Five Lortzian Games
At Steve Lortz's memorial, mention was made of his involvement in gaming, but the speakers for the most part didn't understand just how central gaming was to his heart. It is worth mentioning that, on his last day on the street, the last thing he did before he collapsed was buy miniature figures. Here is a short description of his three published games, and of two that never quite got into print.

"Perilous Encounters" (Chaosium, 1978) - This was a straight up fantasy miniatures game, using only D6 and intended to play fast and easy. It became the Chaosium's unofficial house miniature game, and they offered a "Dragon Pass Conventions" supplement for the price of a SASE that filled in everything for the more peculiar creatures in Chaosium's world of Glorantha.

"Panzer Pranks" (Chaosium, 1980) - This was a hex grid based WWII tank game, intended as a parody of every other game of the type. There was a "swamp" scenario that usually ended with every single piece on the board sinking into the muck; there was an optional rule that allowed every piece on a side to transfer all of its movement points to a single piece (producing the occasional hypersonic tank), and a scenario involving a magic Coca-cola machine that made the US forces invincible as long as they were close enough.

"Quactica" (Skirmisher, 2008) - This was something of a second edition of Perilous Encounters, with a change of focus. Where PE was intended to present a generic fantasy world, Quactica presented a world full of anthropomorphic animals, particularly Steve's beloved ducks. There was talk of a Quactica RPG to follow, but it never materialized.

"Dark Worlds" (unpublished) - Sometime in 1978 or 1979, Steve's brother Kurt had the idea to base a role-playing game on the works of HP Lovecraft. Steve had ties to the Chaosium, and the Lortzes pitched the game there. Chaosium acquired the gaming rights to Lovecraft's works, and Kurt, with Steve and a group of friends, went to work on developing the game. Kurt built a game system from the ground up. When Kurt presented the game to Chaosium, they looked it over, and then asked Kurt to please convert the game to their established "Basic Role Playing" system. They also wanted Kurt to jigger the rules to make firearms less effective. Kurt gave it some thought, and refused. Chaosium then recruited Sandy Petersen, who turned the Lovecraft material into a game called, "Call of Cthulhu," which became a huge hit. There are interesting contrasts beween the two games, the basic mechanical changes notwithstanding. "CoC" models the fundamental despair of Lovecraft's work, with every player character descending slowly and inevitably into insanity. "DW", on the other hand, puts the players in the position of being the only truly sane characters in the game. Unspeakable evil is encroaching, and the players are the only ones who know it, or are capable of believing it. "DW" still feels a great deal like Lovecraft, but it also occasionally allows the players to actually WIN. It's interesting to speculate how different things might have been if Kurt had been able to work out a compromise with Chaosium. I have never believed that despair and inevitable loss was a necessary part of the appeal of "CoC".

"Arr! Scurvy Dogs" (unpublished) - This was a skirmish level pirate game developed with and for the gaming club that Steve ran when he was a teacher at Summit Academy in Indianapolis. Each player controlled eight or nine single character figures to accomplish specific ends. The basic game had three players: pirates, colonial military, and islanders. Each group had special abilities and unique victory conditions. It could be played with up to six players, with two conflicting pirate groups, two conflicting military groups, and two conflicting islander groups. Steve came up with many different scenarios over the years, and it generated a LOT of good stories; I got to play it once, at GenCon in 2008. Steve had a big case with all of the terrain and pre-painted figures for everything. He never actually wrote the rules down, for some reason, just the character sheets, and the necessary player materials. He seemed reluctant to let it get out of his hands, for some reason, which was a shame, because it was a GREAT game.

Uncle G'Noll

Hyena's RPG: The Shopping List
So I am weaving an RPG out of 40 very odd years of scraps. Here is the design brief:

FAST, intuitive, NON-RANDOM character generation. I may throw in some random options for players who insist on the "play what the dice give you" ethic, but I will do it reluctantly. Material possessions will be handled by fiat, mostly. If it makes sense for characters to have something, they do; if not, not. (Think in terms of the ten minute set ups of OD&D and T&T.)

