What I’m Watching: Who Is Erin Carter?

Over on ‘flix, somehow the English were allowed to leave their island and film in sunny Barcelona! Alas, they don’t use a lot of local talent. Two of the actors are Spanish-English, one is actually Spanish, the rest are all very British and in many cases so pasty they can’t have been there more than a few days, the show’s in English for the most part.

The first few episodes are dull but building a bit, Erin (Evin Ahmad) is a substitute schoolteacher who came here with a child, married a nice Spanish nurse Jordi (Sean Teale), wacky divorced cop neighbor Emilio (Pep Ambròs); the latter two are the only ones who can have a convincing conversation en Español. Bitchy rich neighbor Penelope (Charlotte Vega) is the scene-stealer, everything she does is so arch and hilarious. There’s a ongoing tragedy of her life that’s playing in the background scenes, and she should really be the star of her soap opera. Her final scene (she’s fine; minor spoiler but nothing could ever harm or defeat Penelope) is just awesome. Like WTF show are we watching? Who’s this Erin chick?

Back to the buildup, there’s a holdup Erin foils with excessive skills and what passes for an accidental kill. Then a chick knife fight, which isn’t amazing but it’s something. Why does Margot know & hate Erin? Pretty soon one murder leads to a favor and Erin’s… not a schoolteacher.

There’s a strong vibe of A History of Violence, la femme Nikita (or the dozen shitty remake/ripoffs), and by the end a lot of John Woo homage/ripoff/why do mooks always hide behind explosive barrels? Flashbacks give us some context, and the spooky horns person seen in child Harper’s dreams & pictures.

Erin’s skills and toughness start at “buff soccer mom” and rapidly escalate to Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgement Day + The Killer. Most people around her keep trying to fuck her over and take the kid, and do not have plot immunity. There is one incredibly cool, classy kung fu fight in a dress. Keep watching for that. It is the entire point of the film to make this fight happen. The final big warzone is more John Woo. Hug, “take care of OUR daughter”, BOOM.

The few parts set in England are dark, grim, dirty, and horrible, warehouses and alleys, treachery and distrust and neglect, like just the worst underground dystopian shithole (film what you know). Barcelona is infinitely prettier. It’s a very incidental setting initially, with a honkie-populated suburb and English-speaking school, but they do get better at using it creatively and showing local flavor later. The car chase through tight streets and a lot of empty boxes & water jugs flying around is great fun. Escapes from buildings always involve parkour over pretty rooftops. This is a “come visit Spain!” puff piece, but they should spend time on history of Catalonia if they want to get more Spanish tourism investment funds.

At no point did the writing, dialogue, or cinematography match the intent. This is pretty much exactly the kind of awesome schlock the great Godfrey Ho made, but now they (writer is Jack Lothian?, revolving room of directors) are using impoverished British “talent” in reasonably-priced exotic locales, for overseas streaming sales.

Budget would ruin this. Skill would ruin this. There’s at least two plot holes never resolved (both money related). The pacing was slow to start, then ZOOM. No time for bleeding! Can they make more of these? Same girl or anything else of similar design. One hundred schoolteacher ninja movies, I’m there for it.


What I’m Watching: Rings of Power

So… I’ve been reading a lot of RoleMaster Unified and Shadow World books, which is of course very Tolkieny, “Iron Crown”, after all. I finished a Good Omens ep (will review when I’m done, I’m taking my time), and Rings of Power is suggested to me. Well, why not, just one Tolkien fanfic show. As I’ve previously noted, I dislike the man, and his more overtly racist parts, but I liked The Hobbit book and I’m still up for some Human-Dwarf-Elf cliché fantasy, esp if they go off-book, non-canon, which they’ve had to.

Spoiler spoiler spoilers, as if it matters. On fediverse I didn’t even bother to CW my thoughts.

First ep, 2 minutes in, whiny Elf claims a wood (really paper in this case) boat floats because it has secrets. No, unscientific, pointy-eared moron!, it floats by water displacement. It’s this shit that loses you your immortal magic home.

Sauron and the Orcs look much cooler, I like their style. Unfortunately they only show up momentarily until late 3rd ep.

Elfs are too dumb to understand a fork symbol, and the eventual revelation of what it means doesn’t make a lot of sense for non-literate savages the Orcs are portrayed as. “Nobody’s seen an Orc in years”, what? That’s ridiculous, they rule half the planet. “Land”, I guess since it’s flat Earth.

The Elfs carrying 2-handed swords on their backs can’t possibly unsheathe for battle. Body armor is preposterously bad. Elf armor is overly carved & decorative. Human armor is leather fake-scale, terminates above the belly button, doesn’t cover the arms either. All but useless. Generally the fight choreography is very dance troupe, not much in the way of practical fighting.

Cliché cave troll attack. Galadriel for some reason is a super high level fighter, does no magic. Repeatedly we see the Elfs flying into the air on jump boards or wire fu.

Elfs congratulating themselves on delusional political bullshit. Elrond’s a boring, pretentious twat for 2000+ years. Superhero Galadriel is kinda cool, just totally implausible and non-canon (not that I care). Arondir’s OK, overarmed knife-ear bastard Human-fucker cop. There’s an RPG Elf! There’s a lot of racism against the Humans, all Morgoth-worshippers, but that seems typical for Elfs.

