ORACLE

1/19/2012

The Reprints

As I type this, the OSR blogosphere is afire with discussion of the news that Wizards of the Coast will be reprinting the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide. And for good reason. This is HUGE! When you consider the blasé attitude Wizards has always displayed toward classic editions of D&D, and now suddenly they aren't announcing something as simple as reissuing PDF copies of the 1st Edition core books, but they're going balls-out and committing to  full-blown reprints of the books. Complete with updated covers, no less. 

I think the astonishing thing is that this news came right on the heels of the announcement that Wizards has officially begun developing 5th Edition D&D. Lots of big news coming out of their camp in just a handful of days! It is obvious that Wizards is trying to get back on the top of the heap, and make D&D the best selling roleplaying game again (assuming that all the talk of Pathfinder being the current top seller is actually true). 

Obviously, announcing these reprints is a peace offering from Wizards to the old-school D&D community to try and make up for past missteps. I also suspect that this is something of a test as well, to try and gauge just how interested the old timers, as well as those that might not have been around back in the day, are in buying classic products from their back catalog. 

Despite my admission that I am less than moved by the announcement of 5th Edition, I am excited as hell about the 1st Edition reprints. Having proceeds going to the Gygax Memorial Fund has helped stoke this enthusiasm in a major way. I also feel in many ways that this is a win for the Old School Renaissance, and of course that makes me happy. It is obvious to me that someone is starting to listen to the rumblings from our little underground, and are beginning to take this movement seriously. It will be interesting to see if this will lead to other reprints, and perhaps have some bearing on the design of 5th Edition as well.

Win Your Own Brown Jenkin

Lovecraft eZine has a very cool contest, with the grand prize being a sculpture of Brown Jenkin, sculpted by Joe Broers. Just by subscribing to the site, and leaving a comment buys you a chance to win this adorable little critter. Waste no more time... go enter now!


1/17/2012

2011 Reflections, 2012 Plans

Here we are a few weeks into the new year, and I am sure I am not the only blogger reviewing 2011 posts and thinking about where to take things in 2012. So let's take a closer look at these things...

Last year was a big year for me personally. My daughter, Eleanor Grey, was born in April, and I was thrust into the wonderful and hectic world of fatherhood. I never expected to ever have children. I am 42, and I just didn't think it was in the cards for me. For the first time in my life, I am so glad I was wrong. As soon as Ellie showed up, I knew life would never the same again. Needless to say, a lot has changed. The biggest change is the amount of free time I now have. Time has become a precious commodity, which is a completely new concept and one I am not liking very much. But it's part of the gig, and I really like the gig!

I am sure my regular readers have noticed a sharp decline in the amount of posts here on the Outer Dark. I even tried to kick start the momentum again with "fluff" like the Music Mondays posts. Yeah, this was a bad idea in hindsight. I mean, I am a huge music lover, and I draw great inspiration from the bands I listen to, but Swords Against the Outer Dark just isn't the place for this kind of thing. I should have known better. These post drew in a large amount of views, but for all the wrong reasons. Unless it somehow is directly linked to Lovecraft, or gaming, or both, don't expect to see these kinds of posts again.

One of the highlights of 2011 was my involvement in last year's One Page Dungeon Contest. As a judge for the contest, I had a lot of fun being a part of the process from behind the scenes. I got to read and critique a bunch of great entries, and I learned a lot about what I wanted from a one page adventure. If asked to judge again I would gladly do so, though I would also enjoy creating my own submission as well.

With the announcement of a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons I am sure I will be tempted to weigh in on all the speculation. As a matter of fact, I have already been compiling a shortlist of things I would like to see from 5th Edition, and how I would like to see Wizards of the Coast release the new game. At this point I am sure all this will be nothing more than wishful thinking, but it might be fun to look at the whole thing from a "what if" perspective. Though I am leery of a new edition, in the end I am still a kid who loves Dungeons & Dragons, and a part of me wants Wizards to succeed in delivering a great game that will appeal to my old-school sensibilities. 

To this day I still receive emails asking me if I still plan to release a SAOD game. The answer is, probably. But I am saying this knowing the game I will most likely release will look quite different than the game I was talking about a year ago. Though it won't be considered a retro-clone, the game will still be rooted in old-school design and philosophy. I can't help it, it's where I come from... it's in my blood. Two rulesets I have really been enamored with this past year are Microlite20 (mainly its Microlite74 variant) and Mini Six. I love how these games give the player just enough rules to get into trouble, and then they get the hell out of the way. It is the same philosophy found in the one page adventure movement, where less is definitely more. I have been tinkering with Sword & Sanity versions of both games, and at this point I am not 100% sure which direction I will settle on. If I can get things coordinated, there is a strong possibility that I will soon begin gaming with a group that seems very interested in a D6 Sword & Sanity campaign, so this may end up being the deciding factor. I strongly believe we should be blogging about the games that we are actually playing, so time will tell on this one. Having said that, D&D often sings its siren's song in my ear when I am playing other games, so a Microlite Sword & Sanity game could also happen (Microlite + Swords Against the Outer Dark = MicroDark). If anyone has a strong opinion on this please yell out in the comments.

Another project that had its beginnings in 2011 (well 2008 if you count the game I first used these ideas and adventures) is an adventure setting I am currently calling "Project: Star-Spore," because I am not quite ready to make an official announcement. The setting will be presented as a hex-crawl sandbox, along with a few supporting adventures. This is a true piece of Yog-Sothothery, and will include my own blasphemous entities and creations that snugly fit within the Cthulhu Mythos framework, without relying on the more famous creations of Lovecraft and other Weird luminaries. Right now I am working on the cartography, as well as refining the writing. Presentation is another major factor I have been tinkering with. I also have one other adventure I would like to include, so that needs to be hammered out as well. Chris Huth has already been commissioned and has delivered a badass cover illustration. Things are moving forward, but I just haven't been talking about it much, because I would like to get closer to the finish line before I start promoting the project. 