Fast, evocative, BLOODY combat. Combat should generate good stories, and terrify the players. Simplify weapons and armor down to irrelevance. (My model for combat is RuneQuest I/II.)

An internally consistent magic system that allows for a BIG range of character power. (GURPS is probably my main model, but there is input from all over the place.)

An economic system that I believe in, to whatever level of complexity is possible, when I get around to it. Everything will be based around the "historical minimum wage" of 1/10 ounce of 90% silver buys a day's unskilled labor (valid pretty continuously from 500 BCE to 1500CE...).

Game Design
One of the things I have wanted for most of my adult life is to be involved in an on-going RPG campaign. Unfortunately, reality has gotten in the way. First, my schedule has generally been erratic and incompatible with pretty much everyone; second, I have seldom been at liberty to commit to more than about one game a month (and solid campaigns are most likely to be weekly); third, it is axiomatic that if you want to have a regular game, you ought to RUN that game, and I am a poor game master, and don't enjoy the process to get any better at it.

But this year I am going to try to change that. Maybe if I were a better GM, I WOULD enjoy it more. Maybe. It is time to find out. If I am going to become a better GM, I need to have a game that I REALLY like, and that means I need to compile forty years of RPG notes into something that resembles an original RPG. I have no intention of trying to publish the thing, so I am free to steal concepts indiscriminately. I think that there is a good chance that there is a decent game lurking under all of that fossilized rumination; we shall see.

(For those who want to avoid this kind of thing: Game blogs will be clearly labelled as "Game Blogs", just like this one.)

Uncle Gnoll

Cragspider the Conqueror
One of the best gaming experineces I ever had took place during the winter of '76-'77, most likely during January of 1977, when I participated in (and eventually won) a five player game of "White Bear & Red Moon". If you aren't a game geek, and in particular a Glorantha geek, the rest of this won't mean much. Just sayin'.

For those who don't know, WB&RM is a hex grid fantasy war game that came out in 1975, largely because creator Greg Stafford hadn't encountered RPGs yet. The idea of playing an individual hero in a war game was pretty much in the air at the time, and while Arneson and Gygax got there first, they weren't the only runners in the race. WB&RM is evidence of that. The game was intended for two players, with a three player option; at its most basic it was a battalion-level medieval war game. But then you added giants and dragons and heroes and REALLY powerful magic, and it became something else altogether.

Our game was the brainchild of our host, Steve Lortz.He had two copies of the first edition of the game, and he selectively combined the countersets (with a few special handmade counters thrown into the mix) to make a five player game. The standard game featured the Lunar Empire in the northwest, and the Kingdom of Sartar in the southeast. The factory three player game added the Kingdom of Tarsh in the center of board. Steve added "The Conferation of the Four Hooves" in the southwest, and "The Outcasts of the Abandoned Lands" in the northeast. Guess where *I* planted my flag?

The multitude of independant forces in the orignal game were all assigned to one faction or another, reinforced with duplicate counters as seemed appropriate. Tarsh was bolstered with the Dragonewts and Delecti the Necromancer and his zombies (and the first edition zombie rules were SICK); I think a King of Tarsh token was created (though Delecti may have been declared king instead), and the Inhuman King was promoted to superhero. The Four Hooves consisted of the Black Horse Troop, the Grazelanders, and the Beast Men. The Feathered Horse Queen ruled, and Ironhoof (I think) was made a superhero. The Outcasts got Cragspider as queen, Androgeus as superhero, the Dwarf, the giants, the Tusk Riders, and the Walktapi (who spent most the of the game fighting each other, and multiplying thereby).

Steve did a bit of advance role-play by producing a typewritten policy statement to the extent that the Lunar Empire would make no aggressive move, but would annihilate anyone that moved against it, written in wonderfully pompous and florid prose. The game began at about 6:00 PM.

