Sunday, October 31, 2010

Adding A. Merritt to the List

After more copyright research, I'm adding A. Merritt to the list from yesterday. I will return to posting about gaming-related matters after this (promise).

Abraham Merritt

Definitely (as one omnibus):

Possibly (researching copyright renewal after 1923):

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Books Likely to Be Published by the Pulp Fantasy Society

A tentative list that the Pulp Fantasy Society will take on as reprint projects in the next six months. Note that this will likely change as we take on members and leaders in the project--and of course according to what all of you want to see revived in a public book form.

Edgar Rice Burroughs
Barsoom books (likely in one omnibus edition)
A Princess of Mars
The Gods of Mars
The Warlord of Mars
Thuvia, Maid of Mars
The Chessmen of Mars

Pellucidar books (one omnibus)
At the Earth's Core

Lord Dunsany (likely in one or two compiled editions)
The Gods of Pegana 
Time and the Gods 
The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories 
A Dreamer's Tales 
The Book of Wonder 
Fifty-One Tales Tales of Wonder 
Tales of Three Hemispheres 
Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley

E.R. Eddison
The Worm Ouroboros

Clark Ashton Smith
Poetry (up to 1923)

H.P. Lovecraft (one omnibus)
The Tomb
A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson
Beyond the Wall of Sleep
The White Ship
The Doom that Came to Sarnath
The Statement of Randolph Carter
The Street
The Terrible Old Man
The Cats of Ulthar
The Tree

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (both nearly completed with new artwork, maps, and reformatting)
The White Company
Sir Nigel

Thursday, October 28, 2010

More on Public Domain Fantasy and Sci-fi

I found an interesting addition to this on Wikipedia (though I would not recommend it as a source for legal advice in general):

"Works published with notice of copyright or registered in unpublished form on or after January 1, 1923, and prior to January 1, 1964, had to be renewed during the 28th year of their first term of copyright to maintain copyright for a full 95-year term. With the exception of maps, music, and movies, the vast majority of works published in the United States before 1964 [my emphasis added] were never renewed for a second copyright term."

Included in this area is some truly great work such as H. Beam Piper's space opera classic Space Viking. All the more reason to help get these books back into people's hands.

More details and follow-up on developments with the Pulp Fantasy Society to follow later today.  

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Proposal for a Pulp Fantasy Society

A little over two months ago I was surprised to learn that Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom was almost completely in the public domain in the United States (hey, I often come late to parties). Upon digging further my surprise went over into a mild shock when I started finding that a big chunk of the older entries of Gygax's famous Appendix N were now in the public commons as well.

Think about it a second, much written material copyrights before January 1, 1923 has now passed over into this realm. The first five of Burroughs' Barsoom books, ten Tarzan, and two Pellucidar novels are now public. All of the works of Lord Dunsany are in the public domain. Nearly all of Abraham Merritt's novels are too, as is a good chunk of Clark Ashton's Smith's work.

Thinking of all the time, money, and energy I have expended collecting out-of-print editions—and worse jacked-up priced re-issues from small for-profit presses--the thought crossed my mind that there just simply has to a better more accessible way to get this work into people's hands.

I mean sure one could cobble together text and PDF files from this site or the other or download free or $.99 editions for a $200-plus Kindle. But I--and I would hazard a guess many of you--love the feel of a book in my hand far more than straining eyes on a screen.

So here's my modest proposal. I am seeking to launch with like-minded souls a not-for-profit literary society, club, or cooperative (possibly incorporated as a 501(c) non-profit corporation) that will aim to accomplish the following goals:

1. Promoting ways to honor the work of these writers and their descendants.

2. Producing tasteful reformatted, book-length compilations of the public domain work of Burroughs, Dunsany, Merritt, Smith, and other fantasy greats. These books will likely feature:
  • Original introductions and essays written by society members.
  • Appropriate public domain artwork from the time period and/or original artwork from society members.
  • The most inexpensive cover and distribution prices we can allow taking away our overhead costs and allowances for a degree of quality (inexpensive, not cheap).

3. Producing related gaming material from these sources such as setting books, adventures, rules adaptions, etc. Again an eye will be given to the three points from above.

So who's game? Next Tuesday night I will be organizing a conference call for interested parties. Write to me at kutalik at gmail dot com for details.

