Gates & Glamours Recent Posts
Guess what I just saw on DriveThruRPG/RPGNow? The original Dungeons & Dragons Boxed Set (White Box version) is available in PDF for $9.99! Finally. Now they just need the supplements.
A few days ago i posted some line drawings I had converted from public domain illos for old school fantasy games (see Free Drawings from Photos for Old School Games). I was asked if I could do modern stuff for games like Shadowrun or Top Secret clones. I played with this in my spare time over the last couple of days and have come up with the following. My technique works for modern stuff but I think I will need to play with it more as it doesn’t seem to work as well on modern stuff as I would like. Anyhow, here are a few images I did. The original picture were under a Creative Commons Zero (aka basically public domain) license — as are my sketch conversions of them.
City From the Air
City in the Fog
Scientist working in a Lab
Spacecraft in Orbit
While I am not as happy with these as I was with the pictures I posted a few days ago, I think I will be able to improve modern conversions with practice. I think part of the problem is there is a lot more “bright and shiny” stuff in modern era photos and that gives my current conversions system issues. I know one of the pictures I tried to convert (but did not post) has lots of problems with the shiny plastic in the chairs people were sitting in.
If you look at the art in my Microlite75/78/81 games, you’ve probably noticed that I tend to use public domain line art, either from old books or from the sets of art Sine Nomine Games has released into the public domain. However, this means I end up reusing a lot of art from publication to publication. Given that I can’t afford to pay for art as my games are freebies, this probably is not a surprise to many readers.
If I wanted to use photographs, there are literally hundreds of thousands of photo available on the web with Creative Commons Zero or other very liberal Creative Commons-style licenses that allow modification and commercial use. Unfortunately, photos really do not fit the style I’m aiming for. I have been trying programs that convert photos to sketches on and off for several years. Unfortunately, most either are so “sketchy” that you can’t tell what the drawing is of or so detailed that they look more like half-toned pictures than line art. However, last week I stumbled on a program on my Android tablet that does a decent job of converting photos to drawings — especially if I do a bit of pre-processing of the photo before I use the sketch filter.
Here are fifteen examples of photos converted I have converted to drawings by this process. The original photos had a public domain like license (that only prohibited releasing the unaltered photos as a collection). I’d like to know what people think of “drawings” like these for using in old school gaming projects. If people like them and think they would be useful for people who need free art of old school games, I will do more of them in the future. If I did 10 or 15 a week, within a few months, I could have quite a collection available. These samples are suitable for fantasy games, but I would not always limit myself to fantasy.
I understand that these drawings will not appeal to those who believe that every game (even free ones) need original art done especially for that game. However, many hobbyists designing games cannot afford this. Also, note that the originals of these images are much larger and these larger illos would be the ones I make available for people to use in their publications.
I received a complaint about group initiative in my games and in old school style games in general, I suppose. The complaint when like this: when you roll initiative every round it’s possible the monsters will get two rounds of attacks in a row before the PCs can take a turn. This is unfair because it means the PCs cannot heal before the monsters get to attack again.
I blinked several times as I read this comment as it was the first time I can ever remember hearing something like this. In combat healing in old school games has always been very rare in my experience. TSR-era healing spells require the cleric to touch the person to be healed in most cases. Healing magic that works at a distance is rare. In games I’ve ran and played in, clerics healed between combats unless a party member was obvious about to die or something rather than both give up an attack (perhaps more than one if they have to move to the victim to touch them). Healing potions could be taken in combat, but they were always costly and requiring one not to be in melee combat to grab, open, and take safely.
I can see why some would object to rolling initiative every round as it does mean that sometimes one’s enemies will get two back-to-back sets of attacks. Of course, it also means that sometimes the PCs will get two back-to-back sets of attacks before their opponents can respond. Real life combat is seldom neat and orderly and rolling initiative every round helps prevent it from being too orderly in the game.
I’m curious about in combat healing in other old school D&D (or D&D-like) games, however. I’d like to hear how often clerics or other healers cure people in the middle of combat in your games.
If you are looking for a Christmas present for an OSR gamer or would like to spend some of your Christmas cash on yourself, here are some of my favorite newish OSR products on RPGNow/DriveThruRPG. There have been a large number of very good OSR products released this year, the following as some of my favorites:
White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying: Take Swords & Wizardry White Box and mix it with Star Wars-favored Traveller and you get White Star. I easy to modify very basic science fiction RPG that is compatible with Swords & Wizardry White Box. This game leaves a lot to the GM (including how interstellar travel works) as it does not provide or even assume a specific setting. Some people hate this, but most OSR gamers I know love it as much (or more) than I do. A PDF is $10 well spent, IMHO.