The Hoofers set up on the Lunar border; everyone else hunkered down to see what would develop. The outlying Dragonewt cities died quickly, since no one wanted them in their back yards; the Inhuman King sacriced the troops in the Dragon's Eye to Delecti every turn (creating a HUGE zombie army very quickly); the walktapi tore each other apart (or was it a mating dance?) in the Dwarf Run. The Hoofers crossed the Lunar border, and Steve (as the Lunar Emperor) waved his position paper in the other players face, theatened annihilation... and the other player retreated and marched his troops south and east to attack Sartar. A genuine battle eventually took place along the Sartar border, and the Tarshites eventually went walkatpus hunting. Steve and his Lunars stayed behind their borders and watched, thought the Tarshites sent enough forays that way to keep the Crimson Bat fed.

As this was going on, Steve's sainted mother brought out a meal every two hours or so. That was kind of amazing.

I practiced some kind of weird persuasion on the Hoofer player; I used the black dragon to fly my biggest giant into a ruin in the Grazelands, and convinced the Hoofers to leave him un-molested. I have no idea what I said; given that I was bound by a real-world vow of truth at the time, it must have been interesting. I also convinced him to launch the Hound of Darkness across the zombie hoard, where Keener Than (in my control) could catch him. Each pass reduced the zombies by 50%, and eventually we killed Delecti (and *I* ended up in possession of the Hound...).

Once Delecti was dead, I made my move. Cragspider hit the Dragon's Eye with the Pillar of Fire, and Tusk Riders rushed in to defend the ashes. Trolls marched into Boldhome, which had been left unguarded, and that wandering giant strolled into the similarly unguarded Queen's Post. Suddenly three players had two turns each to dislodge my troops from their respective capitals or surrender any units not stacked with their superheroes. The Sartar player shocked everyone by surrendering outright. The Tarshites and the Hoofers blustered a bit, looked at the time (about 6:00 AM) and conceded that I had won the game without surrendering their positions. Steve laughed a lot. We packed up, and went home to bed.

It's all impossibly non-canonical, for many, many reasons. But still, in some obscure corner of the multiverse, there was at least one moment when Cragspider the Firewitch was the undisputed Queen of Dragon Pass, and her commanding general began an affinity with trolls and orcs and gnolls and, well, monsters that is still going strong 38 years later.

Uncle Gnoll

BashCon 2014
BashCon XXIX was this last weekend, and I have now attended three times in a row. This is turning into my favorite con. The facility is great, the size is about perfect for me, and I know just enough of the regulars to make it comfortable.

I had trouble getting out of the house on Friday morning, actually failing to make it in the morning at all. I arrived at the con an hour after Tom Loney's traditional Friday night T&T game started, and I opted to not try to insinuate myself into the game in favor of socializing with some friends I had made the previous year and crashing early for a good night's sleep. The socializing went well, the early night not so much. But then, I have always had a REALLY hard time walking away from conversation.

On Saturday I ended up playing in three different Peryton Publishing games, run in turns by PeryPub's owners. First, Tom Loney ran a play test of his "Glow" post apocalyptic T&T descendant; I played an android art historian (No, really.) in the company of two four-eyed mutant animals. We bypassed a couple of Tom's traps by virtue of the usual combination of cleverness and paranoia (WHY have you been carrying a bicycle on your back for fifty miles, and we didn't NOTICE it?), and generally had a good time. We also, apparently, burned up our daily ration of cleverness before noon.

After lunch, four of us took on Robin Lea and "Qalidar: Resistance", a contemporary techno-fantasy in which the players try to discourage trans-dimensional corporations from exploiting a hole in the universe and making things worse. We cleverly avoided a few opportunities to question friendly locals in favor of bluffing our way into the local Corp building, mugging a guard, failing to hack the computer with magic, and getting trapped in a storage closet with heavily armed hostiles waiting to ambush us outside the door. At that point, apparently, the stupid pills wore off, and we were able to escape without leaving any friendly bodies behind. We did kill a completely innocent forklift, though...

After a supper break, Tom ran another player and me through a session of his "Crawlspace 13" game, in this case a Hammer Films inspired vampire scenario. I played a Van Helsing analog, and somehow found myself playing the character in the "Igor" voice: Upper class English, singsong, with a SEVERE lisp. I lisped my way through words the human tongue was never meant to lisp, and the table had a great deal of fun with it. This was good, because I REALLY botched the scenario, accidentally trapping the vampire INSIDE the boarding house when I sealed the apertures. Most of the NPCs died, and the vampire ran off with the sweet young thing. Oops.

