Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Cultural Stew that Birthed D&D

A great article on The Warlocks Homebrew

Since its from another person who started with Holmes I had to post it.

Dr Kromm on how to Make Money Writing Games

Dr. Kromm is of course Sean Punch, the line editor for GURPS one of my favorite games. With 15 years of game experience the man knows what he is talking about .

When the question came up (on Big Purple again) about making money in game writing Dr. Kromm answered with this bit of wisdom.

The way for publishers to make a buck in 2010 is to offer fair royalties to writers, not to stint on editing, and to keep everything in print perpetually as PDF. The way for writers to make a buck in 2010 is to work quickly and efficiently so that their hourly rate (the measure used by everybody else in the world) is fair; they can improve their lot greatly in this regard by accepting that they're technical writers and learning their publisher's style.

Since its a two man shop here the 1st point doesn't apply to us of course but the rest of the points especially the part about us being technical writers are very important.

We are not creative writers making fluff nearly as often as we are technical writers. The works I sold to SJG some time ago were by some standards antiseptically dry and crunchy as pea gravel but they sold, were read and decently rated.Its what people want and we had best give it to them.

Our goal here at 5stone is more than that . Its also to make stuff you can actually use in your games. Not theoretical books or coffee table books, but stuff that gets played an enjoyed at your table. I believe that if we give you what you can use, you'' come back and support our endeavor with you scare gaming dollars.

And if we don't? We deserve to fail.

Why is Gaming such a PPCOC Industry ?

From a discussion at Big Purple.

Gaming is Poor Pay Clean Out of Cash simply because its a small hobby. When a hot selling supplement for a well known game (GURPS Spacehips 4 say) is 600 or so units in PDF, the money just isn't there. Sure a few freelancers might pick up a few bucks or even make a living but it can't support a real industry.

That anyone gets paid anything is almost a surprise to me. The amount of free and legal games (not to mention pirated ones) these days is astonishing. The Free RPG Blog has so many listed that there is no way anyone could play even the best of them. I can find something for any genre I can think of .

For those with less ethics and access to a printer, well ..I need say no more.

If we as gamers would like an industry as vs a hobby it falls on us to increase the buyer pool.

World of Warcraft which is broadly similar to an RPG has nearly 12 million players and Second Life has at least 18 million accounts.

If say 10% of those numbers were added to the buyer base, we would see the hobby become 3 million buyers and popular games could have 300,000 print runs -- thats real money -- such a hypothetical company could make (in a lower cost distribution system than the three tiered one we have now with ten $40 books a year) a gross income of 60 million ! -- this is about 20x larger than SJ games and could support probably a hundred decently paid employees.

The problem here is not getting people to roleplay, many people enjoy this activity or something like it . The problem is getting them to make the sacrifices needed to meet face to face and then getting them to buy stuff .

Even without the distractions of the Internet its a daunting task. The US culture is not very sociable as Robert Putnam notes in Bowling Alone.

an example from his web page

Declining Social Capital: Trends over the last 25 years
Attending Club Meetings 58% drop
Family dinners 43% drop
Having friends over 35% drop

And its not a gamer thing, other social hobbies are having the same problems.

If we can rebuild social capital, rebuild the economies of the world and tap off a fraction of the likely market and then turn them into buyers we can actually make real money.

Like I said daunting.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

So is this a Game Company or Not? Or.. Wheres the Beef?

Well if you old enough to remember who said that last bit with no Googling, you are old enough to be a Grognard.

Anyway the answer is, we are working on it. There will be some cool stuff for Pathfinder 3x and general OSR games real soon.

Like any good peddler, the first hits will be free, so bide you time, enjoy the blog and good gaming.

10 Reasons I like Old School

Here are the reasons I like old school RPG's like Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy and Swords and Wizardry not to mention B/X, AD&D 1 and 2 and even Osric)

#1 Most of the time it feels more like a set of guidelines rather than a straitjacket

#2 Less fiddly rules. Most of the time its "roll stat and go"

#3 Easier prep time with less annoying stat blocks to deal with.

