Showing posts with label Dungeons and Dragons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dungeons and Dragons. Show all posts

Monday, July 03, 2023

Geekerati Video: Chatting with Alan Bahr About Swords of Meropis and Tabletop Role Playing Games

 Alan Bahr is publisher and lead designer for Gallant Knight Games and his company recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for a storytelling game called Swords of Meropis. Alan was inspired by Sword & Sandals films like Jason and the Argonauts and wanted to make a game that captured the feel of those classic fantasy tales.

In this interview, I chat with Bahr about the inspiration behind Swords of Meropis and the basic mechanics underlying this storytelling focused role playing game. Bahr is no stranger when it comes to designing games focusing more on interaction than on tactical combat, but this is one of his first designs that fully utilizes what I call a “player focused” storytelling approach.

It’s an approach that really came into design focus with Better Games’ series of Free Style Role Play games in the 1990s. While there were some earlier games that incorporated storytelling elements, like Greg Stafford’s inspired Prince Valiant Story-Telling Game (originally published in 1989), the Free Style Role Play system games like Conrad’s Fantasy, Where Fools Dare to Tread, and Good Guys Finish Last by Better Games really pushed the boundaries of player agency and narrative focus in a way that would be immediately recognizable to a player of Apocalypse World and other modern storytelling focused games. Better Games were a major contributor in the Southern California gaming scene in the 1990s and their ideas were ahead of their time.

Just take a look at this character sheet for their horror game Where Fools Dare to Tread.


Since this is a starting character, there are no numbers on the sheet except for the task resolution chart. As the character gained experience, the only numbers you would see would be bonuses, such as a +1, to the skills. I’ll be doing a deeper dive into the mechanics of Better Games’ Where Fools Dare to Tread in my extended analysis of Candela Obscura by the Critical Role team, but you can easily see how cutting edge this game was mechanically.

Alan and I don’t discuss Better Games in detail, but it is a game in the same vein as Alan’s design for Swords of Meropis. The focus is on player agency and storytelling, but with mechanics that allow for solo gaming as well as troupe based play.

Check out the conversation. We talk about a lot more than his upcoming game and our discussion ventures into how while we often hear and see role playing game play presented as art, we don’t often enough think about game design as art. Just as live streaming performances and home games are moments of theatrical art, so too is good game design an example of artifice.

Take the time to watch and/or listen and please make sure to share if you enjoyed the discussion.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Appendix N? How About Appendix Hammer Films? This Hard to Find Gem is a Pop Culture Geek's Dream


Peter Cushing’s Tales of a Monster Hunter (1978)

As you might imagine, the Geekerati library is filled with volumes containing tales of Sword & Sorcery, Sword & Planet, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and not a small amount of Horror. One of the books I am proudest to have in the library is the 1978 paperback printing of Peter Cushing's Tales of a Monster Hunter.

Cushing holds a special place in my geekiest of hearts. Not only did he star in several Hammer Studios Horror films, some of the greatest horror films ever produced, but he was himself a bit of a gamer geek. He collected, painted, and played miniatures wargames. In the British Pathé archival short below, you can see his genuine joy. I can’t quite tell if he has any copies of the British Model Soldier Society’s Bulletin on his shelves, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. This video was filmed in 1956, which lines up with the publication of Tony Bath’s medieval rules in the Bulletin. I’ve played a couple of games using H.G. Well’s rules from Little Wars, which Cushing features in this short, but I can’t help but think he would find the advances in wargaming game mechanics of the era intriguing.

As much as I want to believe that this collection of horror stories was selected by Mr. Cushing himself and reflects his personal taste, it is unlikely that the volume was actually edited by Mr. Cushing. The copyright lists both him and Peter Haining and Cushing's autobiographical preface is written in third person. I would think it odd if Mr. Cushing referred to himself in the third person.

Peter Haining was an anthologist of horror tales who had a number of volumes printed in the late 70s and early 80s. One of these volumes is the very interesting Sword & Sorcery paperback The Barbarian Swordsmen, which contains stories by Robert E. Howard, Lord Dunsany, C.L. Moore, and Fritz Leiber.

Setting aside my belief that Cushing wasn’t the actual editor of the book, there is reason to think that Cushing provided feedback to the selections. Even if he didn't the stories collected in the anthology pair nicely with a Cushing/Hammer Films marathon and are a fitting collection of Cushing adjacent tales if not his own selections.

Here is a brief overview of the contents of the book.

How I Became a Monster Hunter by "Peter Cushing" is a biographical essay that gives a very good overview of Cushing's acting career and has some nice quotations from Cushing himself.

A Masked Ball by Alexandre Dumas is a very short story that is included in the book because of Cushing's very small role in James Whale’s film version of The Man in the Iron Mask. Like all the stories in this volume, there is some connection between the tale and Cushing's career. In this case, it’s not a direct connection as Cushing’s role is small in that film. Then again, so too is the length of this story.

