Archive for February, 2010

D&D and Technology

I just finished watching Erik Mona’s Keynote from the 2009 GamesU on youtube.  He has some interesting things to say about the future of pen and paper gaming, some of which I think are fairly apt, especially when he talks about PDF publishing.  On the other hand, in certain areas regarding technology’s influence on gaming I think he actually goes so far as to directly contradict himself.

Specifically, he mentioned the promise of things like the D&D Microsoft Surface demo and augmented reality games.  If you don’t know what those are, check out the linked videos, which unlike Mona’s keynote are pretty short.  Anyway, he’s quick to see huge gains from things like this and other virtual table-top systems.  On the other hand, he says that one of the big reasons pen and paper game will continue to survive is because video games continue to not be as adaptable and open as pen and paper.

Can he not see the obvious corollary?  I think stuff like the microsoft surface demo are doomed to fail just as badly as stuff like running DMed games of Neverwinter Nights.  The barrier of entry for creation is simply too high.  If I want to introduce a new monster or a new location I must now be a pretty good graphical artist, or spend time searching the internet for someone else’s work to use.  Even if I have that talent, I still must predict everything I’ll need well in advance, because we’re certainly not going to stop the game while the DM creates custom animations for the NPC he just invented.

And NPCs and locations are just the simple stuff.  With pen and paper, you can truly do anything.  As DM at a pen and paper game I can describe a harrying chase across windswept cliffs as easily I can a massive war with hundreds on a side or a tense conversation in a formal ballroom where each sentence spoken is rich with subtext.  How do we do these things in a computer rendered system that’s optimized for grid based combat between a handful of opponents?  Why should I shackle my games, once only limited by the players’ collective imaginations, with the slim selection of options predicted by some programmer or artist?

I’m not saying technology has no role to play in the future of roleplaying games.  In fact, I think the real gain will be when virtual communications become as good as live interaction.  If me and a group of friends could each sit at home and put on a pair of glasses and a set of head phones and then look around and it really looks like we’re all sitting at the same table, well that will certainly blow the door wide open for RPGs.  But until there’s a holodeck, I don’t really see a need for anything interrupting the connection between the words I speak and the imaginings of my players.

One Page Dungeon Contest

It’s probably foolish, but I’ve decided to enter this year’s one page dungeon contest.  My entry I actually wrote some time ago, inspired by the winner of last year’s contest, Secrets of the Old City by Waysoftheearth.  What can I say, I’m a sucker for cities built on top of the ruins of more ancient cities and sewer systems.  I hope my entry doesn’t ape it’s predecessor too closely, but I suppose that is for the judges to decide.  If anything, I would think it would be easy to tie the two together for further exploration of the underground, which can only be a good thing right?

Anyway, I’m posting it here for all to see so I can send the link on to the contest.  I’ve actually run this once before for some folks, so some of my players might recognise it (though back then the kobolds were goblins).  The map is my own artwork, and while nothing really laud-worthy, I think it’s one of my better renderings.

Feedback welcome.  I think they let me modify it up until the deadline (March 1st), so if you see any typos or anything let me know!

I give you: Four Corners

Melchior the Mad

Listen up lads, and I’ll tell you the tale of Melchior the Mad.  Mad they called him, for what sane man would enter the Palace of the Vampire Queen, much less offer to lead the way?  Melchior and his elven comrade Ecthelion gathered up elven other brave souls, a collection of talented fighting men, pious clerics, and mysterious magic-users to pumb the depths of the palace.  They had upon them a map of the first level created by an earlier group, with the note that much of the rooms south of the first major east-west hall had already been cleared of the foul denizens there-in.

And so they found it, with signs of battle everywhere they turned.  The leaders decided it were best they explore a room or two on the first level before making their way to the location of the stairs up.  The first room they entered however, contained not foul creatures, but a very large gathering of simple house cats.  While some of the thirteen attempted to cajole or even herd some of the cats, and were viciously scratched for their troubles, Ecthelion inspected the walls and discovered with his keen elven eyes a secret passage on the north wall.

The party progressed through, and there met a strange old hag with yet more cats standing guard over two hefty chests.  Fearing she might be a foul sorceress, one of the magic weavers delivered her unto enchanted slumber.  The rest fell upon the chests, and the dwarf upon smashing open the first was sprayed in the face with cat urine which cost him the site from his left eye.  And was the boon?  Why, not but many tins of sardines, food for the company of felines that resided there-in.

