RPG BLOG Carnival: Mixing Sci Fi into Fantasy

Almost forgot about this month's blogcarnival, hosted by the Dump Stat. It's all about mixing genres in role playing games. My point to make today is that fantasy is best fit for mixing with... anything. You might figure otherwise, but I've seen successful examples of: time travel with Dr. Who like time lords, gun slinging like in the wild west or more like in swashbuckler movies, Indiana Jones like treasure hunts with Arthurian knights on the side, exploding Death Stars...

Well, actually I must admit that mixing Sci Fi and Fantasy is a rather iffy subject. It doesn't always work, and if it does, it doesn't work for everyone. That also goes for the Sci Fi elements of time travel. I think that's because of two things.

Sci Fi Presumes Many Worlds
Science Fiction implies travel between many worlds, and once a Bird of Prey is hanging above your fantasy city, that also means there is a universe of Klingons out there, or a United Federation of Planets ready to phaser and torpedo your evil hordes out of existence. Any great conflict suddenly becomes very small and silly then. And playing a brooding fantasy hero who wants to save his small world is rather petty in this perspective. So, if you introduce Sci Fi into your fantasy campaign, make sure that the Sci Fi element is weaker than the fantasy element. If there is a bird of prey, make it hopelessly lost, with long range communicators failing, and weapons dependent oon some magick mineral. Or even dependent on magick users fixing the machinery. Make it obvious that even if there is a whole universe out there, no way that it's going to get in to your fantasy world. Except maybe the poor few fellows who were lost in time and space.

Sci Fi presumes Magick does not work
This one is not always true, but it does play a role I think. In Science Fiction science is paramount. Nothing defeats ultimate science, not even psionics. Psionics, like the “Force” can be very, very strong, but even then they stand no chance against a Death Star.
If you want to mix Science Fiction into your Fantasy world, you will have to resist this notion. Magick (and the Gods, Angels, Demons, and so on) will always be stronger than science. That is what makes fantasy fantasy. So again, if you introduce warp drives, gunpowder steampunk ships, force walls, robots... make them either useless compared to magick, or better still, treat them as magick.
This way a warp drive becomes a Magickal Ether Transportation Device, and a robot a Magickal Golem. Try it this way, and see how much you can pull off. Your players may even enjoy recognizing the stuff.

Have a good mixing and matching your genres into fantasy!


Ye Olde Character Sheet #1: Yon Hyo

In this new series I'll talk a bit about old character sheets I kept hidden in a box somewhere. They may be old characters of my own, or of one of my players, or they may have come in my possession through other means. Anyway.

This one is about Yon Hyo. He was an AD&D first edition monk, played by my best friend from primary school. Together with him I discovered role playing, and together with him I bought my first set of Basic D&D. The Moldvay booklet. Yon Hyo was my friends major hero, which he played through the last years of high school, and the first year of University (or College, if you will). He built his own stronghold, named “the beach boy castle”, and he slew dragons and rescued fair maidens. He even married a fair maiden he rescued, and that was that – we hardly role played beyond that, because hey, we were just teenage guys!

Yon Hyo was cool. I suppose that was what my friend wanted him to be, and I helped him out as a DM. That's why he was a monk – like Bruce Lee – because that was probably the coolest class available in AD&D. Open hand attacks, thief like skills, falling great distances unharmed, calming animals, fake death, and so on. With glee my friend examined the rulebook which new powers he would gain on the next level. Looking back he was a real power player. At that time, I thought – we thought – that was the way the game was to be played.

I cannot remember if the 18 strength and 18 dexterity were rolled up with 3d6. I don't think so. I think it was one of a long series of characters made with 4d6 rolls, drop the lowest die, and rearrange the scores at will. I couldn't explain the constitution score of 11 otherwise.

Charisma was fairly much a dump stat, and so was alignment. Sure, Yon Hyo lists Lawful Good. But he was Lawful Neutral at best, more like True Neutral, or even Neutral Evil at times. Strangely enough I think my friend eventually cared more about Yon Hyo strictly following alignment than I did as a game master. So in the end he did become more and more lawful good, and he also fought less and less. He went pacifist.

We loved D&D, we tried to fathom AD&D (and failed), and we made up the rules if we didn't understand the rulebooks. Yon Hyo reached somewhere around 10th level, at which time he renamed himself Tien Lung (heavenly dragon). That was after this character sheet. And then he lost a few levels in a vampire attack, or something alike. I think that kind of killed my friends joy in playing. Interest waned, and while my friend went on to real life – or was it? - and dating, I went on to other campaigns and game systems. Including my own.

The sheet by the way was designed by me, redesigned by another friend and copied in Rome, Italy – on a school outing – while we lived in the Netherlands. Photocopying in Rome at that time proved to be fairly cheap – 10 cents a copy in 1983 or so.


Pick #51: MMORPGRR Wisdoms

No, I don't play MMORPGRS. Massive Online Role Playing Games. With graphics. Like EverQuest, or World of Warcraft. I don't play. I don't have the time. But I do marvel at the phenomena.

I even imagined building something like it when I was studying Computer Sciences in 1984. And I spent a lot of time thinking about the AI (artificial intelligence) needed behind them. But graphics were not up to standards then. And by the time the graphics were, my interests in gaming by computer had waned. I need the face to face contact I guess.

Ahem. Face to face, said the writer in his Blog. A well.

Recently I found that there are quite a few blogs about WoW, EQ and other MM... you know, out there. I listed over 250 on the Dark Dungeon Vaults already, if you're interested.

And there's 100 wisdoms by Dwarf Priest. Surely one of the best read WoW blogs out there before Dwarf Priest kinda quit. They're fun, even if you do not play.


Free Adventures: Ammersfurt #13

The Secret of Ammersfurt is a free role playing supplement for the Dark Dungeon 2nd Ed game. Every week for thirty-five weeks, you'll get new bits for the Ammersfurt adventure setting, like monsters, NPC's, locations, skills, character templates, role play tips, and so on. And also every week, you'll get an adventure seed, which you can turn into a weekly adventure.

Adventure Seed 13: The Lost Children

Whatever outside help Ammersfurt is going to get, it is clear that the winter may be harsh. “Eat all of your food, you may not get any when it's snowing” parents tell their children. Unfortunately, there may be a few children less this winter because of other reasons. Two days ago a total of about thirty orphans and other children from the Ammersfurt streets disappeared. Without much trace so far. Relatives and acquaintances of the heroes plea for help and advice. Where are all those children? What to do?

