Thursday, January 31, 2013

Basic Fantasy RPG Blog Appreciation Day!

Tenkar from Tenkar's Tavern has no shortage of cool ideas, and his latest idea is no exception. Today, several blogs with old-school leanings are putting up posts of appreciation for Chris Gonnerman's Basic Fantasy RPG. Tenkar referred to it as the "red-headed stepchild of the OSR", and I think that is a fairly apt description. It simply doesn't get as much attention as the more well-known clones like OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord. Today, we shed some much-deserved light on it.

So what is BFRPG? Well, it is a free, well-supported game system that emulates classic editions of the world's greatest RPG. But, it is more than that. While the majority of the text feels much like OD&D + Greyhawk, there are all sorts of mechanical tidbits thrown in that make it feel like its own unique "take" on the game. There are "modern" sensibilities (ascending AC, no group initiative), and creative houserules (charging, ranged attacks when within 5' of enemies, etc). What you end up with is a clean, coherent system that feels familiar yet unique at the same time.

There are also multiple free adventures on the site, so you can get right into playing. I love the little touches in the adventures, like the little boxes to tick off hit points, and the classic TSR-era fonts. There are also a lot of other extra goodies, such as alternate classes, all for a free download.

The name Chris Gonnerman might already be familiar to you through Dragonsfoot. He has done considerable work over the years with the wonderful Footprints ezine. With BFRPG, he has given a gift to the OSR community and gamers in general, and for that he deserves some praise. Be sure and check out the post I linked above to Tenkar's Tavern; he will be putting up links for the various blogs taking part in this. Thanks for the game Chris!

Monday, January 28, 2013

The End of the Campaign: Lessons Learned and New Beginnings

Well, I just wrapped up my Saturday campaign last week. I am so thankful that I got to play it to the end. I started with a vague storyline in mind, and over a year and a half of weekly play the campaign built to a fantastic finale in Gloomwraught, complete with a large scale battle, gargoyle mounts, grell galore, and a psychotic deva. I learned a lot of lessons, and many of the ideas on my blog were partly developed through running the campaign. As many of you out there have no doubt experienced, finishing up a long term game kind of leaves you a little sad, but also excited about what comes next.

Anyway, here are the main lessons I learned, or re-learned:

-Never railroad if you can help it. I rolled with every spontaneous idea that my players had, and what they wanted to do was inevitably better than what I had planned.

-Provide closure for each character; this felt a lot like the end of Animal House, where it says what each character did in the future. Tie this to their backstories; the players really loved this.

-Pick your battles. Not every encounter needs to be a big set-piece blowout. This is true for all editions.

-Use inherent bonuses if you are running 4e.

-Get to the good stuff. You never know how long a campaign will last, so don't save your "good stuff". Bust it out asap.

I plan on enjoying a few Saturdays off from running games, but I will not be able to withstand the call for very long. I am having a hard time deciding what to run though. I already do the B/X thing on Fridays; one of those games will switch to Call of Cthulhu shortly, when they finish the adventure. I am leaning towards a 1e game, perhaps starting with Gygax's Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, just since I never got to play or run that back in the day, and I think it is arguably the best 1e adventure. But then I feel pulled this way and that; an OD&D game that is just a straight-up random and organic hex crawl, the 1e or 4e Baba Yaga's Dancing Hut adventures, a B1 one-shot since it has come up so many times recently, a Ravenloft campaign (gotta put all those box sets to use someday!), a Hollow World campaign, Night Below, Dragon Mtn, one of the billion homebrew world ideas I have bouncing around, arggghhh! There are truly so many options, all of them good. Still, when you think about all of the work and effort you will be putting into running something, it makes the choice very important.

So how about you? If you were starting a new campaign today, what system would you use? Would you use a published setting? Published adventures?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Get The Most Out Of Your Free Copy Of B1!!!

If you are one of the many folks that have downloaded B1 for free from this week, you must check out this fantastic B1 resource page at the Zenopus Archives! Anybody getting ready to run this module should be eternally grateful to have this put together! Here is the original post over at the Zenopus blog.

