Monday, July 29, 2013

LaTeX PocketMod

A few weeks ago I wanted to produce a so-called "PocketMod" in LaTeX. The idea is to print 8 small pages of content onto one actual page of paper and then folding it as shown here to get a little booklet. I've since found several different ways of doing it, but here's what I came up with as a "pure LaTeX" solution.

First: Put your actual content into a content.tex file and use the geometry package to adjust the page size. I used this:




I prefer working at the actual size instead of shrinking larger pages down later only to find that the font is unreadable. Use pdflatex to generate the PDF for your tiny 8 pages worth of stuff.

Second: Use pdfpages and the following rotate.tex file to adjust the individual pages appropriately (some need to be upside-down, others need to remain unchanged):


Of course I should have used a macro to avoid repeating myself 8 times, but copy-paste won and I never refactored. Feel free to post a better version!

Third: Use pdfpages and the following booklet.tex file to put everything on a single letter-sized page in landscape:


I like having the thin frame around all the pages but if you want to get rid of it just remove that option. And you're done!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Thieves and Traps in B/X D&D

I noticed two curious things about thieves and traps in B/X D&D, neither of which I had actually fully grok-ed before:

  1. The basic rules list "Find or Remove Traps" as a "double ability" but the expert rules only have "Remove Traps" in the table.
  2. The basic rules state "(thieves) are the only characters who can ... find traps without using magic..." on page B10 but "any character has a 1 in 6 chance of finding a trap when searching for one ... Any dwarf has a 2 in 6 chance. (This does not apply to magical traps..." on page B22.

Regarding the first point, note that neither the Greyhawk supplement for OD&D nor the Holmes edition have "Find Traps" as an option: they only list "Remove Traps" just like the expert set.

Regarding the second point, note that only one rule, either B10 or B22, makes sense. If we use B10 as the "correct" rule, than B22 must go away completely: Thieves only have 10% for "Find Traps" at first level and it would make thieves worse than everyone else at finding traps if B22 was also in play. If we use B22 as the "correct" rule, than B10 must go away completely: All characters get a chance to find traps, not only thieves.

I do have a theory about this, but that's really all it is: A theory. The 1981 basic and experts set seem to have been written/edited concurrently: Both list "January 1981" for their first printing and I've never heard that anyone had to "wait" for the expert set to be released (in other words, I am pretty sure they went on sale at the same time, not one after the other).

If that's true, and if they were primarily put together by the person given credit (so Tom Moldvay for the basic set and David Cook for the expert set), then it's also quite possible that each started working on "their" game independently using OD&D and Holmes as their sources. For some reason Moldvay (or Johnson or Mentzer, both of whom Moldvay thanks for "...their dedication in reorganizing and fine tuning this book.") eventually felt that thieves needed a "boost" to make them more important, and hence we get the rule on page B10. It wouldn't surprise me if that was a "last-minute" decision so neither the rule on page B22 nor the expert set was updated to be consistent with page B10.

As I said, it's just a theory. But it has enough explanatory power for me to "house-rule" that thieves in B/X do not in fact get the "Find Traps" ability at all. They get "Remove Traps" but the entire business of finding traps is handled with the "everybody has a shot" rule from B22. I think B/X is on the right track giving every character (regardless of class) a bunch of basic "dungeoneering" skills, and finding traps should definitely be included in that set.

Which leaves magical traps since they are explicitly ruled out on page B22. Personally I never liked the idea that thieves can do something that's clearly more in the domain of clerics or magic-users: spell-casters should be able to figure out magical traps, fighters and thieves shouldn't. True, in a fantasy world where many "worthwhile scores" are protected by magic, one could argue that thieves should develop such powers. However, it seems much more logical to say that they need to use "Wands of Trap Detection" to get this done. In fact, one could even use that to explain that high-level thieves get a "Use Magic Item" ability instead of a "Cast Spells from Scrolls" ability which again seems to encroach too much on clerics and magic-users.

And at least in my B/X game (I split up race and class) this makes the elusive elven magic-user/thieves and dwarven cleric/thieves that much more interesting.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Hexographer meets Blackmarsh

I don't really have anything to say in my defense. Except maybe that I needed to waste excess brain cycles that I would otherwise have spent on harder exam questions for my students. So it's all for their benefit... :-)

Anyways, Rob Conley's Blackmarsh is very cool, and now I have it in funky Hexographer colors. Of course the conversion to "strict hexes" made things a little inaccurate, but maybe I'll find the time to refine a few sections in the future.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Busy Teaching Summer Session

You may have noticed the number of posts dropping off significantly in the last two weeks. The reason is that I am teaching a summer session course and that's always a very intense experience for all involved, students as well as teachers.

