Friday, January 27, 2012

BFRPG: Starting at Third Level

Although I've played D&D on and off since 1980, I have never been a fan of the "harsh reality" approach to first-level characters. None of my groups pre-Fourth Edition ever rolled 3d6 six times in a row for attributes, nor did they go by the rules-as-written when rolling hit points. Returning to Old School D&D with BFRPG has meant that I'm confronting these issues again. What I have in mind for the kids' first characters is the following:

1. For attributes, roll 4d6 six times, dropping the lowest die in each roll. Then assign the totals to attributes in whatever order is desired.

2. At first level, hit points equal the maximum result possible for the character's class hit die. CON bonuses still apply.

I'm also considering starting the characters off at 5000 xp, the minimum amount for a Magic-User to hit third level. I wanted any boys playing Magic-Users to have multiple spells to cast per day instead of being reduced to throwing daggers after using up their one first-level spell in the initial encounter. Third level gives any Magic-User a pair of first-level spells as well as a second-level spell.

5000 xp means that any Thieves will begin the game at fourth level, no problem since that starting point doesn't make using their thieving skills a cake-walk. Clerics will be 1000 xp shy of fourth level (and will have two first-level spells), while Fighters will be 3000 xp shy of fourth level as well. Elf Fighter/Magic-Users will begin the game as second-level Fighters with 500 extra xp and as newly-minted second-level Magic Users.

There won't be any "in-game" rationale for a third-level start. I.e., the characters will be fresh off the farm.  The two extra levels (three in the case of any Thieves) are essentially a narrative convention granting the PCs protagonist status (and decreasing the likelihood of an early TPK).

Two additional house rules follow from these decisions:

1. When rolling hit points for second and third level, all results of 1 will be rerolled. Once play begins, though, hit points gained through level advancement will be generated by the rules (and thus results of 1 will be possible). Enhanced survivability remains the guiding principle here.

2. Should a player's character expire, his new character will enter play at third level as well. None of my old groups were ever great fans of the "return to play at first level, even if the rest of the party is eighth level" approach to the game. We always felt that it was strange for experienced heroes to suddenly adopt a neophyte in the midst of their travails. At the same time, I want to use the differentiated experience tables of BFRPG, so a Fourth Edition approach would be cumbersome. (I assume that averaging party levels would be the likely option here, but I'll pass on it.)

Have others made similar decisions when starting campaigns at third level? Also: what are good "first modules" for third level characters, preferably adventures that wouldn't require much work to fit into a forest setting?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

This Week on a Very Special D&Dawson's Creek . . .

Last night at D&D Encounters, my satyr bard taunted a fae giant by calling him "James Van Verbeeg." That is all.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Character Got Stoned Last Night

The last few sessions have not gone well for my Fourth Edition mage Enric Crocker ("the Apprentice Who Lived"). Two weeks ago, he was down to his last death save courtesy of this recurring villain:

Yes, that's Loomis the Rat King, crazed rodent lord and plague of the Duchy of Boswin. He hit Enric with his "ratapult" (a slingshot that shoots rodents), knocking him down to -9 hit points. The timely arrival of reinforcements allowed the party's druid to stabilize Enric.

This week, the threat of death, while less embarrassing, was equally puissant. After tracking down a crazed peasant sculptor with a perhaps too uncanny skill at statuary, Enric was left alone by his compatriots to face this beast:

Alpha-striking with various dazing powers and action points was not enough to keep Enric from being bitten by Alis the Cockatrice. Even worse were his pitiful saving throws. In spite of a potential +2 bonus from his Delver's Leather Armor +1, Enric could not manage to roll higher than a 5. So "slowed" became "immobilized," and then, in a final indignity, a natural 1 meant "petrified." Dave the DM tried to console me with the information that Enric was now Resist 20 Damage and immortal, but I rejected his false sympathy—he's been trying to kill one of the party for weeks. Again the party druid saved the day, making his Nature roll with massive overkill to remember the bit of lore explaining how to cure cockatrice petrification. Unfortunately, the party now has a wagon-full of villagers in need of a Restoration ritual from Boswin's head cleric.

In the meantime, Enric has decided to hire a meatshield, er, henchman to guard his flank.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Run Away, We Are No Match for Sting!

I'm guessing that this image from today's LA Times Hero Complex post on Peter Jackson's version of The Hobbit is the moment that Bilbo names his Gondolin dagger: "I will give you a name . . . and I shall call you Sting." An awesome picture of one of my favorite moments featuring my favorite sword in all of fiction!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Dungeon Alphabet: Why Did No One Tell Me?

