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Journals, thoughts, and opinions of an old school gamer.

Updated: 2017-12-11T04:44:54.430-05:00


4e powers are nice but...


Before the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons was released, I was eager to make the change to the new system. I had heard much about how this set of rules was going to simplify things and make it easier and faster to play. For a while after it was released, I tried to love it. But ultimately I abandoned it and sold all my 4e books on eBay.Nevertheless, I am impressed with the 4e combat system. It rigidly defines the sequence of the combat turn and all the various maneuvers one can make. It is the sum result of decades of house rules and subsequent official implementation of these house rules combined with a new system called "powers."For my own future D&D campaigns, I am currently assembling a new set of house rules. These rules are a combination of various editions of D&D into a game that focuses on old school sandbox campaign play. Since all of the D&D rules ultimately center around combat, I am choosing to use most of the combat rules presented in 4e.No doubt grognards will think I'm crazy. How can I have an old school D&D game without THAC0? And what about all those silly powers that homogenizes all of the character classes? Well, I think I can use THAC0 (or something essentially the same as THAC0) within a general 4e combat framework and still call it "old school." But that's a subject of another article.The use of powers in 4e was a good innovation. It consolidates everything that a character can do in combat under one definition. A basic mêlée attack is a power. Clerics healing the wounded is a power. A fireball spell is a power. The finely polished game mechanic of powers in D&D is a tremendously effective tool when it comes to standardizing and simplifying the complex rule exceptions that built up over the decades since 1974. It's a wonderful hammer for building a better set of rules.However...If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.— Abraham MaslowThe developers of 4e took the new concept of powers and got carried away with it. They applied it to everything. The result was fighters having a vast array of powers that are comical. All of the classes were reduced to a single, simplified mechanism that created well-defined niches which the developers felt that they had to fill in order to complete the game. The elimination of Vancian magic was a direct result of the overuse of powers in the game's structure. Playing a fighter at the table now seems indistinguishable from spell casters what with all the crazy-named powers such as "Indomitable Battle Strike" and "Strike of the Watchful Guard." Munchkinism has been institutionalized in 4e. The system-wide implementations of powers helped to seal the fate of 4e being essentially World of Warcraft for the tabletop.The way that powers completely dominate the rules in 4e is not to my liking. Yet, at its core, 4e powers are good system. As I said, it consolidates spells, monster abilities, and combat maneuvers into one polished system. I think that powers make 4e an excellent game system. I just have trouble calling it Dungeons & Dragons.So in my house rules, I'm using the basic framework of 4e combat and a fraction of the powers system from that edition. Vancian magic will remain but I will redefine all the spells in terms of powers. (And perhaps I'll use the 4e rules for "rituals" but I'm not sure at this point. Probably not.) Some of the 4e racial powers are interesting. Fighters and other martial classes will have few, if any powers at all.Instead of using the mammoth damage rolls of 4e that contributed to the massive hit point inflation in that edition, I'll use the old damage rolls of 1e. Likewise, hit dice for all the classes and monsters.OSRIC has a nice way of equating HD to class level so I'll use that for plugging monsters into the 4e-style combat system. Or will I use THAC0? The 4e system of calculating attack rolls is so simple that I might use that instead. More on that subject later.Will my mutant bastard set of D&D rules be balanced? Of course not. D&D was never completely balanced. That's[...]

Holmes Basic Box Cover


I scanned the box cover, including the sides, at 600 dpi. I cleaned it up, removed the text, and pieced together parts that were absent. Since the whereabouts of Sutherland's painting is unknown, this might be the closest we'll ever get to seeing what it originally looked like.

I will be using this image for the cover of my own set of D&D house rules that I will compile into one PDF document suitable for the iPad (or similar device). More on that project later.

I'm still around


I quit gaming last year. I've been working on other things such as selling many personal possessions. For instance, I sold off most of my comic collection.

Relevant to gaming, I sold a two-foot-tall stack of D&D game rule books. I sold all of my 4e books. I sold all of my 3.5e books. I sold all of my 3e core rule books. I sold all of my Knights of the Dinner Table comic books.

I kept my D&D books and modules published before the year 2000.

Shutting down


I am leaving the gaming community. Perhaps permanently. The reasons are personal. I was going to delete this blog but I decided to leave it online. Maybe gamers will garner some wisdom from what I have written.

Kindle DX rule book


I returned home yesterday to find that I received my new Kindle DX from I had been looking forward to getting my hands on a large-sized PDF reading device ever since I first heard about the Plastic Logic Reader. That particular brand won't be on the market for another year. Meanwhile, we have the Kindle DX.

The Kindle DX is not to be confused with the Kindle, which has a much smaller screen. The DX has a large screen that is suitable for double columns and charts.

The display technology is remarkable. It is not a bright LED screen that you can't read in sunlight. It's like a giant digital watch screen that needs an outside light to be read. Unfortunately, "turning pages" seems slow in comparison to doing the same thing with Adobe Reader on your computer. However, I imagine that this issue will be addressed in future versions of the Kindle.

It displays in greyscale only. But that's fine since most rule books are in black-and-white. The words are more important than the pretty pictures.

You can easily hook your DX up to a computer with a USB cable. Your computer treats it like a removable external hard drive. You can load it up with PDF files (4 GB capacity, I believe) and you're good to go. Switching out PDF files is a breeze.

This is the future of game rule books. PDF files are nice but it is awkward to use a desktop or laptop computer at the game table. This device is no larger than a typical hardback game rule book. As a matter of fact, it's thinner than many rule books. Best of all, you can load it with thousands of pages.

All game publishers should publish Kindle versions of their rule books. The caveat is that they must put more effort into it than just simply saving the rule book in PDF format. Anything less is unacceptable and defeats the purpose of putting it in electronic format. The document should be filled with links to particular pages on the table of contents. Not only that, the document should be filled with cross-reference links. Instead of having "(see Chapter 4, EQUIPMENT, for more information)," place an actual link to that page.

This new medium for text information is fantastic. But those who write material for it must do it in a manner that takes advantage of its power. Simply scanning book pages directly to PDF format would only result in a marginally useful document on a Kindle. But if rule books are assembled in PDF format with links, it makes all the difference in the world.

