December 17, 2013

The True Random Dungeon

Through the years there have been various books outlining how to set up a complete dungeon by doing nothing but rolling on various tables. It includes the lay-out of rooms and corridors, traps, monsters and treasure. By rolling on the charts a complete dungeon can be laid out. Heck, over at Wizardawn, they can do the whole thing in under a minute; a complete dungeon built for up to seven different systems.

However, I have to ask...has anyone ever run a completely random dungeon? By this I mean, run it with no tweaking "to accommodate my players". No, I mean play it as built with no changes? I suspect no one has, but I could be wrong.

Have you? If so, how did it work in actual play?
If you have not, would you ever consider doing so?

December 10, 2013

Does Treasure Belong to the Players?

It was a tight battle, but in the end the party managed to pull out a victory. Sure, the mage will need to rest for 8 hours to be useful again and the cleric is down to one cure light but the enemy is vanquished and the room is clear. Now for the treasure! Gold is found and even a couple of magic items; that certainly explains how one of the enemy was able to set the fighter on fire. The party seals up the room and starts dividing up the loot.

So ends another adventure. Now the question is...who does the treasure belong to, the characters or the DM?

The obvious answer is the characters. They just "earned" it by defeating the enemy. The treasure is their reward for the risks involved in obtaining the treasure. The players risked their characters in pursuit of the treasure.

And yet...the DM has the right to take it away at any point in time. The DM can have thieves steal it, tax collectors take their cut, dragons eat it in exchange for the characters lives, it can be "dropped" during stressful situations. Basically, there are hundreds of ways a DM can part the characters from their treasure.
But should a DM do such things?

I will agree there are times when the characters and their treasure have to part ways. When a DM messes up and gives the characters treasure that can disrupt a campaign, such as far too much gold or a magic item that gives the characters too powerful an advantage, then sure, take it away. But at this point the DM is really doing nothing but redressing a mistake they made. 

Ultimately it is the DM that gives over any treasure the characters gain. Sure, the DM might roll on a random table and let the die roll determine what the treasure is, but the table does not talk. The table and dice do not tell the players what treasure the characters gain. The DM is the one who gives the characters the treasure. The DM is making a decision at this point of the process. It is at this moment, the moment when the DM tells the players what the characters found for treasure, that the DM has to make a judgement call of whether or not the characters should get the treasure.

And once the characters have the treasure, they should be allowed to keep it. They earned it. There are few things in rpgs more frustrating than to have your characters struggle over great odds and have nothing to show for it. That will be how they will look at it if a DM keeps taking away the treasure they have gained. While treasure is not often the driving goal of a campaign, it is still a measuring stick of advancement and progression. Treasure is the representation of achievements.

If the DM is running a gritty, survive-on-the-most-meager-of-resources type of campaign, then it falls on the DM to hand out the treasure that stays within that concept. It is better to hand out no treasure than to give out treasure and then take it away.

What do you think? Do players have an innate right to keep the treasure they loot or is it always at the whim of the DM?

December 5, 2013

TFT - The Fantasy Trip

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

This concludes my look at the venerable old game of The Fantasy Trip (TFT). The game is very much a product of its time, 1980, when rpgs were in their infancy and a new frontier. Many of the tropes of those early games can be seen within TFT - perhaps it even added some. It has many things that grognards like in a game, fast rules and the ability to create your own within a solid system. Sure, it had some flaws but overall it was a good, solid product.

Is it something I would play today? Probably not. I feel there are better products out there, including sleeker products from the OSR that capture the feeling of those early days but do it more tightly. However, there are some really good ideas to be found in TFT that are still relevant for today's gamer.


December 4, 2013

TFT - Notes on Successful Game-Mastering

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

In The Labyrinth concludes the book with the topic Notes on Successful Game-Mastering. The publisher of Metagaming, Howard Thompson, attempts to sum up what it is the one philospohy of running a successful game.

"A GM is a solo entertainer of an unusual new variety. He is a writer, performer, and group facilitator rolled into one. Players participate in an adventure campaign for entertainment — not to let the GM be a petty god and manipulate their characters at will. It takes practice, attention, and sensitivity to lead a group through an adventure and leave them feeling good (win or lose) when it's over. Thinking of yourself as a semi-professional entertainer like a bard or other small-group yarn-spinner will help."

I particularly like the point about "leave them feeling good (win or lose) when it's over." For me that is the key to any good game. Challenge the players but leave them feeling good at the end. That is easier said than done as each player is different and all have different needs on how to "feel good" while playing an rpg. The trick of a good GM is to figure out what each player needs and to provide it.

December 3, 2013

TFT - Monster Pictures

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

Do you need pictures of monsters?  The Fantasy Trip (TFT) includes a section of monsters. None of them have pictures depicting them. Often this is not an issue since most experienced gamers have probably already seen a picture of many monsters in other publications. If you've seen the picture of a troll you can mentally attach that picture to one without a picture. But what happens when an rpg introduces a new, never before seen, monster or their description is different than what a reader has seen before?

Are you able to visualize a monster without having a picture for it? Is it harder to describe the monster to your players without a picture?

December 2, 2013

TFT - Disguised Monsters

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

One of the monsters in The Fantasy Trip (TFT) is the Octopus. At first you would think its your typical octopus, but not in TFT. No, here it's an intelligent creature that lives in swamps or large pools of water. They prefer to ambush their opponents with its many tentacles. In essence, this is the Watcher in the Water from The Fellowship of the Ring book that attacks the Fellowship outside of Moria.

RPGs have long had a history of "stealing" ideas from other sources and turning them into monsters/races/spells for their games doing little more than changing the names. The Halfling/Hobbit situation that TSR ran into during the early days of D&D is a prime example of that.

November 29, 2013

TFT - Racial Equality

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

Chapter V of The Fantasy Trip (TFT) starts by going more in depth on the various races a character can play. The default character generation is based off of the Men (or human) race but allows for random generation of race. This section goes into what happens if a player rolled a non-Men race. It is interesting that TFT allows for "non-standard" races. They have Men, Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Halflings, Prootwaddles, Centaurs, Giants, Gargoyles, Reptiles, and Mermen, all available as a player race.

In the early days of rpgs one of the first ways players wanted to change the games was with race. Players were always asking if they could play this or that race, often based off of a monster type. TFT seems to have embraced that allowing for a wide range of races and even creating a new one, the Prootwaddle (a sort of human kobold).

There was some semblance of attempting to balance the various races, mostly by limiting how high certain Attributes could go, but it was possible to quickly unbalance some characters. Given where rpg games were at the time, this is not unexpected.

One thing that irks me, and has for some time, is the useless-unless-special-circumstances-occur race. In this case it's the mermen. As expected they are aquatic based and require a spell to be cast for them to function on land. Assuming the character has easy access to this spell, they are still hampered on land by having their DEX attribute reduced significantly. Sure, in water they will always have the advantage, but how often will that occur in a non-contrived campaign? Why would anyone play such a character (other than some inane desire to be wholly different)? Why include it as a possible player character race?

November 28, 2013

TFT - Example of Play

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

One thing I think all rule books require are examples of play. This is when you give a narrative that showcases the players making decisions and how those decisions are enacted by the characters. Sometimes the way rules interact between player and character can be lost. A player thinks "I want the character to do X" but sometimes the rules are unclear how a player should state that or when or what mechanics to use. Examples of play can solve those issues.
All rpgs have their own vocabulary. In order to play the game everyone needs to have the same vocabulary. An example of play can facilitate that.