#4 Character Generation takes a matter of minutes for most levels and maybe half an hour for something epic.

#5 There is a lot of material out there to choose from and a lot of it is cheap to free.

#6 Its easy to customize

#7 The community is pretty cool

#8 Less Min/Maxing opportunity for players

#9 It usually encourages a smarter play style

#10 Its fun

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Why Do You Call it 3X?

The reason we use the term 3x is that the core of our game is a mix of 3.5 OGL, 3.0 OGL and pathfinder with bits and pieces of other D20 games thrown in.

Its much closer to 3.0, 3.5 or Pathfinder than any of the other D20/OGL games like say Grim Tales. A Game of Thrones, or D20 Modern.

Thus 3.5

4e is Not D&D As I Know It a Pro 4e Rant

0e , B/X and 1e looked like what D&D is an ad-hoc wargame made by fans of heroic and weird fantasy. 2e is basically the same game, upgraded and made a bit more commercial. Its a game of imiagination and creativity

3X is a still D&D in my opinion just a thoroughly modernized rule set. Still all the stuff that makes D&D ,goofy monsters, Vancian magic, a lot of imagination somewhat arbitrary rules you know, the fundamentals, are all still there.

4e is not like any D&D I've ever seen before. It looks like someone took D&D fluff and grafted onto some .alt world D&D o that was designed when Online and Computer RPG's were all the rage. Which is I guess what it essentially is. 4e seems to do away with most of what I come to see as D&D and replaced it with pa meticulously balanced (mostly) powers system and a set of building blocks.

That being said, its a really cool looking game. It simply looks fun.

I just haven't had a chance to try it. You see my two play circles (two different groups with little member overlap) simply have no interest in this game. They'll play 3x, Pathfinder , 2e shoot I even had a better chance at getting them to play Labyrinth Lord than 4e.

Honestly I don't know whether to be sad happy or sad about that.

As it is I may well go dip my feet in the water and go find a third gaming group and give some 4e a try. Heck I might even come to think of it as D&D.

Friday, March 26, 2010

In Small Praise of Sanitizing D&D

I'll admit that sanitizing D&D was a bit corporate on the part of TSR but I've never thought it was a bad idea. While Gary and his crew were in their late 30's when D&D was first published and by the time TSR was corporate he was well in his 40's.

The games new audience however were kids , some young as 11 who were still buying stuff at Toys R Us and in the toy section at Sears (where I got Star Frontiers) It kind of made sense to refocus the game to that audience and the likely buyers aka "the parents"

Also a fair number kids then actually were sheltered from adult material to a degree. It was possible for a healthy middle school kid to have never seen a graphic murder or any nudity outside national geographic.

Now by the time of 2nd edition, this made a lot less sense with the ubiquitous VCR and later the Internet, the game was up. H

The only umbrage I take was with renaming Devils and Demons, Baatezu and Tanar'ri to placate the parents. The kind of parents that would have noticed or cared that the kids were killing imaginary fiends wouldn't have allowed Dungeons and Dragons in the house anyway.

At Age 12 I Made My First Retro Clone

At age 11 I first played D&D, Blue Book Holmes edition. I didn't understand the rules or the game but since it gave a shy geek soem ready made friends I didn't care. Being fairly smart once I figured out what I was doing I was hooked.

By age 12 I made my first retro clone. Only in those days it wasn't retro, just a clone. We were kids then, too young to work and small allowances and no game store within an hour of the house.

But inspired by the passages in the back of the AD&D 1e Dungeon Masters Guide we set out to make our own games

There were 4 ideas, Starships and Spacemen (not the production game of the same name) , Bandits and Bullets (our version of Boot Hill) Spies and Saboteurs (our version of Top Secret) and some kind of Gangbusters copy I can't remember the name of.

Of those only two got any headway , Bandits and Bullets, where I made a long list of character classes and Starships and Spacemen which was actually played. As you might guess, it sucked and we soon moved back to D&D.

