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[Circûmflex] Messing around with spellpoints in an OSR-style system

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This last week I have been sick. With lots of time on my hands I have been working on a version of Labyrinth Lord that is more suited for playing on HârnWorld. By now the whole thing does not look much like Labyrinth Lord anymore. Although it still is pretty close to the mathematical values, and more of a homebrew than an actual new system. I call it Circûmflex, because if you know Hârn, which is like calling something D&D-connected Ampersand.

These posts will be basically meditations on why I decide to do certain things one way or another. Please feel free to comment, especially if you know more about the maths of games than I do (which is not hard).

In any case, one of the things I decided to overhaul was the magic system. I adore the Vancian magic system, I really do. But it just is not a good fit for the setting I intended this to be played in.

So I started to fiddle around with spell points a bit.

One idea that was floating around in various places was that one could just use the number of spells wizards gained per level, and give them a value of points per level, connected to the Fibonacci sequence. I liked that. It made lower level spells cheaper, while making more powerful spells more difficult to cast.

Piety and Mana

To use spells and invocations wizards and clerics use a pool of points each. For clerics this is called Piety, for wizards this is called Mana. Both are determined by the level of the character, modified by the modificator for Wisdom for Clerics, and the one for Intelligence for Shek-P’var.
Mechanically they work almost the same. A spell or invocation of a specific level has a cost in piety or mana. When it is invoked or cast it reduces the amount of points by the set amount. When the pool of points reaches 0 no further invocations or spells are possible until they are replenished.
If the last spell cast would bring the pool of points under 0 the cleric or shek-p’var has to Save against Spell. If this roll fails he/she might incur the displeasure of their deity (cleric), or the spell might misfire (according to GM’s fiat). In any case the cleric/shek-p’var will feel burned out and not be able to invoke/cast again until at least half the pool is replenished.
Piety and Mana points replenish at a rate of 1d8 per night of rest spent in prayer or meditation.

The cost of spells and invocations is determined by the level it has. At level 1 it costs 1 point, at level 2 it costs two points, at level 3 three points, at level 4 five points, etc.

Some notes on that:

  • I renamed spells for clerics to invocations. This is in line with the terminology in HarnMaster, even though in this case it does not make any difference ruleswise. Likewise I used the word Piety, which has an actual value in HM, to denote something completely different. The word Mana does not even appear in HM I think, but I am trying to dress Labyrinth Lord in the right guise, I don’t try to emulate the rules of HM.
  • Wizards are of course Shek-P’var in HârnWorld. Technically Shek’P’var are just the most common and widespread of wizards, and there are quite a few hints towards other traditions, but I will go with that right now.
  • The spellpoint management is actually inspired by older editions of Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye). I don’t know if newer editions still have it (5th edition just came out and I haven’t even seen a book of it yet…), but I felt it might fit the setting well if spells cannot be easily regained from day to day. Mana and Piety in this system replenish at about double the rate as hit points. Which means that spellcasters start pretty strong, but have to keep their resources in mind better.

Ah yes, about that last part…

This is the point when I decided to have a look at the amount of spell points available to my spellcasters. Now, I have to add here that in the previous version of my houserules I decided at one point that all the levels I really needed to think about was the ones up to level 12. In the last few years barely any of my players managed to reach even these lofty heights, and I mean the years since I started playing AD&D 2nd edition back in the 90s.

Funnily enough I noticed something interesting when I calculated the spellpoint equivalents to the usual Labyrinth Lord spell slots: if I calculate according to the Fibonacci sequence I mentioned earlier, with one 1st level spell as 1 point, and 1 6th level spell as 9 points, at level 12 I reached exactly 66.

If I would let that go on further the Quadratic Wizard effect would of course be in full effect. That was one of the things I found was easier to avoid with a soft level limit of 12. But even like that, this is pretty strong, isn’t it? Especially considering that I was already thinking of getting rid of spell books and memorization. Kind of strong for the nominally low-magic world Kethira.

On the other hand I was toying with another idea: why not give spellcasters a roll for their spell pool that is equivalent to their hp pool?

Well, ok, because people might hate not having a clear level progression, and because bad rolls happen (although I do have an idea to mitigate that) and because it would benefit some people but not others. But other than that?