The Fantasy Trip (TFT) includes an example of play.

It shows how a GM can combine descriptions with mechanics. "You see a big hole - a whole megahex around. Stairs lead off down to the southeast."


It shows how to implement a rule. "Okay. We enter. We all have torches. Here's our march order. (He shows the GM the counters representing their characters, lined up on a set of tunnel megahexes.)"

It shows how dice work and how the results can be conveyed. "Starting from the first hex after the stairs, then, you go one east, one northeast, two east. (At this point he rolls the dice several times. There is a hidden door at No. 2 on the map, and the party is now passing it. He is rolling against the party's IQs to see if any of them spot it. They have bad luck; none of them do.) Nothing happened to you guys there."

Along with helping to see specific rules in action they also help to give a feel for the setting as well. Some settings are gritty and some let magic fly loose. Examples of play can also be similar to the stories some rpgs sprinkle throughout their books. Those stories are used to evoke a mood for the game; an example of play can show how that mood comes into play.

When a rulebook does not include examples of play I definitely miss them. In a way, I feel that the authors "cheaped out" on the book. How important do you think examples of play are?

November 27, 2013

TFT - Map Narrative

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

The Fantasy Trip (TFT) suggests that the DM give directions when using map narrative. Usually I use directionless descriptions such as "you see a door on the left and a hallway extends straight ahead". Instead TFT suggests you say something like "there is a door on the west wall and a hallway extends off to the north".

What method of map narrative do you use? Is there a reason why you have a preference?

November 26, 2013

TFT - Party Leader/Party Spokesman

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

One thing that has fallen out of favor with more recent games is the concept of the party spokesman, often called the party leader. Basically this is when the group allows one player/character to speak for the party the majority of the time. This would range from fairly mundane to the specific actions of other characters. Of course, players were able to declare the actions of their own characters as they felt, especially during combat, but the default was that the party leader called the actions.

The fairly mundane could include such things as...
"We all head to the tavern."
"We leave town an hour before dawn."
"We attack the goblins."

The specific things could include such things as...
"The thief checks for traps with the fighter pressed up against the wall to the right of the door, while the mage hangs back at least 10'."
"The mage tries talking the guard into letting us into the city without paying the tax."
"The fighter watches the north door, while the thief tries to pry the gem out of the statue's eye. The priest will start bandaging up the mage's wounds."

The Fantasy Trip (TFT) embraces the concept of the party leader. However, they did not make it mandatory. If the group decided to choose a party leader there were actual in game benefits for doing so. If there was a party leader it was assumed talk within the group was kept at a minimum and thus the party received a bonus to moving quietly through a dungeon. Without a party leader, the group was assumed to be talking and the noise could be heard by whatever denizens were nearby in the dungeon.

What do you think about a stringent party leader? Do you think its okay, or that each player should always call the actions of their own characters?

November 25, 2013

TFT - Guilds and Game Design

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

The concept of guilds in world settings has been with us for many years. Likely we've all heard of the Thieves' Guild. Other worlds have other types of guilds as well, such as the Mage's Guild or Bard's Guild. The Fantasy Trip (TFT) embraces the concept and brings it to a new level of interdependence. In TFT the guilds provide both an in-game and mechanical interaction.

The Wizard's Guild is all pervasive and can be found in almost every corner of the world. 99% of all wizards are members of the organization. In addition, they are one of the few places a character can go to "forget" a spell or talent allowing a character to learn a new or improved spell/talent. In effect, the Wizard's Guild provides a game mechanic. Likewise, the Thieves' Guild is the only place a character can learn certain abilities. There are no other places to learn something like Detect Traps. Again, the Thieves' Guild provides a game mechanic.

Do you like this close tie between in-game organizations and game mechanics?

The world setting of TFT, Cidri, has other guilds such as the Scholars' Guild, Mercenaries' Guild and Mechanicians' Guild - all them also spread throughout the world. All of them provide an in-game service. As a result of this they quickly become a focal point for characters. Characters know where to go to have certain questions answered or services rendered. This helps to keep a campaign moving. Instead of wandering lost, characters know exactly where to go. This is a good thing in my opinion.

Another thing pervasive guilds bring to a game is "expansive interactions". In most games character will make a name for themselves with the local organizations whether it be a king, temple or other group. However, once the characters move on from that area they have to start over, making new contacts and ties. Guilds are outside the bounds of regions and allow characters to keep their status and contacts beyond a limited area. Again, this is a good thing.

November 22, 2013

TFT - Cultural Law

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

The Fantasy Trip (TFT) goes into a nice discussion on laws and culture. It gives some examples of unique cultural laws that are unusual, such as not singing sad songs after a certain hour or requiring a physical action as a person passes a holy place. It then goes into what happens if a character breaks the law of an area with various rules for trials and jail time. However, its the concept of unique cultural laws that intrigues me.

I like the idea of unique cultural laws. They can enhance an area, making it feel different. All too often many fantasy worlds can quickly become generic and too similar. Adding in cultural laws brings out the uniqueness of the area and people. Think about the real world. We have unique customs and laws throughout the world and even within a given nation. It makes sense a fantasy world would as well.


One thing of note is that in TFT it is possible to quickly research what the unique local laws are in a new area when the character get there. This means that if the characters are smart and take preventative steps they can avoid be blindsided by some unique and unexpected new law. I am not a fan of blindsiding characters with new rules unless they have a chance to proactively deal with them. Otherwise it's just a DM being a jerk by springing something new on them that they never had a chance against.

November 21, 2013

TFT - Playing When You're Not Playing

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

The Fantasy Trip (TFT) has a mechanic in place for character "down-time". This is the time a character spends in their life that is not taken up with an adventure. Each character has a job, such as baker, blacksmith or assassin. There is a base salary for each of these occupations and each span of down-time (one week) a character gets to roll to see how they fared. The results range from gaining money to gaining an attribute point (which is a huge considering the game is attribute driven) or taking hazard damage.  Different jobs offer different payment scales and different chances to succeed or fail. TFT sums it up with...

"...characters have lives of their own. A character can earn money, get experience, and get killed ... all without ever going on an adventure ... just like real life."

One one hand, I like the concept of things happening to characters when they are not adventuring. It adds a level of realism to a campaign. It also removes the concept of "murdering hobos" from the campaign. The campaign can focus on adventure and setting things right rather than the pursuit of gold.

However, I am not a fan of such huge changes to a character. I feel advancements should come as a result of adventure, not from toiling away as a clerk in a store. One question some players have is...why does my character adventure? If the benefits of not adventuring are as good as adventuring, why bother adventuring? It also removes the concept of choice. Rolling for downtime is a single die roll with no choice to be made by the character. During adventuring characters are constantly making choices - I prefer that over a simple die roll.

All that being said, I like downtime rolls - just keep any changes to a character at a low scale. Your thoughts?

November 20, 2013

TFT - The Universal Language of Maps

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

They say that Math is the universal language; no matter what language you speak math is the same everywhere. In a way, rpg maps are also universal. There is a common language with rpg maps (maps) wherein the symbols used are used the same from rpg company to company. Even when there is some deviance, such changes are generally small and understandable.

