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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Odds and Ends, Grognardiness and General Zaniness

General Notes
Some of you may have been wondering why I haven't been blogging about Warhammer (on that much in general) as much lately. This is for a number of reasons. One, as I've pointed out on various Warhammer forums my interest in the game is rather low right now. Two, I truly believe that Games Workshop is circling the drain and while it sucks for the people that work there that are going to bear the brunt of it, the company itself I cannot help but blame. The antics of GW now seem to rival TSR in its death throws, should be interesting to watch. 

Secondly, I've been a tad bit busy in real life but I figure I'll have a few more posts to round out the year. Anyways, here are some odds and ends. 

5 RPG Threads of note

I don't normally like to post about the goings on at various RPGs sites, but since it came up in a thread at Dragonsfoot a while back, I thought I'd list my Top 5 favorite RPG threads from around the web. I figured I'd post the RPGs thread portion here rather then ruffle feathers elsewhere, hopefully the coast will be clear later? Here they are in no particular order. 
1. Progressive types getting their man panties in a knot over the political correctness of artwork in nerd... err D&D books.
2. A certain poster suggesting punching Sir Allen's wife in the face for knocking over minis.
3. Hissy fits about poopy diapers at conventions. (You have to read this start to finish, classic!)
5. The dude who threatened to get his lawyer for hurt feelings over his made up, Übermensch class Wow, I mean, just wow!
5. Unreasoning Zeb Cook hate *

* I'm surprised it still exists, I thought it had been deleted to protect the guilty. It's amusing on several levels, but the best is the posturing by a certain person who claimed he knew more then the people who were actually there at the time, classic! The best is Mike Berualt (aka Zotster) dispelling notions that grognard chapter and verse is built on. Note: I frequent a number of sites, but only post on a few, there are probably even crazier threads out there, but these one strike me as comedy gold.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dragonlance Redux

On a whim I decided to reread the Dragonlance Chronicles, specifically Dragons of Autumn Twilight after buying the trilogy for less then $5 at a local bookstore. Over the years I’ve shied away from rereading books I originally read as a preteen or teen, worried that they wouldn’t hold up, especially
after reading the Game of Thrones at least three times now. But, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised and the read thus far has been fast. While its not the best series ever it wasn’t horrible.

As I write this post I’m now already onto Dragons of Winter Night and despite knowing the story I’m pleased with it. Returning to Dragonlance is the first fantasy I’ve read in at least five years, or in this case reread. About the closest I’ve come was reading the entire Camloud Chronicles (also known as Dream of Eagles outside the the US) by Jack Whyte. I’ve never been a rabid fan of Dragonlance, but certainly not all butt hurt like the neck-beards with their 30 year jihad of “Dragonlance ruined AD&D!” It was an interesting concept, novels that beget a series of modules.

Reading Dragons of Autumn Twilight was a quick read. I found myself getting immersed in the story and enjoying the fact that the chapters went by quickly (for me these days time is a premium). At only 441 pages it was a snap to blast through them. Epic fantasy is also something I haven’t read in a while so it was a nice change of pace. The authors Weiss and Hickman did a good job of moving the pace of the story along. One thing that struck me this time around a number of the characters come across as whiny, particularly Flint and sometimes Tanis. I also cringed when I thought I’d dislike Tasslehoff but didn’t find him too irritating. Sturm is a bit of a downer, yes being a dour knight and all and Raistlin I found just right, squaring him with my memories (see below).

I’m also finding I also have an odd sympathy for Gilthanas, perhaps knowing what is coming. Maybe this isn’t surprising as my all-time favorite character class is fighter/mage (or in 1stedition parlance- fighter/magic user).

Now back in the day my gaming group and I read  Chronicles (most of us grabbing the same copy from the public library), but I don’t recall any us rigidly adhering to the books when playing the modules except for maybe Jim wanting to role-play the death of Sturm (also see below). I also don’t recall if we got that far.

When we played Dragonlance back in the 8th/9th grade days we only played a few of the modules. One distinct memory I have is of arriving later then everyone else at Jeff’s house, descending to the basement where we were playing and everyone having a grin on their face… I also remember why I was late and why they were all grinning. First, I had a football game and rushed over to play so it would have been the fall, in fact I still had my lower football pads/pants on. I’m sure I must have smelled great (gully dwarf?) Second the reason why they were grinning: As I was last to arrive everyone else had already picked their characters and back then the group was slightly larger then the core of: Jeff, Dave, Daryl, Jim, Christian, Tom, Mike, and I. So guess who I end up with by random chance? Raistlin. At first I was not happy, but in fact he was quite fun to play. It was fun to play a sarcastic, scathing mage with a big fighter (Caramon) to stick up for him. Dave may have been playing Tasslehoff, Jim was probably playing Sturm. After that I can’t quite recall. This also may have been the second time they played through it as I recall. This is a bit murky as they played together as a group when they were kids; at least 5-7 years before I joined them.

So there you have it, to reiterate I’m not a huge Dragonlance fan per say; it was fun to play, and my personal demarcation line stops right at Dragons of Summer Flame,  (which is another story altogether). A few Dragonlance ideas have made their appearance in my games and overall I like the concept of the world. As an aside: draconians are a good bad guy especially when orcs are overdone.

A few years later we returned to Dragonlance for a few all-night games at Jeff’s where I played a dwarven paladin of Paladine named Duncan Steelmountain wielding a magical battle-axe called "Gutripper" (I still have the character), Dave playing a Minotaur and Daryl playing an human magic user. This is also interspersed with us watching Hellraiser those evenings. Unfortunately, there are no notes listing the other player characters names*. This would have been one of our last 1st edition games right before we switched to 2nd edition.

* Edit I found the character's "back story" (and it is horribly written by me) but does contain most of the names of the player characters from this second Dragonlance campaign, so the roster is as follows:
- Me (Mark): Duncan Steelmountain, mountain dwarf paladin of Paladine**
- Dave: Tolon (or perhaps Tolor) a minotaur fighter,
- Jim: Zachariah Stormgren, aspirant to the Knights of Solomania
- Daryl: Siward, a human magic user (no mention of which robe color).
- unknown player: a kender handler named Gidenan
** mountain dwarves may be paladins in the Dragonlance Adventure book.

There you have it. Reading Dragons of Winter Night now and 399 pages it should be a snap to read:  Light, fast  reads these days fits my busy life and these are certainly that.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Western gunslingers, Boot Hill style, circa 1983

That's minis that is...
On a lark I ran across a "VultureBay" auction for some vintage minis, vintage as in 1983 Boot Hill miniatures. For $3.50 I figured what the Hell and I ponied up and snagged them. A few days later they arrive.

Minis in Boot Hill makes perfect sense when one considers that Boot Hill 1st and 2nd edition are what I call "a miniatures battle game with a skeletal RPG system attached".  That's no knock against Boot Hill, I like it immensely as a system. So much so in fact Boot Hill lead me to create my own western RPG, Hurled into Eternity. Of course the fact that it is a skeletal RPG is the reason I created my own from whole cloth, rather then retrofit to Boot Hill.

I can't really recall seeing these guys on the shelf back in the day in gaming stores, but then again I wasn't really looking for them either, I was looking for Warhammer minis by the time I really became interested in the miniature aspect of the hobby.

I figured it was finally time to let the boys out..
Anyways, here is what I got in the haul: all in all very nice and in the blister too. Think about it, much like Stinky Pete in Toy Story 2 these guys have been in the box for quite some time, in their case for 31 years... So what did I do when I got them? Cut them out of the blister of course. An interesting thing about these minis is the fact that they came out in 1983. By this time (although we didn't know it) Boot Hill was in or near its near hibernation phase. Sure BH4 and BH5 would come out, and later 3rd edition Boot Hill, but it was closer to its run then the beginning.

In terms of scale they seem to be about 22mm. They are not as small as 20mm, but certainly not 28mm "heroic scale". The 28mm "heroic scale" Note: Warhammer minis will look absolutely huge next to these guys. They are inline with the scale of Ral Partha minis which were the big player back in the early 80s (most of our early D&D games when we used minis utilized Ral Partha minis unpainted or "somewhat" painted".)