Anyway: Not enough sleep, lots of good gaming, and lots of good conversation. Kwai Chang the Dragon Caine (think about it) was a big hit; I got stopped and complimented on him several times. Shout outs to Trollhalla denizen Jerry T. and his son Liam, and to Bryan S. and Jody S., in addition to the aforementioned Tom and Robin, for making it a great time.

Uncle Hyena (who is also G'Noll in some universes)

BashCon 2013
So I got up Friday morning and went through all of the usual manic dancing that is involved when you have to be somewhere at a fixed time with 300 miles of highway in the way. I breezed through the BashCon pre-reg line, and was in the main gaming area with a couple of minutes to spare for the first T&T session of the con, only to realize that the game was off in a private room somewhere. I went back to registration, commandeered a guide, and was only slightly late for the start of the most recent installment of Tom K's persistent convention campaign. It was a familiar group; Tom, Robin L. and Jerry T. were Trollhalla denizens with whom I had gamed before, likewise Trollgod and convention special guest Ken. I knew Alex from the zombie killing exercise at last year's Bashcon; the only stranger was Jerry's son Liam, whom I knew by reputation. It was a good group.

When you let a designer PLAY his own game, you can expect him to dominate, and Ken did. I have learned, after a few sessions with Ken, that while I may not always follow his logic, I can absolutely trust his luck, and this was no exception: we later found out that Ken had led us around the majority of the session's ugly encounters. It was a good session, light on combat, heavy on role play and silliness, with just a touch of terror thrown in. My only regret was that I let myself be talked into playing a warrior instead of my usual wizard; once again, the more comfortable I am with the character, the more fun I have, and I didn't know this guy AT ALL.

I passed on the after game group meal in favor of heading back to my hotel for as much sleep as possible; next year i will have to join the crowd at Red Roof Inn and spend less time driving and more time socializing. I stopped at Steak & Shake for a fast burger, and heard two fellows at the next table talking about dinosaurs fighting fish. I had to ask what game they were talking about, and ended up eating with them, and getting their contact information.

Saturday morning I was back for the next installment of Jerry's T&T Zombie Apocalypse. Tom also played, as did a couple of strangers; our companions had mostly slept in. We started where we had ended last year, in the parking lot of UT with a functional car, some decent weapons, and a collection of supplies. Tom began by freaking out and crashing the car, and then things calmed down. I turned out to have a strange moral influence on the group. When we confronted a gas station operator defending his property with a handgun, I said we should EITHER pay him like good little mice, or ambush him and loot the store; middle paths made no sense. The group didn't want to pay, but weren't ready to commit murder, so we gave him some cash and went on our way. Later, we encountered some STOOPID looters (they were stealing televisions AFTER the power went out...) We gave them a chance to leave us alone, and when they didn't take it, we killed them from ambush. That was an interesting event for me: A character with my name, and nominally my stats, stepped out of cover and fatally shot another human being in the back with a shotgun. My various avatars have killed a LOT of people over the years, but this was a couple of levels closer to the surface. It didn't mean nuttin', but I was aware of it.

Next came lunch with Tom, Robin, Jerry, Alex, and Ken, with much good conversation, followed by a T&T History panel starring Ken, some errands, another mealish thing, and another Ken panel, leading eventually to T&T Ragnarok. Tom and Jerry had set this up as a three GM scenario, but their third GM had bailed, and I found myself pressed into service as Hel (and minions), recycling slaughtered warriors. There were some minor glitches, but all in all in went well, and I had a good time GMing, and my players actually enjoyed themselves. At least they were laughing as I tortured them.

I said my goodbyes, and headed back to my hotel. Another late night stop at Steak & Shake put me in the company of two OTHER gamers, and more good conversation. I finally got back to my hotel, slept, and made my way home.

Uncle G'Noll

The Wizard Problem
It's been a while since I posted anything here; it's time to get back to work.

