Thursday, June 30, 2016

My Five Favorite LotFP Play Report Series

I just wanted to make a quick shout-out to my five favorite series of actual play reports for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Enjoy!

On a Red World Alone - A REALLY weird and darkly hilarious campaign set on Mars after a disaster wipes out Earth and the remnants of society have turned into a nightmarish mashup of primitive barbarism and cyberpunk. Come for the great city-based setting and retro-future aesthetic, stay for the horrifying sex and magnificent NPCs.

Dungeon Moon - This idea is so good, I'm thinking about stealing it for a Holmes Basic campaign. The play reports are as awesome as the setting, and I wish there were more of them. I love the quiet desperation of the town, and how it's juxtaposed with the world of fallen luxury and magical degeneracy below. Also includes an atheist paladin (a fighter), which is just delightful.

World of the Lost: Die Verboten Schatzgrube - If this doesn't convince you to buy World of the Lost, nothing will. But don't get me wrong: the DM and players bring so much creativity and originality to this campaign that the play reports always leave me amazed and kind of jealous. Manages to be horrifying and fucked up even with characters that come across as competent and powerful. Plenty of fantastic NPCs and social bits, too. Not to mention some truly odd and unpredictable magic scattered all over the place. This one might actually be my favorite, but these are all so great that it's hard to decide.

Fallen World Campaign (a.k.a. the Lamplighters campaign) - The DM has done an incredible job linking a whole bunch of different LotFP and OSR supplements together into a cohesive whole. Interesting stuff is constantly happening here, and the players have a great sense of humor about everything. Bonus points for using Carcosa in a unique and fascinating way, and for including a monologue from an NPC that doesn't suck.

Tales of Greed - Here's one from the official LotFP forum, and it really needs more love. It's actually really funny and action-packed, with a ton of cool moments happening due to player ingenuity and/or foolishness. This is a great example of what an awesome 1600s European LotFP campaign could look like. Bonus points for allowing demihuman players in LotFP and still managing to not suck.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Professional (Fighters=Specialists) - A Class Idea for LotFP

This is a follow-up of sorts to my Fighters=Thieves post, in which I suggested combining Fighters and Thieves into one class.

It would be simple in Lamentations of the Flame Princess to just give Fighters the skill points of Specialists and otherwise keep them the same. However, classes in LotFP are more specialized in terms of their class abilities than in most versions/spin-offs of D&D. For example, the Fighter is the only class in RAW LotFP that gets a base attack bonus higher than +1, whereas most versions of D&D will give most or all classes some increase to their base attack bonus beyond first level. Because of this kind of extreme niche protection, I suspect that giving too many additional features to one class without giving roughly equivalent features to the other classes creates a risk of damaging class balance enough to make one class much more universally desirable than the others.

In the case of combining Specialists and Fighters into one class, an easy way to do this might be to just combine every class with the Specialist by giving every class the Specialist's skill points and leaving them otherwise unaltered. Considering that many LotFP campaigns don't use demihuman characters, I already proposed this idea in a way. Theoretically, giving the same ability or advantage to everybody would keep each class as balanced against the others as it already is. I'm personally okay with this idea, but I should make note of some possible objections.

Retaining class balance in this way could still damage the balance of the game itself by making all adventurers more powerful than they should be at their level. If you gave every character class one free casting of Disintegrate per day at level one, the game would become much easier and would arguably be unbalanced in terms of difficulty, even though class balance would be maintained.

Another argument one could pose against the "give everyone the same thing" method of class balance is that the "same thing" might not really be the same across the board because that "same thing" could interact or synergize with some class abilities better than others. For example, the Sneak Attack skill in LotFP would probably be deadlier in the hands of the typical Fighter than the typical Magic-User because the former has a higher to-hit bonus, and thus a higher probability of actually landing any given Sneak Attack. If you're using the "spellbooks are written in obscure languages" rule from the LotFP Playtest Document, the Language skill would probably be more powerful for a Magic-User than a Fighter because the Magic-User could use it to gain new spells from stolen spellbooks. What appears to be equal for all classes might not be.

There's also the issue of NPCs. If every class got skill points, that would mean either figuring out the skills of every NPC (or at least every human NPC of at least first level) ahead of time, making up NPC stats on the spot while playing if they become relevant, or just declaring that adventurers are special and get skill points that NPCs don't. Some DMs might be fine with at least one of those options, and others might not.

Finally, if you are of the opinion that the classes are not already balanced to your satisfaction, giving an additional, equal advantage to every class will probably not do anything to address your initial complaint. As I noted in the Fighters=Thieves post, some people feel that Fighters and/or Thieves are weaker or less useful in various versions of D&D than other classes. I commonly hear them compared to Paladins, Rangers, Clerics, and Magic-Users and found wanting. I've probably heard unfavorable comparisons to just about every common class at some point. As for my opinion of the default class balance in LotFP, I think that it's probably fine at first level because everybody pretty much sucks at first level, no matter what class they pick, but when it comes to higher levels I have a quibble or two.

In LotFP, both the rules and the published adventures/settings tend to make combat very risky, which is certainly a good thing for this kind of horror game to do. If your character can wade through 1,000 men in battle armed only with a jawbone and wearing nothing but nipple pasties, you're probably not going to be prone to terror. If, on the other hand, a child with a knife is likely to take you out, you're better off avoiding combat, whether through stealth or negotiation or magic or what have you. And that's great! But the thing is, a game system featuring both super-risky combat and much less risky non-combat methods of success makes engaging in combat at all a sort of failure in most cases. When you fight a monster in (the default flavor of) LotFP, you've already fucked up. You're not fighting to succeed so much as to minimize your failure.

That's all fine and dandy, except that I think it makes the Fighter far less valuable in a game with such strong niche protection for each class. Sure, if things go wrong it can be helpful to have a Fighter on your side, but when things aren't going wrong, isn't the Fighter pretty useless compared to everyone else? The spell lists for both Magic-Users and Clerics include spells that are useful both in and out of combat, and while most Specialist skills seem to be geared for use outside of battle, it could be incredibly helpful to be able to hide or climb up a sheer wall when some eldritch abomination is attacking - plus Sneak Attack is specifically meant for combat, since it's a damage multiplier in LotFP. But in terms of class abilities, what does a Fighter get outside of combat that no one else gets? Not much - maybe some extra HP and slightly better saving throws in case a trap goes off. Most of the game is probably not going to be combat, so I would be pretty sympathetic to any players who roll up Fighters in LotFP and then find themselves unexpectedly bored by their own characters' capabilities. To my mind, the simplest solution would be to give Fighters a bit more utility outside of direct violence.

So let's say you have the following objectives: You want to combine the Fighter and Specialist into a single class. You want that class to have more options, and thus more utility, than the default Fighter, but you don't want it to be too much more powerful because you don't want to have to adjust the other classes to maintain balance. You want the stats of PCs and human NPCs to follow the same rules, but you don't want to have to add a whole lot of extra detail to pre-written NPCs while prepping adventures. You want Fighter-type characters to have access to some more non-combat class abilities if they want them. Here's how I would do that:


HP as Specialist (d6 HD). Experience Table as Fighter. I'm not sure what to do about Saving Throws - maybe use those of the Myth Warrior? Any alignment is permitted.

The Professional starts with 4 Skill Points at first level, and gains 2 Skill Points at every level after that, like the Specialist. Skill Points can be spent in the following ways:

  • They can be invested in skills, as per the Specialist.
  • For two Skill Points, the Professional can buy the Fighter's full set of Combat Options: Press, Defensive Fighting, and the improved version of Parry.
  • For one Skill Point, the Professional can increase his or her Base Attack Bonus by 1. This can only be done once per level, and the Base Attack Bonus cannot exceed +10.
  • For one Skill Point, the Professional can increase his or her HP by 2. This can only be done once per level.
If firearms are available, any Professional who has either a Base Attack Bonus of +2 or the Fighter's Combat Options is treated as a Fighter when reloading a firearm (see pages 159 and 161 of the Rules & Magic book).

Optional ideas:

  • Instead of calling it a Professional or a Fighter/Specialist or something, just call it a Specialist and tell your players ahead of time that you're folding the role of the Fighter into the Specialist class. Specialist is a good name for a class, after all.
  • In RAW LotFP, the minimum starting HP for a Specialist is 4, and the minimum for a Fighter is 8. Perhaps the Professional could split the difference and have a minimum starting HP of 6.
  • Consider coming up with some other things that the Professional can "buy" with Skill Points, like the Dwarf's ability to carry 5 more items before gaining the first encumbrance point.
  • Instead of trying to balance the Professional's saving throw table, consider using a different system for saving throws, like the one in the Playtest Document.
  • If you want, you could reduce the HP that the Professional can buy from 2 to 1 beyond level 9. That way, the Professional wouldn't be able to get 1 more HP per level than the Fighter beyond level 9, which is how things currently stand since the Specialist gets 2 HP per level from 10 up. This might be confusing or unnecessarily nitpicky, though.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Holmes Basic D&D Rulebook Part 10 - "Stop Hitting Yourself." "Okay!" THWACK!

PART 10 OF 12

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9

Now we come to TREASURE, the cause of, and solution to, all of an adventurer's problems. First off, you know how the conversion rates between different coins always change from one game to another? Here's the formula in Holmes Basic: 50 copper = 10 silver = 2 electrum = 1 gold = 1/5 platinum. Since prices are listed in gold pieces, I guess the equivalent in the United States would be something like this: copper = 2 cents, silver = 10 cents (dime), electrum = 50 cents (just like the half-dollar, no one ever thinks about electrum), gold = 1 dollar, and platinum = 5 dollars. Of course, that's not really true, because in real life you're unlikely to find a horse for 200 bucks in the U.S.A., but as a way of remembering how all the coins add up I think it works okay. I wonder what the average price of a horse was in the late 1970s...