The Mortal Immortal by Mary Shelley is a reminder that the creator of modern science fiction wrote more than just Frankenstein. Given that much of Cushing's career was spent portraying various versions of Dr. Frankenstein, a Shelley story is a must and it is always nice to see a deep cut rather than an excerpt from a more well known work. As a society we often focus too narrowly on the works of past writers and leave out the rest of their career. In the case of Robert E Howard, we often focus on his Conan stories to our own detriment. In the case of Shelley, by focusing on Frankenstein we miss out on other stories that can touch upon our own times. While ChatGPT and other advances keep Frankenstein relevant, her novel The Last Man is particularly resonant in a world that just experienced a pandemic.

Dracula's Guest by Bram Stoker is an episode that, according to the editor’s introduction in Tales, was excluded from the famous novel due space restrictions imposed on Stoker by his editor. Cushing's connection to Dracula in his portrayal of Van Helsing is well known and it has been argued in D&D geek circles that Van Helsing is one of the inspirations for the Cleric class in D&D.

In the Footsteps of the Abominable Snowman by Joseh Nesvadba is a Yeti tale that is included due to Cushing's performance inThe Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas. This is not the story that inspired the film, which was a teleplay, but it bears some similarities in tone to the underappreciated film.

The Ring of Thoth by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle connects with Cushing's career in two ways. Cushing played Sherlock Holmes on the big screen in Hound of the Baskervilles and he also starred in a Hammer version of the Mummy story. "The Ring of Thoth" isn't a Holmes tale, but it is a Mummy yarn and one that makes me wonder if Robert E. Howard had a copy on his shelf (the answer is YES!). After all, Howard's villain Thoth-Amon sought his Serpent Ring of Set in the first Conan tale and there are similarities of tone here.

The Gorgon by Gertrude Bacon is a late Victorian tale published in The Strand that makes use of the Greek legend of the Gorgon. Cushing had starred as the villain in the 1964 Hammer film The Gorgonthough according to the Encyclopedia of Hammer Films that screenplay was based on a story submitted to Hammer by J. Llewellyn Divine, and there are few enough tales of the creature that this makes a nice addition to the book. The Hammer film is much better than its effects and is one of a list of Hammer productions I wish could be remade with the same caliber of performances but with modern effects.

The Man Who Collected Poe by Robert Bloch is the first tale in the volume that Cushing actually performed in an adaptation of during his career. The story is adapted in the film Torture Garden (1967) where Cushing plays the "bibliophile."

The Ghoul of Golders Green by Michael Arlen (published in 1925 and public domain in the US) is only connected to Cushing's career in that he starred in a film called The Ghoul in 1974 which was based on an original screenplay by John Elder. There are few enough tales of ghouls, so the tale fits even if the connection is limited.

There Shall Be No Darkness by James Blish is the final tale in the volume and it is a great story to finish with as it served as the basis for the film The Beast Must Die. A while back a Vulture article recommended watching this film before or after watching Knives Out. If you've ever played the game Werewolf, you really should check this movie out as it provides the audience with a short "Werewolf Break" in order for the audience to guess which character is the werewolf. It's great fun. In the aftermath of Glass Onion, I’d argue that the second Rian Johnson detective mystery shares even more with The Beast Must Die than Knives Out. To this day, I still think of Calvin Lockhart’s character, Tom Newcliffe, as an alternate universe version of Marvel’s Blade. Watch the film and see why. It’s a film I watch every Halloween season.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Tabletop Thursday: Teenage Mutant Ninja Tortles

With the pending release of a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, I thought I’d visit the frenetic foursome’s nearest parallel in old school D&D and present a Teenage Mutant Ninja Tortle class for Moldvay/Cook and BECMI D&D.

Role-playing games have a long history of anthropomorphic character options. I’m not sure what the first humanoid animal player character option was, but I’m going to venture a guess that it was the Ducks who have featured in Runequest since the first edition in 1978. Tunnels & Trolls (1975) and Monsters! Monsters! (1976) come close, as both provide options for “monster” characters, but none of the options included are as explicitly anthropomorphic animals as Runequest’s Ducks.

According to Chaosium President Rick Mients (2020), Ducks have been a part of Runequest since the initial playtests and served as a proxy for Hobbits. Though Ducks are described in the 1st Edition of Runequest (see above from page 78), Mients believes that the earliest drawing of the Duck species was the cover illustration of Wyrm’s Footnotes #8 (1980) by Jennell Jaquays. She certainly played a part in popularizing the species as she also co-wrote and illustrated the Runequest adventure The Legendary Duck Tower for Judge’s Guild. The adventure was a play on her popular D&D Adventure The Dark Tower, which was recently reincarnated in a Deluxe Edition Kickstarter by Goodman Games.

Legendary Duck Tower and Other Tales | RPG Item | RPGGeek

It didn’t take too long for D&D to get in on the anthropomorphic animal bandwagon, you have the Aranea by X1, the Lupin in X2, and possibly some earlier than that. Tortle non-player characters were added to the mix in 1987 in Dungeon Magazine issues #6 and #7 in the two part adventure “Tortles of the Purple Sage.” Tortles inspired by our favorite chelonian champions were introduced in Dragon Magazine #179 as “Tortle Mystics.” The BECMI D&D mystic class was analogous to the AD&D and and D&D 3.0 and later Monk class, so it didn’t take a person with deep lore of comics and rpgs to know who was being referred to in the article.

