Sunday, December 29, 2013

[Solo GPC] 541: Weddings, Tournaments, and Feasts

Cracking on into the next year of the Tournament Period, then. Of note: listening to the session recording, there were no less than five incidents where Des missed a roll by one. We even joked that the name of this session should be "Missed By One!"

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The "I Am Your Father!" Moment


Yesterday, the wife and I rounded out our Christmas Day festivities with a screening of The Empire Strikes Back. As we watched the movie's climax play out, Des pondered how many RPG campaigns have seen a similarly shocking, revelatory moment.

I observed that there have probably been plenty of campaigns that have tried to force such a moment, but that sort of thing almost always ends badly. You just can't make an RPG match the same sort of careful pacing of a movie or book. Yet, the "shocking reveal" remains a great narrative device when a writer can pull it off successfully, and so too does it for RPG campaigns. It's just that, for the latter, those situations have to emerge through play organically to have any chance of success.

I'm hard-pressed to think of any of my own campaigns that have seen such an organic development. There have been plenty of smaller surprises, twists, and turns, sure, but none on the level of finding out one of the PCs is related to the main bad guy, say. John Wick wrote a lot about integrating such mega-twists into campaigns in his old "Play Dirty" column for Pyramid magazine, and there are increasingly more and more systems out there that provide some sort of mechanic for such a turn to come out at an opportune moment.

Thinking about our little conversation today, I thought I'd poll my readership: how many of you have had a campaign turn on a shocking revelation that emerged through play? Was it instigated by a player or by the GM? Was it wholly done through role-playing, or was there a mechanical component? Discuss!

Friday, December 13, 2013

[Solo GPC] 540: A Caged Lion

[It's been a while! If you want to go back and refresh your memory of where we left off, or are new to the saga, all the previous entries in this series can be found here.]

This year marked the beginning of a new period, the Tournament Period. Quoth the Great Pendragon Campaign:
The realm is peaceful, the bandit kings have been suppressed, and the faeries are imposing themselves (but as often for good as for ill). The lords of the realm are content to indulge in sponsoring more tournaments and building larger castles. There seems to be little worry of war.
On the other hand, some gossips talk more than they ought about that which is not their business. Some idealists are happy to find imperfections in the realm, which is not hard to do. Sometimes discontent is widespread, as is mistrust or suspicion...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pendragon Actual Play and Other Miscellania

I was pleased to see this humble blog included on the Dyvers Great Blog Roll Call, and without any cash changing hands, no less! Seriously, though, what an honor to be included among so many great blogs, many of which I was unfamiliar with. I'll be updating my reading list this week, no doubt about that.

This blog's entry noted that it's been dark since November 18, so I figured I should get off my butt and actually try and maintain my Herculean posting rate of approximately 2.5 entries a month and get some content up for December.

Ah, but how's this for weaselly entry? A link to another one of my blogs! If you're not a regular fan of my actual play feed, I take no offense, but I know a lot of the readership here are fans of my Pendragon write-ups and might like to hear me running a game for a proper group. I've had a couple players unfamiliar with KAP request that I run a demo of the system, and that is just what I'm currently doing. Character creation for three-quarters of the participants and the first year's scenario were run tonight, and the results can be found here.

I'm planning on just running two game years - enough to give the group a sampling of how the mechanics of the game work, and a glimpse of the glories that can be attained via longer-form campaigning in the mode of the Great Pendragon Campaign. I hope very much to run that weighty tome for my Sunday group at some point; an actual play recording of the whole thing will certainly accompany the venture.

And don't fret, you fans of the Solo GPC write-ups: new posts are resuming this week, and I've written enough of a backlog to hopefully keep the posts going on a weekly basis until we're done.




Monday, November 18, 2013

Delving Into Dungeons


If you've been reading this blog over the last year or so, you've been along with me on the ride towards focusing my attentions on mastering a small set of systems. Since deciding that single-system mastery was not for me, I've been working towards assembling a triad of systems, each one meant to scratch a different itch of (very loosely defined) simulationism, gamism, and narrativism.

My simulationist system of choice is Basic Roleplaying; my gamist system of choice is Savage Worlds. I've been running most of my games since 2012 in either of those two systems and each time I do, I feel increasingly sure that I made the right choices in those regards, and feel less and less inclined to run new or unfamiliar systems. I've had a tough time picking the right system to fill that third slot, though.

For a while, I was pretty sure that system was going to be FATE, but that's seeming less and less likely now. Count me as one of those people who just aren't terribly engaged by the system - there's nothing there that really reaches out and grabs me and slaps me across the face until I run a game with it.

Furthermore, there's been a sort of competing agenda for that third system slot outside the GNS triad. Instead, there's been the idea of choosing a dedicated fantasy RPG system as a sort of "my D&D." To that end, I took Pathfinder for an extended test drive, and I've seriously considered B/X D&D. I'll probably buy the Fifth Edition D&D core books when they come out next year, let's be honest. But, again, none of those systems were really capturing my imagination or long-term interest. I've definitely been feeling the itch to get more D&D-style gaming back into my life, though.

A few months back, I picked up a copy of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG with some spare trade credit I had with Noble Knight. I gave the system a pass back when it came out in 2010. At that point, I was coming to the end of my initial arc of interest in all things OSR, the DCC RPG just seemed like another in an endless line of retro-clones, and I was feeling completely disinterested in yet another D&D knockoff.

It's a pity, really, that I rushed to judgment, because the DCC RPG was one of the first of that second generation of clones, the ones that weren't merely retreads but spoke with a distinctive voice of their own. Reading through the rulebook now, I was immediately taken in by the game's charms and resolved to run something as soon as I could.

Using the excellent "Anomalous Subsurface Environment" sandbox/megadungeon, I did just that, also integrating the LotFP "Tower of the Stargazer" adventure for the infamous character funnel portion of the campaign. The DCC RPG did not disappoint: it dripped with pulpy flavor, and its mechanics were simple enough that integrating material written for other clones, often on the fly, was a snap. (I also adapted some monsters from Raphael Chandler's Teratic Tome.) Check out this list of character deaths amassed over just four sessions of play(!):

Mindus (13 XP; 1st-level Dwarf) – Killed by a Farrago
Cutter Timberbone (12 XP; 1st-level Warrior) – Killed by a Farrago
Kevin Costermonger (9 XP; Costermonger) – Killed by Canus, Lord of the Hounds
Iminix (Gnome Vagrant) – Killed by chess ghost.
Chongrilar (Dwarven Herder) – Blown up.
Manotaur (Con Artist) – Blown up.
Anuk (Caravan Guard) – Blown up.
Kromlek (Gnome Sailor) – Knocked down stairs by gout of blood.
Marquanos (Wizard Apprentice) – Blown up.
Aram (Weaver)- Killed by chess ghost.
Glendale (Healer) – Blown up.
Argosa (Jeweler) – Strangled by animated corpse intestines.
Chemnis (Elven Forester) – Sucked through telescope, transported to far-distant world, consumed by mossmen.
Mo’care (Corn Farmer) – Brained by a Halfling supremacist.
Morghani (Locksmith) – Throat slashed by a Dober-Man.