Gems, or at least ones generated on the enclosed random table, are always worth one of five prices: 10, 50, 100, 500, or 1,000 gold pieces. Jewelry is always worth a multiple of 300 unless it is damaged, in which case it's worth half that. Eh, fine by me. Keeps it simple. Not everything has to be realistic, especially in a fantasy game. Video games do things like this all the time, and I love video games. Of course, you could make a compelling argument that almost none of the video games I like would exist without D&D, so this is probably where a little bit of that abstraction comes from. That, and limits to computer memory/time/budget/giving a crap.

There are 20 categories of treasure hoarded by monsters, labeled A through T. It's the same kind of thing as in AD&D, although I don't have my other books on hand for comparison. Interestingly, a lot of these categories include a chance of finding a map. "Maps must be made up by the Dungeon Master in advance, showing the location of treasures in the dungeon or its vicinity. Such treasures would be guarded by appropriate monsters and the maps need not be complete, entirely accurate, or might be written as a riddle, etc." Remember that bit about Thieves above Level 3 being good with languages, and hence good with maps? Here's one reason that could be relevant. Making extra, incomplete maps ahead of time sounds like a lot of work for a DM to do just in case a map shows up in a random treasure pile, though, unless the DM rolls up all of the treasure during prep to find out if making a map is necessary. Maybe that's the intention. I have a feeling that if I were the DM, my players would end up with a lot of scribbles on the backs of napkins.

Enough about that; let's talk about magic items! Just like in OD&D, magic swords work differently from magic axes/hammers/spears/etc.* In the latter case, the bonus number (+1 or whatever) is applied to both to-hit rolls and damage, just like what I'm used to from D&D 3.5. However, such weapons never seem to have additional special powers.

Swords, on the other hand, only add their bonus to attack rolls and not to damage, unless they have a secondary power. For example, a "Sword +1, +2 against Lycanthropes" would have +1 to hit and +0 to damage against most targets, but would have +2 to hit and +2 to damage against werewolves and such. The random treasure table also includes a flaming sword (actually, a "Sword +1, Flaming, +2 against Trolls, +3 against Undead") and a "Sword +1, Locating Object Ability." Why are swords so different? Beats me. International arms agreement? Union regulations? Weird religious doctrines? Someone's really complicated fetish? Obscure literary reference? You decide!

Do daggers count as little swords? The only two magic daggers listed are a "Dagger +1 against man-sized opponents, +2 vs. goblins and kobolds" and a "Dagger +2 against man-sized opponents, +3 vs. orcs, goblins and kobolds." Also, do those daggers get no magic bonus at all against opponents that don't fit any of those categories? That's how I'm reading it.

Other things of note: Magic arrows have a +1 bonus to hit and to damage, but magic bows only add +1 to hit. Firing a magic arrow from a magic bow gives a total of +2 to hit and +1 to damage. Cursed armor gives your opponent a bonus to hit you. I don't see any instructions on how that "Locating Objects Ability" on that one magic sword is supposed to work. How often can you use it? Does it work like the Locate Object spell?

So I guess you really have four types of magic weapons: swords, daggers, axes/hammers/spears/bows, and arrows. Five types if you count bows separately.

You can take a little sip of a potion to find out what it does without using up its power. I wonder how this is intended to work. Does it cause a minor and relatively useless/harmless version of the potion's effect to occur, or does the person sampling it just psychically know what it does? I'm guessing this is just supposed to be left up to the DM. It's also a little ambiguous how long the effects of potions are supposed to last. If I'm reading this correctly, they're generally supposed to last 6 turns (an hour), plus a random number of turns rolled secretly by the DM. It doesn't say what kind of die to secretly roll, though. I'm guessing a d6.

The listed types of potions are Growth, Diminution, Giant Strength, Invisibility, Gaseous Form, Haste, Fly, Poison, Delusion, and Healing. Seems like a good variety. The Giant Strength potion is awesome: "Confers the full advantages of stone giant prowess, including doing 3-18 points of damage when scoring a hit, and having the same hit probability as a stone giant."

Scrolls seem like they work in the usual way, for the most part. One neat feature is that even though most scrolls can only be used by Magic-Users (and maybe Thieves above Level 3, but this book doesn't really cover them), protection scrolls, like the "Protection from undead" scroll, can be used by anyone. Interestingly, the "Protection from magic" scroll stops spells from being cast out of the protected area as well as into it. Also, much like how you can sip a potion to see what it does, you can open a scroll just a teeny-tiny bit and read the title without setting it off - unless it's cursed, in which case doing even that much activates it. The nature of the curse seems to be up to the DM; suggestions include turning the reader into an animal or making an angry monster teleport right next to them.

It occurs to me that the notion of a scroll not being activated if you just peek at the title implies that merely reading an entire scroll silently is enough to activate it, right?** That implies all kinds of neat things you can do with scrolls, from stealthy casting to tricking enemies into looking at scrolls for you if you suspect they're cursed, to using "Protection from magic" scrolls as Explosive Runes-like sight-activated traps for enemy Magic-Users. Neat!

I wonder if Magic-Users have to be careful not to look at the entire finished product when they write a scroll, rolling it up from the top as they go down the page just to be safe.

"Only one magic ring can be worn on each hand." D&D 3.5 had this rule as well. I think the in-universe explanation was that more than one ring per hand would cause magical interference between them, but out-of-character we all knew it was a balance issue. I'm not complaining. I just think it's funny.

For rings, the list includes Invisibility, Animal Control, Plant Control, Weakness, Protection +1, Three Wishes, Regeneration, Water Walking, Fire Resistance, and Contrariness. "Plant Control" also includes fungi, which sounds to me like a deliberate and playful attempt to piss off biologists. The Weakness Ring has a 5% chance of actually making you stronger the first time you put it on. The Ring of Protection +1, strangely enough, does subtract from the wearer's AC instead of the to-hit rolls of enemies, throwing off the consistency of what any particular AC number means for a PC. So much for that "AC 3 always means Plate Mail" thing. Oh well. I guess monsters threw that off, too. The Ring of Protection +1 also gives a +1 bonus to all saving throws, which is nice.

The Three Wishes Ring is kind of a Monkey's Paw. Asking for more wishes puts the character in a time loop, for example. "Wishes for powerful items or great treasure should, if possible, be granted in such a way that they are of no benefit to the wisher." The ring isn't completely useless, though: "Wishes that unfortunate adventures had not happened should be granted."

The Ring of Regeneration heals 1 HP per turn, even after dismemberment, "unless the ring wearer is treated as a troll," which I take to mean destroyed by fire or acid. That is just amazing. I could see a whole quest revolving around the merest rumor that this thing is in the dungeon. If a PC gets it, I could also see a particularly mean and petty DM throwing nothing but fire-breathing and acid-squirting monsters at the party from then on.

The Ring of Water Walking should probably go to the party's Cleric. Or comedian.

The Ring of Contrariness is hilarious because it makes the wearer kinda sorta do the opposite of what they're told. "If, for example, the wearer is told to not kill himself, he will agree — and instead attempt to kill the person suggesting he not kill himself." I'm not kidding when I say that Dr. Holmes struck comedy gold here. I wonder if The Maze of Peril is as funny as this book. I need to fit this into my campaign somewhere.

"Wands that have projectiles or rays are considered to do six 6-sided dice of damage and to have 100 charges or projectiles." Holy crap, that's a lot of charges! It's not even random! Put a Wand of Fire Balls or Wand of Cold in the hands of the party's Magic-User and I bet your group will start hitting way above its weight class.

The list includes the Wand of Magic Detection, Wand of Secret Doors and Trap Detection, Wand of Fear, Wand of Cold, Wand of Paralyzation, Wand of Fire Balls, Staff of Healing, Snake Staff, Staff of Striking, and Rod of Cancellation. The Rod of Cancellation can be used by any character, and it works only once and only by touch, but it disenchants a magic item permanently. The Staff of Healing and Snake Staff can only be used by Clerics. Otherwise, all wands and staves can only be used by Magic-Users.

I guess I've discovered a fifth (or sixth, depending on how you're counting them) magic weapon category: magic staves. The Staff of Healing does not list any offensive capabilities, but the Snake Staff does +1 to hit and to damage, and upon hitting it can turn into a snake and wrap around the enemy to make them helpless for 1-4 turns, while the Staff of Striking is basically a Magic-User-only weapon that does not give a bonus to hit but does do 2-12 damage.

And now for the "Miscellaneous Magical Item" section:

Crystal Ball - Magic-User only. Use it more than 3 times a day and go crazy. Use it for too long and you'll need to rest for a day. Still pretty convenient as far as spy cameras go, since you don't have to plant it and it probably won't be discovered by whoever you're spying on unless they have some magic tricks of their own up their sleeve.

Medallion of ESP - Works like the spell. Anyone can use it, but it has a 1 in 6 chance of malfunctioning.

Bag of Holding - A golden oldie. Filling it does add some weight, but not as much as just trying to carry stuff normally. A great space-saver, too.

Elven Cloak - Makes you "next to invisible," meaning you have a 1 in 6 chance of being spotted, and a Detect Invisible spell will reveal you.

Elven Boots - Gives you silent movement. According to the random table, seems to come with the Elven Cloak. Anybody can wear the boots, so presumably that goes for the cloak, too. But do you really want to smell like an Elf's feet?

Broom of Flying - Does exactly what it should. There's a note in the item description basically telling the DM not to be a dick by making it impossible for the command word that activates it to be found, recommending that it be engraved on the broom.

