Categories
B/X D&D D&D Labyrinth Lord Old school Tabletop RPGs

B/X D&D vs. Labyrinth Lord treasure stocking

My head’s full of Labyrinth Lord at the moment (I’m working on a megadungeon), so I’m prodding the areas where divergence from B/X D&D interest me in some way. So far I’ve looked at dungeon stocking, which is basically the same with a minor flavor difference, and dungeon doors, which aren’t the same at all.

In rereading the excellent post by Wayne Rossi that sent me down this path, Clones and Rules, Inside and Out, I noticed that Wayne called out “treasure stocking” as an interesting difference between OD&D and its principal retroclone, Swords & Wizardry. Here are the two bits that grabbed me, with the middle snipped out for clarity:

Indeed, if you follow OD&D’s logic a bit further, treasure is based not on monster level but dungeon level, which is significant. […] But in S&W, gnolls should always be guarding CR-appropriate treasure, and therefore the reward is determined by monster level, not dungeon level. This pulls the game toward the modern “dungeon combat” genre.

I wondered whether or not B/X and LL differed in this area, so I took a look.

B/X D&D dungeon treasure

Here’s the Expert Set on treasure in dungeons, with the middle excised for clarity:

If random rolls are used, the table below lists treasure amounts found in unguarded rooms (those without a monster) on all dungeon levels. […] If a monster is present, use the Treasure Type listing (p. X43) for the monster to find the amount of treasure in the room.

Let’s poke that with an example, a level 1 dungeon:

  1. If the treasure is unguarded, roll for level 1 treasure
  2. If there’s a monster, use the monster entry instead

Since there are 2 HD monsters, which have treasure more generally associated with dungeon level 2, on the level 1 wandering monster table, that means those monsters likely have more rewarding treasure than an unguarded room.

Most monsters will be 1 HD, though, with treasure you’d expect for level 1, because most of the level 1 wandering monster table consists of 1 HD monsters.

Let’s see how LL handles this.

Labyrinth Lord dungeon treasure

Here’s LL on treasure, again with the part I’m not comparing snipped out:

When a monster result is obtained on the above table, the Labyrinth Lord must roll for a random monster appropriate for the labyrinth level. […] If treasure is present, the treasure will be determined based on the Treasure Hoard Class of the monster encountered, or from the Unprotected Treasure Table based on labyrinth level.

Sticking with the same level 1 dungeon example, that means:

  1. If the treasure is unguarded, roll for level 1 treasure
  2. If there’s a monster, use its entry OR roll for level 1 treasure

That leaves the choice to the GM: Make randomly rolled treasure appropriate to the dungeon level (by only using the Unprotected Treasure Table), or make some treasure — that which is held by 2 HD monsters — more appropriate to level 2. (Or a bit of both, I suppose.)

That first option sounds a lot like what Wayne noted about OD&D, so let’s take a quick side trip.

OD&D dungeon treasure

Book III, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures:

A roll of 1–3 in those rooms or spaces with monsters in them indicates some form of treasure is present. A roll of 1 in a room or space which is unoccupied indicates that there is some form of treasure there. […] To determine the kind of treasure use the following table[.]

Relative to our example, that’s:

  1. If the treasure is unguarded, roll for level 1 treasure
  2. If there’s a monster, roll for level 1 treasure

No matter what’s in the room, you get level 1 treasure. This is huge in OD&D because of how its wandering monster determination works — I’ll be looking at that in a future post. For now, what matters is that treasure is always dungeon-level appropriate.

Conclusions

B/X: If I’m exploring level 1 of a B/X dungeon and I bump into a 2 HD monster, there’s an incentive for me to try and take its treasure: There’s a decent chance this room has better treasure than the other rooms on level 1.

By extension, in B/X I know that trying to find unguarded treasure, which consumes resources (time, torches, wandering monster checks), is likely to be less rewarding than trying to take it from a 2 HD monster. Maybe over time that pushes me to focus more on taking those tougher-than-me monsters’ treasure, and less on trying to find unguarded treasure. Personally, I think that makes for an interesting choice: Do I take a greater risk in exchange for a greater reward, or risk less and get less?