Monday, October 25, 2010

D&D, The New Yorker, and Painful Adolescence

This is old news for some, but there was a well-written—if painful—short story with a heavy D&D theme in high-brow flagship mag The New Yorker earlier this month. Written by forty-something novelist Sam Lipsyte the story rang very true to me in its depiction of how the game was played in the early 80s on occasion by that awkward mutant breed called the teenager.

The story was a great wake-up call for me on my sentimental binge about early gaming years. Nostalgia tends to blot out the bad times over decades and leave you with the warm fuzzy ones. I tend to remember the laughter, fun, and mystery of games with my brother and close friends—and forget about the times like the jerk-wad in 8th grade who literally kicked me in the balls after I killed the 50th level Anti-Paladin he imported from his Monty Haul game. Oucha.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Mountebank Class, Take Two

Work on revisions to my variant classes continues apace (new ones coming down the pike too). That scamp the Mountebank has been reworked: carte-blanche illusionist spellcasting is replaced with a set of special abilities. Level advancement has been lowered to reflect the change—and to be more in line with the metrics of the system I posted the other day.

Special thanks for feedback and inspiration to Mack and Brad from the tabletop group and to Jonathan Becker for some cross-fertilization. And big play-testing thanks to the Siggy Tomb Raiders group our ongoing revolving GM Skype group): Scott, Dan, Bill, and of course Brent (aka Guanillo).

Requirements: INT 13, DEX 13, CHR 13
Prime Requisite: CHR
Hit Dice: 1d4
Maximum Level: None

The mountebank is the consummate con artist of the medieval-fantasy world. By use of smooth talk, sleight of hand, and magical illusion the mountebank stays one step of the law—and earns a decent living in the mean time. Because of their specialized skill set they are often also employed as spies.

As a sub-class of the thief, they are allowed to wear leather armor and use any weapon. They are also allowed to pick pockets, move silently, hide in shadows, listen at doors, and back stab as per a thief of the equivalent level. They can further use disguises as per the assassin class. All saving and combat throws are made on the thief table.

They are also able to use a new skill, sleight-of-hand, at the level they can pick pocket--plus an additional 15 percent. Sleight of hand allows the mountebank to move, switch out, or otherwise manipulate without being noticed a hand-sized object.

They are restricted to only using magic items open to thieves until ninth level at which time they can also begin to use items available to illusionists.

At ninth level, the mountebank attracts a crew of 2d6 grifters, con-men, and other ne'er do wells (1st level mountebanks) as followers.

Mountebanks cannot be lawful or “good” in alignment.

Beginning at first level, a mountebank can use their smooth fast-talking and arcane powers to create semi-magical effects. All abilities are dependent on the character being able to talk in a language understandable to the target.

Mountebank Special Abilities

Level Effect Duration
1 Flim Flam, raises Charisma to 18 1 turn, +1 per level
2 Hustle, lower or raise a price in a commercial transaction by 10-40% Immediate.
3 Charm Person, same as Magic User spell 1d4 hours, +1 per level
4 Hypnotism, same as Illusionist spell 1 round, +1 per level
5 Manufacture Flash Powder, causes blindness, one batch a day with appropriate materials (150gp) Immediate
6 Charm Person twice a day See above
7 Hypnotism twice a day See above
8 Charm Monster, same as Magic User spell 1d4 hours
9 Suggestion, same as Magic User spell 6 turn, +1 per level
10 Implant Emotion, same as Illusionist spell Same as spell

Mountebank Level Progression
Experience Level Hit Dice (1d4)
0 1 1
1,565 2 2
3,125 3 3
4 4
12,501 5 5
6 6
50,001 7 7
100,001 8 8
200,001 9 9
300,001 10 +1 hp only *
400,001 11 +2 hp only *
500001 12 +3 hp only *
600,001 13 +4 hp only *
700,001 14 +5 hp only *
800,001 15 +6 hp only *
900,001 16 +7 hp only *
1,000,001 17 +8 hp only *
1,100,001 18 +9 hp only *
1,200,001 19 +10 hp only *
1,300,001 20 +11 hp only *
*Hit point modifiers from constitution are ignored.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New Ways to Kill and be Killed in LL or B/X

Futzing with combat is one of the more common temptations in old school house rules. I, for one, seem to go in a six-month cycle of wanting more and more detail only to turn full circle and move back to the most stripped down and quick (and by the book). Our current house rules (flavored a bit by LotFP) are somewhere in my medium zone, a place I hope to stay.