Too much time spent with the fucking goddamned ‘obbits, or “Harfoots” as they call themselves in this. Filthy barefoot little cannibal shits running around (OK, that’s a Dark Sun ref, but I don’t doubt that book full of people they consult is a cookbook). They have a stultifying, dead-end culture of nomads who every year mark the 10%+ of their population who died, in some hilarious ways. “Stay on the trails, never walk alone!” That actually kinda works for pre-civilization ‘obbits, like in 2000 years they could have settled down but still be cowards.

2nd ep has the ‘obbits find a flaming man from the sky: Gandalf‽ I love that guy, even if he’s a shitty angel/4th-Level Magic-User. He’s just a hairy slob right now tho.

So Galadriel’s shipped off West for being inconvenient. Boat to the Undying Lands (North America is heaven) has a real Logan’s Run Carousel tone. Stupid Elfs going into the light are just gonna get zapped by lasers. Then Galadriel just swims back across the Atlantic? Sure, why not.

Dwarf kingdom looks really good. Super cool. But the Dwarf costume/appearance are kinda sus, bad stereotypes. Tolkien was racist as fuck, maybe don’t perpetuate it in the show? The casting is semi-random racially, which is a nice change, but it’s only 50% less. There’s been a lot of whining from Internet racist trolls like the owner of “x dot com”, and fuck all those people. I must say, I’m disappointed Durin’s wife shaves her beard off to conform to Human beauty standards; she should embrace Dwarf hairy-faced tradition.

The naming of things is still kinda shitty, “The Southlands”, etc. At least put it in an old language, Torpenow Hill style. If you say it’s Mordor or Gondor, that kind of gives things away, but it is those.

First peasant vs Orc fight is fun, mostly. 0th-Level character funnel. The Healer delivering evidence to the town headman is funny, very much what D&D characters do to motivate the militia. Stupid peasants, who we are AGAIN told sided with Morgoth and therefore their line is tainted with evil forever after, really deserve a good hard kicking while they’re down. Just coat them with mud, maybe a corpse cart-man singing “bring out your dead!” I do keep seeing Monty Python and the Holy Grail in this.

Galadriel keeps failing upwards, floating in the sea to a raft of hostiles, raft of a friendly dude with suspiciously Viggo Mortensen-looking face and pendant, to ship of Numenor. It’s amazing how after days of falling in and out of sea water, starvation & dehydration, she has perfect makeup, slightly mussed & dark roots in her bleach blonde hair. Elfs really are magic.

The Numenoreans say several times, “The sea is always right”, I correct STARBOARD! every time. Galadriel, having again failed upwards from prisoner to fairy queen, gets to ride a horse along the beach in romantic slo-mo! And it’s clearly the most ecstatic thing she’s ever had between her thighs. This scene goes on way too long, it’s clearly the director’s dirty fetish, someone should’ve had veto in the editing suite.

I don’t understand how the Orcs ever captured all the Elf soldiers off-camera. Arondir fucked up, but most of the centuries-old soldiers must be at their 4th-Level Fighter cap by OD&D rules, so how can a bunch of juvenile 1-1 HD lesser Orcs who literally burn in sunlight fight and shoot on par with them? They do have a Warhammer-spiky-punk-rock hyena/worg special figure, with sub-Roger Rabbit-quality CGI.

1st ep was boring as hell after the cave troll, all premise and exposition. Then it got kind of good, I’m 3 eps in and despite a LOT of problems, it has some good fantasyland style, tone, & fight material worth stealing for your FRPG of choice. It mostly looks magnificent, they really did the “drone flying thru New Zealand and some CGI shots” well, the extras are usually well costumed, armor aside. The scenes in Numenor especially remind me a lot of HBO’s Rome. CGI sets are a little iffy, but they don’t linger too much on fake buildings.

I’ll be finishing this up tomorrow, and then supposedly ‘zon has paid for 5 seasons already!

★★★½☆ Definition of mediocre but fun enough to watch.

What I’m Watching: Deadloch

Over on ‘zon. Bodies start piling up in a little mostly-lesbian resort town in Tasmania, currently having a “Winter Feastival”. The local cop, Dulcie (Kate Box) used to be a detective in Sydney, which passes for civilization, so she investigates. Soon a bizarrely drunk, stupid, unwashed, hairy, probably-Human (much like Nobby Nobs from Discworld) detective Eddie (Madeleine Sami) shows up to “help”. More bodies pile up, with ritualistic patterns.

The show mostly exists to skewer new-agey bullshit, pretentious people, stupid people, racists, sexist men, women, and really anything. The serial killings and bodies are just an excuse. The, uh, surprise intermission at the 4-hour-long art film is perfect.

Eddie goes from a horrible caricature muppet to someone not too bright (cop, obvs) working far above her abilities, dealing alone with trauma and about to get some more. Dulcie’s ridiculously calm and stoic despite a really insane world she’s forced to put up with; her wife in particular is a different kind of self-centered chaos muppet no normal person could deal with.

Abby (Nina Oyama) plays the one reasonable person, a long-suffering assistant, fiancée to the shittiest man since Lucy’s other boyfriend in Twin Peaks. I love every scene with Abby (“Big Eyes” to Eddie, who is incapable of learning names).

There’s a little Scooby-Doo/indigenous people subplot with three teenagers, black, native, and gay, and the rich bitch who owns the local sacred island and won’t allow anyone on it, but offers scholarships to get them assimilated. Hm, real estate or something else?

The straight men & women of the town range from feeble-minded working-class thugs to long-suffering with tarts or crazy women, with one or two suspicious exceptions.

I pegged the instigator (who later confesses) in the first episode, but the actual killer baffles me, there’s no setup and clues to their involvement except one, which is withheld from Dulcie as well until late. The final showdown and possibly-obscure death escape in the dark, turns into a very trite solution, chance punishes the guilty. I dislike the trivial last 30 minutes or so of an otherwise extremely fun gag.

