Thursday, October 11, 2012

Inspired modules vs. Adequate modules

The following may be information gathering for a more cohesive thought. Or not. Who knows. Some concepts below might be positive. Some might be negative. Food for thought.

Meat and Potatoes

Tomb of the Iron God "is a fairly standard dungeon delve. ... It doesn't contain much wildly creative material, but it does have lots of atmosphere and solid dungeon exploration. It's a meat and potatoes type of adventure."
-- Matt Finch (source)

Tomb of the Iron God "doesn't contain new monsters or a wildly unusual setting for the adventure. It is a meat and potatoes dungeon, ... and it's not exactly what people will expect from me after Pod Caverns." "I think it is a very good meat and potatoes dungeon, with good atmosphere (I don't think I equaled B1 for dungeon quality, but I think I matched it in atmosphere) and some good rooms. ... I don't want anyone to buy it expecting Pod-Caverns."
-- Matt Finch (source)

Tangent: While this is an interesting definition of a "Meat and Potatoes module," the term isn't actually appropriate for the example module. Matt sells Tomb of the Iron God somewhat short. While it's not as imaginative or inspired as Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom, and while it explicitly demands that the DM fill in several important blanks, Tomb of the Iron God is much more imaginative than Matt gives it credit for. It contains several custom creatures, and includes a number of areas that stimulate intense player engagement, and inspire profound action. Tomb of the Iron God exceeds the sum of its parts.

Enable the Awesome

Preface: When you read the following, fight hard to avoid hearing only the superficial implication. There is a deeper meaning in the quotes...

Things that enable the awesome: "In a module, anything that gives certain tools for the players to allow them to overcome obstacles in an unexpected, creative way, or to overcome stuff when they really had no right to expect to do so based on the relative level of the combatants, stuff like that."
-- Joethelawyer (source)

And more from the same post: "[some stuff in the module] turned what would have been a suicidal frontal assault into a slaughter [in our favor]. It evened the odds. The module provided us with the tools to be awesome, the rooms had stuff that allowed us to pull a McGyver with some creative thought."

The point is not that the module provided physical tools to overcome obstacles. The important point is that the module contained obstacles that are, on the surface, impossible to deal with, without using creative thought. In other words, Joethelawyer wants very hard challenges!


Additional info from the same thread makes it clear that Joethelawyer was looking for reasons to engage the environment, and fiddle with stuff; positive, short-term reinforcement. Others too; see below. This doesn't necessarily have anything to do with "being awesome," but it may support the notion of an inspiring module.

"What seems to be missing ... is interactivity. 'Deep background' isn't the same thing as having interesting shit to fuck around with."
-- Black Vulmea (source)

"Look at some adventures by Gabor Lux for examples of dungeon interactivity done right. "Temple of the Sea Demon" and anything from his Isles on an Emerald Sea series spring to mind. Players can miss rooms, find them, ignore things or play with them but there damn sure is a lot of intriguing dressing, tricks to play with & history that can be discovered in fun, dangerous or beneficial ways."
-- zarathustra (source)

Black Vulmea and zarathustra want to be inspired into action.


"The module is disappointingly one-dimensional. There's no twist or mystery. There's no memorable setting, theme, atmosphere or mood. There are no meaningful decisions for the players to make outside the basic scope of finding loot and battling or avoiding the monsters, and the monsters are indeed doing exactly what the players' initial information purports them to be doing. There's almost nothing fantastical, mystical or whimsical about the module, other than the simple presence of some of the monsters and their treasures."
-- me (source)

Which isn't to say that's necessarily bad, because "groups that prefer straightforward dungeon romps will probably find this much more enjoyable than the C+ grade would suggest." Though I personally wouldn't run it without adding considerably more enablers for richer play.

Before writing the above review, I started a discussion on K&KA in order to help figure out the right language to use in the review.

The author of the reviewed module posted a definition of "old school fantasy gaming" that helps understand his authorial style – i.e., why his module is the way it is:

"Old school fantasy gaming? It's about kicking in the door, killing the monsters, disarming the trap on the treasure chest, roughly dividing the loot so it can all get carried out and moving on. It's about bright steel in blackened corridors, rescuing the princess and slaying the dragon. The highest concept one need concern oneself with is staying righteous or alternately making sure the rest of the party doesn't find out how bent you are. Above all, it's about staying close to wargame roots without just playing another wargame.
- The Dungeon Delver (source)

Note the Matt Finch (Mythmere) quote immediately following The Dungeon Delver's post:

"Most of the play is done in areas "outside" of dice resolution and is based on player intelligence and skill. Once you get into dice-rolling, the dice are followed closely; player skill is measured by the degree to which skill in the "non-dice" part of the game can beat a random element."
- Matt Finch (source)

This could be illustrative of the differences between Matt's modules and The Dungeon Delver's modules. If most of the play is done outside of dice resolution, then that's going to be mostly non-combat; whereas The Dungeon Delver's post brings to mind much dice rolling. But of course there's flexibility in how the two quotes can be interpreted.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Encumbrance House Rule: Strength score = item slots

A character can carry a number of items equal to his strength score, and still move at his base movement rate (as defined by armor worn, or lack thereof, as usual). Every five additional items carried (or a fraction thereof), reduces the character's movement rate by 3".