So with no further ado some of the new weapons, armor, combat options, and the ever loveable Death and Dismemberment chart (adopted and modified in a chain from Robert Fisher to Norm of Troll and Flame to myself). You'll note that the HC version of the latter table is a bit more on the deadly side than others.

New Combat Options

The fighting classes have a few more options in combat. An eligible character has two more attack options to use in melee in place of a standard attack: an all-out attack and a defensive attack. An all-out attack gives a +1 to hit, but costs the player a +2 AC penalty on the next round of attacks on him/her.

A defensive attack conversely gives the character a bonus of -1 on AC at a cost of -2 for the attack. Fighters alone get one other special attack, a shield pummel, in lieu of a standard attack. A fighter equipped with a large shield can inflict 1d4 of fatal or bludgeoning (non-fatal) damage on a successful hit using the shield pummel option. Fighters equipped with a small shield inflict 1d3.

New Weapons and Armor

Weapon Cost Damage Weight
Rapier 15 gp 1d6+1 2 lbs.
Spiked Gauntlet 5 gp 1d3 2 lbs.
Dirk 4 gp 1d4+1 1 lbs.
Pike* 6 gp 1d6 6 lbs.
* The pike is a two-handed spear about 15-20 feet long. A pike-equipped character can strike from the second rank of a party and can be set to receive a charge. It is extremely awkward weapon in cramped underground quarters however.

Armor Cost Armor Class Weight
Hides/Fur 20 gp 7 3 lbs
Bronze Breastplate 80 gp 5 20 lbs.
Field Plate 1250 gp 2 50 lbs.
Large Shield 10 gp -1 10 lbs.
Small Shield 20 gp -1 5 lbs.

Death and Dismemberment Chart

Roll d10 after PC reaches 0 or lower hit points For each subsequent hit while below the 0 hp mark the player must make a roll with a -1 for each time he has rolled on the chart previously in the encounter. The GM can also adjudicate positive or negative modifiers according to circumstance.

0 or lower Grisly Death. Body so spectacularly destroyed that only a resurrection or wish spell can bring it back to life.
1 to 2 Just Plain Dead. Dead as per the usual rules.
3 to 4

Fatal Wound. Character dies in 1d12 turns unless magical healing is applied. Character is completely incapacitated and will remain an invalid for 3d6 weeks . Scarring makes for -1 to Charisma.
5 to 6

Severed or Mangled Limb or Digit. Roll randomly or GM pick for which limb or digit (can also eyes, ears, or nose). Unconscious for 3d6 rounds. Character requires 3d4 weeks of healing before being able to adventure.
7 to 8 Broken Bone. Roll randomly or GM picks limb. 3d4 weeks to heal bone.
Also Unconscious for 2d6 rounds.
9 Unconscious for 2d6 rounds.
10 or higher Stunned for 1d4 rounds. Unconscious for 2d6 rounds if not wearing helm.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Free Tekumel Paper Minis

While I am on the whole point-out-free-cool-stuff-to-download kick here's another.
The Genie's Lamp has a nice well-designed--and surprisingly wide--range of paper Tekumel monsters and characters to download for free on their website. The ru'un, an automaton guardian-type critter, pictured to the right has a sweet Erol Otus vibe to it.
A nice cheap way to spice up your own tabletop game session with outlandish pulp fantasy creatures. (Hill Cantons players avert ye eyes.)

Darklands Free Download and other Fun Stuff

Yesterday I mentioned that the 1993 computer game Darklands was an influence on my current campaign setting. With a little lazy Google research I not only found that the game still has a devoted fan following, but that also it is in that fuzzy grey area of intellectual property rights that some term abandonware.