Other than being doled out an ep a week, and maybe needing a 25-50% editing pass like all streaming shows, this was a nice watch. If your sense of humor’s laughing at corpses, this is for you.


Dungeons & Falling

As noted in Review: Swords & Wizardry Complete Revised, there’s no rules for falling damage. Never have been. Referees just rely on folklore and other games to figure it out.

Researching OD&D sources is frustrating, but if I’ve read all this, you should too!

It never clearly says in OD&D (books 1-3, supp 1-4, nor Holmes). In Book III, there’s a Chainmail example of 1 die save on 5 or 6 per level (10′?) fallen.

AD&D Player’s Handbook (1978, but non-canon to me), it’s 1d6 for each 10′, and the commentary makes it clear that’s the meaning intended. You wouldn’t say “this is not realistic” if falling was super dangerous.

Falling into pits, from ledges, down shafts, and so forth will certainly cause damage unless the fall is broken. While such falls could break limbs and other bones, it is probable that your referee will simply use a hit points damage computation based on 1d6 for each 10′ of distance fallen to a maximum of 20d6, plus or minus adjustments for the surface fallen upon, This treatment gives characters a better survival chance, although it is not as “realistic” as systems to determine breaks, sprains, dislocations, internal organ damage, etc.

Basic Dungeons & Dragons (1981), same. Interesting note that climbing is per 100′!

Climb Steep Surfaces, when failed, will result in a fall. The thief will take 1-6 (1d6) points of damage for each 10 feet fallen. This roll should only be made once per 100′ of climb attempted. If failed, the fall will be from halfway up the surface.

Suddenly in Dragon # 69 (Jan 1983), in a sidebox in the Thief-Acrobat class, Gygax claims that it was cumulative ALL ALONG.

Falling damage
The correct procedure for determining falling damage in the AD&D game system is to roll 1d6 per 10′ fallen, cumulative. Since a falling body accelerates quickly, the damage mounts geometrically: 2d6 for the second 10 feet fallen, 3d6 for the third 10 feet, etc. The maximum of 20d6 is therefore reached after a fall of approximately 60 feet for most characters. A thief-acrobat can often fall further distances, but the same 20d6 maximum should be applied. The rationale behind this system will discussed in the next issue (# 70) of DRAGON Magazine.

Note you would also not use 20d6 as a limit if you were counting 1d6, 3d6, 6d6, 10d6, 15d6, 21d6 all along.

Next issue (Feb 1983), he makes Frank Mentzer carry his water and blames some editor (Mike Carr?).

Gary has always used a geometrically increasing system for falling damage in AD&D games; the trouble arose because that system simply never made it into the rule books. When the AD&D Players Handbook was being assembled, a brief section on falling damage was included: a mere 7 1⁄2 lines that offers more advice on broken bones and sprains than on falling damage. As we now understand the event, the section was not included in the first draft, and the editors requested a brief insert on this frequently referred-to topic. So Gary hastily wrote a sentence describing damage as “1d6 per 10’ for each 10’ fallen.” Someone removed the “per 10’” as being (so it was thought) redundant, and off we went. That section was later quoted in passing in the Aerial Adventures section of the Dungeon Masters Guide, thereby becoming further entrenched in our game procedures.

My bullshit meter goes off the scale at this sudden Invention of Lying level retcon. But is it a better rule?

AD&D 2nd Edition (1989, again non-canon to me) has this lengthy rebuttal:

Player characters have a marvelous (and, to the DM, vastly amusing) tendency to fall off things. generally from great heights and almost always onto hard surfaces. While the falling is harmless, the abrupt stop at the end tends to cause damage.
When a character falls. he suffers 1d6 points of damage for every 10 feet fallen, to a maximum of 20d6 (which for game purposes can be considered terminal velocity).
This method is simple and it provides all the realism necessary in the game. It is not a scientific calculation of the rate of acceleration, exact terminal velocity, mass, impact energy, etc. of the falling body.
The fact of the matter is that physical laws may describe the exact motion of a body as it falls through space, but relatively little is known about the effects of impact. The distance fallen is not the only determining factor in how badly a person is hurt. Other factors may include elasticity of the falling body and the ground, angle of impact, shock wave through the falling body, dumb luck, and more.
People have actually fallen from great heights and survived, albeit very rarely. The current record-holder, Vesna Vulovic, survived a fall from a height of 31,33O feet in 1972, although she was severely injured. Flight Sergeant Nicholas S. Alkemade actually fell 18,000 feet—almost 3.5 miles—without a parachute and landed uninjured!
The point of all this is roll the dice, as described above, and don’t worry too much about science.

The 3.0 SRD is typically boring, legalistic, but continues this standard:

Falling Damage: The basic rule is simple: 1d6 points of damage per 10 feet fallen, to a maximum of 20d6.
If a character deliberately jumps instead of merely slipping or falling, the damage is the same but the first 1d6 is nonlethal damage. A DC 15 Jump check or DC 15 Tumble check allows the character to avoid any damage from the first 10 feet fallen and converts any damage from the second 10 feet to nonlethal damage. Thus, a character who slips from a ledge 30 feet up takes 3d6 damage. If the same character deliberately jumped, he takes 1d6 points of nonlethal damage and 2d6 points of lethal damage. And if the character leaps down with a successful Jump or Tumble check, he takes only 1d6 points of nonlethal damage and 1d6 points of lethal damage from the plunge.
Falls onto yielding surfaces (soft ground, mud) also convert the first 1d6 of damage to nonlethal damage. This reduction is cumulative with reduced damage due to deliberate jumps and the Jump skill.
Falling into Water: Falls into water are handled somewhat differently. If the water is at least 10 feet deep, the first 20 feet of falling do no damage. The next 20 feet do nonlethal damage (1d3 per 10-foot increment). Beyond that, falling damage is lethal damage (1d6 per additional 10-foot increment).
Characters who deliberately dive into water take no damage on a successful DC 15 Swim check or DC 15 Tumble check, so long as the water is at least 10 feet deep for every 30 feet fallen. However, the DC of the check increases by 5 for every 50 feet of the dive.

