Gates & Glamours Recent Posts
- M74 – Ratfolk: A Player Race for Microlite74
- M74 – Minotaur: A Player Race for Microlite74
- M20: Rogue Talents
- Microlite5e: Fighter Talents
- Microlite5e: Warlock
The Gnomish Embassy also features well-developed characters and monsters for these (and many other games). It is one of the most interesting and useful blogs I’ve discovered this year. I don’t know how I’ve missed it before.
I’ve been playing and gamemastering tabletop roleplaying games since 1975 and I have dealt with a lot of character deaths, both my own characters and characters of players in the games I’m running. I’ve even had a few former players die over the years — long after they had left my game. However, I’ve never had a player currently in my game die — until last week that is.
James texted me Monday evening asking if he could drop by on his way home from work Tuesday to drop off a couple of books he had borrowed and grab a couple more. Tuesday afternoon, when he didn’t show up, I called him. His wife answered the phone and told me James had had a mild heart attack in the early hours of the morning and that he was in the hospital, but doing well. I spoke to him briefly and said I’d come by during visiting hours Wednesday and see him.
I arrived at the hospital a little after noon on Wednesday to find James in surgery and Robin very worried. James had a second heart attack that morning and his doctors had decided to do emergency bypass surgery. I stayed with his wife until their son arrived from Akron but then I had to head home to take care of my wife. I got a call from Robin a few hours later telling me that James had come through surgery (a quadruple bypass and the insertion of two stents) and was in guarded condition. His doctors had told her if he could make it through the next 36 hours without any major issues, his prognosis would be excellent. We did not talk long as she had a lot of calls to make to friends and relatives. Sadly, James never regained consciousness and passed away about 7 Thursday morning.
The funeral was Sunday afternoon — about the time my Sunday game would start. Needless to say, there was no game as all of us were at the funeral. To be honest, we are all a little lost. It’s one thing to lose a longtime player from your game because they had to move or because their work hours changed. It’s apparently a very different thing to have a player die. We aren’t sure what we are going to do with the campaign. The campaign will continue, but we are unsure exactly how to continue it — starting with the obvious question of what to do with James’ characters. Should we retire them? Use them as NPCs? Something else? It’s not like we can just ask James what he wants done with them. We have some time to decide how we want to proceed as we have cancelled this week’s game which means will not play again until the 19th (as the 12th is Mother’s Day).
I had only known James a few years. He was my first local gaming contact when we moved to Youngstown from Texas in late 2016. He and his family have become good friends. James as a good person.He was retired from the navy and worked with a local non-profit to bring jobs to Youngstown. His characters were as enthusiastic about their game lives as James was about real life. If there is gaming in heaven, James will be rolling his dice. Perhaps he’ll get his wish and can play in Arduin with Dave Hargrave as GM. All I know for sure is that I will miss him.
The article below points out that getting a computer to play Dungeons & dungeons and pass a human player might be a better test of artificial intelligence than games like Go or Chess. I agree that playing Dungeons & Dragons (or any tabletop RPG) requires showing a much different time of intelligence than playing Chess or Go — games with strict rules and a very limited set of actions one can take on their turn.
Everyone had died – not that you’d know it, from how they were laughing about their poor choices and bad rolls of the dice. As a social anthropologist, I study how people understand artificial intelligence (AI) and our efforts towards attaining it; I’m also a life-long fan of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), the inventive fantasy roleplaying game. During a recent quest, when I was playing an elf ranger, the trainee paladin (or holy knight) acted according to his noble character, and announced our presence at the mouth of a dragon’s lair. The results were disastrous. But while success in D&D means ‘beating the bad guy’, the game is also a creative sandbox, where failure can count as collective triumph so long as you tell a great tale.
What does this have to do with AI? In computer science, games are frequently used as a benchmark for an algorithm’s ‘intelligence’. The late Robert Wilensky, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and a leading figure in AI, offered one reason why this might be. Computer scientists ‘looked around at who the smartest people were, and they were themselves, of course’, he told the authors of Compulsive Technology: Computers as Culture (1985). ‘They were all essentially mathematicians by training, and mathematicians do two things – they prove theorems and play chess. And they said, hey, if it proves a theorem or plays chess, it must be smart.’ No surprise that demonstrations of AI’s ‘smarts’ have focussed on the artificial player’s prowess.