Map blatantly stolen from cartographersguild.com (Turgenev)

The above map can be easily read by anyone that has done any sort of rpg gaming. Doors, secret doors, rooms, corridors, traps, stairs, pillars, statues are all in there and understandable. For example, look at room #6 and then give a verbal description of it. Likely, this description, solely based on the map, will be the same regardless of which gamer is giving the description. This common ground is a strength and something that subtly ties the gaming community together.

However, sometimes a rpg company wants to break the mold, be mavericks that set a new trend. TFT went with another approach with their map symbols. First they used hexes for their maps instead of squares. This decision was likely based off the fact their Melee combat rules, which pre-dated TFT, was hex based for better simulation of movement. This is not necessarily a bad thing though it does make buildings awkward in design with no straight lines.

Where their mapping became radically divergent was their use of symbols. They created completely new symbols for the most basic dungeon features. They also added in such things as various shading and symbols to signify different levels and elevations. Here is a sample dungeon from the In The Labyrinth book...


I'll be honest and say that I have no idea what this map is representing. They broke from the conventions of rpg mapping and it did not work out. It might be wise for any aspiring publishing company to keep to the traditions of mapping.

November 19, 2013

TFT - Science Fiction in Your Fantasy

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

The world of The Fantasy Trip (TFT) is huge, and as already mentioned, a kitchen sink of styles and tropes. It is a melting pot of other worlds, including some with futuristic elements. In fact, artifacts in TFT are nothing but modern/future items in a medieval-type fantasy setting. These include such things as a BB gun, walkie talkies, a tape recorder, and a pen. Similar to how artifacts are handled in other games, these are rare items full of mystery (determining a use for these is a series of die rolls).

It's interesting that artifacts in TFT are not the extra-powerful magic items found in every other fantasy setting. I kind of like the concept for a few reasons.
-It makes their inclusion easy to explain as you don't have to bend the setting to explain why there are potentially world-ending items in play.
-They are still unique without being powerful.
-They are something different from the usual "lump-a-bunch-of-powers-together" or the "take-a-known-power-and-make-it-much-more-powerful" artifacts we too often see.

I know this is not a new idea; D&D did it all the way back in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (1976). I myself remember running around a dungeon in a home-brew setting with a bazooka blowing rust monsters up. Through the years there have been other fantasy adventures and settings with science-fiction thrown in.

What do yo think about modern-day/futuristic items in a fantasy setting? Do you like the randomness and touches of the unexpected in your game? Or do you feel it detracts from a purely fantasy/medieval-based world? Is it alright in certain campaigns? Should the players know ahead of time that the fantasy setting will have science-fiction elements in it?

November 18, 2013

TFT - Unrandom Random Monster Set-Up

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

Chapter III of In the Labyrinth covers Creating A World and starts immediately with the dungeon (or labyrinth). In part of the section on Stocking The Labyrinth, they mention writing up some index cards with stats on them for some of the monsters the characters will encounter. This is not a radical idea as I've seen it mentioned in various places over the years. However, they take it up a notch and in a slightly different direction.

TFT suggests using such index cards to add a random element to what could be rather ordinary "crunchy" encounters. Prepare a number of cards with a different monster on each card. If the labyrinth is full of goblins, make a bunch of relatively equal in power goblins and give each of them a separate card. You can then mark your map with something like 4 goblins, 10 goblins, 2 goblins. Then you simply pull out that number of cards from your pile when the characters get there.

This will make sure the monsters feel organic as opposed to a set encounter done for the sake of ease. To me, it can be jarring when all of the monsters in the room are wearing the exact same armor type and using the exact same weapons. This makes it so the characters are fighting the goblin with the spear, instead of goblin #3.

While it will take a bit more prep time, I like the idea.

November 15, 2013

TFT - Where Did You Get That Ability?

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

In The Fantasy Trip (TFT), when a character gains xp and earns enough to get a new ability, they do not just pick one and add it to their character sheet. They have to have "studied" it. In TFT, a character can be in the process of studying up to 3 different Talents at a time. When the character is able to purchase a new Talent it must be chosen form one of the 3 they were studying. In addition there are some Talents that they must "learn" from an outside source; certain abilities must be taught by the Thieve's Guild or the Mechanicians' Guild.

What do you think? Should abilities gained after play starts be given right away, or should there be a waiting process involved?

November 14, 2013

TFT - No Skills

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

The Fantasy Trip (TFT) does not have skills. Instead, it has Talents. Talents allow a character to do things that characters without Talents can not do. Talents consist of such things as Swimming, Boating, Literacy, and Fencing. Talents can either allow a character to make use of an ability that they normally could not (such as Swimming - without this you will drown), or provides some sort of bonus with another ability (such as Fencing which increases your crit chance with a sword). Some Talents, such as Sword, can actually be used without the Talent, but with a penalty; this makes some Talents similar to Skills in other systems, but the majority of Talents do not allow their use unless you know the Talent. This sets TFT apart in its use of "skills".

Talents are also the core of the system; the thing that sets characters apart from each other. TFT really does not have classes. At character generation, a player must decide to either be a spell-caster or a non-spellcaster; those are the only two choices available. And this choice confers no abilities to a character, other than the ability to cast spells. It's the Talents wherein a character gains definition. If you want to play the typical fighter you take the appropriate weapons and armor Talents. If you want to play a thief you need to take the right thiefly Talents, such as Remove Traps.

TFT Talents are different from Skills in other systems in a number of fundamental ways...
-They do not require a die roll to use them (other than combat). A Talent either works or doesn't.
-They never change. Some systems allow for Skills to get better as a character progresses, but not TFT.
-They all have requirements. Every Talent requires a certain level in Intelligence (IQ) before it can be taken. Your character can be too dumb to take certain Talents. Some Talents also have additional Talents (such as the Fencing Talent which requires the Sword Talent and a Dexterity (DX) of at least 14).

Again, this is an interesting approach. Of course, because the system is so tightly bound to the stats as the driving force behind getting anything done, they can get away with not having any extra system for resolving actions.

November 13, 2013

TFT - Redoing Abilites After Play Starts

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

One of the "innovations" for 4E D&D was the capability to swap out spells, feats, skills that a character had for another one of equal level. One of the "problems" with earlier versions of D&D was that a player could "make a mistake" in some of their choices either by choosing an ability that was useless or under-performing for their class. Some people liked the idea (my players certainly do) and some bristle at the notion of altering characters after the fact. However, 4E was not the first to introduce this concept as The Fantasy Trip (TFT) was doing it back in 1980.

TFT has a special section included that describes the various methods by which a character can "forget" a spell or talent. This is done to open up slots for more powerful spells and talents. In TFT a character is limited to how many spells or talents they can have. As the characters adventure they can gain access to more powerful spells. In addition, as they level up they also gain access to new talents which may cost more than the character can afford...unless they ditch some earlier choices.

