Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Let's fire up the Quattro!" - finally on my US telly!

Well, well, well...it was pretty late last night when I awoke on the floor of my (just barely) 3 year old daughter's room. See, after the tooth-brushing, story-telling, and book-reading activities are finished, she often requests either me or my wife to "lay down on the floor" for a few minutes at bedtime. Well, when I sign up for the job, I quite frequently fall waaaaaaay asleep there. Nice, eh?

Anyway, last night I woke up at about 1 am or so and decided I was sorta awake again, having slept there on the floor for a good 3-1/2 hours or so. So I mosied on down the stairs to the great room and switched on the TV to help clear out a little of my 99% full DVR. I know, I know...I have a slight packrat issue with my recordings. I'm working on it.

Anyway, after a few old episodes of The Office (US version). The Superbowl night episode, which was a full 1-hour ep, got cut short, thanks to post-game ramblings and interviews, so seeing how my DVR doesn't really care about timing, I missed the freakin' ending of the episode....ugh.

So, I switch over to OnDemand (Comcast cable's service of past episodes, movies, specials, etc) and looked for the episode I was just watching to see if I could catch the ending there. It wasn't a choice. The series is there, but not that particular episode. Bugger!

However....as I paged thru the other choices there, I see Ashes to Ashes...WTF!?!?!?!?

Man, I have been pining for this show to cross the pond ever since it was launched in the UK last year. I absolutely loved it's predecessor Life on Mars and was so looking forward to the followup series. As with most BBC/UK shows, we're getting Ashes to Ashes quite a bit later over here on BBC America. LoM was the same way, just like Robin Hood, Primeval, Doctor Who, Torchwood, etc.

And now it's here too! Well, actually it's apparently been here for a few weeks. There are 4 episodes available via OnDemand, and it's being run on BBC America on Saturday nights at 9pm (EST).

Ok, so why does this matter to a blog entitled Back in '81 you ask? Well, it's set in 1981, for Gorf's sake!

Beyond that simplistic reason, it's a show that really does throw you back to that timeframe, and as you might guess from my most recent Birthday Party pics, I kinda like the '80s.

They really seem to have nailed the era (specifically the early 80's), so far at least, in the same manner as the completely nailed the early 70's in Life on Mars. Sure, there are some little discrepancies you can find here and there. For example one that is called out in the Wikipedia article, the Quattro is a 1983 model, and it's right-hand-drive which wasn't available there, then. But really, if that blows the imagery for you I would have to say that you're not giving it a fair shake.

Speaking of "giving something a fair shake", in regards to the US version of Life on Mars, I myself have yet to give it it's due. I have watched maybe 20 minutes or so of one episode, and just recorded the rest, figuring I would get around to watching them someday. Of course decisions like this are partially responsible for my DVR bulging at 99%. I think I am being a bit prejudiced toward the US version, because I loved the UK version so much that I fear I will be disappointed in a remake so soon. The opposite goes for the The Office. I saw the US version first, and now view the UK version inferior. I know that others disagree, but that's ok.

Back to A2A, most of the LoM cast returns, including the trio of Gene Hunt, Ray Carling, and Chris Skelton.

Honestly, Gene Hunt is more than enough to bring me back to this show every week. He's totally rad, dude!

The lead character Alex Drake is played by Keeley Hawes, who you may recognize as Zoe Reynolds from MI-5 (or Spooks in the UK), another BBC show that I dug (at least the first couple seasons).

Anyway, here's a few goodies from the first episode:

Alex: "You're taller than I imagined."
Gene: "I'm bigger in every department."

Suspect being questioned: "You're living in a fantasy world, Mr Hunt."

Alex: "Can you get me a change of clothes? I would like to change out of red before Chris de Burgh writes a song about me."

Gene: "Uniform you're the C Team; DI Drake you lead the B Team; I'm the A Team."
Alex: "God have mercy."

Alex: "There's nothing on this hard-drive but the time and date."
Gene: "Pong, I've got Pong."

Ah well, one episode down, only 53 minutes into this show, but I must say so far "It's totally awesome!"

