Monday, November 30, 2015

Dark•Heritage m20 rev. 1.2

Bumped my rule set from version 1.1.8 to 1.2.  This was a semi-significant update; not necessarily in amount of content, but in terms of significance to the rules themselves.  My last post previewed it pretty well, so I'll give only a brief summary here:

  • Updated Kozaky to Scramasax, and a minor update in the description.  Changing a race name.  No big deal.  I already covered that here on the blog, for whatever it's worth.
  • Added class customization rules to the Class section of Character Generation.
  • Added the Shadow Sword class as a "below the line" class that cannot be customized, but which is available for selection.
  • Added a number of new monsters (mostly all animals, although of course there's no rule that separates animals from any other class of monster.)
  • Added Stats for all monsters (as in STR, DEX and MND stats.  Of course, they already had some other stats to begin with.)  This is for allowing monsters to make skill checks.  Previously, skill checks were meant to be GM rulings, but with the expansion of the Animal Companion ability to more classes, I thought having rules for it was expedient.
  • Rewrote some of the monster introductory text, removing references to GM rulings with regard to stats and skills.  Also clarified that the stats are only to be used for skill checks; the existing attack and damage rolls are meant to be used unmodified by the stat.  It was already implicitly included in the attack and damage rolls that the monster already had.
  • Had to update the table of contents.  No biggie.
The updated rules are available in wiki form and as a pdf attachment to the wiki here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

m20 Alternate Classes

Because the "optional" house rules for my m20 system provide for a la carte class modification, I thought it'd be fun to explore some of the alternatives, and maybe even give them labels.  I'm not necessarily a fan of creating labels, and these are even less official than the house rules themselves are (although that is almost certainly subject to change when the rev level bumps on the system) but they are meant to be simply examples of how you can use these rules to emulate some different types of archetypes.

As a quick review, here are the various class features you can pick from:

  • Combat bonus: +1 to attack and damage; increases by an additional +1 at 4th and 8th level.
  • Sneak attack
  • Affinities: start with 1, get an additional one a 3rd, 6th and 9th level.
Keep in mind that the Shadow Sword class is not customizable; it stands alone as the only class that cannot be altered.  Also, keep in mind that the Outdoorsman's class abilities all count as minor class abilities.  He essentially has three minor abilities rather than one major and one minor ability.  It's entirely possible that the animal companion is over-powered in this case, but I'm going with it anyway, because if so, it's not overbalanced by much, and it's pretty traditional.

  • +3 to any skill
  • a single affinity
  • an additional +3 to AC
  • an additional +1 to attack and damage with one weapon type only (light, medium, heavy or ranged)
  • an animal companion (note that there is no official rule on what an "animal" is from the monster list, so GM discretion is at play.  If a GM wants to count an imp as an animal, and treat this minor bonus as equivalent to some kind of familiar, he can choose to do so.  I would.)
The basic classes are, as a reminder, as follows:
  • Fighter: combat bonus and +3 to Athletics
  • Rogue: sneak attack and +3 to Subterfuge
  • Outdoorsman: +1 to ranged attacks, animal companion, and +3 to Survival
  • Expert: Affinities, and +3 to Knowledge
  • Shadow Sword: a suite of unique abilities; the Shadow Blade, and a limited +3 to Subterfuge (only when combined with DEX.)
How would I make a Sorcerer, Warlock or Witch, for instance?  How about pairing the single affinity (Sorcery) with a familiar (an imp would be my choice although there are other great options too) and +3 to Knowledge to better learn spells?

What would I call a character with Combat Bonus and a +1 to ranged weapons?  A Gunslinger, Sharp-shooter, or Sniper, maybe.  With another weapon type, maybe call him a Weapon-master or Gladiator, or he could be a Defender by taking Combat Bonus and +3 to AC.

Another take on the Outdoorsman archetype (and why not, let's call him a Ranger!) could be to have the Combat bonus and an animal companion.  A Scout could have +1 to ranged weapons, +3 to Survival, and a single affinity for Wilderness Survival.  Both deviate from the Outdoorsman sufficiently to feel quite different, yet not enough to feel like a totally different archetype, just a different take on it.