Yet the games that get chosen – like Go, the main battlefield for Google DeepMind’s algorithms in recent years – tend to be tightly bounded, with set objectives and clear paths to victory or defeat. These experiences have none of the open-ended collaboration of D&D. Which got me thinking: do we need a new test for intelligence, where the goal is not simply about success, but storytelling? What would it mean for an AI to ‘pass’ as human in a game of D&D? Instead of the Turing test, perhaps we need an elf ranger test?
Of course, this is just a playful thought experiment, but it does highlight the flaws in certain models of intelligence. First, it reveals how intelligence has to work across a variety of environments. D&D participants can inhabit many characters in many games, and the individual player can ‘switch’ between roles (the fighter, the thief, the healer). Meanwhile, AI researchers know that it’s super difficult to get a well-trained algorithm to apply its insights in even slightly different domains – something that we humans manage surprisingly well.
Second, D&D reminds us that intelligence is embodied. In computer games, the bodily aspect of the experience might range from pressing buttons on a controller in order to move an icon or avatar (a ping-pong paddle; a spaceship; an anthropomorphic, eternally hungry, yellow sphere), to more recent and immersive experiences involving virtual-reality goggles and haptic gloves. Even without these add-ons, games can still produce biological responses associated with stress and fear (if you’ve ever played Alien: Isolation you’ll understand). In the original D&D, the players encounter the game while sitting around a table together, feeling the story and its impact. Recent research in cognitive science suggests that bodily interactions are crucial to how we grasp more abstract mental concepts. But we give minimal attention to the embodiment of artificial agents, and how that might affect the way they learn and process information.
Finally, intelligence is social. AI algorithms typically learn though multiple rounds of competition, in which successful strategies get reinforced with rewards. True, it appears that humans also evolved to learn through repetition, reward and reinforcement. But there’s an important collaborative dimension to human intelligence. In the 1930s, the psychologist Lev Vygotsky identified the interaction of an expert and a novice as an example of what became called ‘scaffolded’ learning, where the teacher demonstrates and then supports the learner in acquiring a new skill. In unbounded games, this cooperation is channelled through narrative. Games of It among small children can evolve from win/lose into attacks by terrible monsters, before shifting again to more complex narratives that explain why the monsters are attacking, who is the hero, and what they can do and why – narratives that aren’t always logical or even internally compatible. An AI that could engage in social storytelling is doubtless on a surer, more multifunctional footing than one that plays chess; and there’s no guarantee that chess is even a step on the road to attaining intelligence of this sort.
In some ways, this failure to look at roleplaying as a technical hurdle for intelligence is strange. D&D was a key cultural touchstone for technologists in the 1980s and the inspiration for many early text-based computer games, as Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon point out in Where Wizards Stay up Late: The Origins of the Internet (1996). Even today, AI researchers who play games in their free time often mention D&D specifically. So instead of beating adversaries in games, we might learn more about intelligence if we tried to teach artificial agents to play together as we do: as paladins and elf rangers.
This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under its Creative Commons license.
I stumbled across an article on a huge complex of man-made tunnels under parts of China that were apparently, like the Great Wall, built to help defend the Northern part of China from invaders. From the article (click here to read the entire article):
Experts have dug out similar war passages in Yongqing, Xiong county, and Bazhou. The ancient war passages are about 65 kilometers from east to west, 25 kilometers from north to south, which extend through 1,600 square kilometers. When the border between the Song Dynasty and the Liao Dynasty went as far west as Rongcheng county and Xushui county, it is thought that many ancient war passages existed in that area. How far the ancient war passages extended eastwards from Yongqing is still unknown.
These passages were apparently built around 1000 AD. Given the size of this tunnel complex and their apparent usage, perhaps megadungeons aren’t as an unrealistic idea as even those of us who enjoy them have assumed they were.