Seems like a great time to take the BLUEHOLME retro-clone for a spin!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Treasure in 4e Forever, Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

A few things have changed since I first wrote about how treasure is presented in my upcoming 4e fanzine. The main development is simple; I am now completely sold on inherent bonuses. The zine is all high Paragon and Epic tier, so I was ready to just roll with +5 and +6 items, but now I have just completely stripped "plusses" altogether. Everything else is pretty much the same: no prices or rarity for items, few items for sale, narrative descriptions of items as opposed to stat blocks, etc. There are however a few new wrinkles that I thought I would share. I probably should call them "old wrinkles", because these rules hearken back to the classic editions.

First, some items will have charges. I think this is a much better way to deal with powerful items as opposed to item rarity. I particularly dislike the concept of "rare" items, items supposedly so interesting that you don't mind playing 10 levels with the thing. I am sorry, I am in the process of wrapping up a 4e campaign that took almost 2 years to get through 10 levels. You can't tell me it would be fun to use the same sword for that long a stretch, even if it gives you foot rubs and cooks you Filet Mignon every night. Items with charges are a much cooler way to introduce powerful items into your game; they have a built in "self-destruct" button, a fail safe that makes sure they don't last forever. For example, I might have a staff that automatically crits whenever it hits. Super-powerful. Not something you want in the game for very long, but tolerable if it is limited to a few charges. Of course, don't tell the recipient how many charges it has, that adds to the fun (the DM could roll a d6 or d8 and track separately).

Second, we get away from telling players an item's properties right off the bat. Require them to use the item to find out. This was how you could get a PC to use a cursed item or drink poison back in the day. If they find a potion, they have to take a tiny sip to know what it does (this doesn't waste the potion). Is it dickish to poison your PCs, or to give out cursed weapons? Hell no. It's tradition. It is flavorful. You don't do it every time, or even often, but in rare instances it is totally within the bounds of fair play. In fact, I always remember cursed items as actually adding a lot of fun to the sessions they appeared in.

So that's it. Nothing too groundbreaking. If you hate item rarity as much as I do, yet still want to use powerful items in your 4e games, try items with charges. Also consider requiring the PCs to use trial and error to find out the properties of their items. Oh, and poison them every once and a while.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Well, once again the OSR blogosphere was the first to bring you some exciting D&D news. Classic-era TSR PDFs are up and for sale. This week, you can download the classic introductory adventure "In Search of the Unknown" for free! Check it out!

Friday, January 18, 2013

In Search of Strongholds, Part 4: A Stronghold for All Seasons

Howdy all. As you may or may not be aware, I have been looking at developing a stronghold system for 4e that is reflective of classic editions. I bought into inherent bonuses, drew up some blueprints, and took baby steps towards remaking the 4e economy (more on that later). Now we need to ask ourselves some fundamental questions. While a stronghold system might make perfect sense in a traditional quasi-medieval campaign, can a stronghold system work in a variety of settings? Similarly, while it is easy to accept that very high-level PCs might be able to afford to build one of these bad boys, what if you are running a low-level game and still want to have some fun with strongholds? Put simply, can a stronghold system make sense over multiple levels and in multiple settings?

The answer of course is yes. In fact, I am not so sure that this post is entirely necessary, as most DMs can likely add the stronghold concept into their games seamlessly without needing Ol' Froth to help them. I just don't think the series would be complete without talking about it, as I do think the stronghold systems of yesterday might be perceived as an antiquated relic to many. Heck, 4e didn't even bother to present stronghold rules until the bitter end, and even then they felt a little uninspired.

So let's look at some different classic settings and throw out some ideas. After that we will look at ways for even low-level PCs to join in the fun.

Greyhawk: This is quintessential stronghold-land. Lots of open space, political intrigue, warring factions, and beasties make this a great setting for traditional stronghold stylings.

Points of Light (4e): Rebuilding civilization, reclaiming lost territories, pushing back the wild unwashed monsters-PoL is prime real estate for stronghold rules.

