Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Awarding XP in Classic D&D and in 5th edition.

Tenkar has been talking about XP awards and I figured now is a good time to lay out how I handle XP. Early on I grew to dislike XP for gold, and somewhat later XP for treasure, never had a problem with XP for overcoming monsters.

However not awarding XP for Gold or Magic Item left a huge whole in what the players earned per session. I was and still am big on "roleplaying" i.e. acting as if you are there as your character. So in place of Gold and Magic Item XP, I had a roleplaying award.

The formula was 100 xp times the character level time a factor. If I wanted a slow campaign, I used 50 xp as the base, a faster campaign, 200 xp as the base.

At first the factor was based on my judgment on how well the played "acted" as his character. That didn't work so well. I dislike having to play pageant judge week after week and players invariably protested low awards. More importantly some players were successful in my campaign acting as themselves with a particular character abilities.

I decided that good roleplaying wasn't about being a good actor, but about acting and reacting as if you were really there in the setting. This accommodated players who developed distinct personalities for their characters, with players who played a version of themselves.

So what about the factor? I started to pay attention to what were the personal and party goals. When one of them was accomplished, I gave a bonus award that session. The base award was a factor of 1. I would use a factor of 4 for some really big noteworthy accomplishment. The rest were inbetween.

The virtue of this system that it largely stripped my campaign of preconceived notions of what it ought be about. The goals were not my goals, but what the party set for themselves. Of course I manipulated that by the various clues, hooks, and situations, I created but I always left the final choice of goals in the hands of the players. In addition I rarely try to do anything formally about what the goals are. Instead I tried to play careful attention to what they wanted to do and use that as the basis for my awards.

5th Edition DnD has an explicit options for the above in the DMG. It called milestones and it uses the Encounter XP charts as a foundation for the amount of the award. In the Monday Night campaign I use the milestone awards combined with the xp value of any creature killed as the foundation of what I hand out.

In my view the benefit of using milestone awards is immense plays directly to the strengths of tabletop roleplaying over other types of roleplaying and games. With a human referee, players have the freedom to explore anything they can explore with their characters. With milestones, they don't have to feel like they have to kill and loot to get ahead. Instead they pursue whatever they find interesting.

To be honest for most that still ends up involving killing and looting. But hey now they don't feel they have to do it. Which is a good thing right?

Friday, June 19, 2015

An OGL Primer

There was a bit of a discussion over on Tenkar's Tavern about copyrights, licenses, and trademarks. While it is always good to get a lawyer's advice, the Open Game License, (along with Creative Commons and other open license) are designed so that it is easy for people to see what is permissible to reuse WITHOUT shelling out $$$ for legal advice.

In general you are not allowed to use another person's work verbatim without permission due to copyright. In many cases you are not allowed to create derivative works either like say the New Adventures of Harry Potter.

The OGL is a type of blanket permission by the author to copy a work or portions of a work under certain conditions. The various Creative Common licenses have a similar goal.

Those conditions are:
  1. You must update Section 15 with the copyright notice of any open content you copy. Luckily this mostly involves copying pasting the section 15 from the license text of the work.
  2. You explicitly agree not to copy the work's product identify without a specific set of permission from the original author.
  3. You must clearly designate or mark which portions of your work is open content.
  4. You can't cite compatibility or use the original work for marketing without specific permission from the original author.
And that is pretty much it.

#4 is the only right that you are explicitly giving up by agree to use another author's open content. #4 is why Wizards had the d20 trademark license. Note: Wizards has since revoked the license and no longer gives permission to use the d20 mark or logo.

The OGL has a feature where you can designate some portions of a work as open with people free to copy that portion under the OGL, and other portions as product identity which can't be copy. This is why many opt to use the OGL over other types of license such as Creative Commons. Creative Common is designed to give permission to ENTIRE works. The OGL is deliberately designed to allow certain SECTIONS to have different permissions.