Friday, March 20, 2009

"The Keep on the Borderlands" redesigned by a 5 year old and 2 year old...sorta

Well, as promised (and I consider it my son promising me that we'd play "that D&D game" again), we played that D&D game again last night. Now, keep in mind that "that D&D game" to a 5 year old boy and a 2 year old girl can mean anything from rolling dice and having our minis fight each other, to laying out dungeon tiles and seeing how cool they look. Last night we did all of that, and a little more. This post will focus on the "little more" portion. Let me explain...

Approximately 12 seconds after I walked into our house, after racing home from work yesterday evening, with a huge grin on his face, my son asked me:

"Daddy, do you remember what I asked you this morning?"

Approximately 12 pico seconds later, I replied:

"Yes! Yes, I do."

I then 1-upped him by adding:

"I also have another surprise for our game tonight. Do you remember that cool Battlemat that is rolled up in a tube, standing in the corner of the room? Well we're gonna use that too. And you get to draw whatever kind of dungeon you want on it. Cool?"

"Cool!" he said.

We both smiled wide and rushed off to the den/office to gather up some dice, minis, tiles, and the mat and markers. My daughter saw the flurry of 2 little boys (me included) rushing past her with all of this cool stuff and said "can I play?"

"Yes! Yes, of course you can."

So we set it all up in the kitchen. Seriously is there really any more iconic a table to play D&D on, especially when your a kid, than the kitchen table? Nope. I unrolled the mat first to let it relax the rolled edges, and got out the markers. I figured for their first use of the map, we'd stick with the hex side. If they're gonna hose it up somehow, I'd prefer it not to be on the square grid. Still, I had to have a little pre-game discussion about how these are the only markers that we can use to write on the mat. Additionally, no pens, no pencils, no crayons, and especially "no permanent markers!....got it?!?!?"
Once the formalities were done, I gave them free reign to draw whatever they wanted on the mat, while I got the rest of the stuff out. A few minutes later, when I looked back at how they were coming along, I was blown away. Check out what I saw through my "back in '81" glasses as a minimalist redesign of B2 The Keep on the Borderlands:

Here's Bobby's take on the Castellan Keep:

And Anna's version of the Caves of Chaos:

Here's a little clip of them explaining some of their awesome designs:

Now look, I know that I'm just being a proud Daddy, and that this really is just two kids doodling and having fun, but I really was surprised to see what they decided to draw.

His multiple rooms, along with room numbers, and some of the items and dudes he put in them, is freakin cool. OK, so a couple of the numbers are written backwards (he did write some of them upside down, so that is an excuse of sorts), but check out that top-hat-wearing, armless, snarling creature he put in the main room. Yikes! I wonder what it's stat block looks like...

When I asked him about that dude he explained "It's a guy walkin'. He's trying to get this way, but he doesn't know which way he's goin'." I should have asked him to make a Dungeoneering check, eh? Or just keep the old school flavor they had going there have the guy just poke around a bit with a 10' pole. That always works, right?

Now, Anna's design was bit more...organic. She kinda got on a theme there and ran with it. I called them "caves" - she corrected me, stating "dat's ovals." Okie-dokie.

Anyway, we populated the dungeons and I let them just explore a bit, roll some dice, and attack stuff. It would have been cool to actually run them through these things, in real encounters and such, but for this session, we kept it reaaaaal simple. Little sister doesn't have the patience no the time to play the way Bobby and I do. She's got appointments to keep, and things to do, ya'know?

Here's a couple shots of them duking it out:

Bobby's pre-battle "intimidate" attempt:

Anna rolls "to hit":

It was a fatal strike! What was he, a minion?

Ah well, fatalities aside, fun was had by all. But mostly by me, and I never even rolled a single polyhedron!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

When your child asks "Daddy, can we play that D&D game again tonight?"...

You reply, "Yes! Yes we can!" as fast as humanly (or demi-humanly) possible.

I was in our front den/office this morning, packing my stuff for work, when my son came in to see what I was up to. As we chit-chatted while I gathered my work crap, his eyes wandered to the stack of D&D Dungeon Tiles sitting on my desk.

"Hey Daddy? Remember that day we were gonna play that one game with the 'little green guys' and all of those little square pieces..."

"...but it was gonna take way too long...so instead you got out those cardboard things that snap out of those pages...and we used them for our 'dragons and dungeons' guys?"