Ecthelion cleverly removed a fine chain from the neck of the old hag to discover it held a silver key.  Using this on the second chest he found many bags of solid food for the cats, but searching more closely found one that contained several silver coins.  The group pocketed the coin and made their way out, fearful that the hag should awaken and cast a vile hex upon them.

Next they entered a large dining room which contained the dessicated corpses of the Vampire Queen’s former victims.  Melchior bravely lifted one up and emptied the man’s pockets, finding a few copper coins.  As they left, however, those of the company who had been relegated to the rear ranks decided to hold back and search further.  They found a secret panel on one wall, which they opened, only to reveal a cupboard holding three deadly poisonous vipers!  The rear guard struggled to make their way from the foul beasts, but three of the seven were slain by poison spit of the vipers.

The rest of the party continued towards the stairs,discovering on the way a secret lair of a foul spider.  Melchior bravely confronted the beast, and dealt it many might blows [Paul’s note: two natural 20’s in a row!], though it was the dwarf that dealt it the final death blow.  After clearing the webs they found a small chamber holding many empty casks.  Searching behind them, they found hidden a parchment which contained an unfinished map of the second level.  And happily, there they met three other fellows who came to search the old manse, and were happy to join the company bringing the total back up to thirteen.

Climbing the stairs, they found their way barred by a troupe of skeletons, but one of the clerics held forth his holy symbol and all but one fled before them.  Melchior thrust his might spear at the undead creatures, but it only rattled between the ribs of the skeleton.  Ecthelion brought forth a mace to beat upon the skull of the once-man, and Melchior then bravely rushed the beast with his shield, smashing it to bits.

The brave adventurers stopped to investigate a single room on their way to the stairs, and beheld within a horrible site – a huge troll!  The was joined and soon all surrounded the horrible beast.  In the front drawing its attacks were Melchior, Ecthelion, and the dwarf.  Sadly, the mighty beast mortally gouged Ecthelion with his claw, and wounded the dwarf so badly he was forced to retreat.  For a brief moment Melchior was alone facing the beast, though many attacks to the flank and rear were had, as well as missile fire and several thrown flasks of oil.  It was not long before another brave warrior stood beside Melchior, and amazingly Melchior took not a wound from the horrible creature.  Soon enough it was lit ablaze and the final blows were landed, killing the vile beast.  Melchior honored his bravely fallen friend Ecthelion in the only way he knew, by stripping him of all valuables.

The party continued on to the next set of stairs and up to the third level, where-upon they found Ecthelion’s cousin tumbling down the stairs.  They had heard rumor the vile Vampire Queen held the Princess Oprah at the top floor, so up they went.  Having no notion of where things lie on the third floor, however, the brave adventurers had to grope about to find the next set of stairs.  They pressed their ears to one door and heard a foul slurping and gurgling sound within.  Ecthelion’s cousin wisely decreed that the door should not be opened, and so the party passed by.

But woe, the unruly rearward ranks, despite their losses from the poisonous snakes, were once again tempted to find glory for themselves!  The wizard Fladnag threw open the door as they passed, and was promptly thrown against the opposite wall as a huge gelatinous mass burst forth, slaying the magic user and the poor soul standing adjacent to him.  The party found themselves separated by the ever expanding mass of rubbery material, and though they tested it with both arrow and fire, nothing seemed to stop its slow progression.  The three remaining rear guard members had no choice but to proceed down an adjacent corridor, while the rest pressed forwards, both sides hoping to rejoin at a later point.

And sadly, that is where my tale must end.  Nothing more was heard of the brave adventurers.  How this much of the tale reaches our ears, none can say.

Here’s my character sheet from the adventure, signed by Frank Mentzer!