Arduin Grimoire has a complex table, RCH = Random Critical Hit (Arduin crits are murder), others are Broken, Crushed, Dislocated, bruisE, Fracture, Multi, No damage, Sprain. I would never use this, but it’s on par with linear damage until far up.


I’m certainly going to stick with 1d6 per 10′ linear, but it should increase some chance of injury or death. At low Levels the HP damage is going to be the deadly factor, so it doesn’t matter if there’s also injury. At higher Levels, falling damage equivalent to your Level should be highly risky, and even moderate falls should have some risk.


Characters who fall more than 5′ take d6 damage per 10′ to a maximum of 20d6. If fallen 20′ or more, make a Save vs Paralysis, + DEX bonus, –1 per 10′ past the first, on failure roll d6 to see what you landed on:

  1. Head. Instant death. You needed that, roll a new character.
  2. Left arm. Broken, cannot hold shield or 2-handed weapon, or cast spells.
  3. Right arm. Broken, cannot hold weapon, or cast spells.
  4. Torso. Broken ribs, half STR, CON.
  5. Left leg. Broken, cannot move.
  6. Right leg. Broken, cannot move.

Cure Serious Wounds or Restoration will repair all but the head, otherwise takes 2d4 weeks recovery.

(note I don’t have Clerics, but there are items or rituals which can produce these effects)

I made a table to better understand the odds here (assuming Save 15 at 1st-Level, +1 bonus for Paralysis), and I think I’m good with this. A 3rd-Level Thief with DEX 15 has a 50% chance to drop 50′ with nothing broken, a 1st-Level Magic-User has 20%. HP damage is much more likely to kill them.

Distance Level: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
20′ 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6
30′ 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7
40′ 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8
50′ 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9
60′ 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10
70′ 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11
80′ 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12
90′ 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13
100′ 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14

What I’m Watching: Last Thing He Told Me

Trying to extract further value from TV+, and the closest thing to a crime drama is The Last Thing He Told Me. I need dark and complex to keep my brain even slightly paying attention to most things, and Apple’s not mature enough to run anything like Deadwind. I went into this pretty cold, just knew it was based on a popular novel.

Jennifer Garner looks really good. And she does fine here as a slightly confused artist wife Hannah, with new-ish husband Owen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and very annoying teenage stepdaughter Bailey (Angourie Rice). And a relatively big cast of friends and lawyers and various FBI & Marshals.

Owen, who seems more like a lumberjack or mechanic, is supposedly CTO of a company just called “The Shop” (is Stephen King not going to sue?), apparently writing SSL code in C++:

And yet this “wasn’t operational” and they ran a scam for $1B IPO. That makes no real sense, it’s easy to extract VC money with a working shitty demo. If you’re gonna make Silicon Valley computer crimes a key plot, talk to someone in the field.

He vanishes after bad things go down at work, and then clues get pieced together to figure out who he used to be.

The daughter’s maybe the most annoying, whiny, horrible creature I’ve ever seen on screen, like Gollum with pink hair dye, probably a very realistic teenager, but still needs to be slapped at least once every 10 minutes. Jen really has to carry this show.

Nobody seems to worry about money; there’s three expensive lawyers, and a bag full of cash, and just never comes up that this would change anyone’s life. Hannah lives on a houseboat and makes crafts out of wood, which I don’t think really shows up in expensive galleries but more creepy bait, tackle, & gas stands in the middle of nowhere before a serial killer cabin in the woods, and flea markets. Even for “TV shows have aspirational wealth to drive the American consumer market”, this show is excessive.


There’s a lot of dangling plot threads, sitcom hijinks, and just bad tell-don’t-show:

  1. We never see grandpa Nicholas’ associates, or anything about them, except word of mouth.
  2. As soon as Hannah & Bailey make contact with Owen’s family, suddenly we’re pulled out of that by the Marshall’s Service and the plot is mansplained to Hannah. They could’ve done that episodes before.
  3. The Deputy Marshall pitches a very biased explanation, and we never see anything supporting that story. Nicholas seems contradictory to it.
  4. Bailey drives plot by just running off, or charging in where she shouldn’t, never explains anything, never contributes any useful information.
  5. Owen’s plan here is to just foist off his kid, the only thing he cares about, on his new wife and criminal family, hope nobody tortures them for information. This is not thought out.
  6. How is there a safe in a woodworked vase?
  7. Avett seems to know about Owen’s past, and sends a goon around. How? What does he know? This is entirely dropped with no further explanation.

As with most modern TV, it’s clearly padded to reach 7 episodes. It could’ve been 3 eps and told a much tighter story. A little work and cut down below 2 hours, and it would’ve been a good thriller.


Review: Swords & Wizardry Complete Revised

I funded the kickstarter, still waiting for my lovely print book, but you can get PDF now, and I assume print-on-demand (POD) will come eventually.