Dark Sun: Now this could get interesting. A stronghold doesn't have to be a massive tower-laden structure. Maybe it amounts to smallish shelter for a fledgling colony of escaped slaves in Athas. Maybe the party has discovered a source of water or metal and needs a permanent base to exploit it. The construction could be threatened more by the environment than the local monsters. You could do something really cool with a pseudo-stronghold/barony here, something not unlike Bartertown from Mad Max 3. If I had all the time in the world, I would run something like this myself.

Ravenloft: If you can't beat em', join em'. Never going to escape that demi-plane? Make it your own. With the right group, it could be fun to make your own haunted manor. Gargoyles optional.

Eberron: This is such a wide, rich setting that there are all kinds of geographical areas where strongholds make sense. I think the Eldeen Reaches would be a great spot, but any "borderlands" would work. You could incorporate magic into the construction-maybe you hire Artificers as opposed to bricklayers.

Forgotten Realms: Regardless of the time period you prefer to work in, there is ample room to support a stronghold system here. I personally would love to do a Maztica campaign with stronghold rules, a "conquistador" type deal. If you haven't noticed, I have a lot of hypothetical campaigns in my brain that I will never likely have the time to run.

Spelljammer/Planescape/Astral Sea/Elemental Chaos: I lump these together only because they all involve unusual areas that are highly varied and mutable. There are all sorts of cool ideas you could use. Maybe instead of creating a castle, you are trying to set up a trading post in the Astral Sea. Or a Githzerai monastery on a floating chunk of earth. You are only limited by your imagination; don't be afraid to reflavor a stronghold into something else if it better fits the setting and/or narrative.

Hollow World: You could build an entire campaign around the idea of settling the interior of a planet. Could get very "Charlton Heston".

Birthright: No need to do anything! Has an awesome system already!

I hope this has your wheels turning a bit. My point in all of this is simply to show that any campaign setting, published or otherwise, can take on some stronghold rules if they are creatively shaped to the setting. It doesn't always need to be a knightly castle. It could be an underground hub in the desert, a floating chop shop, or literally anything else that requires an area to be cleared, settled, and built upon.

Ok, so I realize I haven't given ya'll the pricing for the strongholds and labor yet. That is because I am still working on it, as well as a new comprehensive list of mundane gear with new prices for use with inherent bonuses, and by extension, my magazine. Prices for mundane armor and weapons/implements stay the same as in traditional 4e, but I will have new prices for the rest of the gear that better fits the lower estimated wealth of adventurers. Anyhoo, we can still talk in the abstract about this next piece, which is looking at some ideas to allow low-level (read: broke) adventurers to still build strongholds.

Traditionally it was only high-level characters that were allowed/able to build strongholds and develop land. This was not just due to the cost restrictions; it was a reward for a PC's accomplishments. Anyone that ever played OD&D will tell you that hitting 9th level+ was indeed an accomplishment. I never got that far, except in one-off games. We died all the time. ALL the time. It can take years to get that much experience, and frankly, some DMs and players do not want to wait that long to do something cool.

One piece of DM advice that I think is priceless is "Get to the good stuff". If you hold back on your great ideas, you never know when your campaign will blow up. You could spend a year setting everything up to get to a moment that will never come to pass. So if you have a cool idea, let it fly. Strongholds could be viewed in much the same way. Rather than never making it to a level that is traditionally associated with stronghold creation, try these ideas for low-level play.

-The PCs pool their funds to build a group stronghold (not a bad idea anyways)

-The PCs re-purpose a dungeon or lair they have conquered

-The PCs are charged with helping to oversee the construction of one or more strongholds for a more powerful NPC, such as a king

-The PCs inherit or are rewarded with a run-down stronghold. The area needs to be cleared again, etc but they do not need to build from scratch.

Well, I hope that these ideas show a different way to look at stronghold systems. It need not be an Arthurian castle; it can be any structure, anywhere, that requires securing the surrounding lands and construction of some sort. You can also work around some of the costs to enjoy a stronghold system earlier in a campaign or adventuring career.

So, just to recap, I am working hard on the price lists. These will include construction costs, specialized hireling costs, and costs for mundane gear as an added bonus. After that is completed I will give you some generic rules for clearing areas, attracting settlers, running a barony, etc that will fall in line with old classic systems. Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Are Classic TSR PDFs Dropping Soon???