Adventure squares?
The pack has three gun fighters; one is a clearly a gunslinger getting ready to draw, the second wields a rifle up level firing and the last is what looks to be a cowhand firing; also looks like he's wearing a sombrero. It also looks like he has a confederate style shirt with buttons down either side rather then the middle.

A few period appropriate minis for scale.
Another look at scale: the three gunslingers, a 2nd edition samurai warrior from Games Workshop and a 3rd edition samurai, likewise from GW. The gunslingers are close to their contemporary the 2nd edition samurai but a bit smaller then the 3rd edition one.

Lastly, as noted by the graphic to the right the back had "adventure squares"? They are the right scale so cut it out and bamm indoor dueling range!

In any event, I like them and will probably be painting them up to use for testing for Hurled into Eternity.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

UK4- When a Star Falls

The seminal UK series has many great modules, but without a doubt the best is UK4 When a Star Falls by Graeme Morris. As I alluded to here concerning the derro, UK4 is a match made in heaven. Derro and this module= awesome.

Given the module code, as one would surmise it was created by the UK division of TSR. It was released in 1984 and is the standard 32 pages with full color art for most of the maps that are excellent. The cover notes: for 6-10 players of levels 3-5, although I can't imagine playing with that many. The graphical layout includes the orange border at the top that was common for modules late in TSR's run of first edition. It also sports the Union Jack, why? Just because they can. The layout, the borders, the interior illustrations, the font for the titles, everything about it is great. The cover? Can't say enough about it, it fits the module perfectly. Also having one artist doing all of the artwork really pays off. Rather then a clash of different styles say as in, module A1- Slave Pits of the Undercity.

A flood of memories from the memory web...
I wanted to buy this based on the cover alone back in the day when I was a poor, cash strapped pre-teen and saw it in Dragon. And when I finally got it? I think I read it ten times in the span of a few days. When the argument breaks out on the web or which AD&D module was the best? I'm there backing UK4.

Everything about this module is perfect or near perfect. The stat blocks read easily, the text blocks for the PCs are crisp and concise and the art fits from stem to stern. And one of the best aspects of the module it has derro in it! When I first got it I had no idea, but considering that they are my favorite monster and this is my favorite module? Bonus! As I noted here, yeah, I'm a big fan of derro.

The premise of the module is that the PCs need to investigate a fallen star. The notes to the adventure has the party spotting the fall of the star fairly close to them, 3-4 nights prior to the start of the adventure proper. In the immediate area thereafter the party encounters a memory web, a monster that absorbs the memories. It is wounded as the elder sage's monks presumably had injured it prior to the PCs encountering it. A flood of memories are imparted to the PCs once the memory web is slain. A few of these memories are vital important and the PCs automatically know their way to the Tower of Heavens. While it might seem a bit ham-fisted with the utilization of the memory web  does get the adventure moving quickly. That is of the players put two and two together. Comets are harbingers of doom and in a quasi-medieval society like most AD&D campaigns portray the people would react roughly the same which should lend them to be curious if nothing else. Plus it beats "a stranger in a cloak walks up to you in a tavern."

There is a fly in the ointment of the elder sage sending out his monks to retrieve the fallen star, the second sage, his first pupil named Piyarz is trying to usurp Shalfey's position. With the elder sage's monks gone Piyarz attempted a coup. The coupe was only partially successful as the elder sage was able to barricade himself in the uppermost portions of the Tower of Heavens. Additionally Piyarz sent his primary minion the shade Sion to track the elder sage's monks and then ultimately the PCs, He attempts to track engage the PCs, having no other clues after the death of the monks. Given his abilities as a shade its unlikely he will allow himself to be killed. The best bet is to let him slip away as needed, then reappear to harass the PCs in hit and run raids.

From the memories the PCs should be able to glean the fact that a druid/sage named Derwyth has the knowledge they need in regards to the location of the star. If the party was smart enough to grab the bestiary that Shalfey's monks were toting he will trade the book for calculations for of the fallen star. As an aside, if this were a 2nd edition game or even a 1st with proficiencies and a character had astronomy or astrology as a non-weapon proficiency should have  shot at determining this. f they don't have it and NWPs are not in play, its 1500 gps to find out...

Once they are armed with the knowledge of where the star has fallen the party will be on a course for location of the star's impact. The location of the fallen star just so happens to be the outpost of Derro who have been raiding the surrounding countryside.For the derro it was case of wrong place/wrong time. The star crashed into the top of the pass flattening their abode, trees akimbo and slaying a good chunk of their companions. Their ruined lair is very cool, it depicts recent events very well: the derro and their slaves are digging out, there is massive damage to the lair and some of the inhabitants do not rest easy. Like many portions of this adventure there is the potential to build off of this lair after the modules completion. Once (if) the party makes their way through the derro they will recover the eponymous star, its not magical, but very valuable.

Therno Pass is the next locale after vacating the derro lair. There are some pre-set encounters that can be developed further or the DM can use the excellent and flavorful random chart, a strength almost all of the UK series.

One of the coolest segments of the adventure is next with the Tower of Heavens and the sages that dwell within. Situated in a river it is accessible via ferry and has a ton of great maps. The tower is guarded by gnomes? (Ugh) Reaching the tower is no small order and the ferryman Hadley will try to get the players to engage in Shalfey's password. If they are smart and paying attention he is a good source of information as to the current state of the tower, such as he knows it.

The sages that reside in the tower in particular the elder sage is dependent on the recovery of the fallen star, but this is unknown to the players at first. Piyarz's rebellion was a result if his impatience for taking the role of elder sage.  Once he receives them and then blows them off the PCs (while trying to pocket 3,000 gps in the process) they are left to try and make their way through the tower without presumably causing too much damage and find the elder sage.

The elder sage, Shalfey
The color coded sages signifying rank from pupil up to the elder sage Shalfey wearing white robes down to the lowest ranking being Cipolla. Each has a retinue of monks wearing the same color robes. The interaction of the PCs with eh tower inhabitants should be noted, Shalfey will be grateful for his rescue, he will not be happy if major damage and loss of life is inflicted on the tower and its inhabitants. I've used the elder sage and his surviving pupils as a reoccurring NPCs in my games before and some were decidedly less then cordial to the PCs and suffering at their hands. A side note here I love the spectator at area  T17, anytime a spectator appears its time for great role-playing!

The path to Shalfey is not easy through the tower with a few defenses that can cause a great deal of grief. Area T18 and the Bridge of Faith and the Labyrinth at area T20 with its permanent maze spell can cause problems.

When they finally meet the Elder Sage he is just finishing up burning the previous set of the Books of Prophecy. They are now blank and no longer any use to him. The PCs must now take the fallen star to the a group of reclusive deep gnomes who will trade the next set of books for the star. Shalfey agrees to pay the adventurers one magical item apiece that will be randomly determined when drawn from a prismatic sphere.

The location of the wizened deep gnomes is not too far away and the trip there can be uneventful or full of peril at the DM's choice.

The ancient deep gnomes are known as Kagu-svirfnebi. They are a small band that splintered from their main clan some time ago and have been waiting for the arrival of the PCs. They were alerted via scroll that said the contents of the dome (actually a prismatic sphere) would be exchanged for a black rock that they would cut into one of the greatest gems ever known. It would take them a lifetime to cut it but lust and greed overcame them and they cut off all contact to their kin and waited. Now the PCs come with the stone and their long wait is nearly over. Their long waiting has turned them slightly evil and with a penchant for avarice.

Deep Gnomes and their whacky machinery
Kagu-svirfnebil have a small, but well kept lair and have made some interesting monsters, the Maschin-I-Bozorgs which are basically Da Vinci style tanks set in fantasy world. In all I like them, I'm just not crazy about the name. They can be quite effective given the levels of the PCs in this adventure and with their number and the gnomes milling around it should be obvious to the PCs that a parley is in their best interest.

Assuming the PCs agree the gnomes will honor their word the gnomes and will take the PCs to the "shimmering dome", the star-rock is required to collapse the dome. Despite their alignment they will without fail hand over the star. They cannot be fooled and will know the true rock should the PCs try any subterfuge. Once they rock the PCs will be escorted to the same area where negotiations began. Once they are their the gnomes retreat closing a thick door behind them and setting off tehir machines to bar the PCs from coming after them. They PCs might think the whole edifice is collapsing and the DM should not dissuaded them as only the areas past K6 are damaged as the deep gnomes make good their escape.

