Season 6 Episode 2 - Sandbox or Litterbox

Welcome to Season 6 Episode ? of RPG Circus
Episode Topics

  • Open World Gaming
  • Available Sandbox Gaming Adventures
  • MMO's influences on pencil and paper Gamer perceptions


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Season 4 Episode 24 - The Professor, Mary Ann, and RPGs

Welcome to Season 4 Episode 24 of RPG Circus

Episode Topics
  • Our Top 5 Deserted Island RPGS


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What Color is that Potion?

One of the great things about being sort of a "grognard" in Role-Playing Games is the amount of old stuff you have around the house. The other day, I was flipping through the old AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG). I came to the appendix section where they have tables to help randomly determine what potions look like. This of course got me to thinking.

You may ask, "Thinking what"? Well, I was thinking do people bother to describe potions any more? Have things like potions become so common and bland that we no longer bother to describe them? Should we be describing them?

I guess the best place to start is why I always expected them to be described by the DM in the early days. Back in early days of D&D, potions were not easily identified. As a matter of fact, there were many times the only way you would know what a potion did was actually drink it. Right or wrong that was the way things were back then. I think as players we sort of wanted a clue as to what function the potion could have, which meant we wanted it described to us. Which is where the tables in the old AD&D DMG comes in. As a matter of fact, I know some DMs that took this to the logical progression of having a color, taste, & smell matrix, where each potion type had a slot on the matrix. That way the players could write such info down when they discovered what a potion did and if they ran across said potion again, they would know what it did. Personally, I never went that far.

Over time, I think various systems updates have made it easier to identify magic items and potions. I'm not going to judge the merits of that. It just made things different. I think this is where many of started to stop describing something as basic as potion. Move forward and finally, we are at the point where potions are pretty much just standard equipment to be bought and sold (as well as most magic items). It was at this point that we generally stopped bothering. After all, you don't really bother to describe an arrow or sack do you?

I guess the questions I'd like to ask the reader are the following. Do you think we lost something by not generally describing potions? Do you or your DM bother to describe potions? I know my answers are yes and sadly no respectively. I think this is something to work on the next time I run D&D (or Pathfinder).

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Why I still love Tunnels and Trolls

When I played my first RPG, Wide World of Sports was still on television and Return of the Jedi had not yet made it to the big screen. Dungeons and Dragons was popular; as with many of you, it was the system that welcomed me into the fold. I was not, however, allowed to play it.

My neighbors, brothers my age, had an early edition. Andy, the older brother, guided the rest of us on our initial adventure. He made it up, in the sense that he took The Hobbit and changed a few names. But we didn’t care, and I couldn’t wait for more.

At the time, though, Dungeons and Dragons had that evil aura laid upon it by religious folk throughout the land. To tell you the truth, I can see how someone on the outside might have been nervous—we were talking about killing things, casting spells, and categorizing monsters and demons. But I was eager to explain my position, to describe the game, and to show that it was no more harmful than writing a story or watching The Bionic Man.

My parents, though, refused when I asked to buy a copy. The Monster Manual contained Asmodeus, among other nefarious entities, and the game inspired witchcraft. That was the party line, anyway. I have to add, as an aside, that I was terrified of demons, and highly unlikely to mention them in a game, let alone incorporate them into my daily life. Hell, I was even afraid of girls and overly aggressive bees back then, so nobody needed to worry. But worry they did, and D&D was forbidden.

Strangely, though D&D was not allowed, I was permitted to play a similar game, Tunnels and Trolls, probably because it did not have the same reputation. And though Tunnels and Trolls is and was less popular, it had a number of fantastic advantages, and I’d like to share some. “Why?” you ask. Because it really is a pretty cool game, and some of you OSR fans might want to get yourself a copy.