Old School Play

I was talking to a guy in the office today about Old School gaming, and sent him a link to on my favorite publications on the topic, Matt Finch’s Quick Primer for Old School Gaming.  I couldn’t help but re-read the thing after sending the link, and think about my own campaign and whether we were holding to the ideas in that document.  Then I got to the part about the “Way of the Ming Vase” and remembered our recent fight with the ogre, and I knew.  Aw yeah, I knew…

There’s the party, on the side of a hill as the sun is setting, facing off against a gnoll chieftain, two gnollish warriors, and their pet ogre.  The chieftain ordered his warriors and the ogre to attack, staying back himself to bark orders (pun intended).  It wasn’t going well for the players.  The mage successfully cast sleep on the cheiftain, but they were getting pummelled by the ogre and two other gnolls.  One hireling was on the ground, possibly dead.  One of the players had his shield arm lopped off at the shoulder.  Almost everyone was wounded, and so far they had piled all their attacks on only one gnoll warrior, who while wounded, was still up.  The other gnoll and the ogre were fine.

Then in one round the players turned the table.  The mage, not engaged in combat, snuck around to where the chieftain lie sleeping, cut off his head, and waved it about in the air yelling threats at the other gnolls.  The cleric retrieved a shiny golden ring from his bag, waved it before the ogre to get his attention, and tossed it down the hill side.  And the second hireling finally got in the lucky hit that took out one of the gnolls.

I knew the ogre was both (a) dumb and (b) greedy, so of course he went running after the shiny bauble.  The remaining gnoll noticed in rapid succession the ogre fleeing combat, his leader’s head being held aloft by the enemy, and his comrade adjacent dropping dead to the ground.  Needless to say, he ran as fast as his legs could carry him.

I was really concerned there for a while that it was about to be a TPK.  The party really played up to their opponents though, and thinking outside the box managed to save themselves.  The hireling who was down — they actually saved him.  Unfortunately I can’t say the same for the elf’s shield arm.  However, that character is quickly becoming one of the most bad-ass characters I’ve ever GMed, and the missing arm has become a real badge of honor.

Frank’s Games

OK, get ready, this might be a long one.  I want to talk about the games I got to play at TotalCon, and specifically to compare them to one another.  Both games were run by Frank Mentzer, and I have to say that in both cases he did an admiral job.  He’s a very good GM, quick on his feet, and very entertaining.  When I bring up any criticisms, I hope they will be taken in the correct light and with the understanding that by and large I feel he is an excellent GM.

Frank mentioned more than once that the convention organizers always cap his games at 8 people, which he likes as it gives him the opportunity to “be the good guy” and allow several more to join in on the spot.  Both games sat well more than 8 people, and Frank was always extremely gracious letting in those of us who held only generic tickets.  The interesting thing about this is that like most convention games, it’s a huge gamble who ends up at the table.  You’re just as likely to get a really great roleplayer whose thoroughly enjoyable to play with as you are to get someone that lacks basic social skills.  With these numbers of players, we invariably had both at the table.

The first game I played in was a first edition AD&D game for high level characters.  Frank had 10 characters ready and all were taken.  I personally played a level 15/15 dwarven fighter cleric, and was probably one of the lower leveled characters in the game.  There were many other multi-classed characters, but I think the single classed magic-user and cleric were both 18th level.  I don’t believe I’ve ever played with such high level characters in any edition of the game.

There were two major flaws in this game.  The first was that I managed to get stuck at the far end of added on table, meaning it was hard to hear Frank and hard for him to hear us.  While I got on well with one of my immediate neighbors, the other two were not the types of guys I would normally choose to roleplay with.  I dubbed them, Mr. Jokey and Mr. Distracted.  Mr. Jokey was the sort to beat an idea to death, with the expectation that everyone would laugh and smile with him.  When one player made a very clever and elaborate story up about being jewelry merchants, and wouldn’t the mayor’s secretary like a nice pair of earrings, and is she sure the mayor might not see us today instead of tomorrow, Mr. Jokey chimed in with “yeah, yeah, I slip her a platinum piece,” and grinned across the table as if we were all supposed to applaud him on his clever addition to the game.  Mr. Distracted was a fine roleplayer when he was engaged in the game.  However this came between taking phone calls, running off to the bathroom or to buy snacks, and visits right to the table from his children.  He was always very apologetic about it, so much so that Frank yelled at him for being too polite and to knock it off, but seriously, either play the game or don’t.

