Sunday, October 9, 2016

Simple and Classy

I love character options. Heck, it might even be an obsession given that I wrote over fifty alternate classes for Labyrinth Lord and published a hardcover collection of them for the same game. I did extra classes for both Swords & Wizardry Complete and Swords & Wizardry White Box. So yeah, it's a bit of a wheelhouse of mine, and probably always will be. There's something about designing a class that is just really fun for me.

But, I'm getting old and simplicity is becoming more and more appealing as the years accumulate. Lately I've been reading +Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game. Every time I read it, I like it more and more. It only features your "core" four classes: Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Thief. Unlike other games which draw heavily on B/X-era D&D, BFRPG uses race and class, not race as class.

So, continuing to use BFRPG as an example, we have the following character options if we use just the core rule book:

Human Cleric
Human Fighter
Human Magic-User
Human Thief
Dwarf Cleric
Dwarf Fighter
Dwarf Thief
Elf Cleric
Elf Fighter
Elf Fighter/Magic-User
Elf Magic-User
Elf Magic-User/Thief
Elf Thief
Halfling Cleric
Halfling Fighter
Halfling Thief

That's 16 possible class and race combinations, using only the core rules. That's quite a lot, if you ask me. I can hear what you're saying now, "But what if I want to play a ranger, a paladin, or an illusionist?"

This brings me to my other issue. I'm a huge fan of Secondary Skills over Non-Weapon Proficiencies. You wanted to play a ranger? Sure, simply choose "Forester" or "Hunter" as your secondary skill. You're now a fighter who is also a forester. Want to track a creature through the woods? Ask your GM what you should roll. They may require an attribute check or give you an "X-in-1d6" chance, or a percentage chance. This could change based on level, circumstances, or both.

This encapsulates the "rulings, not rules" ethos of the OSR. The GM decides how it's handled - often on the fly. Instead of spending five minutes flipping through a book for a chart, a quick ruling is made and the game moves forward. To continue with the "Forester" example, a Thief who has this secondary skill might be a Robin Hood type bandit, while a magic-user might be a mysterious witch. A cleric who is a forestser? Druid much?

This can also make for some interesting combinations. Take an uncommon profession that's not even on a chart, but still evocative; Rat-catcher, for example. A fighter who is also a rat-catcher might be skilled at the training of dogs like terriers and others bred to hunt vermin as well as be quiet knowledgeable about the layout of local sewers. A magic-user with this profession must have a cat familiar who assists them in their profession and practice magic tied to plague and summoning small monsters - or even hunting magical vermin.

"But I still can't play a paladin," you say. Sure you can - and you don't even have to be Lawful Good. Heck, in BFRPG there are no alignments. Simply be a Fighter who was raised in the church and genuinely believes in their doctrine. You're not a paladin because you can Lay on Hands. You're a paladin because you believe in the holy word and crusade against its enemies. A magic-user raised in the church might act as a magical inquisitor - he knows and understands the arcane arts so often practiced by the enemy so that he can fight fire with fire. A thief might specialize in the acquisition and recovery of holy artifacts - or be an off-the-books assassin for high ranking clergy.

The point is that by combining a bit of character history with your class you get an endless list of possibilities. Your character concept doesn't end just because you chose a class. In fact, it's just the beginning...

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Tales from the Lost Realm: The Dwarves of An Fáinne

Tales from the Lost Realm

The Dwarves of An Fáinne

Across the Long Fields, west of the Forgotten Road is a great spine of mountains known to the native dwarf clans who dwell there as An Fáinne - or more commonly, The Ring. These rising peaks run for countless miles, spreading and embracing a valley of rolling hills in its cool embrace. Long banks of fog fill The Ring as if were a great basin, only to have them burnt away by the noonday sun or cast off by the great breezes that gather from the Bay of Dusk.

In these mountains, the dwarf clans of An Fáinne build their great stone halls and delve deep into the earth in search of all that glitters. Gold and jewels, silver and mithril, all the bounty of the low places are dear to them. But they do not dwell in darkness. Massive citadels of perfectly carved stone spring from sheer cliffs and seaside stone, crafted from a time before the rise of Man.

