Monday, April 27, 2020

Athena Toolset 1.0.2

Update on the program package from two weeks ago for OED rules assessment of character levels, demographics, treasure and XP, monster strength, NPC generators, etc., etc.: In place of the list of separate tool downloads, I've replaced it with a master program and a single ZIP file to make downloading and getting started easier.

If you get the ZIP at the linked page below, extract it, and on the command line type java -jar Athena.jar. Append the name of the tool you want to run (Arena, Marshal, MonsterMetrics, or NPCGenerator), as well as any desired arguments (run with -? to see the available options). That probably looks a lot nicer as a single package download. Also I added a link to the JavaDoc pages for the whole package. Good luck!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Vancian Magic is Mathematics

Saw someone on Twitter this week claiming that seeing Vancian magic as mathematics was a mistaken reader interpretation (and claimed that something very different was the case). I knew it was, rather, explicitly described as math, but it took me a few minutes to find the quote. In case I need that again in the future, here it is (page 12 of my copy of Dying Earth):
In this fashion did Turjan enter his apprenticeship to Pandelume. Day and far into the opalescent Embelyon night he worked under Pandelume's unseen tutelage. He learned the secret of renewed youth, many spells of the ancients, and a strange abstract lore that Pandelume termed "Mathematics."

"Within this instrument," said Pandelume, "resides the Universe. Passive in itself and not of sorcery, it elucidates every problem, each phase of existence, all the secrets of time and space. Your spells and runes are built upon its power and codified according to a great underlying mosaic of magic. The design of this mosaic we cannot surmise; our knowledge is didactic, empirical, arbitrary. Phandaal glimpsed the pattern and so was able to formulate many of the spells which bear his name. I have endeavored through the ages to break the clouded glass, but so far my research has failed. He who discovers the pattern will know all of sorcery and be a man powerful beyond comprehension."

So Turjan applied himself to the study and learned many of the simpler routines.

"I find herein a wonderful beauty," he told Pandelume. "This is no science, this is art, where equations fall away to elements like resolving chords, and where always prevails a symmetry either explicit or multiplex, but always of a crystalline serenity."

Monday, April 13, 2020

New OED Software Tools

One of my trademark gestures with OED games is to rely on a number of software and statistical tools to make sure that the systems we use are as robust, dependable, and playable at the table (or virtual table) as possible. For some time I've released the source code to those tools on Github. More than once I've received a comment that someone would like to use them, but as a non-coder they're not set up to do development & compilation from source files.

Here's a step in that direction; I've made pre-compiled Java executable JAR files and released them on a new add-ons page at So you can just grab one of those programs and the data files and run them immediately.

Caveat: For efficiency purposes they're still command-line tools with no graphical interface. So you'll still need to be comfortable with opening a command line and typing something like java -jar Arena-1.0.1.jar on your system, plus any command-line arguments to control the process; run with the -? to see the options available with each tool.

In particular, the new thing I've added in the lat week is the capacity for the NPCGenerator tool to output a batch of fully-formed PDF character sheets in the OED style. Run this like java -jar NPCGenerator.1.0.1.jar -p to get PDF output files (among other option switches). Beyond that, the Marshal program to batch-create large groups of man-types, with leaders fully developed over their entire simulated adventuring career, is also likey useful to DMs of any classic-D&D style games.

If anyone wants to take that code and create GUI wrappers around them for less-technical users, please go ahead, as the code is all released under the GPL on our Github page (ChgoWiz, I'm looking at you, among others). Hope that helps some folks!

Monday, April 6, 2020

Book of War 2nd Edition Draft Rules

Saturday night Isabelle & I streamed our first episode of wargaming from our house with the Book of War 2nd Edition rules, via the Wandering DMs channel. It was really a blast! I was so jazzed afterward that I almost watched the whole thing over again twice. :-) It's pretty neat to get to share what our normal back-and-forth chemistry is with other people.