I found my copy of Aaron Allston’s Strike Force in a box a few weeks ago. I hadn’t read it since in came out in 1988 so I set it aside to re-read. Reading it reminded of how much I enjoyed running Champions games back in the early 1980s. I read Aaron’s review of the first edition of Champions in The Space Gamer and had to have a copy. Fortunately, I had a couple of friends who were selling comics at the Eisenhauer Road Flea Market (a few blocks from my house) who went up to a distributor in Austin every Friday to get the weeks comics. I asked them to see if their distributor had a copy of Champions and get one for me if they did. I was sick with something flu-like that Friday, but I dragged myself down to their stall to await their arrival. They came back with 56 page rulebook, sold it to me and sent me home cause they did not want whatever I had.
While I had some issues with the rules, I was soon running Champions games in addition to my ongoing Empire of Arn (a homebrew fantasy game). I bought everything for 1st edition, then for second edition, and for third Edition — although by then Marvel Superheroes (FASERIP) had become by standard superhero game as Champions was going more and more complex. I remember purchasing the fourth edition of Champions — a 350 page hardback book — and thinking I could use it as a weapon. I read the book, decided Champions had become far more detailed and complex than I was interested in, put the book on the shelf and I don’t think I ever played or ran Champions again. By that point in my gaming “career” I was coming to the conclusion that more complex and detailed made most RPGs worse instead of better — even my own Empire of Arn homebrew seemed more complicated than it really needed to be and I started rolling it back toward a B/X D&D complexity level. I kept all my Champions stuff (of course) but other than my third edition rules books, everything was in boxes.
Back to the present, having found my copy of Strike Force, I was reading it when players started arrived for my Sunday game a few weeks ago. One of my players saw it and got very excited as he had never seen a copy. I didn’t know he had any interesting in Champions. It turns out he had purchased the sixth edition rules when they came out 8-9 years ago hoping to either run or play in it but never found a game. To show you how out of touch I with Champions am, I didn’t even know there was a sixth edition. We went on with the Sunday game but there was a lot of Champions discussion on our mailing list that week
The next Sunday, Paul brought his sixth edition books so I (and others) could look at them. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw that there were three books need to play — Hero System Rules Volume I, Hero System Rules Volume II and Champions 6e and they totaled just short of 1100 pages. My comment was that I could see why he never found a game as no one who wasn’t already a Hero system expert would be likely to be willing to even try to play in a game — let alone run a game. I could tell there was a lot of interest in a superhero game (and they really wanted it to be Champions, unfortunately), so I offered to run a monthly session of Champions 3rd edition — under 150 pages of rules. Given that I was the only person with a copy of those rules, that was a non-starter. Side Note: This is one of the reasons I prefer games where players don’t really need a copy ofd the rules to play.
Middle of last week I got an email from Paul. He had checked RPGNow to see if Hero Games was selling the third edition rules. They were not. However, they now sell something called Champions Complete. This supposedly has all the rules (i.e., it’s a complete game, not an addon that needs the 700+ page Hero System 6e rules books) in about 250 pages. Does anyone have any comments on Champions Complete 6e? It’s still over 100 pages longer than Champions 3e, but I might be able to live with it — although I’d really rather run some like FASERIP as it is a far less annoying system than the Hero System (IMHO).
I’ve had an Amazon Echo Dot for over a year now. If fact, we now have three because they are much easier for my wife (with her MS-related hand issues) to use than a normal timer, alarm clock, etc. I’ve never found the games available as skills to be all that much fun to play — at least more than a time or two.
Today, however, I discovered Six Swords — an attempt to have Alexa run a D&D-like game. It’s not based on modern D&D — it’s “based on OSRIC, an open source version of first Edition Dungeons and Dragons ™” according to the Six Swords skill description. I haven’t had a lot of time to play with this, but I can already say it is the most interesting Alexa skill game I’ve tried yet. It’s far from perfect, but it seems like it will be a fun away to spend some time. It also appears to be under active development with new releases with bug fixes and new features every few weeks. Here’s the full description of the Six Swords skill. It’s not going to replace a human DM anytime soon, but it’s the best game I’ve seen for Alexa-powered devices.