Helm of Telepathy - Not only does it let you read thoughts within 90 feet, but it also lets you try to control intelligent creatures to a limited degree if they fail a saving throw (at a penalty, no less). Probably up there with the Ring of Regeneration in terms of surprisingly powerful items.

Bag of Devouring - A device used to make the DM cackle manically.

Helm of Evil/Good - Cursed item that switches the wearer's alignment. "A neutral person wearing the helm will simply be totally self-seeking and do nothing to help anyone else in any way." So, what, the opposite of Neutral is Chaotic Evil combined with Chaotic Stupid? Oh boy, more confusing stuff about alignment...

Rope of Climbing - A very convenient grappling hook.

Gauntlets of Ogre Power - Makes unarmed attacks do 2-8 damage, adds an additional 2-8 damage to weapon attacks, grants 18 strength, lets you "grasp and crush things with great ease," increases carrying weight by 1,000 gold pieces if using your hands.

The section ends with a note about trying to make your hirelings or other NPCs test items for curses to keep your own butt out of the frying pan. Such cowardly and selfish behavior will make the morale of your hirelings drastically drop when they figure out what you're trying to do, or if they hear that you've treated other hirelings like guinea pigs. The book also suggests that if the item turns out to be beneficial, the NPC should demand to keep it, and if it proves to be cursed, they should seek vengeance. Great advice!

Next time: Simply Samples

*Well, I say "etc." but the only non-sword, non-dagger melee weapons on the magic weapon table are an Axe +1, a War Hammer +1, and a Spear +1.

**This is assuming one is a Magic-User and casts Read Magic, or the scroll in question is a protective scroll that anyone can read.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Appraising Treasure in LotFP

Does it give any advice in the Rules & Magic book (or even the Referee Book) for Lamentations of the Flame Princess about how to handle whether or not the PCs can tell how much a gem or other non-coin piece of treasure is worth? And if the players don't know how much something is worth right off the bat, are there any rules for getting treasure appraised in town or otherwise learning that information? If it's in there, I swear I keep on missing it.

I know some people house-rule in an appraisal skill, but for whatever reason I'm just not fond of that idea. Maybe I just don't think that failure to appraise treasure correctly is interesting enough to require a skill check, or maybe I just feel like adventurers of all people should have an eye for valuables. I don't know.

In our Lamentations of the Fallen Lords campaign, I just tell the players how much any given piece of treasure is worth when they look at it, under the assumption that they know what to look for when assessing such things. This works extremely well for non-magical treasure. The problem arises whenever a magic item shows up.

You see, magic items generally don't come with a price tag in adventures written for LotFP. I think the assumption is that, since you can't buy magic items, and you can't sell magic items unless you either A) don't tell the buyer about the magic, or B) tell them and then haggle over a price because there's no standard price for a one-of-a-kind magical effect, there's no need for a standard price. Magic items are literally priceless. There is nothing to compare a magic item to in order to form a standard value.

The problem with this is that, because of my house rule mentioned above and my ignorance of any better way to handle appraisal in LotFP, my players almost always know right away if a given object is valuable.

"How much is the jewel-encrusted crown worth?"
"Ah ha! Magic!"

Sometimes the item description will note something like "magic aside, the item is worth x amount in precious metals alone," but not always. Items that appear to be worthless are probably safe from this problem as well. But for the most part, my players have been able to figure out which treasure is magic and which isn't by just asking how much it's worth when they get a good look at it. It's become a running joke at this point.

I mostly just wanted to share my amusing little problem and see if anyone has any advice or helpful information. I'd love to hear more about how other people handle appraisal in their games - in any RPG, not just LotFP.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Holmes Basic D&D Rulebook Part 9 - My Love for You is Like an Orc

PART 9 OF 12

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8

The monster section starts with the usual explanations and advice: Feel free to create or "borrow" monsters for the game, here's what the stats mean, you can use the Wandering Monster table as a guideline for making your dungeons fair and balanced to the party, don't give too much treasure for beating easy monsters, don't give too much treasure or else you'll make the game suck, don't give too little treasure or else you'll make the game suck, and by the way, you can pick up the MONSTER AND TREASURE ASSORTMENTS for a modest price from TSR. You know, the usual. Good advice, though. Except for that last part, because TSR is out of business and I'm sure the MONSTER AND TREASURE ASSORTMENTS would cost me an arm and a leg nowadays.

Three interesting things to note: First, monsters use a d8 for their HD, like (non-Halfling) Fighting Men, and they do variable damage with their attacks, unlike PCs. This kind of bothers me. I thought the point of making the vast majority of damage rolls, even with a dagger, 1d6 was that a normal human had 1 HD (1d6 HP), so one good blow from any decent weapon could kill a normal person. Fighters get d8 HP because they are slightly tougher or luckier than the average person, but monsters are generally several times tougher/luckier than average humans, so they get multiple HD to represent how many humans they are equivalent to in power. In fantasy fiction, you usually hear things like "The ogre had the strength of ten men," not "The ogre had the strength of thirteen and one-third men." It just doesn't sound as good. And why not give the hill giant's attack the deadliness of three men (3d6 damage, or 3-18) instead of the deadliness of two and two-thirds men (2d8, or 2-16)? Actually, I'm using maximum damage for my math instead of average damage, so let me try it that way...okay, that's 10.5 average damage for 3d6 vs. 9 for 2d8, so I think my point still stands. It's not a huge increase, and it keeps almost everything defined in terms of "whole numbers" of humans.

But you could argue that using variable damage for monster attacks and d8 HD for monster HP allows a level of mathematical nuance and granularity that is over my head, but helps make the game more balanced and fun. That's fine, but if you're going to do that, why not go whole hog and give PC attacks variable damage, too? I feel like the game would be better off either embracing non-variable damage and HD all around or going the AD&D route and differentiating weapons by damage. Maybe there's something I'm not understanding here. I'd love to hear some opinions on this from people more familiar with Holmes Basic or OD&D.

Oh yeah, I was listing things. Second, the book says that it should take about 6-12 adventures for a character to level up, not counting the occasional non-lucrative outing (which the book suggests will likely happen 10-20% of the time). I feel like that's probably fine for a weekly game, but if you can only play once a month or so that sounds like it might be slightly too high. This is probably something that should be tailored to the individual group's needs.

Third, the book gives some cool advice for scaling down the power of high-level monsters if you want low-level parties to be able to fight them effectively:

"If one wanted to use a chimera, for instance, in a campaign with low level characters, the creature could be scaled down. Maybe it ran into a high level magic-user and was partially shrunk by a magic spell, reducing its hit points. Or there might be a special magic sword, effective only against this chimera, hidden in the dungeon, and the adventurers given a hint or a legend that might lead them to it. In the interest of maintaining the balance of the game, however, a small or weak monster must not have a treasure anything like the hoard of a normal monster."

As I've said before, I do think the game is more fun if the party has a chance of encountering some creatures above the possibility of defeat in straight-up combat. I like to toss out occasional enemies that are way too weak to defeat the party, too, so that they can enjoy throwing around their weight a bit - although I'd be much less likely to do that in a more horror-oriented campaign in which the characters should almost always feel weak and nervous. But honestly, I love the advice Dr. Holmes gives for scaling down monsters here, and I think it's another important tool that should be available in the DM's toolbox. If you really want to use a particular monster but you also want the characters to have a possibility of victory and that particular monster is just too much for them as written, get creative! Come up with a way to change it. Use your imagination. That's what the game's really about.

So now I've come to the MONSTER LIST, which is in alphabetical order, or BANDIT TO ZOMBIE order. There's a little over twelve pages to the monster section, counting what I covered above, so I'm going to do what I did with the spell list and just briefly comment on each entry.

Bandit - The group size scales all the way up to 300, accompanied by a level 10 or 11 Magic-User and a 50% chance of a level 8 Cleric, plus ten level 4 Fighting Men and six level 5 or 6 Fighting Men. Why are they bandits? They should be ruling the kingdom!

Basilisk - You can turn its petrification powers against it by making it look in a mirror. Freakin' sweet.

Berserker - Holy shit, this description is metal: "They never retreat or surrender, will always fight to the death. / No prisoners." Dr. Holmes, I think I'm in love.

Black Pudding - It's the Blob. Super dangerous and eats through everything. I'd rather face a dragon. At least you can beg a dragon for mercy.

Blink Dogs - Lawful good dogs that teleport and hate displacer beasts. There's got to be a story here I don't know.

Bugbear - Big ol' goblins. Surprisingly sneaky.

Carrion Crawler - The Very Hungry Caterpillar, dungeon style. Freaks me out.

Chimera - We glued a goat, a lion, and a dragon together, and you'll never guess what happened next! Actually, you probably will. It fucking killed us. It has 9 HD and breathes fire, what do you expect?

Cockatrice - Tie one to the end of a stick and go all Nethack on your enemies. You'll be least until you fall into a pit trap and land on the thing.

Displacer Beast - "It attacks with the tentacles which have sharp horny edges." Must be popular at certain kinds of parties. Also, I love how weird this monster is. Isn't this a D&D original? If so, what a great contribution to fantasy, up there with the beholder and the gelatinous cube.

Djinni - Forget asking for wishes. This bastard can just turn into a whirlwind and insta-kill your ass if you've got 2 HD or less.

Doppleganger - Misspelled in the book. Sleep and Charm spells don't affect them, so put your party to sleep every night with magic to ensure a peaceful and intruder-free rest. What could go wrong?

Dragon - The titular titans themselves. Their rules are more complicated than all the other monsters, but I like that about them. It provides a lot of options for customization. Also, I like how there are special rules for subduing dragons, and how the breath attack of a dragon is directly proportional to its HD.

Dwarf - So an NPC Dwarf with 1 HD does 1-8 damage, but a level 1 Dwarf Fighting Man PC only does 1-6? What a rip-off.