OK, sorry, seemed to have gone off on a larger rant about my fellow players than I meant to.  The second major flaw — the main thrust of the game was investigative.  Now, this may have been our own faults, we used a lot of divination magic to skip past the dungeon and get straight to dealing with the main villain.  However, the fact is that you simply can’t expect to engage 10 people around the table with investigatory roleplay.  Worse still, the character meant to be the group’s leader was played by a rather un-assertive guy.  Which meant that most of us floundered for what to do, debated options far to long, and ultimately left the progression of the game up to the two players willing to assert themselves and pursue their own ideas without help from the rest of the party.  While I grant that watching the these two guys’ antics at the end was highly entertaining, especially as they came cross purpose as one tried to assassinate a major NPC and the other rushed to save him, between the start and that climax I spent a lot of time wondering what the heck I was supposed to do and how much time of the game was left anyway.

I went out to dinner with Jenn disheartened.  While I won’t say the game was entirely unenjoyable, it certainly had its moments, I wasn’t ready to sit down to another four hours of the same.  Frank’s evening game, Palace of the Vampire Queen using OD&D rules, was the one I had come to the convention really wanting to play, but now at dinner I was seriously considering giving the whole thing a miss and just relaxing in the hotel jacuzzi.  Finally, refreshed after dinner, I decided that it felt too much like a missed opportunity to do so.  I was hear to game, so I might as well take advantage of every opportunity to do so.  Thank goodness I did that.

The second game was a fairly straight-forward dungeon crawl.  We had 13 players, the most players I think I’ve ever sat down with to a game.  We were all 2nd level.  I made sure to get a seat right next to Frank, and I asked to play a fighting man intent on being in the front rank closes to the action.  I actually ended up sitting next to the same guy I sat next to last game that I had gotten along with before, who did likewise, making the two of us the front rank of the party.  A couple other familiar faces were there, including Mr. Jokey, but was far enough from them to ignore them.

It was a blast.  I kept copious notes of our escapades, so I might yet type up an actual play report of the session and thus won’t go into too much detail here.  We had several player deaths, but amazingly I emerged from the game only down three hit points, despite being up front the entire time.  While some of the folks stuck way in the back of the line may not have been having quite as good a time as those of us up front, at least once we had a fight where almost the whole party was swarmed around a troll (which we actually killed!) and often the entire table was laughing and shouting at each other.

I was ready to blame my dissatisfaction of the first game on the number of players, but here we were playing with an even larger group and I was having a blast.  Maybe to some degree it was just because I was being the assertive guy for this game like those other guys had done in the first game.  But I also think it has something to do with the material, notably an exploration vs. an investigation.  They’re pretty similar concepts actually, except I think one key difference.  In the first game, Frank new the major points of the plot ahead of time, while in the second game there was no plot except that which we invented.  It’s like in the first case the story was written before the play, while in the second the story was written through play.

Granted, the story in the first case was far more involved.  And in the second game we didn’t even resolve anything.  As far as we know, our characters are still up there on the third level searching for the stairs up.  But in that game I never once looked at my watch, I cared far more about my character, and I’m far more eager to play a sequel.

I don’t know, maybe I’ve been drinking the old school kool-aid too much, and my analysis is skewed by my preconceived ideas.  Either way I’m really glad I decided to go back and play the second game.  That was truly fun.  Not that I could imagine he’d ever read this, but just in case, thanks Frank!

Con-fusion

I just got back from TotalCon, and I have to say I had a pretty good time.  Way back at the start of the winter I knew I wanted to check out some local conventions, and I landed on TotalCon as the one I would really go to in earnest.  While I ended up casually stopping by at Open Gaming Con and TempleCon, without really devoting myself to being there for at least a full day and sitting down to a couple of games I can’t say I really attended either convention.

TotalCon is four days long, and claims to be the biggest gaming convention in New England.  Not knowing what to expect, I didn’t want to devote myself to going to the entire thing.  It’s only an hour away, so I figured I could just go for a day and if it was really awesome there’s always next year.  I sent email around Helga’s but nobody seemed interested in going, not even Jenn.  Thus up until the last minute I was really only intending to go down for the afternoon or evening on Saturday.  I figured I would at least get into one game, and otherwise just scope out the convention as I had the others.

But at the last minute I noticed they still had hotel rooms, and as Jenn didn’t have much planned other than reading and watching TV while I was gone, we decided to go down for the whole day Saturday, stay at the hotel Saturday night, and come back Sunday morning.  At least Jenn could take a dip in the indoor pool as well as watch TV and read while I was gone.  The hotel room was pretty cheap, and despite the fact that we arrived way too early, they let us check in right away.  For throwing things together last minute, it really went rather swimmingly.

