Monday, February 01, 2016

Horror Adventures

http://paizo.com/products/btpy9jcx?Pathfinder-Roleplaying-Game-Horror-Adventures-Hardcover
There are things that dwell in the dark places of the world, deep beneath the ground, in long-abandoned crypts, or in musty attics; terrible things that can destroy your body and shatter your mind. Few sane individuals would ever think to seek out such nightmares, but those that are drawn into the darkness often find it infecting them, corrupting them in ways both subtle and gross. Some think that those who die facing off against such horrors are the lucky ones, for the survivors are forever scarred by their experiences. Horror Adventures gives you everything you need to bring these nightmares to your game.
Well; except the actual things; most of which, no doubt, have already been featured in one of the Bestiaries published by Paizo (up to five now!)  I've got them all in pdf, but they sell for cheap in pdf (at the price, they're worth it for the art alone) and I love monster books.
Horror Adventures includes:
  • Corruptions that can turn your character into a monster, from a blood-drinking vampire to a savage werewolf. The only cost is your very soul!
  • Character options to help heroes face the forces of darkness, including horror-themed archetypes, feats, spells, and more!
  • Rules for sanity and madness, giving you all the tools you need to drive your characters to the brink and beyond.
  • Tips and tools for running a scary game, along with expanded rules for curses, diseases, haunts, and fleshwarping to bring your nightmares to life.
  • New templates to turn your monsters into truly terrifying foes, from creatures made from living wax to the stalker that cannot be stopped!
…and much, much more!
In other words... it mostly contains a bunch of stuff that's already readily available in open content, included as part of the SRD thanks to the great book Unearthed Arcana; one of the greatest rules books of the 3.5 era.  Of course, as I've embraced the more rules-lite approach of m20, much of this is not necessarily important to me.  But I will admit that I really like the Wayne Reynolds cover art, at least!

I've talked before a bit about how to make d20 play more like a horror game, and since my tag-line is "D&D Rules, Call of Cthulhu play paradigm" maybe it's time that I take some time to talk about how this would apply to my current rules; or any other rules-lite approach, including games such as B/X, Swords & Wizardry, etc.