White Lies: White Lies is another Swords & Wizardry White Box based game. This game takes the simple S&W White Box system into the world of espionage and paramilitary action and adventure. If you enjoyed TSR’s old Top Secret game, you’ll probably like White Lies. The system is very different from Top Secret as it is based on 0e, but it is just as much fast-moving fun.
PX1 Basic Psionics Handbook: This is a very nice psionics system for OSR games. While it is written for Labyrinth Lord, it would be easy to adapt to any version of TSR D&D. It includes 2 classes, over 100 psionic powers, a working psionic combat system and more. This is one of the best takes on psionics in D&D I’ve seen and since my Empire of Arn setting has a lot of psionics in it, I’ve seen just about everything psionics and D&D starting with Eldritch Wizardry.
CC1 Creature Compendium: Over 200 monsters for Labyrinth Lord and other OSR games for only $2.00. While I would not use some of the monsters, most of them are interesting and useful. At less than a penny per monster, it’s a bargain.
Dark Albion: The Rose War: Take England during the War of the Roses mixed with sorcery, demons and fae, and frog-like beings living in France. Okay, the latter bugs me a bit (like Ducks do in Glorantha) but doesn’t stop me from enjoying the setting. Most of the book is system neutral, but their are appendixes with gaming info for OSR games including the publisher’s excellent Fantastic Heroes & Witchery.
Castle Gargantua: This is a very usual (and huge) OSR dungeon. Dungeon generator might be a better description. The dungeon itself is a huge building as tall as the Empire State Building with over three million square feet of huge rooms and corridors — huge as in scaled for giants. I don’t think I can do better than the product description — “Its rooms and corridors are so huge that condensation clouds of mist hover within and that it rains inside sometimes. There are miniature tornadoes in the spiral stairs and strong drafts of wind when the corridors are slightly sloped. If a curtain would fall, its weight alone would smash a dozen men to a pulp.” Definitely something different. However, it is more of a generation system than a already laid out and described room-by-room adventure. Although there are a few detailed sample areas.
The Golden Scroll of Justice: This is a supplement for adding wuxia/kung fu action based on Chinese mythology and folklore to old school games. There are two new races, two new classes (and guidelines for using more standard classes in the setting), new magic and monsters, a “kung fu” system and more — all modular so you can add only what you want to you game.
Note: I am an OBS affiliate, so if you purchase something through one of the above RPGNow links, I get a small commission.
I’ve never been happy with the Microlite20-based system for turning undead that I used in Microlite74.
From Microlite74 3.0 Basic: “A Cleric can Turn Undead with a successful Magic Attack. DC is 10 + twice the Hit Dice of the undead. One undead flees per point over the roll needed. This can be used (2 + Level + MIND bonus) times per day.”
It avoids the need for a table, but really doesn’t feel that much like turning undead in 0e. Undead can only be turned. They are never destroyed as they can be in 0e. The number of undead turned depends on how well the player rolls on the turn attempt instead of being a random 2d6 undead.
I remember seeing a system where you rolled 2d6 and added twice the difference between the cleric’s level and the undead’s hit die, but that seems a bit “too much math” to be fun for many people. Looking at the formula, it looked like rolling 1d6 plus the difference between the cleric’s level and the undead’s hit dice (or 1d6 + Cleric Level – Undead Hit Dice) would be more or less equivalent but with less math. I started with a roll of 4 or higher needed to turn 2d6 undead and 8 or higher needed to destroy 2d6 undead. This worked, but roll 4+ was inconsistent with the roll 5+ system I’ve decided to use for things like surprise and perception (the same as the 0e roll 1-2 on a d6 but inverted to make using modifiers easier).
The final system I came up with was roll 1d6 + Cleric Level – Undead Hit Dice. If the result is 5 or higher, 2d6 undead are turned. If the modifier turns out to be +4 or higher (i.e. automatic success), then 2d6 undead are destroyed. While this does not give exactly the same as the table in 0e, it does not require a table and gives results much closer to 0e than the Microlite74 method. We tested in system in my game yesterday and it seemed to work while being easy to use.
Unless I hear a lot of objections to this system, I will probably use it in Microlite75 2.0.
A popular (and relatively new from my old-timer point of view) GM meme goes something “Always say ‘yes’ or ‘yes but'” with a strongly implied never say no. Personally, I think this is some of the worst GMing advice I’ve ever heard as there are times when saying anything but “no” is going to seriously hurt a game session or even a campaign.