TFT has very specific ways of "forgetting" abilities and they are tied into the world and in-character choices as opposed to a purely mechanical one as in 4E. They are...
-Wish. Wishes in TFT are not generic "get anything you want" things. Instead a wish provides a list of things a wish will do. Forgetting an ability is one of the choices.
-Wizard's Guild. The Wizard's Guild (TFT makes an assumption that they exist in every TFT world setting) is able to cast a spell that makes the target forget an ability. It is interesting that the system then also goes on to explain that this is not often a good idea since the Wizard's Guild also has access to the target's mind and memories as they cast the spell.
-Dragon. Apparently dragons can also cast a spell that makes a person forget an ability, but without the mind probe of the Wizard's Guild. It then mentions that talking to Dragons presents it's own challenges.
-Do Not Use It. A character can simply choose to not use the ability for an set amount of time and they will then "forget" the ability thus opening up new choices.

What do you think? Should characters be allowed to forget abilities and replace them with new ones?

November 12, 2013

TFT - Political Correctness

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

"Where a player's character is concerned, an IQ of 6 represents a moron."
This is a quote from In the Labyrinth, under the Intelligence section. When I first read it I was surprised. It was the first time I had seen such a term used in an rpg before. At first glance my thought was that they had deliberately put this in to sound "hip" or to elicit some sort of shock value from it.

RPGs are written for a mass audience, even if that audience is a small, niche market. Thus the general concept when choosing terminology is that it is better to offend none than to insult some. I can understand this point of view. And really, what advantage is there is using terms that some might find offensive? From a purely economic viewpoint, it is the sensible thing to do.

However, there are two things to remember when looking at TFT.
-First is the fact that it was written in 1980. This was in an age before political correctness became what it is today. In fact, it wasn't until around 1991 that the term became a part of the broad US vernacular. Back in those days you could get away with such terminology.
-Second is the fact that in 1980 "moron" could still be construed as a technical term. "Moron" was once a legitimate psychological term used to describe someone as "dull" (the meaning of the root word "moros") and with an IQ between 51-70. Of course, the term is no longer used in the field of psychology since it began to be used as an insult.

It's interesting to see the change in times and social mores. In it's own way, TFT is a time capsule of 1980 and what a writer could and could not get away with.

What do you think about political correctness in rpgs? Are there some things an rpg should not bring up, certain words or concepts that should not be used?


November 11, 2013

TFT - Stats as Abilities

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

The Strength (ST) stat in The Fantasy Trip (TFT) has an interesting mechanic as the stat gets higher. Usually in most games there are a set number of things that a stat can affect. For example, in most games Strength will increase how much melee damage is done in combat, how much a character can carry and sometimes the percentage chance to bend bars. All of these progress as the stat rises. However, almost never does a character get new abilities as the stat increases.

In TFT, as ST goes up the character can use more difficult weapons (weapons require a certain level of ST before they can be used - often due to the size of the weapon) and gains a larger health pool. These are similar to other systems. However, in TFT a character also gains unique abilities. These include hitting doors with your foot as if it was a blunt weapon and wielding a two-handed weapon with one hand.

This is an interesting concept. TFT can get away with this because it is such a stat driven system, everything is resolved vs. their stats. When a character "levels" up by spending xp, the only thing a character can increase is their stats. In effect, their level is defined by how high their stats are.

It would be interesting to see if a system could be designed wherein everything is completely stat driven. Where a character's talents, advantages, abilities are all defined by their given stat. There would be no skills. This system would have new abilities unlocked as the character's stats go up. Interesting idea.

November 8, 2013

TFT - The Dump Stat

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

The Fantasy Trip (TFT) uses only 3 stats for characters, Strength (ST), Dexterity (DX) and Intelligence (IQ). Stats are also the driving component of the game as almost everything a character does is based directly off the value of their stat (players try to roll below their stat value to accomplish tasks). At first glance only having 3 stats makes it harder to find a "dump stat". In traditional D&D, which has six stats, there are often dump stats. For example, a fighter has no need for Wisdom or Intelligence and thus those tend to be where a player playing a fighter will put the lowest value for a stat. With only 3 stats, TFT, looks like it can circumvent that habit by making each of them important to the success of a character. However, looks can be deceiving...

A magic-user in TFT uses all of the stats with equal need. ST is used as a measure of how often a magic-user can cast. Each spell has a ST cost and each time a magic-user casts a spell, it comes off their ST. Thus they are limited by how often they can cast spells. DX is used to hit a target with a spell. A lower DX means the caster will miss more often thus wasting ST and time. IQ is used as a limit to how powerful a spell the magic-user can cast. Spells are rated by the IQ required to cast them. If a magic-user wants to cast an IQ 16 spell, he needs at least a IQ of 16. IQ also sets how many spells a magic-user can know. Thus we can see that a magic-user needs all 3 stats equally. There is no dump stat for a magic-user.

A fighter needs ST as it determines how much damage his melee attacks will do. A fighter also needs a good DX as it sets his chance to hit with his weapon. However, IQ is not as essential for a fighter. IQ allows for certain Talents to be purchased (Talents are small abilities a character can have, similar to Advantages in other game systems). Talents are not necessary for a fighter though. With the base IQ every character starts with a fighter can get a good selection of Talents. IQ is a dump stat for a fighter.

Ranged fighters actually have 2 dump stats. ST does little for a fighter that is primarily using ranged weapons. DX is the main stat for such a character. Thus both ST and IQ are dump stats for a ranged fighter.

We can see that, for a change, magic-users get stuck with having to take more stats than other character types. It makes for a weird dichotomy between classes to have one require so much more in stats than the others. Non-magic-users are able to "stack" their stats to increase their chances for success; magic-users can not do this "stacking" without giving something up in exchange. Perhaps this was intentional as a limit to the power of the magic-user (which often became far more powerful than the other classes in other game systems).

This all goes to show that simply paring down the number of stats in a system is not enough to remove dump stats.

November 7, 2013

TFT - Tanks

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

As part of the character generation system, In the Labyrinth, provides some examples of types of characters people might want to play. These are not classes, but rather suggestions on how to build a specific style of character. Examples are swashbuckler (make him Dex based and take certain talents) and Ranger (again Dex based and give it ranged and nature talents). The first example listed is Human Tank. The Human Tank is a bare bones fighter with high Str and it is recommended they wear heavy armor. Sounds like your typical Tank character.

The interesting thing is that the concept of a Tank is strongly tied into the world of MMOs. If you mention a Tank character most people equate that to an MMO. In MMOs Tanks are the class that take lots of damage and can mitigate it. Almost exactly like the Human Tank from TFT. This got me thinking, what is the origin of the term "Tank"?

Doing some research, the first response is that it is an MMO term. Doing some more digging, it is suggested that the Tank originated in MUDs starting in 1994. And yet, here we have the exact same term, with the same meaning, in 1980. Was TFT the first to coin the phrase "Tank" with the meaning of a warrior that takes lots of damage for the group? Did they use a term already in use?

It's an interesting thought that The Fantasy Trip may have created the term "Tank" that is used so prevalently in modern day gaming.

November 6, 2013

TFT - A World Built For Adventure

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

The default world of The Fantasy Trip (TFT) is Cidri. The setting is a huge kitchen sink of adventure. The premise behind the setting is that on a world in the past one family had the ability to travel across dimensions into other worlds. From these worlds they plundered technology, magic and people that made them more powerful. With this power they built the huge world of Cidri, populating it with people, items and creatures of mythology and wonder according to their individual whims. And then they left the world to itself. Cidri is a huge world (far larger than Earth) with all sorts of interesting and unique things on it. Basically, if you want something in your TFT game you can have it. There is a default in-game rationalization for including anything a DM would want to include. Cidri is built for adventure.

