Wednesday, November 30, 2011

ConstantCon Mini-Update and New Local LL Game

I ran my first ConstantCon game -- Tales from the Hotel Kaladarian Episode 1, "Bat Urine Cleansing Agent" -- about a month ago, but still haven't written up the session report. Shame on me!  I will get it composed by the coming weekend if I can.

I launched that ConstantCon campaign in the wake of my aborted public Labyrinth Lord game at Lift Bridge Books. That public game remains aborted for now; nevertheless, since the day of its tanking, I have been approached by many folks asking about whether or not that game was up and running.  Students and casual contacts from my College have asked about it, as have the management at the bookstore.  Further, those wonderful bookstore staffers (THANKS Joe and Cody!) have collected some referrals from people who have come into the store asking about and/or expressing interest in the old-school D&D game. So between my campus contacts and the three or four phone numbers the bookshop sent me, I regained hope in my ability to establish a local Labyrinth Lord game -- this time in my own home.

You see, when my first attempt at a public game failed, I deduced that either

(1) Sunday afternoons are no good for people schedule-wise,


(2) would-be participants are not thrilled to play D&D in a public venue.

Turns out it was the latter only.  So in recent weeks, I have rustled up a group of about five or six players who are willing to play Labyrinth Lord on Sunday afternoons at my place!

This group meets for the first time this coming Sunday to roll characters and start adventuring!!

In time, if this group jells and feels confident to do so, maybe we will take our game back to the bookstore and play in public.  But it seems like it has been easier to convince people to play, and may be easier to get them comfortable with each other and me, in a private venue for the time being.

In any case, now I will have two regular groups running simultaneously, plus occasional Tales from the Hotel Kaladarian. A fruitful and exciting RPG'ing schedule, not to mention more fodder for the blog.

Take THAT, you fiend!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Compendium's Tentative TOC

In the comments to my recent post on the artwork of the Lands of Ara Compendium 2011, Peter Regan (of Oubliette fame) asked:

"Can you give us an idea of the page count and a table of contents at this stage?"

To which I replied that "so far it's a loose list that my Editor-in-Chief (Spawn of Endra) hasn't yet vetted. But I will post a list of the likely Compendium contents as soon as I can."

And now I honor that promise! Note that what follows is neither a comprehensive list -- more stuff may be added -- nor (on the other hand) an accurate representation of how much total stuff will make it in -- I suspect that the final Compendium will have a shorter TOC than this one. But this will give you an idea of what I've been thinking about in a general way . . . .

Sample Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION by Spawn of Endra and Carter Soles

Arandish Horse Movement Rates

Trolls of Ara
Demons of Ara
Dragons of Ara
Horned Cyclops
Dimetrodon, Fire-Breathing
Dimetrodon, Aquatic
Dimetrodon, Flying
Swamp Tiger
Mind Flayer for LL (ROCC psionics)
Undead Yeti
Undead Stirge

Ogre Acid Pool
Triple Fire Trap Room
Holy Water Bolas
Gunger Beykr's Chime of Infallible Wayfaring
Alaxxx's Penny of Retrieval

Rogath the Swamp-Ranger
Dalgoop of Minoch
Toran (N. Achelonian ogre fighter)
Elzar the Horrid
Hokka and His Crew
Grel Kalorian, elf mage
Gorgo of Gannar
Beastarr the Bobcat
Hobart the Ambiguous

St. Ainless of Inocks, Patron Saint of Metal Accoutrments
Dozentit, Goddess of Perfunctory Inquiry

Rodians (race as class and advanced versions)
Ogres as PCs
2d6 Bardery / Basic Arandish Bard
Bard Variant: The Jongleur
2d6 Rangery

Troglodyte Stench Burst
Cannibal Curse
Vomitus Deluge
Alaxx's Zib Flobble
Alaxx's Zib Floogle
Symbol of Porn

One-Hour Dungeon Map
Sark's Cave, an Expansion for Wraithstone Isle

2D Barcode Maps
Aleister Crowley, Master of the Random Table
random d30 table(s)
d30 rule retrospective

That's all I've got on the list so far, plus numerous illustrations by Kelvin Green. As I say, I suspect we may need to trim this down a bit before it goes to press, or it will be too big to be easily usable.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What Character Am I?