I only got my Kindle DX yesterday. In the next week I will experiment with creating cross-referenced PDF documents in Adobe InDesign CS4. This will eventually lead to development of my own house rule book for my current 0e/1e D&D game.


I just found out that it is not possible to do anything useful with PDF files on the Kindle DX. Hyperlinking for cross-referencing is not possible. PDF table of contents doesn't work. It only reads the PDF and nothing more. This thing is USELESS to me. I will try to return it or sell it on eBay.

How I play in the sandbox (campaign)


Today I got a PM through a gamer forum that I frequent. In it, a fellow gamer asked me about sandbox campaign game play. There has been much talk about sandbox campaigns on various old school blogs. But I'm not sure that has been a lot of explicit detail about exactly how these sandbox campaigns develop. I learn best by example. So I tried to to answer with examples from my current experiment with old school gaming, Blue Dancer. My PM reply turned into a very long message. And so to make it worth my while, I've edited a version for this blog.My fellow gamer wrote:I wanted to ask you something about "sandbox" style campaigns. Do you still have events going on in the background that may or may not influence the PC's? What about the PC's influencing those events?Where I am going with this is that I too often run into the pitfalls of the story arc. It sounds great at first, but the PC's don't get that one clue they should have, or they don't kill the guy they should have, or maybe they killed somebody they SHOULDN'T have.In answer to the question, I do not have events going on in the background that may or may not affect the PCs. At least, not at first. And maybe not the way one would expect. Instead, I have factions of monsters and NPCs that are set in place within the campaign world that are poised to react to the PCs if they are encountered. From there, stories might spontaneously generate themselves through the improvisation of both the PCs and the DM.For example, I've started a 1e campaign with some folks I met through KnoxGamers. I have Castle Xeva, a tent pole mega-dungeon, outlined but I've only mapped out a couple of levels. At the beginning, I told the players that one of them acquired a map to a secret entrance. We had the obligatory tavern scene. They were expecting various adventure hooks but I gave them none. The way was paved to the entrance of the dungeon. I had random lists of various types of names that I could fish from to assign to NPCs. On the way to the dungeon, I rolled a random encounter in the woods. Goblins! They laid ambush. I was surprised that they took one goblin prisoner and questioned him. I had absolutely positively nothing prepared. I improvised. The goblin said he was part of a patrol sent out from the castle dungeon (where the party was going). While the PCs were arguing about whether or not to slay the goblin, a treant snatched the goblin and ran off into the woods. This gave me ideas about where the goblin came from, what the treant was up to, and what might happen in the future.When they got to the castle's dungeon, I still hadn't filled all the rooms with details, monsters, and traps. I had noted some of the monsters near the entrance. When the players traveled beyond what I noted, I randomly picked out appropriately powerful monsters and improvised. Their tentative explorations have given me ideas about how to flesh out the dungeon further. The PCs have been discussing their theories about how the various monster factions within the dungeon are interacting based upon my sparse (and sometimes improvised) hints. Privately, I've been taking note and preparing for future adventures.I've repeatedly explained to the PCs that I would not be easy on them. I would not look the other way at bad dice rolls. Thus they burst into a goblin training room without listening at the door and two of their characters went down. They rest barely managed to escape and regroup. Were the players upset? Absolutely not. They all had a good laugh and were ready to roll up new characters. But, since the players were taken prisoner and not permanently destroyed, I told them to hang on until the next session. You see, I had some vague ideas about how the PCs could find their way out of this mess.In their previous encounter with goblins, one of the players asked if they bore a common symbol on their armor or shields. Perhaps this would indicated what tribe they were from or what or[...]

Fight On! in hardcover!


Fans of old school D&D should invest in this limited-edition gem! It's a compilation of the first four issues of Fight On! magazine. I have all of them and I can tell you that it's just what the DM ordered. Lots of old school inspiration for the dedicated hobbyist gamer.

For now, I'm done with 4e


I really wanted to embrace 4e and run with it. I loved the ideas presented at the 2007 GenCon announcement. I listened to the podcast discussions about the thought that went into the changes in the rules. I read articles about it and bought the preview books. I eagerly anticipated its release.During the same period of time, between the beginning of 2007 when I ended my 3.5e campaign with Keep on the Borderlands and when I dissolved my local D&D MeetUp group in June, I was re-examining what playing D&D was really all about. Since that time, I've been paying attention to the so-called "old school renaissance" that has been developing relatively recently.Up until recently, I even had a theory that it's possible to play 4e in an old school style. Much as I'd like to think otherwise, I don't think that this is really possible. Although one can stick to dungeon crawling in a sandbox setting, the 4e rule structure is so radically different that it's not practical.I've seen several other blogs state their various criticisms of 4e. There's no need for me to restate all of them here. But I can mention a few.4e revolves around combat. And the combat takes too long. The characters and monsters have too many hit points. The powers system is a cookie cutter for homoginized characters. Yes, it's nice that there is balance. But this forces all the characters to be defined by how well they do in combat. Sometimes less is better. I realized that this was the case when my game group played a first-level encounter with a dozen goblins. The combat took much less time than a similar encounter in 4e.I think I am completely done with the idea of using skills in Dungeons & Dragons. All it does is complicate game play. And not only does it define what a character does, it also defines what the character can't do. Secondary professions are unimportant to hero-adventurers. Minor tasks that have been defined in terms of skill difficulty in later additions can be resolved more easily with rules presented in earlier editions. Or the DM can just improvise, which is what they usually did back in the day. And even with 3.5e or 4e, the DM ends of making up scads of house rules anyway. So what's the point in spending all that time with character sheets that are as complicated as tax forms? Basically, who cares? The point of the game is adventure, not statistics.I don't like how actual role-playing at the game table has been replaced with skill challenges. I also have a similar criticism of 3.5e.I don't like how 1st level 4e characters kick ass in essentially the same manner as 30th level characters. Sure, their powers are different. But in terms of game mechanics, it's all the same at any level but with different levels of damage.The end game that was defined in early editions is gone. Instead of aspiring towards running a fiefdom, guild, or temple, 4e is a game of apotheosis. You start out as a abnormally powerful hero and then work your way up to godhood. Although the game mechanics have been relatively simplified in comparison to 3.5e, suping up character statistics has been institutionalized and is irrevocably essential. Whatever happened to henchmen? Loyalty checks? All down the tubes because the 4e game is all about the power and glory of the PC.I suppose I could rant further. But I think you get the picture. I will play 4e, if given the opportunity. I'd like to see it succeed. Perhaps a 4.5e will be released that will restructure the rules. But I doubt it. It's the fundamental style of 4e that kind of turn me off.Nevertheless, there are a few things about 4e that I like. The cosmology, for instance. I like some of the new monsters. The dragonborn and teiflings are nice ideas. But these and other nifty bells and whistles aren't enough to convince me to put in the effort towards running a 4e campaign.Who knows? Maybe I'll change my opinion. But for no[...]