And that is what every good world setting is needs to be...

-A setting needs to allow for a wide range of adventure types. If a setting only allows for urban intrigue then you will lose the players who enjoy a good dungeon crawl at times.

-A setting needs to be able to accommodate the things a DM (and players) will want to bring to the setting. If a setting is too restrictive a DM will feel that restraint and this will turn them off. DMs like to be creative and if a a setting doesn't let them have their fun, then it is not a setting they will like.

All that being said, some groups want a setting that is restrictive. Obviously if the group wants hard science-fiction then a DM adding magic, or even psychic abilities, to the rules will go counter to what the group wants. However, that is a choice a group makes in their personal game style choices. It is usually always best if those choices are left to the gaming group and not a default of the game system. Remember, a setting needs to be able to reach a wide audience of varying styles. That is not to say that every game needs to be a complete kitchen sink, but a good setting will allow for some flexibility.

TFT may have gone a bit far in their setting. While it allows for anything to be included within the setting, it may be too much. There is a definite lack of world cohesion. Players may begin to doubt the logic of the world when things change radically from one section of the world to another. Of course, a DM can decide to curtail the options themselves, but with the broad slapdash of setting, the temptation will always be there to throw something oddball at the players.



November 5, 2013

TFT - Setting First

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

The Fantasy Trip (TFT) comes with a fairly generic setting, Cidri. Many game systems now come with a default world setting described in the rule book. Within In the Labyrinth, out of the entire rulebook, about 3 pages is allotted to describing the setting and most of the information is at the very front of the book. I'll get more into the actual setting in the next post, but the question I have is...where in a rulebook should a description of the setting go?

A setting is in a rulebook for a number of reasons...

-Get the reader excited about the game system.
An evocative setting description can get a group excited about playing the game. As the readers take in the setting they begin to imagine what it would like to play characters in such a world. If the setting is "cool" then the reader wants to play the game. 

-Show how the rules can be used in-game.
Some rule systems provide unique interpretations of established gaming conventions. If a rule system provides a magic system that causes damage to the caster for every spell they cast, then the setting will reflect the ramifications of this. By showing a setting, it can highlight the differences between the game system and other systems out there. It also shows the players what can be expected.

-Let a group start playing right away.
Once someone is excited about a game system they often what to start playing right away. If time must be spent designing a setting interest can wane in a group. By providing a setting, a group can get right into the game without a long set-up time.

-The setting is the game.
Some rule systems are really nothing but a vehicle for a world setting. As an example, Shadowrun is less about the rules and more about the world in which the characters will play.This sort of game is all about the setting and less about the rules. 

-The setting is a teaser for more supplements.
After a rule book has been published the publisher often wants to make more money off the intellectual property. One such money-maker is a sourcebook detailing a setting for the rule system. By providing a default setting it garners immediate interest in future products.

As can be surmised there are times when a designer would want a setting description to come first in the game book. If they are trying to sell the setting and the rules are secondary to the setting, then having some setting description up front makes sense. However, if the rules are the truly innovative part of the book then it makes more sense to showcase the rules first and then how the setting plays into it.

There is often a synergy between a rule system and a setting. A setting can describe a new type of magic and the rules provide for mechanical means to realize that new type of magic. One trick some designers use is to slip a bunch of setting material into the rules sections. For instance, while describing the mechanics for building characters some world information is imparted as well. If the system grants bonuses to a character based on where in the setting they are from (or certain character types can only be from certain setting regions), this is a way of providing setting information and to tie it directly into the rules.

As for TFT, the setting is fairly generic, but this is a reflection of the rule system itself. The rules were originally designed to be generic and integrated into other systems. Thus pinning the rules to a specific setting would be counter-productive as it might inhibit integration. Should the setting information for TFT have been at the beginning of the rule book? If the goal was to show that the rules could be used for any setting then sure, the setting information on Cidri was bland enough to show it could easily be used in any setting. However, since the focus of the book was actually the rules, it might have been better to provide the setting information at the end of the book as an example of how a setting could be built with their rules.

Personally, I prefer the rules up front and the setting at the end. If you are going to tell be Blood Mages are a part of the world, I want to know what that means in game terms before I can fully understand their place in the setting. What is your preference?

November 4, 2013

TFT - Modular System Rules

The Fantasy Trip was a role-playing game that came out in 1980 with the release of In The Labyrinth, the core rule set. It also included Melee (tactical combat) and Wizard (spellcasting), as well as the Advanced versions of them. The game was written by Steve Jackson who later used the system as a base for GURPS. This series of articles is a look at the rules of The Fantasy Trip as seen through modern eyes.

The Fantasy Trip (TFT) really began with In the Labyrinth in 1980. It had an odd system of rules distribution. D&D has followed the format of main rule book (Player's Handbook), advice and additional rules for the DM (Dungeon Master's Guide) and monsters (Monster Manual). While TFT was also divided into three books, they followed a different system. In the Labyrinth was the core rule set which outlines the basic rules such as character generation/advancement. Melee is the combat rules. Wizard is the spellcasting/magic rules. A person really needs all three books to be able to play the game. Why did they take this approach?

While Melee and Advanced Melee is part of TFT, Melee actually came out 3 years before TFT (in 1977). Originally it was designed to be a supplement for any fantasy rpg game, including D&D. It was a very tactical and simulationist approach to combat. It was meant to replace the combat system of whatever rpg a group might be playing. Likewise, Wizard (released in 1978) was also meant to provide a separate magic system, though it was also meant to work smoothly with Melee. Thus both books could be used in tandem to replace systems in other games. In the Labyrinth, the character rules, came later and was built around the combat and magic rules.

This is an interesting approach to rule systems. Most modern day rpg games have highly integrated characters rules, combat rules and magic systems. In addition, most systems these days also have a heavily integrated world setting that is also tied into the game system. Shadowrun is an excellent example of this level of integration. With most modern games their rule components are designed for that specific system and integration into another game is often impossible, or certainly not worth the effort.

I'm not sure such modular rule systems is something that is viable in the current rpg marketplace. As I already mentioned most systems are heavily integrated within themselves. Adding or replacing rule sections can be a nightmare. And, really, most gamers rate a game system as a whole. Seldom do they choose a system with the intent of cobbling together separate systems. Sure they may alter some rules but most groups keep the core rule components and only tweak things slightly.

One thing that I have mention on the topic of modular rule systems is Rolemaster. Originally released between 1980 and 1982, they also presented a series of modular system rules similar to TFT. Arms Law (combat rules), Spell Law (spell rules), Claw Law (monster rules), Character Law (character generation/advancement) and Campaign Law (GM rules) were all designed to replace existing rules systems in other games (again specifically D&D). It eventually grew into its own rpg game. The main difference between TFT and Rolemaster is that Rolemaster proved to ultimately be far more popular (or more supported) and continues to this day (there is a playtest going on right now for the next edition of the rules). However, this version of Rolemaster is being presented as a complete rule system and not as modular system rules to be used to replace other game system components.

October 29, 2013

RPG Tech Wish List

If I were to win one of the huge lottery prizes (I'm talking millions), I would create a rock'in rpg game room with all the bells and whistles that expendable cash can buy. I know most of us would as well. But what if you could only get one tech item for your game? What would it be? And by this question I am really asking, what is the most important technological item you could get for your game?