Last year I was even busier because I wrote detailed lecture notes. This year I am busy because I am converting the lecture notes into a PDF document that will hopefully turn into something useful eventually. I still have a ways to go, for example I'll have to replace a lot of "ASCII-graphics" with real images sooner or later, but it's a surprisingly fun process.

The "manuscript" is at about 200 pages right now, but that's including a lot of "hacking discussions" that a "stuffy text book" would not really talk about. Of course the notes are also missing a lot that a "stuffy text book" would have, detailed proofs for example. It's a trade-off!

I hope that eventually all of this will turn into a fairly concise "primer on data structures," something a lot shorter than a "real" text book but approximately just as useful if it is supplemented with decent lectures.

In any case, I have three more weeks of summer session ahead of me and during that time I expect very few blog posts to actually come to fruition. After that I'll probably be in Germany for a week or two, so in the end I'll only have two more "productive blogging weeks" before the next semester starts. Oh well.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Isle of Dread: Better Maps

I had promised to fix up my rough approximation of a Hexographer map for the classic X1: The Isle of Dread setting. So first here's a new image of the slightly improved version:

And here is the corresponding Hexographer file that you're of course free to use for whatever (see the license on my blog). I used the free version of Hexographer to make this map, but as far as I know that shouldn't make a difference.

I mostly decided to work on this because I needed a map I could mess with for my campaign and because I couldn't find one in Hexographer format. However, it turns out that Alan G had made a much better version of the map already, and he shared it as part of my G+ thread. Thank you so much Alan!

Personally I am still a bit torn between using mine or Alan's, but that's mostly a matter of map scale. Most people are probably better off just ignoring my version and using his instead.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Isle of Dread: An Approximation

I spent a few hours putting together the following approximation of the classic X1: The Isle of Dread setting in Hexographer. I wonder if anyone has a better version? In Hexographer format that is? If not I'll try to fix the remaining bugs and I'll post the actual Hexographer file sometime tomorrow for others to reuse. But it's hard to believe that nobody else has done a version of this classic before...

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Attributes in D&D-variants

Almost all D&D-variants have been surprisingly stable when it comes to the attributes (also called "ability scores") that define a character. For about 40 years, we have used
  1. Strength (STR or S)
  2. Intelligence (INT or I)
  3. Wisdom (WIS or W)
  4. Constitution (CON or C)
  5. Dexterity (DEX or D)
  6. Charisma (CHA or X)
and the only thing that changed from decade to decade was the order in which they were written down (the order above is from the 1974 edition aka OD&D, the single-letter abbreviations are Delta's).

There is an obvious breakdown into three predominantly physical attributes and three predominantly mental ones: Strength, Constitution and Dexterity are physical whereas Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma are mental. This is presumably the reason why (A)D&D 3e reordered the attributes S, D, C, I, W, X?

There is, however, another breakdown that I have not seen discussed before. It may be that I simply read the wrong things online, so if you can find an earlier reference for the following please let me know. (I actually felt incredibly dense when I first realized this about a year ago and I cannot quite believe that nobody else has pointed it out before.) Instead of grouping the attributes
S, D, C (physical)
I, W, X (mental)
let's group them thusly:
S, X (influence)
D, I (flexibilty)
C, W (stability)
I know. It's horribly obvious in retrospect, isn't it?
Both Strength and Charisma measure the character's influence (impact?) on the external world: Strength focuses on physical influence (break down a door), Charisma focuses on mental influence (acquire and lead retainers).

Both Dexterity and Intelligence measure the character's flexibility (adaptability? speed?) to external forces: Dexterity focuses on physical flexibility (evade attacks and react quickly), Intelligence focuses on mental flexibility (learn a language or spell).

Both Constitution and Wisdom measure the character's stability (resilience?) to external forces: Constitution focuses on physical stability (resist poison), Wisdom focuses on mental stability (resist charm).
The only system I can recall that tries to group attributes orthogonal to mental/physical is Star Frontiers, it actually even affects (advanced) character creation there. But for what it's worth, I think this breakdown of the D&D attributes is actually nicer.

Now I have to admit that I cannot think of a good way of using the breakdown for anything in game, so as far as I can tell it's just a curiosity. Does anyone see a way to make it matter?