Some of this isn't really applicable at the system level (although some of it is)—much of the success of any purported horror game (or dark fantasy game that plays like horror, as is the case for me) comes from the skills of the GM in presenting the game, and managing to get people on board for the concept of a horror game.  In my experience, that latter task is much more difficult than it sounds, or than you'd expect it to be.  Some players naturally do well with a horror game, especially if they're fans of the genre, but many simply struggle.  If you're playing D&D or a D&D variant, many will simply be unable to shift their preconceived notions of what the game is to be like, and simply play it like it's D&D.  Many others have different preconceived notions, and struggle not to just be silly, expecting that their characters are too disposable for them to ever really take the game very seriously.  How, then, can you get your players on board, both with modest system changes, and with presentation changes at the table?  How do you get D&D rules (regardless of what iteration of those rules you're actually using) and a Call of Cthulhu play paradigm, and for that matter, how do you successfully execute a Call of Cthulhu play paradigm anyway?  Here's what I think.  Much of this applies to any system, but I'm especially thinking of rules-lite D&D variants.
  • I think the overtly competent character classes of many modern D&D variants work against the feel of a horror game.  These characters are designed to "win" D&D, quite clearly, and broadly speaking, they do so at all levels except perhaps the very lowest.  Older versions of D&D actually work much better; with the level caps of B/X, for example, your characters get powerful, but only so much so.  B/X also has much more modest characters at the same levels as, say, 3rd Edition characters.  If you're already playing an old school game, then you probably have already taken steps to address the power inflation that later editions engaged in, but something that addresses the rampant, exponential growth of characters is welcome too.  Whether its some kind of "bounded accuracy" house rule that keeps stats (especially hit points) from running away, or simple level caps or campaign time frames that by design exclude the higher available levels, something has to be done.  Players instinctively and subconsciously lose that feel of horror if their characters feel too competent.
  • This can go overboard, though.  Few people enjoy playing for very long with characters that they feel are incompetent, and the classic meat-grinder type of campaign is not really associated at all with horror—it's actually associated with the very tactical, gamist, "skilled play" paradigm of the game.  To feel any degree of horror, the player has to feel at least some sense of attachment to his character, but also feel that it is possible, and possibly even easy if he's foolish, for the character to die.  But if the characters always die, and especially if its arbitrarily so, then there won't be any sense of attachment to the character.  It's a fine line to walk to keep the perceived threat of death always in the players' mind, yet not actually kill characters all that often, but that's integral to fostering a successful horror tone.  In my games; I have both a slightly dampened hit point escalation scheme, as well as level caps at 10th level.
  • PC death isn't the only thing that suffers from over-familiarity.  Monsters in a D&D like fantasy game are not really horror icons, even if they are, actually, horror icons.  This is because of the way that the game is traditionally played.  If you have your characters wander through a dungeon "stocked" as if it were a fishing pond, with monsters, then the monsters become routine—not scary.  More and more, I think its important to actually minimize the presence of monsters in my fantasy games.  They should be more unique, more rarely appearing; they need to be significantly foreshadowed before they show up, it's desirable that many are not meant to be defeated in a straight up fight (and probably can't be), etc.  In other words, a monster encounter should be more like a set piece than a routine experience; the equivalent of a small module, even in and of itself.
  • This also means that monsters should be somewhat mysterious.  There's nothing quite like having a well-known monster, who's strengths, weaknesses and basic abilities are very familiar to the players, being dragged out and described quite simply in terms that make it prosaic and routine.  Even for those who are hyper-allergic to anything other than player controlled sandboxes and hexcrawls or the like have to admit that there is always going to be an element of story-telling to these games, because if nothing else, a GM has to describe the scenario.  This is where you need to take the time and effort to create some mood and tone.  Don't go overboard, or you'll sound like Lovecraft on a bad day which is more laughable than scary, but there's a real opportunity for you to create tension at the table over the course of the session if you do it right.  
  • Along these lines, some other ambiance can be helpful (although in my opinion, less so than many think.)  If there's anything you can do to influence the tone via the setting in which you actually play; i.e., lighting, decor, spooky background music, etc., it helps.  Yeah, yeah—I don't know anyone who's going to create a gaming room with dark paneling, decorations bought at the Halloween store, and creepy sounds and soft music playing in the background, with dim candle-powered lighting, and a GM that can speak with the voice of Orson Welles or James Earl Jones or Vincent Price.  But if you could; wouldn't you?  And some of that can be done easily; I prefer playing in a more dimly lit rather than overly bright room, and spooky music and sounds isn't exactly hard to find; I've got an entire library of movie soundtracks, which aren't hard to pick up for relatively cheap on CD or mp3, and you can also get really cheap sound effects CDs if you really want them.  I actually think tinkering around with tracks in Audacity or some such app is kinda fun; I'd love to make an actual entire CD for the soundtrack of DARK•HERITAGE or CULT OF UNDEATH that takes movie music soundtracks and adds a light layering of Halloween sound effects to them.  And even if you don't want to go to that much trouble, maybe something more simple, like some of the music tracks by Sonic Legends¹ would be right up your alley.  Keep the music low, quiet, almost on the edge of being noticed—its easy to overdo this kind of thing.  Subtlety is the key to success. 
  • Also along the lines of creating tension and dramatic tone via GM presentation, the session is such an obvious unit of measure to do this, and it is ignored at your peril.  The ideal way to do so is to create tension without giving a lot of opportunities to relieve it during the course of a session.  Let it peak near the end of the session, but leave plenty of unanswered issues dangling so that the campaign overall retains a tone of unreleased tension and scariness.  For those who play in a more sandboxy environment, you may think that GM control of things like pacing and tension is Verboten, but that is actually not true.  You need to be more skilled to do it, of course, compared to a more railroady game, but it is absolutely possible to do, and the more you can learn to do so, perhaps via on the fly adjustments to what (or when, or how) PCs discover the contents of any given hex or whatever, the better you will be as a GM.  In fact, in my opinion, the only truly good GMs are the ones that allow the PCs to feel in control of the game while successfully delivering tone, pacing, descriptions and environments that play out more like an episode of a scary t.v. show like The X-Files or something.  Besides, all that said; I'm hardly a sandbox purist.  I'm almost rabidly in favor of having the players drive the game rather than the GM, but there are lots of ways to accomplish that, and hexcrawls may be a "purist" approach to that question, but certainly is not the only answer.
  • I think the templates referred to above in the Paizo book description are over-rated.  Templates are a fun idea, certainly, but in an older school, rules-lite game, they're not needed.  Monster stats are pretty sparse to begin with; making some minor adjustments to them, adding a special ability or two, changing minor features, or even just swapping a new description to go with a known monster.  It really is much better if your players aren't quite sure what it is that they're fighting anyway.  Just describe it and run it; don't label it.
  • Some kind of fear and/or sanity rules are nice, but in the past, I think they've over-taken their usefulness by being too clunky, too clinical, and too cumbersome.  These kinds of rules can never bog the game down; they need to be very quick and easy to implement, with relatively simple effects.    For this reason, I recommend against doing anything too much like the now open content sanity rules from Unearthed Arcana; which are really just the original Call of Cthulhu rules all over again.  Not only are these way too clunky to use, but they're also "non native" to d20, so it always feels weird using them, like they don't really belong in the rules system that you're using.  The authors of the original d20 version of Cthulhu claimed that this is good, because it gives them a feeling like they're weird and unnatural, but that's just a really stupid cop-out.  They take the player out of the game, and therefore sabotage their intent—to ratchet up the tension in any given session.  I prefer something much simpler, and my m20 rules reflect that.  There are other open content sanity rules that have been floated around over the years: Green Ronin did some good ones for their Freeport system that I quite like.  I recommend searching for an alternative and just taking it as is, with only minor modification, unless you really like writing your own rules.  No need to reinvent this particular wheel.
  • Not every horror or dark fantasy game really needs some kind of corruption or taint mechanic—but if that's a feature of the fiction of your setting, you better have some kind of alternative in your mechanics.  I don't really have any recommendations, since I don't use this type of mechanic myself, but again—I'd echo my comments on fear and sanity; keep the system simple and easy to apply at the table without bogging down the game with tables, major changes to characters that have to be recalculated on the fly, etc.
¹I have "Ancient Archives," "Arabian Bazaar," "City of the Dark Elves," "Country Village," "Forest Journey," "Magical Spell," "On the Open Sea," and "The Summoning" from Sonic Legends.  You can probably guess pretty well which ones are most appropriate for dark fantasy or horror games.  There are a few others that I'd like to try out, but honestly—I don't use the ones that I have all that much; I have too many movie soundtracks.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