Elf - The Elves are even worse than the Dwarves! 1+1 HD, 1-10 damage. I call foul.

Fire Beetle - If you steal their glands, they will glow for 1-6 days afterwards. Save a torch, kill a beetle. Actually, I wonder if you could tame one of these...

Gargoyle - "They can only be hit with magic weapons." My advice, avoid Gothic cathedrals at all costs. Join a nice, safe religion. You never see gargoyles at a Lutheran church, right?

Gelatinous Cube - Located at the intersection of goofy and horrifying. Immune to most spells, apparently.

Ghouls - What's so special about Elves that they get to be immune to ghoul paralysis? Also, this reminds me that I should reread Pickman's Model. I heard Dr. Holmes was a big Lovecraft fan.

Giant - Living catapults. I'm not kidding: Holmes Basic just straight-up uses the catapult rules from Chainmail. Also, cloud giants have a keen sense of smell, and storm giants can live underwater.

Giant Ant - A giant ant nest is guarded by 5-50 of them, and that's where all the treasure is. Sounds like the basis for a cool dungeon or adventure.

Giant Centipede - They have a "weak" poison (+4 to saving throws), but it's still an insta-kill poison.

Giant Rats - "Sumatran rats" that can cause "bacterial infestation" with a bite and a failed saving throw. It lasts 60 days, but only has a 25% chance of killing you, and Cure Disease can clear it right up...assuming there's a level 5 Cleric around and you have enough cold, hard cash. Miracles ain't cheap, you know.

Giant Tick - Now these bastards are packing a serious disease: it WILL kill your ass in 2-8 days without a Cure Disease spell, and there's no saving throw to avoid infection if you get bitten.

Gnoll - The book describes them as being "like hyena-men." Again, it sounds like they use the same kinds of weapons as adventurers yet do 2-8 damage. They are more or less described as lazy and poorly organized.

Gnome - "Gnomes are similar to dwarves, whom they resemble." Fun fact, the preferred weapon of the gnome is apparently the crossbow. Is there any basis for that in fairy tales?

Goblin - They don't like daylight or dwarves. They do 1-6 damage, so they should make good adventurers.

Gray Ooze - It's like a weaker version of the black pudding, but still very dangerous. Whereas the black pudding can only be killed by fire, the gray ooze is immune to fire and cold, and it can only be killed by "weapons and lightning." I hope your party is taking notes.

Green Slime - It's hard to tell, but I think it takes a full turn for green slime to kill you in Holmes Basic. Too bad there doesn't seem to be a saving throw, and only shitty medieval surgery or Cure Disease can stop it. Still, I generally pictured death by green slime as almost instant, so maybe this is actually kind of merciful.

Griffon - Loves the taste of horses and specifically cannot be brought within 360 feet of a horse without flipping out and trying to eat it.

Harpy - Make your saving throw or get Charmed into letting it eat you. Has an accompanying illustration that Wizards of the Coast would be too lame to use in a modern product.

Hell Hound - Its breath weapon scales with its HD, but it hits like a weapon instead of forcing a saving throw. Good at finding hidden and invisible things, presumably because of its sense of smell.

Hippogriff - Easy to confuse with the griffon. Doesn't like pegasi.

Hobgoblin - The goblin king fights like a hobgoblin, and the hobgoblin king and his bodyguards fight like ogres. Why stop there? The ogre king should fight like a storm giant, and the storm giant king should just straight-up be Cthulhu.

Horse - Horses won't go into dungeons, but mules will. Good ol' mules.

Hydra - The book notes that this version is more like a long-necked dinosaur than a snake. Easily scales up or down in terms of HD/number of heads. Gets one attack per head each turn, so it's super dangerous. Every six points of damage severs a head, so at least you can reduce its number of attacks over the course of a fight. Also, you don't have to cauterize the neck stumps to keep the heads from growing back, so that's nice.

Kobold - The description basically calls them shittier versions of goblins, but they get a +3 on most saving throws due to their resistance to magic, so I could see them being troublesome. The chieftain fights like a gnoll, because of course it does.

Lizard Man - Use spears and clubs, do 1-8 damage. I wonder if any players ever took a look at the rulebook and asked the DM if they could just play as a monster from then on. Here's some of the Holmes Writing Style I enjoy: "These aquatic monsters will capture men in order to take them to the tribal lair for a feast, with the man serves as the main course!" I wish more D&D monster descriptions actually sounded like the writers were excited about the topic.

Lycanthrope - Many people have already commented on the Polynesian Were-Shark. It sounds pretty cool to me. All lycanthropes are repelled by wolfsbane, not just werewolves. Wererats can summon rats like a vampire, and like to hang out in half-rat form. Wereboars and werebears are chaotic good for some reason.

Manticore - These things always fascinated me. The spikes are specified to be iron, which is nice and weird. They can shoot six spikes at a time, which can really ruin your day, let me tell you. "Their favorite prey is man."

Medusa - Their snakes are specified to be asps. They are "usually" female. Their eyes can petrify you and their snakes can poison you. You can pull the same mirror trick on it as you can with the basilisk.

Minotaur - "The minotaur is a bull-headed man (and all of us who have debated game rules are well acquainted with such)." Dr. Holmes just won his SECOND Quoted For Truth Award in two days! That's got to be at least the third one, overall.

Mummy - "Mummies are also members of the undead." Mummy rot slows down healing to one-tenth of the normal rate, and even Cure Disease will only raise that to half the normal rate. I wonder if that applies to magical healing, too.

Ochre Jelly - "It is, of course, ochre colored." Now you're just fucking with me. Another blob monster that will make your party members regret falling asleep in Dungeon Ecology 101.

Ogre - Apparently, they come in a whole rainbow of "disgusting colors." The stat line says they carry 1,000 extra gold pieces, but the description says they carry 100-600.

Orc - Engage in a lot of tribal warfare with each other. Sounds like a good chance for adventurers to divide and conquer. Sometimes hang out with ogres or even trolls. Don't like daylight, like goblins.

Owl Bear - It's a bear, except it's a bigger asshole.

Pegasi - Only serve lawful good characters. Stuck up pricks.

Pixie - Invisible nuisances that like to hang out with Elves and sing Kumbaya.

Purple Worm - 15 HD? Where's Paul Muad'Dib when you need him?

Rust Monster - The scariest monster in D&D. Probably constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Shadow - Can't be turned by Clerics, strangely, suggesting that it is some kind of unusual lifeform instead of another fancy ghost like the spectre, wight, and wraith. Create more shadows by draining the strength from people, giving that particular ability score another purpose in the game mechanics (resisting the shadow's reproductive cycle) besides just giving Fighting Men extra XP.

Shrieker - Living alarm systems.

Skeleton - Hey, they don't have that annoying "only weak to blunt weapons" thing I keep seeing everywhere.

Spectre - The book literally calls them "Nazgul" and name-drops Tolkien. Time to cast Summon Litigation Elemental. One of those level-draining jerks.

Spider - Come in three sizes: Large, Huge, and Giant. The huge ones don't actually spin webs. Maybe the different sizes also correspond to different species.

Stirge - Look like "feathered ant-eaters." Gets a +2 bonus to hit. Pricks.

Troglodyte - They're good at surprise attacks except when they're angry, since that screws with their "chameleon-like power." Smell bad when they're "aroused for battle." Mechanically, one of the more interesting humanoids.

Troll - "Thin and rubbery" monstrosities that won't stay dead. Surprisingly, only do 1d6 damage per attack.

Unicorn - "Only a pure maiden (in the strictest sense of the term) can subdue and ride them." Sex-negative dickheads, like in the fairy tales. Can use Dimension Door once per day with a rider in tow.

Vampire - "All vampires, regardless of religious background, are affected by the cross which is sovereign against them." Wait, and people thought this game was satanic? Also, if you reduce a vampire to 0 HP but don't defeat it with either sunlight, running water, or "a wooden stick," the motherfucker just turns to gas and escapes. Vampires have it too easy.

Wight - Another Tolkien name-drop. Another level-drainer, too. Magic weapons work extra well against them, adding their magical bonus to damage as well as the to-hit roll.

Wraith - Wights, but stronger. Not sure why this wasn't just rolled into the previous entry - maybe for the Turn Undead table. Magic arrows only do half damage to them, for some reason.

Yellow Mold - Another fairly passive dungeon hazard like green slime. Not as bad, but still nasty. I think I have some of this in my apartment.

Zombie - Not much different from skeletons. Both zombies and skeletons are notes as being controlled by an "evil magic-user or cleric." They only attack every other round because they're so slow. Probably the kind of monster that a first-level party can actually take in battle with some confidence. Then again, I could see them being dangerous in huge numbers, like Black Friday shoppers.

Okay, so I know I've made fun of a lot of stuff here, and I even linked to a song that straight-up contains the line "This game sucks," but honestly, the bestiary in Holmes Basic fucking rocks. I'm pleasantly surprised by how many intriguing details are crammed into such short monster entries. A lot of Monster Manual writers throughout the decades should have probably paid a little more attention to the Holmes Basic book. There's great variety for an introductory booklet, too. I do wonder if Dr. Holmes went a little overboard with the really powerful monsters, but the suggestions for scaling them down are pretty good, so I guess that's no big deal. This has got to be my favorite part of the book so far.