Download the thirteenth part of The Secret of Ammersfurt here!


Pick #50: Swords & Wizardry

I just figured that I haven't mentioned Swords & Wizardry yet. You'll probably know it, but if not, it's worth checking out. Especially if you like Old School gaming, or D&D in its first incarnations. Or, if you have no idea what I'm talking about and are looking for a good and simple role playing game.

You might also just download Dark Dungeon 2nd Edition here. But if you want more options, Swords & Wizardry is a good place to start looking. It's written by Matthew Finch, who also wrote the liberating Quick Primer to Old School Gaming. Personally, it gave me most of the old D&D feel of all retro-clones  I've looked at so far. Even if Labyrinth Lord is a bit more streamlined, maybe.

If you prefer even closer to 0e, the very first edition of D&D, then you might like S&W White Box. Which is real good too. You'll just have to decide more on which optional rule you want to use. So you might not want it as your very first role playing game.


OSR Experiments #15: Shadow of the Haunted Keep

I was so inspired by re-imagining the Haunted Keep adventure, that I decided I could actually build a new module out of it. I mean, a real adventure for the Dark Dungeon rules. And make it much more of a story, instead of only a dungeon. A kind of ode to the old, and embracing the new at the same time.
Heck, maybe I'll add S&W stats too.

I just did the first cover art. What do you think, if this were to become a whole adventure kit, with maps and all, anyone out there interested enough to pay between $1 and $3 for a PDF?


Pick #49: Writers could help Gamers

Have you ever wondered if George Lucas first role played Star Wars before he wrote the movie? I did. I'm sure there must be moviemakers and writers out there who use role playing as a source of inspiration. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman of the Dragonlance Chronicles certainly did.

And there's logic to that, as writing, moviemaking and role playing are related. They are all forms of storytelling. I noticed that some of you out there have the same notion, with writer's blogs on your blog rolls. Writers can give useful tips to role players and vice versa.

Like these from K.M. Weiland, about why the Devil is a boring bad guy, for example. She explains that if your evil is thoroughly evil and dark, your good guys (read: your player characters) may automatically become one-dimensional "good". And one-dimensional good guys are pretty boring, bad role-playing opportunity too. So, turning that argument around... a more grey, not all evil antagonist might give your players more room for better role playing. I'd say, fellow Game Masters, let's give it a try.

Have a look, and see what else we could learn from writers.

With thanks to Sean Holland from Sea of Stars for spotting Weiland in the first place.


OSR Experiments #14: Zen Moments and Dark Dungeon

So were the conversion experiments, from Dark Dungeon to D&D and vice versa, worth it? So far I think yes. I'd never have realized some of the differences without trying to translate between the games. D&D and DD are both fantasy, they're even close cousins in sword & sorcery. But they are also very different when you start playing them.

Does that also mean Dark Dungeon is not Old School? Good question.

Actually I think Dark Dungeon is very much Old school. At least how I understand Old School. Because the OSR doesn't necessarily agree with itself on many occasions, it seems. The OSR rocks, but it is also a collection of individuals. OSR is a rather fuzzy concept.

Dark Dungeon is rules light. In Dark Dungeon you need to use your own imagination, more than just follow the rules. If fuzzy spots in the rules appear, the game master needs to make up their own ruling. The game must flow, and be fun. It must not become an exercise in filling out a game tax form or a legalistic rules battle.s

True, OSR is more a gaming style than a set of rules. But some sets of rules help better in facilitating this style than others. Let's have a quick peek at the Zen moments in Matt Finch his Quick Guide to Old School Gaming, to see how DD holds up.

Zen moment #1: rulings, not rules
Well, how much you rely on rules and rolls is much your own responsibility. If you want you could set difficulties for everything in DD, and just make a roll. But you don't have to. You can also describe what you do. Here DD is neutral.

Zen moment #2: Player skill, not character abilities.
Again, DD is neutral here as a rules set. I must admit. You can shift all responsibility to the dice and roll for everything until you drop. But you can also play like one of my players, who refused to take the
“fast talk”skill. “I already can do that myself” he said. And he was right. Now his hero has the skill and he uses his own sleek blather nonetheless.

Zen moment #3: Heroic, not superhero
Dark Dungeon was written to be fairly gritty. But you do start out at a better power level than in D&D. And actually so do the enemies. If you want to compare, DD aims at something like D&D levels from 3 to 8, where D&D holds up best. And you can stay in this zone quite long.

Zen moment #4: Forget “game balance”
As you don't need to kill lots of monsters or gain lots of treasure to gain experience points in Dark Dungeon, you need less game balance too. The important thing is that a hero can run away and fight another day. Or at least that the hero has this choice. Having luck points to save heroes out of deadly situations helps here. Not needing to seek combat so hard also helps. At least in my opinion.

So, to me Dark Dungeon looks fairly Old School. As far as rules go, because Old School is the way you play more than the rules you use. The main difference with 0e games like D&D or Swords & Wizardry is that these focus a lot on dungeon explorations. Dark Dungeon is designed to play in scenes and free roaming stories – and dungeons are only a minor part of much larger adventures.


Pick #48: What the %&#$ is OSR???

For those of you who read Cyclopaetron or Grognardia daily, this may still be a philosophical question. OSR has many faces, so what is it? Good question, but I will not try to answer that one... this time.

For those of you who were confused by the term in the first place... I thought it would be wise to give a few places where I found helpful information at the time I was confused and bewildered myself. At least you then may know what these guys are talking about.

The first is the hopeful and excellent Quick Primer for Old School Gaming by Matthew Finch. I thought it was a very hopeful booklet, and a manifesto for having fun instead of blindly obeying rules. Clear written and enlightening.

The second is a series by Down Under writer "Austrodavicus". Its called The Old School Renaissance is Dead, and it's pretty much a plea for why the OSR is actually alive. Even if ofttimes bickering. And it's also a nice research into a history of the "movement".

The third is a wrap up of the rants by rpgpundit, pretty much wrapping up what one might have against the OSR. One needs to see different sides to the argument, anyhow.

And a fourth is... have a look at Cyclopaetron's list of OSR blogs- and click a few. You'll get the idea.