What's missing by Paizo

Although I've long since kinda stopped paying attention, I still pop in every so often and see what Paizo is doing with their setting development (they lost me a long time ago with rules development; they kind of took what was wrong with 3.x and made it worse).  They've started doing repeats; there are new(ish) books out for Osirion and Cheliax, for instance, even though I also have older books dedicated to those two areas of the setting.  That said, there are a few areas that really could use some more development.  All of these areas have been mentioned in, at least, the campaign setting book, Distant Worlds, or some other source, but none of them have sufficient development that they're ready to use in any meaningful sense, at least not without a lot of homebrew to get it ready (hence the use of that tag.)

So, what would I specifically want to see, and where would I decide to focus?
  • Realm of the Mammoth Lords.  No relationship to my own long-running (although little has been done with it) setting tag MAMMOTH LORDS which actually more closely resembles the Savage Worlds setting Totems of the Dead, this is a polity or region with lots of prehistoric La Brean and similar megafauna, including warm valleys in the mountains inhabited by dinosaurs.  This, naturally, is sufficient for adventure in and of itself, but there's more: the region is surrounded by enemies.  To the north is the path over the crown of the world to Tian Shan.  To the west is the hostile Witch-Queen Realm of Irrisen.  To the south is the Hold of Belkzen, who's orcs often raid their southern reaches to capture their own megafauna for war platforms, and to the east is the Worldwound—once a kingdom that culturally, if not politically, was closely tied to the clansmen of the Mammoth Lords, but which is now a beachhead for a demonic apocalypse.  It also borders a small part of northern Varisia, and is very close to Ustalav, and the ties of Kellid blood cry out from all of those areas, as well as Numeria.  The Realm of the Mammoth Lords is kind of the last redoubt of Kellid culture.
  • Akiton, the Red Planet, and the Pathfinder equivalent to Barsoom.  This is actually very sparsely described, but there seems like a lot of opportunity here; sword & planet romance all through the surface, but with strange Lovecraftian horrors buried in the ice at the poles, and other unique and unusual settings for adventure that are very different from that found on the "Hyborian model" design of Golarion.
  • Nex.  Normally I'm not a huge fan of over-the-top high magic areas, but I'm a little surprised that this hasn't been further developed, given that it's the place in Golarion for high magic wahoo.  Geb too, I suppose.  Maybe the two of them can't be done separately, which means that the Paizo folks aren't quite sure what to do with it.
  • Varisia.  What, you say?  There's tons of material for Varisia!  Well, yes and no.  There are sourcebooks for several of the cities in Varisia, including Magnimar, Korvasa, and the Pathfinder Burning Man analog, Kaer Maga.  There are several adventure paths set mostly in coastal, semi-urban Varisia.  But most of the rest of this vast area remains a big cypher.  I'd love to see something in the Varisian hinterlands above the Storval Rise; a kind of Pathfinder Old West almost, with Shoanti barbarians standing in for Indians and Huns or Mongols as the case may be.  Of course, Paizo would screw this up with the "Avatar Myth" which is just an expression of anti-white racism.  And I'd love to pretend like I never heard anything at all about Kaer Maga.  Blegh.
  • Eox.  I've been fascinated by the concept of Eox, which —in many ways—reminded me strongly of the Atropus section from Elder Evils.  The two could be easily combined.  Not sure why the concept of an entire world of undead is so interesting to me, but it is.  I wonder; maybe this could also be combined with Thanatos, as described in Fiendish Codex I?  Sure, why not?
  • Arcadia.  Sure, I can adopt my own MAMMOTH LORDS or Totems of the Dead to some degree to give me material that works as Arcadia, but why hasn't Paizo given us more than a single chapter on a single city?
A lot of what I'm interested in is extraterrestrial—either in the planes or the planets, which are virtually indistinguishable from each other, both being exotic and often hostile environments for adventure of similar esoteric provenance.  I've actually just about finished re-reading for the first time Distant Worlds and I'm finding that my old REALMS TRAVELER setting idea is one that I'm missing right now.  I might have to put together a hex map of the Realms as a next step.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Gun Control