Peter Conrad had the bright idea on YouTube to post the brief Player Aid Card that we were using in this episode, so here it is below. This is pretty tentative (I guess it always feels that way), and I was still tweaking and balancing prices in the afternoon running up to our playtest. Part of the goal for the 2nd Edition is to massage some rules in ways that make the basic game play a bit truer to historical reality, as we understand it. What I've been finding is that this accidentally makes some rules actually simpler. Of course, the core of the system meshes directly with classic D&D as it always did, and you can pretty much immediately convert stock D&D monsters into a Book of War game as we always have (pricing, of course, being the hard part... more CPU cycles to come on that).

Monday, March 23, 2020

Gygax on Leveling Up Monsters

The always-informative Zenopus Archives pointed out a post Gygax made in a thread on the Pied Piper forums back in in 2004. In particular, this involves the infamous Old Guard Kobolds on the 1st level of his Castle Greyhawk dungeon that had a habit of surprising and wiping out whole parties of PCs. Here he outlines the fact that every TPK they scored, he boosted their stats in some way. I kind of like this as a very low-crunch way of representing monster "experience" and resource-scavenging. He says this:


Fact is that I have run OD&D games avery year at several cons for the last five or so years. I start them at 2nd level and use the old dungeon levels. So far about eight parties have been taken out by some kobolds on the 1st level. New RPGers seem to have not learned to run away when in doubt.

The first to fall used a sleep spell to get eight of the kobolds, but the six remaining ones used javelins to kill two PCs, then closed and in hand-to-hand killed all but two or the remainder of the party. One was about th kill another PC, while a second charged the m-u of the group, who turned to flee, finally. Too late, a javelin got him. Each group that died thus added to the kobolds:

1st TPK brought 12 more kobolds
2nd TPK gave them armor class of 6
3rd (near) TPK gave them all +1 HP
4th TPK added +1 damage
5th TPK added 4 2nd level and 2 3rd level kobolds
6th TPK gave them tactical manouvering and a 4th level leader
7th TPK upped AC to 5
8th TPK gave them unshakable morale

At JanCon this year the Old Guard Kobolds joined battle with a group of 8 PCs and wiped them out. I haven't decided how that will add to their combat ability, but I am considreing a kobold shaman with at least two 1st level spells


Monday, March 16, 2020

Book of War Skirmish Rules: Odd Encounters

I've had a few inquiries lately about whether there is a skirmish-level (1:1 scale) version of my OED Book of War simple miniature-wargame rules. The fortunate answer is: yes, there is!

My game-design partner Paul Siegel wrote and tested this adjunct to Book of War, now in its 10th year of existence, call Odd Encounters. It gives a very nice stripped-down form of combat for individual figures and mid-level heroes (as you like it), d20-based attack rolls (so it's likely directly convertible with all your standard D&D play), and nicely balanced points costs and features for one-off games. I'm so appreciative that Paul wrote this and made it available for us -- and entirely released under the Open Game License. Get it for free at the link below and tell us what you think!

Monday, March 9, 2020

Sarge's Advice: Target 20 Saves

Another question from an observant reader, this time regarding the Target 20 core rule for saving throws.

Quick query on Target 20 for saves -- for OD&D and B/X, as you know, different classes have different saves. Target 20, if I am reading it correctly, basically flattens everyone to the same chance, with the mods varying only by save type and NOT class. Is that correct? 

It's true that with Target 20, the way I run games, there's no distinction between classes for the saving throws. (Occasionally old-school players first realize that when they see there are no save records on the character sheets.)

One thing I've observed in the past is that the seeming class-distinction between saves in OD&D is at least partly illusory; the classes have different rates of increase (every 3 levels for fighters, 4 for clerics, 5 for magic-users), but on average the saves are about the same regardless. Like, just picking a level off the top of my head: at 8th level the save vs. spells are all an identical score of 12. (Which happens to be 20 - 8.) I made a post about that a while back:

In the charts there you can see that the average/regression lines for saves vs. Spells & Stone are almost indistinguishable between the different classes. In Death & Wand saves fighters do have about a 2-point advantage on average (with Breath sort of in the middle). So in early versions of OED I was giving wizards/thieves a -2 modifier on those latter saves as the best recreation -- but that always felt mean/stingy in play, so I wound up dropping it for simplicity.

At an extremely high level (16+), magic-users in OD&D do advance their save vs. spells to a point beyond the other classes -- but play at that level seems very rare, so to date it doesn't seem like a good distinction to make a separate rule for.