Maybe you'll even like it :-)


Free Adventures: Ammersfurt #12

The Secret of Ammersfurt is a free role playing supplement for the Dark Dungeon 2nd Ed game. Every week for thirty-five weeks, you'll get new bits for the Ammersfurt adventure setting, like monsters, NPC's, locations, skills, character templates, role play tips, and so on. And also every week, you'll get an adventure seed, which you can turn into a weekly adventure.

Adventure Seed 12: The Utrecht Delegates

Recently Ammersfurt has experienced a very bad harvest. Unfortunately stocks of grain from years before are also running low, so outside help would be welcome. Fortunately, the Bishop and businesspeople from Utrecht have also understood, and they now send a delegation to figure out what kind of help they can give. Our heroes are to protect them during their visit, and help the Burghermaster in entertaining them and dealing with them.

Download the twelfth part of The Secret of Ammersfurt here!


Pick #47: Tolkien Society

No, I don't mean our western society is a Tolkien Society, with hidden orcs, secret elves and Balrogs for president. Although that might be cool, come to think of it.

It's just that the Dutch Tolkien Society Unquendor has a special festival this weekend, to celebrate 30 years of its existence. I'll check it out, and perhaps tell you more about it. Basically, a Tolkien Society is a group of enthousiasts sharing their hobby with eachother - studying Tolkiens works, dreaming about Middle Earth, learning Elvish, figuring out where Tolkien got his inspiration from, dressing up like someone from Gondor, drinking mead, writing plays about Turin, telling stories and just being sociable. They might even talk about the Jackson movies, or do a reenactment of Numenorian soldiers.

I'm not sure if there are many role players there - but they might be. I'll find out.

The Dutch are certainly not the only ones to have a Tolkien Society. It's pretty likely that there's also one in your country. The English have their yearly Oxonmoot with their Tolkien Society, the Germans have the DTG, and the Swedes were there first with their Tolkien Society in 1968. Only when the British followed they added "of Sweden" to their name. Doing some internet searching will surely turn up your own country's group, if you're interested. And then visit other country's societies in an exchange program. You might even meet me.


Pick #46: Swordplay Fechtbuch

If by any chance you were wondering from whence the Gladiatores get their fighting techniques... Many are from a Fechtbuch, or Fighting Book, written in the 15th century written by Peter von Danzig and students. A Fechtbuch is really a martial arts manual, often illuminated with pictures of the fighting maneuvers, meant as a teaching tool. A sort of spell book for fighters.

You might want to use the concept in your campaigns...
a fighter that finds one might reach a new skill level, class level, specialty, feat, proficiency, etc. Manuals with special techniques would be much sought after, especially if they contained secret winning techniques.

Or you might wonder a bit at a few translated  texts from (for example) the Von Danzig manual here. They are provided by Schielhau.org, or Mike Rasmusson, a self-described longsword addict from Toronto. Together with other addicts he made available an impressive set of resources on Fechtbucher.

Image is from the first folio of MS 1449 by Peter von Danzig, by grace of Wikipedia

OSR Experiments #13: Turning the Haunted Keep into a Story

It struck me that the Dungeon is such a central part of the Dungeons & Dragons game. At least in the old versions. Sure, it's in the name of the game. But that's also true of Dark Dungeon. And underground mazes and dungeons are not by long as important there. Maybe I should rename my game Dark Adventure.
The Haunted Keep example in D&D basic is such a dungeon. And not a full adventure in DD style. So, I figured that if I changed around the stats of Haunted Keep to DD, maybe I should also try to do more. I should also make Haunted Keep into a real adventure with scenes, instead of a dungeon. Hat's what I'll do here.

Basic premise of the haunted keep is that the heroes have to rescue their family and friends from the claws of goblin raiders who hide in the forementioned keep. The keep was once the castle of the Rodemus family, who now turned into wererats because of a curse.

Adversaries: The Rodemus Wererats
So far so good. A DD adventure needs an adversary, and we have one in the goblins, but also in the wererats. Let's say that the goblins worship a wererat god, who is actually one of the Rodemusses gone mad because of his condition. Let's call him Uomo Muris, literally the “Rat Man”. He was once the proud Sir Peter Rodemus, but bitten by an infected creature he turned into a horrible wererat. Now he tries to refind his humanity with magickal rituals, for which he needs human guinea pigs. And that's where the goblins come in. They go out to get the guinea pigs for him.

And for Uomo's family, because once he became a wererat, he went on biting his wife and children and staff. And if they weren't killed they turned into daylight shunning wererats too. So we have a whole lair of monstrous Rodemusses. Sometimes they look like redeyed humans, with strange habits, hiding underground in damp chambers. Then they might seem almost normal, and tell you about their better times, or the sad nature of their condition. But often they change into horrendous humanoids with ratty heads and tails, who climb walls and ceilings, and preferably eat you alive. Especially when the full moon is there, their schizophrenia strikes and they become utterly evil.

Stakes: The Relatives
The second ingredient for an adventure, the stakes, are also there. Relatives of the heroes will be kidnapped. And they will be used in dastardly rituals, or eaten with salt and pepper, if they are not saved in time. If we can, we need to make this hook quite strong. The relatives need real names and faces. Perhaps w can even make up some special memories the heroes share with them. Like how Morgan often played with her brother Paul that they captured goblins. Or how Sister Rebecca and her sister Sophia met Silverleaf the elf for the first time in the woods, how they became friends, and how Sophia cared for them both when they had food poisoning. Or something along these lines.

Beginning: The Kidnapping
A cool adventure often has a cool beginning. Here I'd like to start with a special reunion in the woods. Friends Morgan and Rebecca, together with Silverleaf and Fredrik the Dwarf, have a picknick with brother Paul, sister Sophia, and some of the other friends of the village. Let's call them John, Thomas, Nash, Miriam and gramps Jacob. They have a great time in the evening, until John had a little too much to drink and starts to pick a fight with Tom about Miriam. When (and if) the heroes try to intervene, Sophia strays off seeing something. And then the goblin raiders strike. Riding wolves.

Naturally there should be way too many goblins, and somehow the heroes should be diverted. Maybe by a very strong group of hobgoblins, or even by a ratty creature that leads them. In any case, at least some of the friends and relatives ought to end up kidnapped – unless the heroes do uncommonly well. In that case the same raiders will have struck the home village too, and taken the other relatives.

