Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Eleven Years and Little To Show For It...

Eleven. Years. 

Eleven years ago (in just a few short days), on September 26, 2009, I posted to my older now-deleted blog about a crazy idea I had to write a game (Don't fret. All those must-read posts have been merged into this blog now.) Like so many others, I had and still have, a love for cyberpunk and R.Talsorian's Cyberpunk RPG, and even moreso for the "cyberfantasy" sub-genre so wonderfully created by FASA with the publication of their Shadowrun RPG in 1989. That melding of the near-future dystopia and (now-retro) tech of Cyberpunk with the fantasy tropes found in Dungeons & Dragons was, to steal a phrase, magical. The rich setting of Shadowrun drew my interest like a moth to a flame, far more than "pure" Cyberpunk ever did, to be honest. There was just one problem though - the rules were a hot mess. We tried to puzzle them out and play the game, without much success. We finally gave up and went back to D&D. Nowadays, ANY version is too detailed for my taste, for sure.

I make no bones about the fact that I just want to play D&D. The rules that is, not necessarily the setting. And on top of that, while I'll happily play the current 5th Edition rules, I have little interest in running that game. My loyalty and preferences still lie with the earlier editions I played in my youth. Lighter and more streamlined, easier to bend, fold and mutilate without one change here causing some unforeseen issue in another part of the game. 



Eleven years ago, my sights were set on Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox as my engine of choice. Even today, it's a strong game, lovingly adopted and adapted by it's fans. Versions exist for Sci-Fi (White Star), the Spy/James Bond genre (White Lies), World War II era gaming (WWII: Operation WhiteBox) and many other lesser know variations. All excellent in their own right.  What I ultimately came to realize was that while that was a fine system, what I really wanted was good old B/X D&D. Over the intervening years, I also tinkered around with the more popular clones that emulate B/X - Labyrinth Lord and more recently, Advanced Labyrinth Lord, as well as Basic Fantasy RPG. Again, all fantastic games, but something kept holding me back. Enter Necrotic Gnome and Old-School Essentials (or OSE for short).

Much has been written by others much more eloquent than I, praising OSE. For those who haven't heard (where you been, kid?) OSE is a 100% accurate BX clone, published either as the single-volume tome I linked up above, or as a box set of five slim modular books. The material is presented in easy to use two-page spreads of information - an absolute stroke of genius in RPG layout and design. The five volume format consists of Core Rules (the BX engine, as it were), Genre Rules (genre-specific races, classes, equipment and so on), Spells, Monsters, and Treasures. As of this writing, the original five-book core set is "Classic Fantasy" - the original B/X material. Additionally, a recent Kickstarter campaign has also rounded out the "Advanced Fantasy" series of, gain, Genre Rules, Spells, Monsters, and Treasures all drawn from AD&D. We've already seen preliminary PDFs and eh new content is fantastic.  Necrotic Gnome has also hinted at a future Post-Apocalyptic Genre book - think Mad Max more than Gamma World.

Herein lies our path forward. The design of OSE takes much of the work off my plate. There's no need to reiterate the core rules of gameplay - writing for OSE compatibility lets me merely reference relevant portions of those rules as needed. I can focus my creative energy on just the relevant bits needed for my cyberpunk and/or Shadowrun conversions.  To that end, my current "plan" (and I use the term very loosely,) is to work on two separate OSE genre books: first, a "core" Cyberpunk book detailing the tech-based classes, cyberware, firearms and modern weaponry, how computers and hacking will work, vehicles and drones - all the trappings that fans of cyberpunk expect to see, and need to run their games. Secondly, a Cyberfantasy supplement which adds the rules for magical classes, fantastic races and the supporting rules and additional information to run a Shadowrun-inspired game.  I hope that may satisfy fans on both sides of the magical divide. My goal is to keep both volumes very generic in terms of setting, which should allow them to be used with material from other publishers, whether that be the Seattle sprawl of Shadowrun, Cyberpunk's Night City, or New Angeles from FFG's Android universe.

