Archive for June, 2012

22
Jun
12

The Shadow out of Providence

I am currently in Norway collecting data on wilderness encounters, which I will share when my internet access is less limited. However in the interim Ezra Claverie’s very worthy Kickstarter for a Lovecraftian meta-textThe Shadow out of Providence, is about to reach the end of its funding campaign, as he was kind enough to remind me:

Tumble out of your hammock, seaman! I’ve orders for ye!

Run aloft to the very top of the Mule Abides, and sing out that you’ve spotted _The Shadow out of Providence_. Tell the lads to row for it with all their might, and we may yet return with a hold full of oil.

I’m offering an extra measure of rum for all the crew if we exceed our goal by a thousand Yankee dollars. Videlicett, if we raise $8,500, “the hardcover will have marbled endpapers, and every backer’s name will appear in the book, on the roster of the lost members of the 8th American-Soviet Friendship Expedition (which, sadly, had no survivors). This list will be separate from the acknowledgments, and part of ‘The Vostok Dossier’.”

Update #9, which I just posted, contains the full details, if ye should forget, or if ye should find the lingo of an old sea-captain less than transparent.

–Cap’n Ezra

One of the main attractions of this project for old-schoolers may be the new illustrations by Erol Otus, see below. However there is much to be said (which I guess I also need to say in a future post) for the proposition that Lovecraft and his circle of correspondents invented a key component of roleplaying, the idea of a shared world which was gradually revealed by the stories of individual protagonists. Of course, many of these protagonists died horribly in proper old-school fashion because D&D and the Cthulu Mythos are both the story of the world, not the story of the heroes in it. I’ve written before about how seeing the Mythos appear in the Electronic Arts game Murder on the Zinderneuf was my first transmedia experience, and I think it’s not jus a fondness for monsters that causes Lovecraft is named in Appendix N and beloved of roleplayers everywhere. Ezra’s metatext promises to be a worthy and exciting addition to this canon; check it out, I think you’ll dig it.Image

19
Jun
12

Dicing Up a B/X Dragon

Monochrome dice would actually be hard to use for this

Monochrome dice would actually be hard to use for this (h/t grognardia.blogspot.com)

This was a side project from a while back: Building on an earlier post, I wanted to lay out a small system for generating a dragon out of a handful of dice, with the idea of running some one shots that pitted whoever showed up against whatever dragon I generated (I think I was inspired by a short story in Dragon magazine in the early 90’s, I forget the name. Middle-aged dragon hunter.).

It’s actually not especially fast, but that was part of the point: I wanted to write the charts up by hand on a big, yellowed piece of paper, and play up the oracular reading of the dice.  I actually like how most of it turns out: Rolling six dice determines the hit dice, breath weapon, alignment, gender, lair type, whether the dragon can cast spells, and (this is the weakest part) name.  It’s also some fun with different ways to generate distributions with dice… In any case, maybe it inspires someone else to do something clever-er…

Dragon Dice Oracle

15
Jun
12

A D&D That Never Was: Champions of ZED Kickstarter

Daniel Boggs’ vision of what the original release of Dungeons & Dragons could have been, Champions of ZED, ends its Kickstarter funding period this Saturday, June 16th, at 11:11PM EDT. I’m a backer; here’s why I think you might want to pick this up for yourself, and what a strong showing for this crowdfunding effort could mean for those of us who are interested in roleplaying history.

Last October my family and I drove to Schnectady to go camping, visit Secret Caverns and Howe Caverns, attend the Council of Five Nations gaming convention, and visit Dan and his family. I knew Dan as Aldarron from the OD&D forums, and as D.H. Boggs the author of Dragons at Dawn, and we’d talked by phone while I was putting together the Arneson game day. At some point he told me the story of how he came to have a copy of a  manuscript, “…Beyond This Point Be Dragons…”, which – as he relates in his analysis of a D&D archaeological mystery (PDF) – he believes is an alternate branch of the development of the first roleplaying game. BTPBD seemingly reflects Dave Arneson’s further refinement and expansion of a draft that resulted from the initial back and forth between him and Gary Gygax, with illustrations, clarifications, and new ideas that weren’t included in the text that was published as Dungeons & Dragons in 1974.