Always a sucker for whatever bandwagon is passing through the blogosphere, I have joined Peter and David in taking the What Kind of D&D Character Would You Be? test. Here are the results, which reveal me as the conformist I truly am:

I Am A: Lawful Good Human Fighter/Wizard (3rd/3rd Level)

Ability Scores:

Lawful Good A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected or required to act. He combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. He tells the truth, keeps his word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished. Lawful good is the best alignment you can be because it combines honor and compassion. However, lawful good can be a dangerous alignment when it restricts freedom and criminalizes self-interest.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Primary Class:
Fighters can be many things, from soldiers to criminal enforcers. Some see adventure as a way to get rich, while others use their skills to protect the innocent. Fighters have the best all-around fighting capabilities of the PC classes, and they are trained to use all standard weapons and armor. A fighter's rigorous martial training grants him many bonus feats as he progresses, and high-level fighters have access to special melee maneuvers and exotic weapons not available to any other character.

Secondary Class:
Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Two-Part Revelation About Bards

1. Zak's initial breakdown.

2. Zak's additional clarification, also reprinted below:

(Note especially the comment in the far bottom left: 
"people obsessing over their mechanics as if that mattered")

With all due respect to Uncle Junkal, who I very much enjoy having in my campaign, I admit to feeling this way myself sometimes.  My annoyance has less to do with objection to the Bard character type as such, but to the immense difficulties inherent in making the Bard class work within the rules without feeling patently stupid or wonky at times.

Should Bardery simply be role-played?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Session 46: Raiders of the Underwater Temple

This session, played 11/3/11, included PCs Innominus (Clr 6), Hazel (Ftr 4 / MU 4), Yor (Dwf 6), Dak (Dwf 6), Vivuli (Assassin 5 / MU 4), and Uncle Junkal (Rodian Bard 4), plus NPCs Gorgo (Dwarf-4) and Fuzz (Ftr-2).

The party was still monkeying around with the same elevator they discovered last session. Having just killed two big Ponaturi in a tunnel on what I'll call the "Briny Level," the group decided to attempt to ride the elevator even further down into the bowels of the earth. An appropriate place for scum of their sort, in my view.

At any rate, leaving Hazel's follower Fuzz up on the Thoopshib Temple level to work the levers, Vivuli issued him instructions via his monkey familiar, also left upstairs. One lever pull later, the elevator rumbled, and down they went, 800' feet farther below the Briny Level, to a place where they beheld a strange sight indeed.

The elevator exit opened west onto what appeared to be an underwater scene. The ever-bold Dak stuck his arm through the exit-way, feeling a slight tingle as his hand passed through a transparent force-field into rather cold (salt) water. Though it was very dark, the PCs determined that they were looking out at a sea floor about 50' below the level of the elevator floor. The eerie underwater scene was dimly illuminated by some distant light source to the west.

All the party members quaffed water breathing potions. Dak drove a spike into the elevator room floor, tied a rope to it, and the party tethered themselves to this rope in the following marching order: Dak - Yor - Hazel - Innominus - Uncle Junkal. All these (plus Vivuli) set off through the portal, marching along the sea floor toward the light source; Vivuli, untethered, swam a few feet above the column of his comrades as they made their way westward.

The party had a total of 550' of rope, which got them to within about 150' of the light source when they ran out of tether. The pale green light emanated from a huge, glowing, egg-shaped object sticking up out of the sea floor ahead. Vivuli swam ahead alone to scope out the structure more closely, and was able to see that, in the east face of the natural-seeming stone "pedestal" (really an outcropping of the sea floor itself) that cradled the glowing "Egg," there was inset an arched entranceway, 20' across and 30' high. Pitch darkness lurked within the archway; that darkness had a sickly green tint to it.

Vivuli swam back to his rope-bound comrades and, on the basis of his reportage, the group decided to go back upstairs to the Prince's Manor (to rest, recuperate magical abilities, etc.) before returning the next day to explore this weird underwater structure. In particular, Innominus wanted to regain his Locate Object spell, so as to track the location of the coin he placed in the Thoopshib Temple slot a few sessions ago.

Back upstairs in the Manor house, the party learned that the recently recovered Prince Arkus planned to hasten to Farn Junction with cadre of priests in order to save as many citizens of the plague-ridden town as possible. He was taking a regiment of his soldiers north within the next day or so, and was having Grand Vizier Krock and Father Azamondius write letters to numerous Minochian and Kaladarian Holy Orders calling for priests capable of curing disease to meet them just outside Farn Junction. Innominus offered some advice to the Prince on how to proceed with Operation Rescue Farn Junction, but the party felt that their own work was here at the Country Manor, routing out the demonic threat that still dwelt somewhere in its bowels.