What else to say for now? Not much, I'd guess. Time to put up or shut up. Eleven years of thinking and talking about a thing is too long with nothing to show for it. I want to make this a reality, so time to git'r done. 

Finally, a tip o' the hat to user @Seph on the Old-School Essentials Discord server for cluing me in to the term "cyberfantasy" to so clearly describe Shadowrun. Much neater than lesser terms like Urban Fantasy have felt to me. Cheers mate!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Fatigue"-based Magic System Thoughts

Hey there everyone! Not very active here, am I? Well, such is life, but it doesn't mean that I don't still have ideas racing around in my head on this little project.  I still intend to do a "straight" cyberpunk ruleset as the initial phase of CHROME, but the fantasy bits will come, and the idea for a way to handle spell casting has more or less come together in my head over the last couple of days.  The rambling essay below is more to get it on paper than anything else. Thoughts and feedback are certainly welcomed.

Ok, so I've got this idea for a more free-form magic system than the "stock" D&D version. I might well be right off my rocker on this. It's inspired by a few things - the idea of a spell point system rather than strict Vancian memorization, the S&W/Akratic Wizardry magic house rules where spells burn hit points as a measure of fatigue, and an optional bit tagged on the end that harkens back to Shadowrun's dice pool & spell fatigue concepts. Kind of. I want a more 3E sorcerer feel to magic - a limit on available spells, but more freedom to cast them at will. 

MUs gain a pool of spell points equal to their level, and spells cost one SP per level to cast. Casting will first use the points drawn from this pool - an arcane "battery" if you will, that represents them being stronger in magic as they increase in level. You'll note however, that a third level MU has just 3 points - that's just 3 first level spells, or one first and one second, compared to 3 first and 1 second under the standard system. So, on top of these spell points, the MU can continue to cast spells by burning HP instead of designated SP. This method assumes you look at hit points in the abstract sense of being a measure of luck, fatigue, nicks & scraps rather than real damage. As you use up HP, you become more fatigued, finally falling unconscious at 0. In my games, death doesn't occur at zero, but rather at -HP equal to level + CON bonus, representative of "real" damage below zero.

Since MUs have relatively low HP this doesn't seem too overpowered to me, but allows them the option of casting more spells per day if they are willing to pay the price. If they end up in more combat later on, they are already down on HP and easier to kill.

Casters still use the MU spells memorized table for the spells in their head, available to cast at any given time, and they can change what they have memorized after a nights rest. I'm thinking they also can have a number of additional spells memorized equal to their INT modifier, that can be used for any level of spells they are able to cast. So, a third level MU with a 17 INT would memorize 3 first level and 1 second level spell, plus two more of either level, for a total load-out of six spells available to cast.

The last piece of the puzzle is the idea of a dice pool as a further power balancing mechanic. Since I've allowed them to memorize more spells than normal, there should be a chance to lose those as well - a skill check sort of thing. After casting a spell, the MU rolls a number of d6 equal to his level. If he rolls at least one 6, then the spell is cast, SP (or HP) burned and he retains the spell in memory to be cast again. If the roll comes up ALL 6s, it's a critical success and the spell goes off WITHOUT using up any spell points. Conversely, if the roll comes up all ONES, it's a critical failure and while the spell is cast successfully, it is lost from memory until re-memorized the next day. I'm iffy on this part - not sure if the spell should fail as well on a critical failure.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Ten Questions

Late to jump on the bandwagon here, but this seemed like a fun exercise to help nail down some concepts and background for my campaign...

Without further ado, my answers to Random Wizard's "Ten Questions." There are a few other sets of these around and maybe I'll try to answer those too, just to round things out.  We'll see.

Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes or no?
Yes, definitely. I cut my teeth on B/X, and still run Classic D&D.  I strongly believe in races being archetypal in my campaigns, so Race-as-Class is a given.  That said, I also believe more variety for my players is better, and makes them happier, so I use the ACKS model of multiple racial classes.

Do demi-humans have souls?
Honestly, I never gave this one much thought.  My players haven't tried to have anyone Raised, so it hasn't come up. I use fey races that do not. My elves are more fey than BTB elves, so they would not either.  The other "standard" demi-humans in Caldera (dwarves, halflings and orcs) do.


Ascending or descending armor class?

Ascending. Heretical, I know.  I use an attack bonus combat system rather than tables or Thac0 and just convert descending on the fly.

Demi-human level limits?

Theoretically, yes.  Got to give they some reason to play humans.  Of course, I haven't had anyone reach the limit either so it hasn't mattered in practice.

Should thief be a class?

Absolutely.  Didn't start on OD&D, so for me the thief has always been a core class.  I don't like the granularity of percentile skills though, and use a modification of the thief in Delving Deeper which allows improvement of the skills.

Do characters get non-weapon skills?

That they can choose from? No. Skills related to your class are built into the classes, plus I'll wing it based on the player's character concept and background.

Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)?

Eventually, yes.  It's part and parcel of the class.  Just need to survive long enough to develop that power.  When do they take the lead? Not really sure - I suppose that's variable depending upon the spells they've chosen over time.

Do you use alignment languages?

No, don't make any sense to me.  I use cultural/regional human languages instead.

XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc...)?

Primarily just for monsters and gold.  Using your class abilities to reach your objectives is your job.  Do your job, you find treasure and then gain your XP from it.

Which is the best edition; ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E DD, 4E DD, Next ?

Best is ridiculously objective.  I have my preferences (Moldvay, Mentzer, RC) but pull the bits I like from anywhere I happen to find them, regardless of edition.

Bonus Question: Unified XP level tables or individual XP level tables for each class?

Individual.  It's part of the "balance" between classes as I see it.

Friday, May 17, 2013

More OGL Musings

I've rambled on in the past about my waffling on the OGL.  I don't play Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry for the most part. I own the real D&D books - B/X, Rules Cyclopedia, OD&D - and primarily use those as my references when I run my game at the table. I play D&D, as heavily house-ruled as it may be, as opposed to one of the clones. As a result of that house-ruling and such, I need to be able to share those changes and additions with my players.  My issue has long been that I also want to share my creations with the online community, but at the same time, I'm too lazy to do it right, all OGL-legal and official.

It was actually this post by Dyson Logos, where he explains his reasoning behind NOT sharing his work in a PDF format, that ultimately clarified my own position on the OGL.

I find great inspiration in the boundless creativity of the online OSR community. Blogs, forums, Google+: These all contribute a wealth of information and like most other gamers I'm sure, I make great use of what I find.  Sometimes it's used whole cloth, other times it tweaked, folded or mutilated into something I can use. But for something that will ultimately only be used at my table, I don't want to be bothered keeping track of where exactly I found a particular useful tidbit - who wrote it, it's OGL info if there even is any.  Credit where credit is due, yeah that's important, but mostly it's not very recognizable as the original material anyway.  To be honest, I don't know where the line is that makes it the original OGL content they shared versus something inspired by that, but no longer the same.

Artwork is also an issue.  I'm no artist and my booklets and documents I use at the table are all gussied up with real artists copyrighted works.  I don't have permission to use them and could never get it. But you know what?  I decided I don't really care.  I'm not making a penny sharing this stuff, and I see it as free advertising.  If  someone ever sees their work in a PDF I post on the blog here and wants it pulled, then just ask and I'll remove it, or put a credit in there if that's enough to satisfy.  I'm not a dick.