For example, players who want to play characters who do not fit the campaign premise or the campaign’s setting need to be firmly told “no” as allowing characters who do not fit the campaign is going to make the campaign less fun for the GM and probably less fun for at least some of the other players. As a GM you should not feel you are somehow obligated to accept every character concept a player comes up with or to change the campaign setting or premise to compromise with a player. If a character does not fit the campaign premise, the setting, the play style of the rest of the group, or uses rules that you as GM do not want to use, don’t feel bad about rejecting the character outright. Do not feel an obligation to compromise with the player over a poorly fitting character concept unless such a compromise does not interfere with the campaign.
Another example, some things are simply impossible to do as they violate the “physics” of the campaign world. While a character running fast enough that time flows backward might be acceptable in a high-powered comic book superhero game, it’s going to be simply not possible in the average fantasy or spy campaign. While this is an extreme example, I found over the years that players often come up with ideas that are just impossible — and they need to be firmly told “no, you can’t do that” when they do. Saying “yes” or even “yes, but” when something is actually impossible leads to all sorts of problems. A more reasonable example would be a character with a lot of skill in diplomacy trying to use a skill roll to talk an NPC enemy ruler into doing something that no one in their right mind would agree to (like turn control of the country’s army over to the enemy PC). It doesn’t matter how skilled one is in diplomacy, no sane person is going to agree to something like that unless he is under the influence of drugs, magic, blackmail, or the like so the character is effectively trying to do something that is simply not possible: no matter what they roll, the attempt should fail. Some cases where people see “broken rules” are really fine as the rule in question is only broken if the GM never says “no, that’s impossible.”
Saying “yes” or “yes but” when you can is a good idea. However, when “when you can” becomes “always”, I’ve found it to be a very bad idea. Think before you say “yes” (or before you say “no” for that matter) — don’t let some “rule of good GMing” (that someone made up) force you to say “yes” when saying “yes” is actually a bad idea. This is even more true in old school games.
I’m often looked upon as some strange type of gamer as I have no interest in even trying most of the new RPGs that are published every year. This is apparently especially annoying to some RPG players as I’m willing to try just about any boardgame at least once. There are, however, major differences between trying a new RPG someone I know has bought and wants to run and trying a new boardgame someone has bought and wants to play.
With the boardgame, all I have to do is show up and play. I don’t have to invest any time or money in trying the game other than the hour or three it takes to show up and play. Rules are generally easy to learn as you play and no one expects me to purchase the game and study rules before I show up. On the other hand, most of the people who want me to try new RPG X expect me to buy a copy of the rules and at least read through them before the first session. That’s too much of an investment of both money and time for me, especially since I already have RPGs I really enjoy and of which I already own and know the rules. Unless I am very sure that I will both like the new game at least as much as the ones I already own and play, investing time and money on a new game has too high of an opportunity cause to be something I want to do.
I believe that one of the reasons I’ve never had any trouble getting people to play the RPGs I run is that from a player’s perspective, playing in one of my campaigns is a lot like playing a boardgame — you can just show up and play. I can teach a new player all the mechanics he really needs to know in 10-15 minutes while I help him create a character and then all he has to do to play in my game is pretend to be that character and tell me what his character is trying to do and I’ll report what happens, asking for any die rolls that might be needed. Players have no need to buy and study rules in advance. Actually, players have no need to ever read (let alone study) the rules unless they just want to as owning and studying the rules for the games I run gives one little or no advantage over players who never learn more about the mechanics than I taught them in their first session. In my opinion, the further an RPG strays from this “keep mechanics and play simple enough to play well without knowing the rules” principle the harder task someone who want to play that RPG is likely to have when it comes to recruiting players. RPGs that expect people to “master” their rules to play seem to strongly appeal to most hard core tabletop RPG players, but they also limit the pool of possible players to those who have the time and interest to study and master those rules — not to mention the spare cash to buy a copy of rules they may only use two or three times.
Personally I’d rather spend the cash on my wife’s medical bills and rather spend the time and effort I would spend on reading a new and very different RPG actually playing RPGs as I only have a few hours a week to devote to RPGs. What this generally means is I’m going to be playing the RPGs I already know and know I enjoy instead of trying new RPGs — but I’m still happy to try a new boardgame. I’m also often willing to try a new RPG that is just a relatively minor mechanical variation on a RPG I already know and enjoy. That’s why I’m generally happy to try a RPG based strongly on the rules of TSR D&D, the rules of Classic Traveller, the rules of TSR’s Marvel Superheroes, the rules of West End’s Star Wars, or the rules of Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying Game. I can just sit down and play a new game based on one of these sets of rules without having to invest any time or money in them — almost like a boardgame.