I actually did see something similar in Das Schwarze Auge. True, there the system actually started with 25 or so “astral points” and leveling added to that, but DSA always was a bit of a slugfest with all those points. So lets say we start with a mana pool of 1d8 for shek-p’var, and 1d6 for clerics. This still might be too much actually. This would give an average of 4.5 points, plus Int-mod. At the top of the range this might mean a wizard could have 11 spells a day on first level. Hmm. Nope, not good.

Ok, lets go with 1d6 for both. this would give an average of 42 points, a minimum of 12, and a maximum of 108 spell points on level 12.

I gave the Shek-P’var a requirement of Int 9, so no negative modifiers should be possible. After all one needs to be at least able to read to study old musty tomes of arcane secrets. No Int 3 wizards in this system. Sorry.

Ok, a super-genius wizard who can spam 12 level 6 spells on level 12. A bit over the top, but doable. On the other hand even someone with the worst possible kind of luck and no modifiers should be able to blast off at least 12 spells at once.

In this case it actually might help that either of these wizards only get back a maximum of 8 points per day.

Luckily, there are some limitations for both clerics and wizards in this setting. Clerics only have access to a limited pool of spells. Some of the spells, sorry, invocations, might be downright useless from an dungeoneering point of view (which is okay, there aren’t that many straightforward dungeons in the setting anyway). There is not really a reason to invoke “Marriage” for example, except to replenish piety points. And where do you find a willing couple in the middle of the dungeon anyway?

Ah yes, that latter one is an actual invocation from HarnMaster Religion. There it of course makes a lot of sense. The clerics in HarnMaster are not only walking hp-fountains. In fact a lot of the gods don’t even have healing invocations. But doing some good work like baptising new adherents, and performing weddings for others, actually increases the piety for the priest. This would not actually have much sense with the usual Vancian magic, it does make more sense if clerics have to replenish their piety somehow.

Wizards actually have it a bit better, at least in higher levels. The Pvaristic system the setting has actually keeps wizards from having access to all the cool spells at once. A shek-p’var starts as a specialist in one of six convocations. This means he for example only has access to water-aspected spells. But shek-p’var can attune themselves to the other convocations the more experience they have. So over time they can gain access to all convocations. Or they just stay a specialist in their field. Whatever floats their boat.

 

 

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[DSA] Session 4 – The Ancient Academy

So, another adventure with these intrepid adventurers in The Dark Eye. This time I was doing “The Ancient Academy” (as I hinted in the previous post). It went… ok, I guess.

I set it in the western region of Aventuria, the adventurers scouted for a job in the city of Havena and found an old book dealer who was willing to pay them money for an old book that might be in an old monastery in the mountains. The name “Testament of the Nameless” was a bit of a tipoff that the tome was not about bunnies and rainbows.

The characters took to that rather well (the offer of money helped as well), bought themselves a donkey and went off. After a short search for the whole thing they found the dungeon, went in, and… came out again.

It turned out they went in a circle, so after 4 rooms they were standing in the monastery again. They would repeat that another 3 times, getting increasingly frustrated about it. The design of the Ancient Academy is rather interesting, with certain logical units that fit together quite well. Unfortunately for my players that meant that their specific style of exploring always led them back to the first room. (“Again?!!”) And then, when it finally didn’t, they ended up going through all the storage rooms on the periphery, neatly getting around most fights. A lot of luck (?) on the wandering monster table also figured in there.

Still, they met a few creatures. And they killed them. If I noticed something during the game it was how merciless they were towards their enemies. Normally they are scared kittens, but yesterday they hunted down one of the goblins and killed him like a dog when he tried to get away.

At least in the end they got their objective by a bit of roleplaying: the cultists in the dungeon were the ones who had the book they were searching for, and they neatly convinced them to be other members of their cult, killed the high priest (who had turned into a ghoul) and got the book to Havena. Of course by that point everybody in the group already was a bit tired, and most of my players had to go to work the next morning, so I was eager to wrap up the adventure.

Notes on the adventure:

1. the characters dealt in forbidden lore and pretended to be members of a very forbidden cult. That might come bite them in the ass in a few adventures. Also they never got into a third of the dungeon. Sequel hooks!