Long and short is if you want to while away some time on a cool old pixelated sandbox crpg here is your chance to download it free. Pick up a free download of dosbox too to get it running while you are it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

15 Things That Influenced Your Campaign?

I was about to be a cranky contrarian and post the 15 games that had NO influence on me, but it would also make me a hypocrite since I already caught the wave over at someone else's blog.
So how about something a little different. What were the top 15 things that went into the intellectual stew of your campaign (actual existing or the Platonic Ideal one you are cooking)?
Hill Cantons:
  1. Lyonesse and Dying Earth books, Jack Vance
  2. Gray Mouser and Fafhrd stories, Fritz Leiber
  3. Darklands CRPG
  4. West Marches campaign
  5. The Hussite Wars (book, but also all medieval European heretical movements in general)
  6. Averoigne stories , Clark Ashton Smith
  7. "Shadow over Innsmouth" (and the rest to a lesser extent), HP Lovecraft
  8. Barsoom books (an influence starting to make itself known), Edgar Rice Burroughs
  9. Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns and Blood Meridian
  10. Russian and other Slavic fairy tales
  11. The Thirty Years War, CV Wedgwood
  12. "Red Nails" (and other Conan to a lesser extent), R.E. Howard
  13. The players (probably should be on everyone's list as a reminder)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Homebrewing New D&D Classes

Designing new classes for D&D is tough work, as I have noted before. Balance is tricky. It's phenomenally easy to either design a character that upsets the delicate balance of the core archetypical classes—or one that feels rather lame or mundane in comparison.

When farting around with class-design myself, I keep wishing that there would be some kind of simple metric to help keep a class from floundering on either of those poles. Fortunately, Michael Curtis of the Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope pointed some time ago on his blog to an article in Dragon magazine #109 by Paul Montgomery Claburgh that laid out some guidelines to tricking out custom classes. Duly tracking it down late last week I was pleased to find a number of useful charts to help scratch my itch.

Note, like Michael, I have done some heavy modifications of my own to fit my own tastes. Some costs are a increased to protect the core classes; many other guidelines are simplified; and more specific detail for the meat of any custom class—special abilities and restrictions—are added.

Tomorrow I will spend some time talking about the non-mechanical backside of class creation such as creating a coherent concept; tailoring a class to pulp fantasy archetypes; experimenting with new special abilities; and the like.

Design Steps:
Draw up a class concept. What is the basic idea behind this class? What is this class capable of? What are the ability requirements? Prime requisites? Alignment restrictions?

Work your way with through the tables starting making choices that fit with your class concept. Tally up the various percentage amounts as you go.

Add the combined totals to a baseline cost of a 100 percent. Multiply the total to the baseline experience level for each level to get the final cost for level advancement.

Example: the Delver class has a combined percentage of 280%. This is added to the 100 base cost for a total of 380. This total percentage is multiplied against the baseline experience costs (500x3.8) for a grand total of 1,900 to progress to level 2. The cost for each level is doubled after this, 3,800 to progress to level 3 and so on down the line.

Table A: Level Advancement
Starting Level Baseline Exp. Next Level
1 500 2
2 1000 3
3 2000 4
4 4000 5
5 8000 6
6 16000 7
7 32000 8
8 64000 9
9 128000 10
10 256000 11

Table B: Hit Dice
The default hit dice is a d6.
d4 -25%
d6 N/A
d8 +50%
d10 +100%

Table C: Armor
Default is no armor allowed.
Shield +10%
Leather +20%
Chain (and below) +30%
Any +40%

Table D: Weapons
Magic User appropriate weapons is default.
No missile weapons -10%
Additional d6 damage weapon +5%
Additional d8 weapon +10%
Additional d10 weapon +15%
All blunt weapons +20%
Any weapon +75%

Table E: Racial Abilities
Default is Human.
Halfling (Half Orc, Half Elf, Gnome) +10%
Dwarf, Elf +20%

Table G: Magic-Item Use
Default is only potions. More than one class set can be used at an additional cost.
Fighter-appropriate +20%
Thief-appropriate +20%
Cleric-appropriate +30%
Magic User-appropriate +40%

Table F: Saving Throws
Magic User is default.
Cleric +10%
Magic User

Table G: Combat ability
Fighting as level 0 Normal Human is default.
Fights as Magic User +30%
Fights as Cleric or Thief +50%
Fights as Fighter +100%