But all is not done in order to get the books back to Shalfey the PCs must get past a pair of sub-adult red dragons. This encounter could be very deadly as the two youngish red dragons  show up once the kagu-svirfnebil's workshop self destructs; alerted to the rumblings in teh mountain they wing out to investigate. Granted they are small, but the party might be exiting the rumbling workshop in a hurry with the deep gnomes sabotaging their equipment. They might be at less then full hit points which means multiple breath weapons is going to easily slay the PCs. If run in 2nd edition AD&D these two dragons could be a TPK if the PCs fight rather then parley. A young adult (closest in size to fiest edition in my opinion) does 10d10+5 for ist breath weapon, and one breating every other round? I doubt any group of 6-10 adventurers levels 3-5 can withstand that.

Once the dragons are cleared its off to Shalfey and their rewards for hauling back the books and the adventurer concludes. But a crafty DM can apply many of the hooks left in the module: what are the derro doing in teh area? What happens when the gnomes carve the gem? Perhaps the derro want it for one of their crazy machines as in one of Richard Shaver's stories. What about Sion the Shade? If he wasn't slain he can appear and reappear to annoy and harass the PCs later on. There is also the potential for using Derwyth and Shalfey as reoccurring NPCs. Shalfey is old and is likely to have many contacts in the kingdom/land where the tower is situated. The place is a repository of lore and prophecy, adventure hooks via the tower can be easily planted. Suffice of to say there is plenty of ways to utilize the material given later on.

Some final thoughts

  • There are only two real quibbles and they are minor: the minimals! ugh, I'm not a fan of these guys. Each of the two times I've run the adventure I've skipped the minimals. To me this is no great loss and I didn't even have to think twice about it. If I were to run it again I'd perhaps use the gibberlings as an ambush force, but that's about it.
  • The second quibble is I've never liked the names of the sages other then Shalfey. This is probably more personal preference then anything else.  Maschin-I-Bozorg? Huh, what the hell is that???
  • Throughout, the random encounters really fit the feel of the module.  It very much feels as if one were in an enchanted land with the right balance of animals and monsters. As I noted up post the vast majority of the UK series reflects this.
  • A good tie in adventure for this module is Cloudkill in Dungeon #79. It can be used after this module for another link to derro activity in the surrounding lands. Perhaps they are from the same city as the derro in the module, perhaps from a rival savant?
  • If the PCs search area K8 there is the potential for staggering amount of money, to the tune of 10,000 gps. This coupled with the large for low levels horde in the red dragons lair represents a staggering amount of treasure. It maybe more then some DMs want in their game at this level so be warned.
  • The use of red dragons at the end as the PCs are hauling...books. The breath weapons of the red dragons could pose a serious risk to the adventurers cargo... something to consider if they don't.

Any way you slice it, this module is hands down great. No matter which scale one uses it gets 5 out of 5 stars or 10 out of 10, yep its that good. 

(Ironically, as I write this about my favorite AD&D module ever, one of my most treasured... I cant find my copy at all. So it looks like its off to VultureBay to find another. If it holds true to form prices will spike just as I go to buy one).

Sunday, August 3, 2014

"Yee-haw those Doggies are elusive!"

Not what this blog post is about...
"Get this Wagon Train a moving!" Hah, you thought this was going to be a western post, didn't you?

How about that? Combining a western phrase "Get on little doggies!" like an Old West cowboy when actually referring to the Temple Dog minis from 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle, I've had them on my radar for a number of years and back when we played 3rd edition I used a GW manticore sans wings to simulate one for my Dark Elf army. Game-wise they were fluffy, but as a war beast they were decidedly mediocre. The problem is the same with almost any other war beast or large models like giants: they attract an inordinate amount of artillery and magic. With a Toughness of 5 Temple Dogs usually dumped their ride very quickly. The problem I've always had is they are stone, they are divine powered and they fall over in a stiff breeze.

"I look fierce but crumble like blue cheese!"
As Cianty over at his blog noted, here is the flavor text from Warhammer Armies:
"Temple Dogs are stone statues found guarding temple entrances in the lands of Nippon and Cathay. They resemble nothing so much as a cross between a giant pekinese and a lion. In times of war, the power of the temple gods is channeled into these statues to animate them. It is a great honour to mount this divine animal, indicating that the rider has found great favour with the gods."

(Warhammer Armies, page 26, 1991)

Sounds like they should be made of sterner stuff.

As I move along in fits and starts on my Nippon army I've come around to the conclusion I'm highly unlikely if ever going to play my Nippon Army as anything other then a third edition one. That ;eaves me with the open endedness of being able to model the army however I want.

The temple dog was pretty much the same in each iteration (as near as I can tell as I've never actually seen one) and came with one of three different riders. The part I really like? I like the temple dog's tongue is hanging out just like a real dog. My previous golden retriever Teddy who passed away always did that... Each had a plastic spear/lance that was fairly common with models back then and the hand was molded to the spear. From the look of it they are on 40x40mm bases.

The three riders are as follows:
  • A samurai rider- the one I'm most interested in, three in particular would be good...
  • A hobgoblin rider- could be useful to me particularly since I have two full units of 2nd and 3rd edition hobgoblin infantry.
  • A Dark Elf Rider, least interest. As I pointed out this would of been useful back in the day.
As a side tangent: I've been searching eBay and they pop up now and again, but remains elusive. The maxim of eBay is playing out here: "be patient and don't overpay." I've been known to rail against insane eBay price gouging, another good indication of relative worth as it relates to inflation. If we use the sale price listed and convert it to US dollars it was about $3.28 in 1991. In today's dollars its $5.74, a 75% increase when one counts for inflation. Often I've seen these in the neighborhood of $40-50 O_O that's insane. Sure any item on eBay is what the market will bear, but that sure is some markup!

An noted above, a great example of this excellent model is here from Cianty over one of the luminaries of Bordertown Burning. We interview him for Issue #1 of the Word of Hashut waaaaay back in 2008. Its more Kung-Fu inspired where I'm working more for a Nippon inspired theme. Either way its pretty cool.

In the end this has been one of the more challenging models to find. Its not super rare but I don't really ever recall seeing it here in the US shops I frequented.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, August 1, 2014

Poker, Chess and Breaking the game with Monty Haul

While the later editions suffer from "builds" when players think about characters, the earlier editions are not immune to their share of munchkinism. In fact, if one looks at just the Player's Handbook in 1st edition its easy to break the game, using the Unearthed Arcana it gets even easier. It bears repeating, although its tougher to do with just the PHB in 1st it can be done. Enter the Monty Haul aspects of the game. I don't beleive that Gary intentionally did this, after all I truly believe the game grew organically and fast.  I also think how he played was much more high powered then those that consider themselves "Gygaxian".

2nd edition avoids this to a degree in my opinion as one of the prime areas for abuse in 1st, weapon specialization is toned way, way down. This is not to say combat can't be broken, fighting with two weapons anyone, and then specialized?  (Of which there are ways to tone this down too). Point being   that 1st is open to more abuse in my opinion. So in a round about sort of way what I'm saying is that the cat was really let out of the bag even with 1st edition. The later editions *cough* 3rd *cough* really drove it home.

So without further delay here is breaking the game 1st edition style lifted from my response at dragonsfoot. The point of this exercise is that with some "creative thinking" the power curve is already bent/broken at the mid levels of the game.  

"Now swap that sword for a warhammer????"
Rules: 100,000 Xps for each character. 6 characters and no race or class can repeat (the original OP on Dragonsfoot said five characters, but in true munchkin fashion I ignored that limitation). Here was my stab at it, not meant to be the best, but certainly in consideration for munchkinism. Dual classed and multi-classed are ok when the limitation of no class repeated is considered.