While I was in Schnectady, Daniel let me take a look at his copy and take a few pictures with my cell phone, which always makes me feel pleasingly like James Bond. At the time I was working on dungeon encounter tables for ACKS, so those are the things I focused on:

Dig the Anti-Superhero on this encounter table from …Beyond This Point be Dragons…

A number of fans have expressed their frustration that the Champions of ZED Kickstarter is not publishing this manuscript itself, and I understand where they’re coming from. I’ve got no way to verify its authenticity, although I have great respect for Daniel’s Arnesonian scholarship and find his reasoning about what BTPBD represents convincing. What I can say is that looking over this manuscript gave me a powerful sense of secret history and unrealized possibilities.  I wish more people could share that experience, but Daniel is in no position to publish this work directly. I do believe that there are other copies of this and similar historical manuscripts in the hands of people who are better situated to release them; it’s my hope that the show of interest demonstrated by this project convinces someone who can that it’s worth the effort to bring this manuscript to the public.

I don’t really know how many other people will thrill to the revelation that, just as an Evil High Priest is the dungeon-dwelling counterpart of a Patriarch, at one point Arneson made clear that a Superhero goes into the underworld to confront an Anti-Superhero. Of course, I eat this stuff up. But what was really mindblowing was having lunch with Daniel afterwards and talking to him about the things I’d seen in “…Beyond This Point Be Dragons…” and the even more interesting things his immersion in the early D&D texts allowed him to spot that I had missed. It’s valuable to see an alternate Arnesonian experience point system; it’s fantastic to have Daniel put this in the context of Arneson’s writing like The First Fantasy Campaign , an analysis of how many experience points are potentially distributed in Dave’s dungeons, what interviews with him and his players suggest, etc. This is the kind of thing I’m confident Champions of ZED will deliver; this is why I’m looking forward to getting my copy.

Champions of ZED is fully funded; it doesn’t need your support to become a reality. But if you care about the kinds of roleplaying history we talk about at the Mule, you owe it to yourself to pick up CoZ and whichever of the backer rewards catches your eye. Go now, I’ve left this post until it’s almost too late!

13
Jun
12

The Value of a Rerolled Die

I’ve seen a couple of blogposts about the advantage/disadvantage mechanic in WotC’s playtest materials that suggested some interest in the underlying math.  I actually find these functions useful to have around in other situations, too, so I’m reposting this bit I wrote up for our campaign wiki.

Average Value Re-rolling a N-Sided Die, Taking the Highest Result

Average Value Re-rolling a N-Sided Die, Taking the Lowest Result

So, for a D20…

The highest of two dice averages 13.825, the lowest of two dice averages 7.175.

12
Jun
12

Generating Non-Standard Undead

As part of my slow-burning Saltbox project, I’m working up material on ghost ships.  I think of them in three categories: Ships with divine purpose (La Grande Chasse Foudre, or a more malign analog), ships of cursed undead taking their anger out on passers-by (Flying Dutchman, or the Black Pearl), and boats of monsters that want to eat your face.  Since I’m usually working with either B/X or ACKS (with occasional recourse to the SRD), this breakdown organizes undead monsters like so (this is ACKS, which gives Ghouls an extra HD):

Since I’d also like to present the population of ghost ships in terms familiar to descriptions of ship crews in these rulesets (“there is a Nth level fighter for every X pirates…”), I’m interested in being able to target the gaps in that chart: If I have a ship of ravenous undead captained by a 6HD creature, what is it?  I could just fiddle with the HD of existing creatures, but I’d like to be a little less predictable.

Instead, I’m taking the target HD, using a base attack damage of 1d6, and calculating the armor class of the creature as 8-HD (for B/X) or HD + 1 (for ACKS).  Then I’m rolling as indicated on these tables for special abilities and quirks of appearance (forgive the slight maritime bent):

 

I expect that the entries will get weirder with use, but I like the way the captains are shaping up so far. As is, they come fairly close to generating the traditional undead monsters as possible outcomes, which I regard as a virtue.

09
Jun
12

wack(ier) Carcosa races

Richard has been running a Wacky Carcosa Races game, complete with lots of cool pictures.

Several of the contestants have interesting vehicles, but none of them scream “Carcosa!!!!!!” to me.  (Though “Joan of Shark and her Car-Charodon” is a great name.)  How about:

An intercontinental slip-n-slide made from the stitched-together hymens of Ulfire maidens, rolled out like a carpet and lubricated with feces by a pair of lobotomized mi-go.  Belly-gliding along this horrific boulevard, like a curling stone, is the Ptotic Invigilator.  At his command roving cyborg marauders sweep the environs for virgins that the causeway may be extended to the Salivary Seas. 

Oh well, there’s always next year.




Past Adventures of the Mule

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