Engage in classic fantasy adventure. Build a team of up to six companions to explore exotic cities, high castles, and deep dungeons. But be careful, the further off the path you get the more dangerous it becomes.
The system used is based on OSRIC, an open source version of first Edition Dungeons and Dragons ™.
There are many features available in the skill which you can discover as you play it. Some of the more used commands are:
North, South, East, West: move around the game map.
Enter: enter into a town, castle or dungeon.
inventory: list what your party and your active player is carrying
who: list the companions in your group
activate : make one of your companions the active companion
give to : give an item from the party inventory to the companion
take from : move an item from a companion to the party inventory
When in combat you cannot use the move commands. However you can:
fight: fight a round of combat with the enemy
run away: flee a fight
If you have some type of Amazon Echo or another device with Alexa, you might want to give this a try.
To be honest, there’s rarely anything new released that is of immediate use to me in my RPG campaigns. Today was one of those rare — and very happy — exceptions. Bat in the Attic Games has released (with permission of Judges Guild) a new map of the City State of the Invincible Overlord. This isn’t a just a better scan of the original map from 1976, but a new map created from scratch based on the original map.
To quote the description: “Now forty years later that map has been redrawn in full color. It preserves all the original detail while adding new ones like rocks, foot paths, trees, and shrubbery. This has been checked against the no-name city blueprint that was the first draft of the map. This helped to clarify details obscured by the offset printing process used in the 1970s. This map is not a scanned image of the original but has been redrawn from scratch.”
For a mere $8 you get several versions:
* A vector based PDF with layers at 22″ by 34″
* A bitmap based PDF at 22″ by 34″
* A jpeg of the map with building labels and legends removed suitable for virtual tabletop software.
* A 17″ by 14″ map with the city arranged in its correct location on the original 5 mile hex map published on the back of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy.
* A PDF with overlapping sections of the full map suitable for printing on letter size paper.
* A PDF with a letter sized black and white only map suitable for taking notes on during a campaign.
It’s wonderful — especially that large PDF with layers. It is much cleaner than my original from the 1970s and better in just about all ways than the scanned versions Judges Guild is currently selling in RPGNet. If you are a City State of the Invincible Overland fan, click the link below and get your copy. Thanks and a tip of the hat to Rob Conley and Bat in the Attic games for starting my holiday season off with a bang. I’ll be using this map for my next Sunday game in two days.
New Color City State of the Invincible Overlord Map via RPGNet (Affiliate link — buy it via this link and I get a small percentage of the price).
With the publication of the third edition of The Microlite20 RPG Collection, I’ve been asked what some of my favorite Microlite20-based games are as there are a large number of variants in the collection. I’m always reluctant to answer such questions as my tastes in games don’t always match up well with the tastes of others. However, for what its worth, here are my five favorite Microlite20-based games — and I’m picking any the of games I’ve written.
5th Place: Scions of a Primordial Planet — Some humans (Vikings!) end up on a Barsoom-like version of Mars. Of course, you could ignore the vikings and just use these rules to play on ERB’s Barsoom. Either way, this is a good little game that is fun to play.
4th Place: M20 Hyborian Age — What can I say, I’m a fan of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stoies and this two page (plus one page for the OGL) set of rules provides a fast and simple way to run games set in Hyboria. You have to know the world of Conan to make it work, but if you are a Conan fan like me, this isn’t a problem.
3rd Place: SpyLite — I’ve been a fan of espionage RPGs since TSR’s original Top Secret and Victory Games’ James Bond games. I really wanted to like Spycraft, but found it far too complex and time-consuming for my tastes. SpyLite‘s goal was “to take Greywulf’s excellent Microlite system, beat it senseless, and create a game that will do one-tenth of what Spycraft does, but with only one-half the work.” in just 16 pages of rules, SpyLite manages to do much better than that. A couple of short SpyLite supplements are also included in the collection.
2nd Place: Tumbleweed — I grew up on Westerns, and while I can see their many flaws today (heck, I saw many of them as a kid but ignored them), I still like the fictional Old West as a setting. Tumbleweed provides a nifty set of Microlite20-based rules for Old West campaigns that work and do not include some type of fantasy aspect. Note that there are other two Old West variants in the collection that do include fantasy aspects if you want goblins or magic in your setting.
