Sunday, January 26, 2014

Zylarthen is 10% Off for D&D's 40th Anniversary

Late to the party as always, I'm making this offer with only 30 minutes to go for the birthday in Chicago, and of course I've already missed it for the East Coast (the exact first release date of 26 January, 1974 is an estimate from Jon Peterson). But we'll do this for 24 hours or whenever I get around to changing it, whichever comes last.

The physical volumes look great. If you liked the PDF's, I think you will love the booklets. They lie flat beautifully without breaking the spine. To quote one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies-The Third Man-"You can pick them up and put them down anytime!"

Xylarthen (spelled with an "x") was the first player-character example mentioned in the original edition. Happy 40th birthday, Xylarthen! And rest in Peace, Gary and David.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Zylarthen and OD&D

I thought I would take a page or so to compare Seven Voyages of Zylarthen with its parent, OD&D circa 1974-75.

Changes, expansions and additions include:

1.    A big change in the original trinity: Thieves replace Clerics. We did this for a number of reasons that I won’t argue for here, but I think it “fit” both with our own goals and the spirit of the original. Zylarthen Thieves are a bit different—simpler in conception, perhaps—than some of the standard offerings, but owe much to the discussions of Thieves and Thief abilities by some of the old school bloggers. In turn, spells are shuffled around, as might be expected. Turning Undead becomes something that any character can theoretically do (with a holy symbol) but that enhances the importance of wisdom (that perennial “dump-stat”). And healing, as well as “surgery” becomes a sort of group activity, as opposed to being relegated to Clerical “medics”.

2.    A simple but I think robust mechanic for differentiating weapons in an interesting and meaningful way while for the most part preserving the original conception of all weapons doing the same 1-6 hits of damage.

3.    A more “realistic” but also (I hope) simple and playable set of encumbrance rules with the goal of enhancing “resource management” decision-making. The equipment list is somewhat expanded to include additional essential items (and a few whimsical ones) but hopefully avoids the temptation of “item creep”.

4.    A different take on treasure and experience points that (hopefully) goes a bit towards “solving” some of the issues involving living expenses and player-characters accumulating “too much” money, as well as creating additional interesting decisions for the players. As with a number of other items, the idea is not completely original but makes liberal use of some of the ideas that have been floating around the old school blogosphere for some time.

5.    A relatively unique take on player-character and monster languages that makes knowing extra languages more meaningful while making the question of which monsters speak what more interesting and unpredictable.

6.    Enhanced tactical combat options, including rules for doing additional damage, fighting with two weapons, weapon breaks and more, while keeping things as simple and intuitive as possible.

7.    Rules for going to negative or (as I call it) zero hit points that preserve the relative lethality of OD&D combat (yes, you very well might die) but that also create some interesting situations and decisions.

8.    Greatly expanded content for some of the “lost” or barely mentioned monsters in OD&D such as Amazons, Witches, Vikings, Androids, Martians and others (including gods and goddesses), as well as new or somewhat new takes on a few standard and giant insects and animals. There is also additional detail on potential hirelings, troop types and non-player character parties. These are accompanied by comprehensive and thorough monster level and wilderness encounter tables in the old school style.
9.    An original method for creating wilderness maps and expanded or clarified rules for wilderness adventuring, using the (often neglected) suggestions from the third little brown book as a springboard.

Major areas of continuity include:

1.    De-emphasizing the “make or break” importance of ability scores (in line with the original edition) and thus offering a relatively small and clear list of potential bonuses and penalties.

2.    Drawing the line at three (or six) classes and preserving the “race as class” concept.

3.    Preserving the rough outlines of the original level and experience point progressions while offering all new level titles (for both Lawful and Chaotic characters) up to “name” level.

4.    Preserving the original “pre-inflation” mechanic of 1d6 damage and 1d6 hit dice for player characters and monsters, along with a general bias against multiple attack routines.

5.    Clearly compiling and integrating all or almost all monsters and spells from the first one-and-a-half or so years of the game—with a few twists given the absence of player-character Clerics (there are still non-player character Evil High Priests, of course!) and a small number of semi-new spells for Witches.

Bringing things back to the “fairy tale” illustrations of John Dickson Batten, I wanted a game that my children could play, to some extent free of (as I see it) the sort of overpowered pumped up videogame or “anime” vibe of many contemporary games as well as some of the gothic or darker elements present in others. That, in and of itself, is not a criticism of, say, brilliant “adult” approaches such as Carcosa or Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but I felt there was an unmet need for something on the other side of the scale.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Announcing Seven Voyages of Zylarthen!

