Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Inside Scoop on Tome of Horrors

It's not really a news scoop, but it's a picture of some of the things that are going on behind the scenes with the Swords & Wizardry version of Necromancer Games forthcoming Tome of Horrors. A couple of days ago, John Stater mentioned (in a comment on this blog) that he was getting ready to work on some of the templates described in the Tome. When I heard this, I immediately emailed Bill Webb to discuss it, because I figured it was a bad idea to include templates.

There are two aspects to this - the first is the gaming value of templates, and the second is simply bad press. Addressing the second aspect, bad press, it might seem unfortunate that this is even a consideration, but the whole alliance between me and Frog God Games got off on the wrong foot with people when - after the announcement - several old schoolers took a look at the Frog God website and saw a comment from Bill that FGG wouldn't sell "crappy hand-drawn maps." Opinions rapidly circulated on message boards and in the blogosphere that this was a backhanded swipe at hobbyist publishers. As it turned out, Bill had intended it as a swipe against full-scale professional Pathfinder publishers who, he felt, were deliberately producing modules on the cheap. It's one thing to draw a map and present it based on aesthetics or based on a lack of money (eg, the hobbyists and/or the deliberate retro approach). It's another thing to have the money and make your decisions based on nothing but cutting costs. Remember, this was a comment on the Pathfinder market, where the expectations of cartography are different from ours.

Anyway, I'm off topic. I was talking about templates. The previous paragraph explains how we got off on the wrong foot, which, in turn, explains why we have to be careful, at least for now, about making another mis-step in terms of perceptions.

The material issue, however, is the whole concept of a template. A template is a series of instructions for changing a monster description, a little cookbook for how stats and skills are affected. This is an excellent tool for a highly complex game, because it does an end run around the long process of making a monster conform to these rules. Creating a monster from scratch in a complex game (at least, if you want to do it correctly) takes a long time.

For Swords & Wizardry, OD&D, AD&D, Castles & Crusades, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, and all the other variations on pre-2000 D&D, the game is not complex when it comes to creating a monster description and stats. If you like an idea, write it down. If it ends up being more or less powerful than you need, adjust what it does. Done deal. You have a monster that perfectly fits your original idea.

Putting in a set of specific rules for combining a monster and a theme (like "wraith" or "mer-" or "manti-"), in the case of an old school game, is simply a restriction - a set of rules - that acts upon the DM. Or purports to act upon the DM. That's not the Swords & Wizardry approach. Our approach is to offer ideas and resources, not to create more things that sound like rules. We would have been creating, without really intending to, a splat book.

We decided not to include any templates from the original Tome, although the example monsters from the template descriptions will be in there as monsters in their own right.

Whew - post written, and I have to take my son to school!



  1. Ei. There's the proto-template for minimals (downscaling normal animals) in AD&D as an example off the top of my head; that's enough precedent for me.

  2. The BX Companion uses templates as well (Gargantuans, Beats of Legend, etc.) So far I've not heard any complaints about them.

    I know many folk are adverse to anything 3.X-ish, but I doubt templates would cause much of an uproar.

  3. I like templates, especially if they are thematic instead of generic and have a few multiple choice elements. I ran a game once where part of the world was merged with the elemental plane of fire, so I created a quickee 'fire infused' template with a d10 table of random fire abilities so that I could generate fire-wolves and fire-tigers and fire-whatevers.

  4. I can see what Matt is saying here. A template can be a useful tool, but it is just superfluous to needs for a TSR era edition. As far as precedents go, there were plenty of missteps "back in the day". That said, I have no strong feelings on the subject, as I would just end up going my own way in any case.

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