So here's how it will work going forward.  I love to see other peoples house rule books, campaign guides and all that (Outland and Planet Eris, I'm looking at you).  It's great to see how they've lovingly done all the layout work to ape the format of the OD&D booklets, or the old Mystara Gazetteers, and that's the cool looking stuff I want to share too. Part of the fun for me is playing around in Photoshop making covers and fiddling with layouts and making things look pretty and "official." Making the houserule and player reference booklets I throw out on the table for my players look like real supplements to the books I use as DM. It is what it is, and I want to share the fruits of those labors.  Occasionally, I'll throw a PDF up here someplace for people to look at if they are interested  They won't be legal, or OGL compatible in any way.  Just your run of the mill fan works.  They'll use trademarked D&D terms or TSR era content WOTC won't let us use in OGL products.  They'll have art and non-TSR content that may or may not be credited to the creators.  These are documents I made for me, not for you, but I also don't want them to languish on my hard drive with no one but me getting any use out of them. Enjoy them for what they are.

Like Dyson's maps and content on his blog, the content posted here on the blog is yours to use. Steal away.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Happy Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day everyone!  I know you've all got a lot of blogs to get through today, so I'll try not to keep you here too long.  Anyway, I'm sure there are plenty of blogs with much better content than this sad thing - I just wanted to share a little something and be a part of the fun.

I thought I'd take a two-pronged approach and talk just a bit about what I'm doing with S&W. 

The Kingdoms in Trevail Fantasy Campaign
First, know that WhiteBox is my edition of choice.  While I like tweaks that Matt added in the "final" version he released into the wild, I ultimately decided to stick with the BHP version.  I've got the booklet PDFs, so I can easily print off table copies of only the booklets my players will need to reference, while keeping all the DM info out of their grubby hands. I've also got the hardcover single-volume for my own reference. In the tradition of OD&D, I've got a separate supplement booklet that covers my changes of the core game: new classes and races, house rules and such.


Chrome - A Cyberpunk Supplement
I've talked about my love of the cyberpunk genre in the past and won't rehash that here.  Suffice it to say, while it's Shadowrun I enjoyed the most, and one I envision doing a retro-inspired game as a long-term project, my shorter-term goal is to hash out a supplement for OD&D, Delving Deeper, S&W or whatever your rules-light system of choice may be.  I chose WhiteBox because of it's elegance and the fact that a couple of it's unique features will lend themselves to my vision.  Double-statted AC and Single Saving Throw- I'm looking at you! The S&W supplement will let me work out the basics of a near future rules set - firearms, vehicles and drones, computer hacking and so on.

Paying the Piper: Some Examples


The "Success Escalation" Skill Check
Within the rules of OD&D is a rudimentary skill system which carried on through the Holmes rules and into the B/X and BECMI box sets. Under those rule sets we see a base 1 in 6 chance for a PC to accomplish a desired task.  In addition, there will be special cases where a particular class or race expands those chances to 2 or even 3 in 6.

With that as a base, I use the following system:  First, I've established that any PC can attempt a given task at a base 1 in 6 chance of success.  If the task is judged to fall within the realm of the PC's class, the base chance of success is increased.  At 1st level the base chance of success is 2 in 6.  This increases to 3 in 6 at 5th level and 4 in 6 at 10th level.

All skill checks are made by rolling 3d6, with "successes" at the chances noted above, resulting in 1, 2 or 3 successes for a given skill check.  In cases where the skill check results in a binary yes/no result, a single success is all that is required for the PC to have accomplished his goal.  However, there will often be cases where the degree of success is important.  Negotiation for the purchase or sale of merchandise, gathering of information, or perhaps the determination of how long it takes to pick a lock or disarm a trap, for example. One success yields a positive result, but under sub-optimal conditions.  Two successes is an average success, merely adequate. Finally, three successes indicates a n exceptional result.

So to illustrate, using the purchase of a rare item as our example:
1 Success - PC barters poorly, item available for purchase, but at 150% of the rulebook price.
2 Successes - Average results, item can be had at the standard price.
3 Successes - PC is a smooth talker, dickers the price down to just 50% of the standard price.