Good times.

In the end, though, I let the campaign come to an end and decided to set the DCC RPG back on my shelf, because I've finally found my third system of choice. It quite nicely scratches both my indie-narrativist itch and my "FRPG" itch. Followers of my actual-play blog will probably already have an inkling that that system is Dungeon World, as I posted a recording of a one-shot I ran a few weeks ago.

DW's another case of a system I've been more or less ignoring in spite of the hype, and much like DCC RPG I'm glad I finally decided to give it a look. It works perfectly for that distilled D&D experience I've been looking for. It's also highly mod-able, and my mind is already aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention, which is to say I'm looking forward to getting a more thorough grounding in the basic game so that I can then start hacking it apart and rebuilding it.

But what's even more exciting to me is that DW is built on the so-called "Apocalypse World Engine" - the same system has fueled its eponymous post-apocalyptic adventures, teen angst, monster hunting, and more. It's not quite as much of a "generic" system as BRP or Savage Worlds, but it's close enough for my purposes.

So there we go: three more-or-less generic systems, each scratching a different gaming-experience itch, and one of which is also a "my D&D"-style system. Perfect!

Hopefully the interest and inspiration will hold and I can continue on my path towards system mastery. Considering where I was when I started out on this journey, I've come a long way and feel like it's really helped me focus on and highlight what I enjoy about gaming and what I want out of my gaming experiences.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

[Rifts:2112] Fresh Brain Droppings

With the release of BRP Mecha, I've found my thoughts increasingly returning to my Rifts:2112 project. Statting up mechs and power armor was one of the stumbling blocks in my ongoing mechanical conversion process, and BRP Mecha has excellent guidelines in that regard, obviously. (Although I'll only be using some parts of the book's systems, as its focus is more on running anime mecha campaigns in the vein of Robotech or Voltron.) As before, mechanical conversions spark thoughts on setting development, and I figured it was time to fire up a post and throw out some of the latest ideas and see which ones stick.

One thing I've noticed in the course of following along as other people develop a published setting into their own personal vision (as with Scott Driver's gone-but-not-forgotten Wilderlands OD&D project), is that, after a certain point, the developing setting comes loose from its original moorings and increasingly the personal vision shares less and less in common with the original example. I feel like I may just be getting to that point now.

For example, my initial plan was relatively modest in its re-imaginings, only implementing minor changes to bring the world of Rifts a bit more in line with a "realistic" sensibility that I favored. More and more, though, I've changed and modified things to the point where I'm thinking about making some pretty broad-brush alterations.

For example, I'm seriously considering dialing down all my creative focus into the North American region and not concerning myself much, if at all, with the rest of the world. Frankly, back in the day, I was surprised that the official line of supplements skipped over the Atlantic so early on and started detailing England, Africa, and Europe so quickly - there's so much going on in North America, even in the original core book, that the line could've stayed there for a good dozen supplements or more.

Insofar as I am thinking about Europe, I'm thinking about ditching the whole "New German Republic" thing altogether and probably just cludging in Palladium's other great post-apocalyptic European setting, Mutants in Avalon. This would make the British Archipelago the focus of any sort of remnant civilization in Europe, and relegate most of the continent to monster-haunted wilderness for the mutant knights to go questing in. I'd retain the Rifts vision of Russia as another, far-distant center of civilization (sort of like, in the original Arthurian mythos, the distant "Roman Empire"), but at this point I'm thinking the only other locus of human dominance aside from the American Midwest and Mother Russia would be Japan (where all the cool mecha get to go). My vision of "purestrain" human centers of survival is getting increasingly grimmer, evidently.

But back to North America. My ideas for some of the basic foundations of the setting have been undergoing some changes there, as well. Like, across the board, I'm thinking of toning down the tech just a bit. For example, making any anthropomorphic mech taller than a suit of power armor into a major rarity; the Ulti-max (supplied by intergalactic arms dealers, as per my re-imagining of Triax) and the Glitter Boy (bestowed to selected champions by enigmatic Powers) being the only major examples known.

Because, honestly, how could I not include this?
All Coalition mechs are arachnid, in the style of the Spider Skull Walkers or the URR-1. Most other factory outfits manufacturing any kind of mechanical suit are confined to power armor. Gone are things like the UAR-1 Enforcer or the NG V7 Hunter - "generic" bipedal mecha. At least among human manufacturing capabilities. With aliens like the Kitani, all bets are off.

Because, again, how could I not include this?
It's the sort of thing that'll be decided on a case-by-case basis as I work my way through my source material, but as a general rule, it's mostly about refocusing on power armor, tanks, sky cycles, and the like.

I've had some other thoughts on the Coalition, as well. Like, what if I combined Emperor Prozek and A.R.C.H.I.E. and made the Emperor of the Coalition a giant A.I. brain? Those A.R.C.H.I.E.-bots always reminded me of Coalition Dead Boys anyway. This would allow me to play up the whole Rush in-joke, too, as I could make the Coalition's highest-rankers into a caste of tech-priests administering to the God-Emperor, S.Y.R.I.N.X. (Synthetic-Yield Research Intelligence [Neuronet-X] - thanks for acronym, +Zak Smith!).

Oh, and speaking of Dead Boys - a comment from way back in 2010 on my initial Coalition post got me thinking about re-imagining the look of the Coalition's military elite. The skull-face armor has always been a bit of a giveaway as to who the baddies are; but the Helghast from Killzone II retain a suitably "Dead Boy"-ish look without being quite as over-the-top EVIL, and nicely fitting my more "realistic" post-apocalyptic/dystopian sensibilities:


Handily, as I've had the idea to do a "Space Marine/Imperial Guard" split of the Coalition forces for some time now, Killzone II also provides suitable imagery for the Guard half of the equation in the form of their ISA infantry:


So I think a "Coalition II" post is in order, obviously. Another post I want to write is on Lone Star. I'll save the details for that post, but I'm envisioning a slight re-arranging of the geopolitics of the southern end of the Coalition States and an opportunity to talk about how I hope to incorporate yet another book from the After the Bomb series, Road Hogs.

Lastly, I've been giving some thought to doing a post on the Coalition's enemies - I haven't written much, if at all, on Lazlo, the Federation of Magic (such as it is in my setting), or Tolkeen. The former two will probably be encompassed in a single post, as I view them as opposite sides of the same coin - the "good" magic-based society, and the "bad" one.