Next time: The real reason we go into these awful holes in the ground in the first place.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Holmes Basic D&D Rulebook Part 8 - I Bet You Hate Excitement, Too

PART 8 OF 12

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

Today, I'm talking about the combat rules. Please keep in mind that the order of my exposure to D&D over the course of my life so far as basically gone like this: Video games inspired by D&D--->D&D 3E Starter Box and licensed D&D video games--->D&D 3.5, Call of Cthulhu D20, and a minuscule bit of 4E--->Lamentations of the Flame Princess and a bunch of research into TSR-era versions of D&D that I haven't actually played yet. This will probably explain a lot about why I find certain things strange or use certain terminology that probably wasn't in use when Holmes Basic was on the shelves of major retailers.

So, I'm looking at the chart labeled DIE ROLL FOR CHARACTER TO SCORE A HIT, BY OPPONENT'S ARMOR CLASS and it occurs to me that all character classes in Holmes Basic have the same chances of hitting enemies, because Fighting Men (and other classes, for that matter) do not increase their to-hit bonus until after level 3. Let me just look at that SAVING THROW TABLE again...yep. The human Fighting Man is better than the Magic-User in 3 out of 5 categories, and worse in the other two. Compared to the Cleric, the human Fighting Man is better in 1 category, the same in 1 category, and worse in 3. The human Fighting Man and Human Thief are equal in all categories. Most strikingly, Dwarves and Halflings are better than all humans, including human Fighting Men, in all categories.

As I've said before, why would anyone want to play a Fighting Man, especially a human one, in a RAW (that's "Rules-As-Written") game of Holmes Basic? Well, I guess I can think of some reasons:

  1. The player knows the DM gives out a lot of magic weapons and wants to be able to use them.
  2. The player doesn't know how likely they are to get any magic weapons, but they are willing to gamble that they will get one.
  3. The player puts a lot of value into having a good AC.
  4. The player has a particular character/role playing/genre emulation/story reason for playing such a character. (If so, more power to 'em. I do appreciate it when players take other considerations into account when playing besides just seeking the surest path to "victory.")
  5. The player doesn't know or understand all of the rules.
  6. The player knows that the campaign will be switching over to AD&D or OD&D or B/X or the Holmes Companion or something, and wants to take advantage of the boons that humans or Fighting Men/Fighters get in the "new" rules.
  7. The player wants to use the least complicated character possible.
Reasons 1 through 3 still apply to Elf and Dwarf Fighting Men (and to Halfling Fighting Men to a lesser extent, since they can't use the biggest magic weapons), but I could see someone choosing a human Fighting Man in particular for any of those other reasons.

Personally, if I were to join a RAW Holmes Basic game tomorrow, I would probably roll up a Dwarf Fighting Man or a Cleric, although I would consider trying a Magic-User (or a Halfling Thief if the DM allowed it, but by my interpretation that would not count as RAW). The Halfling Fighting Man seems decent, but it's not my first choice. The human Fighting Man seems underwhelming. The Thief has a lot of cool features, but the chances of succeeding at any class abilities seem low. For a newbie, the Elf seems overly complicated with all the class-switching, and the increased XP requirements for advancement might be (understandably) steep. The Dwarf and Cleric look like they'd give me a lot of bang for my buck, without being too complicated rules-wise. But hey, that's just me, and I'm likely to change my tune after seeing how things actually work at the table.

Anyway, we've come to the part that some would consider the meat and potatoes of the book, the rules for resolving disagreements over the distribution of wealth, and Dr. Holmes' explanation of the melee rules is fantastic. Not only does the book explain how hits and damage are resolved, but it also explains some of the thought behind those rules, like how combat happens quickly but is played out in "slow motion," and how AC and missed attacks can be imagined in different ways. Combined with the example battles, the writing is clear and evocative. Writing this way is an important skill to master in game design, and not just in RPGs. It's what I strive for in my thus-far limited dabbling.

Also, if you hit 0 HP, you're dead. None of this negative HP, bleeding out on the floor, somebody come stabilize me stuff. I'm fine with this. It's simple and brutal.

There are two choice quotes worth mentioning.

"The combat tables used by D & D gamers are often extremely complicated."

Dr. Holmes wins the Quoted For Truth award. Also, I like how he specified "gamers." I assume he's referring not only to the complex tables in official D&D releases, but in third-party products and homebrew material as well. My understanding is that, relative to the total number of players and customers, such things were already ubiquitous before 1980. I love that about D&D. And yes, Dr. Holmes put those spaces in "D & D," which isn't really important but just struck me as a funny detail.

And the second quote?

"Melee is the most exciting part of the game, but it must be imagined as if it were occurring in slow motion so that the effect of each blow can be worked out."

Wait...Computer: zoom and enhance.

"Melee is the most exciting part of the game,

Computer: increase resolution. Clean up that image.

"Melee is the most exciting part of the game,

The next time someone tells me "D&D isn't about combat, you moron," I think I'll just say "Melee is the most exciting part of the game." And if someone says "D&D is all about combat, you imbecile," I shall reply in my most sagely manner "Melee is the most exciting part of the game."

Some days you just want to bash heads.* I think Dr. Holmes must have understood that. I wish I could high five him. What else have we got here?

There's poison, which I discussed last time in the entry for Detect Evil and in the post's comment section. For whatever reason, the book recommends against letting PCs use poison weapons in anything but the most dire of circumstances.

There's fire, specifically flaming oil, which looks like it takes up about as much space in the book as the COMBAT MELEE section. Flaming oil is powerful, doing a massive 2d8 damage compared to the 1d6 of standard melee and missile attacks. And it burns for up to 10 melee rounds. Well, it's actually a bit more complicated than that, because if a creature is directly doused with oil and set on fire it takes 1d8, then 2d8 the next round, and then stops burning because "it is assumed that the oil has run off, been wiped off, burned away, etc." But if a pool of burning oil were on the ground in a 5-foot circle, would a creature standing in that space take 2d8 the first round, and would they take damage for more than 2 rounds if they kept standing there? It's not very clear to me. There are also detailed rules for determining what number you have to roll to hit with a thrown oil flask (and then with a burning object on a subsequent round to light that oil), and notes on how some specific monsters are affected by such an attack. Red dragons are immune to damage from flaming oil, for example.

Flaming oil sounds fun in Holmes Basic. I do wonder how well balanced it is compared to other methods of attack, since standard attacks do 1d6 damage. It does require two rolls to hit before damage occurs, unless it is set up as a trap ahead of time or something, which would introduce other activities. I imagine buying and carrying a bunch of oil could present a lot of difficulties. And flaming oil is not effective against everything. Eh, it's probably fine. Besides, I like the idea of weirdo adventurers coming up with all kinds of oddball methods of guerrilla combat. Is there precedent in any Appendix N stories for the use of flaming oil as a weapon like this, or is it something that evolved out of D&D itself?

Oh, and there's holy water, which affects the undead like burning oil but doesn't hurt other monsters.

Next is MISSILE FIRE. Weapon choice matters here because different weapons have different ranges. Short range gives a +1 to hit, and long range gives a -1 to hit. Simple enough, although because of other games I'm used to treating short range as +0 and medium and long ranges as incurring various penalties. The book also says that attacks within the long range increment, as well as any attacks with a sling, cannot be done underground unless in "a very high roofed area." That's an interesting rule that I don't think I've seen before. I don't know enough about slings to say how much that part makes sense, but I think it's reasonable to limit other missile weapons to medium range at best when fighting in the tight quarters of your typical dungeon chamber.

The COVER section is interesting. If a target is in partial cover, missile attacks against them take a -2 penalty, while cover that is almost complete causes a -4 penalty. Also, my interpretation of this paragraph is that anyone can typically fire from partial cover, but you would only be able to fire from full cover in certain circumstances, like if you're shooting through a small hole in a wall, or maybe if you're carefully leaning out from behind a big tree. Makes sense, unless you gain the power to shoot through solid walls or something.

Here's the part that seems strange to me: "Once the party is engaged in melee, arrows can not be fired into the fight because of the probability of hitting friendly characters." Based on the second combat example, it seems that the dynamic of fighting in Holmes D&D often isn't quite what I'm used to. Usually, firing into melee will incur a penalty to hit and/or a chance of hitting an ally, rather than being straight-up impossible. Outside of encounters that start at close range, I'm guessing the typical combat in Holmes D&D would have two distinct phases: distant combat, with ranged attacks and attempts to move toward melee, followed by the melee phase in which the bows are put away. I imagine this would probably discourage a lot of players from just being "the archer" or "the tank" and get more of them to take up both roles in turn. In D&D 3.5, for example, I'm used to seeing characters stick to either ranged or melee attacks for the whole battle, but that seems unlikely to happen in Holmes Basic.

Wait, make that three phases. I just noticed this part after the combat examples: "When there is time, or when a magic-user says he is getting a spell ready, magic spells go off first. This is followed by any missile fire, if the distance to the monsters permits, and then melee is joined, after which no missile fire is permitted because of the danger of hitting friendly forces." It goes on to say that spells can still be cast while the other characters are in melee, "after 1 or more melee rounds have gone by," as long as the magic-user (I'm guessing this goes for Clerics, too) hangs back from the melee.

Magic-Users can't cast in melee unless they use a magic item to do so, like a wand or staff. I really like that wands can be used at point blank range - it gives them utility as more than just extra spell storage, it matches the common description of wand activation as involving less time and gesticulation than "regular" casting, and it makes Magic-Users seem a little bit like supernatural gunslingers, which is funny and cool in its own way.

These phases of combat create a striking difference from what I've personally seen at the table, and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. I appreciate the simplicity of just saying "No, you can't shoot into melee" instead of using a more fiddly rule and possibly slowing down the game. In a narrow dungeon corridor, it makes a lot of sense to break combat into these two phases, since the flow of combat from strictly ranged to strictly melee seems kind of natural to me in that situation. And as much as I love using miniatures as a player, when I'm the DM I almost exclusively run "Theater of the Mind" combat, and breaking combat into phases based on range would probably be easier than trying to keep track of individual character positions in my head and convey those positions to the players. On the other hand, fighting in a wide-open space should probably give skilled archers opportunities to flank enemies and shoot them in the back, even if they're engaged in swordplay. And what if there's a battle between three factions, and someone from Group 1 wants to fire into a melee between members of Groups 2 and 3? Or what if an adventurer is alone and has no allies to hit - can that character keep backing up and shooting?