If all goes well, such a beginning should set off the adventure well. Hopefully the heroes will try to track and follow the goblin party, and so reach the Haunted Keep when night has fallen. An excellent time for scary scenes.

Ending Scene: Confrontation with the Rodemuses
I always like to have an idea where I'm ultimately heading in my adventure. Even if I end up somewhere else, it helps me push the heroes in the right direction. So here obviously, the heroes will have to rescue their relatives and slug it out with Uomo. What better place to do so than in one of his experiments, in his laboratory?

Uomo, the former Sir Peter Rodemus, has a Frankenstein-like facility built underground, with several chambers and all sorts of devices. Devices which may look like torture chairs, chemical distileries, or medical instruments. Chambers full of them. With a special pit to dispose of human remains left after failed experiments. Failed experiments he has a lot of, because he's really not a very succesful alchemist, mage or scientist. So that's what I'll aim for. The heroes confront the Rodemus scientist in his own laboratory, while he is going to drain all the blood from their favorite brother and sister.

This is a gruesome adventure! Moldvay's Basic D&D brings out cruel imagination in me.

Capture Scenes?
How the heroes end up in this situation, I don't know yet. It depends on what they do. They could be captured themselves, and be bound in special chairs to watch what Rodemus does to their family. Then the heroes will have to escape in time too. Maybe because they receive help from Rodemus' his daughter who also is a wererat, but who has more goodness left in her. She then hands them the keys to get out and may even fight her father too. Ah, the tragedy! I like that option.

But how do the heroes end up captured? I can think of at least two possible scenes in which that could happen.

Capture Scene #A:
The heroes work their way past the goblins who have their quarters in the ruins, and find their way down into the chambers and tunnels below the old keep. Here they encounter several humans who are just as shocked to meet the heroes as the other way around. They look like adventurers, and tell that they were running from the goblins down here. They saw how the goblins captured people and killed them for food, so they hid themselves. And they also say they managed to free several others, who were captured by the goblins. Family members of the heroes, obviously. If the heroes want, they can be reunited. And perhaps then they can all together go to the surface – now the goblins are dealt with.
[If the goblins are not dealt with, but the heroes just broke through, they will hide together.]
“Oh yeah, almost forgot to introduce myself”, the leader of the refugees says, “I'm William, William Rodemus”.

And the heroes are led more or less straight into a trap.

Capture Scene #B:
The heroes observe how the top goblins are negotiating with a nasty ratheaded humanoid. The goblins seem to be selling captives to the werecreature. When the heroes try to intervene, rats appear from everywhere, and the wererat threatens to kill the captives unless the heroes drop their weapons.

More crude, but also a possibility.

Actually, there are many scenes one could think of in between. Let me know what you think. Worth running the Haunted Keep this way? Story Style?


OSR Experiments #12: Baron of the Spinward Marshes II

Yes, I'm still busy converting the sample adventure of DD Lite rules to D&D stats. And see what's left afterwards. I'll just give you the D&D stats for the remaining NPCs.

Alicia, 0 level human girl, Dexterity 13, 1d6 hit points

Captain Roy Rumble, 1st level fighter, Wisdom 12, Charisma 7, 1d8 hit points

John, 0 level human, Intelligence 13, 1d6 hits

Mike, 1st level fighter, Strength 13, Dexterity 12, 1d8 hits

That some detail is lost comes with the change. And listing a dexterity of 12 seems rather superfluous in D&D, as it means nothing special. In DD dex 2 means that you can avoid being hit at 40% instead of 20%. That is meaningful. But dex 12 is just average. Maybe Mike should have a Dex of 16, with a bonus of +2 for armor class and missile fire. I don't know. Seems overkill too.

The Baron's ghost would probably be best represented by a Wight. A modified type of Wight maybe.

Baron's Ghost, AC 1 (plate mail), HD 3, damage 1-8 +2 by sword, or energy drain on touch, levitate multiple objects once per day

The energy drain never was part of the Dark Dungeon baron, but in D&D it would make sense, and give something extra. Also, it would make sense to add some D&D type treasure. Because the simple items suggested for DD would be much to scanty for the experience needs of the average party.

Rolling for treasure type B gives me 7000 copper pieces, 2000 gold pieces, and four gems of 10, 50, 100 and 500 gold pieces worth respectively. These could be the buried treasures written about in the scenario. Suddenly I remember how hard it was to carry all this stuff without a bag of holding :-)

Poor adventures if they use the bag of devouring found in Thargan's ship for this purpose.

And finally, there might be a pack of swamp wolves. For the stats I'll just use those of the wolf, and I'll describe them as stinking, muddy, scaley creatures for effect.

Swamp wolves # 2-12, AC 7, HD 2+2, MV 180', bite D 1-6, Morale 8, Alignment Neutral

The wolves are a bit stronger than those in DD, but otherwise they're wolves. Simple monsters stand conversion from system to system relatively well.

Hm. Now I look at all those stats and treasures, I'm missing yet one thing for the real D&D feel. A map and key of a dungeon. The dungeon is really the heart of the D&D game. Maybe I should draw one and populate it with a few monsters more. I'll think about that.

Anybody out there who cares to draw a map of the Baron's tower for me?
If you like, you can stock it with some extra stuff too.


Pick #45: Impressive Swordplay

I already mentioned them a few weeks ago, but Gladiatores are worth more than one look. They're a group of german enthousiasts who train with real swords, and try to recreate the dueling techniques of the middle ages and renaissance. And they're *%#&@* impressive.
If you ever thought only the Japanese had intricate fighting technique, look and think again. You might even want to role play a cavalier swordsmaster or swashbuckler after you've seen these.


OSR Experiments #11: Back to Old School

I'm not sure why, but I'm doing a series of conversions from my own RPG Dark Dungeon into Basic D&D. You might call it Old School Reincarnation. So far I found out that the two games differ, but are also similar. I might express the differences in a table.

Basic D&D (Moldvay)                  Dark Dungeon 2nd Ed.