Vivuli cast invisibility on the two dwarves that night, and all rested.

On the morning of Day 165 of the party's Arandish adventures, as Prince Arkus readied his men for the rescue operation to the north, the party rode the underground elevator back to the underwater level, quaffed more water breathing potions, and headed back across the sea floor toward the eerie Egg. Innominus cast Locate Object, and indeed that coin of his seemed to be located somewhere within the glowing, Egg-like structure.

They went through the archway and inside, finding themselves in a large (40' x 160' with 30' ceilings), dark, pillared chamber (see map above). They moved slowly into the place (dashed arrow) in their previously established marching order, only with Vivuli in front this time.

Innominus detected for magic and evil, finding that the twelve pillars in the place radiated literally the strongest magic he'd ever seen, and that the entire place radiated very strong evil. He also cast detect traps, which didn't reveal much.

As they walked westward, the group noticed two other sinister features of the area:

- the spaces between the two columns of pillars to their right and left were TOTALLY black, as if some kind of Void occupied that space (see shaded regions on map), and

- there were two 18' tall statues in the place, one at the extreme north end of the room, one at the south. The northern statue depicted a huge lobster-like creature, with LOTS of eyes on numerous eyestalks, plus two great eyeballs clasped, one each, in its pair of huge pincers. The southern statue looked like this:

Reaching the west side of the rectangular room, the group found Innominus' coin: it rested inside a basin set into the west wall of the south section of the chamber. This basin, seemingly made of platinum, was an offerings plate of some kind, with 385gp in it, along with seven huge (10" diameter) pearls.

The party immediately discussed how they might successfully loot the pearls, and Hazel suggested using the old bait-and-switch move like Indiana Jones did in the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark: find some valueless object of roughly equal weight and swap it out (quickly!) for the pearls in the basin.

Dak went outside to the sea floor and located a suitably sized boulder while Innominus and Hazel readied defensive spells. The dwarf brought the boulder in, and in a carefully timed effort, he rolled it onto the offerings pedestal as Vivuli pilfered the pearls, the gold coins, and the platinum tray itself! The two thieves were tethered to a rope, which their comrades Uncle Junkal, Fuzz, and Gorgo immediately hauled upon, bringing the looters and their loot back outside the glowing Egg structure.

Innominus then prudently cast Wall of Law inside the chamber, surrounding the central 20' walkway (see line on map) and utterly covering their retreat. That spell:

"Shines as a bright light that will hold all intelligent undead at bay. In addition to taking 1d8 points of damage, any Neutral or Chaotic creatures passing through this barrier must make a save versus Spells and Spell-like Devices at -1 or be calmed for one hour afterwards. Calmed creatures are -2 on all combat rolls during this hour."

Nothing came out of the Egg after them, though Innominus sensed Evil Undead spirits within, unable to pass the Wall of Law he had created.

The group then hastened back to the elevator and rode it to the highest level they knew of: the huge, sulfurous-smelling chamber located 200' above the Thoopshib Temple level they originally came from.

The PCs cursorily poked around in that vast chamber. Yor and Dak walked its perimeter, learning that its dimensions were 1000' (north to south) by 1400' (east to west), with 40' ceilings. Next the whole party* walked out 400' eastward toward the center of the room, and found some demonic etchings in the floor, inscribing a vast, 600' diameter circle. Uncle Junkal and Viv both instantly recognized this as some kind of demonic summoning circle.

And this is where the session ended.

DM's Notes
Uncle Junkal leveled up to Rodian Bard-5.

*Technically minus Hazel, whose player had had to retire by this point in the evening.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Compendium Artwork Update

The Lands of Ara Compendium 2011, described here as "collected highlights of the gaming content from the Lands of Ara blog from its inception in 2009 until the end of 2011, to be released as a free, downloadable pdf in the first weeks of 2012," is slowly starting to come together.