2. Google image search is brillant. Everytime I had the feeling I needed some extra pictures to enhance the mood I could search it within seconds. That also was the good thing about having a notebook with my notes on it. Picture of rotten zombies? Check. Stag beetle? Check. Ruined monastery on a hill? Check.

3. Playing on Sunday night is bad, and I told myself not to do it anymore. Still, I wanted to play this week, and that was the only time when all of us had time. Still: it leads to all of us being tired and unresponsive. I wanted to play the cultists a bit more but I couldn’t. And I at least have the boon of having holidays for two weeks now. My players don’t. They had to go to work the next day.

4. I actually managed to get them onto the silver standard. The basic coinage they are dealing with now are silver talers (dollars…). That’s a bit better for my own sanity as the gold coins in the game are defined to be ridiculously valuable, and for some reason players seem to like to deal with the gold coins.

[Labyrinth Lord] Notes for “The Ancient Academy”

The Ancient Academy is one of the first One Page Dungeons, and it is glorious at that. Seriously, in my opinion there are few of those small adventures as comprehensive and wonderful in their design as this one. At least in terms of old schoolness. It just reeks old school.So this is the first of two posts in which I try to flesh out the whole adventure with stats.

It’s funny, but I noticed that when doing these stats different systems (and in this case this would be The Dark Eye and Dungeons and Dragons 0e) demand different things from the me. The Dark Eye is much more connected to it’s background world in my opinion, and I had to struggle with myself for a while to find a reason for that particular dungeon to be situated where the heroes are. It’s the frogman that doesn’t fit in too well, but I think I found a way around that.

In this case it’s much more simple: generic old wizards’ academy. Yup, works.

Adventure hooks:

I. It’s a dungeon, duh. It’s just outside of town and it never was plundered completely.

II. It’s an old school of wizardry and there still are some obscure books in the library, or at least that is what a wealthy bookdealer in town believes. Rescue those poor codices from rotting through!

2. 6 goblins
Goblin (6) [AL C, MV 60’ (20’), AC 6, HD 1 -1, #AT 1 (weapon), DM 1d6 or weapon, THAC0: 19, SV 0 human, ML 7, XP 5, LL 78, HC III] Total XP: 30. HP: 1, 2, 2, 1, 5, 6.
Treasure: EP: 3

3. statue of bipedal frog man
5. 4 zombies in water
Zombie (4) [AL C, MV 120’ (40’), AC 8, HD 2, #AT 1, DM 1d8 or weapon, THAC0: 18, SV F1, ML 12, XP 29, LL 103, HC None] Total XP: 116. HP: 9, 11, 13, 4.
Treasure: None

6. potion, morphs into bugbear
7. Spellbook, some other occult books

Spell Book/Known Spells:
First: Feather Fall, Shocking Grasp, Scribe, Jarring Hand
Second: Arcane Lock, Detect Invisible, Strength, Magic Mouth, Invisibility
Third: Suggestion

11. small elven sword
12. rats
Rat (20) [AL N, MV 60’ (20’) Swim 30’ (10’), AC 9, HD 1 hp, #AT 1 (bite, per group), DM 1d6 + disease, THAC0: 19, SV 0 human, ML 5, XP 6, LL 92, HC XI] Total XP: 120. HP: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1.
Treasure: Gems : 2 – Total Value: 110 gp.

14. 2 stirges

Stirge (2) [AL N, MV 30’ (10’) Fly 180’ (60’), AC 7, HD 1, #AT 1, DM 1d3, THAC0: 19, SV F2, ML 9, XP 16, LL 98, HC XI] Total XP: 112. HP: 6, 3.

Treasure: Gems : 5 – Total Value: 445 gp.

15. 5 dwarves
Dwarf (5) [AL L or N, MV 60’ (20’), AC 4, HD 1, #AT 1, DM 1d8 or weapon, THAC0: 19, SV D1, ML 8, XP 10, LL 72, HC XVI] Total XP: 20. HP: 3, 4, 5, 5, 6.

Treasure: No Treasure.

16. 6 skeletons, animated?
Skeleton (6) [AL C, MV 60’ (20’), AC 7, HD 1, #AT 1, DM 1d6 or weapon, THAC0: 19, SV F1, ML 12, XP 13, LL 95, HC None] Total XP: 78. HP: 2, 4, 8, 7, 5, 6.