Seven Voyages of Zylarthen is finally available, either via download or in four saddle stitched volumes of 48-64 pages each, published by Campion & Clitherow.

Happy dungeoneering! Guard the innocent! Avenge the wronged! May you find heaps of gold at the end of your path, or at the least a memorable and heroic demise! But above all, God grant that you find wonder everywhere!

Seven Voyages of Zylarthen is a “neo” not a “retro”-clone. It takes the original 1974 version of the game as a template. But the goal was not to merely clone the mechanics or content per se. As will be seen, a number of major changes and additions, as well as many minor changes and additions were made. They were made not with the intention of grafting onto the original “modern developments and improvements in role-playing design” as someone might have put it, but to re-imagine the original in the spirit of old-school play, circa 1974-75.

We have nothing against retro-clones (in fact we're all in favor of them) but part of the rationale for our approach was that retro-clones of “the three little brown books” have already been done and done well—most obviously by Delving Deeper and to a slightly lesser extent (in terms of precise cloning) by Swords & Wizardry White Box and Labyrinth Lord Original Edition Characters. There wasn’t really any point (for us or our potential audience) in trying to do the same thing. So the idea was to, so to speak, look at things from the “inside out”—emulating more of the spirit and the aesthetic of the original version while changing or (with humility) “fixing” and expanding on some things in line with that spirit. There’s at least a two parts fairy-tale, one part pulp science fiction and fantasy tone to the original that we feel was a big part of the original attraction of the game but that is not precisely captured by the rule mechanics or even the basic content of the text per se. In our opinion, much of it was quickly lost in later editions. The fairy-tale aspect was what motivated us to use the wonderful art of John Dickson Batten for all four volumes.

I’m happy with the result. Lulu did a fabulous job with the physical product. The creamy covers and high-quality paper show off the simple but elegant "old-school" font and the Batten drawings to great effect. And the saddle stitch binding allows one to easily lay any of the volumes flat for reference. We hope you will be proud to own it. The result fills a gaming niche for us, and I hope it will do so for others, while at the same time being a respectful tribute to the earliest version of the original game.

PDF’s of all four volumes are available for free download from Lulu. Just click the link above or to the right. Of course we recommend that if you find the virtual product to your liking, you’ll consider purchasing the physical booklets.

Since I’ve learned so much from the commentary and discussions on the blogs, groups and boards, any feedback would be enjoyable for me, and of course helpful.



Monday, January 6, 2014

Twenty Years After

Well, actually only two.

First, let me answer my own question, posed more than twenty-six months ago:


For reasons 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Somewhat for reason 8. And not so much for reason 1.

I've taken the time-off (an odd way of putting it, admittedly, since the original blog only existed for two weeks) to write a "neo-clone", Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, which I'll be releasing in a few days.

I started with a desire to write a pseudo-16th century variant of OD&D, but that gave way to a potentially richer re-imagining of the original game, with more of an emphasis on its fairy tale and even pulp science fiction aspects. I wanted to create something that even my new children could enjoy (in a few years, of course). The original idea is being reworked into a "supplement".

This blog will exist as a portal to the game, and as an occasional space to pontificate, but I doubt I'll have a lot of time. My wife and I are preparing for the arrival of two more children. We've gone from 0 to 4 in a bit more than two years, with me starting at the age of almost 48. That's two sets of back-to-back twins conceived through "natural" means. The odds of that are a bit higher than qualifying for an AD&D Paladin by rolling 3d6 in order, I think. :)

Here are Oliver and Lydia, riding the Chicago "L" on the way to Mass at our lovely St. John Cantius. They were no more than two months old when I took a hiatus from the blog. God willing, they will have two new brothers no later than the first week of May.

At the age of one-and-a half Lydia emerged from the bedroom to catch me watching the remake of Conan. She took one look at it and made the sign of the cross (which gets it about right, I think). Their most recent pastime is to creep into my office and filch my dice, which they then joyfully and madly roll on the kitchen floor until they inevitably disappear under the stove. Then they creep back into the office to steal some more.

Thank you to those who followed and commented on the early posts, and apologies for letting you down in any way. I've noticed that at least one of those commenters, Zenopus, has gone on to be a major player in the blogosphere, offering all sorts of nifty stuff of historical interest.

May your Feast of the Epiphany be peaceful and joyous!