Remember the Gazetteers?

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One of the thing about the Northern Reaches is that it had a DM book and a Players Book. I don't have all of them, but if memory serves, this was the only one that had more than one country detailed. I thought about this earlier tonight when I was working on a project.

When I was in high school playing my version of D&D, the Gazetteers felt like so much boring reading with no real value. I loved reading them and thinking about the stories that could take place in these various places. The issue was that I didn't feel like I could do the setting justice if I put it into the games I ran.

In my defense, I was 16. Still, I'm the same person that played Spelljammer without any 2e books and a mishmash of various editions + Dragon magazines. Why on earth did I get the sudden concern over playing "by the book"?

What I enjoy about rulesets and sub-systems is that they are tools to help me play my game. The settings books at that time felt like places to tell a story according to specific constraints. Some of the constraints did not fit into my game, so I tossed out most of it.

These days, I see similar books that seem to fit between a setting and a module. Anomalous Subsurface Environment feels like one of them. You're in the future, a city is laid out, there are lots of new creatures and all kinds of new devices. I feel like I could put Denethix in my game. More than that, I could just take out the city and just do the module, even with the lasers and robots.

The Grognardia review says it best:

... we get lots of random tables and adventure hooks rather than pages of historical and cultural information that serve no immediate purpose.

So while I am toiling away on a creature book, I begin to see connections between the various monsters. A series of images of giants make me wonder what kind of place would exist to deal with these massive creatures? My brain delighted in thinking about the backstory, history, and all sorts of neat story ideas featuring these giants. Maybe they are descendants of the Greek Titans. Maybe they are servants of evil gods sent to lay waste to the earth. Maybe they found a cache of growth potions.

After about an hour, I realized that as much as I wanted to write a Gazetteer type of book to explain these giants (and lots of other creatures), that I was about to create something that the 16 year old me would never use. Read? Oh my, yes, but not for a game. It's true that I can work my way back to random tables and adventure hooks, but I'm in the place now where I want to convey a sense of different without the story getting in the way. In other words, the setting where these giants exist is different, but not so much of a special snowflake setting that they cannot exist somewhere else.

I read a review of Slumbering Ursine Dunes and found a description of something different, but useful. One line from the review stuck out to me:

No verbiage is wasted on things that will never interface with play.

Finally, someone has put to words what I was thinking almost thirty years ago. Slumbering Ursine Dunes has a new class, tax-collectors, magic devices, and a solution to uninteresting elves. There are places to visit that aren't detailed into a series of keyed rooms or hexes.

If I were to write a mini-setting, a gazetteer, or interesting hex-crawl, it would look a lot more like S.U.D or A.S.E and less like some of my favorite reading material as a kid. I'd make sure to present the bones of new classes, new monsters, and unique locales to be sure. More important, though, would be a list of adventure hooks as well as a way to generate your own. After all, it is not about my vision for a perfect fantasy setting, it's about evoking possibilities and providing tools to fleshing out those possibilities.

Where does this leave me several hours later into working on this project? Two new classes, a handful of new spells, unique creatures, and just enough info to let you know that this isn't just another faux European place. The only jargon I've got so far are the names of the gods, a city name, and a word for a massive giant-killing crossbow. The names of the Gods matter to Clerics because you get three or four extra spells available to you depending on the god you serve. The giant-killing crossbows matter because giant attacks happen more than would normally happen rolling against the encounter table. The names feel a bit Phoenician/Roman/Punic, but creating a character is still rolling 3d6 in order, buying some gear, and walking out of town to seek your fortune. If you want, you can generate a name that sounds Phoenician/Greek/Roman, etc, but if you want Bob the Bold, go for it!

Just don't call the tricherabishtra a big freakin' crossbow. Maybe a trichee, if you're a local. ūüôā

Looking at an OSR Mecha Game

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It's been said over and over. Where are the mecha clones?

Personally, I enjoyed playing Battletech and Centurion quite a bit growing up. I think Scott and I ran so many Centurion games, I thought about custom hovertanks in my sleep.

Not a hovertank, a battle platform!

I also had a perchant for making a lot of units for Battletech. I was terrible at tracking heat, so I usually lost by blowing up my own mech. Maybe that's why I liked Centurion so much more.

I really wanted these to work!

So when it comes to an OSR Mecha game, what do we need? After all, there is the Battleforce Quickstart Rules and the Classic BattleTech Quickstart rules, so why another game?

