Monday, April 22, 2013

ACKS: Domains at War on Kickstarter!

The guys at Autarch, the ones behind the excellent Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS), have launched a new Kickstarter campaign a few days ago. This time it is Domains at War - a complete fantasy wargame fully compatible with ACKS, and highly compatible with most other D20-related and OSR fantasy RPGs. Best of all, it is two games built into one - a strategic-level game where you fight with entire armies on a battle map detailing entire kingdoms (while each engagement is resolved at an abstract level), and a tactical-level miniature wargame where you fight actual battles on the tabletop between two armies. Both allow for major interference by heroes, i.e. Player Characters (PCs). Highly recommended! And you can back by PayPal if you so desire...

Back it HERE!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day: Character Backgrounds

Today is Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day! And what is Swords & Wizardry, you might ask? It is a "retro-clone", actually a modern remake, of the very first edition of the world's most famous role-playing game. It comes in three flavours, White Box (basic rules), Core (somewhat more complex rules) and Complete (with a lot of advanced rules).

Frog God Games has discounted their entire line of Swords & Wizardry products for 1 day only in celebration of Swords & Wizardry appreciation day (April 17th 2013). The discount is good for 25% off S&W Products but you must use coupon* code SWApprDay on April 17th 2013 at check out.

*The coupon excludes items less than $1, S&W Cards, Pre-Orders, and Subscriptions.

The D20PFSRD store is also running a sale on Swords & Wizardry PDFs. Use the provided link and use coupon code: SWAD252013.

My favourite variant is White Box. Why? Because it is so simple and straightforward that modifying it to suit your tastes is completely painless. It is very easy to 'wing it' before, during and after play, focusing on role-play rather than rule-play. While this kind of play might seem weird to those accustomed to later versions of the world's most famous role-playing game, it does allow for the easy preparation and play of interesting adventures without being constrained in large tomes of rules and/or a battlemat grid.

So for this day I offer you a few simple house-rules for Swords and Wizardry - this time about character backgrounds.

The following guidelines may be of assistance to flesh out a character's background and non-adventuring capabilities without involving complex rules or extensive skill-lists.

The Basis for these Rules
The key concept here is "reasonableness" - if it's reasonable, the Referee should allow it (possibly requiring a Saving Throw - this is essentially a "skill check"). Also, keep in mind that under an Old-School mindset, the vast majority of non-combat tasks should be handled by narrative and role-playing rather than dice-rolling. Neither skill nor background should allow a player to avoid role-playing and/or thinking; there should be no skill used to persuade NPCs, to sense motives, to solve riddles without needing to think through them or to disarm complex (as opposed to simple mechanical) traps.

Adventurers know how to Adventure
Player Characters (PCs) - as opposed to most Normal Men - are adventurers. Therefore, they should still be assumed to know the basics of adventuring and exploration. Assume that all player characters know how to tie simple knots, how to climb a surface with obvious hand-holds, how to swim, how to row a small boat, how to build a reasonable bonfire (usually requiring a tinderbox), how to make minor repairs and maintenance on arms and armour and how to ride a horse. Also assume that all PCs are literate in all the languages they speak, know how to read and know math at least at an elementary school level.

The fact that the adventurer knows how to do each of these basic tasks, however, does not mean that he or she will automatically succeed in doing them. The Referee should judge each attempt and rule on its results. Simple stuff (such as climbing a ladder or a rope or lighting a bonfire out of dry wood with a tinderbox) should succeed automatically; difficult tasks (such as climbing a difficult cliff or a wall or trying to light a fire without a tinderbox) should require an Adventuring Skill roll if it fits one of the eight Adventuring Skills, or a Saving Throw otherwise. Clearly impossible stuff (such as trying to set stones on fire with a tinderbox and no oil) should always fail - no roll required.

Note, again, that thinking should usually be done by players, not characters. No roll should solve riddles or puzzles - players should try and figure them out themselves (this way is usually far more enjoyable, too). In fact, characters are assumed to be literate and know a bit of math for this exact reason - to allow the Game Master to present the players with interesting and enjoyable challenges without too many problems.

