Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Quick Detour: World Building with Player's Option

World Building with the Player's Option Series

So based on my last post someone wanted to know how I use the Player's Option series for world building. I had provided a quick example of a new race and how I would ask questions around it. I included the original post below.

However, I also decided to build this out into a full campaign setting. The races are built with Skills & Powers, and the equipment lists will be pulled from Combat & Tactics. Finally, changes to the magic system to make it a bronze age setting will be made with Spells & Magic. Can all of this be done without those books? Sure. But these resources make it fast and easy. I already have the outline done - most of the time is being spent on the creative writing... which is exactly where game time should be spent! Not on balancing rules!

Download the setting here.

My response to the question: In terms of your specific question - they do NOT include a note for world building. It was more of an "a'ha" type moment. I find that Spells & Magic and Combat & Tactics were better at this - but consider races. Let's say you're working on your campaign world, and you decide you want to have an Egyptian style dwarven race that builds great monuments out of sandstone.

Now you can totally wing it - but I'm a numbers type person and really like it when my numbers add up. The point buy system used by PO: Skills & Powers allows that.

So let's build our new dwarf subrace, we'll call them Scarab Dwarves for fun. So we have a general idea that they live in the desert, we know that we want them on the surface building monuments, and that they're good engineers like most dwarves. They start with 45 points. Now, it is COMPLETELY fine to say something like use the hill dwarf or mountain dwarf subtype. But if you want to build your own subtype PO:S&P allows you to do that. Here is how I'd go about it:

Dwarf, Scarab (45 Points)

  • +1 to Dexterity, -1 to Charisma
  • Weapon Bonus (+1 to attack rolls with the Khopesh, Mace-Axe, Sword-Axe) (-15 Points)
  • Heat Resistance (+1 bonus to saving throws vs. heat and fire based attacks as the dwarf's body is less susceptible to extreme temperatures - Pulled from the Elven  ability table) (-5 points)
  • Saving Throw Bonuses (Dwarves gain bonuses to saving throws vs. poison and against magical attacks from rods, wands, and spells based on their Constitution/Health scores.) (-10 Points)
  • Engineering Proficiency (+2 to the NWP Engineering if they have that NWP - Pulled from the Gnomes) (-5 Points)
  • Desert Movement (The dwarf is able to pass without trace as per the spell in a desert environment - pulled from the Gnome ability and changed to desert) (-10 Points)

So now we have a dwarf with no infravision, no traditional combat bonuses against enemies that they haven't encountered... but they are master engineers building monuments in the desert environment they are masters of.

And you can change this easily. You could give them the ability to communicate with insects for ten points.. say remove engineering. And now you have a desert empire of dwarves mounted on scarabs running around. In fact, let's give these dwarves a phobia to darkness and the insect ability. They now need to make a saving throw vs fear to go underground (a fairly big penalty for an adventurer), but they get their insects and insect like mounts.

So now we have a bronze age themed dwarf, that has built a monument creating civilization in a desert somewhere in the world. They are surface dwellers and are known for their close allegiance with giant scarabs that they ride into battle. Now, this inspires a few follow up questions:

* Who else lives here?
* How do they feel about their dwarven neighbors?
* What does the pantheon look like? Do we want the standard Egyptian pantheon or something else?
* What is the big threat that these dwarves are facing?

Off the top of my head, I'd say: we have halflings that travel the coasts and river deltas. They live in reed boats and are nomadic. We'll call them Water Halflings. Maybe they make papyrus scrolls and are know for their scribes. Gnomes live in the deep canyons south of the Dwarven lands. They are reclusive and generally not welcoming to others. They are known as Canyon Gnomes, and are primarily considered mercenaries for the human and dwarven empires. The humans come in two varieties: an empire south of the Dwarves on the other side of the gnomes, and the Sea People who are a vicious and evil group of raider humans much tougher then their civilized brethren (use the Half-Orc racial template).

Monday, August 29, 2016

Building a Kingdom from the Ground Up

And we're off!

One of the favorite things I love about 2nd Edition AD&D is that it IS the system for world building. It doesn't matter if you're looking to create a simple setting to build around an adventure, or you are going for a full multiverse that puts Brandon Sanderson to shame - you can do it in 2nd Edition. Especially with the release of the Player Options series. Let's stop for a second.

