Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Names of D&D

 A self-admitted frustrated grognard posted on MeWe today that he was unsatisfied with the label "Original D&D" for the early brown and white box editions. He was partly making fun of himself and partly grasping for a better term, as a fan of the original. It set me on a track of thinking that resulted in this:

All editions and variations of D&D are "D&D" - that is the collective. When making a clarification, we should use 

  • '74 D&D (three books)
  • '76 D&D (seven books, for all practical purposes this is just an earlier, messier version of AD&D)
  • Basic D&D (further clarified as Holmes, BX, or BECMI)
  • Advanced D&D (further clarified as 1e or 2e)
  • Modern D&D (further clarified as an edition 3.5, 4th, 5th)

Here was my train of thought.

[In response to the root post.] Everything else has a name. Basic D&D (Holmes, BX, BECMI), Advanced D&D (1e or 2e), or a modern edition (3.5, 4, 5). I'd say that Oe should just be called "D&D", but that's not realistic. All Corvettes are Corvettes. But then we add a year when we want to talk about a specific model (and sometimes other labels, like Stingray). So I guess this version has to have a label. I've seen Original D&D, Three Little (Brown) Books (TLB or TLBB), Whitebox, etc. I kind of like 1974 D&D, but even then there are distinctions. Three-book 1974 D&D is quite different from seven-book 1976 D&D. I guess maybe that's the answer for me: '74 D&D, '76 D&D, Basic (Holmes, BX, BECMI), Advanced D&D (1e or 2e), or a modern edition (3.5, 4, 5).

Am I missing something. Do I have all the right bays designated for the Corvettes? My only dissatisfaction with this scheme might be the slightly pejorative connotation of the word "Basic."

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Zinequest 2021 Progress Report

This is just a quick progress post related to the Zinequest 3 projects I backed and am watching. Big thanks to the zines who have already delivered. I'll note that no project is, as yet, "late."

STILL OUT

  • Courier
  • Crawler
  • The Void of Thrantar
  • Before Fire
  • Fresh from the Forge
  • Wizard Funk 3
  • Desert Moon of Karth
  • The Lighthouse at the Edge of the Universe
  • Dethroners
  • Bloodheist
  • Realms of Peril
  • Colostle
  • Harrowings #03: Muspelhell
  • Dodeca RPG
  • Many Crypts of Lady Ingrade
  • The Vaults of Torment: Blood is Fuel
  • The Drain
  • Lowlife
  • Planar Compass Issue 2
  • Not a Place of Honor

RECEIVED

  • Siege: Pocket Warfare (print)
  • Pamphlet of Pantheons (digital)
  • In the Shadow of Tower Silveraxe (print)
  • A Bug's Guide to the Shimmer (digital)

& REVIEWED

  • Kriegsmesser (print)
  • Microvania (print)
  • Menagerie of the Void (print)

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Menagerie of the Void: Capsule Review

 Menagerie is a solo, zine-sized, journaling game I backed during Kickstarter's Zine Quest 2021. You are on board an early starship when an alien zoo abducts you to serve as its keeper. The game revolves around creating, housing, and caring for bizarre creatures. It uses index cards and playing cards, and is something that you could pretty easily play in short stretches. The game ends when you master all of the robotic systems of the zoo (unlikely) or when your character gives up hope.

The book is 28 pages (included the covers) and is layed out beautifully and well-written. The art, though a little inconsistent in feel, really gets across the alien nature of the game and the zoo's organisms. Illustrations of the cards (thank you!) help you figure out how the game works. A number of random generators and outcomes for various events assure lots of replayability.

Overall this is a really solid little game book. I can't wait to try it out for real, and will be sure to write about my experience when I do.






Saturday, May 29, 2021

Microvania Capsule Review

I backed Microvania, by Tyler Magruder as part of ZineQuest 3. It is a hack of Ben Robbins' Microscope.

I'll give Microvania props for high production values (at least in choice of paper and finish) and a few interesting twists on the idea of Microscope: mainly that it reduces the scope of the game to the size of a computer/video-game environment, and makes use of recursion by means of obstacles which can only be resolved from exploring other parts of the index card map you make during play.