Treasure: jewellery

17. 5 cultists
Cultists (5) [AL N, MV 120’ (40’), AC 7, HD 1+1, #AT 1, DM 1d6 or weapon, THAC0: 18, SV F1, ML N/A, XP 21, LL 87, HC I] Total XP: 126. HP: 6, 4, 7, 2, 6.

Treasure: CP: 22

18. ghoul, magic warhammer
Ghoul (1) [AL C, MV 90’ (30’), AC 6, HD 2 (turn as 3 HD), #AT 3, DM 1d3/1d3/1d3 + paralysis, THAC0: 18, SV F2, ML 9, XP 47, LL 76, HC XXI] Total XP: 47. HP: 10.
Treasure: No Treasure.

22. 8 bandits

23. bottles of potent wine
24. killer bees
Bee, Giant Killer (15) [AL N, MV 150’ (50’), AC 7, HD 1d4 hp, #AT 1 (sting), DM 1d3 + poison, THAC0: 19, SV F1, ML 9, XP 7, LL 65, HC None] Total XP: 105. HP: 4, 1, 3, 1, 3, 2, 3, 4, 4, 1, 3, 1, 1, 2, 1.
Treasure: None

20. 3 giant centipedes
Centipede, Giant (4) [AL N, MV 60’ (20’), AC 9, HD 1d4 hp, #AT 1 (bite), DM poison, THAC0: 19, SV 0 Human, ML 7, XP 6, LL 68, HC None] Total XP: 18. HP: 2, 2, 4.
Treasure: None

34. giant spider
Spider, Giant Black Widow (3) [AL N, MV 60’ (20’) Web 120’ (40’), AC 6, HD 3, #AT 1 (bite), DM 2d6 + poison, THAC0: 17, SV F2, ML 8, XP 80, LL 97, HC VI] Total XP: 80. HP: 15.
Treasure: No treasure.

36. 6 goblins
Goblin (6) [AL C, MV 60’ (20’), AC 6, HD 1 -1, #AT 1 (weapon), DM 1d6 or weapon, THAC0: 19, SV 0 human, ML 7, XP 5, LL 78, HC III] Total XP: 30. HP: 1, 2, 7, 6, 1, 2.

Treasure: EP: 2

39. 2 neanderthals
Neanderthal (2) [AL L, MV 120’ (40’), AC 8, HD 2, #AT 1, DM 2d4 or weapon, THAC0: 18, SV F2, ML 7, XP 20, LL 89, HC XX] Total XP: 40. HP: 9, 9.
Treasure: SP: 2000, Jewelry: 6 items – Total Value: 3340 gp.
Held hostage, two leading members of a rich Neanderthal tribe

Beyond the Hills

For some reason the German translations of the Midkemia Press books were 1. having different names for pretty much everything and 2. had much better covers. Especially the second one is interesting considering what they did to, for example, Fighting FantasyGamebooks of the 80s. But here we had some people in charge of the publishing house that actually put effort into what they were publishing.

Here are the German versions of Towns of the Outlands: Jenseits der Hügel (Beyond the Hills), and the City of Carse: Corrinis, Stadt der Abenteuer (Corrinis, City of Adventure).

And yes, the right picture was sold in toystores like this. It might also be interesting to notice that both call themselves “Supplements for all Roleplaying Systems”, while being soon afterwards integrated into the Magira/Midgard campaign setting. If I remember well enough the first city supplement for DSA “Havena” claimed the same, even though it was integrated tightly into Aventuria within months after the supplement appeared.

[DSA] Executive Meddling: Mask of the Master

No, this is not a joke.

You know, there is one thing that always interested me in the history of roleplaying as a hobby in Germany, and that were the various stupidities produced by Schmidt Spiele against the best interest of their own products sales and believability. tragic as they might seem, they can be kind of amusing though. the picture in the top left here shows the most well known of these follies: Die Maske des Meisters (The Mask of the Master).

Schmidt Spiele, as you might remember, was the game company responsible for The Dark Eye in it’s early editions. And they were very successful with it. DSA sold like hotcakes.

The reason for that was simple: while having very basic rules and a rather naive background it was the only pen and paper RPG available in pretty much every city in Germany.  Schmidt Spiele had a wide range of games and an awesome market penetration. If I remember correctly most of the  games I owned back when I was a kid were produced by this company. Most German players started with this game, and many a gamer’s life never really moved far from it.