I have said before that, while I definitely enjoy gaming for its own sake, my approach is always from a narrative angle; I want the adventure to produce a good story. With that in mind, I have a question for T&T fans everywhere: Just what do spellcasters DO during melee?

We know that spells go off FIRST each round, but then what? In a multi-character melee, this can be rationalized as the wizard ducking and dodging and generally staying behind his friendly meat shields while his magic capacitors recharge. I can write a story about that.

The story that I find hard to write, though, is the one where the lonely wizard vaporizes thief A with a TTYF, and then stands there drooling while thief B beats on him, particularly if the numbers work out so that the wizard came close to winning the combat round, and thief B fails to accomplish anything worthwhile before he gets incinerated, too. (I can deal with the version where the wizard actually WINS the combat round by saying that thief B was so freaked out that he just HID, and then got zapped when he broke cover.)

The current favorite solution to this, which unfortunately takes me WAY outside of the T&T rules, is to say that those magic capacitors don't recharge properly if the wizard is actively involved in melee. Call it the flintlock approach. The idea here is that a spell works sort of like a muzzle-loading firearm: Our wizard gets off one spell, and then engages in melee with whatever comes to hand and doesn't cast any more spells, OR he hangs back behind the meat shields and and rips off another spell as soon as he can, but not both. A corollary to this, of course, is that the wizard can BOTH cast a spell and fight hand to hand during the first combat round. This would seem to make wizards more powerful, but yet another corollary is that an ambushed wizard would not be able to get a spell off AT ALL. As I said, a long way from T&T.

So... What happens? Does the wizard cast his spell, and then drool on his shoes? Or perhaps cast his spell, and then work on a Sudoku puzzle while he waits?


Flintlock References
My friend Paul Ingrassia, known to Trollhallans as Mist-Tikk Foo-all, recently posted a line drawing of a cocked percussion pistol on his blog. This reminded me of a series of photos I took a few years ago, because an artist friend asked about flintlock references, and there don't seem to be any on the web. So I took some shots, and here they are again for any who might find a use for them.

While I am at it, I recently came across this phrase in an otherwise well-researched novel set during the American revolution: "Have the men load and prime their rifles, but not cock or half cock them." This made me grind my teeth. a primed flintlock is ALWAYS either cocked or half cocked, because if the weapon is primed, the frizzen is closed. Cock forward means frizzen open means empty flashpan. Grrr.

Full cock, ready to fire:

Half cock, "safe":

Half cock, ready to prime:

Just fired:

Uncle G'Noll

Rethinking Jack Vance Magic

For the two generations of gamers who have grown up since D&D was introduced, and for whom the arcana of D&D are second nature, it is difficult to explain just how weird and alien the Jack Vance inspired, slot based magic system was for those of us who encountered it as adults. In the early days, the as-written system spread virally from Lake Geneva, and everyone else read the rules, decided that they couldn't actually mean what they seemed to mean, and concocted some kind of point based system. I was introduced to the game shortly after a clearly written explanation had come down from TSR, but the group that introduced me to the game still thought the as-written rules were stupid, and taught me their house rules. They DID explain the "official" rules to me as well, but I had no more interest in playing them than they did.

Over the years, the magic system has been the main thing that has kept me from playing D&D. I was just not able to rationalize the system; it went contrary to pretty much everything I knew about the way the brain worked. I wasn't really fond of the tactical implications of the system, either, but that was a lesser concern.

The other day it occurred to me that my problem was largely one of nomenclature. By making a small change in the way I conceptualized the system, it suddenly made sense. It also made those strange, one use only scrolls make sense as well.

The rules always spoke of "studying" and "memorizing" spells. But what if what is really going on during that preparation time is that the spell (which is ultimately ceremonial in nature) is actually being cast, and that all that remains to release the spell on demand is a short trigger phrase or gesture. The slot system than becomes a recognition of the wizard's ability to maintain more and more complex partially completed spells under control and ready.