LL: If I’m delving into level 1 of a Labyrinth Lord dungeon and I find a room with a 2 HD monster in it, I don’t know which option the DM has used. The monster might have the treasure listed in the bestiary, or it might be guarding the treasure listed in the Unprotected table. Maybe I can infer that since using the monster’s treasure is listed first in LL, it’s the default option — but only maybe.

In LL, it’s a crap shoot. I can’t assume a tougher-than-me monster will reward my efforts with better treasure. It’s probably safest to assume it won’t, which makes the dungeon more like OD&D.

OD&D: In OD&D, I know that 2 HD monster will have level 1 treasure. The incentive there is to avoid the monster at all costs, because the treasure’s no better than what I can find in an unguarded room. Over time, that may lead to more of an emphasis on exploration and monster-avoidance.

It’s a bit muddier than that analysis makes it seem, though.

Oh shit, a spider

Let’s use a 2 HD monster that appears on the level 1 wandering monster table in both B/X and LL: the giant crab spider. I’ll limit myself to B/X, since this post is already getting long.

  • In B/X, that spider has treasure type U. That’s a 10% chance of 1-100 cp, a 10% chance of 1-100 sp, a 5% chance of 1-100 gp, a 5% chance of 1-4 gems, and a 2% chance of 1 magic item.
  • Dungeon level 1 automatically gives me 1d6x100 sp, plus a 50% chance of 10-60 gp, a 5% chance of 1d6 gems, a 2% chance of 1d6 jewelry items, and a 2% chance of 1 magic item.

Statistically, that means:

  • If I try to steal that spider’s treasure (setting aside whether I do this by fighting it), it’s quite likely my reward will be…nothing.
  • Conversely, if I instead poke around in an unguarded room, I’m guaranteed to get at least 100 sp, and very likely (50%) to get at least 10 gp. My chances of getting anything else are about the same as they are with the spider.

Unless I happen to know that giant crab spiders have kind of shitty treasure, dealing with the spider isn’t a risk I’m likely to take more than once. Sure, I could get super-lucky — but I could also get super-lucky just poking around an empty room, and I’d run a lower risk of dying.

Moar conclusions

The way LL handles treasure clones B/X, which is LL’s goal, but it also changes the character of the dungeon. The simple-seeming addition of half a sentence — “…or from the Unprotected Treasure Table based on labyrinth level” — does have an impact on the overall flavor of an LL dungeon.

I’m not sure that it’s a significant impact, though. The water gets pretty muddy when you mix in the fact that not all monsters whose HD exceed the current dungeon level have better treasure than unguarded rooms, as well as the option to go the B/X route or the LL route — not to mention the vagaries of the dice.

To me, this difference feels less meaningful than the fact that LL dungeons don’t actively work against the PCs. It’s more of a difference in flavor, much like the increased chance of finding special/unique rooms.

Categories
B/X D&D D&D Labyrinth Lord Old school Tabletop RPGs

B/X D&D vs. Labyrinth Lord dungeon doors

After comparing dungeon stocking in B/X D&D and Labyrinth Lord, I went hunting for a detailed list of differences between the two games. I couldn’t find one (still looking!), but I did come across a post about stuck dungeon doors by Peregrin on RPG.net noting that there might be a difference there. There is one, and it’s fascinating.

Why do stuck dungeon doors matter? It sounds like such a little thing, but it’s surprisingly significant. The nature of dungeon doors plays a big role in defining the character of the dungeon.

To get there, we first have to walk back the cat a little bit — specifically, all the way back to OD&D.

OD&D dungeon doors

Here’s what Book III says about doors:

Generally, doors will not open by turning the handle or by a push. Doors must be forced open by strength, a roll of a 1 or 2 indicating the door opens, although smaller and lighter characters may be required to roll a 1 to open doors. There can be up to three characters attempting to force open a door, but this will disallow them rapid reaction to anything awaiting them on the other side. Most doors will automatically close, despite the difficulty in opening them. Doors will automatically open for monsters, unless they are held shut against them by characters.