For me, that's easy to answer: It's fun to make. More than that, I have a mech hidden in every fantasy world I've ever designed. Spelljammer? Those spacehulks were massive dropships. The haunted mountain with ghostly voices that drive men mad? That's the computer system still looking for the TOG crew that died thousands of years earlier. (Yes, it has one more shot before it loses all its ammo.) The Shrine of the Iron Golem? An abandoned, yet intact Cyclops . (This one has a Gauss Rifle instead of an Autocannon.)

With a worlds-spanning concept like Spelljammer, it was easy to add yet another Crystalline Sphere that existed way beyond any known path through the phlogiston. Very few things made it from those distant spheres, but the handful of items that do lead to some very interesting magic items. I don't mean artifact-type weapons, but other things more mundane. I'm talking things like UHF communicators, AIs, non-addicting stimulants, and even some cyberpunk elements like cranial dataport jacks. When you cross magic and technology, you get all kinds of weird things.

Then again, sometimes I don't want a crazy fantasy world, I just want to run a lance from one side of the board to the other in a desperate blitz to get to base through enemy territory. No air support or planet destroying megaships involved, just tanks and mecha slugging it out on some far-flung scorched world.

Again, with one of the Quickstart rules I mentioned earlier, I could do that fairly easily. I still have my Centurion Box and original BatteTech rules (complete with a few technical updates and Maximum Tech.) Yet, there are things that I either house-ruled or just plain hated about each set of rules. I could deal with the heat rules in BattleTech, even though I was terrible at them. The heat rules force you to make strategy and save your powerful punches for opportune times. What I couldn't deal with, was facing. We would agonize over the board trying to set the facing in just the right way to move and point our primary weapons systems in the correct direction. Centurion had no heat rules, but once I reached a certain speed, I couldn't steer a hovertank correctly. (I kept turning too late and sliding sideways off the map.) I preferred the slower groundling tanks or massive hover tanks that always moved slowly. Note that my "brick" has a speed of 3.

These are not faults with the games themselves. No, the fault is mine. It's not that I just wanted to blast through everything or try to get away with things, it's just that I couldn't figure out where I'd be two moves ahead, so I got frustrated when I always felt out of place. I figured that any computer-assisted steering system could figure out how to move a tank/mech from one location to another accurately, so why not minimize those rules that blow me off the map?

Really though, I just enjoy Swords and Wizardry. With the third alternate combat sequence, I saw a tactical system that rewards quickness over flat-footed slugfests. Why not make a mecha system without heat and hover movement that feels like S&W?

The third alternate combat sequence is really simplified from OD&D. I looked for ways to track the segments and found stories of gamers using cribbage boards. Looking at the rules, though, I realized that I never really needed to know the actual segment number, I only had to know who's turn was next and when a round was over.

I made a custom board that allowed the rules as written in S&W Complete for alternate combat sequence #3 to work. Still, I wanted something a bit nicer. I discovered that if I used a backgammon board and changed the default number of segments from 6 to 7, the whole system just clicked.

In S&W fantasy, the referee had to fudge the dexterity of monsters. In my mecha game, however, everything had a dexterity score. This made the alternative combat sequence #3 a great fit. With the backgammon board, a players' choice of miniatures, markers, or even checkers to mark each combatant, a straightforward system emerged. Unlike my favorite Centurion or BattleTech, this game has quicker rules. At a glance, everyone knows who is taking a turn now and who will go next. I'm still testing it, but my 8 and 7 year old kids seem to get it. I've got it written, but now I'm testing it. I might even get a pickup game at Nuke-Con in October.

So,why an Swords & Wizardry mecha game? Because it fits once I houserule it. ūüôā

Making Stuff, Charging Nothing

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I have been working on assembling my notebooks (paper and virtual) to provide gaming stuff to share. Some of the material needs a larger format than the blog, some of it is too short to post about. It will be a lot of work to translate it from Scribblese to English, but it is a lot of fun.

To that end, I created the layout for Odd Duk, an occasional 'zine about Swords & Wizardry, one-off games, and anything else I can find in my years of stuff. You may or may not find it useful, but I enjoy sharing whatever I have. It will be available in PDF and Mobi formats for certain. I will try epub, but I don't have a good way to test that format.

Don't worry, there won't be a dead tree version for sale, it will always be free. I don't have the long stapler to assemble them, nor the budget to print them. I will, however, post separate pdfs of the cover and the content so that you can make your own.

I also finished the game I had originally planned to make for the Ptolemaic Dice contest. It won't require a Ptolemaic Die to play, but it should work with other alphabet dice out there. It's based on Microlite20 (legacy rules), so it won't be rules heavy.

Unlike a lot of things, I have all the fiddly bits worked out. No endless fussing over fonts or layout. Add content and pictures, process, publish. Wish me luck!