However with a couple of Christmases and Birthdays we got to try the other genres, we had Traveller which we played like Star Wars meets Mad Max, Boot Hill ,which no one liked, Crimefighters ,a very good game from Dragon Magazine 47 written by none other than Dave "Zeb" Cook long before he was Zeb which we didn't understand, then Gangbusters which again no one cared much for and lastly, somewhat later ,we were 13 or 14 I think, Top Secret, which was given our age a pretty sophisticated game, kind of in retrospect reminds of a mix of Miami Vice , Burn Notice and various 80's spies stuff.

I moved on the Runequest and then to a new city.

But I'll never forget what fun it was just to hang out with your buddies, to game, and for a bunch of shy non jocks in a tiny town to have friends.

Now none of us Grognards can have or ever really would want the kind of naivety, foolishness and innocence we had in those days. We are adults now and many of us well seasoned in our hobby. We know more and are capapble of the subtle enjoyments of adulthood

There is however one thing we can take forward with us our whole lives

Games are meant to be fun. Making them is fun, playing them is fun and hanging out with friends is fun.When a hobby stops being fun, well its not 1981, you have choices and its time to move on to something else.

As long as you you remember whatever game you play, however you play, Games are meant to be fun and when they are. You are playing right.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sherlock Holmes and Watson for D20

I did this over at Big Purple but for those of you who don't want to be bothered, the Great Detective and his Associate.

These versions mix my readings of Doyle, some of the new movie and a taste of classic all put through a D&D meat grinder. Just as we see in the Glen Cook's excellent Garrett P.I. series many of the classic detective tropes can be used nicely with D20, especially low magic campaigns

I am especially proud of my write up of Holmes. I think I captured the Detective pretty well and with with minimal rules bending,. The low magic Watson was a bit trickier. I am certainly open to a different interpretation if anyone has one.

This uses pathfinder with the above low magic rules however as these guys are N.P.C.s I did not include a background for them.


L10 Half Elf Rogue

S 16
I 18
W 14
D 16
C 16
CH 14

1 Educated (All Knowledge Skills are class skills)
3 Improved Unarmed Strike
5 Improved Grapple
7 Improved Feint
9 Urban Tracking
Skill Focus (Perception)

Class Abilities
Sneak Attack (5d6)
Rogue Ability (Custom, +3 Bardic Lore) x5 Lore Roll +19!
Trap Sense +3
Uncanny Dodge
Improved Uncanny Dodge
Advanced Talent (Skill Mastery) Perception + 6 others

Skill Points

HP 83
AC 21
Action Points 10

MW Studded Leather Armor (under coat)
Deerstalker Hat
Pipe Weed in Pouch
Stout Cudgel (light mace)
Investigators Kit
Hand Crossbow
Bolts (of various materials, some may be magic )
Lens of Detection
Ring of Magic Detection (automatically tightens if magic sensed)
Occasional dusts, potions oils or the like


Do to the peculiarities of the D20 system I had to boost his level a bit to make him a "better shot" then Holmes as the novels suggest

L10 Human Expert 4 Fighter 6

S 12
I 14
Wis 14
Dex 14
Con 12
Cha 12

H Alertness
1 PB Shot
3 Skill Focus Healing
5 Rapid Load
7 Hand Crossbow
9 Investigator
F1 Weapon Focus
F2 Precise Shot
F4 Weapon Specialist
F6 Repeating Crossbow (Heavy)

Special Abilities
Armor Training
Weapon Training (Crossbows)
Bravery +3 vs fear

Skill Points

HP 69
AC 19
Action Points 10

Leather Armor
Healers Kit with potions cure light, cure moderate, remove disease, neutralize poison
Investigators Kit
Hand Crossbow
18 Bolts 12 are +1 (6 holy cold iron 6 holy silver) 6 standard
Short Sword or Cudgel

Low Magic Made Easy

One of the things I've noticed looking at many products is how hard it is for people to come up with a good set of guidelines for low magic D&D.