Half Ogre, 7th level Fighter (Dragon #29/73)
Only single class in the lineup. Forget the duelist; of any of the NPC races/classes from Dragon that people think are uber-munch, this is it hands down. High possibility of an 18/00 strength (check the rules) double specialized in bastard sword (which he can use one handed) and attacks 2/1. He is attacking at +5/+9 with that sword before factoring in any magical items. Read that again, that's 4d4+9/4d8+9 before any magical items... This brute also starts at 2d10 for hit dice at 1st level, so just like the ranger, but better. This is of course coupled with his natural con of 18. He skips missile weapons for the most part, but when needed throws spears, but due to his high elf buddy below doesn't really need to. Damage reduction of the full plate is a nice boon and iff magical even better.

Even without magic he is encased in full plate armor and can wield a shield, of course by this level he has several magical options. Ring of fire resistance is standard as it allows him to confront a red dragon, head on... or tool him up with a girdle of giant strength, of course its the storm giant variety. Probably has the best magical shield in the group too, say +2/ or +5. Boots and cloak of elvenkind (which are fairly common magical items) negate the full plate penalties.

For added fun consider: if this were not enough, half ogres can also be clerics. Rather then "waste" nearly 30,000 XPs towards fighter (in this scenario) that would still leave him a7th level fighter; re-purpose them to a multi-class. Half Ogres  can be clerics but their spell casting is only average even with a 12 wisdom, but he's likely the last resort cleric or healing himself only. He can still use edged weapons as multi-class clerics are allowed to or use the above mentioned hammer/girdle/gauntlets combo. It will impact his hit points some, but it might not be worth the consideration.

Gray Elf 6th level Druid/ 5th level Ranger/ 5th level Magic User
(per Gary's errata in Dragon #96)
Ranger is included for no other reason then to be specialized in longbow in
order gun down enemies with a frightening rapidity (1). 19 dex + elven
bonus for bows + abilities for specialization and oh, fires 3/1 and each
arrow in point blank that does 6-16 points of damage before factoring
magical arrows and weapons he's sure to have. If anything is caught in
it's "reaper zone" (trademark- pending) that's 18-48 points of damage
per round. Further he wields a bow that allows him to gain his natural
strength bonus up to 18/90 range; and if still not enough he gets to fire one more arrows prior to initiative making that 4 arrows in a single round. Hit points are pumped up due to his ranger class adding 2d8 hit dice to the mix at 1st. Throw in a bow built for his 18/90 strength and skip the
magical bows? Between him and the half ogre they might kill a red dragon in a single round by themselves.

Because his hit points are pretty good can be the 3rd or 4th line fighter. Could go toe-to-toe with bigger baddies when needed by fighting long sword and hand axe (short sword makes more sense) and with his dex he can pull it off. Pile in his animal helpers who are subject to the senior druid's animal growth spells.

Wears magical leather armor  or bracers to preserve his stealth abilities as an elf. Sits back and takes out targets of opportunity. Can also cast as needed. He is the junior druid to the dual classed one below and his animal followers bulk out the party. Later levels will start granting additional magic user and druid spells. That leaves him with the potential for unlimited druid, 18th level magic user and 14th level ranger.

For other magical equipment the poorly worded quiver of Elhonna (2) is a must. If you really want to make it "worse" make him a Archer-Ranger from Dragon #45 (shudder). Oh and he can cast druid and magic user spells...

(1) and (2), yes I know there is errata for both, but we can skip that little bit.

Dual classed Human, 1st level Fighter/9th level Druid

That's not a typo, the druid drop kicks everything's ass in 1st edition. Read "Underestimating druids (is a bad practice) in Dragon #119 until it sinks in. A revelation happened in this thread when
people realized that animal growth is one of the most bad ass spells a druid can cast. Couple this with the fact that he double specialized in scimitar at first level when he was a fighter. When really in trouble, dual wields with a flame blade spell in the off hand. I see no issue with this in munch-land as its not actually a weapon, its magical flame! Probably has the group's bracers of defense.

He is the 2nd line fighter and with animal growth on his furry companions of his traveling zoo complements the ogre in the melee and possibly outshines him in hand-to-hand, which is no small feat. Also as a dual classed fighter he gets access to % strength. Spell casting outpaces both cleric and magic user at this XP level as he has access to 5th level spells.

Half Orc 6th level Cleric / 6th level Assassin
Arrrrgh, 1 XP away from 7th level assassin! In true munchkin fashion I'd bump him one more XP and behold, 7th level assassin! 18 strength is a natural here as is a 19 con. He gets included due to being not being able to duplicate races per the rules, still he is a viable character for the roster. Hit points might be impacted here due to the multi classing but with the half orc and the druid and his pets he doesnt have to go toe to toe with foes often.

Backstab from this guy would cut most things in half as its not explicitly stated that a fighter/thief is limited to weapons on a backstab... Since he doesn't have access to weapon specialization he uses a two-handed sword and runs around in magical studded leather armor. Don't like the cleric combo? Add fighter instead and he does gain access to specialization! Backstab with a magical, poisoned,
two handed sword of night lives stealing (or sharpness); if figther, double specialized? Yes please! For the math a two-handed sword is: 1d10 +4 to hit/+5 to damage (with an 18 strength). Back-stab would then be 1d10x2+9, plus poison, plus any magical bonuses... at mid levels that's nothing to sneeze at. One more assassin level means bakstab at x3.

If people are going to be really "sticky" on this then go with long sword instead or some such or convert to fighter/thief, plus ring of invisibility and boots of elven kind. He also has assassination abilities and can provide the party with thief skills.

The limitation of 14 wisdom means that one of the wishes off of the party's ring of wishes might be allocated to raising it to 16... In any event his cleric spell casting is the last resort with the druid and the drow's casting being better. If the half ogre is dual classed these two equal one whole caster in my opinion.

Dark elf female 6th level Cleric/5th level Cavalier/ 5th level Magic User
Packed with innate magical abilities, superior infravision and the ability to fight with two weapons at no penalty, this is a fearsome combo. Here horseman’s maces (magical of course) will work well, but consider magical long swords abound in the game and Dungeon Masters Guide so have at it. She wears full plate armor for protection (remember the damage reduction) and still casts magic user spells and can wield a shield as needed.

Has  a wide variety of weapon abilities and immunities to spells, mind
effecting spells, bonuses to weapons like longsword, lance (a few death lances from the vault?) and horseman's mace, etc. Oh and can increase her strength, dex and con.

Her steed at 4th level is some sort of gigantic spider of course (no namby-pamby unicorn riders here). Then add in clerical and magic user spell casting to good effect. She probably has a retinue of undead fodder following her around via animate dead.

Of course if the party gets girdle of giant strength of some sort or gauntlets (unless the went to the half ogre above); she gets them as the other PCs all have very high strength scores; barring that gloves of missile snaring. Poisoned weapons go without saying here.

Deep Gnome 6th level Illusionist/ 6th level Assassin
Double AARRRRGGGH 1 Xp away again for 7th level assassin! However I'd say apply the "fix" outlined for the half orc above and he has 1 more XP, boom 7th level assassin. The deep gnome
special abilities really push this over the top even at mid levels: camouflage, bonuses to saves, spell abilities, etc.

Assassination abilities and poison are another benefit here along with minor thief skills to back up the half orc and hopefully catch anything that was missed. He can scout with the ranger/druid/mu listed above with spells at his disposal, especially bending the curve with the vague phantasmal force... In a way he is the "utility infielder" of the group: jack of all trades, master of none.

Has access to weapons such as dagger+2, Longtooth and bracers of archery to provide a secondary archer for the group; shortbow+3 and a few choice arrows of slaying. Since he  is not part fighter and can't have specialization he fights withshort sword and dagger both of which are envenomed as mentioned above. 

