Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Moldvay Gems

The cool kids all seem to be raving about the offerings over at dndclassics.com, especially the Moldvay edition of Basic D&D.  Being the tech savvy luddite that I am, I scored a hard copy of those rules via eBay.

As is the custom, having read these rules cover to cover, allow me a post to point out a couple of  details that had escaped my notice lo these many years.  We'll skip the big and obvious things - a quick run around the blog-o-scape reveals that I'm not the first - and talk about just three of the many rediscovered wonders in this tight little book.  Others have pointed out quirks like inheritance, cure light wounds negating paralysis, and the variable bonuses for CHA vs. the other five stats.  These are the three things I haven't seen discussed elsewhere.

1.  Dwarves as race.  It's not what you think.  Fans of Basic D&D know there are four races of players (human, halfling, elf, and dwarf), but according to the rules as written, dwarves are also people of color.  Page B9 states, "Their skin is earth-colored and their hair is dark brown, gray, or black."  The conjures images of the faerie-folk like master craftsman of Norse myth moreso than the Warcraft style stocky vikings with Scottish accents.  It's not a big deal, but it is yet another indication that early D&D owes less to Tolkien and more to the myths that Tolkien himself drew on.  Speaking of which...

2.  Elves are short.  Again, from page B9, "They are 5 to 5 1/2 feet tall and weigh about 120 pounds."  These aren't tall, willowy beings that peer haughtily down their noses at the stumpy humans.  They are elves of the old world - another detail that's been lost through the decades.

3.  Monsters move really slowly when they aren't in combat or chasing food (i.e. meddling adventurers).  Let's look to the movement section where adventurers move at a sedate 120 feet per ten minute turn.  That seems slow, but it accounts for, "mapping carefully*, searching, and trying to be quiet" (page B19).  Monsters are given movement rates on a per turn basis as well (page B29).  Because they also move carefully, map, and search?

Probably not.  This is most likely a hold over from the earliest Gygax days when any player could have a character of any race. The grognards report that ol' Gary would let folks play level 1 monsters of any stripe, but that the characters started out the lowest HD of that type.  If you wanted to be a vampire, you started as a skeleton, advanced through zombie, and so on until you hit Vampire HD.

I could be wrong, but it makes more sense than the idea that the goblins that ran into the party were mapping the dungeon, searching for traps, and trying to keep quiet. Those bad boys are on their home turf here.

*Incidentally, this line in the book is what leads me to interpret searching for secret doors as an "always on" ability; the first time a party passes by a secret door they have a 1 in 6 chance of noticing it (2 in 6 if a dwarf or elf is with them) even if they don't state they are specifically looking.  If they state they are doing so, they get a second chance where the player rolls the die.  It makes it a little more likely that doors are found, which is fine by me - secret doors are part of the fun of exploration, and I don't put them there to not be used.

Friday, February 7, 2014

AAR: The Necromancer's End, Part 2

To recap:  Our humble and noble Necromancer was passing innocently through a pleasant wooded glade when he was viciously accosted by a troop of inbred and illiterate ogres.  
The Necromancer, his assistant, and his skeletal party were heading south through the forest as shown here. The ugly ogres and their pet troll, spotting a potential victim, immediately headed in for the kill.  Being slow and stupid, this took quite a while.  First one ogre would shamble forward, then the other.  Thanks to their bumbling ineptitude, the Necromancer had plenty of time to organize a defense.

Rushing through the fallen columns of an ancient abandoned temple, lurking behind any available hiding place, the cowardly and thuggish Warchief split off one ogre and the troll to cross the stream at a narrow footbridge (on the right of the photo).

The Necromancer, fearing for the safety of his lizardman employee, chose to split his own forces.  He stationed three shooters to the west and gathered up his five swordsmen to the east.

The first of the ogres foolishly charged the shooters on the left, clearly signalling his murderous intent.  The handsome and dashing Necromancer whipped up a bit of sorcery, and transfixed the ogre in place.  The skeleton archers, the weakest fighters in the battle, somehow manage to defend themselves and their beloved boss by knocking their attacker out of the fight.

Meanwhile, to the west, one of the wall-eyed knuckledragging ogres was hurling massive boulders across the stream, to no effect.

The ogres finally sent their heavy hitter across the bridge and straight into the massed rank of skeletal warriors.

The brave Necromancer met the threat head-on.  His warriors swarmed the Troll, to little effect, until the Necromancer himself tranfixed the savage troll, which allowed his warriors to desperately work together to dispatch the relentless beast.  That feral and probably rabid beast put out of its misery, they turned their attention to the ogre waiting nearby, but disaster struck!  The Necromancer, having spent his spell points healing orphans and saving kittens from high trees, found his reserves depleted - no more could he call upon his ancient arts to protect his poor bony friends from the depredations of the Warchief and his minions.  Alas and alack!