(little sister got in on the action last go 'round...wonder what she just rolled there...a crit?)

"Can we play some more of that tonight when you get home from work?"

Details (like which came first: the dungeon or the dragon?) and long-winded questions (genetics, I must admit) aside, ya gotta like the idea of a (barely) 5 y.o. diggin' on D&D, minis, tiles, and even goofy vintage TSR board games from "back in '81."

Anyway, with the speed of a 4e Archery Style Ranger quickdrawing his longsword/shortsword combo for a chance at an opportunity attack on a suddenly-adjacent foe (I really think that should be possible, BTW...some folks disagree), I exclaimed...

"Yes! Yes we can!"

His face just plain lit-up, but I bet not nearly half as bright as mine.

Thing is, he's really itching for me to bust out the Chessex Battlemat and markers too. He's a very creative little artist and I bet he could design some absolutely insane dungeons on that thing. Now that I mention it, I'm logging a quick reminder for myself to set that up for us tonight too.

Ah well, talk (and blog text) is cheap, so time to get down to some work here so I can bust outta here on-time...maybe even a little early. After all, based on our previous sessions here, here, here and here, I fear my son has a big battle in store for me.

I've created a monster! Isn't he just great?

"Yes! Yes he is!"

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

sweet D&D loot found during weekend getaway

So my wife and I went up north a bit to spend the weekend away for her birthday. Yeah, yeah, I know...2-1/2 hours up north in Michigan, isn't much of a vacation, but hey! - we're in a freakin' recession around here, ya'know?

She digs casinos and we wanted to get away together, even it was just for a little while, just a little ways up the highway. We usually make a yearly jaunt to Vegas (stay with relatives) but this would have to do for the casino trip fix this year. We had a blast, but that's not the subject of this post. No way I'm draggin our personal alone times into this mess...ha!

Anyway, I scouted a couple local game shops in the area in which we were staying, and before we left to come back home, we stopped by to see if they had anything cool. They did.

I snagged a few modules, some dungeon tiles/maps, and some loose minis from the cheap/promo bin. All good. Just thought I'd share my findings with the rest of you, my fellow looters:

B10 Night's Dark Terror - a Basic D&D mod that was missing from my pile of nerdliness - finally got it...sa-weet!

UK4 When a Star Falls - an old AD&D mod from across the pond - I have most of the UK series, but not this one...until now.

Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff - silver anniversary release of the old faves G1-2-3, with some new encounters mixed in to make a full campaign. Seen this one around a lot, but it was ridiculously cheap, so I snagged it. Yay!

GameMastery Map Pack: City - I already have tons of WotC's Dungeon Tiles packs, a stack of various fold-out maps and such, and a Chessex Battlemat, but these were cheap (the store owner just wanted to sell something, I think), so I figured WTF, I'll try them sometime.

And then there's the various loose minis. There are more, but these are the ones I can recall ATM:

Derro - love these little guys - plus the UK4 mod above has some in it....cool! I should have bought more of them.

Giant Frog - I'd like to see if I can make this guy work as a Beastmaster Ranger's Beast Companion (4e Martial Power Book Ranger class style). I mean I can't help but think the eyes and tounge just jump out and say "Hi, I am Dar's bud. Ribbit!"

- "...with the Kung-Fu grip!"

Ethereal Filcher - "nevah heard of it....next!" - I think I need to go dig up some books and look this bad boy up...drawing a blank on him...err...it. Cool multiple attacks possibilities though.

Dolgrim - talk about multiple attacks! My son is gonna luuuuuuuuv this one, with his imaginative flurries he likes to bust out in our EZ-rules mini battles. I can hear it now: "Ok Daddy, my guy's gonna bash you with this pointy ball club thing, stab you with this spear, shoot you with this little crossbow, smack you with this spiky shield, kick you in the head with both feet, and bite your face off...TWICE!"

So in summary, we may have "donated" to the Casino, but we really did have a blast together, just getting away from RL for a little bit. Plus, ya gotta love a little loot run thrown in for good measure.

Now off to devise some strategy to fend off that double-face-bite-off move...it's coming...trust me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Character Class: Hopeless

I've been reading some old issues of Dragon magazine lately - Dragon #96 from April 1985 in this case.