Blue Dancer session #6


Yes, it's been a month since the last campaign update. There hasn't been much to report other than that the dungeon crawl has been proceeding at a slow to moderate pace. But the pace is picking up as we become more familiar with 1e rules and discuss the establishment of house rules. Nevertheless, I think we are succeeding in our attempt to return to the old school roots of D&D.During the second session, the PCs entered the valley of the faerie and followed the overgrown road to Castle Xeva. On they way, they had an encounter with some goblins and a mysterious treant. In the third session, they reached the location of the castle. A high stone bridge spanned a crevice above a wide river next to a huge waterfall. On the other side, upon a tall rock formation, rests the castle. Cautiously, they crossed the bridge and find the secret trail up to the collapsed wall beneath a curtain tower that opens to a corner of the underground dungeon.I did my best to describe this first room of the dungeon as safe place to set up a "base camp." This became more apparent when they discovered that much of the corridors and rooms immeadiately beyond this first room had only non-intelligent monsters. Some of the rooms seemed to be neglected, forgotten, or at least didn't see much traffic.The first creatures they encountered were a bunch of giant centipedes inhabiting a forgotten latrine. After squishing these horrors, the players were confronted with a monster that challenged them. One of the PCs, Cedric the cleric of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, correctly guessed what was going on. The first clue was the unusual cleanliness of the corridor. The second was the floating skeleton coming down the corridor. Undead! And a weird, powerful undead. Not some run-of-the-mill skeleton warrior. This threw everyone else off. It took a while for them to figure out that it was just a gelatinous cube. The point is that I didn't just say, "A gelatinous cube is approaching." I tried to describe it in indirect terms and I successfully added some flavor and mystery. The PC playing Himo Liadon, the elven fighter, commented that he immensely enjoyed being challenged by an old school monster that he never thought much about. He was impressed by the fact that I had placed this monster in the dungeon and had it fulfilling its intended purpose: dungeon cleaning. I explained that I was trying to achieve what James Maliszewski termed as Gygaxian Naturalism. I'd like to have the dungeon monsters to have some sort of reason for their placement.At the beginning of the fourth game session, the players slayed the gelatinous cube with flasks of burning oil. (Unfortunately, Cedric couldn't make it for this session.) The PCs cautiously explored further. After Milo Tosscobble, the thief, disarmed and unlocked a door trapped with a chopping blade, they found a cobweb-filled corridor and a dark figure shooting a hand crossbow at them! The elf goes down, the bolt tipped with sleep poison. The mysterious enemy disappears behind a door. Before the thief could unlock it, he was long gone. They try to follow his trail but they waste further time trying to sneak past a sleeping gryphon.The fifth session was at a new location, in the basement of player running Hibob, the magic-user. Here there was more space and a larger table. And his huge collection of WotC plastic minatures was amazing. But me and my 1e monsters! The first monster I asked him to pull out didn't exist in 3rd edition. Unfortunately, two players were missing this time around, Cedric and Himo. Exploring another room, they found a pool of black water feeding tree roots hanging from the ceiling. Beyond the draped roots they encountered whipweeds that were a good challenge.The sixth session, which took place last night, was the most exciting session we've had so far. But before we began, we went over some [...]

In memory of the Dungeon Master


We'll always miss you, Gary.

The Blue Dancer campaign begins!


Actually, it begins again. But this time, I'm focusing on a megadungeon.In the last several months, I've been reading various old school blogs. One of the key elements that I think were lacking in all my previous campaign starts was a so-called tent pole megadungeon. I knew that Greyhawk and Blackmoor started with a large dungeon. But I suppose that I hadn't considered such dungeons essential until recently.For the last several years, I had been tremendously interested in the imminent release of Castle Zagyg, Gary Gygax's legendary dungeon. In anticipation of it's release, I obtained a copy of WGR1 Ruins of Greyhawk and a copy of the Free City of Greyhawk boxed set. Impatient for the release of Castle Zagyg, I purchased the Yggsburg hardback and examined the region surrounding the castle dungeon. Finally, Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works was released. As I examined the module, I wondered if I could do better? Now I'm trying to put that to the test.I had never gamed with any of the players before. But our common interest was playing 1e (OSRIC) in the old school style. Our first session was mostly spent getting to know each other, rolling up characters, and re-familiarizing ourselves with the rules. Of primary importance to me was knowing what the players expected out of playing D&D. The real learning experience for me was the second session, which took place last night, when I could learn more about how the players wished to conducted the game.This time around, I made very minimal world building notes before I started the first actual session of game play. Excessive world building can cause infant campaign death syndrome. The best way to prepare for a sandbox campaign is to make a map of the local country side, place a few monsters here and there, note some important NPCs, briefly detail the "home base" town of the adventure, and prepare the first dungeon.But although I knew the essentials of starting a sandbox campaign, I spent almost no time working on anything other than the megadungeon itself and the map how to get there. Because of previous attempts at starting this campaign, I had already worked out some general details about the campaign world. With this group, I was starting it again at a new locale. I knew the name of the home base town, Walton, but I wrote up absolutely no detail about it other than the name of the tavern and who owned it. I knew that there was a chain of forts linked together, Hadrian's Wall-style, on the nearby frontier border but I drew up no floor plans or details of any NPCs. I knew that beyond the wall was a valley that was a part of the Feywild that was permanently affixed to the Prime Material Plane but I detailed nothing other than a random monster encounter table. And although I had focused most of my attention on Castle Xeva, the megadungeon sitting in the middle of this magical valley, I had only drawn up one or two complete levels and I had only sketchy notes about the inhabitants.One might think I was horribly unprepared for DMing a new campaign. Especially in the last decade, it seemed standard practice to work out all of the details of a campaign world before it actually begins. But it seems to me that tremendous preparation yeilds little in the way of anticipated results. Unless you're trying to railroad the players. And my ability to anticipate the actions of players I had never gamed with before was nearly zero. So what was the point of rolling up stats for the captain of the town guard? The players might not interact with that NPC at all. What if the players make a bee-line to the megadungeon and purposefully skip any nifty side adventures? This time around, I really did not want to put any work into anything that had less than a good chance of being used.So I prepared a list of randomly-generated names of[...]