But you know what? This book was written as an introduction to D&D, and for that purpose I think the rule against shooting into melee is perfectly fine. Except now I've just noticed that a different section says "Remember that spells and missiles fired into a melee should be considered to strike members of one's own party as well as the enemy." So, which is it? Also, does that mean that shooting an arrow into a duel means that both combatants get hit, or that there is a 50% chance of hitting each one? Now I'm going to have to look into the way OD&D handles this.**

More points of interest:

Magic weapon bonuses apply to rolls to hit, but not necessarily to damage. Magic armor and shield bonuses are subtracted from the to-hit roll of the enemy, rather than changing the character's AC. (Shouldn't -1 Plate be good and +1 Plate be bad, then? But I guess that would just be confusing in the other direction.) Bonuses from magic armor and shields stack.

A combat round is 10 seconds, and a combat turn is 100 seconds (10 rounds), but a turn outside of combat is 600 seconds (60 rounds). I feel like combat turns should have a different name if this distinction is important, to avoid confusion with exploration turns. Unless this means that spells or torches last a shorter amount of time in combat than outside of it, but I don't think that's the case, and if it were, I'm not sure how that would make sense.

Oh, here's that infamous bit about daggers hitting twice per round and heavy weapons only hitting every other round. My understanding is that pretty much every Holmes Basic aficionado on the internet recommends ignoring this, and that it may be a fragment of some optional AD&D rules that leaked in there and that don't make sense out of context. Crossbow reloading times are also discussed, and they seem more in line with what I'm used to, although without variable weapon damage I'm not sure why I'd pick a heavy crossbow over a light one, or any crossbow over a composite bow.

How many characters can fit side-by-side in a 10' wide hallway in combat? Two or three. Wouldn't it be easier to just make it two and use 5' squares instead of 10' ones? That's not a rhetorical question. I really want to know.

Initiative is based on dexterity, and the character with the higher score always goes first unless the scores are within 2 points of each other, in which case they roll off with a d6 to see who goes first. If you like individual initiative, this seems fine within the context of the way dexterity works in Holmes Basic. I've become fond of group initiative, myself.

You can parry in combat instead of attacking. This gives your opponent a -2 penalty when they try to hit you. The interesting part is that if the attacker still rolls the exact number they ordinarily need to hit you (or more accurately, that exact number plus 2), they still don't damage you, but they break your weapon. I hope you brought a spare! I really like this rule. My questions is, can you parry with a shield?

Ah, here's some precedent for 3E's "attack of opportunity" rules: If you withdraw from melee, your opponent gets a free swing at you with a +2 bonus to hit, and you don't get to count your shield toward your AC. Assuming this applies to monsters (or at least humanoid ones), putting meat shields brave warriors between the Magic-User and the enemy offers protection to the latter not only through occupied spaces, but also through free attacks on enemies that try to charge through the ranks and swing at the Magic-User directly. Sounds good.

Despite a few misgivings, I like the way Holmes Basic handles combat quite a lot. It seems simple and fast-paced, but with some neat touches I'm not used to. And the combat examples are fun to read and clarify things nicely. Rest in peace, Bruno the Battler. I'm sure old Malchor will miss you as he loots your corpse.

Next time: This dungeon is full of monsters! How can you sit there and eat rations?

*I originally included a full-blown rant on this topic above, but I thought it hurt the flow of the post. If you're interested, I've put it down here instead.

Okay, so a lot of people who write for and about D&D and the OSR, such as Lamentations of the Flame Princess founder James Raggi (if I understand his philosophical position on the matter correctly), like to say that a game of D&D doesn't have to focus primarily on combat or be "about" combat, and furthermore, that the game can greatly benefit from treating combat more like a trap to avoid than a thing to be sought out, or that the game can be exciting or interesting with little or no combat, or that a focus on combat is unnecessary and can sometimes be detrimental, or that the game is about more than just combat.

These are things that I agree with. They make sense to me.

But of course, there are those who take that to a greater extreme and make claims that combat should always be minimized or that the game should never play out like an action movie or that the game is really about exploration and resource management and only that, AND that if you disagree or if you play in some other manner, you are doing it wrong and are dumb. You know, the "one true way" types. The extreme opposite is also true: there are people who think you are doing it wrong if you care about anything besides combat or violence or being the biggest badass.

Me, I mostly just say "do what thou wilt" when it comes to games, as long as everyone involved enjoys the experience and is treated with due respect. That said, on the whole I actually really like combat in D&D. I like how, even though D&D is what I would consider the first RPG in the modern sense, compared to a lot of later RPGs it arguably fits into this weird intersection between RPGs and wargames. Later RPGs that moved away from those wargame elements are fine, too, but I do enjoy the particular way D&D works, and D&D often works as a really good tactical game. Many of my favorite D&D memories are from battle: clever maneuvers, clever use of magic or items, good teamwork, memorable foes, close calls, sudden changes of fortune, cool stunts, crazy ideas, risky moves, and dramatic confrontations. And even when reading actual play reports - especially LotFP ones, with all those weird monsters and items and spells - I often find the combat to be among the best parts, because that's when a lot of the dangerous and unexpected things happen, and perhaps when players are most often or most obviously forced to think under pressure. (For similar reasons, my favorite parts also usually include dealing with traps, tricks/puzzles, tense negotiations, and strange magical effects.)

I've come to appreciate the horror-oriented approach of LotFP, in which monsters are powerful and scary and attacking them head-on is not ideal. And I think that even a combat-oriented game is more enjoyable when encounters are not guaranteed to be matched to the party's level, and running away or pursuing smarter tactics than "CHAAAAAAAAARGE!" are often prudent. My preference in a less survival horror-flavored game is to have a good mix of balanced and unbalanced encounters, and when going to the other extreme of "Life-is-Just-Suffering-Even-in-D&D" I prefer the Raggi way. My point is simply that whatever kind of D&D I want to run or play is valid, provided I put thought and effort into it and the other players are willing to try it.

**I seem to remember some pretty complicated rules for combat phases in Philotomy's Musings.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Saw of Insight - Magic Item for LotFP

The saw looks like an ordinary one-handed woodcutting saw, except that the handle and the back of the blade are decorated with intricate engravings of human and animal skulls and brains. The saw is very hard and sharp, and it can cut through human bone as easily as wood.

The saw's magical properties are activated when it is used to cut open the skull and brain of a living human or other creature of at least human-level sentience and sapience. Doing this requires the victim to be incapacitated, helpless, or pinned down, and takes 1d4 rounds to complete. Once the task is finished, several things occur.

The person who operated the saw gains double the amount of XP that the victim was worth, and the XP is not split among the party - the person who did the sawing keeps it all.

If the target had any spells memorized, the operator of the saw now has those spells memorized, regardless of class. If the operator is of a class that can inscribe spells of the appropriate type into their spellbook, they can do so, although this counts as casting the spells in terms of memorization. Magic-Users can inscribe Cleric spells gained by this method into their spellbooks and vice versa, but doing so inflicts 1 point of damage per spell level of each spell inscribed, and this damage can only be healed by resting and not through magical means. The spells can also be cast, but this of course removes them from memory as usual.

The saw's operator gains some memories from the victim. If they have specific questions in mind when opening the victim's head, and the victim knows the answer, the operator will telepathically learn the answer by gaining all of the victim's memories that are most directly related to that answer. The operator can only have up to three questions in mind, which must by asked of (and approved by) the DM before the cutting process begins. Whether or not the operator has any questions in mind, they will also gain 1d4 random memories from the target, which are always memories of things that the target found unpleasant.

Every time the saw is used to cut open someone's head in this manner, the player must roll a d8 for a random effect from this table:

  1. No additional effect.
  2. No additional effect.
  3. Take 1d4 damage and be helpless for an equal number of rounds due to an excruciating migraine.
  4. Take 1d4 damage and be helpless for an equal number of rounds due to an excruciating migraine.
  5. Lose 1 point of wisdom or intelligence (determined randomly). This is restored when you level up.
  6. Lose 1 point of maximum HP. This is restored when you level up.
  7. Lose 1 level of experience.
  8. Gain 5 times the amount of XP that the victim was worth instead of 2 times the amount. Take 1 point of damage from a sudden, intense nosebleed.
EDIT: On the Google+ thread about this blog post, Claytonian JP and Johnathan Baker made some excellent suggestions regarding the migraines in the table above. Claytonian JP said that migraines should last for turns instead of rounds, and I think that makes more sense. Johnathan Baker offered some great rules for migraines: "a penalty of -1 or -2 to all rolls >including skill rolls< for 1d4+1d8 turns is not unreasonable, and double the duration if the character is doing strenuous things."

(Image taken from HERE)

The Dream of Wyrd - The Secret Behind Lamentations of the Fallen Lords

(There may be some small spoilers for Death Frost Doom in this post.)

