Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Gencon Haul, Listed

Thanks to my beloved wife’s diligent librarianship, here’s the loot list from GenCon:

AD&D Monster Manual
Ars Magica: Trimore, the Covenant at Lucien’s Folly
Babylon 5: Armageddon: A call to arms
Babylon 5: Merchants, Traders & Raiders
Babylon 5: The Drakh
Babylon 5: Universe of Babylon 5 Traveller
Basic RolePlaying: The Chaosium Roleplaying System
Basic RolePlaying: The Chronicles of uture Earth
Basic RolePlaying: The Magic Book
BESM: The Black Rose Saga
BESM: The Rose Collection
Call of Chulhu: 1920s Miskatonic University, dire secrets & campus life
CAV: Journal of Recognition
Champions: Arcane Adversaries
Champions: Villains volume 2: villain teams
Champions: Villains, volume 3: solo villains
Champions: Villains: volume one Master Villains
Chimaera: Core Rule Book
Chivalry and Sorcery: Sourcebook
Chivalry and Sorcery: The Songsmith
Chivalry and Sorcery; Sourcebook 2
Collected Book of Experimental Might
Combat! A military action game
ConanL Hyboria’s Finest, Nobles, Scholars and Soldiers
Conspiracy X: Crypt to Zoology
Conspiracy X: Exodus
Conspiracy X: Shadows of the Mind
Conspiracy X: The hand Unseen
Cursed Empire: Dark Clouds of War
Cursed Empire: Knight Sourcebook
Cursed Empire: Slavers of Karg
Cursed Empire: Warrior-Priest Sourcebook
Cyberspace: Cyber Europe
D20 Aztecs, Empire of the Dying Sun
D20 Cities and Settlements
D20 Crime Scene Hong Kong
D20 Crime Scene: Sheriff’s Office
D20 Judge Dredd: Rookie’s Guide to Brit Cit
D20 Nile Empire: War in Heliopolis
D20 Orcfest
D20 Slaves of the Moon, essential guide to Lycanthropes
D20 Sovereign Stone: Campaign Sourcebook
D20 Streets of Silver: A Twin Crowns Adventuer’s Guide
D20 Underdark: Adventure Guide
D20 Violet Dawn: Denizens of Avadnu
D20 West
Dark Champions: Predators
Dead Reign, sourcebook one: Civilization cone
Dead Reign: Soucebook three: Endless Dead
Dead Reign: Sourcebook two: Dark Places
Doctor Who: Aliens and creatures
Dorastor: Land of Doom
Edge of Midnight: Gaunts and the Underworld
Edge of Midnight: Role Playing Game
Edge of Midnight: The Naked City
Edge of Midnight: Warlocks and Detectives
Fantasy Hero: Asian Bestiary volume 1
Fantasy Hero: Asian Bestiary volume 2
Gray Papers: Agone
Gurps: Conan, Beyond Thunder River
Gurps: Humanx
Gurps: Who’s Who 2
Gurps: Wild Cards: Aces Abroad
Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds VII: Cosmos Builder
Hackmaster: Player’s Handbook
Hamlet: a Game in Five Acts
Heaven & Earth: Game Master’s Guide
Heaven & Earth: Players Guide
Hero System: Advanced Player’s Guide II
James Bond Files: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Judge Dredd
Leagues of Adventure
Legend f the Five Rings: The Way of the Ratling
Marauder 2107
Marvel Superheros: Lands of De. Doom
Marvel: Heroic Roleplaying, Basic Game
Paranoia: Alpha Comples Nights 2
Paranoia: Big Book of Bots
Paranoia: Service, Service
Paranoia: The Thin Green Line
Paranoia: The Underplex
Paranoia: WMD
Path of Rage: City of Haven Sourcebook
Pathfinder: Ultimate Equipment
Pax Draconis
Rifts World Book 32: Lemuria
Rifts: Black Market
Role Aids:  Portal to Adventure, people, place and things
Role Aids: Fantastic Treasures II
Role Aids: Monsters of Myth and Legend II
Role Aids: Monsters of Myth and Legend III
Runequest: Glorantha, the Second Age
Runequest: Lankhmar Unleashed
Savage Worlds: Horror Companion
Savage Worlds: Ravaged Earth
Savage Worlds: Super Powers Companion
Shadow, Sword & Spell: Expert Core Rulebook
Star Fleet Battles: Captain’s Log #29
Star Hero: Worlds of the Empire
Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (Beta)
Star Wars: Scum and Villainy
Star Wars: Shadows of the empire sourcebook
Starship Troopers: The Miniatures Game
Strikeforce: 2136: Strike manual
Strikeforce: 2136: Tech Manual
TORG: Kanawa Heavy Weapons
TORG: Ravagons
Universe: Primer
Way of War: Universal Miniatures System
Wild Talents: Superhero Roleplaying in a World Gone Mad
World of Species
Xcrawl: Emperor’s Cup 4700