The great valley, simply known An Glas is home to shepherds, farmers, and woodsmen. These dwarves trade wool and wood for stone and jewels, and thus the clans maintain a fairly peaceful co-existence between clans while retaining their fierce independence. While strife between clans inevitably arises, such matters are kept within the Ring. Outsiders need never be involved in the affairs of dwarves.

The rare dwarf who ventures beyond the Ring and into the world is either a merchant trader or, in rare cases, an exile. These pariah are forbidden from speaking of their sins and indeed their very names are stricken from all records. They are cast from the Ring as if they never existed before they day of their banishment. Whether trader or exile, the dwarves of An Fainne carry with them a deep and fierce love of their homeland. Their independent life has forced them to be tough and strong, both in body and spirit. This is not to say they are cold - far from it. Dwarven passions run deeper than human in many cases, and dwarvish ballads are said to be among the most beautiful in the world.
A dwarvish bard plays an ancient ballad
In addition to the beauty of their craftsmanship and their songs, dwarvish women are among the most beautiful. Their bright eyes and shining hair, combined with a kind of sturdy grace and cool confidence has given even the most peaceful dwarvish beancloch the reputation of being a fierce warrior woman. The truth is that like the men of their society, lady dwarves are confident and self-sufficient, seeing themselves people to be judged by the merits of their deeds and not by their appearance.

A dwarvish woman, exiled for crimes unknown

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Tales from the Lost Realm: The Promised Land of Aldemar

The Promised Land of Aldemar

Tales from the Lost Realm Campaign Setting

The Withering Blight did more than destroy the Northern Kingdom - it divided the people who had lived there for generations. When the land began to fallow and blacken, the people turned to the Knights of the Blazing Dawn to protect them. It had always been so. For a thousand years the Knighthood had defended the Northern Kingdom from dragons, goblin hordes, and giant invasions.

That all changed when the Withering Blight took hold. No magical sword, no noble warrior, could undo the disease that was destroying crops, changing the land, and filling the skies with an unnatural darkness. The High Lord of the Blazing Dawn, leader of the knighthood and regarded as the most pious of all the holy warriors, prayed for seven days and seven nights as unnatural things roamed the land and devoured the living. On the dawn of the eighth day, he rose and stood upon the battlements of Highsun Castle. He decreed that the Silver Prince - God to which all in the Northern Kingdom paid homage - had abandoned them. The High Lord would lead a pilgrimage to a new land; the prophesied and promsied land of Aldemar. There the Silver Prince would bestow new blessings on the faithful who were willing to undertake such a difficult journey.

Known as the Decree of the Fading Dawn, this proclamation split the knighthood in two. Many knights thought the High Lord was abandoning the peasants he had sworn to protect to the undead hordes of the Withering Blight - leaving them to die, or worse. They tore off their silver tabards and disavowed the High Lord. As the High Lord of the Blazing Dawn rode away, those former knights who remained behind donned tattered black tunics - naming themselves the Swords of the Solstice, those who remained behind when the darkness was deepest, faithful that they would defend the Northern Kingdom until the New Dawn arrived and the kingdom was restored to its former glory.

For a year and a day the High Lord lead the faithful across the width and length of the Realm. Finally, in a land far from the Northern Kingdom, he discovered a furtile valley filled with rolling fields and lush forests. He declared the faithful had reached the promised land of Aldemar and thrust his sword into the ground. Thrusting his sword into the ground, he decreed that as long as the people remained faithful that Aldemar would flourish.

Flourish it did. In less than a decade, the Swordkeep of Aldemar was completed, greatest castle in the entire Realm. A bustling city grew around it, bustling with trade from the wandering elves and hardy dwarves. The High Lord rechristened the Knights of the New Dawn and they became known as the Silver Crusaders. Churchs to the Silver Prince and his Holy Crusaders sprang up across the land. Piety and plenty went hand in hand. In less than a century Aldemar became the greatest kingdom of men in the Realm.

In the modern day the Kingdom of Aldemar is a symbol of all that is good and pure - a physical incarnation of faith and endurance. Silver Crusaders patrolled the land, driving away bandits, goblins, and other meager threats to the land. Great tournaments filled spring days and summer nights, with valiant knights proving their prowess against one another - proud in their pageantry.