In that same post I mentioned that killer OSR artist Kelvin Green was working on new illos for the Compendium, and indeed he has recently delivered these! So here is a teaser of what is to come, in the form of Kelvin's awesome depiction of an Undead Yeti:

And speaking of killer OSR artists, we have commissioned the Compendium's front cover illustration from Johnathan Bingham. As Johnathan recently wrote, he is well into the initial sketching phase already, and once he has worked his magic, his wife Daisey will be colorizing the cover image for us! No preview yet, but I can tell you I'm very excited about this piece, as well as a number of other GREAT Kelvin Green pics I am keeping secret until the release of the Compendium.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pimping an Archaeology Blog

Ahoy says Spawn:

This is just quick note to pimp a newish blog about archaeology that an old friend of mine is running, called The Subversive Archaeologist. Rob is a Canadian living in California, has a bunch of degrees, and is very opinionated about archaeology. He has plenty of axes to grind, particularly when it comes to claims that Neandertals were cognitively like anatomically modern humans, had religion, had burial practices, language, symbol expression, etc. Bogus, says he. His blog is well written, takes folks to task ... Hmm. Canadian, opinionated, good writer with a slightly high-brow tone, telling everybody they're doing it wrong. It's almost like reading Alexis's blog, except you get the feeling that Rob doesn't think most of his readers are stupid.

Well, that ought to move some traffic over there.

At any rate, if you have any interest in archaeology and critical analysis of the discipline, check it out. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Caldo Ba (Gopher Stew), or Wilderness Foraging LARP

Propoundeth Ein Spawn:

Coincidental with hunting mechanics overtaking my focus in the last couple of days (please check out Talysman's stuff on hunting, gathering and malnutrition/starvation mechanics ... and encourage him to continue with his Liber Zero and Liber Blanc projects, wherein all of this great stuff may be compiled in two awesome places), I was trying to find some images for my disseration and ran across a sequence of photos of me cooking gopher stew in camp in Belize. Just to show that I'm not against capturing and cooking small game here's a little photo essay. The dish is call caldo ba in Spanish/Mopan Maya. One of the project members was paying folks to bring her ba heads for a study, and I eventually told her we should be getting the whole animal (duh, stupid gringos). So a Maya friend of our set some traps and snagged us Mr. Ba.  

Here is his head with hair (part of the study) and the rest of the gutted carcass with the hair singed and scraped off. Fresh ba meat smells a lot like rabbit meat, slightly sweet.

Here's the prep counter/pantry. On the left you see a wa'a leaf with a bunch of fresh culantro that was gathered by another Maya friend. It smells a lot like cilantro (coriander leaf for our UK readers), but is stronger and sharper. Good for caldo! Also the obligatory Belikin stout. 

Here I am prepping the ba and vegetables (I imagine this the sort of prep that The Happy Whisk is always talking about). Ba was cut into 6 pieces so everyone could have a taste, and here is sitting in a bunch of garlic, salt and pepper. Also going in: literal Maya onions, bell peppers and tomatoes.
Now for a bit of browning the ba, onions and garlic. In a crappy aluminum pot! Yay! Why did I not change out of my field clothes, you ask? I probably wasn't digging that day, and had a beer shower (whereby drinking a few stouts makes you feel less dirty than you are).
You gotta problem with that?

Now adding the rest of the veggies.
Cooking gopher stew is a lonely business, my friends. That's the dinner table in the background that slopes violent to the right, and has delightfully warped and splinter-causing benches. Obligatory One Barrel Rum calendar in the background. 
Here's the finished product with the achiote soup stock and culantro added. 
And a portion of caldo ba along with the usual dinner items: rice and salsa, corn tortillas and unidentified breaded object, perhaps a piece of chicken. Overall, quite tasty. There's not a hell of a lot of meat on a gopher, but since these ones eat a lot of fresh corn and so forth, they have a not-so-gamey flavor. I recommend giving it a shot. Bon appetit!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Optimal Foraging Theory and D&D Wilderness Mechanics: A Half-Assed Treatment

Said Spawn of Endra:

Hunting seems to be a hot topic in the last day or so, between this spell of Mr. Bat's that causes people to hunt (a great spell to clear a bunch of people out of a village so you could steal their stuff, if you ask me), and this Simple Hunting mechanic laid down by Mr. Talysman. I always dig what Talysman puts forth. His posts are often what I wish I could come up with instead of my own posts that are 80% material that only I find amusing, and maybe have 20% of something useful for anybody else. As I commented on his post, I think he's got a simple mechanic that is also nicely granular. But wilderness foraging rules still just stick in my craw, and I've touched on that once before when looking at the Joy of Cooking Grindhouse Edition.

