Saturday, 13 April 2019

Celebrating Basic 5th Edition rules


I'm a big fan of 5e D&D. It's a fantastic ruleset, but it still has some unnecessary bloat (for me) that has been prevalent in the editions since 1e. However, I do think the free Basic rules are the best version of the 5th edition rules. Sure, you don't get the customisation of the main rules, but I'm old school - customisation is for the birds. Give me a dwarf with a hammer and I'll have a great time.

So I'm going to celebrate Basic 5e in some of my blog posts (I also enjoy the term O5R). This is all about using the free ruleset for everything. Classes are Fighter, Rogue, Cleric and Wizard. Races are Human, Elf, Dwarf and Halfling. All those extra rules in the core books - tossed out. You don't need them. You've got 6 backgrounds, too. That's plenty of customisation without getting bogged down.

There's the added bonus that Basic 5e is free, but unlike a starter set takes you all the way to level 20. If you wanted to spice up your game with free, official settings, then why not have a look at the Magic the Gathering settings Wizards put out? All free to download, adding new elements to your basic game. You could play a campaign for years just using this ruleset and a setting.

Friday, 12 April 2019

James Smith has passed away

I woke up to some incredibly sad news today that James Smith of the Dreams of Mythic Fantasy blog has passed away at the young age of 50.

I didn't know James well, but we chatted online occasionally and I was always thankful when he mentioned me and my work on his superb weekly OSR ├▒ews roundup.

You can read the official announcement here.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Quiet roleplaying


Quiet roleplaying, or perhaps slow roleplaying, is something I've been thinking about lately. Often games can move a breakneck speeds, players go from one location to the next, hack up some bad dudes and find the treasure. It's a tried and tested playstyle that works. Some people enjoy gonzo elements, where their world is a little (or a lot) crazy. Some prefer high fantasy with bright shining towers, marauding orc hordes and sky-surfing wizards. Others enjoy a dungeon-running campaign full of tricks and traps.

While I enjoy all of the above, I'm putting forward an argument for quiet, introspective roleplaying. Rather than just being a style of play, it's a genre in itself. Quiet roleplaying focuses far less on combat and more on journeying through environments, uncovering the lost histories of place. It's a session spent around a campfire, allowing characters to bloom in conversation. Monsters may exist, but they are unique and rarely pure evil. They are more likely to guard places of meaning rather than locations filled with treasure. The King of Foxes guards the forest of his ancestors. Magic is low and subtle. No fireballs, but a flicker of flame from a finger. Magic users are a rarity, but they inspire awe.

Quiet roleplaying takes inspiration from celtic folklore. Omens come in threes, a magical item is unique and truly wonderful, swans become maidens.

Players won't be going on quests to save a kingdom. They will be making good with a local god, bringing water to a village in drought, finding a way to exorcise a phantom.

The GM should be asking the players how their characters feel about a given situation. Ask them to add elements to the world. What animals are around? Who do they see on the road?

Here is a list of elements in summary:

- Journeys and environmental hazards
- Introspection - with prompts by the GM
- Little combat
- Human centric
- Low magic
- Celtic folklore
- Exploring history of place
- Low treasure
- Places have meaning outside of the material
- Omens
- Sessions based in a single location
- Wilderness, not palaces
- Monsters are unique and unlikely evil

For some, this play style won't sound like much fun. It's not balls to the wall fantasy, but I think there's a place for the quieter side of roleplaying, the slowplay.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Beneath Dark Elms (T&T) out now


I'm happy to announce that my latest GM adventure for Tunnels and Trolls is out now in pdf. Beneath Dark Elms is a low level forest romp where things might not be as they seem. Includes cover art by the wonderful Simon Lee Tranter.

(GMs will see what I mean. It's a different set up to the usual adventure and I don't want to ruin it.)

It's £4 over at DriveThrurpg.

"Fixing" missile combat in Tunnels and Trolls

Image: The archer by Bonie Varghese

Tunnels and Trolls has a lot going for it, but one of the more confounding elements has ever been the use of missile weapons in combat. Each edition has its own version of how pelting monsters with arrows should work and you can see why it's tricky based on the fact T&T combat is abstract.

For me, the closest rule that makes sense is in 5th edition. Player makes a Dex roll against a specific creature. If it hits, the damage occurs no matter what side wins the round. However, missiles do not count towards the HPT. I can get on board with this - the advantage of being an archer is that you can stay in cover and snipe off monsters. The disadvantage is that you have to roll to see if you hit in the first place.

In 7th edition, your missile attack counted towards the party's HPT if they make their Dec roll, which makes archers incredibly potent - too potent, and in Deluxe, well, things get even wackier by having missiles contribute to the HPT even if they DON'T succeed their Dex roll. This means if two sides of archers shoot one another and all miss, one side will inevitably take damage. Nope.

So here's the Trollish Delver method:

- Ranged combatants make a Dex SR based on distance and opponent size as usual.

