Category Archives: Opinion

Response to “Read-Aloud Woes”

by Solomoriah

Over at Angry Hamster Publishing, Liz wrote about her love-hate relationship with read-aloud text (what we call “Boxed Text” in Basic Fantasy adventures).  I tried to post commentary on her blog about the subject, but it thinks I’m a robot.  (Can you imagine?)  So first, visit Angry Hamster for her perspective on the situation:

Read Aloud Woes

And next, you can read mine:

For adventures distributed by the Basic Fantasy Project, I always require what we call “boxed text.”  As a GM, I only use it sometimes, and when I do I paraphrase what’s there.  Why do we require it?

Because of secrets.

See, if you write fluffy descriptive text in the middle of the GM’s bit, and the GM is describing the room to the players, it’s tempting to just read what’s there.  But imagine this bit appearing in the GM’s description of a room:

This fine parlor contains two large comfortable chairs toward the right rear of the room with a table between them.  The table has a single drawer, and inside it is a dagger +1, +3 vs. undead.  The back wall is covered floor-to-ceiling in overloaded bookshelves; there are several scrolls and one rare book, as listed below, scattered among the other books.  Each turn spent searching yields a cumulative 10% chance per character searching that one will be found; the GM should roll randomly to determine which one is discovered each time the roll succeeds.  On the floor is a large, ornate rug, somewhat moth-eaten but still impressive.  There is a fireplace roughly centered on the right-hand wall, and that wall is covered in paintings depicting different members of the Baron’s family.  Behind one of them (the painting of Hilda, the Baron’s third cousin once removed) is a small wall-safe containing 122 PP and a ring of fire resistance.  The left-hand wall is dominated by a huge mirror centered on the wall; on either side of the mirror is a painting of a pastoral landscape.  The mirror is, in fact, a secret door, opened by means of a slightly-protruding brick hidden behind the right-hand landscape painting.

Okay, now try to read out just the parts the players can see from that description without giving away the locations of the treasures or of the secret door.  Unless you are more skillful than me, you’ll naturally pause as you skip over those bits, giving away that there is something there.

Breaking it apart makes it much easier to avoid giving things away, and as a bonus, you can also break up the different interesting bits into separate paragraphs so that all relevant info is easy to find.

Like this.  First, the boxed text:

This fine parlor contains two large comfortable chairs toward the right rear of the room with a table between them; the table has a single small drawer.  The back wall is covered floor-to-ceiling in overloaded bookshelves.  On the floor is a large, ornate rug, somewhat moth-eaten but still impressive.  There is a fireplace roughly centered on the right-hand wall, and that wall is covered in portrait paintings.  The left-hand wall is dominated by a huge mirror centered on the wall; on either side of the mirror is a painting of a pastoral landscape.

Next, the GM’s part:

Inside the drawer of the small table is a dagger +1, +3 vs. undead.

There are several scrolls and one rare book, as listed below, scattered among the other books on the bookshelf.  Each turn spent searching yields a cumulative 10% chance per character searching that one will be found; the GM should roll randomly to determine which one is discovered each time the roll succeeds.

The mirror is, in fact, a secret door, opened by means of a slightly-protruding brick hidden behind the right-hand landscape painting.

The paintings on the left-hand wall (around the fireplace) depict different members of the Baron’s family.  Behind one of them (the painting of Hilda, the Baron’s third cousin once removed) is a small wall-safe containing 122 PP and a ring of fire resistance.

… and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done exactly what I just did here to a dungeon room description in a submitted adventure.  Usually the author of the adventure has provided all that is needed for the boxed text, but has just not organized it.  Even if you NEVER read the boxed text literally, isn’t it nice to have the non-secret part boxed out for you to use in creating your own description?

My Reply to “Who’s Afraid Of The OSR?”

by Solomoriah

I honestly don’t remember how I ended up reading Smiorgan’s post on the Department V blog, but no sooner was I reading it than I felt compelled to reply.  At first I planned to post a comment there, but those who know me, know that brevity is not my strong suit.

So here I am.

First of all, let me say that it is an interesting post.  One of the first things that stood out to me was this quote by Ron Edwards:

I suggest that the systemic differences among many OSR games, even the retroclones, are so profound that they exceed the community ideal of compatibility, which then must be papered over by claims of some kind of homogeneity.

I know Ron is supposed to be some kind of gaming expert, but honestly, what the heck is he talking about?  I routinely use materials (primarily adventures) written for Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, and Swords & Wizardry (not to mention the classic games on which they are modeled) in my games, converting materials on the fly.  Claims that the systemic differences are “profound” is, well, a profound overstatement.

More to the point, though… Smiorgan provided a list of things he (I think it’s he) says could be changed to make D&D-like games more palatable to modern players.  Let me say that I tried pretty much all of those things, and found the results wanting.