Tolkeen, though, deserves a post of its own. I understand and accept that, from the beginning, Tolkeen existed to be the country that's there for the Coalition to invade and conquer. Keeping in mind that I never read the Coalition War Campaign books (and don't intend to), Tolkeen always came off a bit bland, like a "Lazlo West" if you will. For a country called Tolkeen, centered (in my re-imagined setting) on a rift in Gary Gygax's basement, we can do better.

As I'm most likely ditching the New German Republic, I see Tolkeen as being a worthy recipient of the D&D-fantasy/alchemy/steampunk mashup vibe I'd originally placed there. In fact, I could do a lot worse than by adding to what I've already got by mercilessly looting the Iron Kingdoms setting, taking the best parts, filing off the serial numbers, and calling it Tolkeen. I'll give it some more thought, but I like the direction that it's headed . . .




Rifts®, The Rifter®, RECON®, Splicers®, Palladium Books®, Phase World®, The Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game®, Megaverse®, Nightbane®, The Mechanoids®, The Mechanoid Invasion®, Coalition Wars® and After the Bomb® are Registered Trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. Heroes Unlimited, Beyond the Supernatural, and other published book titles, names, slogans and likenesses are trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. and Kevin Siembieda.

All art is copyright its respective artist.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Unabashed Gaming


After a three-episode soft launch, I'd like to formally announce that I've started a gaming podcast with one of the folks from my gaming group. It's the podcast Zak Smith calls "the least annoying RPG podcast I've heard in ages. Maybe ever."

The name of our podcast is Unabashed Gaming, and so far we've covered topics such as: techniques for running horror games, our thoughts on Dungeon World, RPG piledrivers, campaigns that end before their time, and sources of gaming inspiration.

We'd especially like to develop the podcast into a write-in or call-in format, where people can send us questions or issues they have relating to tabletop gaming and we can then discuss the submissions on the podcast. Sort of like a Loveline, but for RPGs. I'll leave it up to the listeners to decide which one of us is Dr. Drew and which one is Adam Corolla.

At any rate, the podcast blog is located here, or you can subscribe directly through iTunes or your subscription service of choice. I hope you check it out and enjoy what you hear!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My RPG Person Profile, October 2013

It's been kinda quiet here, and a good idea is a good idea. I'm going to copy this post into its own page and try and keep that updated as best I can.


I'm currently running (at home): I just wrapped a Deadlands: Reloaded campaign, and am planning to run "Horror on the Orient Express" starting after the holidays. In the meantime, I'll be running a variety of one-shots and getting some player time in as some of the other group members do the same.

Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (at home) include: Whatever one-shots my fellow group members choose to run over the winter. This Sunday I'll be playing in a zombie-themed game (most likely using the Zombi system, although the GM hasn't made up her mind yet).

I'm currently running (online): Dungeon Crawl Classics for my old California group.

Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (online) include: None.

I would especially like to play/run: An online game of my Rifts:2112 BRP hack, the Great Pendragon Campaign with my tabletop group, Dungeon World or any of the Apocalypse World Engine games.

...but would also try: Hellfrost, Planet Motherfucker, or Day After Ragnarok for Savage Worlds, Beyond the Wall, AD&D 1e, Palladium Fantasy or TMNT.

I live in: Santa Fe, New Mexico.

2 or 3 well-known RPG products other people made that I like: "Masks of Nyarlathotep" for Call of Cthulhu, the King Arthur Pendragon RPG, the old "Historical Reference" series for AD&D.

2 or 3 novels I like: Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Tales of the Dying Earth, The Sword of Samurai Cat

2 or 3 movies I like: Porco Rosso, Cat People, Army of Darkness

Best place to find me on-line: Right here at this blog; I'm also on Facebook quite a bit.

I will read almost anything on tabletop RPGs if it's: Chock-a-block full of enthusiasm and stealable ideas; bonus points if it's related to Pendragon or BRP.

I think dead orc babies are ( circle one: funny / problematic / ....well, ok, it's complicated because....): I like putting PCs into moral quandries; I've always wanted to try and introduce an arc where the PCs adopt an orc baby after inadvertently wiping out everyone else. But dead orc babies can indeed be problematic, especially if you get a player who takes too much pleasure in being the one to make them dead; as another person said in answering this question, it's the downside of Gygaxian naturalism. There's a strong argument to made in favor of orcs being devil-spawned monstrosities.

Games I'm in are like this.

Free RPG Content I made for Rifts is available here.

Free RPG Content I made for Pendragon is available here and here.

Free RPG Content I crowd-sourced for users of the hallowed d30 is available here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

New Pages Up

Just a quick organizational note: I've finally gotten around to setting up a couple "Pages" for my most popular series - Rifts:2112 and the Solo GPC. Now you have all the links in one place, arranged into categories and in chronological order.

Monday, October 14, 2013

[Campaign Analysis] Deadlands Reloaded: Lost in the Maze


My Deadlands campaign wrapped up yesterday. As is my wont, with the closure of another campaign it's now time to take a look at "[w]hat worked, what didn't. Expectations going in and how those expectations morphed and changed over the course of the campaign."

This has been a year for laying old ghosts to rest, it seems. Things kicked off with me finally getting a crack at running Cthulhu by Gaslight by way of The Golden Dawn, a campaign framework I'd been wanting to sink my teeth into since sometime in the mid- to late-Nineties. Around the same time as I was first ogling The Golden Dawn, I would've picked up the core rulebook for Deadlands. We're talking first edition, first print run, here. As soon as I heard about the concept behind the game, saw someone on a newsgroup (remember those?) sum it up as "a Spaghetti Western directed by Sam Raimi and scripted by H. P. Lovecraft"...how could I resist?

The only problem was that one of the people in my group at the time adamantly refused to play the game. I have no idea why; he was a big fan of Western movies, after all. Something about the game just rubbed him the wrong way, I suppose. I tried to get a game going anyway, sans the recalcitrant player, and bought the boxed set describing the shattered West Coast (referred to as "the Maze") with an eye towards locating the campaign in the vicinity of the theocracy of Lost Angels. But things stalled after one session and both the rulebook and the boxed set went into limbo on my gaming shelf and were eventually sold off during one of my periodic purges.

Flash forward circa 15 years.

Last year I resolved to give Savage Worlds a serious try as one of my go-to systems. My first two attempts fell flat, largely due to the fact that I was being too ambitious with an untested system, starting off with major setting conversions that I had no business attempting. I developed serious doubts about the system, but resolved to give it one more try. I figured that if I used a setting and adventures designed specifically for SW, I'd get an honest idea of the system in action.