But with the territory of being the biggest on the market there also came the hubris, especially in the beginning, but occassionally also later. Schmidt Spiele executives were not really that sure about the game itself. they just couldn’t figure it out.

Roleplaying games were something new and unknown to them, and they seemed to be bothered by the lack of proper gaming materials. There were no markers, no gameboard, nothing they normally put into the boxes that had sold so well for decades. Even more: German roleplayers did not come from a wargaming background, wargames being pretty much unknown in the general gamer audience in Germany until the  mid-90s or so. There were no miniatures, and most German players see them as superflous for roleplaying.

This did not sit so well with them. They (the execs) needed to do something with the whole thing, they could not just let the authors of the game do willy-nilly (conveniently forgetting that the fans might be the ones which knew best who to sell this game to…). In the end they actually found something to ease their mind: As they completely underestimated the age of players (DSA mostly was marketed to children back then), and because they had a few thousand of them still lying around from a cancelled product, the first extension box for the game  “Die Werkzeuge des Meisters” (Tools of the Gamemaster) contained a child-sized, ridiculously cheap-looking mask the GM was supposed to wear when GMing. [see picture above, note the fine shine of cheap plastic and the awesome yet silly looking wings…].

As the mask was part of an earlier product and is sporting the dark eye symbol they used for the product line later,  it can be assumed this was a very sleek way of recycling some leftovers they had lying around. Most likely the name of the game was not only chosen because it sounded better, but also because they needed to get rid of these things. Most likely they already had paid the designer for the symbol, so why waste that money?

Whatever the product was that was cancelled, now the new and first roleplaying game they were publishing bore the name. But not only that: as they wanted it to appear as if the mask actually was, well, a useful part of the game, they claimed in the rulebooks cantained in the box that it was absolutely essential to the right gaming experience to always wear them.

So yes, this was an actual gaming aid they tried to foist onto people. There is an apocryphal story of someone writing in to complain that well, his group absolutely loved the game, but they always had to stop early because the mask was so tight it was giving him headaches.

The mask wasn’t a big success, to say the least.

Later editions of the box  replaced the mask with lots of paper standups and other trinkets and everybody was happy. Players because they got something they actually could use, and executives because they could put something into their product that was recognisable as gaming material. Cynics might say that was because they ran out of masks to put into the reprint runs, and they most likely would be right.

Today of course it’s fondly remembered as a sign of the cheesiness of early DSA. A recent reprinting of the old game rules actually contained a cardboard version of it for fun’s sake, and when they finally published the Güldenland-setting a few years back (I should get back to that at one point), the authors made it (tongue-in-cheek) an integral part of the setting itself: the mages/nobility of that particular setting had to wear a three eyed mask to not petrify anyone they look at with their third eye/not let just any random peasant know that they don’t have the third eye they claim as a sign for the right to rule over the Imperium. So, just like in real life: thety didn’t need it, but everybody was saying it was absolutely essential. Oh, I loved that bit.

[DSA] Executive Meddling: Das Schwarze Auge

Logo of the first edition

Image via Wikipedia

Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye). and I mean the whole title of the game is one big case of executive meddling. A rather beneficial one at that. The problem came later when the publisher decided that it was so successful in this case, it would be successful in any other case as well. A bit like the way America continued to go into foreign countries as liberators just because the Germans were so damn glad to see them in ’45 (as the alternative were either keeping the Nazis or getting the Soviets it was kind of understandable). I guess we set the expectations a bit high there.

When Schmidt Spiele bought the game the author had named it Aventurien (from middle-high german: aventurie –  knightly adventure).

This did not strike the fancy of the executives. Because what the fuck did it even mean? So the Dark eyes were created, or maybe just picked out from the magic item section, and hapharzardly shoehorned in. It might actually be that they were created because of the item in the next entry of this series.

The probel remained: What the f uck DID this mean? But now it sounded mysterious and kewl. And it sold better than the old title would have ever sold.

But from the time I first opened a DSA product to the time when I roughly grasped what a dark eye actually was it took me about 3 years. They are that much of a fringe object in the gameworld.