I swear man, nothing gets past the OSR blogosphere. They were first to notice Gygax magazine, first to point out online retailers were getting ready to sell old D&D edition reprints (way before WOTC announced it), and now People Them With Monsters may have stumbled on the motherlode: Yeah, the url isn't showing anything now, but it was. Check it out.

Muy interesante! I would surmise this is legit and we will see it happen quite soon, maybe announced at Winter Fantasy. They have hinted on the WOTC forums that 2013 will be "busy", etc, so this makes sense. We will find out soon enough!

Here is the original post about it. Thanks to People Them With Monsters for spotting this.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Free Holmes Basic Retro-Clone! Check Out Blueholme!

The words "Basic D&D" can conjure up different images for different gamers, largely depending on when they started playing the game. Some will think of the Mentzer set, others Moldvay B/X, and some gamers will recall a familiar shade of blue.

As OD&D's popularity spread like wildfire in the 70's, the wizards at TSR wisely decided to release a beginners D&D set. OD&D was not incomprehensible, but it was written with somewhat experienced wargamers in mind as opposed to absolute beginners. Tasking Dr. Holmes to design the first beginner's set turned out to be a very good move. The box set covered the first 3 levels of the game (a concept that has been repeated over the years), and the original rules and some of those of the supplements were reorganized and rephrased to make more sense to the uninitiated. It was also packaged with an awesome adventure, "In Search of the Unknown". What some call a drawback of this adventure, I consider its greatest asset: while there are room descriptions provided, it is up to the DM to populate the dungeon and add treasure using lists in the back of the module. Though Holmes did not write the module, it really helped bookend this classic set, letting fledgling DMs and players get right to it.

Fast forward to today's OSR movement. Classic editions are getting the retro-clone treatment, helping introduce new generations of players to old rule sets. Considering the often steep price of some of this stuff, this is commendable and helps keep games alive. So whether your blue book is coming apart at the seams, or if you have never even heard of Dr. Holmes, you will want to check out this new free retro-clone, BLUEHOLME, care of Dreamscape Design.

Special thanks to Zenopus Archives and Tenkar's Tavern for bringing this to my attention. If you are an OSR junkie like myself, they are both great blogs you should be following!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Trimming the Fat, Part 3: Backgrounds

This sporadically appearing series features bits of 4e that I have scrapped from my games and fanzine. Previously, we covered sunrods and skill challenges. Today, we look at backgrounds.

It isn't the idea of backgrounds that's bad, it's the execution. Some backgrounds are clearly more powerful than others. I feel that all backgrounds should confer basically the same level of mechanical benefit or there will be less incentive, even for casual players, to choose a background based on its flavor. And to be honest, the flavor that's there isn't always so great in the first place. The current list of backgrounds is also so outrageously bloated that it will give you a headache just looking at it.

I propose the following rules for backgrounds: The player comes up with his/her character's backstory. The player can then choose between receiving a +2 bonus to a skill that has something to do with their backstory, or adding a skill to their class list that has something to do with their backstory.

Doesn't this make a lot more sense? This is nice and clean, and encourages players to give a little extra thought to their characters. It also balances out the power level of background benefits.

That's what you will see in the mag! Anybody want to share some houserules on backgrounds? Leave a post!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

In Search of Strongholds Part 3: Random Treasure Tables for 4e

Happy new year to all! I hope everyone had a good holiday. I continue today in my attempts to design a stronghold system for 4e (and my 4e Forever zine) that reflects classic editions of the game. In our last installment, I laid out a blueprint for what needed to be accomplished. It has taken some time and meditation, but I think I am ready to present a large piece of the puzzle: random treasure tables.

You might be wondering, "What the heck do random treasure tables have to do with strongholds?" Fair question. We previously established that in order to have a viable stronghold system, we need to ditch the ever-increasing "expected wealth by level" of 4e, and instead use the inherent bonus system. While that takes care of a part of the puzzle, we still need a way for players to amass wealth and power. As my favorite solutions are those that allow me to use classic edition mechanics, that brings us to the treasure tables. I pored over classic treasure systems, and I think I have something that works.