Back around 2002-2003 or so, about the same time Castles & Crusades was being developed, I wrote a set of core rules intended for use with spells and monsters from any edition of the classic game.  I called my rules “Project 74” and my plan was to achieve compatibility with classic materials, much as I just now described, while including modern features.  I didn’t go after Smiorgan’s list, of course (as it was just now written) but rather followed along with the list written by Mark “Kamikaze” Hughes titled “What’s Wrong with AD&D.”

I took his list of complaints, which surprisingly after more than ten years is still at the same URL, as a list of things to correct.  I boiled the rules of those classic games down to a sort of mechanical ideal, “refactoring” (to use a programming term) the rules to make them more “sensible.”  I addressed Mark’s list with my own philosophical statement, still available on my website.

In my opinion, I did a very usable job of creating a rules-light, semi-modern game system that managed to retain D&D-isms like class and level while having a full skill system.  I made an effort to make all game mechanical systems properly “first class” (in a programming sense) so that the rules would have few special cases.

The game was not satisfactory.  Oh, I ran my ongoing campaign, set in the world I created back in 1982, using those rules, and things went along well enough.  But there were things that just felt wrong.

I could give an exhaustive list, if I felt like racking my brain long enough (remember, I last played with these rules around 2007), but I’m not going to that much trouble.  Rather, I’ll point out the one thing that really stood out to me.

Opening doors.

My game had a unified skill roll system.  Every “difficult” action other than combat was resolved using a standardized core mechanic; this was similar to the D20 method, but arguably the same thing as in games like RuneQuest, where percentiles are rolled for everything.  The end result was that the party half-ogre with 17 Strength was actually not a lot better at knocking down doors than the party dwarf, also with a +2 Strength bonus (Project 74 used a similar attribute-to-bonus mapping as BFRPG).  Yeah, I gave the half-ogre a bonus because he was big, but I also had to assign bonuses or penalties (for easy or hard doors) using larger numbers than I generally assigned as “situational modifiers.”

I could have messed around with the numbers, sure; but it was by far simpler to switch back to the classic 1d6 roll to open a door.  Each bonus was worth 16.7% instead of 5%, and the adjustments were very obvious.  I wrote down in my last version of Project 74 a new rule that even allowed for changing the die size as an indicator of difficulty.  Though it’s not in the BFRPG rules, it’s exactly the method I use now, as it works beautifully.

Why didn’t I write it down?  See my post on this blog entitled “Metarules” for an explanation of that.

It might be tempting to think I’m a true grognard, i.e. a grumbler, one who loves the classic games with a religious zeal.  I’m not.  I’m working on a game called “Realms of Wonder” right now, a fantasy game set in a world that differs markedly from the kind of world defined by games like Labyrinth Lord or OSRIC, or of course BFRPG.  Mechanically the game is a lot like the kind of game Smiorgan seems to want, and I expect it to be a lot of fun… breaking the player’s expectations usually is.  I wrote another game, shared on my website but never actually published, called Variant V; it owes more of its DNA to RuneQuest than anything.  I ran that campaign for several years.  The point is, I like the classic class-and-level games for their own merit, not because they are the only kind of game I want to play.

Do I have a point?  Yeah, I think I do.  Trying to “fix” the classic rules is a mistake.  They aren’t broken… they’re just different.

Wayward Kickstarters

by Solomoriah

Just spent some time on Tenkar’s Tavern looking at the Wayward Kickstarters.  Take a look here:

http://www.tenkarstavern.com/search/label/wayward%20kickstarters

Wow.  Just, wow.  What makes anyone think that paying a WRITER and/or ARTIST in ADVANCE for something that isn’t remotely ready yet is a good idea?  And I’m saying that as a writer.  Seriously, don’t send me money for something until I have it to the “ready to edit” stage.  At that point, any reasonably good editor can sort it out; but up until then:

(a) How do you know I’ll get it done?

and (b) How do you know it’s not a steaming pile of poo?

But I know my own limitations; I would never start a Kickstarter for something I didn’t at least have a WORKING prototype of.  Given that, and the fact that I know you can successfully bootstrap a project WITHOUT a Kickstarter… well, you can rest assured I’ll probably NEVER start one.

Or put any money into one.  No matter how cool it sounds.

I honestly can’t believe the people who say they’ll write a “next generation” or “innovative” or just “cool” RPG if you just send them some money.  Gah.  If you have such a game in you, write the darn thing, and get your friends (you do have some of those, right?  Cool.) to help playtest it.  THEN, and only then, figure out how to get paid for it.

And at that point, when the game already exists, yeah, you can ask for funds.  Or just, y’know, PUBLISH it.  Print on demand is the way of the future… use it.  Traditional publishers are a pain (you have to convince them your work is valuable before they’ll publish it, but how can you convince them if you’ve never had a chance to sell any?) and vanity presses are money sinks for the foolish.  Lulu.com, CreateSpace.com, and RPGNow.com all offer ways to get your book into print at basically no cost to you… and the first two offer standard packages of professional editing that you can avail yourself of if you need it, at predictable rates you could attempt to fund if you need to.

I don’t believe in Kickstarters.  You get people to give you money, but they’re just gambling on whether or not you’ll deliver.