In the comments to Tal's post I bitched about "Why is wilderness food-getting all hunting and no plant gathering?", and I said "Well when I'm in Belize I just go eat bush food and look at me I'm so special." What kind of a twat writes stuff that? But anyway, to me hunting game is just a big risk and big waste of time for the traveler. Here's my take on wilderness adventuring hunting.

First, why are you in the wilderness? You either have a specific goal to get to and you've decided it's quicker to risk going off-road to reach it, or you've got a vague sense that there's something in a general area and you've got to explore the hex until you find it. Or you got teleported there or whatever other deus ex machina scenario. [I have literally never played a hex crawl session, so please jump in and tell my why else you are in the wilderness.]

Second, why are you hunting? You ran out of rations, I guess. Is this bad planning? Lack of player skill? Or did something steal your rations, or they got rained on? Hmm. Well if it's either of the latter cases, the DM cares about not hand-waiving* the particulars of wilderness adventuring.  If one has to resort to a hunting mechanic, simple or otherwise, one is probably the DM that wants grit and realism in the hexcrawl (or delights in another tool to throw shit at the PCs perhaps?). As a player, well, I'm going to buy so many iron rations and commission a 500gp sack for them that is both waterproof and has a chainmail outer lining before I play in your game.

The PC is hunting because he/she/it has no food. The player is hunting because the DM is stripping away attribute points like CON or STR (and CHA, obviously -- starving people are just NOT attractive), and probably HP. So I propose this axiom or something:

No hunting mechanic should exist without a preceding starvation mechanic 

That's a problem with LabLord, which otherwise has a decent (i.e., plant-gathering option) mechanic: the penalties for starvation are left to the DM. Raggi's Grindhouse Rules (p.36) do give a mechanic, which is a Save vs. Poison each day or lose 1 CON. At the same time, he acknowledges the real problem is dehydration -- Save or CON is at half.

Note that I'm not proposing any mechanics myself. First off I'm too busy, otherwise lazy and stupid to do so. Second, I don't see the realism that it would add as adding fun overall. Any hunting mechanic must exchange PC time for caloric returns. That's at some cost of movement rates through the wilderness. Depending on the starvation mechanic, in most real situations one is better off just moving on toward the goal rather than spending time and energy chasing game they may not catch, i.e, get out of the wilderness. Time spent hunting is also time for Wandering Monsters to appear. They may either kill you or solve your starvation problem by becoming food. At worst, I envision a space where the party has to devote all their time to hunting rather than moving, and so end up in a positive feedback loop that locks them into sitting in place and not adventuring because they need to devote all their time to hunting. Sucks to that ass-mar. 

Why hunt when you can gather?
I'm an archaeologist, and I draw on the anthropological traditions of cultural ecology and what is typically called human behavioral ecology in my work, among a billion other things. Before starting this post , I went back to some classics looking for data to show why hunting shouldn't take precedence over plant gathering. And I got confused. Here's a classic on Ache foraging by Hawkes et al. (1982)** that shows that deer and peccary are the highest ranked resources they encounter in Paraguay, and most plants and insects are lower ranked:

The ranking is based on the caloric return per unit of time devoted to search, pursuit, and handling/processing. So big animals are higher ranked, and when encountered they should always be taken as opposed to the palm hearts that present themselves at the same time (which are lower ranked due low calories and processing time). Beyond a point of caloric return per unit of time, some potential food sources should always be excluded from the diet, no matter how abundant or easy to get:

Ei/hi is energy per handling time by resource, and E/t is energy return per time invested in foraging given the breadth of resources in the diet (i.e., the return at rank 4 is for a diet that includes resources ranked 1-4 inclusive). It happens that plants are more abundant, so the encounter rate for these resources is higher than for game, but in this group of foragers a lot of the diet is made up of game (about 75% during the period of this study). But it's important that as the diet breadth increases, (the number of resources acquired from rank 1 to rank 12 increases), the average returns of foraging per hour increase. So all the stuff from rank 7 to 10, including the larvae, birds, palm products, capuchin monkeys, lead to overall higher average returns.

These returns are in kcal/hr, so for a 2000 kcal/day diet, this is going to mean ~2.5 hr foraging/PC/day when plants and all the better stuff is included (~800 kcal/hr return). If you only take big game (the two 1st ranked resources) and ignore other foods, you'll get big caloric returns when you bag them, but the hourly return rate goes down to ~100 kcal/hr, so it's going to take 8 times as long if you're picky. That assumes you're in Paraguay and you're with subsistence foragers, or have a good ranger, etc.

