Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Some Highlights from Lulu

I always post on G+ but some readers might not be completely aware of a page I'm very intent on keeping up:

OSR Products on Lulu

This is a long list of products that I have either bought or have a PDF from, and have curated into a list of goodness. There is a code through 11/26, TURKEY30, for 30% off, and I want to highlight some products before the holidays.

David McGrogan, Yoon-Suin.
One of the two best OSR products on Lulu in 2015. Yoon-Suin is a bunch of tables and ideas for running a sandbox campaign with some unique flavor.

Scrap Princess and Patrick Stuart, Fire on the Velvet Horizon.
The other best 2015 product. A statless monster manual full of inspired weirdness, in the style of an old zine done by pasting together.

Richard LeBlanc, CC1: Creature Compendium.
A great B/X monster manual. If Fire on the Velvet Horizon is great inspirational material, this is an excellent, practical, and non-standard monster book for your needs. (Richard also has a psionics book that I'm hoping will be available in print sometime soon.)

Simon Forster, The Book of Lairs.
A neat book of the type I've wanted for a while: just a collection of wilderness monster lairs. Each lair is a compact but usable mini-dungeon that you can put in a hexcrawl.

Those four are the best new Lulu-content over the past year, and all are well worth getting. I also would be remiss if I didn't do a little self promotion. Dungeon Crawl #2 and Dungeon Crawl #3 are still available on Lulu, as are two projects I was proud to contribute to: Narcosa and Petty Gods. Narcosa particularly is a beautiful book of literally trippy weirdness, and PG is a wonderful tome.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Clones and Rules, Inside and Out

One of the interesting aspects of the OSR is the multiplicity of clones, and particularly the way that clones emulate the games that they are based on, and even more, what they choose not to emulate. Which is why I think the cases of two popular clones that I've run, Swords & Wizardry and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, are so interesting.

Swords & Wizardry is a clone of original D&D. Or at least that's how it's sold. It has close approximations of the ability scores, classes, races, equipment, spells and monsters from OD&D, and a general semblance of similar rules. (This is hard because OD&D has lacunae.) So far so good.

But if you look at the way treasure is built in S&W, it's radically different from OD&D. In OD&D, treasure in the dungeon isn't built from the Treasure Type tables in Monsters & Treasure. It's built from the tables in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, which portion out treasure based on dungeon level to half of the monster rooms and one sixth of the empty rooms. Just reading Swords & Wizardry you'd never get that. S&W only ties treasures to monster Challenge Rating. It does tell you to leave some rooms empty, but not to put a significant portion of the treasure there.

This is an important difference. An OD&D dungeon designed according to its guidelines is going to have "unguarded" treasure. According to the book it should be hidden and/or trapped. But a S&W dungeon isn't going to have that, if the referee follows the guidelines in the S&W rule books. Over time the game is going to play differently, since the OD&D group is going to be looking for hidden treasure while the S&W group would be justified in looking for combat.

Indeed, if you follow OD&D's logic a bit further, treasure is based not on monster level but dungeon level, which is significant. Level 1 of an OD&D dungeon, following the monster tables, is likely to have gnolls, a 2 HD creature from the dungeon level 2 chart. But the gnolls should still be guarding a level 1 treasure. They only get level 2 treasures when they're found on dungeon level 2. This means that fighting gnolls on level 1 in OD&D is a losing proposition. But in S&W, gnolls should always be guarding CR-appropriate treasure, and therefore the reward is determined by monster level, not dungeon level. This pulls the game toward the modern "dungeon combat" genre.

All of this is fine if that's how you want to play. It clearly works for a lot of folks and they're having fun with the game. But Swords & Wizardry doesn't really talk about this anywhere, and I think that's a shame because adventure design is such a big part of how a game ultimately plays. Which brings me to another clone.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess bills itself as weird fantasy. But on a reading of the Rules & Magic book, novices typically ask the excellent question: how is this different from standard D&D? On the surface, it mostly looks like a minor variant on B/X Dungeons & Dragons, going a bit further afield than Labyrinth Lord but still very much in the same ballpark.

Except in LotFP, the adventure design aesthetic is distinctly different. Here, certain features of the typical D&D world – anthropomorphic gods, human-like monsters, cozy Tolkienesque worldbuilding – is explicitly rejected in favor of horror set in the early modern period of Earth's history.

There, as they say, is a distinction with a difference. Everything in LotFP is implicit in how B/X D&D is played. Characters are going into dark, dangerous places filled with monsters, hoping to come out alive and with arms full of gold. But it cranks up the nastiness of the threats to 11, and strips out elements antithetical to this approach. What's fascinating is that, in play, it winds up being more exploratory than Labyrinth Lord. For God's sake, you certainly don't want to be fighting!

And yet, this is 95% in the adventure design. You could run B2 Keep on the Borderlands with LotFP, and I wager that it'd go swimmingly once you converted ACs and switched GP to SP, as long as nobody casts Summon. In fact, it wouldn't be too different from running it with Swords & Wizardry. Both would have minor differences, but the underlying module would show through.

For me these differences in preparing the game show a lot of the underlying philosophy of a rule set. S&W has a lot of the exterior resemblance of OD&D, but if played as written it will have a natural tendency to drift in a direction more toward a "modern" game with a heavier emphasis on combat. Whereas LotFP, which totally upsets the apple cart of standard D&D, comes around and goes back toward exploration. It's a neat trick if you can pull it off.