There are three cool things in that excerpt:

  1. Most dungeon doors are stuck
  2. PCs have to force them open, but monsters don’t
  3. Most doors automatically close behind the PCs

My favorite interpretation of why that might be comes from D&D blogger Philotomy, whose site has vanished from the web. Fortunately, “Philotomy’s Musings” have been preserved (in several formats). Hit that link and scroll down to “The Dungeon as a Mythic Underworld,” and you’ll find this theory:

Similarly, characters must force their way through doors and have difficulty keeping them open; however, these same doors automatically open for monsters. This is a clear example of how the normal rules do not apply to the underworld, and how the underworld, itself, works against the characters exploring it.

I love that! The dungeon itself is working against intruders. It’s a fun theory on its face, it explains a lot, and it highlights something compelling and quirky about OD&D.

Even if you don’t buy the “mythic underworld” concept, though, dungeons in OD&D do work differently for monsters than they do for PCs. With that in mind, let’s peek at the B/X D&D Basic Set.

B/X D&D dungeon doors

Here’s the B/X version:

Doors in a dungeon are usually closed, and are often stuck or locked. A lock must usually be picked by a thief. An unlocked door must be forced open to pass through it. To force open a door, roll Id6; a result of 1 or 2 (on Id6) means that the door is forced open. The roll should be adjusted by a character’s Strength score adjustment. The number needed to open a door can never be less than 1 nor greater than 1-5.

Once a door is opened, it will usually swing shut when released unless it is spiked or wedged open. Doors will usually open automatically for monsters, unless the door is held, spiked, or closed with magical spells.

The mechanics are a bit different, but it’s not the mechanics I’m interested in — it’s the “active dungeon” element. Most doors are stuck (or locked), stuck doors aren’t stuck for monsters, and they close automatically behind PCs. Like dungeons in OD&D, dungeons in B/X work against the PCs.

Ready for LL’s take?

Labyrinth Lord dungeon doors

Labyrinth Lord on dungeon doors:

Labyrinths often have many doors, some secret and others obvious. Many are locked, and a thief will need to attempt to pick locks. However, characters can attempt to break a door down. In this case, the player rolls 1d6. A result of 2 or less means the door has been broken down. Strength adjustments apply, but no matter what the adjustment there must always be a chance of success or failure. Bonuses cannot take the success range above 5 or below 1 on 1d6. For example, if a character has a STR of 15 he receives a +1 to open doors. He would instead need to roll 3 or less on 1d6 to succeed. A character with STR 5 has -2 to open doors, but since the odds cannot go below 1, if the player rolls a 1 on 1d6, he succeeds in breaking down the door.

Setting side the die rolls, which aren’t my focus, that’s quite different!

Stuck doors aren’t mentioned at all, and locked doors can only be broken down (rather than forced open). Also absent are doors that close automatically behind PCs, but not monsters — doors are just doors, and they work the same way for everyone.

Conclusions

Many small differences between B/X and Labyrinth Lord can be chalked up to maintaining a certain amount of “legal distance” from D&D, or to limitations based on what’s available in the SRD, or both. I’m not sure if this difference falls into that category, but I thought that looking at Swords & Wizardry (which emulates OD&D) might help.

S&W notes that “Stuck doors (and many doors in an ancient dungeon may be stuck closed) require a die roll on a d6 to force open.” That’s part of what OD&D says about stuck doors, but not all of it. It seems odd to me that the rest of OD&D’s rules for stuck doors would be off-limits legally, but I guess it’s not out of the question.

But whatever the reason, Labyrinth Lord dungeons don’t work against the PCs in the same way that B/X (and OD&D) dungeons do. A by-the-book Labyrinth Lord dungeon will have a different character than a B/X or OD&D dungeon, and it will play by the same rules for monsters and PCs.