For those of you who don't know, SW had its genesis in the system originally presented in Deadlands. The "classic" version of Deadlands still has its adherents, but nowadays Pinnacle Entertainment Group is focused exclusively on its flagship system and has put out a "Reloaded" version of Deadlands that brings the setting in line with Savage Worlds. I picked up the two core books for DL:R and also a PDF of one of those Plot Point Campaigns I'd heard so much about. In honor of my abortive campaign of yesteryear, I chose "The Flood".

So with that lengthy pre-amble out of the way, here's the meat of the analysis: we had an awesome campaign. Not only am I personally sold on Savage Worlds, but every player in my group has endorsed it to some degree or another - my wife going so far as to say it may well be her favorite system right now. We all particularly enjoyed the Adventure Deck, and the play of those cards often took the campaign in interesting directions, forcing me to think on my feet, which I absolutely love doing. This is a campaign that ultimately produced music mixes, commissioned artwork, extensive fictive interludes, and a 24-episode actual play recording.

And yet...

The system passed with flying colors, yes. I'm not so sure about the Plot Point Campaign format. My difficulties with "The Flood" could have arisen from the fact that I've never run a PPC before, but I've certainly tackled large campaigns for other systems, so I'm hardly a newb in that regard. Part of the problem, I think, is that the campaign lasted about twice as long as I'd initially anticipated. We blitzed through the first three Plot Points in the first two sessions and I thought we were looking at maybe 15 sessions max, but then things started getting really slowed down and drawn out by activities undertaken in between the plot points - activities that are necessary to allow the PCs to get powerful enough for the final act. And this was even with clever play allowing the party to skip over big chunks of this extracurricular activity!

The extended play isn't such a bad thing in the end, of course - it made for some wonderfully epic character arcs, with the PCs going from Novice to Heroic level - but about half the group (myself included) were definitely feeling like we were ready to move on even as far back as session 12 or so. We hadn't gone into the campaign with the mindset that this would be THE big campaign of the year and that different mindset took its toll over time.

From the GM's perspective, I also found "The Flood" to be woefully sketchy in places I really could've used more details, and then bizarrely railroady at other points, oftentimes basing an entire scenario off of one assumed course of PC action. At other times, adventures bottlenecked into a single roll, and not even one that any given group could be assured of being able to do. Here's the most egregious example:
Asking around about what happened nets nothing—in fact, the locals shy away from the subject very quickly. 
If someone asks in Chinese (any dialect) and makes a Streetwise roll at –4, they run into Willy Long Tam, who quietly whispers that the Society ran afoul of the real law in Shan Fan...
Okay. So what if no one in the group speaks Chinese? (That was certainly the case with my group.) What if they fail that steeply-penalized Streetwise roll? That's an important lead, one that the rest of the adventure evolves from. That's just sloppy adventure writing.

I was able to re-write around stuff like that, but the other thing I found vexing was the lack of maps. The campaign centers around Lost Angels, but we're given no map of the greater L.A. area, showing where important suburbs are located in relation to the city. The map we are given doesn't really match up with portions of the text. Some location maps are provided for select other sites, but they're of dubious utility, or else overdetailed where they needn't be. (And for a game that assumes the use of miniatures as the default mode of play, I found it especially strange that we weren't provided with any tactical maps for some of the set-piece encounters.)

So much for the structural issues of the book. How did it all play out? Some mild spoilers will no doubt follow, but I'll try and keep them as light as possible.

As I mentioned, this was my first PPC, so it took me a little while to cotton on to the layout - it's very much a toolkit design (as opposed to, say, a Pathfinder Adventure Path) that requires a thorough read-through and careful note taking, much like The Great Pendragon Campaign. There are a lot of NPCs to keep track of and a ton of locations. ("The Flood" would actually function better, I think, as a framework for a sandbox campaign, ditching the actual PPC entirely. ) Even after 23 sessions of play, there's still plenty of material that went completely untouched. There's enough material in "The Flood" to fuel tons of sandboxy explorations.

I certainly could've integrated some of the key NPCs a little better, but then again, the PCs had a real knack for not going anywhere near where those key NPCs were located, or, when they did, unintentionally avoiding them. On the other hand, the group was quite good about taking the main hook of going after Reverend Grimme even without having any personal run-ins with him. What I find most amusing, in retrospect, is that the meat of the PPC basically guarantees a classic D&D-style framework: the last half of the campaign was almost entirely made up of the adventurers, er, posse going from one dungeon, er, underground complex (mine, sea cave, etc.) to the next in the course of pursuing their quest, er, mission to take down Grimme. I think that, if and when I run Deadlands again, I'll definitely want to either design my own material or pick adventures that have a distinctly less D&D-ish feel.

I say "if and when" because I feel like this campaign pretty much really did put that old Deadlands ghost to rest. We had mad science, steam tech, huckster magic, a PC that became Harrowed during the course of the game, gyrocopter dogfights versus angel-demons, Native gunslingers facing off against Shaolin monks, Lovecraftian overtones in spades, climactic gun duels - in short, everything one could ask of a Deadlands campaign. Maybe I'll come back to it, but if I never do, I can still die happy knowing we played the hell out of one of the most gamable settings ever published.


One final note on Savage Worlds as a system: the climactic battle featured no fewer than 25 combatants on each side. Since I wasn't using miniatures, I hand-waved a lot of the background, extra-versus-extra action, but I was definitely thankful for the system's built-in method of foisting Allies off onto players to control, and especially grateful for the time I'd taken to transcribe stats onto easy-to-reference cards. The fact that I was even able to run such a huge dust-up and not have it take 8 hours is testament to SW's excellent design.

Nonetheless, running Reverend Grimme reminded me of how much I loathe higher level play in "advantage-based" systems. Be it SW, GURPS, or Pathfinder, if the rules have any sort of system that uses things like Edges, Advantages, or Feats, you inevitably end up with powerful NPCs boasting a raft of them, and all the concomitant bonuses and special moves that come along. That sort of thing is terrific fun when you're a player, but as a GM it absolutely does my head in. I did my best running Grimme, but I know I forgot to add a bonus here and a bonus there at certain times, busy as I was juggling all the other antagonists' abilities. With any sort of "advantage-based" system, you just have to figure that those sorts of piledrivers are just naturally going to occur and be okay with it. Still, at the end of the day I find I actually prefer games that stat NPCs and monsters with different, simpler mechanics - but that's a topic for another day.

For now, I can say with total confidence that Savage Worlds has won its place as one of my tabletop group's go-to systems.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Kickstarter Success Story


The advent of crowd-sourced funding has, by most accounts, been an interestingly mixed bag of both great promise for the tabletop gaming industry and tremendous frustration for many backers. Personally, I started backing Kickstarter/Indie-Go-Go projects last year. I did so judiciously, and always with the maxim that I wasn't willing to spend more money than I'd feel comfortable never seeing a return on, and knowing full well that it would be awhile before I saw any product.