1st Place: Stargate 1895 — “In November of 1893 the renowned Egyptologist Lord Conway made an amazing discovery in the Qattara Depression. It was in a previously unsurveyed temple complex, buried beneath the floor of what appeared to be a great tomb. In his journal he described the artefact as ‘a giant quoit of an unknown metal, some 8 yards across.” Yes, a stargate is discovered by English explorers in the late Victorian era and eagle-headed men come through when it is opened a couple of years later. The British government turns the problem and the stargate over to Mycroft Holmes. The PC are explorers travelling through the stargate. What’s not to like when you combine Stargate with the Victorian era British Empire?
There are many more good variants, including variants designed around Star Wars, Star Trek, superheroes, zombie invasions, Star Frontiers, etc. Download the free/Pay-What-You-Want copy of the Third Edition of The Microlite20 RPG Collection and you can decide the best ones for yourself.
You can download the current (2017) edition of The Microlite20 RPG Collection in the above listed games and many more on RPGNow (click here to download) where it is a “Pay-What-You-Want” game with a Suggested Price of $0.00. Just enter a “0” in the price box and you are good to go. The current edition is about 2000 pages and is a 63 megabyte download. If you don’t have an RPGNow/DriveThruRPG account, you can get 2017 edition of The Microlite20 RPG Collection via this Mediafire link (but you have to put up with Mediafire’s ads). You can also get the individual games from the download area of the unofficial Microlite20 website if you do not want the entire collection.
I’d love to hear about your favorites in the comments!
I pulled my head up from working on the next edition of The Microlite20 RPG Collection (which looks to be about 2000 pages this time, that about 500 more than the 2012 edition) last night and hit Tenkar’s Tavern to see what was going on in the rest of the OSR world. I discovered that there apparently has been another big blowup on social media (G+ this time) — see “Guest Post by Greg C re: The Current Drama on G Plus in the OSR – A Must Read IMHO” if you are as in the dark as I was.
I’ll be honest, all the drama is one of the reasons I’m not as active posting as I used to be, except about my various gaming projects. I have never had much interest in mixing discussions of real world politics, real world religion, real world current affairs, or the like in my gaming discussions. In fact, I banned such discussions from my gaming tables and game group mailing lists and game group get-togethers many years ago (in the 1980s). When I get together to game or to discuss gaming, that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to discuss divisive issues like politics or religion. That way, I can game with you even if our positions on such issues are 180 degrees apart. People don’t have to agree to work or play together, but sometimes it helps to just not discuss off-topic things that are likely to cause discord and strife. The world will not end because you played in the same game or were quietly discussing gaming over coffee with someone whose political, religious, and/or philosophical opinions are opposed to yours. So I avoid the drama by just refusing to allow off-topic discussions that are most likely to lead to drama when I’m in charge and by refusing to participate in them (by leaving if necessary) if I’m not in charge. Some people say this makes me just another asshole. Perhaps it does, but I haven’t had fights over real world religion, politics or philosophy tear any of my gaming groups apart or turn game sessions sour. That’s a big win in my book.
Now, I’m going to start my real-world-drama free Sunday game. Actually, I expect lots of drama today, but all of it will be the exciting and fun in-game adventure type of drama. I wish the same to all of my readers.
When I go out to RPGNow there’s generally only one or two new games that get my attention, so I was surprised to discover a five such games this morning. Unfortunately, most are well above my PDF price limit of $10. However, I thought I would point them out on my blog as the Christmas season is approaching and my wife has been known to check my blogs for gift ideas.