If you added the costs involved in devoting so much time to hunting, like random monsters encounters with no loot reward, some other plot-related time-crunch, then all of these things get shifted around. More time spent foraging = more bad stuff, and therefore PCs are foolish to go for the big kill. They should get on to their goal, and not sink time into hunting big game. But again, the DM and the players need to know the costs of starvation for these types of evaluation and decision-making to have any meaning.

And next time I put my money where my mouth is: The Spawn of Endra cooks gopher soup in Belize.

*Is it hand-waving or hand-waiving? Discuss on
** The reference is: Kristen Hawkes, Kim Hill, & James F. O'Connell. (1982).Why Hunters Gather: Optimal Foraging and the Aché of Eastern Paraguay. American Ethnologist, Vol. 9, No. 2, Economic and Ecological Processes in Society and Culture, pp. 379-398.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pledge Drive for LL Ref's Screen!

Hey Labyrinth Lord fans!  Make sure to check out the Labyrinth Lord Referee Screen "Kickstarter" Pledge Drive -- make your pledge before December 10 to ensure that this awesome product actually goes to print!  The three-panel screen will include original art by Steve Zeiser, and signed copies are available as well.  Here is the link directly to Kickstarter -- waste no time -- make your pledge TODAY!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thoughts About Skill Systems

I was chatting with Spawn of Endra the other day about Bards and multi-classed characters in old-school Labyrinth Lord-type games. As regular readers know, our own gaming group has struggled mightily over the issue of how to integrate a Bard class into our present campaign, and to be blunt, I am STILL not 100% satisfied with what we've come up with, as I recently confessed.

The problem stems from the "skill system" conundrum observed by so many other grognards. And that conundrum originates with the Thief (not the Bard) class, though the problem carries forward into all other "special" classes outside the "core" classes, which I define (at least provisionally) as Fighter, Cleric, and Magic-User, plus the race-as-classes such as Dwarf, Elf, Halfling and (in Ara) Rodian.

That's right, I am officially going on record now as excluding Thieves from the core D&D classes, even though they appear as a "core" class in Labyrinth Lord. To be clear, I do not mind the concept of a thief, i.e., a specialist who develops expertise in certain areas like finding traps and picking pockets. Nor do I mind the general concept of Bards, i.e., experts in folklore and public performance and storytelling and the like. No, I actually really like these "specialist" classes for their core concepts, I just despise what the grafting on of skill systems does to the game, specifically the way in which it can interfere with player ingenuity and role-playing.

Let me give a few examples. The first couple will relate to my experiences DM'ing Uncle Junkal, our party's Rodian Bard, and just let me make clear right out of the gate that I do NOT blame Uncle Junkal or his player for these disappointments of mine. They are ultimately my responsibility for not seeing how the Delving Deeper Bard, as good as it is, participates in the form of "skill resolution" that started with the introduction of the traditional Thief class and ultimately kind of dampens things for me. So this is My fault, which is why I am discussing it now, in an attempt to fix it while still being as fair as possible to my current PCs.

Example #1: Uncle Junkal Charms Grand Vizier Krock. Back in Session 35, our beloved rodian bard used his charm person ability to place himself in the good graces of Prince Arkus' right-hand man. This whole episode was brilliantly role-played by Uncle Junkal's player: he used his juggling and entertaining skills to get near the Vizier, then, after amusing him with some tricks, started asking him innocuous questions about the Prince's visit and the like. He built trust with the charmed Krock, so by the time he started planting ideas about the the local dwarves, it made sense that the Vizier would listen to him. It was a delight to see this unfold even though it did involve an initial successful 2d6 Charm Person skill check, as we developed for our Arandish Bard Class.

A Solution: No skill roll needed? Maybe just role-play it out as we did anyway? What did the skill roll really lose us or gain us? Is it necessary?

Example #2: Uncle Junkal deciphers the significance of Ponaturi Runes. Just this last session or two, the Bard has been using his Legend Lore ability to decipher the meanings of runes inscribed on the pillars and doors around the Temple of Thoopshib.  This has been going okay all in all, but I have found the skill roll itself to be intrusive.  Being the great player he is, Uncle Junkal's player always explains and justifies how he would know certain things in-character; in this case, he would know seagoing legends about Thoopshib due to his background as a rodian, which is a seafaring culture. 