From a source on firearms in the Middle Ages (again, assuming that the baseline of D&D is, essentially, a fantasy version of a Middle Ages esque world): "Firearms, of which the handgonne was an early example, gradually came to dominate European warfare, and the reasons are clear. The hand gonne was inexpensive and easy to mass-produce. At the same time, the forging methods required meant that centralized governments had a measure of control over their manufacture (and especially the manufacture of ammunition—an important consideration in a medieval Europe wracked by rebellion). They had superior armor-penetration capability; the longbow was effective against mail armor and plate, thanks to the bodkin point, and the crossbow very effective against heavy armor, but the handgonne could pierce heavy plate as well as act as a terror weapon to troops and horses that had never seen the weapon before. Furthermore, much like the crossbow, the weapon could be effectively used by non professional soldiers.

The other hand-operated ranged weapons of the time had their own drawbacks. Crossbows had superior accuracy and similar power as compared to early hand cannons. However, they were expensive to make, slow to reload and their performance was almost as severely affected by wet weather as that of hand cannons. While the handgonne could not match the accuracy nor speed of fire of the longbow, gunners did not require the special training and continuous practice from childhood required of a good bowman. Yew, the primary stave making material for the European longbow, became scarcer as the medieval period progressed. Firearms only supplanted longbows in England after almost all European yew supplies had been exhausted."

Although I'm far from a strict simulationist, we see that for the most part, D&D rules for "primitive" firearms has really got it all completely wrong.  I don't pretend to be an expert on rules for guns over the years in D&D—which has largely relegated such to the fringes anyway, but which periodically get covered by a variety of sources.

Here's a few things where I think they've got it wrong.

  • Although not universally true, many have damage ranges that are not comparable with other weapons, assuming somehow that firearms are more lethal than non-firearm weapons.  This is absurd; but quite honestly, there's something flaky with damage ranges in general.  Most weapons do too little damage (either that or most characters have way too many hit points.)  But regardless, the damage range of firearms shouldn't be outside of the norm for other weapons.  
  • To offset this, many rules have firearms be very difficult to reload, and take a long time to do so.  This is actually fairly historically accurate—but the same would be true for crossbows.  For whatever reason, nobody ever does this for crossbows.  This sudden turn towards a simulationist exception for firearms is strange.  Either simulate or don't simulate.
  • The same balancing effort is made for ranges, which for "primitive" firearms are often very, very short.  This actually is not historically accurate, so its not even good simulationism.
  • Misfires are popular.  This might be fun to introduce a little tension and risk, but it's also fairly silly.
In general, firearms rules betray the fact that most games designers don't really care very much (or know very much) about guns.  That's OK.  Actually, my own rules have several of these same problems—the range is shorter than for bows, crossbows, etc.; I have increased damage, but a reload time.  I might have a look at those after all.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Timischburg—with hexes

I'm thinking of converting my CULT OF UNDEATH compression of the Carrion Crown adventure path by Paizo into, of all things, a hexcrawl.  This will, of course, change significantly the way that the game will play and require a bit more work to be doable—but that's OK.  In fact, I think it's desirable.

First things first, if I actually do this: I've added a hex overlay to my map.  It doesn't have a key yet; but you can, of course, simply count.  There are 26 columns across and 17 rows.  While the rows don't necessarily line up (because they're hexes, not squares) if you count the columns first, going left to right, and then count down the second number, you'll get to the targeted hex.  For example, Grozavest is located in 11:9; 11 hexes over from the left edge, and 9 hexes down from there.  I'll probably eventually actually add numbers, but... no rush.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

What is the OSR playing?

I was kind of curious what the hot titles in the OSR are lately; as I've mentioned them several times, I've made some assumptions that may or may not be valid.

There's very little data to speak of.  Wikipedia references some site-meter type statistics at ENWorld, but there's a heckuva selection bias at ENWorld towards the current edition of D&D and against any other game.  Not that they're not talked about, or can't be talked about, but that that simply isn't the hot place to talk about it.