The differences between B/X and LL dungeon stocking were pretty minor, the most notable being a slightly upped chance of a room being special/unique in LL. That gives LL dungeons a subtly different flavor than their B/X counterparts. The dungeon door difference feels more significant, and it surprised me.

Whether that’s a good, bad, or neutral thing comes down to personal preference, of course — and if you like the B/X approach, it’s just a house rule away.

Categories
D&D Old school Tabletop RPGs

Patrick Wetmore on keying megadungeon rooms

I love megadungeons. I’ve often thought it’d be fun to design one, but balked because I’m not sure I have the chops and because of the sheer size of the undertaking. The solution to the first part of that problem is to just try it, but what about the second, the fact that it’s a big project?

Cue Patrick Wetmore, who designed one of my all-time favorite megadungeons, Anomalous Subsurface Environment, on keying the first level of ASE:

So I’ve got 100 rooms to key for the dungeon. Following the distribution in the back of the Moldvay Basic rules, that breaks out as follows:

1/6 monster w/ treasure = 16-17 rooms
1/6 monster, no treasure = 16-17 rooms
1/18 trap with treasure = 5-6 rooms
1/9 trap, no treasure = 11 rooms
1/6 special = 16-17 rooms
1/18 unguarded treasure = 5-6 rooms
5/18 empty = 28 rooms

That’s 17 traps, and 17 specials. That’s where all the real work lies. Sticking a bunch of monsters in a room is easy, it’s the creative bits with traps and specials that’s hard.

And bam, just like that I realized I could design a megadungeon. I read that post yesterday, and I started designing one last night.

It’s that last part, about focusing on just a third of the rooms — the special, weird rooms — that clicked for me. Seeing the whole chart from the B/X Expert Set (my favorite version of D&D) broken out into rooms in need of keying helped, too. It’s a classic “eating the whole elephant” situation, and I’d never thought of it that way.

Categories
DCC RPG Old school Tabletop RPGs Zines

Zine roundup: The Gongfarmer’s Almanac, issues 1-6

The Gongfarmer’s Almanac is a free, community-created DCC RPG Fanzine — that link leads to the full run in PDF.

If you don’t want to print it out yourself, see this G+ post from Jon Hershberger for other options. I ordered the complete run from him for about $7 — yes, $7 total. (They came stapled but unfolded, and my folding job leaves a lot to be desired!)

I confess that I’m sometimes wary when RPG stuff is free, particularly stuff that’s available in print. On the flipside, I’ve written hundreds of free articles, I make free tools, etc. — free is good! I’m a big believer in free.

In the case of GFA, free is awesome. The Gongfarmer’s Almanac is excellent, made with love by folks who know their DCC, and it’s absolutely worth adding to your collection.

So what’s in there? All sorts of stuff! As I’ve done in past zine roundups, here’s my favorite piece from each issue of GFA:

  • Issue #1: This issue is a strong start to the run, but I have to go with “Gold and Glory Beyond the Grave,” which is all about playing undead PCs (by way of species-as-classes). It’s fucking metal. Want to be a ghost? You can manifest a phlogiston weapon, possess people, and become incorporeal. How about a skeleton warrior? You get a save whenever damage would kill you, and if you succeed you return to life with a few HP. Awesome.
  • Issue #2: Ghrelin, the Demon Lord of Hunger and Starvation, is one hell of a creepy patron. Invocations can ravage the earth or summon wasteland zombies, taint starves the caster and surrounds her with rot, and spellburn can result in gobbets of the caster’s flesh being torn away. Ghrelin would be right at home in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay’s Old World.
  • Issue #3: Peter Mullen both wrote and illustrated a dungeon in this issue, “The Marvelous Myriad Myconid Caverns,” and it’s a delight. It includes trolls who communicate in Morse code by tapping on the walls, slime that causes earthquakes, a giant spider named Edgar, and a sword, Gorgosaurus, which bites opponents and demands to be fed.
  • Issue #4: I love tables, and Tim Callahan’s “The Crawling Castle of Crumblethorn and Other Architectural Horrors” is a little toolkit for generating weird places using d7 rolls. (It reminds me of The Tome of Adventure Design.) Rolling 5, 2, 4 got me the Hovering Keep of Crystalgrim; a 3 tells me that the place will contact one PC and ask to be “fed” undead; and a final roll, a 2, turned up a covered painting that, if uncovered, can do all sorts of weird things to the PCs. I’d buy a whole book of these.
  • Issue #5: When I started reading OSR zines, one of the first things I thought was, “I wish there was an index for all this great stuff!” Thanks to issue #5, there is, at least for nine (!) DCC zines published through July 2015. It’s really a collection of indexes, one each for the categories you’d expect: monsters, adventures, etc. So useful!
  • Issue #6: Need to make higher-level DCC characters, but don’t want to sacrifice the flavor and joy of the funnel completely? Enter “The Virtual Funnel.” Not only is the funnel part great (make four 0-levels, roll on a harrowing table), but the article also includes a separate 2d5 table for the events that shaped the funnel survivor’s later levels.