Now where it gets difficult is that people being people don't clearly mark what open content. Luckily there are documents that are marked as 100% open content that cover what most people want to do with their projects.

D20 SRD
Pathfinder SRD
The Fate SRD
Swords & Wizardry SRD
The Blackmarsh Setting (which I wrote)

If you want to publish your own product. Take your rulebooks put them far away from where you do your writing.

Download one of the above (or one of the otherSRDs out there). And use that as your main reference.

Then when you lay out your book, CLEARLY mark which portions are open content. The rest is product identity in which you retain full rights.

What is open content? Any thing that is copied or based on the SRD.

For example this entry about the Boglings from my Majestic Wilderlands.

This has to be open content because it depends on information found in the Swords & Wizardry SRD and the d20 SRD.

BOGLINGSArmor Class: 6 [13]
Hit Dice: 2+1
Attacks: 2 claws (1d3)
Saving Throw: 16
Special: Underwater, Jumping, Extensible Tongue
Move: 6/12 (when swimming)
Challenge Level/XP: 2/35
May breathe underwater indefinitely
Can Jump over 60 feet and up to 20 feet in height.
Has an extensible tongue can immobilize a target if it fails it’s saving throw.

This part can be product identity because it is my own original writing.
These are amphibious humanoids with bulbous eyes. Boglings are noted for their ability to jump long distances and for their extensible tongues. They are found in tribes in tropical swamps and rainforests as well as on several of the outer planes most notably the Swamps of Acheron home to the god Set.

Personally I made the whole thing open content just because I wanted too.

When you are done, copy the text of the open game license and alter Section 15 to be
Open Game License v 1.0a Copyright 2000, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
plus whatever the section 15 the SRD has and then YOUR copyright notice. Like this from Blackmarsh
15. COPYRIGHT NOTICE
Open Game License v 1.0a Copyright 2000, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
System Reference Document Copyright 2000-2003, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.; Authors Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, Rich Baker, Andy Collins, David Noonan, Rich Redman, Bruce R. Cordell, John D. Rateliff, Thomas Reid, James Wyatt, based on original material by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.
Blackmarsh, Copyright 2011, Robert Conley
A comment about Trademarks.

Note that if any of the following is an issue for something you are doing this the point where you need to start getting legal advice. The above is about making thing clear and easy for people to reuse other people's work without having to get lawyers involved. The below is where a lawyer comes in handy.

Trademarks are graphics and text that identify a product or business. Like copyrights they can be registered or unregistered. The White Star Logo and trademark license that the debate over on Tenkar was centered are unregistered.

Understand the law frowns on businesses pretending to be other business or trying to confuse consumers whether product is really brand X. So registered or unregistered the law protect a business right to have a distinctive mark and name for themselves and their products. What does registering a trademark get you? Namely the right to use for damages when your trademark. The best you can do with a unregistered trademark is sue to get somebody to STOP from infringing your mark.

In both cases you have to actively enforce your trademarks. The law grants powerful protection to a business' trademark but only if the business actively goes after violators. Let it slide and the law will assume you don't care and hence the violation.

This is unlike copyright where inaction can only effect your ability to recover PAST damages. Once you decide enough is enough, from that point on the clock is ticking for damages by the violator. This is of course you have registered your copyright as the best you can do with an unregistered copyright it to get them to stop distributing your stuff.

Finally do you need to deal with the OGL? No there are ways under copyright law and precedent for third parties to create compatible works. But guess what! You should go to a lawyer for advice if that the route you take. And understand if that the route you take, you will need legal advice at every step to ensure your work doesn't stray across the line and cause you legal headache. In my opinion it sounds like a huge in the pass for what is in essence a hobby pastime.

Of course some people are just dicks and rely on the fact they have little or no money or assets. Or the fact that criminal copyright has a high minimum threshold before the US Attorney will consider a prosecution. Authors dealing with such assholes have my sympathy the only thing I can offer in the way of advice is for you or your lawyer to look at the DMCA as it has provisions that help smaller publisher deal with these jerks.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Do you have a lucky or unlucky dice? Well you can now Check it for sure.