And I got to play two games yesterday, both GMed by none other than Frank Mentzer.  The first was a high level AD&D 1e game (15th-18th level), and the second was an OD&D game, actually the first D&D module ever printed: Palace of the Vampire Queen.  I will post more details about each game later, for now I just want to talk about the convention in general.

It’s held in the Mansfield Holiday Inn, which actually is a pretty lovely space.  The rooms are arranged in a large circle which surround an indoor area that tries very hard to look like a charming piazza of sorts.  The front half includes a frontage to their restaurant, an eating area, and space for a good number of tables, which the con naturally uses for gaming.  The back half, separated by a wall, is where the pool is.  Off this central area are several more good sized meeting rooms and one very large ball room.  TotalCon uses the meeting rooms mostly for more gaming space, though one is devoted to being the dealers room, and the large ballroom is used for miniatures gaming.

All in all I’d say the effect is very good and makes a great place to game.  It feels much more cohesive than the space TempleCon has, and I really appreciated the dealers all being in one easy to browse area.  I never felt like I was intruding on anyone.  The only downside was the ridiculously loud HVAC unit in our room, which insisted on turning itself on for about 30 seconds every 15 minutes throughout the night, despite the fact that we had turned it off.  I suppose it was trying to maintain a minimally comfortable temperature, but it had a knack for switching on just as I was about to fall asleep.  So much like GenCon, TotalCon was an exercise in sleep deprivation.  I must remember to invest in some good ear plugs soon.

Anyway, let me close out this rambling by saying I had a very good time, and I certainly hope to attend more of the convention next year.  But now I’m really looking forward to HelgaCon in April, and GenCon in August.

Little Men

I love miniatures.  I love painting them.  I love creating large and detailed scenery in which to place them.  In fact, I’m having some friends over today for a miniature painting gathering today.  So it might come as a surprise to some that I barely use them in my games.

In fact, I have a coworker who is into 4th edition, and he simply couldn’t comprehend the idea of playing without minis.  So much so that when I was running my lunch time game he stopped by to watch for a little while just to see how on earth it could be done.  Unfortunately he got bored after ten or fifteen minutes of no combat at all and left.  I don’t blame him, I always thought that however much fun any RPG session may be to play, it’s always dull to watch.  I think the fact that combat takes such little time that you can have long periods of non-combat in your games is yet another testament to what’s so great about old school play, but that’s a topic for another day.

So how do I do it?  OK, here’s what I do use miniatures for.  I have a mini on the table for each player and that’s it (no monster minis).  We use them to display marching order when going through dungeons.  When in combat, I ask them to arrange the minis into front rank and rear rank.  That sort of implies a much more coordinated combat than I really imagine is happening.  Basically, I assume combat is a chaotic affair with the combatants constantly moving and circling each other in a confused mass.  How could it be otherwise with a full 10 seconds to every round?

The front rank represents those players that are in the thick of things, face to face with one or more enemies in melee combat.  The back rank are those that are intentionally trying to stand back and out of harms way, perhaps to cast the odd spell or attempt to pick out targets with a ranged weapon (a dangerous option, as I do have rules for accidentally hitting a friend who is in melee).  Combatants can switch targets at their whim within the melee from one round to the next, and it is only moving from front rank to back (or all out fleeing) that has potential for danger.  Though for the most part I allow folks to flee combat without penalty other than possibly being chased down or shot at with ranged weapons.

That’s basically it.  I generally don’t worry about things like range, assuming all ranges are medium.  I think of the combatants in clusters for who gets affected by area of effect spells.  The front rank is one cluster, the back another.  Sometimes the monsters will also have a back rank for a third cluster.  In some rare situations the melees might break apart into two or more separate groups, in which case I’ll just ask that the front rank of players get split visually into one or more groups to keep it straight.

OK, sometimes I do miss the big reveal of pulling out the perfect mini for the bad guys the players are about to face off against.  Though that’s countered by never feeling bad having to substitute skeletons for kobolds or some other monster I have no minis for.  But it also just makes things go that much faster, which I think is an excellent thing.  We can have many combats in a single night’s game, and still have ample time for exploration, NPC interaction, or other activities.  Don’t get me wrong, combat is exciting and I like to have plenty of it in each game, but I think the excitement dwindles when it takes more than fifteen minutes to resolve.