Every issue of GFA has the same (awesome!) Doug Kovacs cover, so I want to take a moment to share some of the interior art. Here are several pieces that grabbed me:

Boom, the splash page for issue 1, illustrated by Marc Radle!

(Craig Brasco, I think)

(Michael Bukowski)

(Peter Mullen)

(Mez Toons)

Here’s the download link again: The Gongfarmer’s Almanac. If you prefer print to PDF, print it out or bug Jon and see if he’ll do it for you. I highly recommend this zine!

Categories
Tabletop RPGs

Last Gasp’s Cörpathium city generator

Last Gasp is a beautiful site by Logan Knight, compelling and raw and brimming over with enthusiasm and gorgeous (often NSFW) artwork. The tagline is “Art, Smut, and Role-Playing,” so you know exactly what you’re getting.

I love random generators, and Last Gasp offers a stunning one: In Cörpathium. It combines a die-drop map (another thing I love!) with conditionals; the conditionals are a great piece of game tech I don’t recall ever seeing before, and they really merit an example. But first, the core concept behind Cörpathium (so the conditionals make sense):

M. John Harrison’s Viriconium was one of the big inspirations that brought Cörpathium into existence, and one of the things that I loved most about those stories was that the city was never the same; places move, facts shift, but it remains Viriconium.

So, conditionals. Here’s the first line under Government:

If there is no Temple District, but the Blood-Red Palace of the Godless exists, Cörpathium is ruled by the Godless and the Childlike Oracle, the Lamb, Eater of Eternity.

You take the first conditional that applies, so if that one doesn’t apply you move on to the next one:

If there is no Temple District, or the Blood-Red Palace of the Godless, but The Old Folk exist, Cörpathium is ruled by that which crawled up from the Emerald Pit so long ago, and the Old Folk live.

And so on from there, and for other categories, until you have your Cörpathium of the moment. It’s brilliant.

It also looks eminently hackable, even for cities without Cörpathium’s peculiar nature. I’d love to see it in book form, too.

Categories
D&D Tabletop RPGs

Rythlondar and gaming group size in the early days of D&D

I was poking around on the Basic Fantasy forums when I came across a post by merias about how folks played OD&D, with a link to the Rythlondar Chronicles (originally uncovered and shared on Risus Monkey).

I’m always interested in hearing about how gamers were playing RPGs before I got my start (in 1987), and one topic that’s always fascinated me is player count. From what I’ve read, it was common for D&D sessions in the 1970s to have what would generally be considered a large number of players these days.

That’s neatly illustrated by the Rythlondar Chronicle, which documents the house rules, players, guidelines, and expeditions undertaken as part of a D&D campaign in Michigan in 1976. It started out with two GMs, John Van De Graaf and Len Scensny, who shared their campaign notes — the Chronicle — with Risus Monkey.

What merias pointed out is on page 9, EXPEDITION RECORDS.