First, some common knowledge in the Cath Bruig Empire:
  • Judging by the Cycle of Light and Dark, the pattern of history dictates that either Balor or Soulblighter should have defeated the Light, destroyed the Cath Bruig Empire, and cast the world into the next regularly-scheduled Dark Age. This did not happen.
  • The world is commonly called "The Dream of Wyrd" or "The One Dream." That latter phrase also seems to refer to some highly technical theory among mages involving the origin or operation of magic.
  • Magic spells are often called "dreams." Until recently, all magic has been derived (if not directly, then secondhand) from the study of artifacts that are believed to be "Fragments" of Wyrd and/or The One Dream (of Wyrd). Now, people seem to be inventing new spells or discovering long lost ones that have no connection to these fragments, and at such a rate that no one can keep track of them all. These new spells did not begin to appear until after the death of Soulblighter.
  • Traditionally, the Church of Wyrd has held the doctrine that everything beyond the borders of the known world (mostly comprised of the Cath Bruig Empire at the height of its power, not counting its current colonial expansion) is less "real" than that which lies within the approximately 800,000 square miles of what was the known world.
  • Explorers, cartographers, and adventurers always seem to be telling tales of time and space refusing to remain entirely consistent, although the Imperial government officially insists that such phenomena are rare.
  • Very little history has actually been pinned down. Scholars are constantly arguing over the scant and contradictory evidence available for scrutiny. Many mutually exclusive possibilities seem to have equally strong indications of truth.
  • Official church doctrine states that Wyrd, the god who created the world, and who prevents the Light from ever being fully extinguished (just as Nyx prevents the Dark from being fully illuminated), was injured in a battle with Nyx shortly after the world was made. Wyrd is said to have been broken into 49 pieces, but he did not die: he fell into a sort of coma, a deep sleep full of dreams, from which he may eventually recover.
What secret unites these disparate pieces into a whole picture? Every Leveller has known it. Perhaps a few others do, as well. The vast majority of people do not, but the conclusion is plain.

Perhaps Praetor-Pontifex Cyris Carnithrax Maximus, formerly known as Emperor Alric, the next would-be Leveller, who was slain and forevermore denied resurrection by a group of adventurers on February 20 of the year 2842 AE, said it best:

"Suppose God were just a man who fell asleep. He dreamt of people, their struggles, their thoughts, their own dreams, the world they inhabited. What do you suppose will happen to them, to the dream, when God wakes up?"

The Cycle and the Dream

As long as the Cycle was in effect, the Dream was relatively stable. The demiplane that comprised the One Dream remained, for the most part, consistent in terms of geography, weather, physics, magic, time, space, and the process of cause and effect - at least within the area located directly above the largest fragment of Wyrd's sleeping corpse. In its stable state, the One Dream was also an isolated demiplane, magically "walled off" from the rest of the universe; at its most stable, perhaps nothing short of a god would have been able to enter or leave. The summoning of the Myrkridia and the Fetch indicate that the Cycle may have been slowly breaking down for years, or perhaps that something at least as powerful as Wyrd willed these events to take place.

On the one hand, the Cycle required great bloodshed and long millennia of oppression for most of the living people of the world. On the other hand, the world faces two major consequences now that the Cycle is broken.

First, planar travel is becoming easier over time. This means that beings and magic from the "non-Dream" universe outside of the demiplane are now able to enter or otherwise affect the One Dream. This often happens unintentionally - blind cosmic forces being what they are, collisions are to be expected. The Dream is even incorporating places from other worlds into its own "world map," although it is ambiguous whether these places have actually been physically removed from their original worlds or simply copied or simulated in some fashion. The elves, fairies, and other alien beings, the "new" magic not derived from the Dream, the Duvan'Ku (who are the most insidious invaders, because they've inserted themselves into the world's history retroactively), the Monolith from Beyond Space and Time, the new lands discovered across the ocean that some suspect weren't there before...all of these and more have entered the demiplane as a result of the Cycle's end.

Second, because Wyrd is slowly waking up, the One Dream is becoming less real. When the awakening is complete, every single bit of the Dream, everything in or originating from the demiplane, everything created in Wyrd's sleep will vanish from existence, down to the last subatomic particle. If you are a native of the demiplane, born from Dream-matter, fleeing from the demiplane will not protect you. You will always be a part of the Dream, and you will die with it.

Why is Wyrd's Dream so Earth-like?

Maybe Wyrd is like an operating system, making the framework of the dream possible, and the people in the dream create the programs it runs, consensus reality-style, although this does not explain why those people are human (or human-like), and why they subconsciously created an Earth-like environment. Or maybe the "stable" part of the world was originally copied or taken from a "real" place, and this formed the basis for the way the demiplane "works." Or maybe Wyrd is a former human who ascended to godhood.

Why does a Cycle of wars and conquests among puny mortals keep a god asleep?

Maybe a predictable cycle of historical events keeps the dream consistent, maintaining Wyrd's standards of "realism" or other sensibilities, and thus makes the dream more believable to Wyrd, meaning that Wyrd is less likely to realize it is dreaming and choose to wake up. Or maybe the cycle is a magic ritual writ large, established by Nyx when she struck Wyrd down and maintained so that Wyrd will remain relatively powerless and sealed away for the benefit of Nyx or some other unknown party. Or maybe Wyrd is a god that is cosmically aligned with Law, so the continuation of the pattern somehow benefits Wyrd and prevents the god from being displeased enough to wake up and stop putting forth the effort to preserve this world.

Is Wyrd at the bottom of the Great Devoid?

Yes. One of the "bottomless" pits inside Deathfrost Mountain also leads to Wyrd, although strangely, the other "bottomless" pit does not.

How do the 49 Fragments of the Wyrd fit into this picture?

These are the pieces of Wyrd's broken body, if not literally than in some unfathomable, metaphysical sense. There are thought to be 49 Fragments in all, but it is ambiguous whether the presence of Wyrd at the bottom of the Great Devoid should be considered one of those 49 Fragments or some other thing (such as an unknown fiftieth Fragment, Wyrd's mind, or Wyrd's soul).

Is the Myth equivalent of the "New World" literally new?

It is new to the demiplane, yes, but not from the perspective of the "New World's" inhabitants. It is unknown what was previously located across the ocean or beyond the Untamed Lands to the east, if anything. Perhaps the demiplane is expanding as new locations are added.

How long will it take for the One Dream to disintegrate now that the Cycle has ended?

Cyris guessed that it would take another 200 years or so, but it is unknown how he arrived at that number. His source of information on this matter could have been flawed. For the humans, dwarves, and fir'Bolg living in the demiplane, it might not matter, since the ever-increasing number of monsters and magical forces arriving from other worlds could drive them to extinction long before the entire demiplane falls apart.

Is there any way to stop the disintegration of the One Dream?

Reestablishing the Cycle might do it, if there is still time, but doing so would be difficult since there is no known way to force the mantle of the Leveller to fall upon a new person - in the past, it always just happened by itself. If the Leveller is indeed some kind of god or other distinct being, perhaps it could be contacted and bargained with.

It may be possible to create a new Cycle, based on something other than successive ages of Light and Dark, but it is unclear how this could be accomplished. Since the Duvan'Ku have altered the very metaphysical nature of the demiplane before, perhaps their magic could be used to do it again.

If one were to travel back in time and prevent Balor or Soulblighter from being defeated, ensuring that the Cycle was never broken in the first place, Wyrd's awakening could perhaps be prevented from beginning in the first place. If changing the future simply creates a new timeline instead of altering the old one, this would not save the original world, however. It is also unclear whether or not the Cycle had already been partly destabilized at some previous point in history before the primary Cycle-breaking event of the Light's unforeseen victory. Furthermore, there is some debate over whether Balor or Soulblighter was the true Leveller, and over whether or not a victory by Soulblighter after Balor's death would have made any difference.

Finally, one could theoretically try to get Nyx or another god to injure Wyrd badly enough to sink it more deeply into its slumber. The risk inherent in this course of action should need no explanation.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Top 13 Campaign Settings That Intrigue Me Right Now

There are a lot of D&D campaign settings out there, both "official" and otherwise (not that the distinction matters all that much). I thought it might be fun to briefly touch on a few that I think are pretty unique, and which appeal to me enough personally that I would most love the opportunity to use them, either as a DM or a player. Please keep in mind that I haven't actually read the books for most of these settings, so a lot of this is based on second-hand information, reviews, etc. This is more about what I want to get into than what I've already gotten into.

For the sake of simplicity, I've kept the list narrowed down to settings that have been officially published by TSR, Judges Guild, or Wizards of the Coast OR that I personally own as a book or PDF (in other words, LotFP stuff). There are a ton of interesting and wonderful campaign settings out there in the form of either publications I haven't bought/read yet (like Yoon-Suin) or series of blog posts (Centerra from Goblin Punch comes to mind). This is far from an exhaustive list of either stuff that's out there or just stuff I like. This is just:


13. Wilderlands of High Fantasy/City State of the Invincible Overlord
This would probably be higher on the list if I knew more about it. This setting devised by Judges Guild seems to come highly recommended by anyone who's heard of it, so color me intrigued. Besides, I could always use more OD&D material to read!

12. Greyhawk
I mean, other than Blackmoor, this is about as classic as it gets, right? I imagine playing in Greyhawk would be like observing Gygaxian D&D, with all its cool/weird/funny monsters and magic items and other little details, in its natural habitat. I know that Greyhawk, like the Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance, could be considered either too boring or too well-trodden by many, but for whatever reason I still find what some have dubbed "generic" fantasy interesting in its own right...when done well, of course. (Notice that, although I don't exactly hate them, the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance didn't make this list.) Besides, much of what we consider generic now was pretty unusual back in the day, right? And some things in Greyhawk are unusual even by the standards of the now-saturated market of fantasy fiction; examples include science fiction stuff, Alice in Wonderland-type stuff, the Black Reservoir, dinosaurs, and a big stone head that people still seem to speculate about to this day.

11. Eberron
Dungeonpunk, Warforged, and Artificers...I had some brief experiences with material from Eberron during many a D&D 3.5 game in college, and these glimpses certainly intrigued me. As much as I like low-magic dark fantasy, I also think that high-magic fantasy settings that blur the line between magic and science can be a lot of fun, too. Eberron strikes me as the kind of place where the stuff I like from JRPGs like Final Fantasy can mix well with D&D...hopefully without the stuff I don't like.