Now for the bad stuff, unfortunately. This game is poorly explained. The rules are vague at best, and often outright skip over elements. New card types are introduced without explaining how they come into play. There are no illustrations of a game in progress that would help you piece together what the author is saying. You could play it, but only if you are willing to fill in the very significant gaps and answer your own questions.

It's not like the zine format hurt this game. The author had plenty of space to make his ideas clear; he just failed to do so. Why do I say that? Because the font size and choice of art is cringeworthy. The font is huge and the copious negative space is given over to random images (really, there's no clear connection at all between text and image). This game is one page of hastily sketched out ideas stretched over 32 pages. SEVEN of those pages are given over to listing the names of KS backers, double-spaced, and an additional two are blank for "notes". 

What. The. Fuck. !?

I don't like to give negative reviews, but this lackluster effort seriously pissed me off. I used to teach composition at a university and I feel like a freshman just handed me a 10-page research paper with 3" margins and an 18 pt. font.


A typical spread. 

KS backers, 22% of the zine by page-count.






Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Kriegsmesser Capsule Review

Buy Kriegsmesser – because I say so. If that isn't enough:

Kriegsmesser is a gritty and sometimes raucous look at the "long sixteenth century somewhere in Europe" designed by Gregor Vuga.  Think no/low magic; 'scientists', mercenaries, merchants, and spies; gritty and dark humor. Think careers not race/class, and d6s not d20s. Think about what the baby of Troika and 1e Warhammer with about 90% less goofiness and fantasy would look like. Think about running away if someone points a pistol, or even a nice sword at you!



Overall an extremely well-written and inspirational zine. But the cover is a bit floppy/thin.


Kriegsmesser can be played with Troika (Fighting Fantasy, Jackson & Livingston) or with Gregor's own, onboard system that seems to be about 50% Lasers and Feelings (John Harper) and 50% Dungeon World (LaTorra & Koebel). 

I backed Kriegsmesser during Zine Quest 3. Here we are, just 2.5 months later, and I have both a PDF and a physical copy in hand. There was roughly one update a week between successful funding and delivery - just the right amount. I got the Preview 3+ weeks ago, the PDF over a week ago, and the zine this week. So, congrats on a clear, well run KS campaign go to Gregor Vuga and his team! This is what a really professional KS feels like - not too aloof and not too chummy, no gratuitous stretch goals or messy piles of digital files, clear expectations were set and then delivered upon. 

The zine packs a lot into it. A bit about the implied setting is followed by a short page of character creation rules and 36 careers, one of which each player's character gets at random. After that comes a basket of goodies: a rules base that's a good alternate to Troika, optional rules for combat that makes it a bit more mechanical and/or more likely to cause scars than death, some thoughts on running the game, a whole system for creating flavorful NPCs, a method of generating towns and adventures, some flavorful pre-generated scoundrels for encounters, more info about the 'long sixteenth', and a final thought on playing the game in other times or places.

And in case I have done this zine a disservice, here are Gregor's own words from DTRPG.com:


Kriegsmesser is a tabletop RPG zine that was created for #zinequest 2021. It was inspired by history (cca. 1453-1630) and roleplaying games named after medieval weapons.

"Its focus are 36 backgrounds compatible with Troika by Melsonian Arts Council, but it comes with a set of custom rules and can be played standalone.

Also includes some essays, GM tools, random tables, rules for horrible injuries, recommended media and a bunch of historical woodcut art.

What is it not?
• It's not a historical game as such, it's fairly anachronistic and sparse on detail.
• It is not high fantasy with evil gods and orcs and wizards and pirate elves on lizard mounts."

Friday, April 30, 2021

Languages: It Boils Down to This

As a kind of wrap-up to this series (for now at least) I want to share the following text. It reflects decisions I made about how common and alignment languages work for my OSE campaign world. I believe this represents a workable perspective with internally-consistent logic and that presents some interesting fictional opportunities.

Alignment

There are three alignments, Law, Chaos, and neutrality. However, neutrality is an agnostic or transitional state between the other two. One can ally with the forces of Law or of Chaos, or attempt to remain neutral. Chaos and Law constantly battle over the allegiances of men and other species. Some supernatural entities also attempt to maintain neutrality in this war, with greater or lesser success, but they tend not to interfere in power struggles or gift powers to mortals.