I'm gaming again!


Support your local gaming forum! That's how I got the chance to continue my D&D campaign. And this time I get to do it old school style! It just goes to show that with some patience and courage, you can eventually find a good gaming group. And with luck, this new group will endure for a good while.

I met some of the guys in my group through a tiny gaming convention sponsored by, a gaming forum in Knoxville, TN. In 2007, I had used that forum to start a small gaming group. Once we played through a module, the group dissolved. After that, I was uncertain as to whether or not I'd ever find a game group in my area again. I tried and the group I organized was successful at first but it eventually fell apart due to lack of regular attendance. But I always paid attention to the goings-on at And it appears it has finally paid off.

I think that the "old school renaissance" significantly contributed to the formation of this group. I noticed someone on the KnoxGamers forum expressed interest in playing 1e D&D. I posted in that thread, stating that I was interested, too. A few others chimed in and we discussed it off and on for the last couple of months. We finally got to meet each other face-to-face at the little convention that the forum organized. It turns out that some of us had been reading the same old school-oriented blogs. That was encouraging for everyone and it has resulted in my DM'ing an AD&D campaign for the first time in decades.

At first, there was talk of using the Swords & Wizardry rules. I was in favor of the idea. But after some review and discussion, a few of the players noted that those rules seemed too simple. I pointed out that S&W, like the original D&D rules from 1975, was designed to be extremely open-ended for house rules. However, we decided that any house ruling we would make would end up looking like AD&D anyway. I'm still curious about Labyrinth Lord, which is based on the Moldavy rules, and I've ordered a copy from Lulu. (I'm getting the hardcover with the alternate design.) But we decided that we will use OSRIC as a base and the original AD&D rule books as further reference.

I really wish that OSRIC was available in print. I would gladly pay for a relatively expensive hardcover book. PDF files are swell. But nothing beats having a rule book in hand.

DnDI Subscription Cancellation


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When that "Dungeon Builder" and "Game Table" becomes something more than vaporware, I'll think about it. But there are too many freeware alternatives.

Magic is MAGIC


For too long have I endured conventional D&D magic over-rationalized in terms of real-world physics. My attitude comes from years of gaming with a particular group that viewed wizards as too powerful. They even implemented a house rule that crippled wizards with an extra skill roll with every spell cast.James over at Grognardia wrote an interesting post about the implementation of pulp fantasy styled magic in D&D. His idea, as I understand it, is to require a greater level of D&D spell component detail in order to make it resemble the magic as presented in pulp fantasy literature. I'm not so sure that is a good idea.Magic is MAGIC. It doesn't make any rational sense. That is its nature. If magic is quantified, I believe it leads to game worlds such as Eberron where mechanical devices are powered by magical means. Yes, it is interesting to explore these ideas and it can make for fun gaming. But it departs from medieval fantasy and into the realm of science-fiction.James is not at all suggesting that elemental-powered steam engines should be a part of the game. He is merely suggesting that magic could have a more "realistic" flair if it were rationalized in terms of increased spell component requirements. I don't think that is necessary. And I'm not convinced that such a change would give D&D any more of a "pulpier magic" feel to it. I say that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.Take for example the bag of holding. Much theorizing about the nature of this ubiquitous device has been made over the years. Questions have been presented about whether it can hold material in terms of volume or mass. How sharp do objects have to be before it can accidentally rip it open? Can it hold water or do liquids seap through the material of the bag into some other extra-dimensional space? If sharp things can poke it, what's to stop leakage? If it's absolutely water-tight but can be pierced, what is the nature of the bag's lining? Even if an object weighs less than the bag's carrying capacity, can it be stuffed in the opening?And then there is Hermione Granger's bag of holding. If you've read all of the Harry Potter books, you know what I'm talking about. If you've only seen the movies, let me explain. At a certain point in the saga of Harry Potter, he and his friends go camping. They carry with them a tent and all the other various types of camping gear. Harry and his friends are wizards that use spells and magical devices. They take with them a tent that is much larger on the inside than it is on the outside. It's like a tent with a permanent Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion spell. Inside the tent is a small apartment with beds and a kitchen. In order to pack up their camping gear and take it with them, Hermione fashioned a small purse into what D&D gamers will instantly recognize as a bag of holding. Her version has an enormous carrying capacity. And she is able to stuff a bulky tent, a large oil painting, people, and God knows what else into this tiny little purse.If I was a player in my old group and tried to create a bag of holding just like Hermione's it wouldn't have been allowed. It would be able to carry far more than a bag that size would normally allow. It would be able to care sharp things! It would be able to carry things that were much bigger than the opening of the tiny little purse. And clearly it would be able to hold other extra-dimensional magic devices without ripping a hole in space-time. Perhaps my game group would have allowed such a relatively powerful device if it cost much more than a regular bag of holding. But even then there would be severe strictures because of the tendancy of that game group to over-rationalize the physics of magic.Rationaliz[...]

Electronic rule books OF THE FUTURE!