Awesome Session

We’ve had four or five sessions of my new Labyrinth Lord campaign, and I think it’s really starting to get good.  Last night, for the first time as GM, I dismembered a player.  OK, he only lost his arm, but I’m amazed after years of playing Warhammer that it took switching to Labyrinth Lord to finally take a character’s arm off.  Score.

But I’m not just thinking about my new-found sadistic GMing style.  Actually, it was just bad luck on his part to get severed arm result on the critical chart.  It happens.  Mostly, it’s all the stuff going on in the game, and how excited everyone seems to be about it.  The players are leaving my house jazzed, and I personally can’t wait until the next session.

For the most part, we have yet to really explore outside the bounds of the original module I based this campaign on.  Though I am already prepared for that to happen, it really just depends on what plot elements the players pick up on.  That’s one big difference between this and the last sandbox I ran (the lunch-time game).  In that game the players thought very linearly, picking up on the first plot hook dropped and following it with blinders on.  In this game, the players have a pretty good sense of a lot of the things around them, and often debate which things to look into next.  They’ve made some pretty intelligent decisions, and in general tend to plan their attack well.  Not that it always goes exactly as they planned, but generally they tend to think things through.

I think it’s this openness, and the fact that I try to force myself not to think through eventualities until the players are directly looking into something, that really is making this fun for me.  I do little planning between sessions, and I try to make sure I only have ideas and not plans for the campaign.  As such, when I sit down the table, I’m really excited to see what’s going to happen, because I really have no clue what it will be.  I feel like a player!

The only thing I still have yet to see that I’d really enjoy is having the players invent their own leads.  For example, I made sure to let them know that although the spell list clearly doesn’t have anything in it that restores lost limbs, if they made it a priority to find some magical means of doing so, it wouldn’t be impossible.  I was kind of excited actually by the idea that they might decide to start talking to sages or the like to try and dig up the location of a person or artifact that might do the job.  So far all the adventures the group has gone on have seeded from something I put (or Len Lakofka put) into the world from the beginning.  In fact, I was hesitant to even mention the above example of the replacement arm for fear my players might read this and be influenced in their decision on whether or not to pursue that.  I really don’t want to steer the campaign in any way.  I want to see the players go off an a quest that’s entirely their own devising.  I’m sure it won’t be long before they do.

Man, is it Wednesday yet?  I want to play again!

TempleCon

I decided on the spur of the moment to head down to TempleCon today.  I sort of remembered that it was being held this month, but mostly ignored it, until a friend emailed me about it on Friday.  There weren’t any events I was really interested in, and I wasn’t about to try running my own stuff, but I was curious to see it just to have the comparison point with other local cons.  So Jenn and I hopped in the car and went down for an hour or so to just roam around and check it out.

The convention is in a large hotel down in Warwick RI, and it really sprawls about various rooms of the hotel.  It took some time to get our bearings.  The first room we entered was really more of a hall, but contained some tables of scenery on which a couple minis games were being held, and the War Store‘s booth.  The War Store seemed to be packing mostly War Machine stuff, but had a few bits of generic scenery that were interesting.  Not interesting enough to part me with any of my money though.

We found another large miniatures room next.  Miniatures games seem to be the major thrust of this convention.  At least, that’s where we saw the most people actively playing, and it looked like the most space was devoted to it.

Next we discovered the Rotunda, a very nice high ceilinged room which held several vendors.  Nothing really grabbing there again, except a very eager author who seemed rather desperate to make a sale.  I tried to be polite, but eventually just had to turn my back on the guy and walk out.

The board game room was a good size.  We bumped into an old friend there who was helping demo some stuff.  Looked like there was a mix of pre-registered events and a large library for more casual play, though the room looked pretty empty while we were there.  Perhaps it was because it was late Sunday morning though.

There was an equally sized video game room, though even less people in this room.  Maybe a quarter of the room seemed to actually hold machines being used by gamers, but the rest of the room was empty.  No machines, no gamers, just empty tables.  At this point though, I was starting to wonder where the heck the RPG players were hiding.  We wandered about some more, and eventually finally discovered the Atrium, which seemed to hold about half the RPGs according to the schedule.