For me, it would be a high-end printer and enough ink to keep it going in perpetuity.
I find I am buying a lot more PDFs than ever before. But I like paper products so I need to print them out to make good use of them. There are paper map tiles, paper miniatures and other table accessories that you can print out these days. Also, I am a big fan of giving my players pictures of what they encounter from pictures of loot (weapons, necklaces, rings, etc) they find to locations (castles, wilderness, etc) they visit. I actually do a bunch of printing at work but it's all in black & white (and I'm limited by how much they allow me to print for personal reasons). I would love to be able to print everything out in glorious color.

Getting a high-end printer is actually an attainable goal without having to win a lottery - assuming someday I can talk the wife into letting me do it. But what tech item would you want for your table? Many people want such things as high-end computers to facilitate game play, a more portable computer such as a pdf reader for ease of use, a high-end projection system for running mapped encounters and other such items. What would you like if money was no obstacle?

October 22, 2013

The Real World Dungeon Delves

The underground dungeon complex has been a staple of D&D and fantasy games for years. It is a wonderful way to allow for player choice ("do we go left or right?") while still restraining the options the players have ("we can only go left or right"). However, the dungeon complex has always felt artificial and contrived to me. I mean, who really lives in underground lairs? In the past, I have always hand-waved it, usually saying that monsters, the normal dungeon inhabitants, simply prefer such locations and its okay since they are not bound by human predilections.

However, I could not have been more wrong. Underground cities have existed within our real world. And I'm not talking about a few caves carved into the side of a mountain either, I mean real cities that go deep beneath the earth.

Derinkuyu

This underground city was built sometime in the 7th century BC within modern day Turkey. It has at least 8 levels, was 280 feet deep and could house up to 20,000 people and their livestock. It contained food stores, kitchens, stalls, churches, wine and oil presses, ventilation shafts, wells, and a religious school. Access to the city was closed off with large round doors, that also could close off each level. Of further interest is the fact that Derinkuyu was linked to another underground city 4 miles away, Kaymakli, through an underground passage.
















Kaymakli
This underground city has 4 levels and nearly 100 tunnels with various rooms off of them. This one was also meant to be lived in and included stables (on the first level), a church, storage, dwellings, a wine press, and a copper smelting area.

The region where these two underground cities can be found has over 200 underground cities each with a minimum of 2 levels; 40 of these have a minimum of at least 3 levels. Many of these are open to the public, though not all of the cities have been fully explored. To know that there really do exist underground cities is fascinating.

October 19, 2013

Kickstarter Shout-Out: Warlords and Sellswords

Turns out a friend of mine has his own Kickstarter going. It's for Warlords and Sellswords, a card game where you have 10 turns to build the best army. Check it out.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/931449005/warlords-and-sellswords-0

"Warlords and Sellswords is card game about building an army to impress the local king so that he will hire you to fight his war. You will compete against other new armies over a ten turn game. The king has outlawed open combat between all armies applying for the job but subterfuge and trickery are viable options. You can murder, steal, and disrupt the other army’s troops to make yours look the most appealing for war."

October 15, 2013

Elysium - A Cyberpunk/Shadowrun Film

Elysium is a film released here in the States on August 9th and by the time this article is posted will likely be out of the first run theaters (though it might still be around in second run theaters). It stars Matt Damon and was produced/written/directed by the same person who did the sci-fi film District 9. It is billed as a big budget summer action film. From the trailers this looked like another straightforward sci-fi film. However, as I watched it I quickly realized this was very much a cyberpunk genre film.

It has so many of the cyberpunk tropes in it. Cyberware, datajacks, hackers, street docs, fixers, wage slaves, corps, gangers, street samurai with swords, SINs and big guns all make an appearance. However, it goes beyond simple tropes. There is also the feel of a cyberpunk dystopia. There are the sprawls and then the rich areas. And the best part is that the characters actually go on runs, much the same way my players did when we were playing Shadowrun.

If you want to see a movie that captures the look and feel of a cyberpunk adventure, Elysium is a really good one to go and see. And for those who have already seen it, what did you think?


October 8, 2013

I Missed Old School Because I Was Doing D&D the Right Way

Last month I took part in the 30 Day D&D Challenge (and had fun doing so). During the process two things struck me as odd. When it came to answering Favorite Gameworld and Favorite Adventure You Have Ran
I realized I have never run any of the old worlds or modules. Sure I was playing D&D back then and I actually have all the worlds and modules. I have the Greyhawk setting material; I have the Judges Guild Wilderlands. I have the Tomb of Horrors, the complete Giant Series, all the B series (and A and C and etc) - all the modules from the days of "old-school". I read them all and enjoyed reading them. But I have never run any of them...ever.

There are a couple of reasons for this...
1) When we started playing D&D, sessions consisted of throwaway bits of dungeon exploration. There were no campaigns, no worlds. None of that mattered to us.
2) Because we were kids we didn't have a lot of money. We shared whatever gaming books we got. One of us would buy a book, we'd photocopy it and give everyone else a copy. Thus it is was understood that everyone had read all the books.

Thus it was that when I started running games I would create everything. I would write the dungeon adventure myself from scratch. When we eventually "grew up" and wanted more "realism" I created my own game worlds.

I did what D&D was meant to be; I created everything myself.

For me, at least in the early years from which "old-school" is based, published material was used as a way to show us examples on how it could be done and as inspiration. Therefore I missed the days of gaming in Greyhawk nor did I ever hear the battle-cry of the kobolds in the Caves of Chaos (I was running the 5E Caves of Chaos Playtest and one of my players did it and then had to explain what it was to me). All too often I see "old-school" grognards mention playing in module X or why they love world Y, but I missed all that. Maybe that's why I am less nostalgic of the old days. Maybe that's why I don't feel tied to the OSR beyond having some fundamental play styles in common and playing in the same time period most of the OSR came from.

All that being said, I did eventually start running published material, mostly as a way to cut down on prep time. But it came later, after the early days of old-school. Do I feel like I played D&D better than people who used published material? No, just that I may have missed out on some common ground. But really, all that matters is that the players had fun and I had fun making my worlds of adventure.

October 1, 2013

30 Day D&D - Wrap-Up

So, I had fun this month writing up 30 days of D&D related questions. Sure, some of the questions were inane (with bad spelling and grammar) and of little interest to my readers. However, it was insightful, even some of the more generic questions.

For instance, there was a slew of Favorite Monster days by type. At first glance this was fairly basic and uninteresting. In the end they often come down to nostalgia or personal flavor choice and that makes them more personal than informative. However, I found my reasoning for my choices to be of interest. I am predominantly the DM in my group. Most of my monster choices were made by how they can affect and challenge my players. Also, I tended to prefer monsters with variety to them; monsters that could be used in different ways either in location or presentation.

So, in the end, it was less about what answer I gave and more about why I chose that answer.

It was actually interesting reading the blog posts from everyone else who jumped on this blog bandwagon. There was a fair amount of variance in the answers which kept it refreshing. It also goes to show how diverse rpg gamers can be.

d20 Dark Ages kept a list of which blogs were participating if you want to check some of them out.


September 30, 2013

30 Day D&D - Best DM You've Had

My wife, Carrie.

