Tuesday, June 29, 2010

When the SAGE comes marching in

As my first attempt to become involved in the Old School community at large, I signed up for Zak S's Secret Arneson Gift Exchange. This morning, I received my request:

"Please provide brief map, room descriptions, etc. for the following location:

Red Lotus Caves of the Blind Minotaur

These watery caves are the home of a rare red lotus bush which is jealously guarded by an aged Minotaur who is blind in one eye. He is an exiled prince of the Minotaur Hills who spends his days and nights in fevered lotus dreams, and is at this point quite mad."

From what it looks like, I'm going to be working on a One-Page style dungeon. But what I'm really intrigued by with this proposal is the reasoning behind the minotaur prince's descent into madness. Maybe he's like the Man In The Iron Mask and the caves are his prison. Either way, it is totally a work-in-progress that I'm definitely excited about.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bullet Points: An armor issue

As you probably know, there wasn't much armor worn in the Wild West, cinematic or otherwise. Aside from the admittedly awesome ending to A Fistful of Dollars, I don't think I've seen a western where armor figures in.

Naturally, this is a problem for a D&D-based Western game.

In the early levels of Swords and Wizardry and other early D&D-based retroclones, it is heartily encouraged to buy the best armor that you can with your starting gold to give you even the slightest of defensive advantages. Hence the average starting AC for a 1st level character is somewhere between 12 and 15, depending on Dexterity modifier and available equipment. So how can a character whose armor is made of cured leather or animal hides at most compete with his medieval equivalent's chainmail and shield?

Well, first of all, the Wild West already has a shield equivalent: the duster. Obviously it can't do everything that a shield can do, but in terms of keeping bullets away from bodies, it's a better thematic alternative than any other shield equivalent, save the ol' "lucky hat" (which, rest assured, already has D&D stats prepared.)

Second, characters in Western movies are always diving behind cover, be it stables or water troughs, to avoid getting perforated and I think that ranged combat in a Western D&D will definitely involve a whole lot more cover than your average dungeon crawl. Creative use of barrels, wagons and horses should definitely be rewarded with bonuses to AC or penalties to enemy attack roles, either in flat bonuses (Partial Cover is +2, Total Cover is +4) or on a case-by-case basis. Coupled with Robertson Games' incredibly elegant Aiming and Evasion rules, I think you could run a very fast-paced, yet cinematic gunfight with these special rules.

Finally, for any characters wearing either light or no armor, adding a bonus to AC equivalent to half your level (rounded up) would help out a lot in a magic item-less economy. It makes sense thematically, too: as a character experiences more gunfights, horse chases and slugfests, they gradually learn how to handle themselves in a combat situation. Since the game is probably going to have a 10-level cap, the bonus should be enough to keep folks competitive without being completely overwhelming. Of course, players who use heavy armor would not get the level bonus. But the only heavy armor that I have so far in my equipment list is boilerplate armor ( -6 [+6] AC). And boilerplate armor looks like this:

Ned Kelly, ladies and gentlemen...

Picture of Ned Kelly's armor from Wilson's Almanac.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Because it will probably come up eventually

I'm a really big fan of D&D 4e.

I really like what Mike Mearls et al have done with the game. I like how much easier it is to run than 3rd Edition. I like how tactical and cinematic it feels and the mechanics of powers. I like the integration of Wushu-esque Skills Challenges, even though I had to go to the Internet to find a better interpretation of them. Yet the more I read Old School forums and blogs, the more I experience a certain disdain for 4e; not only a disdain, but an active desire to see it fail, as if by its collapse, people would suddenly come to their senses and realize that the fun they were having is clearly bad and would pick up a copy of OSRIC post haste. I know that the vast majority of Old School folks are honestly just trying to play and promote older games, but shit like James Mishler's utterly insulting Types Of Adventures chart (sadly non-existent now due to destruction of evidence) and the backlash against Penny Arcade's Mike Krahulik playing Swords and Wizardry wrong leaves a sour taste in my mouth and a strong desire to steer myself solely towards the positive side of this scene.