  • Spellcasting- In short this setup has overall spell casting down pat: Magic User class on two of
    the characters, illusionist on one, clerical on two (potentially three), druidic spell casting
    on two. That's a tremendous amount of raw magical power at mid levels. Consider, two characters hurling 5d6 fireballs... the 9th level druid has access to spells like animal growth, insect plague, wall of fire, transmute rock to mud... The magic users probably have multiple scrolls with dispel magic. Magic User spells might be a bit weak, but at this XP level druids are far batter anyway. An  overlooked part is with the druids rapid rise their spell casting which is superior to the clerics so their healing is just as good as the drow  female.
  • Melee- Both of the main fighters are extreme examples and complement the other, one melee, one missile and if the half ogre goes the hammer route, both. The druid/ranger/magic user fires his bow while the half ogre closes to melee. The druid gets specialization too since he is dual classed and overall three of the characters are specialized; the dark elf getting weapons of choice due to her cavalier class. Between the characters two of them have assassination abilities, two with back-stab and three of the characters are using poison regularly; I could see the case made for all of them, the half ogre hurling poisoned spears? Three or possibly four are attacking with two weapons when it comes down to melee. When it gets rough the dual classed druids animal growth spells on his and the druid/ranger/mu animal companions can get nasty.
  • Stealth- This group will be tough to surprise (the druid/ranger/mu) and has a good stealth capability. Notice I didn't go too overboard with some of the items. Boots and cloaks of elven kind aren't artifacts after-all and in this party coupled with the natural stealth nature of
    the members? When needed they can sneak around just fine and the gnome
    thief/illusionist is there to help further. The druid/ranger/mu, thief/illusionist or the half orc cleric/assassin can all play the role of scouts. The half orc in particular can mow down opposition with a well placed back-stab or assassination, he is rarely if ever in the front line fighting it out but waiting for the right time then BAM!!!
  • Mundane- when considering munchkinism don't neglect the mundane: the longbow is the best missile weapon in the game doing 1d6 points of damage per arrow, but its RoF of 2/1 makes it even better. Looking at this group there are four characters that have potential access to this weapon with one specialized in it. That means the half ogre, dual classed druid/fighter and half orc can fire six shots a round. Damage is 6-36 or the equivalent of a wand of fireballs. Now add in 3 or 4 shots from the specialized archer? That's ten arrows in a round. For further fun this might actually be a use for flame arrow which might be one of the worst spells in 1st edition, but in this context? Gives the drow something to do while polishing her nails. If that doesn't work, all of them firing poison arrows instead? Oh and the gnome can use a short bow boosting this to 12 arrows in a single round. While not quite as bad as 3rd edition build malarkey for archers this is nothing to scoff at.
Another advantage that might not be readily noticeable is that this group is redundant in almost every area. There is at least one other character that can back up the other. This also means that in a lot of cases there is a good degree of success should say one of the assassins fail to unlock a chest, find a trap, etc.

The only alignment issue is the druid/ranger/magic user, but make him CG with CN tendencies and everything works out.  I know Dragon #100 says theyhave to be Neutral Good, but we will fudge that a bit too.

An interesting bit is no dwarfs or halflings need apply for this group; nor do thief-acrobat, paladin,
single class thief, barbarian or monk. Bard is the odd man out as he would be next off the bench in IMHO. If anyone gets replaced its probably the half orc with the bard. The lack of a single class thief
really points out there is no real need for them as the assassins and the clerics can take care of  this role.

Magic items are modest and nothing that a band of 6-7th level PCs wouldn't have access to... well with a bit of stretching here or there.  ;)

So there you have it, pretty easy to get a munckin build in 1st edition AD&D, its simply easier in 3rd and 3.5.

How about your munchkin party(ies), lets hear them.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The coolest monster in AD&D- Derro

Despite the fact that the game is called Dungeons and Dragons; Dragons are not the coolest monster in the Monster Manual/Monstrous Manual. The title instead goes to the...

"Scrawny, pale, little psychos", that is a great appellation for the race!

Scrawny- (from the Monstrous Manual): "Derro are one of the most dexterous of humanoid races (averaging 15-18), and their Armor Class must be adjusted for this." Usually, those that are dextrous are not depicted as hulking brutes...

Pale- (from the Monstrous Manual): "Derro are short, with skin the color of an iced over lake (white, with bluish undertones), sickly, pale yellow or tan hair (always straight), and staring eyes that have no pupils." When one considers most dwarfs in AD&D that's certainly off the beaten path.  

Psychos- (from the Monstrous Manual): "The derro have made a name for themselves by their marked cruelty. It is said that a derro lives for just two things: to witness the slow, humiliating death of surface demihumans, and especially humans; and the perversion of knowledge to their own dark ends." And? they are chaotic evil to boot. 

Tired of dark elves being overdone, "angsty" and lame? Throw them out the window or at least out of the Underdark. That's basically what I've done with my "legendary" World of Galena. (1) With the derro in place there is no need for namby-pamby dark elves. In all seriousness I like dark elves just fine, I just find them overdone or at least the cat is out of the bag when one considers "the big reveal" of G3- Halls of the Fire Giant King. Most often I do not feature dark elves in my games and usually steer players away from them, I'd otherwise they prefer they play gnome illusionists (1). Thus enter the derro.

Derro are a creation of Gary Gygax and first make their appearance in S4- The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. It is possible that the derro are based on "deros" in the stories of Richard Sharpe Shaver which appeared in Amazing Stories, a pulp mag from the 1940s. Given that Gary didn't elaborate too much on this I'm inclined to believe the probable origin. Also given Gary predilections towards pulp for his sources and the fact that he was a well-read man? More then likely for their origin.

Whats not to like? To start with from the strategic level, derro are very scalable. I think one of the most overlooked aspects of them is a DM could use them not just at low levels, but at high levels as well. As the PCs rise start throwing some derro with class levels at them, have them tote out more charmed umber hulk and other various slaves. Spell casting via the higher level savants is another boon and an effect that the DM can use strategically.

At the tactical level Derro, properly used can be tough to combat, taken from short companion guide I threw together a few years back called "The Menace of the Derro" here are some of their main high-level tactical pros:
  • 30% Magic Resistenace
  • Small in size (S); this is not an obvious advantage, but they may take less damage from certain weapons; plus not being large creatures they do not take large damage obviously. This is of prime importance as the character rise in levels. An ancillary benefit to their size is the fact that unless the group is entirely composed of dwarves they are going to have a hard time using derro sized weaponry and armor; selling these items is fine, but this has the practical effect of them having lots of high powered armor. This functions in a manner similiar to how Gary gave the dark elves magic items without having worrying about the PCs having tons of extra magical items.
  • Automatically possess the Blind Fighting proficiency due to superior hearing (see above). Additionally due to their keen hearing a derro of any HD may Hear Noise as a thief, with a 10% chance per Hit Die, example a 3 HD derro may hear noises with a base chance of 30%. A secondary function of this ability is that all derro possess the sound analysis proficiency from the 1st edition Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide. With this, derro are very difficult to surprise.
  • They are cunning and intelligent in combat; play them as such.
  • Savants have genius level intelligence use that as well.
  • Savants have spell-casting capabilities; these are increased in my campaign world.
  • Savants can use any magical item, even if they don’t know command words (where applicable).
  • Savants can have weird magical effects to their spells; feel free to make them unusual
  • All derro savants and apprentice savants can instinctively use read magic and comprehend languages an unlimited number of times per day.
    Derro high level savants will often have 2d4 Umber Hulks as servants through charm monster spells. 
In terms of Cons or negatives? There are only a few:
  • Only have a Movement rate of 9; players will most often be able to outrace them.
  • Infravision is only 30’; lowest of all the underground races.
  • Derro are chaotic evil; As such they can be prone to the strife this alignment is known for. Another issue to consider is if your PCs have a paladin and he gets the inevitable holy avenger...
  • Sunlight- the effects of sunlight are vague in the 2nd edition Monstrous Manual. However Dragon #241 has a much more complete discussion of effects: All derro are nauseated by direct sunlight touching their skin, losing 1 hit point per hour of exposure and suffering a -2 to all combat rolls, defensive adjustments, and saving throws while exposed. Hit-point losses are slow to heal if curative magic is not used; only 1 hit point per day maximum will be healed by complete rest, so a derro left outdoors will lapse into a coma and die after a few days of a condition resembling heatstroke. All spells and magical powers that duplicate prolonged sunlight (such as continual light) have this same effect, though the light spell, flashes of bright light, and normal bonfires, torches, and lanterns do not.
Although they are ambushing types, with their weird effective weapons, magic resistance and a host of other abilities and tactics to boot the are tough customers. Derro also have great unique weaponry in the derro repeating crossbow with poison bolts, a specialized hook-fauchard,  and aklys (which is useful in cramped, underground settings). They can also be beefed up by tooling up the "elites", that's what I call the derro sons and daughthers taht comprise 10% of any derro war party armed with heavier armor, spears and military picks (although I'd have them use the hook-fauchard).