Today's statistics on the Hot Roleplaying Games page suggest the OSR tag is used on 3.7% of the discussions had.  That said; older games, or specific OSR games really should be added to that list, which brings it to 5.57%.  Not bad, for a subset of gamers that probably don't really have much in common with ENWorld's M.O. to begin with!

Here are the games that I presume OSR themed gamers are using, to some degree or another:

  • First off, keep in mind that WotC have released most of the actual older editions of the games, either as pdfs or as reprints.  You can get 1e, 2e, B/X, OD&D, BECMI, and the RC at least this way.  Presumably many players who would be drawn to retroclones don't actually need the retroclones if they can get the actual regular rules themselves; the retroclines then become more useful as a platform to enable other ancillary products like modules, settings, or customization options.
  • It looks like Castles & Crusades is still kicking around.  This was a curious hybrid; old school SRD before the OSR really started for realzies.
  • I've mentioned specifically ACKS and LFP, but I don't know how much use these get.  They seem to have gathered a lot of talk online, at least.  Dungeon Crawl Classics probably belongs in that grouping as well.  Neither are exactly retroclones, being rather evolutions of the retroclones in many ways.
  • OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord were very early retroclones (of 1e and B/X, respectively) but I don't hear much about either anymore.  Then again, I don't trawl through OSR blogs and whatnot, so maybe I'm just out of the loop.
  • Swords & Wizardry, especially in its even more stripped down "White Box" version seems, from my limited perspective, to have quietly become the mechanical chassis of choice for much of what's going on in the OSR.  Given that S&W is meant to be a retroclone of the original 1974 version of D&D, there's a kind of odd "circle of life" symmetry to this, if so.
What would I use if I were into the OSR?  I'm not really, but I'd like to do a B/X retro-game for a time.  I'd probably do B2: Keep on the Borderlands and then X1: The Isle of Dread specifically and then can the game.  I'd also like to do a more old-school style game for a time as an experiment, or just for fun; a good old-fashioned hexcrawl.  But I probably wouldn't actually use old rules for it; I'd probably use an m20 variant.  Purest Essence seems like the most D&Dish of the bunch without getting specifically into more complicated or esoteric variants, but Microlite74: Standard Edition might be a good choice too.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Brief Contest of Champions update

I don't intend to make updates on this a regular occurrence, but here and there, I'm interesting in logging my progress.  I still don't have any 4-star champions, but I do have a lot of 3-stars now; more in fact than I do 2-stars.  I got rid of a couple of 2-stars that I had that were duplicated by 3-stars, and then—since I wasn't doing anything with 2-stars except fighting in 3x3 match-ups to earn specific 3-star heroes, I decided to go back to having a number divisible by 3, so I could make teams.  I have 12 2-star heroes, then—4 teams—and even when I get duplicates, at this point, I think I'm going to keep what I have.  This will just be my 3x3 roster that will remain unchanged.  I've been trying to gradually level and rank these guys up, though.  Five of them are now rank 3 (which allows them to use the super move) and I'd like to eventually get all of them maxed out.  But that's a slow process, and it takes away ISO that I could be using to bulk up my roster of 3-star heroes (and eventually 4-star, I hope.)  And because of that, I've decided to slow down on my Story Quests (I'm in the 2nd Act, and I'll keep at it, but then I'll stop until I've accomplished some other goals.)

Actually, I'm spending quite a bit more time in event quests, to earn catalyst.  This is, however, really boring, because it's the same quest over and over again, and although it does (slowly) give out catalyst, it's not great at giving out anything else.  It's really long past time that they retire the Groot quest and replace it with a new one.  I don't know how long its been since I finished the Groot quest, but it sure feels like forever ago.  And I also desperately need the catalyst.  But until I get some, I can't even do the medium catalyst quests very well; the difficult track is full of 4-star heroes to defeat that are in the 1,100-1,200 or so rating.  I either have to burn through a bunch of heal and revive potions to even do those, or I have to simply do the easy track and then wait until I've gathered enough shards to complete catalysts.  I really want my 3-star characters to all be up in the 3rd rank where they can get into the 1,000+ ratings themselves before I start tackling these.  I've got several heroes that are just barely in the 3rd rank, and are in the upper hundreds for rankings, but I need a lot more ISO get get them at the top of the rank and ready to get their final ranks.