She does so many things better than me. Her ability to roll with whatever her players throw at her is astounding. Sometimes I think she completely runs her games off the cuff, but I know she has a world written up. Everything stays coherent and cohesive even when she is running on the fly.

She is able to provide her players with unique and interesting encounters and NPCs. She can also make us care about things we normally wouldn't...like the Mule. We once had a mule with us and as time went on we became more and more attached to the point where we decided the campaign would end if ever the Mule died.

She has so many other excellent DM qualities, (like being great at making up names, providing fair but challenging encounters, not letting us always win, etc) that she is the best DM I've ever had.


September 29, 2013

30 Day D&D - What is the number you always seem to roll on a d20?

2.

I wish I could expound on this one, but it is the weakest of the questions. However, in for one question - in for them all. 


September 28, 2013

30 Day D&D - A character you will never play again

I do not have a specific character I played and didn't like. Rather I have a style of play I do not like and will avoid as much as possible, so it amounts to much the same thing.

I do not like player vs player (pvp) D&D. To me D&D is a cooperative game where you want to hang out with your friends overcoming challenges. PvP is the opposite of that concept. Whatever benefits that pvp may bring to a game (fear of the unexpected, great storylines) is not worth the damage to the game (derailment of plot/story, hurt feelings, not being to trust your fellow players). It's just not worth it. PvP is all about having fun at the expense of your fellow gamers. It removes the shared aspect of gaming. It is not for me.


September 27, 2013

30 Day D&D - A character you want to play in the future

Bloodmage.

The Bloodmage is a variant spellcaster that has been around in various editions of D&D in various versions. It is not a core class though I do believe it has appeared in some "official" splat-books. The basic concept is of a mage that either sacrifices part of themselves or others for more power.

Why would I like to play a Bloodmage? I think walking a fine line between the desire to gain more power and still being a hero would be an interesting exercise in role-playing. How far would the character go? What lines would he not cross? It would be fun to explore such a character.


September 26, 2013

30 Day D&D - Favorite nonmagic item

The horse.

This was always the one "item" that had multiple uses and variety. In most starting games none of us could afford a horse (heck, we couldn't afford the armor we wanted), but we still wanted a horse. The horse was one of the first things we would buy when we "were rich". We knew we had made it once we each owned a horse.

Horses also act as companions. We always named them and those names were a reflection of ourselves and/or our characters. They gave us something more to worry about, something to care about. Somehow this gave our games more meaning. In our games the horses often had personalities and provided a limited form of role-playing.

Side Note: I detest the 10' pole. I don't care what people say; no one in reality would ever carry one nor use it. It would be tossed aside after about 10 minutes of hiking or riding. It is a metagame tool and I don't like them.


September 25, 2013

30 Day D&D - Favorite magic item

Hand and Eye of Vecna.

I'm not messing around with any wimpy magic item, I'm going straight to the epitome of artifacts. This was the set that every player in our games wanted. Sure it had a bunch of drawbacks, like needing to lose your hand or eye, but we were more than willing to make that sacrifice. None of us ever got one, but it didn't stop us dreaming about it.

These items had a wonderful background to them. While the story behind them is only briefly mentioned in the item's description, there was enough there to envision mighty battles and epic stories. That is the way magic items, or at least the artifacts, should be presented in a book. They should be more than just a set of stats but rather a catalyst to more adventures.


September 24, 2013

30 Day D&D - Favorite Energy Type

Electricity.

I tend to find the other energy types to be fairly mundane or boring. However, electricity is wild and random and powerful and really comes across as something other than mundane. I envision a lightning bolt streaking across a battlefield, an iconic vision when it comes to fantasy. Electricity is not something a person can do naturally and thus it squarely falls into the realm of fantasy. While such things as cold or sonic are also something a person can normally do, they lack ooomph and power. Electricity is where it's at!



September 23, 2013

30 Day D&D - Least Favorite Monster Overall

This is going to be a hard one to explain because on a fundamental level I am crazy for thinking this...but to me it makes sense. My Least Favorite Monster Overall is the Dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs have been a part of D&D and pulp fiction (from which much of D&D has sprung) but I just can't get myself to like it. First I was never the dinosaur-o-phile like so many other kids that also liked fantasy and science-fiction while growing up. Second, dinosaurs are too real for my fantasy...which makes little sense, but does in a round-about sort of way. Let me explain where I am coming from on this...

I will use wolves and bears are combatants in my D&D games because they are real hazards that we all can understand. That would imply that I would also use dinosaurs as they are also real and once were real hazards. Except they weren't, at least not to humans. And we know so much about dinosaurs now that using one as a one-shot monster makes no sense to me. I envision dinosaurs as living in groups, with a tight ecosystem of predator and prey...an ecosystem that dinosaurs are the dominant species of...unlike reality where humans are the dominant species. If I include dinosaurs into a D&D setting then by default they would be the dominant species and they would trump every civilization in my fantasy world. Reality dictates they can not be in a fantasy setting. (Yes, I know reality has little to do with fantasy but when mixing real life with fantasy I prefer to err on the side of reality. To do otherwise can cause the players to question the underlying immersion of the setting.)

Now I could have a Lost Valley with Dinosaurs, but if I'm going to do that I would prefer to use the fantastical. I'll add in flying lizards that shoot lasers from their eyes before I use something as "ordinary" as dinosaurs. I am not against using dinosaurs in rpgs, just not in my D&D.


September 22, 2013

30 Day D&D - Favorite Monster Overall

One thing I have always loved about D&D is its diversity of monsters. There are so many of them to choose from. I may not always get the latest character splat book for the latest edition, but I do always get every Monster Manual that comes out. As a DM I can present my players with a wide range of monsters without ever running out of new ones to throw at them. With that knowledge, it makes it very hard to pick just one. However, there was one monster that lept into my head all on its own...the Kobold. Kobolds are devious that way.

Kobolds are the throw-away monsters. They are what you use as filler or to let the players beat up on something. And Kobolds do that job admirably. Of course, there are those times when the Kobold surprises the party and those sneaky little pests start getting all tactical and trappy on the party. Kobolds can quickly go from cannon fodder to TPK.

And that's why I like them. They actually do have a wide range of uses in a campaign. They can be the focus of a low level adventure. They can be comic relief. They can be the minions of something truly nasty. They do tend to fall behind in their usefulness as a campaign progresses in level, but until then they can be put to many uses.


September 21, 2013

30 Day D&D - Favorite Dragon Color/Type

When I was younger I always liked the Shadow Dragon; black was cool and they were way cooler than the Black Dragon (who was stuck in the swamp). However, they are kind of wimpy. Of the evil dragons they tend to have the least hp and do the least damage. Their "perks" don't measure up. Therefore, my favorite dragon is the Red Dragon.

The Red Dragon is the most powerful, or so they would tell you. They tend to be the most evil as well. Out of all the evil dragons I feel they make the best adversaries tugging at the fantasy underpinnings of most gamers. Maybe it's just a Smaug thing, but Red is the new black.