In other words, a PC has a number of encumbrance "slots" equal to their strength score*. Exceeding that number of slots slows the character down. For example, a PC with 13 strength and banded mail armor (base move of 9") can carry up to 13 items and still move 9"; carrying 14 - 18 items reduces his speed to 6", and carrying 19 - 23 items reduces his speed to 3".

* Every exceptional strength category equals one more slot. e.g., a character with 18/76 strength has 21 slots. If you prefer to be more faithful to by-the-book exceptional strength weight capacities, you can arbitrarily assign a higher slot capacity to each category, e.g. 20 / 22 / 25 / 30 / 40.

In general, every carried item takes up one slot, but there are a few exceptions:

  • Normal clothes, backpacks, and pouches take no slots. (Don't bother listing these things unless they're being stored as items to use later.)
  • A weapon & scabbard count together as a 1 slot. Ditto for a quiver & 20 arrows, etc.
  • Small identical items are 3 items per slot. So 3 iron spikes take up 1 slot, as do 3 vials of holy water, 3 daggers, or 3 potions of healing. (The items must be identical. Three different potions would take up three slots.)
  • Every 100 coins / gems take up one slot.

In practice, you just draw a marker at the appropriate rows of the equipment list section of the character sheet, and it's easy to know at a glance how encumbered the character is. For small identical items, list the appropriate number together on the row of the PC's equipment list (e.g., "iron spikes x3"). Ditto for "longsword & scabbard" or "pouch with sling stones x20".

In rare cases, a character needs to carry an extremely large or heavy item, like a massive chest, a rolled-up tapestry, or an incapacitated ally. These take up one slot per 10 pounds of approximate weight. Carrying another character will take up around 15-20 slots, plus the number of slots worth of stuff the carried character had, of course. Typically, this reduces If dragged instead of carried, it's generally one slot per 50-100 pounds.

Bags of holding can be rated in terms of this encumbrance system by dividing their coinage capacity by 75 to determine the number of slots it can hold.

Tome of Horrors Complete "Kickstarter" Results

The final "kickstarter" results for the Swords & Wizardry version of Tome of Horrors Complete are ...

$30776 raised / 330 backers
(That's for the Swords & Wizardry version only. It does not include the payments from the backers of the Pathfinder version.)

Now, this wasn't actually hosted on, nor was it funded using a kickstarter-like ransom model. It was really a pre-order, so the book was coming out regardless of how many folks pre-ordered. It all took place over a year ago, so this isn't a particularly recent event. And the numbers above are actually just estimates, as explained below.

But let's look at the pre-order as though it were a crowdfunded project...

Announced: 2011 Jan 3 or earlier (source)
Pre-order start: 2011 Mar 6 (source)
Pre-order end: 2011 Jul 5 (source), though it was originally slated to end Jun 1 (source), and already had one prior bump out to Jun 30 (source).
Price: $89.99 for pre-orders, $99.99 afterward (source)

Estimating the Number of Backers

The exact number of pre-orders was never made public. But enough info was made public to allow a reasonable guess at the number of backers. Bill Webb (the chief dude of Frog God Games) is the primary source here, but Matt Finch also chimed in with some details that give insight.

549 copies were printed (source) in total, but not all of those were pre-ordered, because some of the print run was reserved for other purposes:
  • Some number of "authors copies" were reserved to give to the authors (source)
  • Some number were reserved for "other commitments" (source)
  • 50 copies to sell at the North Texas RPG Con (source) (source)
  • As many as 150 (source), or perhaps as few as 70 (source) were reserved for general sale after the pre-order period. It's not clear whether that 150 number includes those in reserve for NTRPG Con. Matt Finch guesstimates that 100 copies would be available for general sale (source), beyond pre-orders, and beyond those reserved for NTRPG Con.
  • Matt Finch guesstimates that 300 - 350 copies were sold during pre-order period (source), including some of those going directly to vendors. But this was potentially based on inaccurate understanding of the print run size; he thought the print run was about 500 (source)
It's reasonable to think around 25-50 copies were reserved as authors copies or for "other commitments". Authors sometimes receive multiple copies, and other members of the production staff sometimes receive a copy. There are a bunch of people listed in the credits.

So we end up with 549 copies, minus 50 copies for NTRPG Con, minus 70-150 copies for general sale, minus 25-50 copies for authors & such. This gives a guesstimate range of between 299 and 404 pre-ordered copies, which aligns with fairly well with Matt's guesstimate above.

I split the difference and went with 352 copies pre-ordered.

However, about 25 of those copies went to resellers/vendors (Noble Knight, Troll & Toad, and Jim Raggi – source). So 25 of the pre-ordered copies were actually represented by just 3 "backers."

Which yields a guesstimated backer total of 330. (352 - 25 + 3)

Estimating the Funds Raised

327 of the pre-ordered copies were bought by individuals who paid $89.99 per book.

The 25 bought by resellers were almost certainly purchased at a discount. A standard reseller pays about 60% of retail for the stock, so $53.99 per book.

327 copies x $89.99, plus 25 copies x $53.99 = $30776.48, which I rounded down as the revenue raised, way up above.

It's still available ... for now, anyway

As of this writing, there appear to be a few of the 549 copies still available for sale through the Frog God Games web site. There will be no more print runs of this format of the S&W version of ToH complete, and who knows how much longer they'll last, so – if you want one, grab one now!