Some may have noticed a new header for the blog. I would like to spruce the place up a bit, so I have been playing around with some new graphics. I have a nonexistent budget to hire an artist to come up with something special for me, but I think I pulled together a header that is evocative, even if it is nothing more than freely available vector art and a bit of creativity. I am sure things will change a bit with time, so please ignore anything that doesn't look quite right. Chances are that I am tweaking something at that moment.

I guess that is about it for now. I apologize if I rambled on a bit. In closing, I would just like to thank everyone for stopping by and checking out my dark little corner of the internet. Keep coming back!

1/16/2012

[Review] Delta's Book of War

Mail call!
I will be the first to admit that math is probably my weakest subject. Oh, I did OK in my math classes in high school and college, but it wasn't because it came naturally to me. This is why I am thankful that we have guys like Daniel "Delta" Collins active in the old-school gaming scene. You see, Delta is passionate about two things: the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons and math. Which is great, because he usually does all the heavy statistical lifting for guys like me. Need an example of Delta's work? Look no further than his analysis of the D&D combat algorithm, which lead to his most excellent "Target 20" core resolution mechanic (d20 + Level  + mods ≥ 20).

A few months back Delta was kind enough to send me a copy of Book of War, which is his rules supplement for fantasy mass combat and miniature wargaming. I wanted to take a moment to talk about the book, and share my review. Now, I have to be up front with the fact that I have not had an opportunity to try out the rules presented in Book of War. But I have been reading the book off and on since October, so I feel I have a pretty good handle on the working of the rules, and how they will play out at the table.

The Physical Thing
Book of War (BoW from here on) is a 24 page saddle-stitched paperback, measuring in at 5.8" x 8.3". The cover is in color, displaying an old painting of a medieval battle. All of the artwork used to illustrate the book was taken from a public domain source, and works well with the given subject matter and tone. The interior is laid out nicely, with a clean single-column design. The font choices and spartan design are very reminiscent of  the original D&D rule book published in '74, and I imagine BoW would look right at home next to the "little brown books." Overall, I found the book easy to read, easy to reference and I didn't notice anything editorially that I felt compelled to nitpick.

Introduction
Delta wrote this book with these goals in mind (quoted directly from the foreword):
  1. "To create a system that faithfully extrapolates standard D&D combat results on a mass scale."
  2. "To cultivate a game which can stand on it own as fun, entertaining, and elegant."
  3. "To realistically simulate actual historical medieval warfare, wherever possible."
  4. "I also wanted to avoid the need for any paper record keeping during play."
In my opinion, he has succeeded on ever count. Delta also explains that through the use of computers "billions of simulated runs" have helped him analyse the game's statistical data, and present a set of rules that is both solid and balanced. How's that for mathematical heavy lifting?

The Rules
The first section is titled "The Core Rules" and covers Scale (1 figure = 10 men, 1 inch = 20 feet, 1 turn = 30 seconds), Movement (light = 12, medium = 9, heavy = 6), and Combat, which is resolved by rolling a single six-sided die, and comparing the result to an Armor Hit (AH) value (no armor = 3, leather = 4, chain = 5, plate = 6). If the attacker's roll is equal to or higher than the defender's AH, a successful "hit" is landed, and for "normal men" this means that one figure (10 men) is removed from play. All this works in tandem with the original set of D&D rules, and has a simple elegance that I appreciate.

The next section, "Basic Rules," builds upon the core rules by first discussing the Sequence of Play. The game begins by first selecting units, rolling initiative (2d6, high roll takes first turn) and setting up the terrain. Each turn is broken down into three phases: 1) moving forces, 2) attacking opponent with missiles or melee, and 3) morale checks for units who have lost figures during the turn. Unit Selection is discussed next, covering in detail all you may need to know about archers, cavalry, pikemen and horse archers. Details include unit cost, movement rate, Armor Hit value and equipment carried. The remainder of this section has rules form Terrain (randomly determined by rolling 2d6), Formation and Morale (again, rolling 2d6). Delta manages to cover a lot of ground in these four pages.

Next, follows the "Advanced Rules." This is where the more fantastic elements, such as fantasy creatures, wizards, spells and heroes, are introduced. This section also goes into great detail explaining how to convert creatures from D&D over to BoW. Fantasy Units include all the oldies but goodies, broken down into two alignment categories: Lawful Units (elves, dwarves, halflings, men) and Chaotic Units (goblins, orcs, gnolls, etc.). Elite units on both sides of the alignment equation have supernatural abilities available to them (invisibility, regeneration, etc.). Hero units, such as knights, dragons and giants, are also covered. As you can guess, these guys are extremely tough, being 10 Hit Dice or higher. Wrapping up this section are rules for wizards and spells.

Delta has also included a selection of "Optional Rules," which are presented in a modular fashion, allowing players to add as much crunch to the game as they like. Rules for weather, darkness, modifying morale, an expanded armor table, alternate scale options, castles, ships, unit cost options, recovery and disputes. Lots of great crunchy bits to chew on.

One of the more interesting sections of the book is the "Designer Notes," where Delta discusses some of his design decisions. Wrapping everything up is a bibliography, a list of the art credits and a handy BoW reference card.

All in all, I highly recommend Book of War to anyone needing a simple, yet solid, set of mass combat rules for their D&D campaign. What Delta has delivered with this book epitomizes the do-it-yourself spirit the Old-School Renaissance is supposed to be about. BoW is exactly the kind of product that I love seeing come out of the OSR. Personally, I plan to use these rules in an upcoming game, and can't wait to see them in action.