I have yet to get involved with any disastrous crowd-sourced projects (I almost backed Myth & Magic - dodged a bullet there!), but most are late to some degree or another. I threw some money at a couple of Raggi's adventures (Kelvin Green's "Horror Among Thieves" and Dave Brockie's "Towers Two") and those are both ridiculously overdue, as is a collection of Risus adventures from a Kickstarter run by S. John Ross - but none of that bothers me. It was a few bucks out of pocket, and I have every faith they'll show up eventually. The two Chaosium Kickstarters I backed, Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition and "Horror on the Orient Express", as well as Modiphius's Achtung Cthulhu, have all been pushed back a bit, but updates have been frequent and the delays have been due to final layout and printing taking longer than anticipated and/or stretch goals, rather than any issues with writing, editing, or art, so that's fine. (In fact, it seems that, in most cases, delays are caused by stretch goals adding tons of extra complexities to the production process.)

But in amongst these delays, both short and long, has been a little engine that could in the form of Golden Goblin Press. This is a new venture headed by Oscar Rios, current golden boy of Cthulhu scenario authors. The Kickstarter was for their first-ever project, a collection of articles and scenarios entitled Island of Ignorance: The Third Cthulhu Companion (a hat-tip to the two earlier and similarly-formatted companions put out by Chaosium back in the 80s). I'm a little more wary of backing Kickstarters from startup companies like this, but I decided to take a risk, and it has really paid off.

The project funded and even managed to rack up a couple stretch goals. And last night I received my PDF copy of the book, with shipment of the print version due by the end of the month. Take a look at the date on that Kickstarter. It wrapped on May 29th of this year. Updates from Oscar Rios were frequent (47 in all!); all the stretch goals were met, including a totally new scenario to be included in the book. This is how you do it, folks. Golden Goblin is already gearing up for another Kickstarter, and I will happily send some money their direction again.

One final note: when I went to download my PDF copy, I got a receipt informing me I was order number 23. Do I get some sort of Discordian prize for that, Mr. Rios?


Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Season of Endings

Des and I played our final Solo GPC session last night. After nearly four years, our Pendragon campaign has ended. (And now I can get back to work on writing up session narratives. Just 25 game years to catch up on...)

If everything plays out as anticipated, my Sunday group's Deadlands campaign will be wrapping up in two sessions' time. Session 23 should be the finale. We'll then see a pause before the next big thing - "Horror on the Orient Express" for Call of Cthulhu - jumps off early next year. (I'm waiting on the Kickstarted new edition to drop, then want to take time to prep, as well as wait out the hectic and cancellation-prone holiday season.) We'll likely fill the gap until then with one-shots and short-arc campaigns.

The Deadlands campaign has been running since March. I hadn't anticipated it taking this long, but here we are. Time long ago, running a consistent campaign for six months was but a pipe dream. Never mind running an on-again, off-again campaign over nearly four years. I'm happy to be at a place where such campaign epics are the norm.

Because we're nearly at the big final boss fight in our Deadlands campaign, we took a break this week due to an anticipated player absence - we want to make sure we've got everyone along for the final push. I took the opportunity to run the group through a session of Dungeon World. I've been quite taken with the "Apocalypse World Engine" that powers DW; I think it has serious potential to fill that third, "narrative" spot in my trifecta of go-to systems. (I still want to take FATE for a spin so I can compare and contrast the two.) So there's a seed of new beginnings there.

Still, I can't help but feel a bit...deflated, what with these two huge campaigns wrapping up so closely together. On the other hand, I'm looking forward to a winter of noodling around. A nice breather before the next big venture.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

[System Wank] What Is Best In Life?

I've been doing some "self-blogging" lately, which is to say, keeping a log of my unformed thoughts that are just way too esoteric even for the normally solipsistic standards of this blog. (I believe they used to call this "keeping a diary.")

At any rate, an interesting question burbled out of these scribblings: when it comes to converting a systemless fantasy world to a system of choice, which is better - to have a conversion I'm 100% satisfied with but have it be for a system I almost never run, or have an "okay" conversion that will actually get played?


This question arose as I was cogitating my current favorite fantasy game world, Uresia: Grave of Heaven, which is currently available in a systemless edition. Since 2008, coinciding with the start of this blog, actually, I've taken Uresia for a conversionary spin with several systems now: Rules Cyclopedia, Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, Barebones Fantasy, B/X D&D, FATE, and, most recently, Dungeon World.

(Yes, I've jumped on the DW bandwagon. More on that anon.)

Some of these have been mere noodling stabs at drafting a conversion document, others have actually made it to a handful of sessions. None of the attempts have so far found quite the right sweet spot that I'm looking for.

Now, the setting's author, S. John Ross, would probably be the first to say, "You're way overthinking this, dude." And he's quite right. But there's so much awesome crap packed into this setting, I really want to be able to hit everything in a manner that I find completely satisfying. SJR uses his own system, Risus, to run Uresia, but I find it to be just a bit too rules-lite for my taste. Each one of those systems cited above covered some elements of the setting well, but left others in a sort of hazy limbo.

Ultimately, I'm looking for something that's crunchy enough to mechanically cover the most flavorful aspects of the setting, but also flexible and toolboxy. It also helps if it's a system I'm familiar with; some of the systems cited above could probably do the trick, but I'm not proficient enough with them to make something happen. The more I've thought about it, the more I've realized that the system that fills all these criteria for me is GURPS, specifically GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. The across-the-board toolkit approach of the system would allow me to tailor races, magic, equipment, and, well, everything to perfectly match the qualitative descriptions offered in Uresia's systemless Second Edtion.

Problem is, I've weighed GURPS in the balance and found it wanting. It's not like I dislike the system, it's just that I don't anticipate a time in which I'll be running it. It's not just personal preference, either. The vast majority of the people I play with simply aren't interested in crunchier sorts of games such as GURPS, even in its more streamlined Dungeon Fantasy incarnation.

And so we come back to the question at the top of the post: which is better? Do I want a nice, crisp, clean conversion that covers all the bases the way I want them covered, but that sits on the shelf for who knows how long, unplayed? Or do I accept a conversion that leaves out or glosses over some really cool aspects of the setting in the name of actually being able to play in said setting?

What to do, what to do?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Three Paladins in Hell

Pretty much the coolest punk flyer EVER.
Browsing Tumblr the other day, I came across the following three images in a post. The obvious intent is to show the evolution of one of the great iconic D&D images over the course of three editions. Hack & Slash posted a similar entry a while back. What struck me, however, is how one can, by looking at the content and composition of each iteration, trace the evolution of how the visual aesthetic and fictional expectations of what exactly constituted "D&D" evolved over the course of roughly 30 years.