A Minor Note: Player's Option, Optional Rules, and Kits

Many people do NOT like the Player's Options series. They'll tell you about their dislike, at length, for long periods of time. And that's totally fair. Most times, if you dig into their dislike, what they hated was that the system - when player's just showed up with everything and the kitchen sink pulled into their character - could do a lot of min/maxing. This is a royal pain to adjust for, and it is very difficult on the DM to adjust a game for that kind of player. Especially in the 2nd Edition days when computer tools were limited and you couldn't just have a tablet on the table that let you manage your game.

However, when you use the optional rules to build your campaign setting - you can do pretty much anything. I feel a lot of people discounted the Player Options series due to the explosion within the player base that was brought out by the material in Skills & Powers - yet, I hope this blog helps people revisit the material.

How big should your setting be? Big enough.

A lot of people make one very big mistake with campaign settings: they try to build everything at once. They will draw/find a map that represents a planet the size of Earth or larger, and try to make sure that they know every NPC and organization on every square inch. They'll want to be able to tell you that on the Island of Froz, the butcher's cousins wifes uncles great niece twice removed was born on the night when the second and fifth moon were both full, and what this means in terms of the full cosmology of religions as well as the ancient space fairing race that monitors all life from their hidden base on the third moon.

Okay - I might be slightly exaggerating. However, if you see yourself in that description above, don't worry! I used to be that person, too! In fact, my first attempt at building a world did JUST that. Except I hand drew AND colored the map on a three by three map of 8.5" by 11" graph paper (so 25.5" by 33"). And one day I might even have enough courage to tell you just how badly it flopped. For now, let's use the short cut version!

After getting a good sized group together, I went into detail about the setting to "help" with character creation. If you can't figure out why this was the only sentence I can really write that is positive about that night, I can't help you - but let's just say no matter how bad of a DM you think you are, I am 100% sure I can beat you!

The following month, I sat down with two friends - and we had an on the fly session. I created a town named Highfall, and the adventure was based around a group of rock gnomes who had a small, but profitable life, pulling jewels out of the water at the base of the falls that gave the town it's name (in my defense I grew up in a town named Milford.. because the Mill was on the river ford, so don't judge). Suddenly, without realizing it, I had a setting - sure it consisted of one town, only a few NPCs, and a cave system (and yes, I'll post this adventure at some point - I have the notes, but will have to recreate the maps). I needed a setting and created one, and it was good enough.

Building out the Options -Work with the Players

So I started off with a quick town, and one player said they wanted to play a Fighter, the other wanted to play a Cleric. So I quickly throw together a local Baron who has a guard organization and the Fighter character comes from here. The Cleric comes from a local monastery that also has a vineyard as the player wanted to know how to make wine. So now the setting is growing. We started with a town, and we added a local keep with a Baron, and a religious presence. We haven't done anything to figure out religion yet, nor anything really complicated with the government, but our setting is growing.

As we added other players, we continued to add and grow the campaign world. We had a player who wanted to play a halfling, so that required building out that option. Now, where the river ended in a lake, a small halfling community was formed. Why a lake? Because the character took the fishing Nonweapon Proficiency. One of the benefits of this approach was that the halfling town was detailed by the player - he built out the NPCs and everything else associated with it, and even came up with what roll they played in the local environment. They traded cheese, wood, and wool north to the Highfalls folk in exchange for gemstones and metalworks. They also built a large barn where the humans and gnomes could store their trade goods for when barges would come. Now where are those barges going?

Think about Magic - But only when you need too!

Of all the early decisions you can make about your setting, the most important is the level of magic. This is a big point of debate in almost any forum for any edition. And I'll be frank on where I stand: I prefer low magic settings. At the same time, I like the setting to be low magic - not the party. As a result, when I had a player express interest in a wizard, I worked with the character on developing a back story where the character was instructed by an isolated recluse.

I quickly decided on a low magic setting as I wanted to avoid the single largest error that the Forgotten Realms setting makes: that it is nearly impossible for any true danger to exist due to the sheer number of apparently omnipotent magical characters that exist. If the players screw up, Elminster or someone else will float down from the sky and solve the problem in a classic dues ex machina. This isn't necessarily bad if you like it - and if you want a high powered/high magic campaign, go for it. FR I feel fits the bill nicely, and so homebrew allows for low power/low magic games which I feel are more fun.