So, here's why I still love Tunnels and Trolls:

First off, solo adventures. Yep, when why neighbors got annoying, or when my best friend went on vacation to Texas, Tunnels and Trolls had several solo adventures I could use to challenge my favorite characters. In fact, I believe that Buffalo Castle (initially published in 1976) was the first solo adventure for any pen and paper RPG.

These books were rather like the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were also popular at the time—I loved both Journey Under the Sea and The Cave of Time—but there were monsters to fight, magic items to discover, and occasions to roll dice. Honesty was also required—if you lost the battle, you had to turn to page x. I was 7 or 8, so I may have altered a few outcomes to avoid the agony of defeat, but still, I could always roll up another character and tackle the solo maze once more.

Second, group mechanic. I don’t remember if early D&D had the option, but in T&T, (I still giggle typing that), if heroes worked together, their dice added up. So, if my elf and your human attacked a troll, we’d add our attack dice together and compare them to the troll’s pool. Working together, in combat, made an immediate difference. It made great sense to me then, and it does now. I’m reminded of the bonus you get in Savage Worlds when your numbers, or theirs, start to matter….

Third, great weapons lists. I have to say, I did not know what a kukri was, or a sax, or a swordbreaker, until T&T showed me the way. Back then, the weapons list was far more extensive than those in the other games I saw, and I loved the variety.

Finally, armor soak. Can you believe it? When D&D creators were struggling to justify AC, Tunnels and Trolls had armor that reduced the amount of damage a character took after being hit. Simple, clear, effective: armor soak. I realize that the previous sentence sounds like dermatological product placement, but the idea holds. Even last night, when I played a great session of Pathfinder, I found myself annoyed at the whole AC setup, as usual….

I could go on, but suffice it to type that Tunnels and Trolls is a cool game, quick to start and deep if you want it to be. As of today, it’s a little tough to find, but I’ve spotted some used copies around the internet. It is worth the look.

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It's a Weight Thing

In a recent blog post at Tenkar’s Tavern, I was reminded of an old Dragon article about How many coins in a coffer. When I first read the article back in the 80’s, it sort of blew my young little mind. Funny thing is that re-reading it today, it still sort of blows my mind. It was however Tenkar’s calculation of 20x20 room filled one foot deep with copper pieces that really got me to think about this article. By his calculations the weight would have been something like 138 tons.

That of course got me thinking,on the podcast we have talked about encumberance. If memory serves most of us didn’t really use any of the encumberance rules in question. Of course one side effect of this is that we don’t keep track of how much money we are carrying. It could be 1 gold piece to 30,000 gold pieces and we sort of forget about it. One has to wonder, if even if we generally ignore encumberence, should we ignore the issues of coins as well?

I think most people sort of just view the coins that they have on their character sheet sort of like a bank account balance. It’s the mathematical amount but not how it’s physically allocated. So if a character had say 5000 gold pieces, that could be gold pieces, gems, platinum pieces, or anything else. Even if they do consider it, they typically will convert the monetary amounts as needed without thinking about how difficult it might be to actually do. It’s like we expect people to always be able to make change or something. The item costs a silver piece, you give the poor broke farmer one platinum piece and he gives you change back, now back to the adventure.

Do we lose out by not considering the weight of coins? At the very least, should we consider the amount? Is that the answer, just allow the characters to carry only so many coins? Funny thing is that early encumbrance systems would have things listed in coins as weight. Of course back then 10 coins equaled a pound. Which is why Tenkar’s room weights 138 tons. In most modern versions of D&D, it is now 50 coins to a pound, which would still put Tenkar’s room a little over 27 tons. So, should we either force ourselves to use the encumbrance system or just have a simple coin amount that people can carry? If we used used an amount and allowed 500 coins, that would be 10 pounds. If we allowed 2000 coins that would be 40 pounds.

Honestly, I don’t know which would be best. I know people are just trying to avoid the logistical stuff while playing a game for fun. I guess in the end, I wonder if we are robbing ourselves of story if we don’t deal with the weight of coins in some fashion (I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to the coin issue). What are your thoughts?

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