So, that's where I'm at.  I feel like I need to "farm" ISO and catalysts so I can get my champions good enough to really move on in the story mode—as shallow and stupid as the actual story is—and the farming is getting tedious.  Does this mean that I won't be playing the game as much?  Maybe.  I've already slowed down from my furious investment into it over the holidays, but a lot of that is simply that I don't have the time that I had during the holidays too.  I'd love to get a different event quest up; I joined when the Jessica Jones one was on, but it finished before I did, and it's been Groot ever since.  I finished Groot weeks ago; I could have turned around and done it again at a higher difficulty level (and in fact, I probably would have if I'd known it was going to stick around so long) but now I'm mostly just interested in seeing what's coming in its place.  I'm also enjoying the quick 3-day (or so) challenges where you can win a 3-star hero in the Versus mode 3x3 teams.  I've done a few of those now, and I think it's a great way to bulk up my roster and earn units, premium crystal shards, and gold.  It seems like there's a new one over the weekends, and then it repeats again during the week.  I'll keep a weather eye on what's happening there.  Although without quests, I end up just getting more heroes that I can't afford to level or rank up, which starts to get old.  I'm feeling a real shortage of ISO.

Anyway, here's my current list:
2-star champions

  • Cosmic silver Iron Man: 398
  • Iron Fist: 392
  • Wolverine: 373
  • Star-Lord: 370
  • Punisher: 366
  • Regular Iron Man: 354
  • Deadpool: 316
  • Juggernaut Colossus: 313
  • Rhino: 313
  • Yellowjacket: 312
  • Ronan: 310
  • Drax: 309

3-star champions:

  • Magneto: 883
  • Thor girl: 828
  • Hulkbuster: 762
  • Ms Marvel: 750
  • Spiderman: 731
  • Winter Soldier: 690
  • Black Panther: 664
  • Daredevil (Netflix version): 638
  • War Machine: 586
  • Juggernaut: 576
  • Dr. Strange 575
  • Groot: 548
  • Rocket Raccoon: 545
  • Spiderman Miles Morales: 522 

Friday, January 08, 2016

Size

http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2009/03/size-does-matter.html

From the comments, by Lord Kilgore: "I honestly believe (and have since the days of the original Unearthed Arcana and the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide) that there is an inverse relationship between page count and potential for easy fun.

Maybe the quicker references to the rules speed things up and make it seem like more is happening. Maybe quicker combat keeps everything flowing. Maybe the DM has to put a little more into it because he can't just read off a table. Maybe the players do too. Maybe you don't take it quite so seriously because it's "just a simple version of the game."

Or, maybe, it's all of that and then some."

I don't disagree, to a degree.  And hour for hour, I probably had a lot more fun simply playing the various setting iterations of "cops and robbers" or "cowboys and injuns" or "the Scooby gang and the monster" or whatever other game we played as kids that had no rules at all whatsoever.  Not that I'm interested in doing that again (even my kids are too old for that kind of thing; I'll have to wait until I can chase grand-kids around the playground, I guess) so I think there's a limit to how far the rule Lord Kilgore refers to goes.  But just for the heckuvit (and for bragging rights) let's make a few comparisons.  Keep in mind; this makes no concession to the presence, absence, or size of artwork and white space, or even the size of the pages themselves.  A word count would be better.  But, what can you do?  This gives a bit of an advantage to the free supplements put together by indie guys on the internet, who didn't pay for any art (although some of them include public domain artwork a fair bit) but by that point, where in the region where the rule about diminishing page count stops having any real meaning, in my opinion.

And I'm not sure how to count up 4e, because of the weird release schedule, I was never really sure which books I would need to look up page count for.  Do you need the PHB 2 or 3 to play?  I dunno.  So I didn't bother counting it at all, and just left it off.

This is also the "core" rules only.  Obviously, most of these lines had a great deal more material available, although it was specifically called out as optional.  This is the stuff that you absolutely need to play.  I fudged that call just a bit too: Pathfinder is generally considered as requiring at least the 1st Bestiary to be a complete game, so I added it too.  This is what I've got:

5th Edition: 992 pages
3.5 Edition: 960 pages
Pathfinder: 896 pages
AD&D (1e): 470 pages
Rules Compendium: 304 pages
OD&D (LBBs plus the 4 supplements): 183 pages
Labyrinth Lord (Advanced; free no art version): 160 pages
Swords & Wizardry: 146 pages
Labyrinth Lord (Basic; free no art version): 140 pages
Moldvay Basic/Expert: 128 pages
Swords & Wizardry White Box: 72 pages
OD&D (LBBS only): 56 pages
Microlite74: Extended: 32 pages
Microlite74: Standard: 28 pages
DARK•HERITAGE m20: 28 pages
Microlite74: Basic: 20 pages
Microlite Purest Essence: 16 pages
Microlite (Original): 3 pages (granted, if you don't already know how to play, you're probably hosed with this one, though.)