S&W was one of the first “Old-School Renaissance” games. Matt Finch had worked on OSRIC (an AD&D-like retro-clone) in 2006, and took that and applied it to the original game.

I’m going to review the new book by looking at three (plus a bit) editions over time.

Swords & Wizardry Core in 2008, had most of OD&D (Original D&D, 1974) and fragments of Greyhawk (Supplement I, 1975):

  • Stats (“Ability Scores”): Uses the “modern” order of STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS, CHA (instead of SIWDCCh), but rolls 3d6 for each. Like OD&D, bonuses are only -1 to +1. INT has reduced extra languages, which I prefer to replace with CHA-10 languages. Has a bizarre new EP bonus system, where WIS, CHA, and class Prime give +5% each, no penalties for low stats. M-U with INT 15+, and Clerics with WIS 15+, get an extra 1st-Level spell.

  • Classes: Only Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User, and a few non-Human species (“Race”, as was the fashion at the time): Dwarf (with their own class table), Elf (with their own class table), Halfling (barely defined, Fighter up to 4th-Level). Fighter has a base save 14, everyone else has 15, Dwarfs only get +4 save against magic; in OD&D they get +4 levels against all saves (which varies from +2 to +4 bonus depending on level).

  • Combat: Mostly OD&D-like, but opinionated because there are not clear procedures in the original. For both legal and modernization reasons, it changed Armor Class from descending 9 (unprotected) down to 2 (plate+shield), to combination ascending, 9[10] (unprotected) to 2[17] (plate+shield); saving throws went from five different numbers for Death, Wands, Petrify, Dragon Breath, Spells & Staves, to a single target number, with bonuses for some classes and species.

    Turn Undead is a new table, based on the D20 SRD, using a d20 chance to turn all of the same type. It’s pretty generous, and makes Clerics OP against Undead and Demons!

    You know what’s hilarious? There’s no rules for falling, fire, or disease. Some monsters list damage for poisons, others it does death. How is Neutralize Poison useful? It’s unknown.

  • High-Level Adventuring: Followers, mass combat, spell research, all very brief.

  • Magic: Almost all of the OD&D + Greyhawk + some later spells. Notably, Magic Missile has both variants, auto-hit for d4+1 damage, or to-hit as a +1 arrow.

  • Referee: How to design a dungeon, very light. Two sample maps, side-layout lines, and small dungeon. Random dungeon & a couple terrain-specifc encounter tables, but no overall wilderness encounter table.

  • Monsters: Most of the OD&D monsters, but not the under-defined “Maybe dinosaurs, giant bugs, robots, Martian Thoats” entry. As in later games, but contradicting OD&D, Skeletons are 1 HD not 1/2 HD, Zombies are 2 HD, not 1 HD. There’s only 2 Demons, Lemures & Balrog (“Baalroch”). Dragons are Black, Blue, Gold, Green, Red, White, Turtle.

    Officially it uses d8 hit dice. OD&D was unclear, Holmes and later specify d8 hit dice, but I continue to use d6 for all except very tough monsters (Dragons x3 HP, Demons, Elementals, Giants get larger HD by type).

  • Treasure: Core through Complete (unrevised) used a system of giving GP = 2-3x monster XP, with trade-outs that almost never (5%) generated magic items. The item lists are minimal compared even to OD&D, intelligent magic swords almost never happen (1/1440 of major treasures!) and only have a 10% chance of spell-casting.

Core’s fine for a quick and very minimalist game, and has higher-Level options almost all other retro-clones ignore, but you need to add a lot to finish it.

Offshoot: There’s also a White Box variant, cutting out even more of that material, and later another publisher made White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game (FMAG), which is more variant, adds Thieves, and limited to 10th-Level (12 for M-U), but it’s very compact, a good pick-up game system; while apparently some people have run long games with FMAG, you’d do better with Core/Complete/Revised.

Swords & Wizardry Complete in 2010, was a major upgrade. Where I don’t mention, it was the same as Core, but often expanded and rewritten for clarity. Boxes sometimes explain the rationale for rules, which at least helps you write house rules to change them!

  • Stats: Adds more of the Greyhawk tables, increasing power of STR but doesn’t add the 18/d100 mechanic so that’s… overpowered but not the worst. INT removes the M-U bonus spell, and adds a bunch of stupid spell choice mechanics. I hate the INT table, so much. I give M-U Detect Magic, Read Magic, 2 spells of choice, +1 spell for INT 15+. Done. Never make spell gain rolls. WTF Gary Gygax, let’s not perpetuate this.

  • Classes: All the classes of the OD&D supplements, Ranger (stupidly overpowered) from The Strategic Review/Dragon, but not Bard, Illusionist, or Barbarian. Stat minumums for the “better” classes are an optional rule, but listed. Non-Humans are standard classes or multiclass, and Half-Elves are added. “Halflings” are still garbage. Multi-classing is explained clearly, tho not necessarily the way I like. But it’s A system.

    The Cleric spells/day table changed, more like OD&D, but I think this is a design error. In Core, 5th is 2/2/1, 6th is 2/2/1/1, Complete jumps from 5th is 2/2 to 6th is 2/2/1/1; inexplicably gives 2 spell levels at once.

  • Alignment: Defined as a juvenile, He-Man, Law-good, Chaos-bad thing. I reject this, I’m more Moorcockian where everyone is bad except maybe Balance (and, you know, not everyone likes my Captain Planet “replace Humans with trees” definition of good).