That page (which is much easier to read in the PDF!) lists 12 expeditions, along with the player count and the PC death toll for each session. (I’ve included the fatality percentage in parentheses.)

  1. 12 players, 5 PC deaths (42%)
  2. 12 players, 3 PC deaths (25%)
  3. 10 players, 2 PC deaths (20%)
  4. 14 players, 6 PC deaths (43%)
  5. 7 players, 2 PC deaths (29%)
  6. 7 players, 0 PC deaths (0%)
  7. 12 players, 1 PC deaths (8%)
  8. 7 players, 1 PC deaths (14%)
  9. 15 players, 3 PC deaths (20%)
  10. 14 players, 5 PC deaths (36%)
  11. 8 players, 3 PC deaths (38%)
  12. 14 players, 0 PC deaths (0%)

Just look at those numbers: In Rythlondar, seven players was a slow night. The average player count was 11. (Those death counts are something, too — an average of 2.58 dead PCs per session, or 23%. On any given night, there was only about a 17% chance that no PCs would croak.)

I recognize that play style and game system make a big difference in the feasibility of gaming with a big group. OD&D seems like an excellent fit for this; I can see why it would work with a lot of players. Practices like having a caller make a lot of sense in a large-group context, too.

I start getting twitchy at five players, and six feels unwieldy to me. I can’t imagine running a game for 11 players, let alone 15. But you know what? I’d like to give it a shot.

Categories
B/X D&D D&D Labyrinth Lord Old school Tabletop RPGs

B/X D&D vs. Labyrinth Lord dungeon stocking

Wayne Rossi wrote an excellent post, Clones and Rules, Inside and Out, about the apparently subtle differences between some retroclones and their sources which, in fact, produce non-subtle differences in play. Here’s an excerpt, from his comparison of OD&D dungeon stocking to Swords & Wizardry dungeon stocking:

An OD&D dungeon designed according to its guidelines is going to have “unguarded” treasure. According to the book it should be hidden and/or trapped. But a S&W dungeon isn’t going to have that, if the referee follows the guidelines in the S&W rule books. Over time the game is going to play differently, since the OD&D group is going to be looking for hidden treasure while the S&W group would be justified in looking for combat.

Wayne is one sharp dude, and he has a knack for noticing stuff, prying it apart, and being able to succinctly share what makes it tick. (His OD&D Setting PDF, which I blogged about here on Yore, is a marvelous example of this — and a great read.)

His comparison of S&W to OD&D got me thinking about my favorite flavor of D&D, Moldvay/Cook (B/X), and its closest OSR analog, Labyrinth Lord. I wondered whether or not they differed in the area of dungeon stocking, and I realized I wasn’t sure — I’d just assumed they were pretty much identical.

But what if they weren’t? What if B/X and LL diverged in the same way as OD&D and S&W, or in a different subtle-but-significant way? Let’s take a peek.

Dungeon stocking

Both B/X and LL sum up dungeon stocking in one chart (plus a bit of explanatory text nearby), making them easy to compare. Here’s page X53’s chart from the Expert Set above page 124’s chart from LL.

They both use the same four categories: monster, trap, special (which LL calls “unique”), and empty. They also both employ two die rolls: d6 followed by d6 in B/X, and d% followed by d% in LL. LL’s chart is a bit cleaner, both because it uses percentages (which I find more intuitive to assess than fractions) and because of its layout.

Room contents

Broadly speaking, the percentages for room contents are about the same — except in one case:

  • Monster: 33.33% chance in B/X, 30% chance in LL
  • Trap: 16.67% in B/X, 15% in LL
  • Special/Unique: 16.67% in B/X, 25% in LL
  • Empty: 33.33% in B/X, 30% in LL

The chance of a room being empty or having a monster in it are close enough to identical to call them the same — about 30%. Ditto the chance of a trap, about 15%.

What’s different is the chance of a special/unique room, 1 in 6 for B/X vs. 1 in 4 for LL. That’s not a huge difference, but it’s a difference.