As an aside; I sometimes forget, since not everyone has been involved in messageboard and other D&D discussions over the last ten years or so like I have.  Here's a list of common abbreviations:
  • OD&D: Original D&D; the 1974 (and later reprintings) of the first version of the rules.
  • LBBs: Little Brown Books; which were actually white in most printings.  The actual rulebooks contained in the OD&D boxed set.  This is done, usually, to distinguish between the basic OD&D rules, and the OD&D rules containing one or more of the four supplements that were released.
  • AD&D: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons; could refer to either the first edition (1e) or second (2e.)  Occasionally you'll here references to 1.5e or 2.5e; this refers to 1e with the implementation of the Unearthed Arcana (UA) book; 2.5 refers to the implementation of Skills and Powers.
  • BD&D: Basic D&D.  Technically, it should probably refer to the Holmes set, since the Moldvay and Mentzer have their own abbreviations (and go beyond Basic) but in practice, BD&D is used as a catch-all for almost all of the D&D games that were not OD&D or AD&D until the release of the RC (see below.)
  • B/X: Basic/Expert: referring to the version of the game that game in two separate boxes.  Basic was written by Moldvay and Expert was written by Zeb Cook; but the entire version, as well as being called B/X, is often simply called Moldvay.
  • BECMI: The progression of boxed sets as written by Frank Mentzer, with the Larry Elmore covers.  The acronym refers to the various boxes in the series: Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortal.  Sometimes also simply called Mentzer.
  • RC: Rules Compendium; the book version of BECMI after it was revised and collated.
  • With the collapse of TSR, the D&D line and the AD&D line were collapsed into a single game again, but the edition numbering followed that of AD&D.  So when you see 3e, what that usually refers to is D&D 3rd Edition, which came out in 2000.
  • 3.5 is the revision to 3e that came out in 2003.
  • 4e is the 4th edition.  
  • 4.5 is a nickname sometimes given to D&D Essentials, which was a restructuring and revision and reprinting of 4e.
  • 5e is the newest (and current) edition of the game, which was released in 2014.
  • PF is Pathfinder, and since it was specifically meant to be a revision of the 3.5 SRD that stayed more faithful to the 3.5 game than 4e was obviously going to be, many PF fans actually consider PF to be more faithful to what D&D is than 4e ever was, in spite of the fact that it obviously lacks the brand name officially.
  • OSRIC: Old School Reference and Index Compilation: the first "retroclone" which used the SRD and OGL to recreate a facsimile of 1e and managed to get away with it.  Spawned, indirectly, the entirety of the OSR
  • SRD: System Reference Document: almost all of the rules of 3e (and later, 3.5) and made them freely available for anyone to use or work with under the auspices of the OGL.
  • OGL: Open Gaming License: the license that allows anyone to use the SRD to develop their own material for the game.
  • OSR: Old School Revival (or Renaissance, or Revolution): products that are compatible with older editions of the game, thanks to the presence of retroclones like OSRIC, S&W, or LL.  As the movement has evolved, to a great degree, it's developed now it's own games that are like evolutionary to those older games, rather than merely being faithful(ish) reproductions of them, like ACKS or LFP.
  • S&W: Swords & Wizardry; a retroclone specifically of OD&D.
  • LL: Labyrinth Lord; originally meant to be a clone of B/X, but has evolved an AD&D variant as well since then.
  • ACKS: Adventurer Conqueror King System: an evolutionary game that expands on the concept of BECMI, where as you level up and the genre changes, you actually do different things rather than dungeon-crawl harder dungeons with Orcus in the room instead of an orc.
  • LFP: Lamentations of the Flame Princess: another evolutionary OSR themed game with a decidedly "grindhouse" vibe; gratuitousness and maybe that Ron Edwards "phantasmagoric" except this time turned very, very wrong, feel to it.

Using D&D for planetary romance

Since Jeffro has pointed out that it might well have been expected in the mi-70s that you use D&D to run games that aren't necessarily a vanilla thud and blunder hybrid of sword & sorcery like game-play in a setting that looked like a vanilla extruded fantasy product high fantasy...  I wonder what using D&D to play sword & planet, or planetary romance would be like.

Clearly, D&D has borrowed a lot from sword & planet stories over the years.  The Dark Sun setting was specifically designed to be similar (in some ways) to Barsoom.  Creatures like the gorillon are quote explicitly the same as Barsoomian white apes.  The Pathfinder setting book Distant Worlds is clearly designed to be the Leigh Brackett solar system, complete with Barsoom-like Mars and Amtor-like Venus, turned into fantasy (it's actually a bit more science fiction and less planetary romance than I expected.)  Other, non-D&D games have explored the territory even more thoroughly; Space: 1889 has a strong planetary romance angle, Hollow Earth Expedition has a Mars add-on that's just like Barsoom (given that normally the setting is just like Pellucidar, it's fair to say that Jeff Combos is a Burroughs fan...)  Lizard wrote what may be the most popular (if my own completely unscientific observations about it and people asking about it online are any guide) of the d20 mini-games in Iron Lords of Jupiter.