There are some interesting corollaries to this. First, it divorces the entire spell casting process from any concept of energy altogether; spells are bought with TIME (One hour per spell level?). And because energy is no longer part of the concept, the "times per day" idea also needs to be thrown away. A wizard can cast a first level spell, then prepare and cast another one an hour later, assuming the right circumstances. There is also the very real possibility that a wizard with a full complement of ready spells might be something of a time bomb; his discipline is all that is keeping those ready spells from going off, and a good rattling might just launch them prematurely, or at least cause them to dry-fire. The question can also be raised as to whether the SLEEP with all of that going on, though a high level wizard would pretty much have to, given that it would take him days to recharge his full complement of spells.

I am still not sure I would want to PLAY a wizard under these rules, but I no longer have trouble suspending my disbelief in the world.

Sanity optional are us.

Uncle Gnoll

Leveling the Playing Field: The Case Against Random Characters
Leveling the Playing Field: The Case Against Random Characters

Several of my friends in the T&T community believe that the only way to generate a character is to roll 3D6 for each attribute in order, and live with the results. Others allow players to sort their rolls at whim, or roll four dice and keep the best three, or just roll multiple characters and keep the best one, or any and all combinations of these things. And then there is me, who believes that dice have no place in character generation. The reason is simple; I like a level playing field.

The idea of balance in RPG design has a checkered reputation; all too often, game balance is invoked just because the designer wants to take his pet fish for a walk. There are two critical aspects of game balance that pretty much everyone agrees on, though only one of them is actually a design concern. First and foremost, the game master shouldn't play favorites; second, game advancement should be pretty much proportional to playing time and player skill. The player who shows up at every session should get more rewards than the occasional player, and the player who contributes to the success of the party, or the entertainment of the other players, or both, should get more rewards than the lump who sits in the corner and throws dice.

If there is any point in an RPG when all characters should be on an even footing, it is at the end of the creation process, and this is why I oppose random character generation. Sure, I went through the apparently compulsive dice-rolling orgy when I was first introduced to role playing; the act of sitting down and rolling up more characters than any three people will ever have a chance to play seems to be a gamer rite of passage. I understand the appeal, but at the same time I dislike the result. A player who rolls badly will end up with a character he probably doesn't want (though I have certainly heard tales of players who have had legendary fun with turkey characters); a player who rolls well will find himself dominating the game from the start. And the majority of players, who did NOT roll anything special, end up out in the cold.

An argument can be made for just starting characters with tens or elevens across the board, and then applying kindred modifiers (or not; see below). My own preferred approach, to which I will resort when given any opportunity at all, is the "most probable distribution": 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15. (For those who care: This is derived by dividing the probability curve into octiles, and taking the median of each octile.) There are more than 40,000 ways to assign those numbers to the eight attributes, which leaves plenty of room for customization. In any case, non-random character building means that players get something like the character they want (assuming they are willing to start on an equal footing with the other players), and no one gets left behind.

And while we are slaughtering sacred cows, I have always had reservations about the way non-human kindreds are treated in T&T. There is a continuing debate about boosting humans in some way to make them more desirable, which bothers me because it means destroying the baseline against which all characters are judged. Perhaps a better answer is to redefine the non-human kindreds so that they are less twink; I know I always feel like I am cheating when I apply those amazingly generous modifiers to my characters (but I am greedy enough to do it anyway). Maybe the solution is to take away the modifiers, and instead define the kindreds by minimum and maximum values. Applying the minimums and maximums from "most probable distribution" (that is, 6 and 15) to the kindred multipliers gets the following table, which shows that these kindreds (except for fairies) are accessible vie "most probable distribution". (But fairies are always problematic.) If you want to play a non-human, do it because you want to play that kindred, not because you want the bonus points.


STR: Min 12
Con: Min 12
LCK: Max 10


Con: Max 10
Int: Min 9
LCK: Min 9
CHR: Min 12
WIZ: Min 12


STR: Max 4
CON: Max 4
DEX: Min 12
LCK: Min 12
CHR: Min 12
WIZ: Min 12


STR: Max 8
CON: Min 12
DEX: Min 9
LCK: Min 9


STR: Max 8
Dex: Min 9
INT: Min 9
LCK: Min 9

Finally, a bit of bonus geekery: Most probable distribution for "best 3 of 4, no TARO" is as follows: 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16.



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