I'm proud of my substantial collection of game rule books. But they do take up lots of space. And they can hurt my back when I haul a portion of them to and from game sessions. All of us know that sooner or later we'll be using those PADDs from out of Star Trek. Some of you might not know that the future is now!

Never mind's Kindle device. Although it is swell for reading novels, the screen is too small for use as a technical manual. If we want to consult tables and charts from a game rule book, we need to be able to see it clearly without a magnifying glass. I'm not knocking the Kindle. It's a good device. And it looks like it's selling well.

What would really be useful is a device similar to the Kindle that has a large screen and that you can load up with your own PDF files. I think the Plastic Logic Reader is what we gamers have been waiting for.

(image) Just look at it! The device itself is the size of an 8.5"x11" pad of paper. The screen is about the same size as the content of a magazine page. And it's actually thinner than most hardbound rule books. Imagine this thing holding all of your core rule books and splat books from all editions of all of your games.

Well, to be honest, the Reader won't be able to hold that much information. And it's in black and white. But this is only the first model. It's only a matter of time before memory capacity is dramatically increased and the screen is replaced with a color one.

I think that this sort of device will change how pencil-and-paper role-playing games will be played. Not only can you keep copies of your game rules handy, you can keep character sheets, treasure lists, campaign journals, and so on. I imagine that this device could be used in tandem with a laptop computer, but not replace it. The Reader is useful for referencing documents. Not for running programs or entering data records. I've used a laptop as reader, but it's a little cumbersome. I'd rather read from something as light as a magazine and as easy to handle.

This reader is small, lightweight, and serves the specific purpose of reading documents. And it can make that stack of heavy rule books go away.

Ramblings about Pathfinder vs. 4E


I haven't been posting in a while because of work. But I've been reading the RPG blogs every day. Today I noticed a link to a very interesting blog entry at Chad Perrin: SOB titled How Paizo Fixed D&D. Then I noticed a response to that blog entry at The Core Mechanic. So I've come out from under my rock to post some of my thoughts regarding this issue.I am no longer enthusiastic about 3.5E. And I'm even less interested in 3P, as the Pathfinder system is being labeled. The set of D&D rules that accumulated since the publication of 3E back in 2000 became a bloated mess. D&D is an exception-based rule system and the amount of exceptions became monumental and sometimes contradictory. The amount of preparation on the part of the DM became too much. The game's complexity is a turn-off to newbies.When I returned to gaming in 2005, it was with D&D 3.5E. But even though I had decades of experience with playing RPGs, I was constantly at a disadvantage because I didn't have the level of skill with the 3.5E rules as my fellow gamers at the table. The group I was with was very unforgiving and lacked patience for newbie gamers. I saw several newbies come and go from that group. Newbies who had the time to play but were either rejected because of their seeming "unwillingness to learn the rules" or either just plain lost interest. Right before I left that group, it was suggested to me that I should just play a fighter since it was the simplest character class.Good grief! There shouldn't be this massive learning curve for RPGs!When I started my own gaming group, I DM'd in the fashion that I thought would be friendlier and more accommodating to newbies. But there was still that barrier of rule complexity. One fellow who joined my group was a really great guy who knew the 3.5E rules very well. Even though I was the DM, I found myself deferring to his wisdom regarding rule mechanics. Since I wasn't running a store-bought 3.5E module, I had to write up monster and NPC stats for each game session. The amount of time I spent preparing materials was massively disproportionate to their amount of game-time use.This is the part where I start raving about the virtues 4E, right? Well, maybe.When 4E was announced, I was excited about it. The more I learned, the better I liked it. The folks at WotC seemed to be mirroring many of my opinions about the shortcomings of 3.5E. They rebuilt the entire game from the ground up. Monsters are much easier to create from scratch. The skills are simplified. The classes are now balanced in a very precise and consistent manner. I like how the system of PC powers, feats, and tiers easily guide development so that you can have butt-kicking fun at all levels. This is in contrast to 3.5E, where you eventually discover that you have to meticulously plan character development in advance through careful examination of Byzantine rules in God knows how many splat books in order to make manifest your perfect snowflake. Massive programs have been written by third parties to assist with 3.5E character creation. 4E character development isn't nearly as complicated.4E has some drawbacks, though, in my opinion. I miss Vancian magic. Most of the rules for PCs only relate to combat. Many aspects of 4E, so I've been told, strongly resemble World of Warcraft and collectible card games. The game now seems entirely focused on the goal of elevating PCs to inevitable apotheosis.Nevertheless, 4E is simpler than 3.5E. But its style is heavily influenced by the popularity of computer RPGs and I'm not sure I like that. Ever since 4E was published, I've been wondering what this role-playing game thing is really all about.I'm [...]

Zagyg's gate to Barsoom


In E. Gary Gygax's Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works, I noticed that part of one of the room descriptions reads as follows:

If the CK desires, this cave can serve as a gateway to a SMALL RED PLANET (not unlike Mars), where a lesser gravity is in effect and where 4-armed green giants, blue men resembling plants, huge albino apes, and six-legged riding beasts dwell; the world by and large ruled by the green giants and various colors of humanoids. The Castle Keeper can either develop such a setting whole cloth, utilizing any and all appropriate fictional resources as inspiration (such as the novel John Carter of Mars by E.R. Burroughs) or wait until such a supplementary adventure to the Castle Zagyg pruduct line is released.

Did Gary loose his marbles in his final days when he wrote this? Absolutely not. In fact, it's entirely consistent. And very deliberate. Furthermore, the Peter Bradley cover illustration of the Mouths of Madness booklet included in Upper Works is a scene depicting the cave that connects to said gate to Barsoom.

James Maliszewski, in many of his recent blog entries over at Grognardia, has been discussing the various literary influences upon the work of Gygax. As James has pointed out, Gary was not influenced by Tolkien when he created his fantasy role-playing game. Instead, he was very much influenced by pulp fantasy writers such a Robert E. Howard, Jack Vance, and many others. Edgar Rice Burroughs is also one of the authors that Gygax cited as inspiration in the appendex of the Dungeon Master's Guide.