- If they succeed the roll, they roll their weapon dice. This will come straight off the monster's MR or Con, armour absorbing, regardless of which side wins the round. This does not contribute towards HPT.

- The opponent makes a Luck SR based on the archer's Dex (or MR) divided by 10, rounded up (so against an archer with 23 Dex, they would roll a L2 Luck SR). If they succeed, they take half damage from the hit.

- An archer can make a missile attack as normal against a creature not engaged in melee. If they are engaged in melee, the SR to hit is increased by a level.

- An archer may choose to 'steady their hand'. This decreases the Dex SR they need by one level (to a minimum of 1) but halves damage dealt on a hit.

- If an archer is met in melee combat, they can fire point blank, but they would also take the full damage the attacking creature rolled.

- In a solo adventure, missile combat can be used  prior to the first round of combat before the opponent attacks. The opponent doesn't get a Luck SR. The range is always considered to be point blank (L1SR).

Hopefully this helps make missile combat a little more even.

Friday, 22 March 2019

How to get started with Tunnels and Trolls


If you're new to the tabletop roleplaying hobby or have only played D&D, you may not have heard of Tunnels & Trolls. It's a shame, really, considering T&T was so ahead of its time on release, being the second roleplaying game to be published. Ultimately, T&T is a simplified roleplaying game that uses just six-sided dice rather than the usual mix of polyhedrons.

Tunnels & Trolls, created by Ken St. Andre and published by Flying Buffalo, is now in its eight incarnation and the game's still going strong with fan support. Today I wanted to talk a little about what T&T is and how you can start playing.

How is Tunnels & Trolls different to Dungeons & Dragons?

T&T might have the alliterative ampersanding title that matches its closest rival, but the game is anything but similar. For one, it's much simpler to play, owing to its universal saving roll mechanic. While it seems old hat now, the T&T saving roll was revolutionary - a universal roll for anything you want to do. A saving roll isn't the same as a D&D 'save' - it's more like a check, but can also be used as a save. Roll 2d6 plus your attribute to hit a target number (i.e. 20 for a first level check). Much simpler than having several types of saves and percentiles for abilities.

Combat is the other major difference, and man is it different. In T&T, combat is abstract. All players roll their characters' combat dice and the GM does the same for monsters. The side with the highest total wins, doing damage equal to the difference of both rolls. It's mind-shatteringly simple and it's a lot of fun. No, it's not as balanced as D&D. Nothing about T&T is balanced, but it's fun as hell.

Finally, the third big difference is the number of classes and races, which are called types and kindred in T&T. In fifth edition, there are three key types - wizard, warrior and rogue. A rogue is not a sneaky thief - it's a rogue wizard with fighting ability and limited spellcasting. In later editions there are different additions here, including ranger and paragon, but ultimately they do all boil down to these three types. Kindred, however and super varied. The key kindred are human, elf, dwarf, hobb, leprechaun and fairy, but there are loads more including minotaur, vampire, uruk, troll and even dragon. As I say, balance isn't really a thing in T&T.


What edition do I start with?


Both D&D and T&T have a wide number of editions and 'in between' editions to select from. The first edition is pretty rough and ready, but I'd argue it's easier to get into than original D&D, but I've not met many people who still play this edition. Generally, people are split into three camps: fifth, seventh and Deluxe (eighth).

Fifth edition is a fan favourite. Released in 1979, two years before D&D's B/X edition, fifth edition cemented what T&T is and has barely changed since. It's a simple, rules-lite game with the 'death spiral' combat rules, meaning opponents lose their dice as their get injured, leading them to become weaker as the fight progresses.

Seventh edition is pretty much the same, but with a few rules tweaks and no more death spiral. Deluxe is essentially the master version of the rules, with lots of bolt on rules should you want it, but it's all optional. In effect, each of these editions are pretty much compatible with one another.

As a new player, I would start with 5th edition to get your feet wet. It's inexpensive to buy in PDF form and won't take you long to read cover to cover.


What about published adventures? 

I'm not going to pretend that T&T has anywhere near the adventure output of D&D, but it does have its own unique take on adventures. Here are some of the classics of the game:


However, where T&T really shines is in its range of solo modules. That is, ones that you play on your own without a GM. There are more solo modules than GM ones, which probably gives you an indication as to the types of gamers T&T players are. Most of these are tough and you'll likely go through several characters before you best them. Here are some classics:

  • Naked Doom
  • Arena of Khazan
  • Blue Frog Tavern
  • Sword for Hire
  • Gamesmen of Kasar (a personal favourite of mine)
  • Mistywood
  • Deathtrap Equalizer

There are many, many more recent additions by some fantastic writers, and they're never particularly expensive. 


How can I get started right now?

If you're super impatient and want to get to playing in minutes, MetaArcade have a Tunnels & Trolls Adventures app where you can play a solid catalogue of solo adventures, including some of the classics I mentioned above. Just create your character and dive in.