All in all, these monsters are bad-ass. On top of that they got their own box set, the Night Below. That's enough for a adventure and a campaign setting all in one. Need a review of Night Below? Here is a pretty balanced one. Derro appear in a number of modules and articles, here are but a few (this is by no means complete):
    • Dungeon #20 “The Ship of Night”
  • Dungeon #44 “Train of Events”
  • Dungeon #79 “Cloudkill”
  • Dragon #241 “Legacies of the Suel Imperium”
  • Greyhawk Ruins
  • WGA3- Flames of the Falcon
  • From the Ashes- Greyhawk boxed set
  • Doomgrinder

Another great point about the derro? They appear in the best module of all time: UK4 When a Star Falls. I think I might need to write up a blog post about that, my favorite monster and my favorite module? "Two great tastes that go great together." (3)

So to recap. Your players lamenting the drow and you need a different race to take their place in you games? Look no further then the derro. I also think that properly panned out, a TPK could very easily be accomplished in my not so humble opinion.

Another great avenue is that they hate humans and demi-humans this gives them even more reasons to be raiding on the surface then the deep dwelling dark elves. Throw in that a local communcity of derro are undergoing a Uniting War and a lot of upheavel can be thrown into a campaign, of which the PCs can be stuck in the middle of. Couple this with the events of Kingdom of the Ghouls in Dungeon #70 and a DM has all of the Underdark political intrigue he could want.

(1) If you know anything about me you know how much I like illusionists or gnomes, or both...

(2) In joke- as in Dwimmermount is/was "legendary" (chortle).

(3) Hey I was a pre-teen in the 80s? What do you expect?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

That Oddest of Birds in AD&D- Cosmology

Cosmology, the word alone means a number of things to a number of people as it pertains to D&D. The Great Wheel cosmology that marries up to the alignment charts are the first stabs at different planes of existence its neither good nor bad in my pinion, it just is. It introduced the ideas of planes and everything that was to come after. It also is an odd man out to a degree.

One of the things I often hear people refrain is "I don't like the Manual of the Planes" or "I don't like how AD&D cosmology is set up". Ok... so how would you do it I ask or wonder? The funny part is usually most people do not have a definitive answer, but rather a nebulous idea. Some sracth their heads because they really don't have an idea of how it could be better as they only know what D&D presented decades ago. This is probably to be expected given that cosmology in D&D is a bit of an odd-bird.

As originally presented in the 1st edition Players Handbook it looked like this. Then one one goes to what is presented in Deities and Demigods it doesn't get much better and the two don't exactly jibe. When one looks at the way that its presneted in the 1st edition Players Handbook then the differences to Deities and Demigods to the Manual of the Planes its apparent that throughout the late run of 1st edition the idea was continuing to evolve. Consider the Manual of the Planes, it expands and yet confounds more then it helps to a degree. Manual is another book that draws a lot of fire if for no other reason then it is what it is: a encyclopedia of facts and rules for the planes in a textbook fashion. It has its merits but still doesn't really satisfy. (This is not a defense or praise of the Manual of the Planes of which I'm neutral on. The astral dreadnought on the front cover is pretty damn cool.)

As is well know when Manual of the Planes came out when Gary was on the way out of TSR with his fight with the Blumes/Williams nearing its end. This leads many to label the likes of the Manual Planes along with the Dungeoneers Survival Guide and the Wilderness Survival Guide as "AD&D 1.5". I don't use this nomenclature, not for any reason revolving around a dislike but rather because it is an attempt to denote a separate game rather then what Gary created. I call it late 1st edition. Manual of the Planes in a way suffer from the company it keeps rather then its rules, which it should be fully judged on. In the end to me at least its a somewhat useful reference, but not one I consult all that often. MoP and  OP1- Tale of the Outer Planes.  These two formed the majority of late first edition material for the outer planes, well really all of it for that matter.

"Meh book, great cover."
With the move from 1st to 2nd edition AD&D the cosmology stayed roughly the same as it was in 1st. There really wasn't much movement and most adventures didn't really focus on this aspect of the game to any large degree anyways. It wasn't until the mid point of 2nd Edition's run that it was tackled.

Enter Plansescape which a number of people absolutely love. I can understand why, even though I'm not a fan per say I do like the Tony DiTerlizzi art and the graphical representation. Other like it because the CRPG Planescape: Torment captured it so well. For me Planescape is an odd bird there are parts that I like but as a whole its not something I would use especially in light of the topic of this blog post, cosmology. I think the one really interesting thing that Planescape introduces is Sigil: The City of Doors, a place that is connected to every point in the multiverse. That's a cool concept but sometimes I can't help but wonder if its merely a mechanism to facilitate adventuring at 1st level in the out planes? After all the PCs really aren't on the planes per say, they are in a walled garden where they can gain levels, experience other-worldly  creatures far beyond the norm of adventuring on the prime material plane. Add to the fact that Sigil can be seen as having some qualities of the "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy", to a degree that is. Then there is the story told by some of Planescape's designers (I think it was the modules) that "Hey, here 100 gps, go save the universe!" Basically saying that at first level in your traditional land of adventuring fare such inducements make sense, in the City of Doors less so. 

Planescape is likewise odd for me given the designer: Zeb Cook. Many people hold a grudge for his work on 2nd edition, the perceived or real animus Gary had for him. In my case much like say I1- Dwellers of the Forbidden City its some of his works I like the least. Its also odd that a lot of older school fans like Planescape in varying degrees as well as say I1. Different strokes and all. It just goes to show just how different my lense of D&D is from those who cam before me.

Tying it into my games my 2nd edition campaign world of Galena is heavily influenced by the Finnish myths and some of the cosmology is the same, some different. There are two other world places after death largely along the good/evil axis: Taladis (akin to Valhalla) and Pohjola (using as a name) but in the campaign world means "Halls of the Dead".  Positive and negative planes as well as the classical elemental planes and the astral are present. After that I ditch everything else. In doing so I'm able to ignore/avoid not use a lot of stuff that doesn't make much sense: no Olympus, River Styx, Valhalla, Plane of Concordant opposition??? You name it.  Also by drawing from the world of the Finns legends it brings something that is familiar yet at the same time different enough that it gives an exotic feel.

Last quick note, in a way the idea of Yggdrasil is a good one for D&D cosmology as its fairly self contained, just add the Astral plane "around" the tree and problem solved. As shown right here: 

A minor point that some might ponder: I don't use the ethereal? As presented in AD&D, either edition, I think excluding solves far more problems then it adds in terms of the game. Consider going through G1-3 with the possibility of popping around ethereal? This would be a huge advantage to any group and not out of the realm of possibility for a group of characters at that level. On the magic item front, what is lost? Plate mail of Etherealness... and a few other minor parts? Psionics? I don't use them either.

In closing I'm not entirely convinced that planes are the best way to represent cosmology in the game. Sigil and its doors has some merit, but as I noted I'm not overly found of it either. I also would like to add, as always this is no knock against the progenitors of the ideas. In most cases they were inventing as they went. Simply put, I'm just not sold on the ideas. Not sure if I ever was, but as I've gotten older a case of less is more works for me.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Will Penny

Ok, I have to say this first, this is a, great, great western and in my opinion Charleton Heston's finest western role in the eponymous Will Penny.

I've been working on Hurled into Eternity in a diligent manner, and as I often do, I watch westerns for inspiration. In searching on that man's man (Heston) I thought about where he appeared in the genre, and aside from his cameo in Tombstone (see below) I was hard pressed to name amy of his western roles. IMDB was invaluable in pointing me in the right direction, but I had never heard of Will Penny before.

So I rented it off the AppleTV (plug, plug) as it's not easy to find on DVD let alone BluRay. Then I promptly fell asleep watching it, not because it was boring, but because I was that exhausted. The great thing about AppleTV is once you start watching something you can watch it anytime over the next 24-hours. I made it home with an hour to spare before it expired and got to watch the whole thing, I'm glad I did.