While mechanical options for some anthropomorphic PCs were added by the mid-to-late 1980s to both the AD&D lines (the Hengeyokai) and D&D (Pooka) product lines, there were no rules for Tortle player characters. In the 1990s, TSR published rules for playing Lupin and Rakasta as BECMI characters in Dragon Magazine #181, but those rules violated the “ancestry as class” rules norm of Moldvay/Cook and BECMI and it wasn’t until the Rage of the Rakasta module that a Basic D&D specific class for the Rakasta. Sadly, that class was limited to the first 5 levels of play, but the class can be easily expanded to full BECMI by any DM (something I’ll likely do for my next post).

With the publication of the AD&D 2nd edition Red Steel boxed set, players of D&D finally had official rules for Tortle PC characters. Those rules are fun, and for a great setting, but are not for the era and style of game play I’m hoping to present here. I want to give players of BECMI and B/X games the opportunity to play everyone’s favoring pizza purloining chelonian champions. I’ll probably include other Tortle options later, but for now I think I’ll just focus on adapting the Tortles from Dragon #179.

The first step in adapting the Tortle into a full B/X class is to examine the benefits of the ancestry and to plot them out in a way similar to how the Lupins and Rakasta were presented on page 48 of Dragon Magazine # 181. The benefits of the ancestry will be drawn from The article provided the specific benefits of the ancestries and then the experience point penalty for playing as that ancestry.

Let’s take a look at the description from module X9 The Savage Coast to see if that will help us get a start.

Not really. The only benefit we are seeing here is that they can hold their breath for 10 turns and have a base AC of 3 (likely due to their armored shell since this is the equivalent of plate mail). We have no information on stat bonuses or significant special abilities. We want the characters to feel special, so let’s dig a little further and check out AC9 the Creature Catalog on page 47.

We get a little more information here as it includes information that Tortles are slightly below average Intelligence, that they don’t wear clothes or armor, and that they can withdraw into their shells for protection. How much protection? Who knows. It also looks like the average adult Tortle has 4HD and saves like a fighter. This suggests that the most common Tortles people will encounter are warrior Tortles and that these tend to be fairly experienced. Typical of early D&D products, we find that you can make armor from “fresh tortle-egg shells.”

We’ll set that bit of dehumanizing information aside and we are still left with a little less information than I’d like, so it’s time to look at Red Steel which presents Tortles as a playable ancestry.

This time we are given a little more information. I think enough to begin building a full Teenage Mutant Ninja Tortle class. Remember that in B/X and BECMI most classes don’t add or subract from core attributes like STR and DEX, instead they have a range. My sense from reading these is that we’ll require a minimum CON and WIS to receive XP bonuses and that those will be the Prime Requisites for a normal Tortle (to come in the next newsletter). Our Teenage Mutant Ninja Tortle class will have DEX and CON minimums and have those as the Prime Requisites. Additionally, we’ll give a +4 bonus to AC and give good saves to account for the ability to pull into the shell at will, but we won’t give hiding in the shell as an ability because we want this to be an active class and not one where players are encouraged to withdraw. You can keep that if you want.

This brings us to the second step, which is to take those benefits and recommendations and transform them using the Rakasta class from Rage of the Rakasta as a guideline. The Rakasta advance in combat ability like a fighter, have fighter hit points, and have the Magic User Saving Throw Array with faster improvement. Having done that, I’ve incorporated the bonuses above into a transformed version of the Mystic class from the BECMI Rules Cyclopedia and I give to you…the Teenage Mutant Ninja Tortle!

What do you think? Let me know in the comments. Maybe I’ll update it and make more edits for a final version. I will certainly be presenting the frenetic four and an adventure featuring them in the not too distant future.

Every appearance of the Tortle Ancestry.

Classic D&D (B/X and BECMI)

X9 - The Savage Coast (1985)
AC9 Creature Catalog (1986)
DMR2 Creature Catalog (1993)
Tortles of the Purple Sage Part 1 Dungeon Magazine #6
Tortles of the Purple Sage Part 2 Dungeon Magazine #7
Voyage of the Princess Ark Dragon Magazine #179

For AD&D 2nd Edition

Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix
Red Steel Boxed Set
Red Steel : Savage Baronies Boxed Set
Savage Coast Monstrous Compendium PDF
Savage Coast: Adventures on the Savage Coast
Tortles of Mystara: Dragon Magazine (Never published article by Bruce Heard)

For D&D 3rd Edition

Red Steel, Dragon #315

For D&D 5th Edition

Volo’s Guide to Monsters (2016)
Tortle Package (2017)
Descent into Avernus (2019)
Explorer’s Guide to Wildemont (2020)
Monsters of the Multiverse (2022)

Third Party Publications

“A Traveller’s Guide to Tortle’s Tears” in Threshold Magazine #28