The High Sword, now little more than a relic at the center of the Swordkeep, became little more than a relic of a legendary era. Peace lead to complacency. Complacency lead to quiet corruption. Nobles became more concerned with feasting and congratulating themselves for their ancestors accomplishments than taking care of their subjects. Crusaders gave up true honor in the face of an increasingly complex and convoluted code of proper behavior. Neglect turned to apathy - and all of it hidden behind a thin veil of chivalry.

Goblins, long hidden in the deepest parts of the Shaden Forest, have gathered together to form great tribes. Under harsh task masters - giants and ogres - they are unifying in worship of a new and dark diety that remains hidden far beneath the earth. Dracalas it is called.

But Dracalas is no new and vile god. Slumbering far beneath the earth for thousands of years, dragons have been disturbed by the deep delving and thundering hooves. Aldemar has awakened something dark and terrible. It will awaken soon, and no blunted tournament lance or fragile pride can save the haughty people of the Promised Land of Aldemar.

Swords and Wizardry Complete (Third Printing)

So, Frog God Games successfully funded their Kickstarter for a third printing of Swords & Wizardry Complete. Normally, this would be both awesome and not particularly news worthy. I'm a huge fan of both Frog God as a company and S&W Complete - I've even freelanced for Frog God on the new Bard's Gate supplement and an adventure tied in to The Northlands Saga. Matt, Bill, and Zach are all personal heroes. So, if you think I'm biased, that's fair.
S&W Complete 3rd Printing Cover
But this isn't about my bias. This is about the many statement regarding the new cover art. A lot of folks aren't fans of it. And you know what? That's perfectly fine. But, what if you're a fan of Frog God, S&W Complete, and want to support the project - but for whatever reason (not liking the art is just one reason you might be reluctant to back it), still want to show the Frogs some love?

Well, that's an easy one. If you back the project for a buck, you can do an add-on to get a second print Otus art cover S&W Complete book for $30 as a backer-kit add-on.
Swords & Wizardry 2nd Printing Cover
All the hue and cry over this project is really unnecessary in my opinion. Want to make a statement one way or another? Say something with your wallet. Back it if you like it and don't if you're going to pass. No need to turn it into some big to-do political issue.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Dragonlance and The Hero's Journey

I got bored, so here's some quick and dirty conversions to run a Dragonlance campaign using The Hero's Journey.

Kender: Kender function exactly as Halflings, with the following modifications:
  • Kender roll 3d6 for Intelligence
  • Kender roll 2d6+1 for Willpower
  • Kender do not receive the "Flick of the Wrist" ability. Instead all kender are automatically proficient in the Hoopak. They receive a +1 bonus to all "to hit" rolls when wielding a hoopak. Hoopaks inflict damage as a staff when used in melee and function as slings when used as ranged weapons.
  • Kender do not receive the "Stout Heart" ability. 
  • All Kender receive the following racial ability: Fearless: Kender are completely and utterly immune to the emotion of fear. They simply do not experience it, whether naturally or by magical compulsion.

Kender Bards cannot learn to cast Wizard spells.
Bards no longer gain access to 3rd level Wizard spells.

Cavaliers are known as Knights of Solamnia in Dragonlance. 
Knights of Solamnia must be Lawful in alignment. 
A 1st level Knight of Solamnia is known as a "Knight of the Crown." 
A 4th level Knight of Solamnia is known as a "Knight of the Sword."
A 7th level Knight of Solamnia is known as a "Knight of the Rose."

Kender Jesters cannot learn to cast Wizard spells.
Jesters no longer gain access to 3rd level Wizard spells.

This class does not exist on Krynn. It cannot be selected.

Before reaching 5th level, all Wizards are expected to travel to a Tower of High Sorcery and take "The Test" to prove their skill and dedication to the art of magic. Failure typically results in the death of the Wizard.

Need some other rules? Make it up, you doorknob!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

More B/X Awesomeness on OBS

So I don't know how it slipped my notice, but RPGNow and DriveThruRPG have added two new B/X D&D products to their site. Both are tough acquisitions on eBay, fetching quite a price for those trying to find physical copies.