What they are? Oh, some sort of immobile palantir copy. The most interesting part about the always was that they were made off meteoric metal that had to be crafted into a dark eye at the place it fell. It could actually not be moved afterwards: A wonderful setup for strange temples and magic towers in the middle of frigging nowhere. Because not moved meant not moved. It was supposed to be absolutely static.

[DSA] Mapping Aventuria

A character for every game is hosting the RPG Blog carnival for April. And the topic is Cartography. Which fits well because I had wanted to take a short look on the maps for The Dark Eye anyway. They were one of these things that drew a lot of people into the game, so much even that at one point the producers just started selling them in separate map packs, so people could put them together and create a giant map of the continent Aventuria. The only problem THEN was, where to put a 3 meter high, wonderfully detailed map of a fantasy continent. One way you might find here.

The whole things started a bit smaller though: the first map of the continent was standard hex map business, a smallish map with completely ridiculous measurements that have stayed with the game for the last 25 years.

Technically Aventuria is only 3000 miles long, and one mile is supposed to be 1 kilometre. Which makes the continent… very, very small… And grates on the suspension of disbelief many people have about it. How can a viking style culture keep being in a tech level from the early middle ages when at the same time, 300 km away a Italian/French-inspired culture is slowly moving into the Renaissance.

No, it does not make that much sense. It doesn’t have to either, it is a fantasy world after all, but sometimes the official canon just seems a bit odd. On the other hand the one time when both aforementioned cultures clashed the Viking culture got their asses handed. In the beginning I guess nobody expected this game to last for so damn long with such popularity. The first few modules created for the game were standard fantasy stuff with their plot taking place in a sorta medieval land without too many geographic references. The Black Boar had exactly four: the cities of Havena where the heroes came from, the city of Angbar where they travelled to, Gratenfels where they were, and an aside about the neighbouring barony of Wengenholm. All of these names were reasonable names for places, but there was no map for them. Then the extension set came out, bringing new monsters and traps, and for the first time a short description of the setting.

The easy way around the settings weird proportions is of course to just assume that 1 mile on the map indeed means a mile, which one might define as anything from 1 to 2 km in length, but some people don’t like that solution either as it conflicts with other parts of the world, namely the time armies in the setting are supposed to have marched to reach their destination.

Uhm, did I mention this game is a German game? I guess the obsession about minor details becomes a bit more understandable if you keep this in mind.

Interestingly enough the hexmap never was that popular with German players. For some reason they always preferred real maps instead of something hexed. I don’t think I ever even saw a piece of hexpaper anywhere in Germany, besides in Battletech supplements that is.

The part where cartography really becomes interesting are the maps that were drawn by Ina Kramer for the whole continent, those look a. awesome and b. professional and c. insanely detailed. At least c. is not really true as they are still giving a lot of space in between that just has been left off the map, nevertheless they do create the illusion of Aventurien as a real place.

And of course these maps are completely outgame, because no person in Aventuria could have a map as detailed as this. The continent is described largely unexplored, even in the newest supplements. (The joke of course is that thanks to thousands of avid players by now some parts of the setting have been described down to single milestones on the road. I mentioned the obsesession with detail?).

And yes, that map above shows the area Realms of Arkania II – Star Trail was set in, it was originally a DSA computer game.

Ah, by the way, for further exploration of the continent Aventuria Google Maps might be a good starting point. Yes, it works like Google Maps, just with a fantasy continent.

[DSA] Session I: Black Boar Inn

So, we played. And it worked rather well, I guess. We had one completely green player (my girlfriend) and two which had more experience with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Just as DSA is THE standard for roleplaying in Germany, so is WFRP in Poland, to the extent that some people will claim that D&D is not a roleplaying game because it’s not WFRP. But both of them did  well even with this oh so unfamiliar game. That it was even more basic than OD&D might have helped a bit with that.

And we had fun. The party consisted of a Valkyrie from the north (a Thorwalian), a rather antisocial mage with a fetish for petrifying people, and a small-time crook with aspirations to become a full-blown scoundrel. They all met in a wayside inn just a few miles from the town of Gratenfels, and quickly got imprisoned and sentenced to death for  espionage and backtalking with evil intent, by the paranoid madman running the Duchy.