On the eastern front, the archers fought one ogre to a stalemate.  Time was not on the archers' side, however, as the foul and greedy Warchief slowly picked his way across the bubbling brook.  Adding his considerable (and most likely alcoholic) weight to the fight proved to be too much for the skeletal archers.  At odds of 3:1 they stood a fighting chance, but at 3:2 the outcome was inevitable - two standing ogres and a pile of bones.

With the death of one too many friendly skeletons, the Necromancer encouraged his skeletons to quit the field.  After a brief start, they reconsidered and rushed back to assist their beloved employer, who stands alone to buy them time to escape. 

Alas.  The Necromancer's erstwhile reinforcements arrived too late.  As they reached the fight, the Necromancer was sent spinning through the brush, his poor lifeless body as crushed as his love of all things good and just.  The Warchief celebrated his victory over the innocent and humble Necromancer in the traditional dim-witted way of his kind, by looking for some other poor soul to beat up on.  

Guess which faction was run by your humble host.
Aftermath:  So this battle pitted a large force of easily activated weaklings against a larger force of poorly motivated brutes.  The ogre player got off to a rough start, pushing his luck by rolling for two actions.  With 4+ figures, that didn't work out so well.  His Warchief in particular took himself out of the game completely.  Late in the game, he went with a slower and more methodical approach by throwing just one dice for each ogre.  That way they each got a chance to do something each round rather than risk having that first guy come up snake eyes and wasting a full turn standing around.

The real back-breaker was that triple-failure roll on the Necromancer's spellcasting early in the fight.  A fallen troll triple-teamed by skeletons still has the advantage in the fight, but a transfixed troll is at their mercy.

For my part, I made the mistake of using my Leader (the wizard) to order the melee skeletons around.  He would have been far more successful ordering the archers to combine fire while shooting energy bolts at a target.  That way even a lost fight wouldn't have resulted in a casualty.

Live and learn.

We're still learning the ins and outs of this game, but hope next to run a more complicated battle between a small adventuring party and an orcish warband.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

AAR: The Necromancer Meets A Grisly End

Tonight saw the Abox clan rip off a quick game of Song of Blades and Heroes, our first proper game of the fantasy flavor of Ganesha Games' lineup.  Everyone got involved, even the baby.  How's that for a thin excuse to bore you with baby pictures?  Hey, she's holding a Pendraken 10mm ogre, so technically this counts as a miniature wargame photo.
Of course she desperately wanted to pop that ogre in her mouth.
Should have given her 28mm figures - lot harder to choke on those.
Our forces tonight consisted of the Necromancer (3/1) and his retinue of eight skeletons (3/2) and one lizardman assistant (3/3). This poor innocent wizard was passing through a dark wood one pleasant night when they were viciously accosted by a troop of vile, thuggish ogres.
Skeletal bowmen, wizard, lizardman, and skeletal warriors.
Bored and looking for trouble, the ignorant and probably syphilitic ogre known only as Warchief (4/4), prowled the area with four nasty, brutish, and short tempered thugs (4/4) and their pet/watchdog, the Troll (5/4).
Warchief, three warriors, a shooter, and the Troll.
This pleasant land of odd trees, a babbling brook, and the ruins of an ancient temple looks calm, but a storm is brewing.
Limited terrain selection for this outing.
You can expect a full AAR sooner rather than later, but the biggest take home lesson for this first game is that I don't have near enough terrain for fantasy.  A stream, a couple of trees, and a few hedges doesn't provide nearly enough visual interest or tactical challenges.  This field needs some genuine woods and hills.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Song of Crack and Meth

In an effort to play more games with the limited collection of painted figures that I have ready now*, I've been dabbling in Ganesha Games' Song of... series of rules.  The results were cautiously optimistic.

After a bit more faffing about the internet, it looks more and more like my big mistake was in starting with Mutants and Death Ray Guns.  It's got no points costs, focus on low-power weapons, and a few other wrinkly bits.  It's a good starter set, but not quite the generic ruleset I was hoping for.  The consensus seems to be that Flying Lead makes a better all-around generic sci-fi skirmish set.  It's a bit more complicated, and it needs one or more quick fixes (hat tip to Dale for these) to really suit your own personal taste.  What game doesn't?  Throw in a dash of Fear and Faith for some alien (the force/psionic?) powers and you've got a nice flexible set of rules.


Which means I'm likely going to be sending another $16 Ganesha Games' way in short order.  Which brings my total investment in this beer and pretzels game to almost $40...first taste is free my friend, gotta pay for the rest.  It's an interesting business model, this Chinese water torture form of rules collection, but I'm not complaining.  Heck, some games you can't buy a figure for eight bucks, let alone a full ruleset.

*Before diving back into platoon level skirmish, I really need to paint up another couple of squads of GZG's Space Mercs with some sort of auxiliaries like power armor.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Quick Size Comparison

A while back I posted my 15mm sci-fi dwarf army which features a pair of heavy power armor troops.  The main force is composed of rebel miniatures with a few 15mm.co.uk figs for a command squad.  The power armor consists of Hasslefree's 15mm Grymn figures.  Now you can buy assault backpack weapons that make the things look even more...mechy?  Mechish?  Mech-like?