It's basically the "April Fools" issue, and is filled with some great goofy articles, including this gem, Rules to lose by - The Hopeless character class from an idea by Roger Koppy.

I guess I should have waited for April Fools' Day to roll around to post this, but I tend to forget about things pretty quickly, so before I do, here it is for your enjoyment:

Rules to lose by
The Hopeless character class
From an idea by Roger Koppy

Almost every gamer has had his bad days with the dice when creating a new character for AD&D® gaming. I’ve had my share of them and have decided to do something about it. Instead of rolling and rerolling and re-rerolling and re-re-rerolling the dice to get an acceptable character that the DM’s going to kill off in five minutes anyhow, why not just generate a thoroughly lousy character and give it a class of its own?

Thus was born the Hopeless character class. In order to qualify as a Hopeless character, a character must have all ability scores rolled as d4 + 2, giving a range of 3-6 for all major characteristics (strength, intelligence, etc.). A Hopeless character will suffer some sort of penalty for each such characteristic, as given in the Players Handbook. Not to worry. After all, this IS supposed to be a hopeless character.

All Hopeless characters are human, since the racial ability limits are too high for this class to qualify as anything other than human. Besides, humans are boring compared to things like elves, dwarves, and the like, and this just adds insult to injury for Hopeless characters.

Hit dice:
Hopeless characters get only one roll for hit points, regardless of their level, and they don’t even get to use regular dice at that. At 1st level, a Hopeless character receives 1-2 hp (flip a coin, with heads being 2 hp and tails being 1 hp). This coin toss is reflipped at every level, and all former hit points are dropped and forgotten. A 1st-level Hopeless character could have 2 hp, then have 1 hp at 2nd level, then 2 hp at 3rd level, then back to 1 hp at 4th level, etc. You get the idea. Life ain’t fair, man.

Any protection other than padded armor would be foreign and useless in the hands of a Hopeless character. None of them know how to put on anything more complicated than an old quilt. And shields? Shields are too cumbersome and Hopeless characters are needlessly burdened by them. Shields do make nice dinner trays and wall hangings, however.

To their credit, Hopeless characters may use any sort of weapon that has no moving parts to confuse them, sharp edges to cut themselves on, or any other dangerous parts. This eliminates all of the useless things like the spetum and the glaive-guisarme, which no one can pronounce, much less use anyway, and leaves just the simplest and most efficient of all weapons: the club. No hurled or projected missiles may be used, as these always backfire in the hands of a true Hopeless character, causing serious injury to either the thrower or the nearest ally. This rule also applies to sharp weapons and those with moving parts.

Oil and poison:
C’mon, get serious. Oil? Poison? Hopeless characters avoid these for their own good, being too clumsy to even think about using them. I mean, really now.

Number of attacks per round:
Just one. No more. Also, as long as we’re on the topic, Hopeless characters don’t have to worry about gaining any new weapons as they rise in levels or anything; read the paragraph above on weapons if you can’t figure out why.

As if it made any difference, Hopeless characters may be of any alignment that will have them.

A Hopeless character will never settle down to construct a stronghold for the following reasons:

1. He wouldn’t have any idea of how to get such a project started;

2. If he received any help on getting the project started, he wouldn’t have the faintest notion of how to govern a castle complex, its inhabitants, or his retainers, servants, hirelings, henchmen, maids, or the persons who live in his realm; and,

3. If, by some major miracle or gift of the DM, the Hopeless character accomplished both of the above objectives, those people who are supposed to be under his rulership would
immediately realize they were under the command of an incompetent and would overthrow the character.

If a Hopeless character is lucky, he might be able to settle down at some point and construct a straw or sod hut. Then the character can govern as many chickens and pigs he wishes, until such time as they overthrow him.

Henchmen and hirelings:
Not a chance. Would you work for a guy like this?

Special abilities

All Hopeless characters attack as 0-level humans and make saving throws as 0-level humans. This is special because no one else is treated in this manner.

Anytime a Hopeless character rolls a 1 for a saving throw, he immediately takes the maximum possible amount of damage from the attack. If a Hopeless character rolls a 1 on a “to hit” roll, he automatically hits himself for normal damage (or, optionally, his nearest ally for maximum damage).