Alignment Languages 

Those allied to Law or Chaos are granted a type of supernatural language. To speak or understand Law, you must be aligned to Law. The same is true of Chaos. If you ever drift away from your allegiance, you will lose the ability to speak/understand the language. The range of concepts communicable in these languages are related to their nature. For instance, there is no word for “truce” in Chaos; but one may speak of a bargain.

Speaking Law or Chaos is a powerful and often dangerous act. It may reveal your presence to supernatural creatures. It will certainly be recognized by enemies and can be used as a kind of litmus test among allies. Characters who are exposed to an alignment language they don’t know for very long will suffer, physically and mentally. Anxiety and headaches are followed by tears of blood or other stigma. If the exposure is prolonged, madness may result. Characters who are neutral will suffer less than those of the opposite alignment to the language being spoken.

Some spells are scribed in alignment language. This means that they may not be cast by individuals of other alignments without the use of Read Magic and without sustaining damage and eliciting the attention of supernatural beings. (It also means that despite being magic, someone of the same alignment could read it without using Read Magic.)

[Rules text for OSE. Still noodling a little over the specifics and they may evolve at the table.] Suggested damage for exposure to an opposite alignment language is d3 hp per round (1 hp for neutral characters) If the exposure is prolonged or especially intense, the GM may call for characters to Save vs. Spells to avoid madness. On a successful save, the damage ends . Characters can try to drown out the voice of someone speaking by making loud noise or even speaking loudly in the opposite language. Combining voices of the same language don’t do additional damage, and Chaos and Law being spoken at the same time cause a painful noise but essentially cancel each other out other than probably calling every servant of Chaos and Law within psychic earshot.

Speaking an alignment language requires concentration. Characters and move and speak, or speak and attack or cast, but can’t move, speak, and attack/cast. The damage for casting a spell in the language of another alignment is d3 for neutral casters and d6 for casters of an opposed alignment, for each level of the spell.

Common

Common is a trade language based on the most common, wide-spread human dialect.  Most humans know Common and, as does any species that commonly interacts with humans.

Common consists of about 800 very basic words. It is pretty easy to learn, but lacks any depth or nuance. For most things, there is only one word: e.g. “home” covers house, hut, den, burrow, nest, etc.

Species with mouth-shapes that significantly vary from human are less likely to (be able to) speak Common. Communication with such a species takes longer (requires more patience) and is likely to include a number of misunderstandings from concept drift or simply misspeaking/mishearing.

Speaking to another culture in their own language automatically gives you a +1 on reaction rolls. It probably also gives you a rudimentary understanding of their culture.

Some folk refuse to learn or speak Common. Usually their reasons are seated in some form or cultural/regional pride and/or dislike of other species. Speaking Common to them may cause a -1 reaction penalty.

Learning Languages

Languages other than alignment can be learned through study. Speaking a language may require a mouth similar to the species whose language is being studied. 

Languages are often related to each other. Given a steady stream of nonverbal cues, context, and words, a bystander can sometimes follow the gist of a conversation by others if the language being spoken is close to any they know.

The INT bonus determines how many additional languages (other than alignment, native, and common) a character can learn. These languages may be chosen from the list below during character creation or they may be saved for learning a language later. Adventurers aren’t scholars and simply don’t have the time to study/learn an endless number of languages. If a character wants to learn a language at some point and doesn’t have any open slots left, they may study to learn a kind of smattering or pigeon form of that language. Mark it with an asterisk on the character sheet to indicate its limited nature. To change languages, mark an old one with an asterisk (the character is extremely rusty with it) and fully learn the new one.

Starting Languages

Your list here.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Words of Power, Chaos and Law as Weaponized Speech

[Please note. I edited my last article after discovering a section in the 1978 DMG that I had previously missed on alignment languages. Essentially I crossed out the last few sentences and wrote a small, new section after the image in the article. The gist of it is that Gygax does define alignment languages as a set of signs, gestures, phrases with a limited range, similar to Thieve's Cant. It's an explanation that is somewhat late to the game, literally, being written four years after the original rules. Perhaps it appeared in Dragon previously; I'll have to look that up. Even so, it's the "official explanation" of 1e AD&D. Notwithstanding, I am on a kind of roll, and I want to continue thinking of them as a kind of gifted language.]