I'm not a big fan of the sprues.  They look a little over the top for my tastes.  And I'm not a big fan of using the Grymn figures for standard power armor.  The limbs are not proportioned right to fit a human sized trooper like armor, and the chest cavity looks like a tight fit for a guy curled up in the fetal position.  Some folks disagree, and in a bid to save them from the path of error, here's a quick shot proving that I'm right.

Rebel dwarf, 15mm.co.uk dwarf, GZG orc, Khurasahn human, rebel human, Hasslefree Grymn in powerarmor
Naturally, this is a YMMV situation, but if this reference photo helps folks make up their minds one way or the other, it's worth it.  Here we can see that the Grymn figures tower over humans, standing somewhere between 12 and 15 feet high.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mutant Test Drive

It's hard to be a middle-aged wargamer who doesn't own a table.  Living in limbo while searching for a decent place to live forced your humble host to choose between comfort (a sofa) and utility (a table).  Comfort won in a landslide.  Tonight, though, tonight things worked out such that the boy and I were able to steal away a corner of the living room to spread out a battlefield and take a freshly bought copy of Ganesha Games' Mutants and Death Ray Guns for a little spin.

Humans on patrol.
Mutants and Death Ray Guns is a tidy little ruleset designed for skirmishing in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  We chucked that setting and built two fairly evenly matched forces just to see how the bones of the system play out.  The rules are essentially the same as those used in a sister game called A Song of Blades and Heroes, which utilize a hybrid IGOUGO and activation system.

Orcs on a mission.


We set up a fight between two six-man (or six-orc) teams each with one leader and one specialist - a flamethrower for the humans and a light machine gun for the orcs.  After each game turn, we rolled a d6, added the turn that just ended, and if the result was 10 or more, whoever had the most guys inside the round park would be the winner. Nothing too fancy, but as I said, we wanted to try the basic game before we started to add in a bunch of different rules and exceptions. 
The battlefield.
The orcs hit the park first, with the humans setting up nice wide flanking moves, but the game was decided in turn two when the human flamethrower got hit hard and died a gruesome death.

That orc in the foreground is about to murder the yellow-suited
human on the next building over.  You can see another human
bleeding out to the right of the building, too.
We figured that the flamethrower got hit by an errant bullet and went up in a huge ball of fire.

The orcs make a run using a building for cover.
The game pretty much bogged down into a static firefight once the orcs got stuck in the park - which played to their advantage.  We found the game moved fast once you figured out the modifiers, but man, we spent four turns just shooting and rolling without a lot of maneuver.  That's probably a fair representation of a real firefight, but it got to be a little tedious after a while.  Could have been our dice rolling, too.  Lot's of low rolls and tie scores in this one.

Eventually, the humans made a rush for things, but they waited a little too long.  After turn six the game was over, with the orcs fully in charge.  Each side had lost two figures - one away from a forced morale check.

Power sword orc leader about to make minced human.
The whole game took just over an hour - fifteen minutes longer than it says on the tin - but we may be able to speed that up with a little more experience.  It also felt a little flat, but our forces were practically mirror images of each other.  A few more special abilities and differing skills and such (like a horde army against a small elite force) should freshen things up a bit more, too.

I'll go into a little more depth on the rules and what we did right and wrong later.  For now, it's good to be back even with a half-assed AAR like this one.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

(Finally) Back to the Dungeon

Over a year ago, I showed you lot a map of my version of the Lost Temple of Laun Phien (link), and we finally got around to playing through it.  Last night a small but plucky crew headed out into the grasslands to explore/loot the haunted barrow mound of a long lost norseman berzerker king.  Remember them?  These are the guys chased out of the empire by the evil wizard Bargle.  They are on their way to raising an army to march back and overthrow him - overthrow him onto the sharp end of a pointy stick.

A warrior, cleric, and two elves set out from Cornerstone Keep, and after a couple days stumbled onto a band of orcs tormenting a poor wounded wolf.  They saved the wolf, now named Toby, and descended into the dark a few days later.  They scared off some skeletons, fought through traps, discovered lost libraries and laboratories, and were thoroughly confused by the ever changing nature of the caves.

[I had an egg timer set for 10 minutes - every time the bell rang, the dungeon configuration changed as discussed in the link above.  Searching for secret doors, which takes 10 minutes, the same thing happened and the timer reset.]

The kids figured out what was happening pretty quick, but they haven't made a concerted effort to figure out the pattern just yet.  For their first foray, they were just glad to find the way out.  Here's the map they came up with.

Two hours after entering the dungeon, they confronted the spirit of the norse king - a skeletal figure in horned helm who put down the warrior and cleric and wolf, before a rain of silver arrows dropped him into a burbling vat of black poisonous tar.  The plucky heroes loaded a couple of grand in gold onto their mule, Jerry, only to find that the quick walk back to the loot had once again changed.

Tired, hurt, and running low on food, they made their way back to the Keep where they fended off the queries of other would-be grave robbers, rested up, divvied up the gold, and generally prepared for the next big adventure.