Daniel Fisher has figured out how to use a old trick to see if a golf ball is balanced to see how lucky or unlucky his dice are.


+Tim Shorts had a d20 called Whimpy that always came through for him. I wonder how it would fare in this test.

This came in handy for him one time when he had a fighter named Slice Handler. We were playing ADnD 1st edition with Unearthed Arcana. Slice's main trick was to use the weapon specialization rules to throw a hail storm of daggers. I played a vanilla magic-user named Thil the Cowled.

As things shook out in the campaign, we wound up in my friend's +Dwayne Gillingham's modified X5 Temple of Death. For a long time this module was the end goal of his campaigns, and nobody had beaten it until Slice and Thil got there.

We got to the final room where on a altar was the Hand and Eye of Vecna. Thil went dark side, maimed himself, and affixed the eye and hand to himself. He ordered Slice to submit and when he didn't a PC vs PC fight ensued. Thil had the upper hand but Slice was dealing damage as well. So it came down to a round where Slice had a handful of hit points and was seemly out of options. See Whimpy had an Achilles Heel in that it was great for to-hit rolls it was terrible for making saving throws.

Tim resigned himself to another failure at conquering the Temple of Death when he looked at some notes on his characters. He grew excited and confirmed the details with Dwayne. Apparently he had a magical earring in the shape of a dagger. It would grow into a full size dagger if he threw it.

Armed with this final chance and of course Tim's legendary dice Whimpy, he threw the dagger. He got what he needed to hit and downed Thil. Tim sighed in relief as finally one of his character conquered the Temple of Death.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Gaming Stories: Cyberpunk 2020, a Tech versus a Solo

During the early 90s, I was in a Cyberpunk game and a player was an obnoxious twit both in and out of game. He played a tricked out Solo (a character focused on combat and combat mods). Nobody could take him in a fight, a fact he used to bully the rest of the party.

At one point in a job we ran across some weapon mods. I was the party Tech. Up to this point I roleplayed the character as meek and mild. I calmly accepted the abuse the player was dishing out. The rest of the players were much more vocal in their discontent.

 The weapon mods we found were really good and there was a enough to go around. As the Tech it was up to me to use the mods to upgrade the party's weapons. The Solo, confident in his power over me, hands me his gun. I installed the mods along with optical recognition software and programmed it to not to fire the gun if any of us were in its sights.

 A couple of hours later we reached the end of the job. Of course the Solo player pulls out his gun and announces that everything was his. While the rest of the party voiced their complaints I pulled out my pistol. The Solo player looked at me with contempt and said
Are you really going to go up against me with that?
I pointed the gun at him and of course lost initiative. He tried to fire, nothing happened. He tried to fire again, nothing happened again. With the Solo having used up his actions, I proceeded to use my pistol to blow him away.

Yeah I am the Tech you handed your weapon too.
Bye, Bye.

I turned to the rest the party,
Well that bit of unpleasantness was taken care off.
We proceeded to divide up the good and finished the mission. To this day it is one of the best in-game stunts I ever managed to pull off.

If we are lucky perhaps +Tim Shorts will tell his Shadowrun story involving a Street Samurai vs a Netrunner.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Scourge of the Demon Wolf sale!

The PDF copy of Scourge of the Demon Wolf is on sale for $6 on RPGNow (or DriveThruRPG).

Three died. They were mauled beyond recognition. The Baron sent his huntsmen to kill the beasts and for a fortnight they tramped across the countryside. Between their whoring and drinking they killed twelve wolves, parading their skins through the village. They were hung on poles as trophies of victory. Then the huntsmen left, the beasts slain, the village saved… so we thought.