There are two basic categories of treasure: treasure carried by individuals, and treasure found in a lair. Much, much greater quantities of treasure are found in lairs rather than on individuals. This should make sense to everyone; we don't carry around all of our wealth and items on a day to day basis, it is back at our "lair" (our home). Now, just from that idea alone, I think many DMs will feel a shift in consciousness. After all, in 4e, PCs can be doing just about anything, anywhere, and if the parcel system is being used, they are guaranteed a certain amount of treasure and gold per level. Kiss that idea bye-bye. In order to accumulate wealth and power in this system, PCs have to go out, find it, and take it.

Conquering lairs should represent a huge challenge for PCs. An entire adventure could constitute a lair, or a literal army of monsters might lair in an immense cavern. Go big!

These tables are just guidelines; DMs should feel free to add and subtract items from lairs, give individuals specific items, etc. These guidelines simply ensure that, if followed, the PCs will be able to eventually afford strongholds (more on stronghold costs in a later blog), that the cost will never seem "cheap", and that PCs no longer feel pressured to blow money on magic items. They couldn't even if they wanted to.

The following tables will be included in an issue of my upcoming mag in PDF form, but for now I am just typing them out. Excuse the formatting; Blogger does weird things sometimes. I tried my best to keep it very simple. Instead of 20+ types, there are three for lairs, listed from largest to smallest (A,B,C), and three for individuals listed the same way (D,E,F). DMs should feel free to combine treasure types; maybe an individual has (2 x F, G) or whatever. DMs will still need to pick out the specific magic items that are found, but you will be prompted for the treasure type (for example, "Arms Slot" or "Foot Slot"). Finally, as mentioned above, DMs should feel free to add items as the see fit to individuals or lairs.

In some cases treasure is automatic, i.e. always occurs. In other cases you will need to roll percentage dice to see if it appears.

"Potions" can include any consumable, even if it isn't technically a potion. "Scroll" indicates a ritual scroll. You will also see "Maps" being given out with certain treasure types; these could lead to other lairs and/or serve as plot hooks. If you would rather handle this a different way, just drop the maps.

These tables require the use of the inherent bonus system.

4e Forever Treasure Tables

Lair Tables

       1,000s copper    1,000s silver    1,000s gold       gems and jewelry*    magic items**       map

A     50% / 1d12      50% / 1d12     50% / 1d6x10      50% / 2d12     3 +1 potion +1 scroll     yes

B     40% / 1d10       40% / 1d10     40% / 1d4x10     40% / 1d12      2 +1 potion +1 scroll    yes

     40% / 1d6        40% / 1d6       40% / 2d12         40% / 1d6                 1                       no

*if gems and jewelry are indicated, roll on the Gems and Jewelry Table below
**if magic items are indicated, roll on the Magic Item Table below

Individual Tables

       copper (pieces)    silver (pieces)    gold (pieces)    gems and jewelry*         map

D              -                         -                    6d6              10% / 1d4           5% chance

E              -                       6d6                    -                          -                        no

F             6d6                       -                     -                          -                        no

*if gems and jewelry are indicated, roll on the Gems and Jewelry Table below

Gems and Jewelry Table (roll percentage dice for each individual piece)

Value in gp / Dice roll 01-100
          50                 01-30
         100                31-60
         500                61-80
        1000               81-100

Magic Item Table (roll percentage dice for each unspecified magic item)

Dice Roll 01-100 /      Item type       
          01-15           Weapon/Implement
          16-23                  Foot Slot
          24-31                 Head Slot
          32-39                 Arms Slot
          40-55             Wondrous Item
          55-61          Potion or Consumable
          61-66                Ritual Scroll
          67-74                Hands Slot
          75-82                Waist Slot 
          83-94                   Armor
         95-100                    Ring

Next time we will dig into some ideas on how you can make stronghold creation a viable goal for 4e players, regardless of the campaign style or setting. In the meantime, I would love to hear any feedback on this article! Until next time!