I'm continuing to experience thoughts on alignment languages in D&D. This round I want to talk about speaking alignment language as an act of power. Inspiration came in the form of a response to an earlier post:

GrymlordeApril 21, 2021 at 10:00 AM

I think I can safely say that in the Midwest during the 1970s, everyone assumed that the Chaotic alignment language was the Black Speech of Mordor. Rightly or wrongly, Tolkein had an unbelievable huge impact on everyone's campaign. The early Judges' Guild products are a good examples.

Yes! This thought occurred to me at one point in my earlier writing and I lost it. So I am indebted for Grymlorde for both reaffirming it and returning it to my mind. When Gandalf makes the faux pas of reciting the Black Speech from inside the one ring aloud at the council of Elrond, a shadow passes over the sun, everyone trembles, and the elves stop up their ears. Later, as the fellowship attempts to cross Caradhras the Cruel, Gandalf rattles off a fire spell and two things happen, only one of which is the intended effect of the spell:

Gandalf himself took a hand. Picking up a faggot he held it aloft for a moment, and then with a word of command, naur an edraith ammen! he thrust the end of his staff into the midst of it. At once a great spout of green and blue flame sprang out, and the wood flared and sputtered.

"If there are any to see, then I at least am revealed to them," he said. "I have written Gandalf is here in signs that all can read from Rivendell to the mouths of Anduin" (The Fellowship of the Ring).


Art for the Bakshi Lord of the Rings
movie poster, by Tom Jung (I think)


If, as we supposed in a previous article, alignment languages are gifted by their representative forces, I really like the idea of each alignment language embodying a meaningful fraction of the power of those forces. In other words, when one speaks Law or Chaos, one is literally doing something powerful – invoking supernatural forces. I want character's ears to bleed. I want to see minds shattered. I want characters to think twice before speaking in an alignment language!

Here's how I might handle it at my own game table. Taking cues from Tolkien and dialing things up to 11, I would say that speaking an alignment language reveals not only your alignment, but may reveal your presence to enemies. Second, hearing an alignment language that you don't understand causes you immediate discomfort and, if prolonged, real physical and/or mental wounds. The latter would especially be true if you were of the opposite alignment.

This treatment makes alignment languages feel powerful! And it keeps them from being a kind of shortcut. Theoretically, if there are no ramifications, a party consisting of characters from each alignment could converse with almost any intelligent creature in its alignment tongue. Despite Gygax's suggestion in the 1e AD&D DMG that one never flaunts their alignment language for reasons of secrecy and social pressure, many a player has remained undaunted by peer pressure inside the game world! Conversely, eliciting dangerous attention from the powers-that-be and causing pain to creatures of another alignment would be a good deterrent. 

It could also be weaponized. If a party entirely consisting of lawful characters spoke Law in front of a gaggle of chaotic drow, they could slip in some extra damage. But it's a slippery slope, as they could also draw more agents of Chaos. It's more likely that weaponized language would be abused by the GM; having evil persons speak Chaos to cause damage to Lawful characters, under the assumption that there creatures safe in their stronghold of chaotic or neutrally aligned creatures, would worry less about drawing the attention of Law. It's likely, however, that this problem would be checked by two factors. 1) The GM really has infinite power and could kill characters any number of ways, so another trick doesn't really make things worse. The real limit to a GMs power is the tolerance of their friends. Rough handling and unfair practices leads to an empty table. 2) Chaos doesn't necessarily want to draw the attention of Chaos. The same might be true of Law. Not all agents of each faction are united in purpose.

All of these thoughts are leading up to a kind of setting document that I will produce as a summary of my own preferences. None of this (and I hope this has been understood) is prescriptive or didactic. I am following my own ideas, interpretations, and preferences. If yours differ, please follow them to your own conclusions. The real value of these articles, I hope, is to get people to think more about alignment languages and Common.