Usually they just drop some magic items and call it good and while this is not bad, its not quite sufficient. It leaves AC far too low and as such characters are still dependent on magic items.

If you want to go "low magic" the most important thing to understand is the "rule of cancellation"

Everybody in standard D&D gets certain items as matter of course. These are colloquially called the "big six" and they are

Item of Resistance (usually a cloak)
Primary State Booster (belt, headband, gloves, etc)
Primary Defense (armor or bracers)
Booster Book (this gives an innate stat bonus)
Ring of Protection
Amulet of Natural Armor

In addition each class will probably get specific items
Warrior and Cleric Types -- magic weapons, shield
Mages -- wand or staff
Rogues -- Magic Weapon

This makes up about 80% of the standard load out of a PC.

The thing is basically they all cancel out. The bonuses to hit and spell DC from items and innate bonuses are canceled by defense bonuses .

This means you can drop the items as you wish with only two caveats

#1 Monsters. Monsters get quite a bit tougher, saves are roughly 20-30% harder (depending on bonuses) I advice simply adding 1 CR per 4 of anything with nasty magic or other save related attacks. Hopefully you won't be fighting near as many anyway.

#2 AC. Armor Class and to hit are never entirely at parity in D&D but just because you dropped the stat boosters doesn't mean the AC is quite right. What I do is add a bonus of 1/2 level round up to AC-- with half that used against flat footed, touch or other attacks, also rounded up. This puts BAB and AC back on track.

#3 1 for 1. Each magic weapons needs to either be thought of as a bonus (in which case the user is disproportionately more effective) or met with an equal defense bonus (a +3 sword met with say +3 armor)

#4 Backgrounds. I like the system in Green Ronin's work (Advanced Races/Human, Thieves World and Black Company) . Also excellent are 5th Element games Background Levels (in which case I'd give the background feast as a bonus) and Pathfinder Character Traits both generously shared in the Grand OGL Wiki.

#5 Extra Skill Points. Raise everyones skills by 2 (or you can use the Pathfinder rules, your choice really)

#6 Extra Feats in OGL. I use the Pathfinder Progression (1,3,5 etc) even in non Pathfinder games.

#7 Action Points. In action point dice may be used to add directly to AC.

#8 Better Stats. 25-20 point buy Pathfinder style

#9 Better Stat rolls. This isn't really just a low magic rule more of a general house rule.

One thing that always bugged me about the rules as written is the fact that a hulking brute of a fighter is only (minus his magic) maybe 20% better at battering down a door than a Wizard (STR18 vs STR10) this makes no sense to me -- Instead I'd suggest that a bonus equal to the amount over 10 be added to stat rolls. This way Big Fighter Guy (l8 fighter 20 Strength) vs Puny Mage is 50% better at the physical stuff. It also correlates nicely to the old school stat roll (stat against a D20)

And here you go, everything you need for balanced and fun low magic games in you version of D20.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

So what do you guys play ?

Mostly we play different campaigns of 3X (a mish mash of D20 stuff mostly Pathfinder and 3.5). I am on hiatus but M. is still in his game

I play

Labyrinth Lord/B-X
Basic Fantasy/OD&D/Swords and Wizardry
Eden Studios Unisystem, mostly Angel but occasionally everything else
AD&D 2nd Edition

He plays
Eden Studios when I GM
Star Wars (d20, Saga and D6)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Speaking of House Rules

Just for fun, here is my most current AD&D 2e House Rules, called OS/2 Warp.

Its in a PDF format and the editing is rugged to say the least but its fun and its free.

Most of what we create here is for 3x/Pathfinder or sometimes "old school" usable with Swords and Wizardry, Basic Fantasy Labyrinth Lord and OSRIC. A such any materials are released under the OGL and subject to its restrictions,

This being a fan work more than anything is anomalous, its not OGL and though its rules only it will not be available even in a clean up version at our game store unless either SERPENT For Gold and Glory or another Retro-Clone is released under the OGL and there is a need for it. In other words, not likely.