Summing it up:

  • Build a setting when you need a setting, and only what you need at the moment in time you need it.
  • Work with your players, make them a part of the setting and they'll take ownership for making the game work.
  • Think about magic early - but remember to focus on the setting. Your players are unique in your world - they are brave enough to go adventuring!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

For Gold & Glory

An OSR Version of 2nd Edition AD&D
So today I wanted to talk about the OSR version of 2nd Edition AD&D: For Gold and Glory. For those that do not know, the OSR is an open source version of the D&D role playing game. This is intended to allow people to develop games and material for older versions of D&D, using the open game license developed by Wizards of the Coast. There are a number of options out there for the various systems, such as Basic Fantasy, Swords & WizardryLabyrinth Lord, and OSRIC.

For a long time, these were really the only options, and they reflect game rules essentially from the beginning of D&D to the release of 2nd Edition. For a while, it seemed that 2nd Edition was pretty much abandoned until the release of for Gold & Glory.

Why OSR?
Although much of the 2nd Edition material is still available, and Wizards of the Coast in the run up to 5th Edition released the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master Guide, and Monster Manual, there are reasons to support the OSR. First, it's free. If you've purchased the 2nd Edition material, and you want to run a game - but your players aren't convinced - they can get the core rules to build their characters and learn the rules for free. Second, it provides a convenient PDF with bookmarks that you can use to navigate when you're running your game.

Finally, if you want to go into self-publishing, Wizards of the Coast prevents third party publishers from using the trademarks and brand identities of the 2nd Edition game. As a result, you cannot publish an adventure module as "Compatible with 2nd Edition AD&D" due to current trademark law. One work around would be to write: "Compatible with the World's Most Famous RPG from 1989" which was the original publication date. That's a hassle. Although I support Wizard's of the Coast, and am a huge fan of 5th edition, for those that love 2nd Edition and want to find official publications for it - For Gold & Glory is an excellent thing.

How do the Rules Compare
Frankly, very well. For Gold & Glory is as close to a straight up clone as you can find out there. Every clone takes some liberties, and For Gold & Glory they did as well. Certain sections are slightly changed in their organization. Non-weapon Proficiency points have become skill points. Weapon groups, from Player's Option: Combat & Tactics, was also placed into the rules. However, for the most part the rules are exactly the same, and the slight changes are minuscule. This is not clone of the 2.5 era from 1995 onward with the PO options fully integrated into the game.

For quality, I rate a product on three different categories: layout, editing, and artwork. And for Gold & Glory, I give them full points on all three counts. Let's address each point one at a time:

The layout for the book is two column with some tables taking up the whole page. Navigation is quick and easy in such a format. However, I find that the rules themselves are well structured, with standard conventions across classes and races. For example, each game related skill block is put into a bullet list - instead of just left hanging like in the original rules. I appreciate that because it makes it easier to find the rules later on. Paragraphs also have headers in bold, such as "Armor" or "Weapons" that allow you to quickly isolate where those rules are - again, something that was more hidden in the original rules.

I've read through the rules multiple times to compare them to the original rules that they are based on. Despite that, I have found few editing problems. For a free text, that is impressive. There are some conventions that they have employed which are the reverse of similar presentations in the original work - I'm assuming that was partly for legal reasons - however, it also makes the material smoother and easier to absorb. If you are rusty on your rules knowledge, I'd recommend reading through Gold & Glory before going to original material. A very high mark indeed for the publisher.

I like the artwork, but let's ignore the subjective and instead focus on the objective: Most free versions of the various OSR products do not include artwork. The fact that this work has so much art in it, much of it full page and full color is impressive. Artwork is expensive, so it makes sense that an OSR product that commissioned art would need to charge to cover that cost - and that makes sense. The full team (Edit: see comments below!) went out of their way to find appropriate artwork that was free, so that they could create a free resource for players that was also visually appealing. I appreciate the work and effort that went into that.

Final Thoughts
I wanted to post this early on to show my appreciation for one of the louder advocates for my favorite edition. I think they have put something together here which is really great and should be supported for their effort. In the future, as I put the final touches on my campaign settings and resources, I'll be happy to use the For Gold & Glory branding.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Welcome to Maircoan!

Welcome to my blog!

The Kingdom of Maircoan has been the setting of my writing since 1996. As a result, I have a wealth of material built for it and have recently become interested in sharing that material - in the original format for 2nd Edition AD&D and now for 5th Edition!

In addition, I will be using this blog to showcase my non-setting specific writings and ideas! Thank you for joining me here, and I hope you come back often!