What about the chance of treasure?

Treasure

Here are the percentages for the chance of treasure being present in each system:

  • Monster: 50% chance in B/X, 50% chance in LL
  • Trap: 33.33% in B/X, 30% in LL
  • Special/Unique: Undefined in B/X, “Variable” in LL — essentially the same thing
  • Empty: 16.67% in B/X, 15% in LL

For all practical purposes, those percentages are identical.

Conclusions

B/X D&D and Labyrinth Lord are essentially the same game with respect to dungeon stocking, the chance for a given room to be empty or otherwise, and the chance for there to be treasure in the room.

The only meaningful difference is that you’re somewhat more likely to encounter a special/unique room in LL than you are in B/X (and, consequently, slightly less likely to have the other possible contents come up).

To me, this is evidence of a shared design goal: Give the players a meaningful choice when it comes to seeking out treasure. Which makes sense, because both systems share the same XP methodology: 1 XP for 1 GP, plus XP for monsters, with the bulk of your XP coming from gold.

Dungeon rooms with monsters in them are more likely to have treasure than any other types of room, but you have to deal with the monster (which is itself worth XP). Empty rooms have the lowest chance of yielding treasure, which makes searching them — and expending resources in the form of time, torches, and wandering monster checks — risky in and of itself, but if you’re lucky you find unguarded treasure.

LL incentivizes the same style of play as B/X, which is a testament to its clarity of purpose as a B/X retroclone.

I also like that the one real difference, special rooms, would give an LL-designed dungeon its own flavor when compared to a B/X-designed dungeon. The party would run into a couple more special rooms, and special rooms are neat. There’s a philosophical difference there, albeit a subtle one.

Categories
Dice Tabletop RPGs

Inking dice with a paint marker

Tonight’s dice inking project: a ruby Gamescience set I found in my dice box, and a big, beautiful Armory d30 Guy Fullerton​ gave me. I used an extra-fine point Sharpie white paint marker (paid link) on these.

Ultra-fine point is a great size because it fits the grooves on most dice perfectly, and it’s my inking weapon of choice. But as far as I know, Sharpie doesn’t make an ultra-fine point marker in white, and extra-fine point is as precise as it gets in the world of white paint markers.

The paint is more forgiving of slip-ups that permanent marker by virtue of being easier to wipe off, but it tends to ink around the grooves as well as inside them. I’m willing to bet a few weeks of being used, and bouncing around with other dice, will take care of that.

Categories
Tabletop RPGs

Where to buy old gaming books and RPG products online

I buy most of my gaming books online, but there’s not much of an art to finding new, in-print stuff. Old, out-of-print books, on the other hand, are fun to hunt down. There are added complications, like condition, rarity, and perceived value, that make things interesting.

I collect gaming books, but I don’t collect for value and I don’t keep my books pristine — I buy them to use. I look for tight bindings and non-crushed boxes, but apart from that I don’t get too fussy about condition — if it’s going to bump around in my backpack, who cares if I need to tape the corners, or if it’s got stuff written in the margins?

I also don’t view collecting old RPG books as a competition, and I hope this post helps you find something awesome! Here’s a rundown on my favorite online haunts for old gaming books, including six options and tips about each of them.

Noble Knight and Wayne’s Books

These are my two go-to stores for OOP gaming stuff. Both Noble Knight Games and Wayne’s Books grade products accurately, ship promptly, pack orders extremely well, and offer great customer service. Shipping rates are reasonable, too.

The condition thing is big, too. I pass up lots of stuff elsewhere that might be perfectly good because the seller doesn’t do a good job telling me about it, and Wayne and NKG absolutely nail condition ratings.

With respect to value, both stores know when they’ve got something that’s worth some money — you’re not going to find a rare book on the cheap. For my personal level of price sensitivity, Noble Knight’s prices for rarer books often feel too high.

Both stores typically offer what I consider good prices on non-rare stuff, and since that’s usually what I’m after that works out nicely. They also both get new stuff in all the time, and I usually make a point of browsing around every month or two. (I hide my wallet when I do this, but it doesn’t seem to help!)