However thanks to the nice folks at mediafire I can bring it you anyway, no muss, no fuss.

Marginal Heroics

My original name for this blog was going to be Marginal Heroics. This is always been my philosophy of D&D, Marginally Heroic individuals doing Marginally Heroic stuff. Not heroic Paladins ready to give all for Gods and Country (though there is a place for them too) but Adventurers in the vein of Conan, Cugel or Fafhrd and Grey Mouser.

This quote from the excellent Perdio Street Station by China Miéville sums it up perfectly

"There were three of them. They were immediately and absolutely recognizable as adventurers; rogues who wandered the Ragamoll and the Cymek and Fellid and probably the whole of Bas-Lag. They were hardy and dangerous, lawless, stripped of allegiance or morality, living off their wits, stealing and killing, hiring themselves out to whoever and whatever came. They were inspired by dubious virtues. A few performed useful services: research, cartography, and the like. Most were nothing but tomb raiders. They were scum who died violent deaths, hanging on to a certain cachet among the impressionable through their undeniable bravery and their occasionally impressive exploits."

This basic idea makes up part of my house rules too.

In my old school games (Swords and Wizardry, B/X or Labyrinth Lord ) rather than average folks in extra ordinary circumstances, i.e. 3d6 straight across or arranged as desired, roll for hit points, I've always gone 4d6 arrange as desired ,max HP at 1st level and "Greyhawk Average" (middle number on the die+1) thereafter.

Characters made this way are tougher than most starting characters but not so tough they unbalance the game. Plus having an edge is part of what I consider fun. I don't really want to spend my extra time pretending to be ordinary when I do that every day.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Old School is the DM's game

Speaking of D&D here. In my opinion what sets Old School apart from New School is that Old School is the GM's game .

As the 1st Edition DMG humorously put it (page 8)

As this book is the exclusive precinct of the DM, you must view any non-DM player possessing it as something less than worthy of honorable death.

Looking back at at AD&D 1e as the classic example, there was really only one book aimed only the players, the Players handbook which didn't even have combat tables!

And sure there was player support in Dragon magazine and in Unearthed Arcana but the spirit of the game was "Its the DM's world. You just play in it."

What I call Transitional School moved from more to the players game but it was still mostly the still in the hands of the DM. AD&D 2e for example had many many player splats (The Completes) but also mostly DM support.

New School epitomized by 3 and 4e is mostly the players game. There are at least as many "player" books as GM ones and even most support is feats and stuff which are almost entirely used by players.

In 4e, magic items are in the Players Handbook and are basically equipment whereas before they were the DM's purview and treated as rewards.Heck there is even a rumor about eliminating the DM entirely in the future.

These choices made sense from a marketing angle (Players outnumber GM's 4-6 to 1 in most groups) and the rules that constrained DM's (when followed anyway) were more than welcomed by players who had ever suffered under a mediocre DM.

However all those rules can be drudgery and can easily suck the fun from a game. I think as many OSR people have learned Old school in the hands of a good DM is amazingly fun and imaginative in ways that more rules heavy games cannot match. Of course as someone who spent a summer with crud DM's can attest, good DM's are in short supply. So what is a DM especially ones whose players have a lot more choices than they did on a lazy summer day in say 1982 to do?

We here at 5 Stone say, lets do both.

By offering support for Pathfinder we embrace the new school (ironically preferred by the oldest of us Grognards) and the OSR (preferred by yours truly) we offer ready to use fun for everyone.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Welcome to 5 Stone Games

Welcome to 5 Stone Games. Here you'll hear the rants and raves of a couple of old Grognards who have been gaming since OD&D and Holmes Basic respectively.

In addition we provide a range of products that support Pathfinder/3x and the OSR. The basic idea behind our products is "stuff you can use right now" . Tthey are inexpensive (sometimes free) and can be used with little or no prep time by almost any GM.

Our first products will be available soon but until then feel free to drop in any time and good gaming.

The Guys at 5 Stone