You could even make something like a Bladesinger-style class by giving a character the +1 to medium weapons (so he can use a longsword), an affinity for Sorcery and a +3 to Knowledge.  Or you could tweak that by making it +3 to Subterfuge instead, and get a character not unlike the Gray Mouser (as an aside, I'd see Fafhrd as a Fighter but maybe with his own +3 applied to Subterfuge rather than Athletics, maybe.)

Alternatively, you can do some unusual things without even changing the classes.  An Expert can be a Wizard or Mage by taking Affinity and making it Sorcery every time he gets a new affinity (by 9th level, he'd have it 4 times, allowing him up to 3 rerolls on any failed check involving sorcery).

One of the beauties of this system is that it's so flexible.  I don't mean in the sense that you can create almost anything you want (although you can) but in the sense that it doesn't make niche protection a primary design goal.  In other words, all characters, as they advance in level, manage to be competent across a broad range of adventuring tasks, and the class abilities are actually somewhat modest (and become relatively moreso as the character advances.)  A 5th level fighter, for example, will fight with a +7 to attack and +2 to damage, but a 5th level Expert with the same strength will still fight with a +5 to attack.  While I don't necessarily recommend that a 5th level expert pick a straight-up fight with a fighter, at the same time, it's hardly inconceivable that he'd win if he did. (Of course, more likely he won't have the same strength, since Experts are more likely to focus their traits on MND over STR.)  Any character can potentially sneak around successfully (although clearly a rogue with +3 to Subterfuge, or an Expert with an affinity for Stealth would be at an advantage in doing so), and character can learn to cast spells (although a character with an affinity for Sorcery would be a safer bet to do so), etc.  Anyone can do anything with a reasonable chance of success, and the class bonuses, while nice, are not requisite.

Why Microlite?

It's been a while since I talked preferences and theory about roleplaying games.  Maybe it's time I do it again.  I'm a keen supporter and partisan for Microlite20, or m20, and I'm going to explain my rationale and why I'll probably never really look back in terms of what my preferred system is.  That said, how often will I actually play an m20 game?  Who knows?  The last game I was involved in was a d20 game; D&D house-ruled to be used for the Star Wars setting in a way that largely was superfluous, because it worked very similarly to the (pre-SAGA) official d20 Star Wars game.  That game has now sat fallow for the better part of a year (maybe longer, actually) and we're now looking to reconvene at least a portion of our group, but we'll be playing Call of Cthulhu (as mentioned in my last post) not m20.

That said, for my setting, I recommend m20 exclusively, and although I still have all of the old documents for my Dark Heritage Hack and d20 Modern and even D&D gallimaufry rules-sets, they're only there for posterity's sake.  I don't envision ever dusting them back off again.

This right here from Saturday October 14, 2006, was the birth of Microlite, after (presumably) a period of labor on the evening of the Friday the 13th.  The original posting of the original version of the rules.  It moved, the next day, into it's own thread where it was hashed out, discussed literally ad nauseum, and eventually spawned a movement that lasted for years, and developed I don't know how many variants (two of my own devising, and I never even submitted mine for inclusion in the big collection pdfs.)

Some of the Microlite movement went down a road that is (perhaps) predictable; it became OSR.  Things like Purest Essence, often considered by many to be the apex of m20 development, along with equally popular (it appears) Microlite74, were specifically designed to refer back in many ways both subtle and not to the old school versions of D&D as many had played them.  I've said before (and will probably do so again) that when it comes to my gaming tastes, I'm old fashioned, but I'm not old school.  A number of my preferences were fixed if you will back in the days when I really first engaged with D&D, during the B/X Moldvay days, but there were always a number of aspects of that game which annoyed the crap out of me too.  And the advantage of Microlite is that it caters to the preferences that I have that were fixed based on B/X style play, while minimizing those that I always had issues with.  What are the things that it specifically allows which I like?