Dungeon Delve                               Fantasy TV Series Episode
Dungeon Levels & Rooms             Acts & Scenes
Treasure is Experience Points        Treasure is just money
Slaying Monsters is XP                  Slaying Monsters is just bloody
Fight and Loot and gain levels       Avoid fighting and live another day

And then there are of course some more obvious differences

Classes                                            Skills
Memorize spells                              Dream up your own spells
Hit Points                                        Wound Boxes
Hit Dice                                           Combat Skill
Roll your stats                                 Choose your stats
More Combat & Tactics                 More Role Playing your Character

Yet both games are in a fantasy setting, use a similar mix of races and professions, and they both have a Sword & Sorcery feel. Different and similar. I prefer the Dark Dungeon game because it allows me to do things I like. I can design my heroes in more detail. I can devise stories that are closer to real life, or closer to movies and books. I can play my hero without being forced to slay monsters and collect experience points in the form of treasure. Those things are harder to do with Dungeons & Dragons.

But if you like exploring dungeons, and do some combat and tactics while you also play a simple persona, then maybe D&D is better. I guess it depends on your wishes. You can do both sorts of game with both sets. But each is most fit to its own style.

Still, I'm surprised how big the differences are. Are you?

PS Yes this is a repost - as all posts of the twelfth were unposted by Blogger in a rather large maintenance issue.


Free Adventures: Ammersfurt #11

The Secret of Ammersfurt is a free role playing supplement for the Dark Dungeon 2nd Ed game. Every week for thirty-five weeks, you'll get new bits for the Ammersfurt adventure setting, like monsters, NPC's, locations, skills, character templates, role play tips, and so on. And also every week, you'll get an adventure seed, which you can turn into a weekly adventure.

Adventure Seed 11: The Madman

A strange vagabond with ragged clothes, long beard and matted hair has entered the city. He is no ordinary beggar though, because at night he tries to break into a magistrate's house, he kicks and pummels a guardsman, throws another into a canal, urinates against a church, proclaims shouting that he is King of Ammersfurt, and steals the keys to the city hall. He is arrested however, and thrown into jail. One or two of the heroes are asked to give him a look, and … he has broken out of his cell through the window. Eventually the heroes will catch up with the escapist, but what's on here?

Download the eleventh part
of The Secret of Ammersfurt here!


OSR Experiments #10: Dark Dungeon to D&D B/X

Last few posts I've changed around most of the Haunted Keep from Moldvay's Basic D&D into Dark Dungeon rules. And I learned a lot about the differences between the two games. Now it's time for doing the experiment the other way around. My Lite rules also have an example adventure. How would that stand up in Basic D&D?

The Baron of the Spinward Marshes

The Baron... adventure is like most Dark Dungeon adventures cut up in scenes. Not in levels or rooms, like old style D&D. But for providing statistics that doesn't really matter.

I'll have a look at the supporting cast listing in the DD Lite rules, and see what it would look like in D&D. Spot the differences, as they are.

Thargan the Black
Str 3, Con 3, Dex 3,
longsword 5, brawl 4, leader 4, stealth 3, rock climb 3, sail 5, swim 5

Thargan is a typical master enemy NPC. He is more of a fighter than a thief, even if he has skills of both classes. I decide to make him a fighter. His highest combat skill is 5, so reversing the hit dice table of two posts ago, I'd say he's level 3. He would have STR 13, CON 13 and DEX 13. Rolling hit points gives 3d8 +3 for Con. His AC is 6 for leather with Dex bonus, and damage 1d8 +1 for Str. Thargan holds up fairly well through the conversion into D&D. But many of his skills are lost in the conversion too.

Dex 4, Int 1, App 3,
Throw dagger 4, rapier 3, seduce 3, intrude 2, sleight of hand 2, history 2, r&w 3, swim 3

Pasha's highest skill is 4. So she's level 2. And she's obviously a thief, with fair charisma. Her abilities would include Dex 14, Int 11 and Cha 13. Hit dice would be 2d6. Her AC 6 (leather, with dex bonus), and damage 1-4. I'd have to write down the thief skills too. Open locks 20%. This was 40% in DD for average locks, or 9+ on d10+ skill 2. Remove traps 15%, Pick pockets 25% (was 40%), move silent 30% (forgot to give Pasha stealth skill, I see now), climb 88%, hide 15%, hear noise 1-2 on d6.
Pasha changed a bit, but she's still somewhat of a rogue. In D&D I can still kind of play the character I had in mind. I'm relieved soo far.

Donollo the Witcheyed
Dex 2, Int 4, Wil 3, App 2,
animal shapeshifting 4, r&w 3, dagger 2, telekinesis 4, clairvoyance 2, history 3, latin 3, swim 3

Donollo is a magic user of at least 2nd level. He would have ability scores Dex 12, Wis 12, Int 14 and Cha 12, and at least 2d4 hit points. But I also see he has at least three magick disciplines, or a minimum of three spells to use. In DD he'd have more. For now I'll make him 3rd level then. 3D4 hits, AC 9, 1-4 damage, and two 1st level spells and one 2nd level. Let's say these are Levitate (2nd), Charm Person and Sleep. Shapeshifting is out of reach in D&D. Donollo does feel a lot less powerful in D&D than he does in DD. And he probably is. The situation might be reversed above level 9, but now Donollo has to cower in the shadows once his one-shot spells are gone or useless.

I never really liked the lack of balance in the magic user class. And I also have a hard time to appreciate the charm of memorized spells. Little is left of the Donollo I had in mind. :-(

Pirates (4-20 in number)
Str 2, dagger 3 / axe 3, sail 3, brawl 3, swim 2

In Dark Dungeon I have to describe the pirate skills. In D&D I'd just say they are a kind of bandits. A one hit dice monster, AC 6, #AT 1, D 1-6, MV 120'. For statistics it works just as well. I have to decribe them anyway, with their dirty beards, their torn ears, bad breath, broken teeth and dirty striped shirts.

But looking at the Bandit monster I also notice they have treasure type U, or A in their lair. Treasure type. That would be a difference in the adventure too. Dark Dungeon doesn't need treasure, Magick items, yeah. But coin? Sometimes. In D&D coin translates to experience points. In DD they're just coin.

Just for fun I'll generate a little treasure in Thargan's ship, using type A. Maybe it adds to the D&D spirit.

Roll, roll. 25% chance of copper: 33%, no. 30% silver: 18%, yes, 1d6 rolls 4, 4000 silvers. 20% electrum: 83%, no. 35% gold, 47% no. 25% platinum, 01% yes, 1d2 rolls 2, 2000 platinum. 50% jewelry, 51% no. 30% any three magic items, 23% yes.