  • Combat: Has an alternate version of the OD&D saving throws, tho they’re not integrated into the rules. If you do want to use these, understand that the deadliest, most environmental things are easiest to save against, mere inconveniences are harder, directed effects are hardest. You can read hardest to easiest if you’re a bastard DM, easiest to hardest if you’re tolerant.

    There remain no rules for falling, disease, and minimal for fire and poison. Starting fires is listed under Lamp Oil (which is ridiculous, lamp oil is not napalm or Greek Fire). The use of poisons is barely touched on in Assassins, but not their effects.

    Surprise is completely rewritten and expanded, and includes a hard-to-read monster reaction roll.

    Initiative rewrites the Core mechanic, and then presents two alternate systems: Holmes-like DEX rank (which is what I use), and Eldritch Wizardry activity points. All 3 systems are still using a 1-minute round which isn’t clear in OD&D, contrary to Holmes and B/X which are 10-second, I use the 10-second round (and 100-second combat turn) from Holmes.

    Turning undead uses almost the same table (slightly harder at Level 9+), but changes from d20 to 2d10, and turns only 2d6 Undead (no Demons), so now high-powered Undead are up to 10x harder to turn.

  • High-Level Adventuring: Followers, strongholds. Research is moved to Magic, rest is moved to Referee.

  • Magic: Same spell list, with minor changes.

  • Referee: All-new dungeon examples, an evocative side-view cross-section, a much better detailed dungeon, and a sketchy part of Rappan Athuk with no key, but good design. Better dungeon encounter tables (from 6 to 10 options) and adds a very good, detailed wilderness encounter system. Mass warfare, siege warfare, aerial combat, ship combat are all fleshed out and quite usable; tho in practice I’ve always used the GAZ4 Kingdom of Ierendi larger-scale naval system.

  • Monsters: Adds many classic monsters:

    • Bulette (ludicrously lists Tim Kask’s pr. “boo-LAY”, when French pr. would be “bu-let”)
    • Crocodiles
    • Demons (13, from Manes to Orcus)
    • Clay Golem
    • Leech (which drain a life level like undead!)
    • Naga
    • Rakshasa
    • Fish, Octopus, Squid, Sea Monsters (adds a 30 HD variant! Screw you! Never get on a boat! Never go in the water!)
    • Shambling Mound
    • Shrieker, Lurker, Piercer, Slithering Tracker, Trapper (screw you to dungeoneers)
    • Yeti
  • Treasure: A few more items, swords are now intelligent more often, but there’s no real mechanics for this. Adds cursed scrolls.

I’ve run S&W Complete for 11 years, I use the nice blue-cover kickstarter edition (look under “Troll Slayer” in the back), it’s a very solid OD&D-that-doesn’t-suck. I don’t use everything, but it’s nice to have the options. It’s easy to extend into a “modern” (2nd-gen or later) RPG, adding professions & skills, more character background options, situational rules, and there’s not many interacting parts to stop you. Very importantly, saving throws are basically D20’s “DC 15” skill roll. Just add a stat or skill modifier, and Level bonus is built in.

See under “Previously Swords & Wizardry” my notebook of Olde House Rules for Complete. I’m currently hacking up all my character & referee notes for a new version. If you like opinionated house rules, you’ll like that when I’m done.

Swords & Wizardry Complete Revised has just completed its kickstarter. It’s the same size book, 144 pages, but more usable pages: 140 vs 125 in Complete. This is because there’s No Fucking Index. Complete’s 2-page index wasn’t the most useful thing ever, everything’s listed in contents and reasonably organized, but occasionally I have to search in PDF instead of checking the index. SIGH, why, Matt? No kickstarter credits in new book, either.

Many places in the book now go from 2-column to 3-column layout, which can be helpful or too tight. It’s fine for spells & monsters which have a lot of data fields, less great for species.

  • Character Sheet: New sheet is a fillable form, many more boxes, but less aesthetic than the old one. In any case, I just use James V West’s character sheets, many of which have single-save boxes. I will note, the new one lists AC from 0 to 9, instead of 9[10] to 0[19] order & labelling. I really dislike that.

  • Stats: Same as Complete. CHA does get a new use for follower morale.

  • Class: Cleric spell table remains in design error. Fighters now have a standard 15 save, BUT get a +1 bonus against all except spells, which is a little better balanced, more OD&D. Monks no longer have stat minimums, BUT most of their powers require higher stats, so an average-Joe Monk would have only minimal skills. There’s no stat minimum for Paladin, except when a Fighter takes vows they need CHA 17, inconsistent.

    Thieves remain up to 10d4 HD (while Assassins are up to 13d6!), but have a +2% chance to Climb Walls, Dwarf Thieves get a +15 on Traps, no +10 bonus on Pick Locks, finally this travesty is corrected! Must-buy for this change! :) Seriously, all the classes are pretty close.

    There’s an argument here “Why Would I Play a Fighter?” that Rangers & Paladins are not Fighters, so don’t get Fighter STR bonuses, etc. I’d rather that it just went back to stat minumums, so you can’t be one of these advanced classes unless you roll well. Especially this makes no sense for Paladins, who are JUST Fighters who’ve taken holy vows; why would they suddenly lose their fighting skills?

    The non-Human species (now “Character Ancestry”) are the same; this is a little disappointing since there was room to improve the class/levels permitted from long dialogues to clearer lists:

    Dwarven player characters must be Fighters or Fighter-Thieves. Multi-classed Fight- er-Thieves are limited to 6th level as Fight- ers, and may not advance beyond this point. (For more information on multi-classed char- acters, see below.) A Dwarf who is purely a Fighter may advance beyond 6th level only if the warrior has Strength of 17 (maximum 7th level) or 18 (maximum 8th level). Such a Fighter may also take advantage of any XP bonus due to a high Strength score to gain experience more quickly.