  • Speed of play: One of the things that has certainly bothered me the most about playing the "modern" era is how bogged down the game actually gets.  Particularly combat, but not exclusively so.  I can't imagine ever again playing a game where a relatively routine combat operation takes literally several hours to resolve.
  • Flexibility of play: Another aspect of the complexity of the rules is that there is a rule for all kinds of things.  Not in a robust sense, however, because the rules are usually too specific to be easily adopted to unique circumstances that might come up in play.  I prefer—in fact, that's too weak a word; I demand—that any rules system have robust, simple, generic rules that can be easily adopted via GM rulings to any situation that arises during the course of the game.
  • GM Authority: Along those lines, I require a game that respects and defers to the authority of the GM.  A trend, purposefully adopted starting in 3e, at least, was the notion that you couldn't trust GM's to "do it right" and therefore the game had to be designed so that they had no room to "mess it up" and play "incorrectly."  Totalitarian jerks.  A good GM is like any other good leader; you're happy to follow him because you trust his judgement.  Plus, next time around, it might be you in the GM's seat, and you want the same courtesy.
  • Player Authority: The other side of that same coin is that players need to have the flexibility to exercise their "sovereignty" if you will; their control over their character and how he's defined.  As a very specific example of what I'm talking about, I'm a huge fan of the concept and archetype of the ranger—an outdoorsy fighter who's also somewhat sneaky, and survivalist, and "special forces"-like.  But I've almost never like the specific iteration of the archetype as represented by the ranger class.  One way around this is to go the Pathfinder route; i.e., create even more rules, like the archetypes that can be used to adapt the strict classes into one that's more your speed.  Another is, if you have a good GM, you can work with him to adapt the class yourself.  Another is archetypes that aren't like straitjackets in the first place.
  • Ability to play "on the fly" with little preparation, if needed.  Sure, better game sessions happen with better preparation, but when that doesn't happen for whatever reason and you're left running the game without having prepared, can it be done easily?  Along with this, what if the players go on a complete tangent, making your preparation moot anyway?  The rules-heavy complex systems that require multiple books that all need to be referenced during play make this paradigm nearly impossible.
  • Ability to support "theater of the mind" style combat.  I don't necessarily hate battle mats and miniatures, although I don't prefer them, and I recall back in ye olde junior high D&D days whipping out graph paper as a quick and dirty combat representation, but I prefer a game that doesn't require it.
All of these things tend to drive heavily towards a much more simple system; one without unnecessary complications, without exceptions and weird rules subsets, one that is light, flexible, elegant and yet robust.

The B/X system, or the 0e system that B/X was meant to update, were built on this paradigm, and that's where my tastes and preferences were "frozen" so to speak, so all of those elements are still very important to me, and any game that fails to address them fails period.

But of course, B/X and 0e do a number of things that I don't like.  Rather than reiterate them again, I'll refer you to the tag OSR over there on my tags list, and suggest that if you need to, you read those posts again.  

But Microlite really kind of does the best of all worlds.  It provides exactly what I need with regards to the dot-points above.  It's sufficiently compatible (without any undo work) with d20 material that I can actually use d20 material if I want to in an m20 game.  And it's sufficiently flexible that it doesn't need to refer to the fundamental premise of D&D.  In fact, one of the things that I really like about it is that it's very flexible and the same system, with only minor tweaks, can be used in pretty much any genre.  I've already got a customized dark fantasy iteration that borrows from traditional D&D-like m20 as well as Western-themed m20 games, I've got a more D&D-like iteration (in my EBERRON REMIXED tag, and I've got an iteration that hybridizes those two paradigms too (CULT OF UNDEATH).  I've got a customized STAR WARS iteration, and I've got a superhero iteration in use for my Guardians of the Galaxy-like superhero/space opera setting AD ASTRA (which needs more work, by the way.)

In other words, Microlite is flexible enough that I can use it to play anything, and it is compatible enough with the majority of the RPG material that I already own that that's a major plus, and it excels at hitting all of the specific requirements that I have for a game that is customized to play perfectly to my tastes and preferences.  I can't imagine, at this point, ever again recommending any other system for any other game that I personally run or tinker with here on the blog or in person, or anywhere else.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Horror on the Orient Express

I'm not sure if I've really mentioned it or not, but our Star Wars game is essentially dead.  It's been probably a year—maybe even more—since we've played.

I got a call from one of my buddies in the gaming group a few days ago; a subset of the group—those who enjoy this particular genre, at least—are getting together starting in December for a once a month (or so) Horror on the Orient Express campaign, which was backed by some of the guys in our group when it was a kickstarter (an update to the original campaign released by Chaosium.)

So, there's our gaming as we wind up the year and get ready to start 2016.  2015 ended up being a complete dud of a gaming year, but 2016 looks to start off strong, with one of my favorite games in one of my favorite genres, with a group that really knows how to make that kind of game fun.  Should be great!