The original David Sutherland piece has a typically "First Edition" approach to the eponymous paladin and his gear: his plate, shield, and sword are straight out of a book on medieval weapons and armor, but there's a distinctly a-historical concession to the resource-focused realities of old school adventuring in the form of belt pouches strapped to his waist to hold all manner of rations, potions, and other such necessities. The devils in the picture are all identifiable in the Monster Manual - across the board, the feel of the piece is that this could have come directly out of an actual session of gameplay.


Here we have the Fred Fields homage that graced the cover of the 2nd edition module, "A Paladin in Hell". Here's where the analysis gets interesting: what we see is a more technically proficient rendering of the 1st edition version of the image that somehow lacks the engaging heart and soul of the original. Sounds a lot like the "common knowledge" view of 1e versus 2e, doesn't it? The two systems might have been 99% compatible (just as the pose of the paladin is almost identical in both versions), and the 2e rulebooks much easier to reference in play (just like how, on a technical level, Fields has got Sutherland beat), but a certain je ne sais quoi has been lost. Of note, too, is the change in visual composition. No longer do we see a single hero facing off against a horde of devils. Now, instead, the hero is triumphing over a single foe. Again, this mirrors the shift in gameplay expectations from 1e to 2e of PCs as gravely outnumbered interlopers into dark domains, their survival very much in doubt, to one of "PC-as-epic-fantasy hero".

Finally, the 3e version, rendered by Carl Frank. We're back to the original image's composition of a single hero standing on a ledge against a horde of foes, but interestingly, those foes are now homogenized into a single type of devil (and it's the Horned Devil, weakest of all the foes in the original). Read into that what you will. What catches my eye primarily is the shift in the appearance of the paladin. His armor is no longer slavishly copied from an historical example, rather being given a "fantasy" treatment, particularly with the shield. Gone, too, are the mundane adventuring accouterments, replaced instead by an oversized sword. The overall effect is much more cartoonish and/or Hollywood-ized.

And speaking of Hollywood conventions, our protagonist is no longer be-helmeted. Although this gives a greater feeling of emotion and humanity to the paladin, it also, strangely, distances the viewer. I've read multiple accounts of people seeing the Sutherland original for the first time and immediately projecting themselves into the paladin's place - with helmet in place, after all, that paladin really could be your paladin! Taking the helmet off and exposing a face reflects the emergence of "iconic" characters in the 3e/Pathfinder era - these are no longer meant to represent you, but somebody else.

Personally, having come to D&D via 2e, I was unaware of the original piece until just a few years ago, so it doesn't have the same strong nostalgic resonance for me as it does for many other gamers. Nevertheless, I can acknowledge that the original is one of the great iconic pieces of D&D art. In the end, I can appreciate each for different reasons, but what I found most interesting about the three different pieces was how the "look" of the paladin evolved, and how his positioning against his opponents was composed. In these three versions, I think we can see a bit of the soul of each of the three editions of (A)D&D.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Music For and Inspired By...; Or, The Role of the Campaign Mix



Jack's Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque blog has turned me on to a cool site called 8track.com, a streaming playlist service. (One minor quibble is that track sequencing gets shuffled after the first couple playthroughs, but beggars can't be choosers, I suppose, and I understand the legalities of the policy.) I'm a big fan of gaming soundtracks, and will be using 8track for the foreseeable future should I feel motivated to share more of my mixes.

Jack's soundtrack posts have already inspired me to put together a playlist based on his Planet Motherfucker setting, but the comments to his latest soundtrack post brought up the more general issue of how one uses "gaming soundtracks." The example I'm sharing today is from my ongoing Deadlands: Reloaded campaign. I put it together before the campaign got started or characters were generated, which is in keeping with my usual M.O. Sometimes I make a soundtrack for a campaign I don't even have immediate plans for running (such as New Wave Requiem or Cthulhu Berlin). Usually the soundtracks are just for me - I listen to them in between sessions, or while engaged in campaign planning. In the case of the Deadlands mix, I also wanted to share it with my group prior to character creation, as none of them had more than passing familiarity with the setting.

I only recently started using music during actual sessions again, and those "soundtracks" are decidedly different - ideally, I want about 4 hours of instrumental music that can play inconspicuously in the background. So, with Deadlands for example, I've got the mix posted above (my "Music For and Inspired By" soundtrack) and the "OST" mix of instrumental and incidental music (mostly movie and videogame soundtrack music ranging from Neil Young's score for Dead Man to the Red Dead Redemption soundtracks).

I know most gamers, when they think of "campaign soundtracks," think of the OST-style mixes to use during play, but I'm curious how many folks besides Jack and myself also make inspirational soundtracks to be used outside of a game session proper?

(Incidentally, when I tagged my soundtrack as "weird west" on 8tracks, I noticed there was one other mix with the same tag. Clicking through, I saw that Jack has beaten me to the punch with a mix of his own! One day I'll get the scoop on that guy...)

Deadlands Tracklist, for the curious: 

Muse, "Knights of Cydonia"; Johnny Cash, "When the Man Comes Around"; Man or Astroman?, "Cattle Drive"; Ghoultown, "Drink with the Living Dead"; Trashmen, "Ghost Riders in the Sky"; Bobby Bare, Jr., "Demon Valley"; The Legendary Shack Shakers, "Fistwhistle Boogie"; Calexico, "Minas De Cobre (for better metal)"; Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, "Death Is Not the End"; Titus Andronicus, "Four Score and Seven"; Pedrito Diablo & Los Cadaveras, "El Hoyo"; The White Stripes, "Little Ghost"; The Reverend Horton Heat, "Big Sky"; 16 Horsepower, "Black Soul Choir"; Black Joe Lewis & The Honeydrippers, "Cousin Randy"; The Legendary Shack Shakers, "Misery Train".

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My Actual Play Podcast



Starting sporadically last year and then regularly this year, I've been recording my Sunday night group's sessions. The recordings have been getting posted at the campaigns' Obsidian Portal pages, but I decided to go ahead and set up an RSS feed and podcast to create a central hub for the recordings.

I'm slowly updating the backlog. I currently have the entirety of the Cthulhu by Gaslight "Golden Dawn" campaign I ran over the winter and the first couple sessions of our ongoing Deadlands: Reloaded campaign uploaded, with more to follow in short order.

I'm looking forward to more actual plays to come, particularly "Horror on the Orient Express" next year and possibly a group playthrough of "The Great Pendragon Campaign" after that!

Subscribe at either of the above links if you're so inclined.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I Think I'm In Love With a Game Company


This has never happened, I swear.

It's been a long time since I've been an unrepentant fanboy for a single game company. But I had one of those moments yesterday when I realized that there's a whole passel of games I've ogled in the past - The One Ring, The Laundry, Starblazer Adventures, Legends of Anglerre, Qin - that are all made by the same company. Holy cats!