Adventuring aside, talented characters may also be proficient in one or more professions which are not directly related to adventuring. Each character starts at level 1 with 0-2 Backgrounds (1+/-the Prime Attribute modifier). Characters with low prime attributes have to work harder to learn the basic abilities of their class, and thus have less (or no) time to learn other trades; on the other hand, characters with high prime requisites have an easier time learning their class abilities and thus have more time available to learn additional professions.

Each Background is a broad profession, such as Mason, Carpenter, Noble, Jeweler, Farmer, Blacksmith and so on. It entails all the basic skills involved in this profession or social class. Assume that a character can easily perform the day-to-day tasks of each his or her Backgrounds as long as he or she has access to the required tools, equipment and materials; there is no need to roll dice in such a case. Only particularly difficult tasks require a Saving Throw. For example, a character with the Blacksmith background can easily produce horseshoes, pots, and even average-quality weapons as long as he or she has access to a functioning forge, coal, iron and so on; only making a special item (such as a high-quality sword suitable to be later enchanted) will require a Saving Throw.

Note that Backgrounds should not be used to simulate professions that are already represented by the various character classes. There is no need for, say, a Gladiator  Background - theis fields are already covered by the Fighter class. Also, as a rule of a thumb, a Background Skill should not directly affect combat or spellcasting.

NPC Normal Men, of course, are as skilled in their professions as the Game Master needs them to be.

Learning new Backgrounds
Learning a new profession takes time. A lot of time. And sometimes a considerable amount of money, too. There are two ways to learn a new Background Skill: hiring a teacher or becoming an apprentice.

A hired teacher can provide intensive training, taking a single season (for example, an entire winter) to teach a Background. This option, however, is expensive as the teacher cannot do anything else during that time; the cost for intensive training is thus 2,000gp. The student, too, cannot do anything else (including adventure) during that season. Alternatively, a skill can be taught from time to time between adventures, taking a whole year to fully learn it; in this case, the cost is 1,000gp.

Being an apprentice is free of charge as the apprentice works for his or her master. On the other hand, the master has to work as well, and many of the tasks that the apprentice has to do are various menial jobs rather than dedicated learning. Full-time apprenticeship (which does not allow adventuring in the meantime) requires a whole year to learn a single Background. Part time apprenticeship (allowing adventuring) takes three years.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

USE ME Modern Warfare: Advanced - Under Playtest!

While me and Nikita "Fjodin's" Kondratov are hard at work on the USE ME: Twilight of the Empires Basic rules (covering the 1870-1900 period; Advanced will cover the 1900-1924 period as well), he was also working on the side on an Advanced version of USE ME: Modern Warfare, with a truckload of new options, rules and cool ways to spice your game.

Now his new rules are under playtest. He chose the rather unlikely scenario of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea vs. the Soviet Union in 1989, which turned out to be an interesting experiment in 15mm modern wargaming.

Read his full-blown after-action report (AAR) HERE!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My Mother's House Geckos

My mother's house in Kiryat Tivon, Israel, was built by my grandfather's hands (he was a construction worker and contractor in his earlier years before he became a teacher and a principal of the local school) in 1971. My parents lived there until 1975, when they moved to Chicago, USA to study (I was born in Chicago in 1982). We went back to Israel and this house in 1986, and I spent most of my childhood there. The house was renovated and expanded in 1996. When my parents divorced in 2001, my father got most of the savings and my mother got the house.

Why am I telling you all this? Because in this (relatively) old house, with its ample cracks, crooks and crannies, lives a sizeable population of at least eleven Mediterranean House Geckos. They are wild animals who have colonized the house and are very welcome guests, as they prey on various bothersome insects, from mosquitoes to flies to moths.

Oh, and in the Middle East the common folk belief is that geckos bring a lot of luck...

They come out from their hidey-holes around 8PM and go back into hiding and sleep around 6AM. So they spend the entire night on the walls and ceilings hunting insects (especially their favourite dish, moths), chirping to each other in their faint voices, sometimes fighting each other over territory and mates, having relationships and laying eggs and, generally, enjoying their lives. Here you can see some of them, at least the ones brave enough not to run away while I was taking their pictures.