Thursday, 28 November 2019

The Bookshelf of Lost Treasures

Ok - not so much lost as forgotten, perhaps. I've been sorting through various stuff in our rather cluttered music room, which has floor to ceiling shelves along about 15' of wall on both sides. So, yes, it's also technically our library.

Setting aside the entire wall of SF and Fantasy, there's two 4' stretches of shelf that I've been hunting through for inspiration and the like. One is mostly AD&D 2E box sets and TSR games, so there's both the main Spelljammer boxes, the Greyhawk box, Battlesystem V1 (yay) with all the counters and stuff, and Battlesystem V2 (ohh dear, oh dear, TSR, what were you thinking?), the City System and Castles boxes and heaven knows what else. The other stretch of shelf has AD&D and other hardbacks and supplements - again, stuff I'd thought I'd sold when I shifted a large stack of D&D and Traveller scenarios and handbooks at a UK Dragonmeet back in the early 2000s.

Apparently not.

Odd things turned up like this.... intact and definitely unused (since I never played MERP), barring a slight crease on one corner where it had obviously been shuffled around on the shelf once too often.

Unused to the extent I didn't know there was a fold out double-sided map in there until I posted the cover image on Twitter and a friend asked!

On top of that there's some interesting stuff I need to at least skim for the current campaign, like the Al-Qadim setting book and the Dungeon Master's Design Kit (which I thought was a very underrated book). The point of the search, though, was the pile of ring binders that were acting as a bookend for that lot. Most of them are stuff for Play By Mail stuff I used to play, but, as well as a couple of binders for the Altrion campaign that I've been scanning in and sharing with my old players for a while, there's an old folder from my Uni days when I was DMing a campaign in the shared world several of us worked on.

Oh my.

First off, it has some Tolkien Elvish runes on the front, clearly from when I was more practiced at English to Tengwar transliteration. Going to need to figure out what the heck they say!

Also, flicking through, apparently I actually pre-wrote scenarios in those days, rather than improvised off a page of very rough notes! Three of them aren't bad at all. I may actually take advantage of some of the excellent advice Cody from Taking 20 has just posted in his latest video and see if I can't tidy them up and convert to 5E for publication under the OGL when I have a moment (there's a wargames supplement that has to come first or various people will probably kill me!).

I am, though, amused that while two of them are quite short and neatly self-contained encounters with a sensible background and rationale for why everything is where it is, the big quest-y dungeon crawl, while it has some rather nice pieces of design for the cave system and temples, and a very nice set of NPCs, appears to have had no rational thought given as to why the whole cavern/temple complex was there! Dear oh dear.

If it turned up in a commercial scenario these days I'd be somewhat unimpressed - sure, old school D&D dungeons never seemed to have much in the way of explanation for why someone had decided to live underground and build a temple (Who to? No idea! It doesn't say!) off a rambling cave complex, but given this was the keystone quest of the first party I ever DMed, it deserved, and deserves, better, I think.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Character Creation

Look! Dice!
I am, before I'm done, going to be running three campaigns set in my world of Altrion. Two involve resurrecting (in the meta sense :D) old parties, one a face to face group, the other play-by-email (which will probably end up play-by-Google-Docs), and the third is a new party set somewhere across the other side of the world.

I've promised at least one reader an explanation of play-by-Google-Docs, as I've been in a largely systemless campaign doing that for most of the past decade, but that'll come later. I'm also putting off converting the older face-to-face group's 2E characters, although I have reached the decision that trying to match stats and abilities exactly is not going to work, so we're going to aim for characters that feel right.

So - the new party. Great fun, as it's a brilliant way to get my head round 5E. All the players (barring my wife) are younger than most of my dice (:D) and all but one haven't played 5E, Two of them are DMs, and have said they're interested to see how an old school DM does it. Thanks. I think :D

Things I've learned so far:

  • There aren't enough backgrounds for my world :D Probably inevitable, and I have managed to fit most of the characters in with existing D&D Beyond backgrounds (in a couple of cases rewriting backgrounds from the Sword Coast book).
  • Having an original world with a rich background that I know well is such a blast. Being able to pull in existing story and locations into character backgrounds is really cool, especially when you can hand a player over a thousand words of backstory that his character was involved in. Amusingly, writing that gave me an idea for what the play-by-Docs party is going to be doing next.
  • You need to be careful with D&D Beyond custom content - there are places where there is no error checking when you type into fields, and (for example) when you type 12 into a 'spell level' field because you mistakenly think its 'caster level', the 'spells' tab on the resulting sheet causes the site to crash!
  • I wish Altrion had less than 16 gods. It's a LOT of custom subclasses, and while the forms for designing that are mostly OK, it can involve a lot of typing.
  • From my early attempts at converting older characters - some things just don't translate into D&D Beyond - the classic AD&D longsword +1/+3 vs undead, for example is impossible to get into the system in such a way that both sets of to hit and damage bonuses appear separately in the attacks tab.
More later. I'm hoping to start blogging more regularly from here on in.