Hackmaster 5e

Hackmaster 5e

This ain’t your father’s Hackmaster.

The original Hackmaster was based on AD&D 1e and 2e, put through a psychedelic blender and cranked up to 11. The only mechanics from that version that really remain in this one were the ones they added to the older game — percentiles for all stats and a working skill system. Gone are gummy bear golems, leperchauns (note spelling), and most (though by no means all) of the other stuff mandated by contract so no one would notice that, under the jokes, was a pretty workable evolution of older D&D, one which might have easily been AD&D 3e in another universe.

This Hackmaster has core mechanics rather unlike those of any edition of D&D, save that there’s a D20 involved and you still have basically 3-18 stats. 1 second combat turns, active defense rolls, and a spell point system are clear departures from the classic game. Mechanically, there’s almost nothing old-school about it. (Unless one defines “old school” as “anything that isn’t exactly like D&D 3.5 or 4e”.) The designers of Hackmaster 5e are aware that the last 35-odd years of game design have happened.

What Hackmaster retains of Old School, gloriously and wondrously so, is the attitude. My lack of God, this book drips with attitude. It knows what Old School really means: Kicking ass and taking names, so you can go back and kick the asses of people you didn’t get a chance to before. It also recognizes the rightful and proper relationship of players and Gamesmasters: The former kneel, grovel, and crawl before the almighty and unforgiving gaze of the latter.

Page 9. Paragraph 2: “In Hackmaster, any rule ambiguity related to character creation and PC powers is construed against the player character.”


It is made clear over and over in the rules: This game isn’t about mollycoddling your PC to godhood because he’s so special and wonderful. You begin as a worthless shlump and you might survive to be someone, someday, but you probably won’t. Instead of “Everyone’s a winner!”, the attitude of Hackmaster is, as the Demotivational poster says…

For Every Winner, There Are Dozens Of Losers

For Every PC Who Lives, There Are Dozens Who Don’t.

No gamer worth his dicebag can resist a challenge like that. Hackmaster dares you to confront it.

But does it work? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out. At least, we’re here to roll up a character.

Continue reading

The Gencon Haul

Here’s what I got:

The RPGs I bought at GenCon

Stuff. Lots of Stuff.

Full listing forthcoming.

Not sure if the iPad camera is just lousy, or if I need to adjust the settings or something.

Back From GenCon

And, as usual, I spent a lot of money, though not as much as you’d think. By the end of the con, Troll and Toad had an “Everything $1.00!” sale. The guy there told me “If you fill a box, you can get it for 25.00, flat.”


There was a lot of stuff there I’d paid $5.00 for at the start of the con I could have bought for <$1.00 on Sunday… but there was also a lot of stuff no longer there, so I don’t regret spending money early. (Among other things, picking up C&S Sourcebooks 1 and 2 for $5.00 each? Pretty sweet, if you ask me — mint condition, vintage 1980 or 1981 or so.)

In Which I Rip A Vault Door Off In The Name Of Stealth

I actually don’t get to game much at GenCon. At this one in particular, I was hyping my new book on Thursday, and shopping (and then passing out) on Friday, but I got a little gaming in. Saturday, I got to play the new Marvel Heroic Roleplay game. (Let’s see, Marvel has had four different game systems now, and DC has had three…)

My conclusion, based on a few hours of play, is that the system is likely to really appeal to a lot of gamers, and captures many of the key features of comic books as they are written very well in terms of mechanics. However, I don’t think it appeals to me as a system, because I’m weird and my tastes are odd. The dice pool mechanics are set up so that, overall, just about everyone is going to be roughly equally effective, though slightly better/worse in some areas. This really models comics accurately, where Captain America and Thor can share the stage, and no matter who the writer decides to have the hero fight, he will win. Daredevil vs. Galactus? Daredevil will win, somehow.