I'll admit this was not a movie I knew a lot about and it's not not one of the most well known of the genre or at least one that will immediately come to mind when a western is talked about. Then when one thinks of Heston it's Ben Hur, or one of his equally epic roles.

Charlton plays Will Penny, an aging cowhand, rather then a gunfighter which is a departure from the traditional role of a western leading man. He is even tempered and reliable, a man that can be counted on to do his job and see it through. I can't understate this enough, he's not a gun hand. In the genre of westerns that's huge, rather he is cast as a everyman.

The story starts out just as a trail drive of cattle is ending. With no family and no job lined up he is unsure of what to do. He settles on setting out with Blue, a younger but sturdy cowhand played by Lee Majors and Dutchy. The action starts off fast enough; a day or two after leaving the trail job. After rising early one morning Blue and Dutchy are out stalking a deer before it all goes south of cheese.

The villain of the story makes his appearance, the unhinged clergyman of sorts, Preacher Quint who is played most excellently by Donald Pleasence. His startling wide eyes and rants really set him up. My only regret is that he would have had more screen time because he was fantastic in this role. Quint and his sons set upon Will and his friends early on setting the stage for problems later. In the immediate sense a gunfight erupts over a deer and just who it belongs to.

"My eyes are even crazier in the movie!"

This particular scene oozes with character! After a brief shootout where several of Quint's men are slain and Dutchy is wounded; Blue and Will set out for the nearest town in hopes of getting Dutchy to a doctor for his gunshot wound.

Along the way they stop at a roadside inn/tavern where the two encounter the dark haired beauty Catherine played by Joan Hackett and her son Horace (aka Buttons) on the way out west to join her husband. After her meeting with Dutchy, wounded in the back of the wagon, she forms a decidedly negative view of Will. And just like that she departs with her son being guided by a rather unreliable man.

From there after making it to town and having dropped off Dutchy, Will departs looking for work, or perhaps simple wandering. After recovering a corpse and bringing it to the local ranch he takes work as a line rider. A line rider worked a section of a range herding cattle back to a particular area especially during winter. In almost every case it's solitary work for months at a time. His boss Alex informs him of but a few rules one of hem is to keep settlers moving through the ranch and not letting them stop, of course this will factor in later.

Oddly enough having finished up my read of the Boot Hill Module BH4- Burned Brush Wells at nearly the same time as I watched Will Penny, I was pleasantly surprised to a see a minor nod to a "line rider" in one of the random encounter tables.

In his establishing his shack and hauling up supplies he is started to find Catherine and her son holed up after their guide abandoned them. He is able to talk Catherine down and doesn't immediately kick her out of the cabin.

While out Will is ambushed by Quint and his sons who leave him in the wilderness to die. He somehow manages to make it back to his cabin. Eventually Will returns back to health nursed by Catherine. This being a western of course a romance has to develop. I must say I was pleasantly surprised. At no time did the action drag in my opinion, in fact even during the scenes where they are setting up the romance between Will and Catherine. It moved along well. At first it is clear she is intrigued by him, and he is clumsy about the whole thing. Eventually the two are drawn closer and closer as the form a sort of family with Button. As it mounts Will delivers one of the best lines of the entire movie: "It's just a case of too soon old and too late smart." In a sense we can feel for Will given his upbringing as a orphan working as a boy in the saloons of San Francisco. I often wonder if Will Penny is even his name?

Of course all of this can't last as Quint and his sounds return at the most inopportune time. The shoot outbids brief and Blue and a recovered Dutchy help save the day. I'm glossing over the final fight as that's not what makes the movie, it's what comes after is what makes the movie.

More so then any movie I've seen recently, certainly a western, it does not have a "Hollywood ending" where everyone lives happily ever after. Will knows what his heart is telling him, what he wants to do, but his logic rightly points out that at nearly 50 "he doesn't have that kind of time". In the west, living a hard life outdoors in the rain, snow, heat and dust 50 was ancient. People didn't have life expectancies like we do now. At best he might have another 10, maybe 15 but one filled with hard work.

All too often movies seem to have a contrived ending and the couple is brought together in equally contrived ways. Not so here. Had that happened the movie certainly would have been poorer for it. In a way that's what makes it a great western. I have no issue with giving this 4.5 out of 5 stars; in all its a solid movie.

Some random notes
  • The movie also introduces us to Lee Majors which is cool as in 6 years before his Six Million Dollar Man TV show. This was one of his first major roles.
  • While not his first western, it is probably Charleton Heston's best. The last western he would appear in "Tombstone" as a rancher named Hooker in one of his last onscreen roles
  • On scene in particular I liked was the Christmas scene where Catherine and her son Horace (aka Button) singing "Oh Tanebaum" in German. All to often with the filters of our modern life and especially a seeming reluctance to acknowledge America's past we forget that America was awash with immigrants in the 19th century. Likewise many of us have lost touch with our ancestors. Now I engage in genealogy for my family and have German roots so this spoke to me in a way that it might not to others.

One final thought, Charleston Heston says (according to IMDB) that out of all of his many roles, this was his favorite... It shows.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Oriental Heroes and the lands of Nippon, Warhammer style

All kinds of amazing!
Blog Note: WoooHooo! 100th published Blog post, better make this a good one! Onwards towards 200.

Much like my foray into exploring the topics of Oriental Adventures in A&;D I thought I'd pause and retrace some steps back to Warhammer. I'll be taking a moment to comment on Oriental Heroes and the line of minis for Nippon in Warhammer Fantasy Battle. I've been working on a Nippon Army in an on again, off again fashion over the years.

But first, a very cool diorama, see to the right. I'm not sure where its from, but I found it scouring the web for Nippon imagery for Warhammer.

Right now I'm in a bit of a prolonged lull in regards to Warhammer that has been going on for a number of years. After being burnt out with the Word of Hashut
webzine and all I've been largely uninterested in Games Workshop's wares. I've found its far better to wait until my disinterest wanes and I'm interested again, rather the forging ahead for no reason other then to do it. This happens to me from time to time, but this one is far longer. In the meantime I've been having fun collecting minis from the Oriental lines of Games Workshop in the 1980s.Minis I realled wanted back in the day but was never able to secure more then three of them being on the other side of the pond...

Nippon was a curious case for minis, they figured right from the earliest days of Games Workshop, they appeared in the rules here and there but never had its own dedicated army other then the mercenary contingent in the 3rd edition Warhammer Armies book (see below). In the orange, 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle rulebook it notes on page 205 "Lustrian, Steppeland and Cathan creatures and races are dealt with in sufficient detail for you to assemble armies of Slann, Nippon etc. but we feel that only by dealing with each area in a separate supplement can we hope to do them justice." It became obvious when looks at the history of Games Workshop at the time they were already underway with 4th edition Warhammer and weren't going to revisit these lands.

It was not to be however, aside from this blurb along with the Nippon mercenary force listed in the afore mentioned Warhammer armies would be it. It have a feeling it was a number of factors that lead to this decision.

  • If they did a Nippon army would they have to create a Cathy one as well? Would there be an outcry for Amazons? Norse? Pygmies?
  • By the time the 3rd edition warhammer rules were gaining steam the "ninja craze of the 80s" was already wanning.
  • Limited resources?
  • The rise of 40k which would be and is its "breadwinner."
  • The oft repeated line of "there are already two human armies in the game."
  • Some combination of these?
  • Perhaps none of these?
  • Too many manga/anime inspired fanboys?
In any event GW showed no inclination to move on an Eastern themed army. I don't see them ever doing it either. I don't have an inside info, this is more or less just a hunch, a hunch backed by 25 years of watching Games Workshop.

Here is a partial list/number of links of the actual GW line of minis, at least enough to give an idea for those not in the know.
Oriental Heroes at the Stuff of Legends
Ninjas at the Stuff of Legends
Ninjas at the Stuff of Legends
Ninjas at the Stuff of Legends
Older Oriental Heroes at the Stuff of Legends
Temple Dog Riders

Onto my oft delayed Nippon Army, as of right now it has a serious amount of lead for it as chronicled here. I'm hoping as the weather turns colder in the Fall to get back to working on it. In the meantime I'm continuing to trade for minis at the excellent site Oldhammer Forum. I'm a big fan of the guys and the excellent work they are doing there. In fact I just secured some more ninja bringing me closer to having one of every GW ninja from the Oriental range.