All enemies of a Hopeless character immediately gain a +10% to all morale checks, regardless of the company that the Hopeless character has at the time. Six devas and an army of phase doppleganger elf-trolls could be backing the Hopeless character up, and the opposition will still feel good. Conversely, all allies of a Hopeless character take a -10% penalty on morale checks so long as they believe the Hopeless character is attempting to support them.

Any Hopeless character who survives beyond 1st level immediately gains the power to cast
fumble on himself once per day per level of experience thereafter. A Hopeless character who actually makes it to 4th level gains the power to cause confusion in any intelligent character who attempts to hold a conversation with him, a power usable once per round. This confusion is similar to the druid spell of the same name, only no saving throw is given and the confusion lasts for 1-4 days. Any Hopeless character who, ahem, makes it to 9th level will immediately gain the power to feeblemind an opponent by touch, to an unlimited extent (this power limited only to one use per round). This will cause the Hopeless character to be declared dangerous and harmful to the public welfare, and he will be hunted down by the armed forces of any nation he passes through.

Hopeless characters, by their nature, have saving throws of 40 vs. illusion/phantasm spells or enchantment/charm spells.

Uses of a Hopeless character

A Hopeless character is useful if you don’t want to waste a better character in a dangerous scenario. They also make amusing attractions in sideshows if one doesn’t approach them too closely.

Ok, so I've played a few of these in my past (who hasn't?), but never on purpose. d4+2 for each stat? Yow! Flip a coin for your hit points each level? (assuming that you make it to level-up)...Yikes! The chance of your own chicken and pigs overthrowing you?...Dang!

It would be sweet to reach the level 8 title of "Public Hazard" though, right?

Some major critical-misses built in there too. Hitting your nearest ally for max damage?...Just plain rude! Then again, max damage from a hopeless character (with a pitiful STR mod) should be pretty darn pathetic, so maybe not too bad there. Of course a blade is a blade.

"Six devas and an army of phase doppleganger elf-trolls could be backing the Hopeless character up, and the opposition will still feel good." ...Pure awesome!

Anyway, hopeless characters can certainly be fun, if you're cool with the fact that they are hopeless. You find yourself taking more risks and just plain doing things that you might not do with a hopeful character. Try one next time. You just might find your new favorite class. How bad can it be?

Actually, pretty bad.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"In Search of Adventure": same name, different game?

I recently snagged this 4e adventure collection "In Search of Adventure" by Goodman Games. The title actually grabbed my attention before the 4e description or the Goodman Games logo. It sure sounds familiar:

So I guess you can put out a D&D product with the same name, as long as it's 20+ years later...dunno. In my middle-aged grognardic heart I kinda wish they would have just come up with a unique title for the new collection. The '80s TSR supermodule, B1-9 In Search of Adventure pulls together a range of B-series Basic D&D modules which includes many of my all time faves (B2 The Keep on the Borderlands, B3 Palace of the Silver Princess, and B4 The Lost City to name a few). At any rate, titles-smitles I guess. I'm no attorney, but I am "in search of adventure," so I picked it up.

Just flipping through it, it looks to be a nice collection of (pretty) short adventures that could be fun to dork around with. They are all level 1 adventures, which is a little disappointing. It would have been nice to have them range a little bit from 1-4 or so, but I'll still take it.

Now, I've heard on some podcasts (notably The Tome Show) and in some forums, that in review of some other Goodman Games 4e material (DCC - Dungeon Crawl Classics modules, etc) have a few issues with nailing the 4e mechanics, stat blocks, DCs, etc. Basically this is due to Goodman Games putting this material out very early in 4e life, so they may need some errata to clean them up, or we can just tweak them as needed/wanted on our own. Regardless, errors or not, I think it's great that there are some more published modules for 4e, especially in a shorter, quicker format. The fact that there are six adventures in one book here seals the deal for me.

Now I won't give any real review of this item yet, because I haven't played through any of it. I'm sure others have and there are probably some fine reviews out there to check out.

On a side note, one which is absolutely covered in many fine blogs already, WotC's new book "Dungeon Delve" is out (came out yesterday). According to release notes: "Dungeon Delve is designed for groups looking for an exciting night of monster-slaying without the prep time. It contains dozens of self-contained easy-to-run mini-dungeons, or “delves,” each one crafted for a few hours of game-play.The book includes delves for 1st- to 30th-level characters, and features dozens of iconic monsters for the heroes to battle. Dungeon Masters can run these delves as one-shot adventures or weave them into their campaign."