The three magic items become a sword +1, +3 vs undead, a bag of devouring, and a ring of water walking. I'd say that Thargan is using the sword, which would be of excellent use against the baron's ghost. And the ring of water walking goes to Donollo. The bag of devouring is kept with the general treasure in a couple of chests. I think the items actually add some flavour to the adventure, that's at least good. Funny to see how the games differ and are alike at the same time.

Next issue I'll deal with the rest of the creatures and NPCs from the “Baron of the Spinward Marshes”.


OSR Experiments #9: Hit Dice to Weapon Skill Revised

I was just looking at the monster listings in the D&D Basic set once more, and figured that the average Dark Dungeon combat skill should be higher for lower level monsters. Otherwise they mostly wouldn't make much sense, with warrior races like goblins and kobolds having no actual combat skill. And some monsters like werebears should be extremely fierce. So, here's an alternate table for hit dice to attack skill.

D&D HD                    DD Combat Skill      Example

untrained human          0                               peasant
less than 1                    2                               kobold, halfling, goblin
1                                   3                               hobgoblin, berserker, elf
2                                   4                               lizard man, ghoul, zombie, wolf
3                                   5                               wererat, wight, bugbear
4                                   6                               werewolf, medusa, panther
5                                   7                               weretiger, lion
6+                                 8                               werebear, minotaur

Above 6 hit dice, you should really look at where the dice come from. Is it size, or is it high agility, or is it even more combat skill? Dragons would be an example of great size. So I would scale down their combat skill by two or three points, but their armor up by one or two. And I'd advice varying levels for individuals anyway.

So a white dragon of six hit dice would have armor 3, but combat skill 5.
And a red dragon of ten hit dice would have armor 5, but combat skill 8.
Or something along these lines.

Skill 8 is pretty fierce, with a 96% hit rate (roll 9+ on d10 + 8 and don't fumble on a 1), 70% special hits (roll 12+ on d10 + 8), and 40% critical hits (roll 15+ on d10 + 8). I would prefer not to take these on if I could help it! And armour 5 is impossible to seriously take on with all normal weapons, so a Red Dragon is a true M-O-N-S-T-E-R this way. Cool.

Never thought I'd say that.


Free Adventures: Ammersfurt #10

The Secret of Ammersfurt is a free role playing supplement for the Dark Dungeon 2nd Ed game. Every week for thirty-five weeks, you'll get new bits for the Ammersfurt adventure setting, like monsters, NPC's, locations, skills, character templates, role play tips, and so on. And also every week, you'll get an adventure seed, which you can turn into a weekly adventure.

Adventure Seed 10: The Failed Harvest

After a draught a number of fields, including those of the Coelhorst and the Ysselt are wasted. The harvest is useless, burnt by the sun, poisonous, black and purple. As a complication, one of the heroes (the one earliest at the session) witnesses how a whole field of grains goes ablaze. What caused the fire is unsure, but it was dry enough to ignite spontaneously. After the first shock is over, a council of farmers and burghers is convened. What to do? What happened?

Download the tenth part of The Secret of Ammersfurt here!


Pick #44: Open RPG

Some picks ago I called attention to shared virtual desktops for gaming purposes. Programs with which you can make a kind of tabletop on your computer, and then share it with others anywhere on the world. As long as you're connected to internet. That way, you can play a role playing game even if you're all in different outbacks.

The virtual online desktops I linked were quite professional and expensive ones. But what I failed to notice then, is that there also are free, open source products which claim to be just as good.

Open RPG is one, which you can get in several flavors. For windows, linux, or python (and then on any platform). Some find the Traipse implementation even more user friendly. Have a look, see if you can install them, and organize a game with players in Wellington, San Diego, Canberra and Johannesburg.


OSR Experiments #8: Real Game Differences

Last few posts I've been rebuilding and converting B/X D&D example dungeon “The Haunted Keep”. Into my own game Dark Dungeon 2nd Edition. It proved to be fairly easy, but it also re-opened my eyes for the large differences between the two games.

Dungeon vs Scenes
D&D in the Basic set is really a dungeon search and destroy game. Or search, loot and destroy. Not necessarily in that order.

Dark Dungeon is a game of scenes. A fight in a tavern. The exploration of a ruined castle. An eyeballing encounter with pirates. A puzzling problem to solve in a complex library. A journey at sea with fellow heroes and an enigmatic captain. A combat with a group of Orks. Being caught in a storm on the road. Finding a dead man in a canal, just before the police arrive and think you are the killers. Visiting a foreign Queen and having to make sure she does not fall in love with you (which she will).

D&D and DD are really different games. That doesn't mean you cannot exchange the rules for combat, or for stats, or for skills. I just found you can. And then you can try to play D&D with DD stats. There might be a change in the game balance, toward the survival of the heroes if you go from D&D to DD. And combats might feel a bit more real.

Treasure and Killing Experience
But many of the D&D conventions make even less sense than normally, once you use DD rules. You won't receive experience for treasure or killing monsters anymore. So why endanger yourself if you don't need to? D&D heroes would burn the green slime from last post just for points. DD heroes would close the door and proceed. I think that's good. But maybe you feel different.

When I look at the gaming example on B59 in Moldvay, I see more differences. Here the party listens at one of the doors in a hallway, and decides to break down the door once they hear there are goblins inside.

My typical DD party would be more focussed on avoiding the monsters and finding the prisoners for example. They might not have broken down the door with monsters behind it – because they could proceed without fighting down the corridor. Actually a typical party would attempt a true search and extract the prisoners mission. Except maybe for the dwarf, who would try to find any excuse to clobber a goblin or two.

Sudden Death
The death of Black Dougal is even more striking. No way that a Dark Dungeon hero would die this way – pricked by a poison needle trap. Probably he would make his own “spot traps” roll on his search skill, not leaving the dice to the Game Master. And even if he missed his save versus poison (a Constitution check in Dark Dungeon), he would be allowed to use a luck point to save his life. Only if he ran out of luck points (and he'd only have two or three, so it's not impossible), he would really die.