Thursday, November 19, 2015


After being rather proud of myself that I'd decided to make one of the main ethnic groups essentially be Scandinavian Rus and Russian Cossacks (both related, of course, in real life) with a mixture of Viking and Russian names, I've rather belatedly decided that I'm being a bit odd in my aversion to using any familiar elements.

As a guy who's largely descended from the Borderlanders who came to America—themselves largely the descendants of the syncretism between Anglo-Saxon and Viking and Scottish elements of northern England, why would I go out of my way to avoid anything at all like the English?  I mean, I know why—when I first developed this setting, I was deliberately avoiding what I thought were "fantasy cliches" and since fantasy as a recognizable genre is largely written by native English speakers, English Medievalism has always been a big component of it.  The Warhammer setting, for example, tried to be a little different by courting a Holy Roman Empire vibe.  I courted a Mediterranean vibe.  But given that my setting is big, and has room for a lot of stuff, my reluctance to have anything that was in any way English started to feel poorly thought out, and in fact stubborn for the sake of stubbornness.

I also started to feel that if I was trying to specifically trying to draw a line between my setting and the American West, in the same way that regular fantasy is drawn to Medieval Europe, then having nobody that was at all anything like Americans in any way also seemed—strange.  Not that I want actual Americans (just like I don't want actual Spaniards; part of the reason I focus on slightly more obscure languages to crib my names from, like Ligurian, Occitan and Catalan.)

But it's time that I change the name of Kozaky, because I don't want them to be Cossacks anymore.  I want them to be more like the Danelaw; a mix of Viking and Anglo-Saxon names, and a culture that is like that... combined with cowboys.  I'm going to call them the Scramasaxes, and propose that they wield frankas and saxes (as did the actual Germanic warriors—these weapons would be more familiar today as tomahawks and machetes) as "ethnic weapons."

Anyway, maybe it's not as dramatic a change as all that; replacing the Slavic names with Anglo-Saxon names.  But I actually intend to do a bit more with it; explore some other themes.  Not to the extent of allegory, of course, but I've got some interesting ideas to explore that I'd really like to hit on here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cheers for S. T. Joshi

Read the November 10th entry (as of the time of this posting, the top one, although no doubt that won't remain so for those who find this post later.)

In general, I'm not a huge fan of the work of S. T. Joshi.  Or, for that matter, any other professional "scholarly" literary critic; a solution in need of a problem if ever there was one.  But that right there was well-done.  The attempt by the wretched SJWs to erase the influence of Lovecraft by slandering him and judging him by their own miserable standards will amount to nothing but the diminution of their own influence and prestige, not his.
It has come to my attention that the World Fantasy Convention has decided to replace the bust of H. P. Lovecraft that constitutes the World Fantasy Award with some other figure. Evidently this move was meant to placate the shrill whining of a handful of social justice warriors who believe that a “vicious racist” like Lovecraft has no business being honoured by such an award. (Let it pass that analogous accusations could be made about Bram Stoker and John W. Campbell, Jr., who also have awards named after them. These figures do not seem to elicit the outrage of the SJWs.) Accordingly, I have returned my two World Fantasy Awards to the co-chairman of the WFC board, David G. Hartwell. Here is my letter to him:

Mr. David G. Hartwell
Tor Books
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010

Dear Mr. Hartwell:

I was deeply disappointed with the decision of the World Fantasy Convention to discard the bust of H. P. Lovecraft as the emblem of the World Fantasy Award. The decision seems to me a craven yielding to the worst sort of political correctness and an explicit acceptance of the crude, ignorant, and tendentious slanders against Lovecraft propagated by a small but noisy band of agitators.

I feel I have no alternative but to return my two World Fantasy Awards, as they now strike me as irremediably tainted. Please find them enclosed. You can dispose of them as you see fit.

Please make sure that I am not nominated for any future World Fantasy Award. I will not accept the award if it is bestowed upon me.

I will never attend another World Fantasy Convention as long as I live. And I will do everything in my power to urge a boycott of the World Fantasy Convention among my many friends and colleagues.

    S. T. Joshi

And that is all I will have to say on this ridiculous matter. If anyone feels that Lovecraft’s perennially ascending celebrity, reputation, and influence will suffer the slightest diminution as a result of this silly kerfuffle, they are very much mistaken.