We had an interesting discussion during my Sunday Game yesterday. One of my players suggested that since using cult rules instead of clerical classes seemed to be working, perhaps I should consider eliminating remaining two spell-casting classes in Gryphons & Gramarye and replace them with a Wizard Guild that worked like a cult but provided spell-casting benefits instead of miracles from deities in exchange for a percentage of all treasure found. This would allow any class willing to pay the price in treasure(and advance in level much more slowly as the Guild’s share of one’s treasure would not count for experience), to cast arcane magic in addition to their normal class abilities.
The idea is interesting, but I immediately thought of a problem. With divine cults, if a character decides not to pay his treasure tithe, his cult benefits (including the ability to ask for miracles) would simply disappear as none of the cult abilities really come from training the character received, but rather power channeled from the cult deity. Since arcane magic comes from training, it wouldn’t make much in-game sense for all a character’s Wizard Guild abilities to just go away because the character stopped paying his Guild tithe of treasure found. After some discussion, we came up with a couple of possible solutions to this issue.
First option: The Wizard’s Guild is just a special form of a divine cult for a greater deity of magic. While special training is required to cast arcane magic, one also needs to be in the good graces of this deity of magic or your spells just fail. Therefore, no treasure tithe means no spell casting just like it means no prayers or miracles in a normal divine cult. The main problem with this is it really limits evil mages as the deity could just take their magic away if they got too “uppity”. This does not fit many worlds. Of course, there could be multiple deities of magic.
Second Option: Characters keep their spell-casting powers if they stop paying their guild treasure tithe (as training doesn’t just disappear), but the guild has no tolerance for “dropouts” who continue to practice magic, sending assassins after them and otherwise making their life hell. If that doesn’t work, they could always declare “open session” on the rogue caster where a reward would be offered for his death (something like a “Wizard’s March” in Ars Magica). Unfortunately, for this to be a real deterrent, GMs would have to be willing to kill off characters who defied the guild. I’m not sure that’s really all that likely in the average game group.
This morning, I thought of a third option. There isn’t a guild that trains arcane casters. Instead arcane casters get their abilities from pacts with demonlords, angelic lords, or similar planar powers. The level of pact determines what powers are granted and those casters who fail to keep their end of the bargain lose their powers and/or have an offended planar power and its minions after them.
In any case, the levels of guild membership (or of pacts) and the abilities they grant would be something like:
Apprentice: Can buy spell scrolls from the Guild at cost. If they fail to cast a spell from a scroll, the writing does not fade, they just lose hit points. (5% Treasure Tithe.)
Journeyman: Can buy spell scrolls from Guild at cost. They can automatically cast spells from scrolls if the level of the spell is equal to their level divided by 2 — no roll needed. If they fail to cast a spell from a scroll, the writing does not fade, they just lose hit points. They can perform ritual magic. They can record spells from scrolls in their grimoire for use in ritual casting and for memorization if they achieve master level. (20% Treasure Tithe.)
Master: Can buy spell scrolls from Guild at cost. They can automatically cast spells from scrolls if the level of the spell is equal to their level divided by 2 — no roll needed. If they fail to cast a spell from a scroll, the writing does not fade, they just lose hit points. They can perform ritual magic. They can record spells from scrolls in their grimoire for use in ritual casting and for memorization. They can cast spells from memory. They can memorization up to their level in spells from their grimoire. (40% Treasure Tithe.)
If I did something like this with Gryphons & Gramarye, the number of classes would drop from five to three: Fighters, Hunters, and Scouts.
I’d like to know what you think of this idea. Is it worth working out in detail and playtesting or is it too different from of standard old school play to be something you’d be interested in? If you have any interesting other ideas for how something like this might work, I’d also love to hear them — but be aware that by posting them you are giving me permission to use them in future free games.
Some people should not play a magic-user — especially in an old school game where every spell you find in a scroll or spell book is a real treasure. A real treasure even if it is not a well known and most desirable spell. The author of 20 of the Most Useless Dungeons & Dragons Spells Ever is apparently one of those people who should stick to either playing a character class that does not need a lot of imagination to play or stay with newer versions of D&D where you generally get the good spells if you want them.
Sure, some of the spells on this list aren’t ones most people would choose to take, but if they are the random spell you find on a scroll in an old school game, you’re going to copy it into you spell book and expand your spell knowledge. All of the spells on the list would be useful in some circumstances and a few would be useful in many circumstances. For example, the author puts Hold Portal and Tenser’s Floating Disc on his list of the 20 most useless spells. Theses are two of the most useful low level spells in old school spell lists. With the exception of those two spells, none of these spells will ever been on a wizard’s list of spells he’d most like to find. However, all the other spells on the list could be useful at times to a player willing and able to think outside of the box. Playing a spellcaster in old school D&D isn’t a walk in the park and if the player can’t think up good uses for the spells you find (instead of the spells you wish you had found), he’s going to have a much harder time of it.
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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.