This is accomplished by a dice pool mechanic that gives you a bunch of dice of different sizes to roll, then lets you split them up into “success” and “effect”. So, if I’m a hero with a lot of combat skill, but not a particularly damaging attack (say, Daredevil), I might have a couple of D10 or D12 in various areas to represent my skill and agilty, but a D6 to represent my attack itself… but when I roll them all, I might end up with a really good D6 roll and a really crappy D12 roll, and, when all is said and done, what matters is the size of the Effect Die, not the value. So, if you roll a ‘1’ on your D12 or D10, you make that your Effect Die — and you build your Success die from which ever dice roll highest (you pick two, but you can spend plot points to add more).

Because a pool typically is a lot of dice, and it seems most heroes will have several D10s and D12s to play with, you end up with roughly equal outcomes. It also seems that less powerful heroes have more opportunities to earn extra dice from complications. Another thing that drives this is that each hero is rated for “Team”, “Buddy” and “Solo”. My character had a measly D6 in Team — so when she was acting with a group, she was substantially less effective than if she was off on her own (D10 Solo). Even though the session I was in was fairly short, I could see how the mechanics worked to enforce comic book genre tropes, including one that’s the bane of many other systems — splitting the party. In the Marvel Heroic Roleplay system, some characters should go rushing off on their own, while others shine if they’re surrounded by allies.

So, it’s probably one of the best simulations of comic book “reality” I’ve played. My tastes, though, run to more traditionally “simulationist” games, albeit with a genre filter. If the Hulk manages to land a punch on Daredevil, Daredevil should be red goop, and no matter how well Daredevil throws his billy club, it should never damage the Hulk. Now, in actual comics, the writers will contrive things: Daredevil keeps dodging the Hulk, and his attacks don’t target the Hulk directly, but, instead, knock down conveniently placed obstacles. Marvel Heroic’s system models this dynamic perfectly, as the highly abstract dice pool system strongly encourages players and GMs to flavor text to explain what just happened.

I prefer the idea of heroes and villains at various tiers of effectiveness, with rules that don’t try to enforce authorial fiat except in very broad ways (for example, it’s overall much harder to kill someone as opposed to just knocking them out). I like the idea that Daredevil is a “Street Level” hero and Thor is a “Cosmic” hero and that’s that. Such games don’t simulate actual comics perfectly; they simulate, instead, a world of comic book heroes. These aren’t the same thing; they’re different design goals and they appeal to different types of gamers. (The current DC Adventures RPG game from Green Ronin is much closer to this style.)

Anyway, to explain the headline of this section… we were the Young Avengers, none of whom I’d ever heard of. I was playing “Thor Girl”, who got XP and plot points when she acted like Thor. The rest of the players were (following Nick Fury’s advice) sneaking around like 1st level OD&D characters, coming up with complex plots and schemes to get in and out of our target building without being noticed. Eventually, we got to a giant metal vault door. They started trying to look for opening mechanisms, control panels, etc. I just grabbed the door, ripped it off its hinges, and tossed it backwards down the corridor. The conversation went something like this:

Other Player: “Nick Fury told us to be sneaky!”

Thor Girl: “Aye, verily, that clattering roar will surely deafen any guards! They’ll never hear us now!”

(According to my character sheet, Thor Girl considered stealth and subtlety to be “Loki’s way”, and she ain’t havin’ with none of that.)

More later. I’m likely to do a character build using the new Hackmaster 5e. Any game where the rules explicitly state that “If there is any ambiguity which the GM must interpret, he should usually take the interpretation least favorable to the PC” is my kind of old school! Viking hat FOREVER!