A "Kingdoms In Trevail" Fantasy Race
The Orc
The brutish Orc is the most primal of the demi-human races, most typically found in the borderlands and on the fringes of society.  Their tough and war-like nature means that Orcs are often employed as mercenary shock troops or scouts for wilderness exploration.  Orcish culture tends to be militaristic, as if they themselves realize that the enforcement of strict order is all that keeps them from reverting to wild beasts.

Orcs usually range from 6’ to 6 1/2’ in height and weight 200+ pounds. You must have a minimum Strength of 12 to play an Orc character.

Orcish Race Abilities
Character Advancement:  Most Orcs advance as Fighters, and may progress as far as 6th level. More rare is the Orc Shaman, who may advance to 4th level as a Magic-User.

Weapon and Armor Restrictions:  Seemingly born with a weapon in their hand, Orcish fighters excel in the arts of war and consequently have no weapon or armor restrictions. Orcish shaman have no weapon restrictions, however they are limited to leather armor only.

Saving Throw:  Due to their inherent toughness, Orcs make all Saving Throws as if they were two levels higher.

Languages: or campaigns which give each race their own dialect, Orcs should be able to speak the languages of goblins, hobgoblins and gnolls.

Wild Instincts:  Orcs have an uncanny ability for threat detection. They will only be surprised on a roll of 1 in 6 and this danger sense applies whether the source is natural, magical or supernatural.

Intimidation:  Orcs may use their ferocious reputation and brutish appearance to bully and intimidate others into obedience.  They receive a bonus to reaction rolls as if their Charisma were two points higher.

Stealth: When in the wilderness, Orcs are skilled at using the terrain to move without being noticed by his prey or his enemies.


While I do have some of the details of Chrome worked out, I think I'll keep those under my hat a bit longer and save them for another day.  There are a heck of a lot more blogs for you to go check out today and I won't keep you here any longer.

Happy Gaming - Swords & Wizardry style!

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Host


THIS one...
Having a 13 year old daughter, it should come as no surprise to anyone in a similar position to know that she wanted to go see The Host this past weekend. Based on a novel by Stephanie Meyer, the brains behind Twilight, needless to say I was not overly enthused. My vote was for Olympus Has Fallen. But being the Dad of the Year, I took one for the team to go see it with her.

I do try to go into these things with an open mind, and maybe pull something interesting from it for my game. The story is essentially a love triangle with a twist. Alien invaders have taken over the planet, aside from small pockets of human resistance. The aliens are a parasitic species who are implanted into a human host body and take it over, usually crushing the original spirit/consciousness of the human. Of course this time it isn't that easy and the original person and the parasitic alien need to share the body, kind of anyway. So, two people in one body, they naturally fall in love with two different people. Blah. Still, not the utter trash I had expected it to be and I did get an idea or two.
NOT this one.

I did like the idea of the parasitic controllers with a noticeable "tell." Infected humans eyes change so it's obvious they are controlled by the aliens. Might be an interesting cyberpunkish future setting point. Aliens controlling people, resistance trying to blend in and can mimic the eyes via surgery or something.

Was it a great movie? No. But if your young tween daughters want to go see it, you could have it worse. It could be Twilight... One thumb up.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

More Cover Concepts

Just noodling around with my covers on a lazy Sunday morning - it's what I do for inspiration.  Curious what people think of them.

On the OD&D front, I realized I used the image off the cover of "View From the Edge" and not the  CP 2013 box art.  I also made the red color a bit darker and changed the TSR "Wizard" logo to a small image of Alt from the CP books.

Since I had gotten some feedback about the name "cyber74", I'm trying something else.  How does just plain "Chrome" strike you?


Will have some time this afternoon to do some writing.  Going to try and work through an outline/table of contents, and get some other thoughts out on paper.  Will keep you updated!