As the fields turned golden under the summer sun the killings began again. Four more died. Then the Baron's man, the bailiff, was killed on the high meadow in sight of Mitra's Temple. His screams could be heard well into the village. He was only identified after we reassembled the pieces.

With the priest's help I wrote a report to our liege, the Baron of Westtower. My report ended with,

There will be no harvest until the beast is slain and the killings stopped.

A 72 page adventure compatible with the Swords & Wizardry  rules and a setting supplement to the Majestic Wilderlands. detailing a small barony, a complete fantasy village, a conclave of mages, a crossroads hamlet, and a camp of wandering beggars.




Friday, May 22, 2015

Evolving a game through play, the Wall of Iron

As stated in previous posts, I have been working on my own RPG based on Swords and Wizardry. It not that I think the world needs another fantasy RPG but rather for a variety of reasons I want a rule book that combines my various rulings and techniques on top the Swords and Wizardry foundation. I plan to publish it but it will be presented as a supplement that happens to be a complete rulebook.

The Wall of Iron spell is an example of how I am doing this.

The original spell was written by +Matt Finch like this.
Wall of IronMagic-User, 5th Level
Range: 60 feet
Duration: 2 hours

The caster conjures an iron wall from thin air. The wall is 3 feet thick, 50 feet tall, and 50 feet long.
In a recent game, a certain dwarven rune-caster came up with a innovative way of combining a dimension door with the wall of iron to take out a dragon and its rider that was plaguing the party. Because of this my version of the spell now reads.

Wall of Iron
Magic-User, 5th Level, Range: 60 feet, Duration: 2 hours, Art: Hearth
This spell will create an iron wall within 60 feet of the caster. This wall is 3 feet think, 50 feet tall, and 50 feet long. At successful Thaumatology ability check of 15 or better will allow the caster to position the wall in such a way that it will fall onto a target. The slab of iron will do 30d6 damage to the target plus 1d6 per 10 feet it has fallen.

Since the original publication of the Majestic Wilderlands in 2009, I have dozens of these types of ruling and plus other tweaks to how I run things in my setting. So now is the time to combine them into a formal rulebook. Hopefully in a form that makes it easy for folks to cherry pick what they want for their campaign.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

An OSR Debate; The Setting, The Rules

The recent release of the White Star RPG has started a discussion about settings and rules. Tenker weighs in  with two posts, here and here, and there is some excellent comments attached to both. Even my friend Tim of Gothridge has some good thoughts on the matter.

What I would like to point out is that what came first in the world of tabletop RPGs were the campaigns, notably Blackmoor, Greyhawk, El Raja Key, Tekumel, etc. The rules came afterwards. From reading Playing at the World, Hawk & Moor, and other accounts back in the day, the focus was on one thinking of doing something interesting first, and then figuring out the rules to make that happen.

And based on my own experience in the late 70s and 80s, that pretty much the natural way of approaching it. Rules are important as they enable the whole thing to be a challenge rather than just some elaborate daydream or break apart on the "Bang you're dead, no I am not" issue.

The importance of DnD and other published rules is that they show what possible. My first encounter with the DnD rules ignited my imagination in a way no other game had to that point. Compared to the Avalon Hill and SPI games I owned, classic DnD was a uninteresting wargame. But it was perfect for exploring worlds that only existed in my imagination with the virtue of being able to do it in the time and budget of a hobby.

In my view White Star and many of the other OSR games are not innovative examples of game design. But where they excel is in exposing words of imagination in a way that makes people go "Yeah I can see how that done." and inspires them to realize their own worlds. Again within the time and budget of a hobby.

I will say that while I appreciate and respect settings like Tekumel, Spears at Dawn, and Arrows of Indra. They are not really my cup of tea. My preference is for bog standard fantasy world but with depth; Harnworld, Ars Magica, or the old Thieves' Guild from Gamelords. I think we only scratched the surface of the interesting adventurers that can be set in such worlds.

In short we need both and that it is all grist for the mill in coming up with adventures and campaigns for our players.