The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia: This is a megadungeon by the author of Barrowmaze, Greg Gillespie. While I really would like to have this, at $35 for a PDF, I am unlikely to ever buy it as it is over 3 times the maximum I’m willing to pay for a PDF — especially one I am unlikely to ever use more than pieces of. However, it sounds very interesting: “The lost city of Archaia – an ancient ruin sunken into the earth – lies deep in the badlands. In recent years, caravans from Eastdale have come under attack from orcs, goblins, and worse. Some say these blood-thirsty warbands have made lairs in the deep caves and ruins. Sill others say the ancient halls are filled with magnificent treasures left by the Archaians.” Cover art is by Erol Otus and the interior art includes “special surprizes by former TSR artists”. If you are willing to spend more money on PDFs than I am and would like what will (judging by Barrowmaze) probably be an excellent old school megadungeon, you may want to pick this up.
Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea — Second Edition: This caught me by surprise as I didn’t know a second edition was in the works. I found the first edition full of interesting ideas, if a bit rough around the edges. However, I liked it enough that I’m looking forward to eventually getting the second edition. According to the blurb, “AS&SH™ has been expanded to include new classes, news spells, new monsters, new magic items, and more! It also includes a new, full colour map, an introductory town and adventure, as well as hundreds of new illustrations!” All the stuff in the first sentence really makes me want a copy. The second sentence, not so much. I really don’t need hundreds of illustrations, but I imagine I’m not really the target audience for that part.
Mighty Protectors: Mighty Protectors is the third edition of Villains and Vigilantes. And V&V is the only superhero game aside from TSR’s excellent Marvel Superheros (aka FASERIP) that I would be willing to run these days. The first two editions of V&V were great old school superhero games and all I’ve heard about the third edition is good, so I’m looking forward to eventually getting a copy of this game. I might even be willing to pay a bit over my $10 PDF limit for it because it is something I stand a good chance of actually playing. I’m really happy to see V&V back and wish Jeff Dee and Jack Herman the best of luck with it.
Raiders of R’lyeh: I was really surprised to see this game as it is one of the very late kickstarters that a lot of backers apparently never expected to see. At just under $40 in PDF form, it’s way outside my budget. It looks as interesting today as it did when I first heard the idea several years ago: pulpish style mythos adventures in the Edwardian age (1900-1913). Of course, as Pulp Cthuthlu has been out a while (and is an excellent game and one I already own), this game will probably not have the impact it might have had if it had come out when it was originally supposed to.
Fringeworthy d20 edition: I own the first two editions of Richard Tucholka’s Fringeworthy. It was a fantastic interdimensional exploration setting saddled with a overly-complex game system. While D20 system versions of games are often square pegs driven into round holes, in this case the D20 system almost has to be an improvement over the original system — at least for me. If you are unfamiliar with Fingeworthy, this post, “Obsolete Simulations Roundup: Fringeworthy” at Hereticwerks is a good review.
I also noticed that ZWEIHÄNDER Grim & Perilous RPG seems to have a new and much lower price than when it first came out. I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of this game at a very good sale price shortly after it came out. If you like either of the first two editions of the Warhammer RPG, you need this game.
As usual, all the links to RPGNow products in this post are affiliate links. If you purchase a copy through one of these links, I get a small percentage (5% or so, I believe) of the price. Like donations to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund, money earned from these affiliate links helps pay medical expenses.
Around the OSR
About This Site
RetroRoleplaying.com started out as a site devoted to out-of-print, unsupported, and/or out-of-style tabletop roleplaying games (and modern “retro-clones” of those games). While we have over one hundred pages devoted to this, as of 2010 we are probably better known as the publisher of free Microlite20 variant games designed to reproduce the feel and style of “old school” editions of the “worlds most popular tabletop RPG” including the popular (and free) games Microlite74, Microlite78, and Microlite81.
While it may surprise many people, the earlier editions of classic RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons sold many more copies than the newer D20, 4e, and 5e versions. These once very popular games are available in hardcopy via Amazon or eBay (and many are available in PDF)– and are still being played today. Retroclones are much less expensive, however (often free in PDF form).
Many people prefer older tabletable roleplaying games because of their less complex, easier to modify rules and their “feel.” While many 3.x and 4e games feel more like playing a computer game around a table with much emphasis on optimal character building and detailed tactical combat, pre-D20 games feel more being in a movie or novel — the emphasis is what the characters do in the campaign world as opposed to what skills and feats are on their character sheet.