I’ve been happy with 100% of my orders from both stores, and I highly recommend them both.

Ebay and Amazon

In my experience, Ebay and Amazon (paid link) both tend towards either very high or very low prices for old gaming books. Amazon has the further complication of automated price-adjustment bots used by some third-party sellers, which jack up prices based on other sellers’ prices and result in what should be a $10 book getting listed for a thousand bucks.

Both are good options, but I don’t trust either of them as a snapshot of what to think a book should be worth. Searching closed auctions on Ebay is a great way to see what the market is willing to pay, though.

I tend to like Ebay best when I’m willing to wait patiently for a good price. I set up a search to notify me when new matches are listed, and I lurk. I generally ignore auctions, and stick to Buy It Now listings.

With Amazon, OOP stuff is always going to be from a third-party seller. I flat-out won’t buy a book that doesn’t have at least a few specific condition notes in its listing; big charity bookstores are the worst offenders here, using the same description across all their items.

Wayne’s Books also lists on Amazon, and I can usually tell when a listing is his: The write-up is detailed and accurate, and the price is fair. Noble Knight has most of their stock cross-listed on Ebay, too, but I usually just go direct.

Lastly, feedback is king. I only buy from folks with good feedback, and I’ve had very few problems over many, many years of shopping on Ebay and Amazon.

Gator Games and The Hit Pointe

When I can’t find a book at the four sites above, I try Gator Games and The Hit Pointe.

Gator just lists most stuff as “used,” but they’ll happily answer questions and give you a more specific condition rating if you ask. The stuff I’ve bought from them in “used” condition has been just fine, so I don’t ask anymore.

The Hit Pointe has a quirky and clunky website, but they occasionally have stuff I can’t find anywhere else. I always email them to see if something is actually in stock before I order.

Neither store is a go-to, but I’ve been happy with my experiences with both of them.

When in doubt, Google

If I don’t have a good idea what an old book is worth, I Google it. If I want to see if there are stores tucked away in the dark corners of the web who might have something these six sites don’t, I Google it. When I want to know why something is special, I Google it — and more often than not, I wind up reading an old GROGNARDIA post, so I should save some time and remember to just start there!

The Acaeum and Wayne’s Books RPG Reference are both great resources for figuring out if something is supposed to have maps or counters, which printing you want, etc. Googling a book usually pops them up pretty quickly, too.

And that’s it! Six sites and a bit of enjoyable research usually gets the job done for me.

That said, I guarantee I’m missing or overlooking other great options. If you have a favorite haunt or two, or tips to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Categories
Old school Zines

Matt Jackson’s guide to making zines

This step-by-step guide to printing, folding, and trimming zines by Matt Jackson is full of hard-won tips from the trenches. Things like adding “stops” to your long stapler with rubber bands to save time, and using a bone folder to fold the pages; I’d never heard of a bone folder before reading Matt’s post.

The Bone Folder. It sounds stupid but you MUST have one of these. Initially I refused to pay a couple of bucks for a simple piece of plastic, but boy was that stupid. I tried a few other things that appeared to be similar that I found around the house but there is some sort of voodoo magic used in the making of these things.

Tips like this one seem like things that could save wasted time, ink, and paper:

When folding especially thick paper or a thick book I break up the pages into small batches. As many pieces of paper fold, they don’t always line up correctly and you end up with terrible edges. Folding them in smaller groups makes the lines much better.

He even uses a corner rounder, which I don’t think I’ve seen on a zine before. I’ve seen rounded corners on little non-zine booklets, but I assumed that was a print shop sort of thing.

It’s hard for me to write about zines without wanting to try my hand at them, and Matt’s post makes it all sound pretty doable. I like zines, I like making stuff, I like quirky gaming supplements — zines live right at the intersection of All That Ave. and But You Don’t Need Another Project St. But it’s tempting! And Matt’s guide looks like an excellent starting point.