Champions of Mystara: Heroes of the Princess Ark is a boxed set that details the adventures of the crew of the airship known as the Princess Ark, which was the subject of an ongoing series featured in Dragon Magazine back in the day. It's seriously cool stuff, and given that if you're lucky enough to find a used copy for sale you're likely to pay $100, it's damn near theft at $9.99.

Also, we've now got DDA3: Eye of Traldar available, which is your traditional "track down the MacGuffin" adventure and in spite of the high prices physical copies fetch, it's never been anything exceptional in my opinion. That being said, it's perfectly serviceable for a night of adventure and $4.99 is just inside the reasonable price range.

Apparently, in my blindness, I also missed the fact that OBS has added the Hollow World Campaign Box
Set and HWA3: Nightstorm.

For all the complaining I heard back in the day that B/X and Rules Cyclopedia D&D were "vanilla," I think supplements like Princess Ark and Hollow World certainly prove that to not be the case. These were fast, fun, gonzo adventuring from my care-free days of rolling dice and saving the world.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The B/X or Labyrinth Lord Gully Dwarf

Gully Dwarf
Requirements: CON 9, INT 8 or lower
Prime Requisite: DEX and CON
Hit Dice: 1d8
Maximum Level: 4

Gully Dwarves are a much maligned sub-race of dwarves known for their magnanimous stupidity and unbelievable ability to survive in even the worst environments. They are perpetually filthy, wearing rotted rags, eating garbage, and making their homes in places that even a goblin would find offensive. This combined with a surprising low cunning, means that Gully Dwarves possess a unique set of skills that can be of some use to an adventuring party - if that party can get past fact that these pathetic creatures are unrepentant cowards who fight only when pleading for mercy or escape are no longer an option.

In spite of this cowardice, Gully Dwarves are willing to use whatever is at hand to defend themselves if necessary. They can wield any one-handed melee weapon, but lack the intellect to learn the complexities of weapons like bows and crossbows. Because of this they may only used ranged weapons which can be thrown, such as daggers or javelins. They often wear layers of animal hides or cast off crow's mail to protect themselves and if provided with formal armor they can wear padded, leather, and studded leather armor. Their willingness to hide behind whatever is at hand to avoid injury also means they make regular use of shields.

If they have a 13 in at least one or the other prime requisite, the Gully Dwarf receives a +5% to all experience points they earn. If both prime requisites are 13 or higher, the character receives a +10% bonus.

Gully Dwarf Class Progression
Hit Dice

Saving Throws
Breath Weapon
Poison or Death
Petrify or Paralyze


Defender Armor Class
Level -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Sharp Senses: Because they live in a state of constant fear of attack, Gully Dwarves have surprisingly keen senses. They can any secret doors and even any traps within thirty feet with a 1-4 on 1d6 chance of success. These sharp senses extend to a natural infravision, which they have at a range of sixty feet.

Hiding in a Hole: The first defense of any Gully Dwarf is to hide in the dark places of their foul realms. When moving at half their normal rate Gully Dwarves travel in perfect silence with a 1-3 on 1d6 chance of success. They can also remain completely unseen in underground environments if they remain perfectly still with a 1-3 on 1d6 chance of success. These abilities can be used in wilderness environments as well, but only have a 1 on 1d6 chance of success in those cases.

Plague Resistant: Because they constantly live in filth and regularly eat food others would consider a death sentence, Gully Dwarves have an extraordinary resistance to these things, as is reflected in their saving throws.

Unashamed Coward: Gully Dwarves are unabashed cowards, fleeing from even the slightest threat unless they have an overwhelming advantage. As such they have a -8 penalty to any saving throws made to resist fear effects such as those caused by Cause Fear spells or similar effects.

Surprising Ferocity: While often regarded as pathetic and non-threatening, Gully Dwarves the tenacity of a caged and abused animal if they are cornered. They receive a +2 bonus to all attack and damage rolls when forced to fight against a foe who has twice the number of hit dice than the Gully Dwarf.