They've even got games I'm ogling that haven't even come out yet. A dedicated retro-pulp sci-fi RPG? Where have you been all my life? And then the final nail in the coffin came courtesy of the announcement (which I'd sort of forgotten about until I was browsing the Cubicle 7 website yesterday) that Joe Dever had taken his Lone Wolf license away from Mongoose (finally!) and taken it to C7. So hopefully we'll see a proper, kick-ass Lone Wolf RPG before long. (Or should I say a proper English-language LWRPG - the French already have one.)

I recently picked up Legends of Anglerre with an eye towards working up a FATE conversion of Uresia: Grave of Heaven. It is therefore the first Cubicle 7 game in my collection. I can't help but think I'll be adding several more to my shelves in the future. So much for system mastery. . . but then I suppose becoming a drooling fan boy for a single company is, uh, sort of like system mastery. Right?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Specific Answers for Random Questions

When a Random Wizard poses questions, you answer! 
Actually, truth be told, when two of my favorite bloggers post their answers, I'm inclined to join in, despite the fact that I'm not playing much of any D&D these days, nor have I really done so for quite some time. But as someone still seriously pondering whether to adopt "B/X-style" D&D as his third system of choice (alongside BRP and Savage Worlds), consider these the answers of a long-time D&D ex-pat contemplating a return to the homeland.

(1). Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes or no?
Absolutely. As others have pointed out, it makes playing a Human much more appealing, and I like me some Human-centric fantasy. Plus, race-as-class allows for some truly unique class options (like how Dungeon Crawl Classics does Elves.) I am toying with the idea of a very simple "kit" system ala AD&D 2E that would allow for some variety, however.

(2). Do demi-humans have souls?
Sure, why not? My fantasy world of choice, Uresia, pretty much assumes that everything has a soul--even the wind! I've never been a huge fan of resurrection or reincarnation magic, so the question didn't come up too often in my games.

(3). Ascending or descending armor class?
Descending all the way. Because if I'm going to be running old school D&D, why not embrace the idiosyncrasies?

(4). Demi-human level limits?
As other bloggers have pointed out, campaigns rarely last long enough for this to matter. But again, why not? (Plus see humano-centric statement above.)

(5). Should thief be a class?
Totally, as long as thief skills are treated as extraordinary versions of everyday activities. (Saying that only thieves can move silently or pick pockets is a bit like saying only fighters can swing swords.) As Rients points out, it's a class the DM needs to take a close look at, as they have a tendency to be either over- or under-powered depending on edition, but it's never something a little careful house-ruling can't fix.

(6). Do characters get non-weapon skills?
I use the skill system from Rules Cyclopedia to add a bit of spice, but if I want a skill-heavy game I'll play BRP.

(7). Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)?
"Zero to hero" can get a bit overhyped, but when it comes to magic-users, I'm still a fan of a massively swingy power progression. Fifth level is the all-time classic milestone.

(8). Do you use alignment languages?
Lord no. I like my game worlds to have lots of different languages, but alignment tongues ain't it. (Outside of Celstials and Demons and such.)

(9). XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc...)?
XP for gold and carousing with secondary XP for monster-slaying, exploration, etc.

(10). Which is the best edition; ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E ADD, 4E ADD, Next ?
If we take "best" to mean "most concise presentation of the rules while still remaining true to the 'spirit' of D&D", then I vote the Cyclopedia. If we take it to mean "consistently best mechanical design", I vote 4E. If we take it to mean "purest", then I vote OD&D. If we take it to mean "the edition one feels most fondly for", it'd be 2E. The fact that none of those are my edition of choice tells me it's a pretty meaningless term.

Bonus Question: Unified XP level tables or individual XP level tables for each class?
Definitely individual. Dubious questions of "balancing" classes aside, it's just another one of those D&D idiosyncrasies I like so much.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

It's My Planet, Motherfucker (Soundtrack, That Is)

"Master of the Seas" by Rafael Gallur
Jack Shear at Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque has put together a wonderfully trashy post-apoclyptic/grindhouse setting called Planet Motherfucker. (Even better is that he had the good taste and consideration to provide stats [what few there are] for Savage Worlds, one of my systems du jour.)

My copy is yet to arrive from Lulu, but I've gotten a pretty good vibe for the setting from the series of posts that preceded publication. And now there's a bit of a bandwagon going on with putting together "music from and inspired by," as it were. Not only can I hardly resist a bandwagon, I really can't resist the opportunity to throw a soundtrack together. Since Jack's "official" soundtrack covers psychobilly and horror-punk pretty well, I decided to focus for the most part on garage rock and proto-punk, two musical styles that I think go very well with the setting's vibe and how I plan to run it. (I also couldn't resist throwing "Astro Zombies" on there in honor of its runner-up status on the OST.)

1. "Blue's Theme" Davie Allan & The Arrows
2. "Fun House" The Stooges
3. "10 Years After World War 4" Man Or Astro-man?
4. "Demolicion" Los Saicos
5. "Sweet Little Hi-Fi" Pussy Galore
6. "One Step Beyond (Fear)" Harry Lubin Orchestra
7. "Strychnine" The Sonics
8. "The Human Being Lawn Mower" The MC5
9. "Sadist 69" Satan's Satyrs
10. "Satan's Theme" The Challengers
11. "Have Love Will Travel" The Black Keys
12. "Astro Zombies" The Misfits
13. "Stick Shift" The Trashmen
14. "Manos"

Now on with the show (in the form of a YouTube playlist). . .


Sunday, July 7, 2013

How I Run the Great Pendragon Campaign


It's been quite some time since my last Solo GPC update, but this hasn't been for lack of playing. In fact, it's been the playing that's been most responsible for my lack of updating - the inertia of the close of the campaign draws us inexorably forward, and we find ourselves playing at least a session a week, oftentimes more. As of Friday's session, we are now officially less than 10 years from the Big Finale. Once everything's wrapped up, I'll have more time for writing and regular updates will recommence (with memory aids provided by the recordings I've made of the sessions).

In the meantime, I thought I'd write a bit about how I structure a typical session. This will obviously be of greatest utility to those running The Great Pendragon Campaign, but hopefully it will be of general interest as well. I'll be using our last session (Year 556) as an example; for the sake of future updates, I'll endeavor to keep spoilers as mild as possible.

As I wrote way back in 2008 in an analysis of my first experience of using the GPC, the book is structured not so much as a conventional Adventure Path or similar but rather as a framework to direct your own group's adventures and provide context for the larger game world. Perhaps a better metaphor would be to think of your own campaign as a river and the GPC as the banks of the river: sometimes those banks widen and allow your river to meander, and other times they close in and channel your river through a stretch of rocky narrows.