10. Ravenloft
Honestly, the Gothic/Hammer Horror, always-Halloween, Castlevania-esque, cheesy-yet-spooky kind of setting just really appeals to me. The isolated demiplane segmented by evil fog reminds me pleasantly of Demon's Souls and Silent Hill. I've heard Strahd can be a great villain if you play him right, and some of the other major NPCs seem interesting. My favorite detail of the setting (which I've heard in passing and have yet to verify) is that something restores the spells of clerics each day, but it sure ain't one of the intended gods. My only major misgiving is that I've heard a lot of Ravenloft material is pretty railroad-filled, but hopefully that problem could be overcome with a little creativity.

9. Dark Sun
Conan meets Mad Max meets Dune. I mean, come on! It doesn't hurt that this is one of the most positively regarded of the official D&D settings, as far as I can tell. I like the concept of the use of magic actually hurting the ecosystem. I hear the monsters rock, too.

8. Ghostwalk
You're already dead - make the most of it. Again, very Demon's Souls, with a touch of Wraith: The Oblivion (which I haven't played, but which fascinates me as a concept). Seems unique. Considering there was only one book produced, it should be an easy setting to read up on, too. Honestly, the rarity and obscurity of Ghostwalk are attractions for me. Plus, I'd like to see ghosts presented with more variety and nuance than the typical Monster Manual gives them. See The Hell House Beckons for great examples of creative D&D ghosts, in case you're wondering what I have in mind.

7. Blackmoor/Mystara
I've heard that Blackmoor takes place in the far past of Mystara, so I'm lumping these two together for now. Many of my thoughts on Greyhawk also apply to Blackmoor (with Gygax swapped out for Arneson, of course), plus Blackmoor seems to have plenty of cool oddities of its own, including a stronger mix of fantasy and SF. Oh, and Blackmoor almost seems like the "lost" original D&D setting that people new to the game don't hear about, so it interests me for both its historical value and its surprising obscurity. Meanwhile, Mystara is pretty much the official setting for Basic D&D, and it has just about anything I could want from the typical D&D setting crammed into one world: fictionalized and magical versions of all kinds of different real-life cultures throughout history, a Hollow World, dungeons and monsters galore, and a path to immortality available for those strong and determined enough to seek it. It's the good kind of fantasy kitchen sink.*

6. Carcosa
I have a lot of thoughts and opinions on Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa, and in a lot of ways my reception of it was, shall we say, mixed, but I won't get into that now.** What I can't deny is that Carcosa is absolutely brimming with awesome stuff: mummy brains, ridiculously powerful (and just plain ridiculous) space alien technology, mutant dinosaurs, psionic power rules that don't intimidate me out of ever trying them due to over-complexity, a hex crawl with some truly odd locations and encounters, OD&D/LotFP stats for classic Lovecraftian monsters, amusing/creepy mutations, crazy rainbow people, and a world that didn't so much fall from grace as simply never be graceful in the first place. To me, Carcosa is a fascinating mix of bleak and silly, and I can't help but be drawn to something so outlandish. It doesn't hurt that most of the setting details are imparted though game mechanics, tables, monster/item/hex descriptions, etc. instead of long, boring historical overviews.

5. Planescape
Ah, Sigil - a whole city that's basically the cantina from Star Wars or the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, but in the middle of the D&D planes instead of a galaxy far, far away, but which also functions as a massive portal network. Oh, and it's shaped like a torus. And it's at the top of a spire that everyone insists is infinite even though it looks pretty darn finite (but still big). And the residents have some really distinctive slang. And there's the Lady of Pain. And there are modrons! I can't believe I haven't gotten into this one already. I really like the concept of a cosmos in a fantasy universe that differs significantly from the whole stars-and-planets-floating-in-empty-space thing that real life has going on. Planescape seems to just take every gonzo aspect of every major D&D setting and get it all to fit in the same screwball universe, and it even seems coherent if you squint a little - not that fantasy needs to be so mundane as to be coherent, of course.

4. Spelljammer
D&D! IN! SPAAAAAAAACE! Except it's not really space so much as a quirky fantasy version of space, with spaceships that look and act like regular ocean-faring ships. It's actually pretty reminiscent of the old-fashioned "Celestial spheres" model of the universe, except instead of there only being a single crystalline sphere, beyond which lies Heaven or God or the primum mobile, there are multiple crystalline spheres containing different worlds and separated by a type of outer space different from the outer space inside the spheres. As with Planescape, I find the cosmology very compelling, plus the idea of space pirates looking and operating like regular pirates is charming. The monsters and intelligent races of the setting seem pretty eccentric, too, like the musket-toting hippo-like giff and the bizarre, horrifying neogi. Spelljammer just seems like the kind of setting that would lend itself well to mixing in science fiction based on fun, outdated concepts like luminiferous aether or Planet X or Martian canals or Venusian jungles or Moon Men, or the sun going out like a candle.

3. A Red & Pleasant Land/Vornheim/Maze of the Blue Medusa
I feel like I should just link to a bunch of reviews here - I don't know how much I can say here that I haven't already heard elsewhere. Between his books and his blog, Zak S. seems to have created a really mind-bending world. Books are snakes! Vampires are chess pieces! Art critics hire adventurers to philosophically discredit their enemies! It's wild stuff, and the bits and pieces work as well slotted into other settings as they do together, as many a Lamentations of the Flame Princess player can attest. I bet a mashup of Sigil and Vornheim would be interesting. Also, the books themselves are really convenient to use, and like Carcosa, present their setting information in ways that are functional and not boring or long-winded. A Red & Pleasant Land seems especially cool to me - it's Alice in Wonderland crossed with a war between Dracula and a vampiric Elizabeth Báthory. It's so goofy on the surface and so completely wrong underneath.

2. Empire of the Petal Throne/Tékumel
This is probably the only official (well, okay, semi-official) D&D setting that is actually as rich, complex, deeply thought out, and internally consistent as some of the best F&SF universes like Lord of the Ring's Middle-earth and Dune's Imperium...or at least that's what all the Tékumel fans on the internet seem to say. Based on the language M. A. R. Barker created for the game and all of the historical research that went into crafting the setting, I can believe it. There are so many details that make me curious, too. Why and how was this planet separated from the rest of the universe? Who or what are these strange gods the inhabitants are basically forced to worship? What made this highly regimented society the way it is? What is there underneath these layer cake-like cities for us to plunder and kill? I love how this is basically a science fiction setting that looks like a fantasy setting to its inhabitants. Arthur C. Clarke would be proud. (Actually, I wonder if he was familiar with Tékumel at all.) This seems like one of the few settings with a long, drawn-out backstory that might be genuinely captivating to read, since it's so weird and so intricate.

1. Earth (Lamentations of the Flame Princess/Castle Amber/Masque of the Red Death/A Mighty Fortress)
James Raggi has already made some compelling arguments for setting a D&D campaign on good ol' planet Earth. It's not like the concept is foreign to D&D, since Clerics originally used crosses as their holy symbols and several D&D books have involved Earth in one way or another. I like the idea of being able to browse real-world history books for setting information, although I would probably play fast and loose with historical accuracy to some degree, since I'm no expect on early modern England or whatever, and besides, anachronisms can be fun. Still, setting a game on Earth can ground things a bit, making things more familiar and less abstract. This has the dual benefits of giving the players' actions and choices have more predictable consequences ("No fair! If I knew that all snakes were books in this setting, I wouldn't have cast Disintegrate on the naga!") and making magical and otherworldly elements have a greater impact ("William Shakespeare is an aboleth! Run for your lives!"). Earth is chock-full of strange places to explore, too. I bet the Paris Catacombs could make for an awesome megadungeon. They say truth is stranger than fiction. Let's test that hypothesis.

Honorable Mentions: Qelong (I wasn't sure if this should count as a separate campaign setting), BirthrightCouncil of Wyrms, Dragon Fist, Jakandor, Mahasarpa (online supplement for Oriental Adventures), Nentir Vale/Points of Light, Pelinore, and Thunder Rift.

Anyway, please feel free to correct me if I got any details wrong, berate me about how stupid the order and contents of my list are, or tell me about any interesting settings I missed. Oh, and if you haven't backed The Driftwood Verses yet, as of this posting there are still six days to go!

*Perhaps much of what I've written above seems like a defense of "standard" or "generic" fantasy, and to some extent I suppose it is, since not everything that people put in those categories has lost its magic for me yet (ha). However, for a campaign setting to really impress me, it has to strike me as unique, original, unusual, or just plain crazy. I've come to absolutely love D&D material that breaks out of the conventions of the game and just goes nuts, for many reasons: it keeps people on their toes, it tends to be more flavorful, it encourages creativity, and it shows that "fantasy" is a wide genre that encompasses so much more than just dragons and elves. Products for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, for example, are like a continuous breath of fresh air (or maybe I should say rancid air, considering the deliciously morbid and horrific themes), and the OSR is a well of inspiration that never seems to run dry for me. With a few exceptions, the oddball settings tend to interest me the most.

**I know I'm really late to the party on this one, but I'm thinking about doing a detailed review or blog-through of Carcosa at some point, like what I've been doing with Holmes Basic D&D (although maybe not as in-depth, for fear of taking forever to get through the whole thing). There's just so much strangeness to talk about, in terms of both setting and game design. For now, let's just say that I like Carcosa quite a lot overall, as its position on the list above indicates, but a lot of individual aspects of it don't quite make sense to me.

Edited on June 18 to add Jakandor to the list of Honorable Mentions.