A Solution: The player and I related Uncle Junkal's bardic knowledge to the rodian's background and back story anyway, so again, what function did the roll serve? Did we need it?  Or am I just nitpicking?

UPDATE! Since writing the introductory remarks and examples above, I have played one more session with the group and actually have found Uncle Junkal's skill rolling far less obtrusive this time.  I did not mind the Legend Lore rolls he made; I just, if you'll pardon the pun, "rolled with it." And it worked out fine. I guess it IS kind of old-school to trust the roll of the dice, and perhaps I should appreciate the random element (and hence excitement) skill rolls introduce into the game. With the roll of the dice, it cuts both ways: I think the Bard actually failed more Legend Lore rolls than he made last session. There were surely a couple times when he failed to recognize some potentially important rune.   So maybe I am making a bigger deal of this skill system thing than it needs to be. Yet. . .

Example #3: Vivuli "Assassinates" Thoopshib. In Session 44, Vivuli snuck up on the physical manifestation of the demigod Thoopshib and, upon successfully sneak-attacking it, made a roll to assassinate it. Now this makes about as much sense to me in retrospect as Uncle Junkal charming an extremely hostile, human and demi-human-hating rock troll does, but I tend to be indulgent of my players' whims in the heat of the moment, and given that we were in the climactic seconds of a pitched melee battle, I allowed Viv's assassination attempt to occur. Note also that for that attempt Vivuli's player rolled "00" on his d%, which would technically be a critical failure, NOT a critical success! So it was fucked in every possible way. But what I SHOULD have done was to grant Viv his sneak attack bonuses and let him attack the thing normally -- it really WASN'T a proper assassination attempt, which should be pre-planned and done for political reasons or for hire. In other words, in this case I FAILED to push Viv's player to role-play it out or justify it. Perhaps understandable under the circumstances -- I did not see it coming -- but nevertheless a misapplication of the rules (or at least the spirit of the rules) as far as I am concerned. My bad for not catching it sooner.

A Solution: Enforce tighter restrictions on what counts as an "assassination" [any suggestions about this from the blogosphere?] and remember that a sneak attack and an assassination are two different things, even though they may often (in practical play situations) coincide.

Some tentative conclusions (?): In some ways the bane of my existence as a Labyrinth Lord has been my open-door policy toward the content of the Advanced Edition Companion. The spells and monsters therein are easily added to basic Labyrinth Lord without disrupting things at all, but the new "advanced" classes can be troublesome, and the rules for "Multiclassing" open up dangerous doors as well, as Telecanter has discussed here and here. Nothing against Vivuli, who I love, but I see now that I should not have let Assassins (as writ in the AEC) into the game. Hell, I don't even want standard Labyrinth Lord Thieves in my game! If anything, I should treat Assassins and Thieves exactly as I would prefer to treat Bards -- as Specialists, using a "x in 6" skill system, as in LotFP Grindhouse.

Why? Because James Raggi's system accounts for specialized skill use while retaining compatibility with certain "basic skills" that ALL PCs (regardless of class) can perform, like searching for secret doors and hearing noises. Since everybody has a base 1 in 6 chance to do stuff like that anyway, Raggi's Grindhouse Rules maintain, why not simply have "thieves" be people with a slightly increased chance to do the same stuff? As James Maliszewski has written, ALL older edition D&D dungeoneers are assumed to be de facto thieves:

"the Thief is a self-justifying class. Prior to its introduction in Greyhawk, pretty much every "thief ability" was something a character of any class might attempt. Listening at doors? Check. Moving silently? Check. Locating and disarming traps? Check. The list goes on. I've noted before that 'thief' is an occupation that could describe characters of any class."*

According to this line of thinking, it really doesn't make sense to have separate "thieves' skills" in the game at all. No, "thieves" would more properly be adventurers who happen to specialize in those kinds of dungeoneering skills instead of focusing more effort on, say, martial prowess or the arcane arts. So it's better to call them Specialists if you need to differentiate them from the other PC classes, since ALL PC classes are thieves!

* Interestingly, in this same post, Maliszewski goes on to defend the existence of the Assassin class. It also worth noting that over time, Mr. M. made peace with the thief class -- see his discussion here and here, and his final result here.