And even if he were dead, Sister Rebecca might try to save him. Praying to Saint Raphael would give her a 10% chance to raise him from the dead, if she really made work of it. Or if she tried to undo the poison before it killed him, she might even save him at 9+ or 12+, with her skill level 6 resulting in 80% or 50% chance of rescuing her colleague.

Sister Rebecca would also not allow any fighting or killing if she could at all help it. Because she is morally obliged to do so for her faith. And because her faith would no longer work if she did not. A strict game master would penalize her with the DD rules if she slacked on that part. Or if she actually killed or maimed a monster without utter regret. Maybe D&D clerics also should be like pacifists. But usually they are just against bloodshed, and mangle your bones with a heavy mace instead.

Dump Stats and Money Bags
Charisma is a real dump stat in D&D. Most of the time. Not in my typical group of DD. Maybe that's because of how I game master the game, rewarding higher Appearance scores. Maybe it's because my players like to play more charismatic types. Maybe it's because there are more social, non-combat encounters. In any case it's yet another difference.

Treasure is of much less consequence in most of my games. In D&D you need treasure to proceed in levels, so you haul in as much as you can. But in DD you need an amount of income, and once that's settled, most characters are no longer particularly interested in treasure. Except magickal treasure, but that is of a different order. Once money is in ample supply, my players don't go about dragging coins.
Maybe they are much like heroes of level 10+ in D&D...

Or... are differences just minor?
But exploring a Dungeon otherwise might be very much the same. If you want to search, and not go into details as player and GM, then you'd roll on the character search skill. Or perhaps you'd use the Intelligence ability instead (but with a more difficult check). In D&D the DM would be rolling a d6, and decide if you find something. The difference is not too great.

So you can use the DD rules in a Dungeon romp. It's just not really made for such. It will be a different sort of adventure. A little more realistic, maybe, if that's the right word. To see if there are unexpected advantages apart from the differences, I'll do a simulation in another post.


Pick #43: The Hobbit

You probably saw the trailer a thousand times already, you heard the rumors a zillion times, and you will probably move to live in New Zealand this may...

but even then you may want to have a sneak peek into principal photography of the prequel of Lord of the Rings, as envisioned by Peter Jackson.

And the "official" trailer by Gameovais, which did once look real enough:


OSR Experiments #7: From Haunted Keep to Dark Dungeon pt II

How would the Haunted Keep from B/X look different if I used Dark Dungeon 2nd edition instead of D&D? And would the difference make a real difference? 
I continue my conversion experiment at room #3. Again, here's the Moldvay map for reference.

Room #3: contains a secret safe in the wall with a sleep gas trap. One of those traps that always leaves me wondering why it wasn't set off by the first band of wandering orcs passing by. But just suppose it's there as it is, then I would need to set a rating for the trap to be found, and one for how hard it is to deactivate it. In both cases I'll say it's 9+ as that is the typical rating. And if it goes off, the room will fill with gas. I'll say that people who run or cover their faces need a 6+ on Con not to fall asleep. And those who are to daft to react need a 9+ on Con. The sleep will last up to a few hours. Enough for wandering creatures to come in and eat the napping heroes for breakfast, I guess.

And there is treasure. 400 silvers. Now I run into yet another difference. 400 sp in Dark Dungeon would be an ok treasure. But a few rooms further on I see a jewel worth 1100 gold. That's a fortune in DD. So that won't translate one on one. I figure the best thing is to change silvers into coppers, gold into silver, platinum into gold. So there are 400 coppers here. Hardly worth falling asleep for.

Room #4: Here are two prisoners, and four hobgoblins who stand guard. The room is well in the back and can't be reached before negotiating most other rooms in the level, no matter if it's number 4. The prisoners are unnamed in the key, but for story purpose I'll say that one of them is Morgan's brother Paul. That would give a sense of accomplishment if the heroes can save him.

The hobgoblins in D&D are AC6, HD 1+1, HP 7/9/4/5, MV 90', #AT 1 D1-8.
With last posts tables that would translate to:

Mace or Axe 2 (weapon class 2), but I'll up their skills to 3/3/3 and 4 respectively
Dex 1, but I'll vary that to 0/0/2/2
Ring mail and helmet (armor class 2)

Actually I'll need few other stats, although Wil and Con might be 1 or 2 if I need to know. I'm surprised to see that Dark Dungeon actually has fewer stats.

And there is treasure. 500 sp and a necklace worth 1100 gp. That becomes 500 copper and a necklace worth 1100 silvers (55 gold). Under the rug is a trapdoor to level two of the Dungeon.

#5 The chapel with a rat man statue. And a dozen goblins sleeping in bunk beds. If I were to game master this, they would be aided by the hobgoblins from #4 or vice versa if there were any trouble. Nasty attack in the rear if the heroes don't watch their backs.
The goblin D&D stats are: AC 6, HD 1-1, hp 5 each, MV 60', #AT 1 D 1-6.

In DD that becomes: Club or Knife 0 (I'll vary that 0/1/2), weapon class 1, armour class 1 (leather, but I'll vary that to 0 or 1). You might feel that accomplished ruffians like the goblins have no real fighting skill, and it surely would bother me. So I would'nt be angry if you'd give the goblins skill 2 or 3 in their combat prowess. That would only make sense.

Room #6: is empty.

Room #7: contains a green slime. I'd really give the heroes a few hints telling them there are traces of goblin bones in some putrid green sunstance on the ground. And something dripping down. That might alert them to the blob on the ceiling. The slime itself is a 2 HD monster, so it would have a surprise attack with skill 2 (effectively 4+ on d10, or 9+ on d10+2+3) if heroes don't pay heed. Fire can kill the thing, but otherwise it will dissolve a hit hero into green slime. It can't be scraped off, but a prayer to Raphael might remove it – let's say at 12+

Green slime is a very nasty critter if you don't know how to deal with it. Personally I would rather scare the players witless for a scene than kill one off. Or else I'd use an NPC or monster for that. And there follows another difference between Dark Dungeon and D&D. At least in how I play the former, and how the latter is portrayed in the rulebook. D&D is harsh and deadly, with life and death in the hands of the dice – and the preparation of the Game Master. Dark Dungeon is scary, and might be deadly – but story effect should prevail. At least how I see it.

Room #8: has scary scummy water and a heavy statue of an iron maiden. There is no real danger.

Room #9: has four spying goblins behind a secret door with a spying hole. You can find the stats for them at room #5.