This actually was the worst part of my performance: the adventure module has an awful case of railroading in this point, which is especially grating as my players actually could have found much more interesting ways of freeing themselves from that situation. I tried to avoid most of it, but in any case the characters need to be railroaded  because there is no other way to get to the dungeon. In hindsight I think I should have had them start in the inn’s cellar, waiting for execution, and discover the secret exit to the duke’s secret silver mine by chance alone.

The rest went a lot better: we skipped the part where the characters had to find their way through the darkness and find the torches by feel and touch alone (which technically is an awesome part of this adventure), as we had a mage in the group and he knew a light spell.

Problem-solving was done accroding to the plan in the module though, but I soon came across another problem: the players all in all did not really like the idea of dungeons in itself. Which might not be such a bad thing in a larger campaign, but the adventure was supposed to be mostly about finding your way through a secret silver mine and discovering all the weird stuff in it.

To make things short: they found the way outside and left much earlier than I would have anticipated, not even touching the more juicy parts of the conterfeit operation, but getting the basic gist of the other plot point: the Duke is mad (hard not to notice that) and he’s not heeding the warnings of his dwarven slaves to not actually dig here, because there are warning signs plastered all over the place. Instead he believes the dwarves want to weasel out of digging here because there might be a dwarven treasure down there somewhere (dwarven runes = lots of treasure, obviously). Which he needs because he built city walls so fucking huge that he won’t be able to pay off the debt in a hundred years.

We managed to all in all get into one single fight: Two orc guards were surprised gambling and quickly slaughtered (as quickly as you can with the DSA-combat system, in other words: both orcs and adventurers hit a lot of air). Of course only afterwards they thought about maybe questioning one of them so he could lead them out of there. Which they did when they found the next one, who was easily convinced by them that they were the Duke’s inspectors. He also lead them to the dwarves. they tried to instigate a rebellion under the dwarves, but 1. most of them were completely broken after months of hard labour, and 2. even if they weren’t the could not leave because there was something lurking in the walls, and they had to stall the discovery of whatever it was, because, well, if the highest authorities of the dwarves and the humans leave warning signs all over the place and nobody wants to remember what this place actually IS, it might be pretty bad (spoiler: yes, it is).

In between they managed to talk their way out of a bad situation with some bugbears (or Höhlenschrate, as they are called in the system) and managed to get a hint for a shortcut out of the system. This one they actually found, bypassing most of the later dungeon and some of the more nasty monsters. The way they found was rather inventive but ended in the Thorwalian warrior getting bitten by angry bats and then bumbling down a rocky hillside. All in all she got the most damage in the adventure and she wasn’t even fighting that much.

So the characters now have a hook for the next session: get a message from the imprisoned dwarves to the mountainking and tell her what is happening in that mine (yes, her, I’m going for the untranslatable-term-in-dwarvish here). Now I will have to think about where to take the story after they get to the dwarven king.

Things I need to remember if I ever play this module again:

Don’t railroad the beginning that much. The hamminess of the Duke and the roleplay with the people in the inn might be nice, but there is no way that a group of young hotshots will just let themselves be thrown into the cellar. This actually was solved in the module itself, the problem was that the “solution” was three pages of text to be read to the players, with no actual playing allowed in between.

All in all: not too bad as a dungeon adventure, once one gets past the introduction, with a bit of logic even the different inhabitants of the dungeon can provide some nice interactions and memorable moments.

Roleplaying in Germany: Das Schwarze Auge

Back in the early days of the hobby (the early 80s) there were not that many RPGs around in Germany. There had been a rather unsuccessful try to translate Tunnels and Trolls (Schwerter und Dämonen) that had sold badly, and before that there had been tries to create a German roleplaying game called Midgard (or rather Empires of Magira… it’s complicated), inspired by different games that had slowly seeped over the pond.

But at one point around 1983 people started to notice this trend coming over from US and UK. Even more: Executives in different big game companies started to notice that money could be made. And of course they tried to have it the easy way and get the license for Dungeons & Dragons as the first and most prolific RPG.

A young art teacher and roleplaying/fantasy affeccionado called Ulrich Kiesow translated the game, after already having done so with Tunnnels and Trolls, for Schmidt Spiele, back then one of the biggest game companies in Germany. Basically he was the biggest roleplaying nerd in Germany at this point, at one point I found an article about the state of fantasy in Germany in the Jahrbuch der Fantasy und Science Fiction 1983 (Science Fiction and Fantasy Annual 1983) in which he bemoaned that there STILL was no German version of D&D available. That article must have been written in 1981/2, before they even published Midgard in a halfway professional form.