September 20, 2013

30 Day D&D - Favorite Monster (Humanoid/Natural/Fey)

When I saw this one my mind immediately went to Fey. I find most humanoids and natural creatures fairly boring. After all, they are too akin to what we see everyday and D&D is about the exciting and fantastical. Sure orcs are not something we see everyday in real life, but then again, they are common in most fantasy settings. From there most humanoids are nothing but a variation on a theme. Drow are evil elves (and done to death as well), Aarakocra are flying people, Derro are dwarf variants, Merfolk are fish-people, etc. So my mind went to the Fey. From there I chose the Dryad.

Thus far my Favorite Monsters have been those that I like to use against the players. The Dryad is the "monster" that I would like to meet as a character. And this all stems from boyhood fantasies. As a young boy, as with most young males, there is the dream of meeting the girl who wants you. The first time I read about the D&D Dryad, I instantly zeroed in on the fact they are beautiful and then to the fact they like to charm males to live with them. Sounded like a win-win to me. Since then they have been my favorite fey.

(For the record, Githyanki almost came in first but puberty won out.)


September 19, 2013

30 Day D&D - Favorite Monster (Elemental/Plant)

Treant.

This harkens back to my love of the Lord of the Rings. The Ents of LotR were some of my favorite parts of the books. It really brought out the fantasy aspect. Could trees talk? Could we hear them? In addition, I always liked the scene from the Wizard of Oz movie with the trees that attacked. This carried over into my D&D games where my players could meet Treants both as possible friends but also as tenacious enemies.


September 18, 2013

30 Day D&D - Favorite Monster (Immortal/Outsider)

Azmodeus.

To me he was always the demon/devil that was the most powerful. However, while he is certainly powerful in might, he also does a lot through subterfuge, guile and diplomacy. I liked that aspect of a powerful being who uses his intelligence as well. It meant he was more than a hp meat bag. It also meant I could also use him in a variety of ways and the players wouldn't know it was him until it was too late.


September 17, 2013

30 Day D&D - Favorite Monster (Animal/Vermin)

Rat.
Actually a Moonrat but I like the picture

Rather uninspiring isn't it. The Rat is found as an adversary in virtually every 1st level dungeon at least once. All in all they are rather boring. But that is why I like them. They are a work-horse of a monster for low levels. You can throw them into any type of adventure from a city adventure to a dungeon crawl and they make complete sense for being there all without needing to provide a reason. If skeletons (another favorite low level monster) are in a dungeon you need to explain what raised them as undead and why they are still there. If you use kobolds in the sewer of a city you need to explain how they have lived there so long undetected. Not so with the Rat.


September 16, 2013

30 Day D&D - Favorite Monster (Abberation)

This is another category that is full of some excellent choices: Aboleth, Carrion Crawler, Catoblepas, Chuul, Cloaker, Gibbering Mouther, Intellect Devourer, Mimic, Mind Flayer, Naga, Neogi, Otyugh, Rust Monster, and Umber Hulk to name just a few of my favorites. However, my all time favorite is the Beholder.

Aberrations walk that fine line between the weird and the intelligent. They are not simply mindless creatures, in fact, many of them are highly intelligent. That is what makes them exceptionally dangerous; they have weird, unique abilities and the cunning to use them in strange and interesting ways.

Similar to the Lich yesterday, the beholder is good for both the one shot encounter or the main bad guy of a campaign. They also can be the antagonist of an adventure, but sometimes they may be the enemy that is willing to fight with the party against a greater evil. Their use is versatile...and they never fail to scare my players.



September 15, 2013

30 Day D&D - Favorite Monster (Undead)

Lich.

While I have always been fond of the undead as an enemy (I ran an 11-year campaign with the undead as the main enemy), the Lich is the one with the most versatility. Most undead are fairly mindless and can, at times, be uninteresting. The lich is an undead that still retains it's intelligence and cunning. They can serve as a single encounter or be the masterminds behind an entire campaign. Their challenge level also ranges from the baseline to almost god-like with the added abilities of magic and items.


September 14, 2013

30 Day D&D - Favorite NPC

Abner. He was from my home-brew world. He was a gold dragon that often appeared in human form (and Abner was his human-form name). He was often a guide and mentor for the player characters. In my world the main threat was Zermarx, a mighty necromancer under Orcus who was waging a war against the PCs kingdom after they released him. It was Abner who had imprisoned him after the last war and then built up defenses in anticipation of Zermarx's inevitable return. Abner was a fumbling wizard prone to having his spells go astray, such as the occasional fireball that would land in the middle of the party.

If any of Abner characteristics sounds at all familiar it is because I blatantly stole the ideas from Dragonlance and Fizban the Fabulous. My players had not read the books so I was free to pillage ideas and I liked the concept of a bumbling mage that was a random element with the party.

As time wound on Abner slowly changed from a bumbler to a competent quest director. However, he is my favorite D&D NPC because...
A) He was fun to play as I tried to come up with some outrageous antics he could perpetrate.
B) The players had fun interacting with him.
C) He was an excellent quest guide.

However, he is not my favorite NPC of all time, as that belongs to Hugo, from my Feng Shui game. Hugo is a demon conjured by the Eaters of the Lotus that the player characters befriended. But that is a post for another day.


September 13, 2013

30 Day D&D - Favorite Trap/Puzzle

When it comes to puzzles, for me there has to be the "ah, of course that is the answer" moment. If after the answer to a puzzle is revealed the players are still confused, then the puzzle has failed. Likewise with traps, there has to be the moment of "we could have avoided that trap".

Puzzles need to feel a part of whatever complex they are in. Puzzles randomly strewn around a dungeon does not make sense. There has to be a logical reason why a puzzle is where it is. Fortunately there are plenty of good reasons (excuses) for puzzles to be in a dungeon (hmmm this gives me an idea for a future blog article). Likewise, traps need to be a logical part of a dungeon. One basic underlying question for both traps and puzzles is - how do the beings that live there get around them? If a trap is a set of razor sharp blades that slice anything that walks down the hallway...how do the creatures that live there get down that hallway?

Through the years I have used many puzzles and traps. However, my favorites are always the ones that play off of the foibles of the players - the ones that make the players reassess their "standard operating procedure". Also, sometimes the most simple traps are the most diabolical.

The trap I use the most (and by default is my favorite) is the Double Pit Trap. The "normal" adventuring group will often find a trap in a hallway fairly easily. After finding the first one they then jump over it or pole-vault with their 10' pole if the trap is sprung by them or they walk over it with confidence if they disabled it. And then the second pit trap is directly after the first one. They invariably fall for the second trap every time.


September 12, 2013

30 Day D&D - Favorite Dungeon Type/Location

Wizard Towers.

The Wizard Tower is an iconic adventure location. It is my favorite because it allows the most variety when it comes to adventure design. When I am designing an adventure for my groups, I want to keep throwing new things at them. Kicking in doors, killing orcs and taking their treasure is fun, and I certainly make sure to include those sorts of things, but I also like to include puzzles, traps and different sorts of challenges. A Wizard Tower allows me to break the "normal" rules of dungeon design and throw oddball or the unexpected into the mix.

Everything can be explained with "it's magic" no matter how unusual it is. If I want an impassable wall that can only be bypassed by solving an intelligence puzzle, it is impassable because of magic. If I want an 8-headed Hydra to appear out of a small orb that falls to the ground and breaks after the players fail to correctly navigate a trap, it works because of magic. The magic of the Wizard allows me to do just about anything. I can present my players with a wide variety of challenges while still retaining some level of plausibility.