So far for level one of the Rodemus Ruin. I'd like to add some stats for Paul and the other prisoner, for story sake. Let's say Paul is also a somewhat capable fighter, but still a teenager.

Paul Ironwolf, Str 3, Con 2, App -1 (low charisma runs in the family), sword 3, short bow 2. He is wounded, maybe even tortured, but willing to fight and join. And he could wear hobgoblin armour to become a more effective aide to the party.

The second prisoner is an older man named Neérmynde. He is confused and bleeding from the head. But if the heroes help him, he might turn out as an ally. Perhaps he is a dabbling mage.

Neérmynde, Int 3, Wil 3, fire magick 3, Animal Shapeshifting 3, latin 3, read & write 3

There, maybe next post I'll figure out how I would proceed to the next levels in Dark Dungeon.


Pick #42: Thorny Dice

If you have (a lot of) money to burn, you might fancy these thorny, amazing fantasy dice. Of course there are many, many beautiful dice out there, but I had to have a second look at these little works of art. They are marketed by Shapeways, and said to be made of real steel with bronze patina...

Thanks to Italian blogger justplaywith.it for spotting them!


OSR Experiments #6: From Haunted Keep to Dark Dungeon

Finally, with the characters from D&D B/X ready I can now start turning the fabled Haunted Keep into my own Dark Dungeon 2nd Ed. brew. How would it look in a different game? What would the difference in feel be? I'm quite excited to find out.

“A tribe of goblins has been raiding the countryside, and on their last raid they captured a dozen prisoners. And the prisoners are relatives of you, the heroes. They are your brothers, sisters, and friends. You have tracked the trail of the goblin raiders, and arrived at the Haunted Keep, a ruin that stands at the borderlands. It is built of granite blocks and was once proud and strong. Now it is an overgrown rubble. Faintly you remember that once it belonged to a powerful family, the Rodemuses. But they have disappeared many years ago. Dougal, you notice that the wooden door in the east tower may be easy to force down. One of the hinges has already rusted through.”

That's how your story might start out. Mine would probably start earlier as a true Dark Dungeon story, with the goblin raid being one of the starting scenes. That's how a movie would start, so that's how my adventure might too.

Dungeon Rooms vs Scenes
But D&D is more focused on the Dungeon, and a bit less on the story or the cinematics. No matter, as both have their charm and merit. Let's follow the D&D starting point for now.

Moldvay just sketched the map and stashed the dungeon with the use of the D&D tables. Or somebody else did so for him. D&D is quite specific with treasure types and monster types. Dark Dungeon is more sketchy in that respect, leaving more to the whim of the Game Master. D&D tends to think in Dungeon levels and rooms with content. Dark Dungeon thinks in scenes and what happens in them – combat, role play, exploration, a chase, an escape, a story twist, or something else. These are again quite different. As I try to turn the keep into something more like Dark Dungeon I am surprised at the difference.

But Rooms are also Scenes
But a room, or a set of rooms, or a level is also in a way a scene. It is also a time frame in which something happens. So, maybe the difference is less great than it seems. Let's again follow the D&D flow. I'll reproduce the Haunted Keep map here for reference, copyrights of course remaining at TSR and their heirs.

Room #1 is an empty bedroom with a clean floor.

Room #2 is the lair of a crab spider that clings to a tapestry on the wall.
Ah! A monster to translate into Dark Dungeon stats. It's a two hit dice monster, with a nasty 1-8 pts damage plus poison, and an armor class 7 in D&D.

Here I realize that I actually need some sort of table to have some sort of reference. Or actually a few tables. One for the monster level, another for the armor class, and a third for the weapon class.
I'll have a try here.

Conversion Tables D&D to DD2

Dark Dungeon combat skill would be a function of the D&D Hit Dice, like this.

D&D Hit Dice      DD Combat Skill

less than 1                0
1                               1
2                               2
3                               3
4                               4
5                               5
6                               6
7                               7
8                               8

That's simple eh? I would add or subtract one or two points for differences and surprise though. Maybe even three or four points more for a leader. And if hit dice are derived mostly from a monsters size, I'd actually subtract a few extra points.

Armor class in D&D actually translates into Dexterity and Armour class in Dark Dungeon. To keep it simple, use the monster speed rating for the Dexterity (and evasion!) score.

Speed in D&D       Dex in DD

60' or less                   0
90'                              1
120'                            2
150'                            3
180'+                          4

Again modify up or down if you feel it warranted in individual cases. Or if the monster is more thief-like and agile, such as a vampire. Dark Dungeon is much more about individual types than about hit dice. What did I say? Dark Dungeon has no hit dice!

D&D damage         DD weapon class

1-4 or less                  0
1-6                             1
1-8                             2
1-10 / 2-12                3
2-16 / 3-18                4
4-24                           5
6-36                           6

A less rough guideline. Scale up or down by a point if you feel that it fits better.

D&D                             DD Armour class

clothing or thin hide             0
tough hide                            1
leathery scale                       2
hardened scales                    3
old dragon scale                   4

Scale down by a point if the size of the monster is rather small, or up one to three points if the monster is rather large, huge or humongous.

There, this should do for the moment.
Let's finish up what the spider looks like:

Crab Spider, AC 7, HD 2, HP 10, MV 120', AT# 1, D 1-8 + poison, ML 8, AL Neutral

This would translate to:

Bite 2 (weapon class 2 + poison),
Dex 2
Leathery scale (armor class 1=2-1 for small size)

Morale 8 might translate into a Willpower of 2. But I don't think you'll need that. Just like you will not need alignment. I might add Stealth 3, as the spider can hide well.

And I would have to decide on the potency of the poison. It's deadly in D&D. At a rate of 45-65% as saving throws are in the range between 10 and 14 vs poison on d20. To make things simple, I'd say that the poison causes death unless the wounded hero roll 6+ on Constitution + 1d10. That's still a 50% chance of death for the average character, but less than 10% for someone with a Constitution of 5 (5 + 1d10 is always at least 6, so only a fumble will be fatal). If I want to be nasty, I could also say that you need a 9+ to avoid temporal paralysis and a Severe wound to the chest as the heart muscle and lungs are affected. Spiders can be bad. Especially big ones like these.

That's enough for tonight. Next issue we proceed with the other rooms.