The atrium was a big sunny room with a lot of empty tables.  Only one seemed to have an active game running.  It was like the ghost town of conventions.  Where were the gamers?  Were we too late?  Was our timing simply bad (it was almost noon by now, which should be about when one batch of games ended and the next started).  We went back to peer at the map, and Jenn pointed out that there was an area called the “Clockwork Bazaar” which was supposed to hold more vendors, plus a room for minis and another for RPGs.

And bizarre it was.  It appeared to be a long corridor with two good sized meeting rooms on one side, and normal hotel rooms on the other, though perhaps those rooms were a bit larger than normal hotel rooms.  Each room on the left held a single vendor.  Some of them did a reasonable job making their room appear more like a vendor area that I was supposed to be in.  Others still had unmade beds from which they had clearly just dragged themselves, and I constantly felt like I was intruding on someone as I roamed around.

We poked our heads into the two meeting rooms.  One was clearly full of 40k players.  The other had about three tables (half the room’s allotment) of RPGs running.  I was glad to have finally found some roleplayers at the convention, but was clearly feeling like roleplaying was not the major draw here.

So, there you have it, TempleCon.  I was there mostly as a point of reference to compare to other conventions and to better decide what cons I’d like to attend next year.  At this point, I’d say it’s unlikely I’d attend TempleCon next year.  I’ll hold my judgment though at least until I’ve seen TotalCon in two weeks and can compare the two.

And of course now I’m really starting to anticipate GenCon.  I think it may have been the scent memories triggered by the unique odor of a gaming convention, one part hotel sterile and one part gamer funk.

Reducing the Deadliness of D&D

Old School D&D is extremely deadly, especially at first level.  There have been a lot of systems out there to address this.  The most common I think is a house rule that became standard in later editions that 0 hp marked unconsciousness and not death, and a player reduced to below 0 started bleeding 1 hp per round until he died at -10.  My problem with this system is that players still didn’t tend to see it coming.  More often then not running around with less than 10 hp is perhaps frightening, but OK, and then suddenly on the next hit the player is lying on the ground and there’s nothing he can do about it.

I much more enjoyed Warhammer’s system where 0 hp merely meant that you were now exposed to critical hits, which could do much more permanent damage such as limb loss or even death.  I liked that it gave the player a distinct moment in the game where he could realize he was in serious trouble and maybe do something about it (like run away).  However, I think this system was still a bit flawed, as the critical effects were still completely random, and the severity range was extreme, from a simple armor point loss or stunning all the way to instant death.  It was very possible to see a character take critical hit after critical hit and keep on fighting.

So here’s what I’m using now in my current Labyrinth Lord game.  The charts are borrowed from Denis Tetreault, but the rules are my own.  The rules are pretty simple actually:

When a player reaches 0 hp, the DM rolls on the critical hit chart to determine what extra effect the hit causes.  If he survives the critical hit, continues to fight, and then takes another hit, he is dead.

The critical hit chart is really two charts, one for location and one for severity.  They can still cause death, so it’s not a complete out, but in our game so far the injuries have tended to be fairly light.  The players have been lucky I guess.  Here are the charts:

Location

Roll (d100) Location
01-02 Foot
03-07 Shin
08-10 Knee
11-20 Thigh
21-22 Groin (a)
23-33 Gut (b)
34-40 Hip
41-50 Shoulder
51-70 Chest (c)
71-73 Hand
74-78 Lower Arm
79-81 Elbow
82-91 Upper Arm
92-93 Neck (d)
94-96 Face (e)
97-00 Head (f)

Severity Special Notes
a b c d e f

1-3

Broken – will heal in d4+2 weeks S B P D I U

4-5

Maimed – can only be completely healed magically I O L X D D

6

Severed I D D X X X

Special notes:
S – Stunned
I – Incapacitated, effectively unconscious
U – Unconscious
P – Pain from broken ribs, -2 to hit and damage
L – Punctured Lung, severe pain, -4 to hit and damage, extreme difficulty breathing
B – Massive Bleeding, Death in d6 turns without magical aid
O – Ruptured Organs, internal bleeding, Death in d3 turns
D – Death in d6 rounds
X – Instant Death