There's a band called Against Me! If you're a punk fan, you've probably heard of them. They played anarchist folk-punk in basements, laundromats and coffee houses for years, releasing their records on small independent labels to pretty universal acclaim. Pretty soon, basement shows couldn't hold the average audience they brought in, and as a result, they signed to Fat Wreck Chords, one of the bigger independent labels in the country. All of a sudden, the same fans who had loved their music were coming to their shows to spit in their faces, slash their tires and pour bleach on their merchandise because God forbid a band adapt and evolve the way that they want.

The most virulent elements of the OSR remind me of all of that bottomless negativity and with us or against us antagonism that I still try to ignore in music scenes across the country. Edition Wars and smug superiority only serve to fracture a hobby that's pretty tiny to begin with, and telling someone that they're not playing real D&D because they use Ascending AC is the worst way to entice people into becoming involved. There are many different ways to play these wonderful old games that many people are rediscovering and that I have discovered for the first time. Just as these games should not be denigrated as 'outdated' or 'nostalgic', their more modern cousins should not be labeled as 'dumbed down' or 'travesties.'

On a completely different note, thanks to A Paladin in Citadel for putting me up on his blogs list and hello to the folks who've just started following Fistful of Coppers! I promise to start talking about Unarmored AC or the Kuo-Tua in the near future. :)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bullet Points: First thoughts on a Western D&D

In a lot of ways, your average D&D adventurers are a lot closer to the characters in a Western than the protagonists of a bog-standard fantasy novel. Your less scrupulous ones would jump at the chance to find a stash of outlaw gold buried in a distant cemetery, battling through rivals and the continuing war across the countryside; others would be willing to take a minuscule reward to help defend a village from murderous bandits. What I've read about Old School modules and play style seems to mesh quite well with the Western genre. Inspired by Robertson Games' Weird Western game and the Wild West OD&D postings from odd74, my main project on Fistful of Coppers is to create a simple, cinematic Old School-inspired game to emulate both traditional Hollywood westerns, film and TV, and their Italian cousins.

I'd like the classes to be relatively broad, but there will still have to be a lot of alteration from standard White Box characters. Since the primary form of combat in a Western is gunslinging, the Fighting Man class will definitely have to be expanded to include many more ranged options without excluding players who want their characters to be a Bud Spencer-esque brawler, a knife fighter or a displaced samurai. Alongside the traditional Fighting Man, a Ranger or Outdoorsman class fits the genre very well. Its Tracking and Favored Foe abilities easily represent bounty hunters, Indian braves, mountain men and other frontier folk.

The other classes don't come so easily. The Scoundrel or Maverick class is definitely a necessity and could easily cover a broad range of thief-type characters, from professional bank robbers to gentlemen gamblers. Perhaps there are a set number of Specialties that a Maverick could pick from, including lockpicking/safecracking, explosives, smooth talk, sleight of hand and other criminal skills. A Sawbones or Doctor class, most likely inspired by Mike D's Medic, would make sense, but is very narrow in its application.

At this point, these are only my first steps towards the eventual final product. I'll be posting my progress as ideas become more solidified.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

An Introduction Of Sorts

Welcome to For A Fistful Of Coppers, my old school gaming and development blog. This is simultaneously my first foray into pre-2e Dungeons and Dragons and blogging in general. Some of this stuff may be incoherent, some of it may be distasteful, but I'd like to think that I've got a few ideas that will spark people's interest, including:
  • My first steps into the world of retro-clones, sandbox gaming and other hallmarks of the Old School movement.
  • New monsters, dungeons, classes, races and whatever else I end up working on to that end.
  • The developmental stages of a Swords and Wizardry-based Western game tentatively titled 'Bullets and Tequila.'
  • Hopefully, some variety of campaign journal if I can ever get a goddamned game together.
  • Other musings on games, movies, music and other miscellany that catches my fancy.
The ideas that I have gotten from other blogs on the subject have been instrumental in this new-found appreciation for the old school and "New Old School" games. I hope that my ideas can possibly do the same.

P.S. The totally badass Spaghetti Western-style font that I used on the blog title is called Heffer. It's totally free, so grab it at your convenience.