Now that item is a gimme for sure for me. In fact I've been waiting for it for a couple months, and thus I'm picking it up today. I really like the fact that they run from levels 1-30 to allow for some real fun either running these guys all along, or just picking one here or there to try out some high level characters' abilities and such. Should be a blast.

All in all, great to see some more published adventures for 4e. I'm still an old fogie who loves his Moldvay/Cook/Marsh Basic and Expert box sets, but I'm getting more and more hip to 4e, and really diggin' it. To me, it's all good...it's all D&D.

Monday, March 2, 2009

More D&D minis with my son: this time with props!

Props, you say? Well not the greatest props, but a fun kinda arena of sorts. Here's a quick shot of the scene:

Dig those old bakelite red and green dice. They make an old game prop seem even older...but cooler still. Pay no attention to the smiling floating head in the left side of the pic. He just couldn't resist...ha!

Anyway, last go 'round my son got a little carried away with "rolling" the dice. Let's just say I spent quite a few turns retrieving them from the kitchen floor...and the greatroom floor...and the hallway...etc. So, I dug out an old dice game, some of you may remember from your youth, to make use of it's dice rolling tray or plate or whatever ya call it. It goes by many names, the ones I recall are Tric Trac and Shut the Box, but I'm sure there are other variations as well. At any rate, it makes for a nice little felt covered box to throw... err... roll your dice into without fear of flinging a few into the heater vents or the garbage disposal, when things get really pumped up.

Here's what a cleaner version of the game looks like (found the pic somewhere on the internetz, as I don't have a good isolated shot of mine to post):

So I cleaned my old Shut the Box up a little (it's pretty freakin old), set it up on the table, and dug out some more D&D minis for my son and I to use in our bloody battles. If you recall, my son just turned 5 years old, so I'm keeping things real simple with this. We just pick some guys, choose out dice, and start kicking each others butts. Last time we just did single figs, with simple attacks (except for the mutliple haymaker move he used to "finish" me last time), and we did not make use of any special abilities, powers, or healing.

This time, I was almost ready to bust out some of the cooler abilities of the figs, but decided to still hold out on that (maybe next time), and instead build us each a team of heroes, and make this Tric Trac dice tray an actual arena for these glorious gladiators. Fight on!

I dumped out 12 minis and let him choose the teams. Well I say let him choose them, as he pretty much did it while I was out of the room, grabbing some dice and figs for his little sister to mess with (she's 2 years old, BTW). She woke up from her nap and was pretty jealous of big brother and Daddy and their "ice" game, so we hooked her up with some goods too.

He basically choose the biggest, baddest guys for his squad, and gave me the smaller (yet more colorful) guys for mine. It showed a little categorizing skill on his part, along with some devious strategy, so good job boy!

Here's a shot of one of the showdowns, his Mummy Guardian vs my Chillborn (from the Warforged Crossbowman's point of view, apparently):

Sadly (for me), without any bonus abilities, my Chillborn bit it pretty fast at the clubbing stumps of his Mummy. The Chillborn fig has a great graphic with that open-mouth look and the reaching hand, but yeah, his Mummy basically said WHAM! BAM! THANK YOU MA'AM!...in that order.

Next up is this little tightrope duel featuring his Vampire Spawn and my Defiant Rake:

This setup "spawned" (sorry) a proud Geekdad moment for me, as he tagged the fig as a "sorta Dragggula guy, right Daddy?" Right son!...sorta. Notice in this shot some more members of my "tiny" squad: the Kobold Archer and the Ice Mephit (those are his wings, at least)...fearsome, eh?

Ah well, we had tons of fun, and that's all that matters. I'll leave ya with one last pic, a work of art entitled (paying respects to Bud and Lou) "Frosty Meets The Mummy!":

Ya see, while I was busy looking up the sucky attack bonus of my Ice Mephit, I heard my son utter this gem: "Arrrrrrhhhhh......I made a snowwwwwwmaaaaaaannnnnn!!!!!"

That's my boy!