Many gamers assume that Tolkien's popularity in the 1960s and '70s was the impetus for D&D's invention. I confess that I made this assumption for a long time. Several years ago I discovered that this was not the case at all.

I've read Tolkien, of course. And I've read a few other fantasy novels. But not many of them. It's about time I took that dive into Gary's reading list. For me, it's long overdue.

Free plug for Fight On! #3


Good news, everyone! The third issue of Fight On!, the fanzine dedicated to old school D&D, has been published. I first learned of this magazine several months ago via Grognardia. It's filled with essays, ideas, tables, monsters, and adventures that can spice up any fantasy campaign. Even if you don't play any of the older editions, there are plenty of cool things found within that can liven up even a 4e game.

Although I had embraced 4e D&D, I'm not sure how soon I'll be able to find a game group who will play it. Some of my friends are mildly interested in playing D&D but are not that keen on actually studying vast quantities of rule books. I may be returning to OD&D and dive into the old school revival that has been going on recently.

At the same time I purchased Fight On! #3, I also ordered from Lulu a copy of Swords & Wizardry. This game, which I have mentioned before, is kind of an updated version of OD&D. I look forward to reading it because I'm considering writing and publishing a dungeon or two.

Addendum: As some of you may have noticed, I haven't been posting very many blogs lately. As with any hobby, work gets in the way. I haven't had much time for D&D lately and so I haven't been able to devote much thought towards expressing myself in a blog. My current work project is nearing completion and I think I'll have more gaming time during the holidays.

Stop whining about GG and Castle Zagyg


This whining about Gygax Games shifting gears with the publication of Gary Gygax's legacy is beginning to annoy me. It annoys me far more than the recent business decisions of that company.Am I the only one who was wondering why it took so long to release Upper Works? That thing was supposed to be on store shelves years ago. YEARS AGO. I could only guess why. My best guess was that Gary's failing health delayed its completion. Or maybe it's because of something about the nature of Troll Lord Games? I don't know.It's so easy for people to jump to the conclusion that the family of a deceased celebrity would exploit the deceased's estate to selfish ends. Such scheming might be likely if the family in question had nothing to do with the life of said celebrity. But, as far as I know, Gary's family was supportive of his work.I think it is likely that the Gygax family is very protective of Gary's legacy. So much so that they have their own ideas of how his intellectual property should be handled. Call me crazy but I think it stands to reason that the surviving members Gary's family are the only ones to make that decision. Fans can cry and stamp their feet all they want. The reality is that they are the ones calling the shots and there isn't anything we can do to change this situation.Does anyone remember the existence of hobbits in D&D? Gary wasn't interested in incorporating elements of The Lord of the Rings in his game. He was far more interested in the works of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber than that of J.R.R. Tolkien. But the folks that Gary gamed with demanded elves, orcs, and hobbits. So the first incarnation of D&D included those fantasy races. But the Tolkien estate took issue with this. Specifically, they objected to the use of hobbits, a fantasy race that was invented by Tolkien and was central to his stories. They did not object to the game itself. In fact, they did not pursue the issue further once the name of the D&D race was changed to "halfling." And eventually there was published a role-playing game based on Middle-earth. (I would be interested in reading the precise legal details of this conflict someday.)Did this make the Tolkien family money-grubbing ogres? No, it didn't. Did they ruin the legacy of one of the greatest authors of the 20th century? No, they did not. They realized the importance of his work. They protected it. They were very cautious about handling their inherited intellectual property. Ralph Bakshi's movie aside, it was a very long time before that family allowed the production of a movie based on The Lord of the Rings. Tremendous care was taken with Tolkien's remaining notes and letters about Middle-earth. Books pertaining to his invented mythology were published slowly. They did not "sell out" or exploit his epic work in an unreasonable manner.There isn't any doubt that Gary Gygax was the godfather of all role-playing games. It can be argued that Arneson and others were indispensable to the precipitation of the genre but that's the subject of another discussion. The fact remains that Gygax and his Castle Greyhawk mega-dungeon was one of the primary testbeds of Dungeons & Dragons. The dungeon beneath Castle Greyhawk was the axis about which the entire Greyhawk campaign revolved. Many of Gary's famous modules set the example for others. But his most famous dungeon, for whatever reason, remained unpublished for all of these years. Make no doubt about it. The dungeons of Castle Greyhawk was his epic work.I won't get into the history of Gary's relationship with TSR and other companies. When he[...]

The adventure path is gaming entertainment


I recently joined a D&D gaming group. In one of my message exchanges with the DM, I asked him if this was to be an adventure path or sandbox campaign. He explained that it would be a mixture of both. Curiously, he also explained that he was sometimes frustrated with his players because they seemed reluctant to interact with the world around them. And when NPCs react to their actions in a negative manner, they seem "shocked."After writing a lengthy response to this recent message, I realized that it was too long. So I decided that a long-overdue blog post would be in order.My new DM explained that his campaign is a mixture of both adventure path and sandbox. In my humble opinion, I would argue that it can't be a mixture of both. It must be one or the other. Either you have a story you wish the players to follow or you don't. If you have a story, it is not a sandbox campaign.As for his occasional frustrations with his players, the problem (again, in my humble opinion) he is having is that he is giving the players the freedom of a sandbox campaign when he is actually running an adventure path. They are expecting the DM to provide the next "cut scene" (to use video game parlance) that presents to the players the next stage of their quest. They are depending on the DM to entertain them, to tell the story. They want the DM to have the king summon them to the throne room and present the quest. They want the DM to roll out the red carpet before them and present the goal of the next quest on a silver platter.Dungeons & Dragons was not originally designed to play adventure paths. This mode of game play has evolved into being over the years because of our natural inclination to appreciate a good storyline. In my continually humble opinion, playing RPGs in this manner should not technically be called a "game." A better term would be "gaming entertainment." It is a perfectly valid form of game play. It is not "false" or somehow wrong.Pro wrestling is not a sport but rightfully termed "sports entertainment." That is because there is a written storyline and the wrestling matches are generally choreographed. The opponents train and rehearse together beforehand. Back in the old days, pro wrestling was real. And wrestlers really did get hurt. Promoters realized that if their star wrestlers were getting hurt, they were not in the ring and therefore not attracting large crowds. So they decided to fix the matches. And, ultimately, they scripted them with the goal of entertaining the crowd and thereby making lots of money. This formula has worked for that industry for decades.My new DM is definitely running an adventure path campaign. He has a story. He naturally wants to see it completed. He went to the trouble of planning it. He spent the time writing it. Perhaps he spent money on a module that he wishes to have the players see to completion. He might even envision how the big showdown with the bad guy is going to play out. He and his players have made an investment in this business of playing Dungeons & Dragons and they expect to see a return. The point is that they won't see the end of the DM's story if the PCs die. So the DM will be tempted to look the other way if there is a bad die roll. He will be tempted to create a deus ex machina in order to avoid the much-maligned Total Party Kill. That is the line that is crossed and that is where D&D ceases to be a game and becomes gaming entertainment.In an earlier post, I extolled the virtues of sandbox campaigns and I declared that I would only play that type of campa[...]