Table H: Special Abilities
Default is none.
Individual thief skill (pick locks, backstab, etc)
All thief skills
Mundane skill (barter, glassblowing, archivist, etc.)
Special mundane skill (tracking, outdoor survival, sleight of hand, etc)
Minor spell or spell-like effect (charm person, protection from evil, hypnosis, etc)
Major power (turn undead, fly, regeneration, spell over 2nd level, etc.)
Cast Magic-User (or Illusionist) spells
Cast Cleric(or Druid) spells
The cost of an ability can be modified by introducing that skill at levels past the first. Note that the minimum cost for any special ability is +5%.
Ability introduced at levels 2 or 3
Ability introduced at levels 4, 5, or 6
Ability introduced at levels 7 or higher

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tsathoggua Awakens From His Slumber

"They’ve been inside the earth, too — there are openings which human beings know nothing of — some of them are in these very Vermont hills — and great worlds of unknown life down there; blue-litten K’n-yan, red-litten Yoth, and black, lightless N'kai. It’s from N’kai that frightful Tsathoggua came — you know, the amorphous, toad-like god-creature mentioned in the Pnakotic Manuscripts and the Necronomicon and the Commoriom myth-cycle preserved by the Atlantean high-priest Klarkash-Ton."
—H. P. Lovecraft, "The Whisperer in Darkness"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Experimenting with Experience Points Awards

Perhaps one of the most well-traveled topics on old school D&D blog and forums is the awarding of experience points. It's a topic that seemingly no single GM likes to do in the same way as the next guy--and least of all completely by the book. To be sure there is a good deal of buy-in on the need to keep gold for experience as a standard objective marker and spur to exploration, but there seems to be a persistent need to tinker around this standard.

I am no exception. I like the feel of good for experience, but could never really see a way around to what to do with all the player-accumulated swag. At first I fell back on my old simple stand-by, handing out either incredibly stingy amounts of treasure or finding creative ways to make it difficult to convert back into hard cash. The players were progressing at painfully slow rates though and it seem to undermine rather than spur the whole exploration impulse.

Moving from there I began to be won more and more to the “pay to progress” school of thought. Not the unsatisfying AD&D first edition of route of demanding high sums each time that level light bulb went off, but the old player-tailored ways of Arneson and company. What follows are the house rule system we've been using in our Labyrinth Lord tabletop campaign.

Experience Points
Players will receive small bonuses for each real-time hour spent in active exploration of a dungeon, wilderness or other dangerous environ. The baseline rate is 100 exp per hour, adjusted by the GM for the relative rigor of the hour.

Instead of simply earning experience for treasure, PCs gain experience from spending the treasure they have acquired. The rate of experience points to gold pieces spent varies by how a player opts to cash in his loot.

Ways to burn gold for experience:
  1. Carousing. PCs can receive 2 exp for each 1 gp of treasure spent in sword-and-sorcery-hero style debauched spending sprees (food, drink, romantic partners, fancy personal accoutrements, etc). Only 100 gp/per level can be spent this way. Obviously, no mentor or training down time is necessary, but there is a 1 in 6 chance that a “complication” may follow (mammoth hangovers, duels, hostile constabulary, angry spouses, etc). Roll on Jeff Rient's Carousing Table for results.

  2. Training/research. PCs receive 1.5 exp for each gp worth of treasure spent on training or research. The PC must find and recruit a mentor of the same class that is at least three levels higher than their current. Game time spent on training sessions will be determined by the GM. There is a 5% percent chance per 500 gp spent in such a way that a player will discover an “object of note” (a well-balanced sword, scroll, treasure map, or the like)

  3. Gear. Finally PCs can receive .5 exp for 1 gp spent on any other possessions mundane or otherwise.
Example: The Swordsman With No Name is a 2nd level fighter returning to the town of Marlankh flush with loot after a sojourn in the Slumbering Ursine Dunes. His share of the treasure amounts to 633 gp. He promptly spends the maximum amount he can, 200 gp, on a drunken rampage and receives 400 exp. Fortunately he rolls a 5 and is free and clear of the worst aspects of said rampage.

Sobering up he enlists the help of a crazy old coot of a dwarf on the outskirts of town to help train him in the delicate art of sword-play. He spends 300 gp on this and nets 300 exp. Before the party's next outing to the dunes, he decides to buy 100 gp worth of gear, a new shield, iron spikes, an ungodly number of oil flasks, etc for which he gets 50 exp.
By the time of the next adventure into the Weird he has squeezed a total of 750 exp from the 600 gold he contributed to stimulating the fantasy economy.