White ape of Barsoom?  Or gorillon of D&D?
But what about seriously using D&D to run an unapologetic sword & planet setting; not a sword & sorcery setting with some sword & planet influences?  How would that be done?

I said a few days ago that sword & sorcery and sword & planet are already almost indistinguishable save for the rather arbitrary distinction that the former uses magic, and the latter uses pseudo super science to essentially do the same thing.  This was a rather facile over-simplification, so let's have a look at what is really different, shall we?

1) First off, the races.  While you could conceivably come up with some way to make fantasy races fit into planetary romance (Pathfinder's elven kingdom on Venus actually works pretty well, for instance) you're better off changing them.  The classic sword & planet setting has humans—although of some exotic ethnicity unlike any on earth, usually, and then a bunch of really kind of gonzo non-human races.  The Green Men of Baroom, for instance, are ten feet tall, have chameleon-like eyes, huge porcelain tusks, and four arms.  Lin Carter's Yathoon on Callisto are giant insect people.  Barsoom also has kangaroo-like hopping people, and gigantic head-like spiders that ride headless humanoid bodies as steeds.  Amtor has bird people, fish people. people that grow as buds from plants, and people that reproduce via mitosis, etc.  Look for some really gonzo, unusual races, mix that up with regularish human people with green skin and blue hair or something like that, and your racial selection is good to go.

2) Secondly, classes: A lot of D&D classes (at least in most editions) are related to some kind of magic; either divine or arcane.  While I can imagine a planetary romance that uses magic, normally it does not.  Curiously, psychic (or psionic) powers is not at all out of place; in the first John Carter novel, Burroughs goes on and on about the telepathy that is common on Mars (although it's rather conveniently forgotten and rarely mentioned again later; kind of like midichlorians that way...) and on Callisto, the Mind Wizards are another example of weird psychic mind-readers and mental manipulators.  Some of the more colorful tricks of a psion in D&D are essentially indistinguishable from magic, other than the mechanics and the pseudo-science names attached to the powers.  I think something a bit more toned down than actual wizards is desirable.  Something more like the Jedi would work.

3) Many fantasy stories, even sword & sorcery, don't really emphasize the "pulp aesthetic"—things needs to be gee, gosh, exotic, exciting, over the top: gratuitously exciting in a boy's adventure tale kind of way.  One fascinating feature of planetary romance (actually, Burroughs, who created the genre, did this in most of his other books too) is that just over the next rise or hill, just on the other side of the next sea, or whatever, is always some really bizarre, unguessed, exotic location.  Although the action is fast and furious, there's also a sense of the travelogue about these books; it's also about showcasing the imagination.  Quiet little villages and farmlands are never as exciting as abandoned cities protected by illusion-projecting primitives who everyone assumed were extinct, or valleys filled with weird cyclopean carnivorous plant people, or a sea made of red mist instead of water, or... y'know.  Whatever.



4) To be really true to the genre, you might think about being the PCs be Earth people stranded in a strange land.  While it's not required (there were Barsoom, and other settings, books that featured native characters from time to time) it's customary.  Burroughs did it, Carter did it, Resnick did it, Kline did it, Akers did it, Moorcock did it, Howard did it, Norman did it, etc.  With a pedigree like that, you've got to give it some serious thought.

5) While there certainly are super-science elements to a sword & planet campaign, your scientific stuff can't be so effective that it eliminates a) big, angry, primitive monsters that are basically equivalent to alien dinosaurs, or b) the effectiveness of hand-to-hand combat with swords and stuff.  Make sure that your rayguns (or whatever kinds of guns you have) aren't so good that naturally everyone will switch to using them exclusively as their weapons of choice, for example.

Along those same lines, while it was really only (mostly) Barsoom that had naked people running around, this is supposed to be a swashbuckling kind of genre.  Plonking around in heavy armor doesn't seem to really be the way things are done.  D&D has some optional rules for scaling armor class (as to hit scales) without needing armor; I'd either adopt these, or find some others that do more or less the same thing.

6) In a swashbuckling combat game, lots of dungeon-crawling doesn't really seem appropriate.  While certainly John Carter or some of the other guys occasionally got into a fight with someone or other in a cave, the entire paradigm of dungeon-crawling seems highly inappropriate for this genre.  Zipping across the planet in a flying ship, sneaking into an enemy city at night to rescue a supremely hot space princess or eliminate a political rival—that I can see.  There's lots of politics, gladiatorial games, mass combat of mounted and/or flying troops, and the discovery of strange and exotic cultures, races or terrain while lost out in terra incognita.  If there's an old school model that you need in order to run the game, the hex-crawl makes a lot more sense than the dungeon-crawl.