel.

I am slowly getting the feeling that what I will be doing is a GURPS-Finder campaign.

I like the rules I enjoy, and the character builds in Pathfinder 1e are good; in a GURPS-like system, they are great. My starting builds are just that, starting points. I can take them in any direction I want from there. If I wish my wizard's following 250 points to be all fighter abilities, so be it.

This is the "taking a character in a new direction" thing, which is why I love GURPS. With d20 level-based games, my story is done at level one - at least in progress. I can read the book, plan my path, and then go through the required number of dungeons to start up the level chart. I know where this character is going; it is a matter of time before the boxes are checked, and I have a level 9 sorcerer.

With GURPS, my sorcerer could get involved in a ton of roleplaying and court intrigue, and all of a sudden, I am spending my following 40 points on social abilities. And I am not "looking for a bard to do it" - I need to improve my character's abilities in those areas. This makes it much more solo-friendly since my character morphs into a set of powers, skills, and abilities I will need for what is happening now and whatever I encounter.

My character's advancement path is their history of adventure.

It's not some book's pre-planned path for me.

It is tough; I have a lot of Pathfinder 1e books, and I like to feel like I am using them. But I greatly appreciate the OG Golarion setting more than the Pathfinder 1e rules. Recolored through a GURPS lens, OG Golarion would rock. You don't have these level 20 superheroes running around sneezing on goblins and killing them without a worry. The artificial power inflation is gone, and everyone exists on a flatter power scale.

But these days, games with pre-planned character progression tracks are lame. This is the same feeling I had in the late 1980s when GURPS 3e killed AD&D and the heavily censored AD&D 2nd Edition. Everyone was playing GURPS after AD&D died.

GURPS, Battletech, and Vampire were three reasons TSR filed for bankruptcy.

The biggest was Magic: The Gathering.

You can also put Rifts and Shadowrun in that group somewhere.

D&D is not immune, nor was it ever.

The arguments against level systems and pre-planned level-based advancement are the same today as they were then. Today, people have given up on being creative and wanting to create their own characters and are content with "gaming the systems" that other people design for them.

Today's gamers? Breaking a game with an exploit is good character design.

Using GURPS to run Golarion is like "Pathfinder: The Movie" or an HBO series set in that world. A producer or director will first tamp the power level to make it realistic and believable. Those who play the game will sit in the theater and wonder where the teleport and wish spells went, and those would have never been even in the script since they would have ruined the movie. Magic will work differently, the fights will be more realistic, and everything will feel "off" to people watching the movie.

Game worlds and movie worlds are night and day.

GURPS is the game every setting ends up with. After everything goes out of print or is pulled from the shelves for licensing issues, GURPS will give the world a system to call home.