    Could be cleaned up to:

    • Fighter (max Level 6th, 7th if STR 17, 8th if STR 18), Prime requisite bonus applies.
    • Fighter/Thief (max Level 6th/unlimited)
  • Movement: Encumbrance & movement has been changed, and now combat speed is faster, 60-120′ per 1-minute round (Core was 3-12′, Complete was 10-40′!), walking & running out-of-combat are still per 10-minute turn. Combat speed is now nearly plausible if you use a 10-second round, Usain Bolt did 100m in 10 seconds, so 1/3 rate for equipped normals is fine. The per-turn speeds are still nonsense, even with mapping it should be 10x or more. There’s a collected movement chart here that is much clearer.

  • Combat: Morale rules have been added, and a morale stat to every monster. Now, here’s the thing: It copies B/X (Basic/Expert, 1981) in using roll 2d6 under morale to save. OD&D almost always had roll high good, and Chainmail’s morale system was roll 2d6 high over a number determined by troop type. I would have greatly preferred a standard d20 save with morale modifier per monster, or some such. But the presence of any morale rule and stat is helpful.

    There’s arguments, most recently on Wandering DMs, about the use of morale, but I think it’s an essential tool, both as wargame simulation, where people in battle do sometimes just crap their pants and “Run away! Run away!”; and narratively as a way to avoid mass-murdering everyone you ever meet and fight.

    There remain no rules for falling, disease, and minimal for fire and poison.

    Healing has been reduced back to OD&D rate of 1 HP per 2 days, 4 weeks heals all. Death is at –1 HP, with an optional rule for survival to negative Level. Whoof. Since I don’t use Clerics, that’s not really practical.

  • Magic: Magic item creation is detailed, including the very popular rule from Holmes that Magic-Users and Clerics can write their own scrolls at 100 GP per Level, which makes a massive improvement to their quality of life. All new layout and a spell index, which since they’re in alphabetical order I didn’t really need. The page numbers could’ve been on the spell list instead!

  • Referee: Alas, the side-view dungeon & Rappan Athuk maps are gone, the dungeon from Complete is kept in 1-page dungeon form. Which is convenient for design, but less in depth for training new Referees.

    A new system for generating random castles, inspired by OD&D Book 3, is very welcome. And there are stats for generic high-Level NPCs, with sometimes magical equipment, spell lists, etc.

    A Referee Session Log (“control sheet” as I call them) is added, with fillable form fields, which may be very helpful to new Referees. There’s no explanation of its use, but at least they can see how to organize information for a game. There’s no time tracker on this one, I use a 6×24 chunk of graph paper in Turns for mine.

  • Monsters: Each monster now has Morale, Number Encountered, % in Lair (but I prefer % is Liar from OD&D and Arduin), and a full stat line you can copy-paste out:

    Bugbear: HD 3+1; AC 5[14]; Atk bite (2d4) or weapon (1d8+1); Move 9; Save 14; Morale 9; AL C; CL/XP 4/120; Special: surprise opponents (1–3 on d6).

    New monsters:

    • Dinosaurs: Ankylosaurus, Brontosaurus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex. They’ve always been 20% of the Clear encounters (Oof!), but weren’t defined in previous editions.
    • Horse finally gets full stats.
    • Mammoth
    • Night Hag
    • Nightmare
    • Otyugh

    Designing monsters, there’s new CL modifiers, EP values for CL 8+ have increased a bit, and the table goes up to 21+ now, more fairly rewarding very powerful monsters.

  • Treasure: System has been totally redesigned. You now roll on GP value tables, which give more specific coin & gem results, and many more of them have chances for magic items. At 4001-7000 GPV, you now have a 1/6 chance to get a major item, 1/6 to get a medium item, 2/6 to get a minor item. I’m not really gonna complain it’s too rich now, but it’s a big jump from 5%.

    Intelligent weapons are at the same rate as Complete, but now there’s actually rules for ego contests.

    Items seem to be the same.

Book abruptly ends. So, the current license situation is there’s no license (“all rights reserved”). There will be a Mythmere license very like the old OGL, or ORC with an SRD, or something, in the very near future, as a downloadable thing.


So this has been a long haul over a few days comparing PDFs until my eyes bleed out. I can’t speak to the print book condition until I get it; my old blue book is in perfect (well, Very Good) condition after a decade of hard use, but printers are random.

There’s several other retro-clones of OD&D, in particular Fantastic Medieval Campaigns which is VERY precise at copying warts and all of the original books, with minimal spackle over the rough spots. There’s a lot, a kaiju-sized shitload, of B/X clones, which have a goofier, overpowered style, poorly adapted to swords & sorcery; I have played some Basic Fantasy lately and it was fine, very candy-coated Saturday morning D&D cartoon tone, but not a replacement.

Swords & Wizardry is much more eclectic and opinionated. It’s also much more playable, more hackable, and more easily used as a “modern” RPG (I always air-quote that, but RPG design has moved on from Dave Arneson’s game that Gary Gygax published & ripped off). There’s still a lot of weird little gaps.

★★★★½ — S&W is a really great “dnd”-like to run, and Complete Revised is the best of these. I really dislike not having an index. I still need a booklet of house rules to play.