So my hardcopy of Dungeon Alphabet arrives today from Goodman Games, and I discover for the first time (having only owned the PDF version before) that Peter Mullen's stunning endpapers are in AD&D module-map blue! Frabjous day, calloo callay! Why is Peter Mullen not selling prints of his work? Or am I just too lame to find the place where he is selling prints?

Another Interview with Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan

Robot 6 has a new interview up with Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan, the writer-artist team on Dark Horse Comics' relaunch of Conan. There are some nice sample pages included with the interview. The first installment of "Queen of the Black Coast" hits next month.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

BFRPG Setting: Three Moon Forest

The setting I'm going to use for the boys' BFRPG game is Three Moon Forest, a setting originally developed for a 4E game that never came off. As its name suggests, Three Moon Forest is a massive woodland region. It may not literally take three moons' worth of time to cross from one end to another, but it sure feels like it. At the current moment, I have the following elements in mind for the setting:

1. Seven Forges - A dwarven settlement at the foot of the Kalderstones, a mountain range rising up out of the forest. The dwarves of Seven Forges ship their ore south, but lack easy access to river transport. So they move the ore overland to . . .

2. Last Landing - A human-dominated settlement at the highest navigable point on the Rusty River, a river flowing down out of the Kalderstones. Halfling-crewed barges take the dwarves' ore down river to other settlements while returning goods from the outside world up river.

3. Naddersfork - The next human settlement down river, located at the point where the Snake River flows into the Rusty. A stopping-over point for the barge crews.

4. The Hobshaws - The Rusty flows past this forested upland en route to Naddersfork. Since the Hobshaws are inhabited by numerous goblin tribes, that's a problem for trade. The goblins closest to the river have learned that toll-taking is a more profitable venture than outright raids, but there are always tribes further back in the hills looking for a piece of the action or trying to sneak a raid in when the river tribes aren't looking.

5. The Song Stones - Scattered across Three Moon Forest, these clearings contain ancient menhirs and serve as meeting sites for the elves of the wood—a more or less dispersed population with no fixed settlements of notable size.

What I'm missing is an adventure site. In the 4E version of the setting, there's an eladrin city that world-fell into the forest: its shattered remains are full of nasty fae creatures. Not sure how well that works as a mega-dungeon (or if I want to do the work of mapping it out). I'm not adverse to dropping in an established dungeon, but I would prefer one that isn't a meat-grinder for PCs: that's a portion of the Old School experience that I didn't care for as a teen and don't want to inflict on the boys. Thoughts?

(The image for this post is a shot of New Zealand's Pureora Forest.)

Monday, January 9, 2012

I Look Forward . . .

. . . to reading all of the various Dungeons & Dragons-related blogs and web fora over the next few months.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dipping a Toe in the Old School Pool

Since 2008, I've run a number of RPG sessions for the children of friends. Most of these sessions have been Fourth Edition D&D games: the boys have proven quite capable of handling that level of character detail without too much handholding. As a DM, though, I'm a bit worn out. I'd also like to move away from the battle mat and the token management that goes along with it. (When I put on my playing hat, though, I continue to love the tactical combat of the current edition.)

So I looked into the various retro-clones and simulacra of D&D for a game to run in place of Fourth Edition. I came into the hobby in 1980, receiving a copy of the Holmes Basic boxed set from my grandparents for my eleventh birthday. OD&D clones were therefore a non-starter: I had no real interest in attempts to replicate a game I never played. My background with AD&D prior to Second Edition was minimal, so I passed over those games as well.

In the end, my choice was always going to come down to one of the games based on Moldvay's B/X and/or Metzner's BECMI—the flavors of D&D that I played the most as a lad. There are some excellent BECMI clones out there, but I never really liked where Metzner took the game after level 14. Labyrinth Lord is a wonderful take on B/X, especially when Steve Zieser's atmospheric art is factored into the equation. But LL still preserves too many of the features that drove me away from D&D as a teen: level limits, race-as-class, energy drain, descending AC, and so on.

The last game standing was Chris Gonnerman's Basic Fantasy Roleplaying Game, a simulacrum preserving what I liked in B/X while jettisoning most of what I didn't like. I've put in an order for the hardcover edition of the book and am actively looking for a good low-level module that isn't a dungeon-crawl. Suggestions?