Unlike in the past when I've worked on an army I've always been in a rush and with an eye towards playing. In reality I get to play so infrequently that its no my prime concern. So with that in mind Im working on my Nippon warband in terms of how they might have looked or been configured for 3rd edition warhammer using the 3rd edition Mercenary contingent as a guide.

In the meantime while I get my act together regarding my Nippon army here are some great images to get inspired by (I found the thread here).

Saturday, July 5, 2014

In Defense of the Maligned- Part II, Oriental Adventures

(Part I of this two-parter is here covering the Unearthed Arcana.) Much like Part I this is not a review of the product itself but more of a high level discussion around particulars of the time, and the how and why it came about.

The biggest gripe that makes me shake my head? "It's too much Shōgun and not enough Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon!" Usually a lot of the ire also revolves around some of the things that OA featured, namely non-weapon proficiencies. As we all know,  NWP "non-weapon proficiencies" were included because those things are from the spawn of Satan and any game that has them can't be good, more on that below.

Did it ever occur to these self same people that some people  actually like Shōgun ? Consider the time frame, James Clavell had written Shogun in the 1975 and the miniseries was out in the early 80s. Certainly it was in the national consciousness and it was a contemporary of Dungeons and Dragons. It seems natural to me that Oriental Adventurers would come about.

Before I get going, on a completely random note, I really like the cover of the book. Samurai, ninja, a Japan/Nippon style castle in the background, pastel colors invoking the utter east? Damn skippy. Pack it with Samurai riding a foo creature? Good to go.

Oriental Adventures (at least to me) was part of the "ninja craze" that gripped the USA in the middle 1980s. There were awesome/bad movies like American Ninja, GI Joe had ninjas, Hell go back to the 1960s with James Bond and ninjas show up in "You Only Live Twice". Point being that the inclusion of was building long before the publication of Oriental Adventurers. Couple that with the point above about Shogun? Works for me.

Now onto some of the particulars about OA which aren't really in dispute:
  1. Oriental Adventurers was started as an idea by Gary Gygax and François Marcela-Froideval. Apparently Francois' manuscript was about 30 pages double spaced... obviously that's not enough to fill a major hard cover book.
  2. Gary turned to Zeb Cook to make a deadline 4 months later.
  3. Given that TSR needed to get hardcovers out based on their financial position being shaky due to mismanagement by the Blumes. Thus the book getting out was critical.
  4. Gary was tied up with the fight with the Blumes hence him tapping Zeb to finish the product. 
  5. Cook did the work.
After that Oriental Adventurers is a sordid as a soap opera. Note Gary's name.. this is hardly a revelation, but it doesn't say "By Gary Gygax". There is a whole twisted tale here that outlines Mike Berrault who worked with Zeb regarding the situation of 2nd edition and touches on the timing of Oriental Adventures. Warning, its long and a log of grognardiness. It also shows some interesting tidbits regarding the maneuvering by Gary to regain copyright.

Then there is the whole angle of Gary's distaste for the product after the fact and after he had left TSR. I'm not going to delve into Gary's musings, but the legend of François Marcela-Froideval "Lost Manuscript" just wont seem to die it. There seems to be a faction of people that believes this lost piece of gamer's lore as it was originally presented is "the holy grail, the font of knowledge, etc". (I'm aware of the samurai class as presented by François exists but not much more past that). With no slight intended to Mr Marcela-Froideval if it had been up to par in Gary's estimation then how come there wasn't more? How come it didn't form the book? Partisans to either side will point to saying the others side is self serving in this point of contention: just how much there was to become an actual rule book. By Cook's estimation there wasn't nearly enough. In absence of any evidence to the contrary thats where it stands. The burden isn't on Zeb's work to prove it doesn't belong; it actually got produced. The burden of proof is on those that believe that François work was/would have been better.

Another angle to consider is look at Zeb's output compared to François. François was and is apparently still active in the realm of comic books/graphic novels. I have no objection to that. In the realm of  gaming, Zeb had a lot more output of gaming material and depending on which side of the partisan divide one is on, the quality of it. For me Zeb's place is assured, 2nd edition AD&D is excellent and he produced such stuff as X1- Isle of Dread, I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City, BH2: Lost Conquistador Mine, Planescape and many more. Usually the objections I hear are a lot of his stuff is uneven, again depending on which side of the divide. Irioncailly the works of his that garner the most praise in old school gamer circles (I2) is one of the things I like the least. And in newer circles Planescape garners a lot of praise but again is not my favorite.

Looking at the quandary objectively and using Gary's own words from Tim Cask's Q&A thread over at dragonsfoot: "I have nothing to add save to state that I stand on my creative works, and Mr. Arneson can do the same." Applying that same logic: lets take Zeb's work and compare it to François in the context of AD&D. If François OA was indeed superior, would it not have made the light of day by now? Or put another way put Zeb's output compared to François, its not even close. Again, I'll reiterate I don't know either: I never got a chance to converse with Zeb before the rabid neckbeards ran him off from Dragonsfoot and have never corresponded with François. I am however interesting in slaying this zombie as it keeps staggering to life. I should also note that I am not implying some rivalry between Zeb and François. I have no knowledge of that time frames nor do I claim to. Basically I'm looking at the scant evidence presented and making logical inferences.

Gary is a somewhat unreliable source in all of this as well as his statements are not consistent as over the years, again nothing is implied here. We are human and memories fade let alone vary. Add to the fact that Zeb was the lead designer of 2nd edition and he didn't follow Gary after he left TSR? I'm sure there was some bad feelings on Gary's side in regards to Zeb. Prior to Gary leaving there seems to be some affection for Zeb, afterwards it ended. From what I've read about Zeb it seems clear, he was aware of his own failings took criticism whether deserved or not and did the best he could. Seems to me he handled the situation with dignity and class in the face of unreasoning hate to something he tried his very best to do. And for the abuse hurled at him from around the web? Ridiculous.

So what am I trying to say? Just like 2nd edition itself people attract all sorts of crap to the rules of OA and by extension to Zeb that have everything to do with defending Gary and nothing to do with the rules therein or Zeb as a game designer/writer. What does that sound like? (Yes I'm repeating myself): 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons as a whole. OA fits into that era to a degree, its a late 1st edition product. And much like I alluded to in Part I it also points the way that Gary may very well have been going in regards to his version of 2nd edition. 

Now on the negative side I can see how people object as the land mass (which predates the inclusion of the Forgotten Realms) being more China inspired, yet the rules being more in line with Japan. This is a fair point. By the flip side of it the Kara-Tur box set does detail the mysterious orient well and
expands the lands in far greater detail. Taken by just the book its a fair point perhaps, but stuff does not exist in a vacuum. Added to this if need be the OA has enough details that the Kara-Tur box set isn't exactly needed.

NWP- non-weapon proficiencies are an area of the game that were badly needed, and with its inclusion along with the ones in the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and and the Wilderness Survival guide point the way forward.

Now to run a counter line of my own thinking and tangentially related, perhaps adventuring in Wa is too boring. After all, it models feudal Japan after Tokugawa united the land following the turmoil of the 1400s. In a way its too orderly with not enough action and fighting going. Strangely enough this is mirrored in the Forgotten Realms in the Kingdom of Cormyr. Cormyr is too orderly, to close nit that its well.. boring. Despite my like of 2nd edition I've never been a fan of adventuring in Cormyr: too many rules, to much law and the war wizards watching everything. While that sounds an awful lot like a very safe place to live, especially if you are a pseudo medieval peasant its an entirely boring place to be an adventurer. You even need adventuring licenses? Ugh. The best adventuring locals tend to be an area where law is the weakest, where the heroes are making their own way, whether on the frontier of the American West, borderlands with its eponymous Keep or something in between. So too for the utter East.

In summation I'll gladly take Shōgun, its what you make of it once you are presented with it that counts.