Swords & Wizardry


(image) The good folks at Mythmere Games have published Swords & Wizardry, a new version of the Dungeons & Dragons game as published in the early 1970s. It appears to be something in between the booklets of 0e and the Holmes' basic edition. As it states in the introduction, it is "an approximate re-creation of the Gary Gygax original fantasy role-playing game, created using the Open Game License." The PDF version is a FREE DOWNLOAD but you can also pay a few dollars for a printed copy.

I heard about this work via James Maliszewski over at Grognardia. Although I don't always agree with James' harsh criticism of 4e, I intensely enjoy his perspectives of "old school" fantasy RPGs. As a matter of fact, he was the editor of this S&W rule book.

I'm glad that someone has gone to the trouble of reinterpreting the 0e rules for modern gamers. Although I have PDFs of the original game, they were written for gamers who were already familiar with strategy war games and at a time when the term "role-playing game" was not yet coined. Even if you are not interested in actually playing S&W, it is sure to provide insight into the early days of D&D. It should also provide some guidance for conducting your own "old school" style of gaming. Maybe it will inspire the reader to simplify gameplay.

Who knows? Perhaps it will inspire me to take advantage of the OGL and publish my own S&W adventure module.

4e Monster: Aerial Servant


This is my first monster that I've created for 4e. It is the first monster listed in the 1e Monster Manual and I've added it to my list of 1e Monster Manual monsters for 4e. You might notice that I've added Frequency, Environment, No. Appearing, % In Lair, and Treasure Type. This is because I'm putting together my own house rule Monster Manual with the intent of playing 4e D&D in the old school fashion.For reference, I used the descriptions of the aerial servant from the 1e MM p. 6 and the 3.5e Tome of Horrors p. 9. If you are familiar with the AD&D aerial servant, you'll know that it can be summoned by a PC cleric. In 4e terms, this obviously requires some sort of ritual spell. Unfortunately, I have not defined such a ritual here.AERIAL SERVANTFrequency: Very rareEnvironment: The Elemental ChaosNumber Appearing: 1% In Lair: 0Treasure Type: NilThe aerial servant is a semi-intelligent form of an air elemental. It is typically encountered only due to summoning.Aerial Servant Level 16 Solo LurkerMedium elemental magical beast (air) XP 7000-------------------------Initiative +17 Senses Perception +8HP 770; Bloodied 385AC 32; Fortitude 29, Reflex 30, Will 25Immune disease, poison, non-magical weapons; Vulnerable 10 thunderSpeed fly 12 (hover)Action points: 2-------------------------M Airy Crush (standard; at-will)+21 vs. AC; 2d8+7 damage, and the target is grabbed (until escape). The grabbed target takes 2d8+7 damage at the start of its turn while grabbed.-------------------------r Wind Blast (standard; recharge 4 5 6)An aerial servant can release a blast of wind. Ranged 8/16; +21 vs. AC; 4d10+7.-------------------------Natural InvisibilityThis ability is constant, allowing an aerial servant to remain invisible even when attacking. This ability is inherent. This ability does not function when an aerial servant is on the Astral Plane or Ethereal Plane, but instead grants the creature lightly obscured concealment.-------------------------Spellcaster LinkWhen summoned, an aerial servant creates a mental link between itself and the caster who summoned it. Should the aerial servant fail the mission it has been assigned, it returns to the caster and attacks him. The aerial servant can find the caster as long as they both are on the same plane of existence. If the caster leaves the plane, the link is temporarily broken. Once the caster returns or the aerial servant enters the plane the caster is on, the link is immediately reestablished and the aerial servant moves at full speed toward the caster's current location. Only when the aerial servant or caster is destroyed, is the link permanently broken.-------------------------Str: 23 (+14) Dex: 21 (+13) Wis: 10 (+8)Con: 18 (+12) Int: 4 (+5) Cha: 11 (+8)AERIAL SERVANT TACTICSAerial servants attack by using a shearing blast of wind as a weapon or by grabbing an opponent and crushing it within their powerful grasp. Aerial servants can only be killed on their native plane. If slain elsewhere, they simply dissolve into wisps of vapor and return to their home plane. An aerial servant's natural weapons are treated as magic weapons for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.AERIAL SERVANT LOREA character knows the following information with a successful check.Arcana DC 10: Aerial servants are semi-intelligent creatures from the Elemental Chaoes that often roam the Astral Sea. They normally are only found on this world as a result of some sort of summoning ritual and commanded to perform some task, of[...]

