Saturday, August 29, 2009


I had a funny realization the other day.

When it comes to RPGs, I can't think of a single instance of any of the games I'm interested in being run with the original system.

For D&D-style fantasy, I use either Castles & Crusades or Fantasycraft (jury's still out on the latter--I broke down and bought the PDF and it looks awesome on preliminary skim-through, but I have yet to sit down and sink my teeth into it). But either way, I'm looking at some pretty serious modding involved any time I want to run D&D.

For Call of Cthulhu, I've recently decided on running games with Trail of Cthulhu, meaning my extensive collection of CoC material will have to be converted as I use it.

For Rifts, I'm using BRP of course. And, ironically, this includes Call of Cthulhu! Meaning the copy of CoC 6th Edition on my shelf is there for Rifts games...

It's kind of funny, especially when I think about the fact that for years I was a fairly pedantic gamer. I never really understood when people talked about "house rules" or making sweeping changes to published campaign settings. I think at any given time, I probably had one, maybe two, house rules in effect at most, and used settings pretty much as written.

I was never a rules lawyer or the type to say "you can't do that because it says so right here" and I flirted with talking about rules being "broken" but never really bought into that line of thinking. And now here I am, bashing rules and campaigns together like it's going out of style. I'm not entirely sure how that happened.

Partly it's having gotten plugged in to gaming blogs, for sure. There's such a fecund creative pool, it couldn't help but inspire me. I think another key element was my retrenchment into simpler systems, away from games like D&D 3.5 and GURPS and towards stuff like C&C and BRP. When you have a simpler foundation, it makes for a much easier jumping-off point.

(Oh, and I remembered there is one game that I play regularly that I use more or less as intended--Pendragon. It's just a perfect example of system facilitating game play. Of course, I still have a couple houserules for that as well...)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Fantasy Craft, eh?

Since I've got classic D&D on the brain again, that naturally means the floodgates of my gamer ADHD have once again opened, which of course means I now find myself looking at new and shiny rules.

I paged through Pathfinder at one of my local gamestores yesterday. Really, really not my speed, but you know what? I wish 'em the best. It's a gorgeous book and if was a 3.5-head (or prone to liking illustrations of fighters with daiklaves ::shudder::) I'd be on it like white on rice.

Being on the DriveThruRPG mailing list, I was clued in to another d20-derived rulebook that actually has piqued my interest: Fantasy Craft. From the folks who brought you Spy Craft. I see a theme in their naming conventions unfolding here.

At any rate, it's only available in PDF right now, I believe, but I'm seriously considering downloading the beast and taking a looksee. If it bridges the gap between rules-light retro-clones, Castles & Crusades, and True20, then I may have found my system du jour.

The reviews on DTRPG look promising:

My favorite part of the book is chapter 6: Foes. It allows you to build any type of npc that you can dream up. The OGL conversion section makes me glad that I never threw out my 3.x monster manuals.

I like this quite a bit as it would let me adapt material from the various and sundry d20 products that I use (Blue Rose, the 3.5 Wilderlands supplements, C&C stuff) under one umbrella.

The Skill System: FantasyCraft's skill system, while still very familiar to the D20 formula, is a staple within the engine. Not a small sidenote to accent your character's Damage-per-round like in other systems, but an actual fleshed out system to handle everything (and probably thensome) of what a character would want to do....RPG friendly. That may venture the question, "How can an RPG book be RPG unfriendly?" Well... just look at other systems. It treats RPGing as second nature, and merely a small diversion to hacking and slashing. In FantasyCraft, your skills and your imagination can lead the way. Not everything is about Damage....

This addresses one of my main disappointments with the True20 system: it streamlines d20, but doesn't really take the emphasis off the combat mechanics.

The NPC creation system. Remember spending hours upon hours trying to drudge up and balance NPCs in other systems? The mind-numbing death spiral of time spent that went into creating 'bosses' for your group to fight? Not any more! FantasyCraft's NPC system is, perhaps, the most fluid, easy to use system I've ever seen. The NPC design scales (almost effortlessly) to fit the party. ..and it's actually FUN (again..) to create NPCs!

Oh man, if this is true then it is HUGE by my lights.

The NPC creation system allows an adventure to be scaled quickly and easily to any character Level. And the Reputation system helps GMs control the 'magic item lottery' that focuses too many fantasy games on all the magic 'bling' the characters can accumulate, and not on their innate skills.

Finally, the system actively encourages tweaking, through the use of campaign qualities. Want a historical game and no magic? Easily do-able. Want characters to have more/less feats, skill points, critical hits? All easily done.

I love the scaling idea too. It would allow me to use a bunch of higher-level adventure material at lower levels, since my campaigns rarely reach high levels.

Despite all these promising qualities, I'm still not totally sold. I'd love to see an in-depth review or two. More cogitation is required.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What Is It About Classic D&D?

Way back when, around the time my friends and I graduated high school, we experienced our first "D&D burnout". We swore off that hoary old system, repudiated its genre conventions, and looked towards the brighter lights of other systems. The less like D&D they were, the better. Alex, our group's other regular GM aside from myself, even went so far as to vow to not run so much as a single session of D&D for a year and a day.