Covers: One last thing, the cover art over the editions is… not the best progression. I think the Core rules cover was the most D&D-like, an homage to the AD&D cover but grimmer. The Erol Otus blue book cover was fun, the electric demon and portal are eerie. The old city is meh, you can barely see the adventurers. The flying polyp thing is hideous. Giants are amateur. FMAG has gone thru many variants, they all look like (often are) clip art with airbrushing. The new edition comes in a green embossed cover, classy but boring, or a POD cover with maybe the most hideous art I’ve ever seen; only the teeny preview is available, and that’s a blessing like Langford’s Parrot basilisk.

Social Media Deathwatch II

Not content with seeing Elmo destroy Twitter, Reddit’s management have one-upped them, and killed Apollo, the good mobile app (there was Alien Blue, but Reddit bought it and screwed it up; it’s trash now).

Many subreddits were going to protest by going dark on June 12-14, some ongoing, but now while that’s probably still happening, it’s irrelevant.

When a site tells you they don’t want you using it, except by their captured clients, you should stop using it. All they want is to control you and put ads in your eyeballs, until you explode.

That happened for me years ago with Twitter. It happened before that with MySpace; I know it sounds like a joke now, but if you liked music and web design, MySpace was a fantastic place to meet people. And before that, there was LiveJournal; now owned by Russian criminals. Reddit came out of Digg being fed into a woodchipper just because Kevin Rose wanted a little bit of money. I dunno what keeps a billion people trapped in Facebook, but they’ve never had open clients, those people like being property.

Don’t use closed networks owned by someone else.

Use fediverse and IRC, and be prepared to jump servers if you don’t like hosting your instances. There’s a Reddit/Digg-like Lemmy built on ActivityPub, so you can subscribe to things from Mastodon, etc.; I’ve started reading that and will probably start posting to it some. There’s dozens of fedi/mastodon/pixelfed clients; hopefully someone makes one as nice as Apollo for Lemmy.

Update: is overloaded, there’s instructions on how to pick other instances and join groups. It’s happening!

What I’m Watching: Wednesday

I dunno why I only watched E01 when it came out, catching up now. And mostly it’s fine. Sometimes excellent, but suffers from Netflix Wants Eight Episodes Syndrome, where it could be a good 90-120 minute movie instead.

It’s very very blatantly Harry Potterage. The spooky old castle school Nevermore, with secret passages, four cliques (Fangs, Claws, Scales, and Stoners, but also shapeshifters & psychics like Weds). The “Normie” (ruder but less obscure than Muggle) town where they sneak off for forbidden beverages (coffee instead of butterbeer), tho you rarely see them drink. There’s places it’s shot-for-shot ripping off Chris Columbus, but to be fair Columbus ripped off Tim Burton.

Like HP, you never see the supposed students in class, except rarely in Herbology, er, “Care of Carnivorous Plants”. Which is Morticia’s thing, it’s odd to see it as a whole course here.

Composer Danny Elfman & producer Tim Burton are somewhat more restrained than usual, it’s gothy but not goofy like his later stuff. I’m disappointed and surprised the episode in a circus (inexplicably present decades after touring circuses ended) didn’t get all surreal and have chases thru halls of mirrors and dark rides while camera tricks simulate hallucination! THIS IS YOUR MOMENT, and you just miss it entirely.

Writing & direction are all over the place. Some eps are gothic mystery, very Poe-like. Some have gruesome action scenes, very nice. Others are wacky school hijinks like discovering the secret clubhouse. The psychiatrist visits are ’60s sitcom trash, with a few wisecracks by Wednesday. In the last 4 eps, repeatedly: Wednesday barges into a room, makes accusations or demands, they turn out to be false or stupid, proven in the next scene or so. Sometimes she’s assaulted with no fighting back. I expect more caution, forethought, and actual violence (not just threats) from an Addams.

Wednesday (Jenna Ortega) is 20 playing 16, and she’s fine at it, very cute. Fits her ancestry by way of Gomez. She’s maybe a little too stiff, classic Weds was sweet like arsenic, not bitter like cyanide. But awkward teenage serial killer years. Gotta love ’em.

Thing is fantastic. He’s clearly the best actor on the show, and the real hero. They give good long closeups of his scars and stitches. He’s never looked so alive. Just perfect.

I’m shocked to see myself write this, but Fred Armison as Uncle Fester was actually good. I loathe Fred, he’s a black hole where humor goes to be sucked out of the Universe, he’s grating, whiny, and hideously ugly in a way only a truly rotten Human monster could ever be… And the Fester makeup and writing, and his delivery, were… Not Jackie Coogan good, but acceptable. How. What dark rituals were enacted to make Fred act, for once in his fucking miserable object lesson of a life‽

Some actor casting…

Would-be boyfriend Tyler (Hunter Doohan) is 28 playing, uh, 30? He’s creepy in the way Matthew Lillard was in Scream, and this (and his ability to never be useful in an emergency) is why I pegged him early as the monster.

Enid & Xavier (ludicrously pronounced “Eks-ave-ee-er” rather than “havv-iyeh” or “szav-iyeh” like cultured people do) are played by young-looking 21-ish kids, but many other “students” are in late-20s and it shows.

Luis Guzman is adequate at the romance with Morticia, clearly dotes on Weds, but he’s ugly, unsuave, physically unfit to be sword-duelling Gomez Addams, and is 20 years older than Catherine Zeta-Jones even tho supposedly they were students together. John Astin & Raul Julia were the ideal any Gomez should aspire to. There’s a million Mexican telenovela actors who could do this role better.

★★★½☆ So uneven I don’t respect it, but I watched and so should you.