1e Monster Manual monsters for 4e


This is an index of all the monsters listed in the first edition of the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual written by E. Gary Gygax and originally published in 1977. Each entry has either a link to home brewed statistics written for the fourth edition of D&D, a page number indicating where it can be found in the 4e MM, or page number references to information that can be found about the monster in various previous editions of the game.Most of the monsters are from The Monster Project over at EN World. That effort has the goal of creating 4e stats for monsters that appeared in any of the previous editions of the D&D. My index focuses exclusively on the 1e Monster Manual. My index is not intended to supersede The Monster Project in any way. If you create your own 4e version of monsters from any of the previous editions, I highly encourage you to post it there.As part of my ongoing blog, I will occasionally post my own 4e versions of 1e MM monsters. I will, of course, update this blog entry with a link to my own work.I will try to continually update this blog entry. Click on this link and then create a bookmark for this blog entry so you can check for updates in the future.Entries that are colored red and in bold face have yet to be defined in 4e terms.If anyone knows of 4e statistics of any of the listed monsters, please let me know.In this list, I use the following abreviations:1e: First edition D&D rules. a.k.a. AD&D.3.0e: Third edition D&D rules.3.5e: The revised third edition D&D rules.DaD: Deities and DemigodsDMG: Dungeon Master's GuideESH: Expanded Psionics HandbookFC1: Fiendish Codex IFC2: Fiendish Codex IIFrb: FrostburnLoM: Lords of MadnessMoF: Monsters of FaerunMotP: Manual of the PlanesMM: Monster ManualSnd: SandstormToH: Tome of HorrorsAAerial ServantAnhkegAnt, GiantApe, GorillaApe, CarnivorousAxe BeakBBaboonBadgerBadger, GiantBaluchitherium (1e MM p. 8)Barracuda (1e MM p. 8)Basilisk (4e MM p. 26)Bear, BlackBear, BrownBear, Cave (4e MM p. 29)Beaver, Giant (1e MM p. 9)Beetle, Giant, Bombardier (1e MM p. 9)Beetle, Giant, Boring (1e MM p. 9)Beetle, Giant, Fire (4e MM p. 30)Beetle, Giant, Rhinoceros (1e MM p. 9)Beetle, Giant, Stag (1e MM p. 9)Beetle, Giant, Water (1e MM p. 9)Beholder (4e MM p. 32)Black Pudding (1e MM p. 10; 3.5e MM p. 201)Blink DogBoar, Wild (1e MM p. 11; 3.5e MM p. 270)Boar, Giant (4e MM p. 35)Boar, Warthog (1e MM p. 11)Brain Mole (1e MM p. 11)Brownie (1e MM p. 11; 3.5e ToH p. 48)Buffalo (1e MM p. 11)Bugbear (4e MM p. 135)Bulette (4e MM p. 38)Bull (1e MM p. 12)CCamel, Wild (1e MM p. 13)Carrion Crawler (4e MM p. 40)Catoplepas (1e MM p. 13)Cattle, Wild (1e MM p. 13)Centaur (1e MM p. 14)Centipede, GiantCerebral Parasite (1e MM p. 14)Chimera (4e MM p. 41)CockatriceCouatl (1e MM p. 15; 3.5e MM p. 37)Crab, GiantCrayfish, Giant (1e MM p. 15; 3.5e ToH p. 73)CrocodileDDemon, Demogorogon (1e MM p. 16; 3.5e FC1 p. 61)Demon, Juiblex (1e MM p. 17; 3.5e FC1 p. 66)Demon, Manes (1e MM p. 17; 3.5e MM p. 45)Demon, Orcus (4e MM p. 206)Demon, Succubus (4 MM p. 67)Demon, Type I (Vrock) (4e MM p. 58)Demon, Type II (Hezrou) (4e MM p. 56)Demon, Type III (Glabrezu) (4e MM p. 54)Demon, Type IV (Nalfeshnee, etc.) (1e MM p. 19; 3.5e MM p. 45)Demon, Type V (Marilith, etc.) (1e MM p. 19; 3.5e MM p. 44)Demon, Type VI (Balor, etc.) (4e MM p. 52)Demon, Yeenoghu (1e MM p. 19; 3.5e FC1 p. 78)Devil, Asmodeus (1e MM p. 20; 3.5e FC2 p. 155)Devil, Baalzebul (1e MM p. 21; 3.5e FC2 p. 151)Devil, Barbed (1e MM p. 21; 3.5e M[...]

My book of 4e stats of 1e monsters


(image) Well, it's not a book that I'll personally publish. It's my own house rule book. In my last entry, I complained about the lack of 1e monsters in the 4e Monster Manual. Since a 4e Tome of Horrors is not going to be published anytime soon, I seem to have little alternative.

Several gamers on the internet have created many 4e monsters. But the pace of production is slow, at best. And there seems to be only a few places that have focused on compiling monsters for 4e. The first place I found is the Monsters section of ENWiki over at ENworld. Another place I found 4e monsters is at the WotC forum thread, 4e Monster Compendium. If there are other places, please let me know.

So what am I going to do? Well, as I said, I'm putting together my own house rule monster book. To this end, I've made up a list of all the monsters in the 1e Monster Manual and I'm systematically finding any 4e versions of those monsters on the internet. I've been able to find several of them. But many more have yet to be made. So I'll try to make a few of my own.

In the 4e Dungeon Master's Guide, there are rules given for creation of original monsters. Thankfully, this system is less ambiguous than any of the previous editions. New monsters can have its combat statistics clearly defined from the outset and further details can be ironed out by looking at similar examples in the 4e Monster Manual. Defining the powers is the tricky part. But it's far from impossible.

I will create a single entry on this blog that I will bookmark and periodically update. It will contain a list of all the monsters in the 1e Monster Manual. Each entry will link to known home brewed 4e stats for each monster. Some of them will link to monsters that I create myself. Others on the internet can bookmark this blog entry and link to it. This will be an experiment and I don't know how well this will work out. If it doesn't work out, it's no big deal. Ultimately, I might have to move the list to a proper web page on my own web site.

WANTED: 4e Tome of Horrors


The one thing keeping me from running pre-4e modules with 4e rules is a severe lack of updated monsters. Every time I think I want to plan a game with an old module, I'm always blocked by this obstacle. Bullshitting the rest of any given module is no problem. But if I want to use specific monsters, I need to have them prepared ahead of time. And 4e does a really good job with its new method of handling monsters. But I can't run Castle Zagyg in 4e without many of the old monsters from the 1e MM.

I don't pretend to understand the liscensing controversies surrounding third-party 4e products. I don't care. Wizards of the Coast, whatever the problem is, fix it.

Oh, and gimme my DDi stuff. Gimme, gimme, gimme.