Necromican, Level 8 And 9

Necromican, Level 8 And 9

Featuring Benign Boots



Wow. I just checked and realized the last post in this series was written almost a year ago. Fortunately, that wasn’t the last time this site was updated, though it seems that way at times. I’ll try to do better after GenCon. My imaginary audience needs real articles, damn it!

Should I keep y’all in suspense, or should I just jump, right now, to the single best part of this section, and perhaps of the entire book, the illustration for the Benign Boots? Well, unfortunately, I apparently already posted the illustration long before I got here. Also the two articles I mentioned being in progress over a year ago are still in progress. Wow. My laziness astonishes even me.

Ah well, here it is again.

Benign Boots by Erol Otus

Lorraine Williams Still Would Not Have Approved

For those just wandering in from some random link, this article is part of a series looking at the wonderful (that should be read, by the way, without sarcasm or irony, because it is wonderful, in every way, full of wonders) classic old-school, and highly unofficial, supplement, “The Necromican” (note spelling, compare to Lovecraft), produced by Fantasy Art Enterprises in 1979. This was one of two such books they produced, which is a deep pity, as they could have gone on to all manner of greatness. The other was the even more astounding and wondrous Booty And The Beasts.

(You can see the first part of the Necromican review here , the second part here, the third part here, the fourth part here, and the fifth part here.)

Variable Shape Fireball

One of the classic problems with “Let’s pretend” games that don’t come with volumes of rules that resemble calculus textbooks crossed with Sports Illustrated’s Chainmail Swimsuit Issue is the constant arguing and fighting. (“Bang bang! I got you!” “Nuh uh, you couldn’t see me!” “Could too!” “Could not!”). In modern games, these kinds of childish disagreements are resolved objectively using cover and concealment rules. (“Hah! I shot the orc!” “No way, you couldn’t see him!” “Could to!” “Oh yeah? Look. The rules say to draw an imaginary line for any three of four corners which bisects the center of the figure…” “Nuh uh, those rules have been errata’d. You draw a line from the center of one square to the center of the other and if it passes through fewer squares than the average of your Wisdom and BAB you can roll 1d4 and count off counter-clockwise (clockwise in Australia) until you…”)

Yeah. Anyway, back in Ye Olden Dayse, one of the biggest sources of Creative and Imaginative Immersive Roleplaying Not Rollplaying was “Arguing over whether or not the stupid magic-user blasted you with his fireball.” This spell in the Necromican settles that, by allowing the M-U to specify any imaginable shape for his fireball… well, fireblob, really, I guess… so long as it remained contiguous, with the specific and explicitly noted purpose of excluding the MU’s friends, which , I feel obliged to note, did not necessarily mean “all members of his party”. (This particular distinction would one day be reborn with D&D 4e and discussions over who counted as an “ally”. Actually, come to think of it, it still shows up in Pathfinder, as I often need to decide if a particularly dubious NPC counts as an “ally” for purposes of buff spells.)

Monster Analyzer

This spell creates a 10 foot long spiked club and shoves it straight up the monster’s… wait… no, I’ve seen too many movies with ‘clever’ titles. This spell analyzes the monster, revealing hit points, AC, immunities, and so on. Again, it’s interesting that we see an example of the repeated pattern of spells substituting for missing non-spell mechanics, in this case, some means to measure character knowledge of monsters.  (We had two ways to do it. One, the player memorized the Monster Manual, and/or learned by having various characters die, then, through a sort of Akashic memory, having his next character know what killed his previous character, and, two, the DM ruthlessly snarling at you if you showed knowledge your character didn’t have. I don’t remember ever being told to “roll an intelligence check” to determine if my character knew something.) Anyway, this spell might make a lot of sense, but not as an eighth level spell. Even in munchkin games, you did not have high level memorizations to waste on a spell like this. First or second level, sure. It was probably eighth level because “Try to hit the players with a monster they don’t know everything about” was a big part of the meta-game, which was a lot more competitive back then.

Unrequested Ethereal Ejection

This sounds like something you tell your doctor about in strict confidence, and hope he gives you the pills himself rather than making you bring a prescription to your pharmacist. Casting the spell requires the somatic component “Honest, honey, that’s never happened to me before.” Sigh. Well, actually, it sends the target to the ethereal plane, which means it should be called Unrequested Ethereal Insertion, which I’m pretty sure is a Class-D felony that carries a minimum 5 year penalty. The spell gleefully notes that “none of the victim’s accouterments accompany him, so the target appears on the ethereal plane quite naked.”