Accounts differ to what exactly happened with the deal, but it seems like TSR was a bit too greedy/demanding and the executives of Schmidt Spiele a bit too cautious about this whole new game thingy, with no board and game pieces. So a competitor snatched away the license and went on to publish Kiesow’s translation, and, incidentally, bankrupt itself with it…

Schmidt Spiele, seeing the Spiel (the biggest European toy and game fair) coming up, had nothing. So they asked Kiesow for an alternative, and he sold them one: the house system that he had cobbled together for his own gaming group. A system he called “Aventurien”, after the place where it was set.

Schmidt Spiele took it, changed the name to something marketable (and economic, but I’ll explain that in another post), got together with a publishing house (Droemer-Knaur) and put it into most toy- and department stores of Germany. And it sold. Pretty decently even.

Something they never got rid of though was their bad feeling about selling a product that basically consisted of books with a few dice and no tangible elements at all. But I guess I’ll do that in another post.

There will be gaming

This weekend hopefully, if nothing comes between, I will finally have a game up and running. My players will be only Poles, hopefully with enough knowledge of English. As so often at least one of the players remains an unknown to me, it’s the brother of one of my colleagues.

The system I will be using is Das Schwarze Auge 1.5, or something like that. I noticed a few weeks ago that some good soul had taken it onto himself to update the basic version of Das Schwarze Auge from 1984 with some decent and logical revisions. I don’t actually approve of all of them, but most are good additions to the rather basic (and cheesy) system from 1984.

Another wonderful person (James Hutchings) made a retro-clone of the system available in English, so this will be the reference for any player knowing no German at all (most of my Polish friends do though).

Das Schwarze Auge recently got a translation into English. Of course it was lacking most of the background material and adventures that make the whole system so interesting for German players, so it just came over as a clone of D&D and GURPS. But the edition that was translated was the 4th (or even 4.1th), and that particular edition is pretty much the epitome of simulationist setting-specific gaming. It’s still successful in Germany of course, because nearly every player there brushed it at least briefly, and because it IS really well supported. One might not find supplements in any toystore anymore, but at least in any comic book shop.

The system is, and I will admit that even if it means I am not a proper German roleplaying blogger, a pretty good system, if a bit rules-heavy. And I actually like it.

There, I said it.

It’s a bit like admitting to masturbate I guess. Everybody does it, and everybody likes it, but for most people it just feels wrong saying it out loud.

It’s not an easy system though (DSA, not masturbation), and not one that I would want to play with beginners. (Masturbation on the other hand… ah no, that joke is getting old)

I toyed around with the idea of a Labyrinth Lord game lately, but when I found the revision I mentioned before, and then got into some of the roleplaying stuff I brought from Germany, I got this fixed idea into my head to go and try playing 1st edition again.

I did this before, you know. When my gaming group wanted to meet but had a few guests over that could not be done away with I pulled out my old basic rules and a few Dokumente der Stärke (Documents of Power), had everyone roll up new characters, and then go hunting orcs. Details are kind of hazy here (a few beers and pizzas were involved), but it was a roaring success, and I got another few new people infected with the virus RPG.

The first edition of DSA was basic in pretty many ways. More basic than pretty much all the games published in anglophone countries at this time. Those had already gone professional after all. Also the rules were clearly influenced by Dungeons & Dragons and Tunnels & Trolls (yes, seriously), but it was a clearly different approach than D&D. It was, after all, the private house system of it’s creator and it contained such things as parry-rolls, damage-reductive armour, and a spellpoint system for magic.

I will have to present this nostalgic feeling a bit better when actually playing, the original game had spells that rhymed (seems to have been inspired from T&T), which of course cannot be translated as easy as “Knock”. The translator of the English version just renamed these spells with animal themes, but I don’t think I would like that. The translators of the Dutch and French versions actually found new rhymes. I want the cheesiness of the original because that was a big part of what always drew me there, just before we decided we now were to mature to rhyme spells. Or have to remember the spells by rhyme.

Or do the gestures. Oh yes, it had gestures you had to do as well.

Good times.