That vow lasted something closer to a week and a day.

Despite our genuine frustrations with the state of the game at the time (this being during the dark years of post-Players Option, "2.5e" AD&D) and the various trappings of classic Dungeons & Dragons, we couldn't stay away from it for long.

I'm finding that that holds true to this day. Gaming-wise, I'm immensely enjoying the two campaigns I'm currently involved in--playing in a solo Pendragon campaign, running a Blue Rose group game--and on the thought-exercise level of things, my mind is occupied by non-D&D matters: planning a future Call of Cthulhu campaign, mulling over my Dragon Warriors/Magnamund conversion and Rifts:2112 project. Yet I find myself irresistibly drawn back to thoughts of pure-strain D&D.

Yesterday is when I realized that this has developed into a real problem; I made my computer desktop wallpaper Larry Elmore's "Waiting for Shademehr". I'm not a huge fan of the chainmail bikini, but what can I say? It works in this picture. When Des saw what I'd done, she sort of chuckled and sighed at the same time.

I like this picture for two reasons (well, three, but I already addressed the first). First, like most of Elmore's classic pictures, he really captured an arresting characterization in the faces of his subjects and the little details of their ensembles. Secondly, and specific to this picture, is that my eye is drawn (after the side-cleavage) to the grand vista sweeping out beyond the characters. It's like they're standing there, beckoning into the picture to join them in their adventures in the great, unmapped Wilderlands beyond.

I suppose the whole picture just sums up D&D's appeal for me; my question is, why this particular genre stew and not others? Perhaps that is an answer we are not meant to know. Just roll the damn dice, as they say.

If you came across this post by chance and would like to learn more about Classic D&D, check out Dragonsfoot and its forums or head over to this link for a whole passel of awesome articles and ideas cranked out by the Old School Rules community!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

King of RPGs

About 10 years ago I bought the first issue of a comic book series adaptation of Lovecraft's Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Being a rather sporadic purchaser of comics under the best of circumstances, I failed to follow up with further purchases of the series as new issues came out.

Yesterday, in thinking about the Dreamlands (as one does), I decided to Google around and see if the series was still available or anthologized or whatever. In the course of my e-snooping, I discovered that the guy behind the Kadath comics, Jason Thompson, has a new project under way.

In a sign of the sea change that has occurred in the world of comics in the last decade, Thompson's new project is a manga series. So it goes. What especially caught my eye, however, was the title: King of RPGs.

Naturally, I immediately assumed the "RPGs" in the title referred to what oldsters like me would call CRPGs, but no! Check out Ye Olde Promotionalle Blurbe:

The stirring shonen manga drama of one man's quest to become the Greatest Game Master in the World. A graphic novel series by Jason Thompson and Victor Hao, coming January 19, 2010 from Del Rey Manga.

The preview art features polyhedrals, gaming manuals, and graph paper galore.

Now, I'm not exactly a manga expert, but years of working in book stores and libraries has familiarized me with various titles, genres, and sub-genres, and what's especially interesting is that this would seem to belong to a particular sub-genre of manga traditionally aimed at teenage audiences. Titles in this sub-genre include series like Prince of Tennis and Kitchen Princess, and are distinguished by plot arcs following a central character trying to become "the best around."

There's been a lot of talk on gaming blogs lately about the best way to get younger people into traditional RPGs. This would certainly seem to be one potentially productive avenue. Anyone who's been in a Borders or other major bookstore in the last few years has no doubt seen the Manga section crammed full of young adults silently absorbed in one of the dozens of different titles available. For one of these kids who have maybe heard about RPGs but are not too sure about how they work, I can't think of a better way of reaching them.

Now we just need that long-elusive, affordable gateway product that so many of us came into the hobby with back in the day...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Great Dragon Warriors Resource

After a long time in development by a dedicated fan community, the Dragon Warriors Wiki is now live and publicly-accessible. I've found it already to be a useful resource, especially in light of the fact that most DW websites predate the release of the Mongoose edition.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Dispatches from the Dork Side

Today Des and I went over to a friend's house for a Hawk the Slayer screening. At his house I spotted this poster:

He says he found it in a Mormon gift shop, of all places. I must possess one of my own. Is it just me, or could that be THE poster for the Old School Renaissance?

We also played a few games of Chez Geek, a first for me. I'm proud to say that I won my very first game in about three turns with a cagey combination of Playing RPGs and RPG Nookie.

As for the movie, having only seen the "best clips in three minutes" video on YouTube, I was surprised by how much I legitimately enjoyed it. I mean, don't get me wrong--the movie is firmly in the "so bad its good" category, with wooden acting (especially from the hilariously robotic Elf), bizarre dialogue ("I am no messenger, but I will give you a message...a message...of death!) and truly atrocious special effects (super bouncy balls and silly string feature prominently). But the set dressing and costuming was actually fairly decent in a Ren Faire sort of way, and the whole movie evoked the sort of Dragon Warriors-ish fantastic realism that I find so appealing in 80s fantasy. Definitely a recommended viewing experience.

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