Benign Boots

You’ve seen the picture, now read about the spell! This spell creates magic boots around your feet. When you die, the boots transport themselves and the corpse onto the astral plane and then run at triple speed to a predesignated place of safety. I’m not sure how much good this would do if you’ve been disintegrated or had your legs sliced off, but that’s what DMs are for, to make these kinds of judgments without needing mounds of tedious special-case rules, and then listen to the players whine about them. I suspect the main use for this spell was to get your body away from your fellow adventurers before they looted your corpse.

Level 9

Gaze Of Cthulhu

This spell gives you the face of Cthulhu, so, everyone around you passes out with fear and wakes up gibbering. (Save for stun.) It’s not 100% clear if the “wakes up gibbering” is permanent, but it’s strongly implied. Notable mostly for the fact that this book was published two years before Call of Cthulhu really brought Lovecraft’s work front-and-center in the RPG world, and a year before TSR’s Deities and Demigods, which is what introduced most of us ignorant young savages to the Elder Gods. In other words, the Lovecraft references in this and B&TB shows they were ahead of the curve.


Sadly, there is not a corresponding spell called “Change”. Anyway, this spell is “like the wishes granted by genies”, except, instead of saying “I wish…” you say “I hope…”, and there’s a 50% chance of the spell working. Which might be kind of cool, except that, by the time this book came out, the “Wish” spell, which was also 9th level, had been part of D&D lore for years, appearing in Greyhawk in 1976.  There’s no modifiers to the spell that make it superior to Wish, except that Wish will incapacitate you for 2-8 days and this will only do so for 1 day. (So, really, you could play the odds and cast the same Hope every day until you got it. On average, you’ll have less downtime.)


This spell kills all non-magical plant life in a one-mile area. The description notes “…this spell would not kill ents, but would destroy the forest they were living in.” Yeah. Yeah. How’d that work out for Saruman? Why not just call this spell “Summon pissed-off trees”?

Perilous Parasite

This is basically a “drain stats” spell, with the nice special effect of creating a parasite inside the victim’s skull and the text notes that said parasite is only detectible by cutting open the victim’s head and looking inside. I’ll take the stat drain, thank you.

Superb Submersible



This spell creates a small, magically powered, submarine with a depth ceiling (depth floor?) of 360′ and a duration of four hours, which leads me to wonder how many DMs gleefully sat there while the players dithered and dilly-dallied and counted out their copper pieces before announcing “Spell’s over, you’re 360 feet underwater, and look, here come some Ixit… Ixitch… Ixchitz…. Evil Manta Ray People!”

These guys. Right here.  Or, better yet, any of the horrid undersea things from Booty And The Beasts.

Demon Summoning A

This spell summons one of four demons, statted out in the book. The spell lasts 24 hours, and the demon will vanish at the end of said time, whether it completes the task or not. The demon is obliged to try to complete the task, though, not just hang around and wait for the clock to run out. Anyway, what make this spell interesting is that the type of demon you get is random, and the tasks each can perform are not identical. In other words, you might want a demon to do some particular deed, then get one which can’t do it. So, basically, this spell is for people who want to summon a demon and then decide what to accomplish with it. I guess it might make sense to have a list of tasks, at least one of which is suited to each demon you might summon. Oh, one of the demons, the imaginatively named Dark Demon, requires you to sacrifice the soul of a close friend when it is summoned. So, never summon without your buddy! (Also, have a large supply of ‘close friends’. The problem is, as I see it, that the demon requires genuine sacrifice — you really have to like the guy. So this means finding a lot of people you genuinely care about, and somehow managing to keep genuinely caring about them while knowing they’re all potential demon fodder.)

And Onwards

Now, you might think that with ninth level spells done, we’re done, but oh no! This was the late 1970s, an era when everything went up to Eleven…or in the case of the Necromican, up to Twelve. (Twelth level spells, that is!)