So the first thing I make sure to do is to keep reading ahead in the GPC, usually 5-10 years in advance, so that I can anticipate when those narrows might be coming up (and, in earlier years especially, get an idea of which seemingly minor characters are going to become more prominent in the story). Some years dictate certain events as being mandatory to the campaign, and plans are made accordingly. Assuming that's not the case, I then re-read the game year, noting the major events described in that year and seeing if any might prove a natural fit with the interests or plans of the player group. (If not, they at least provide fodder for gossip and Intrigue rolls.)

This whole time, I'll also be maintaining a short list of scenarios I'd like to run in a given Period. Thanks to the miracle of PDFs, I have the whole back catalog of Pendragon scenarios to draw upon (to say nothing of fan-generated material!), and over the last three years I've been gradually familiarizing myself with them, so I keep an eye out for opportunities created either in-game or in the text of the GPC. For example, as we're in the thick of the Grail Quest period right now, my short list consists of some of the more overtly Christian-themed scenarios available.

This past session provides an excellent example of the whole process in action. A couple years previous, the Grail Feast had occurred, which meant that year was to be dominated by scripted events. But this year things were relatively wide open. I thought it would be a good chance to throw one of those Christian-themed scenarios at Des. An encounter in the previous year actually provided an excellent lead-in and I adapted the beginning of the scenario accordingly. (Just like with D&D modules, Pendragon scenarios should be trimmed, edited, or added to as appropriate to make them fit better into the ongoing campaign.) However, I didn't simply want to plop the scenario down and say, "You have to go this." (Not this time, at least - I have no compunctions about doing that if the scenario comes at the behest of the PC's feudal lord. That's part of playing a knight!) Looking over the scripted events for the year, I saw there was going to be fighting (unbeknownst to our intrepid PC or any of his allies) in the very region the planned scenario was to take place. Excellent! I love complicating a scenario with larger events like wars. I decided that I'd dangle the scenario hook, but I'd also put out the hook that Gawaine was recruiting an army, knowing that the army's stated mission would be of interest to the PC. I then sketched out a rough timeline so that I'd have an idea of when the war would be fought so that I could work that in with PC activity.

As it turned out, Des decided to go for the scenario hook. Her character arrived in the region just as the war was getting started. Her PC even spotted columns of smoke far off on the horizon as he entered the region, but chose to ignore them in favor of the current mission. So it was that when he returned from his quest, he ran smack into a city under siege and Gawaine's army (which had intended to march to a destination 100 miles away) unexpectedly nearby, responding to the emergency. Larger events intruding on smaller concerns.

And that's what makes the GPC so much fun. It's a guide for how to bring the world of Arthurian Britain alive by keeping the larger gears turning in the background. Sometimes the PCs get caught up in those gears, sometimes they get to witness the turning from afar. I've described the GPC as a semi-sandbox in the past because, for any given year, it enables the GM to present two or three or more potential plot hooks to the players. This isn't as much work as it sounds, either. At the end of the day, it's a matter of integrating PC actions and motivations with modular scenarios and programmed events. The trick, just as with any campaign, is organization and a willingness to improvise as opportunities present themselves.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Premium Boxed Set of My Very Own

I can't believe I've neglected to post about this until now.

Last autumn, as I was recuperating from my brush with death, I stumbled across (or, perhaps, was narcotically guided to) a remarkable listing on eBay. I honestly don't remember what I was searching for, but this listing almost certainly had none of what I'd originally intended to find. What it had instead was a beat-up copy of a later printing of the 1e Players Handbook and three BECMI modules from the "CMI" end of the line (I think one was an actual Immortals adventure!) - I held onto the PHB, since I didn't own one, but the modules have since been traded away. What really caught my eye, however, was that all these books came contained in a handmade wooden box, a box that could only have been constructed for that purpose. For reasons that will soon become obvious, I pounced on the listing and, a couple weeks later, it arrived.

What I found, dear readers, was the new crown jewel in my slowly-expanding collection of gamer folk art. As I said, this box was clearly custom-built to hold gaming books - the dimensions fit a TSR hardback perfectly. Nicely, I found that the depth of the box is precisely enough to contain my collection of B/X material: the original Basic and Expert rulebooks, the B/X Companion and Complete B/X Adventurer supplements from Running Beagle, modules B2, B3, and X1, and Stonehell.

But what really knocks this out of the park is the box top. Burned into the wood (perhaps with an official woodburning kit?) is a homemade "Dungeons & Dragons" logo, complete with a sword, lightning bolts, and malevolent eyes staring out:



Open the lid and it gets better, for the unnamed artist (we have only their initials, "J.H.") has inscribed a scene of epic conflict between...uh, I'm guessing a barbarian or perhaps a dwarf berserker and a wyvern? Rock!



Like I said, all my B/X materials fit into the box snugly, probably with room for one or two more books (Stonehell Volume 2?) to spare. So when WotC put out their premium reissue of the OD&D boxed set, I hardly batted an eyelash. Thanks to the efforts of J.H. and a kindly eBayer, I had a premium boxed set of my very own (and for far less money!).


Monday, June 17, 2013

We Are Living in a Golden Age



"Look, you." (Art by genocyber.)
I have a very clear memory of my first encounter with Masks of Nyarlathotep, the granddaddy of all Call of Cthulhu adventures and one of the all-time classic RPG campaigns, period.

I had, of course, heard about it, knew of its reputation, wanted to play it. So, on a jaunt to one of my city's game stores, I pointed it out on the shelf to my buddy Alex, an avid Keeper. The store manager saw us eyeballing it and came over.

"Great, great campaign. Highly recommended," he said. "There are a few pitfalls and things you should be aware of if you're going to run it, though. Which one of you is thinking of running it?" he asked. Alex raised his hand. The manager looked at me and my other friend who was with us. It was a small store. "Step outside with me," he told Alex.

He then proceded to have a 15-minute discussion out on the sidewalk, going over the campaign point by point, sharing all his collected wisdom so that Alex might avoid the mistakes the manager had made when he ran it.

I bring up this hoary gaming memory because, as of yesterday, the folks over at Yog-Sothoth.com have released the long-awaited Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion. For free. This is basically like a dozen veteran Keepers taking you outside for a 15-minute discussion of how best to run Masks, but you also get handed a dossier full of deluxe handouts, maps, new side-adventures, expanded historical and background information, etc. Totaling over 500 pages. Again: all for free.

I've been waiting for the Companion to see the light of day ever since I first heard about it some five years ago. This year also sees the rerelease of Horror on the Orient Express and a deluxe 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu, both thanks to the auspices of Kickstarter. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm gaming more than ever thanks to the maturation of web chat and social networking technology. I am spoiled for choice in what to run.

It's been said by others before, but it's worth reiterating. The tabletop RPG industry might be facing an uncertain future (along with the rest of the publishing world), but the hobby, I believe, is truly experiencing a new golden age.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Portrait Commissions: An Endorsement

Being an enthusiastic amateur artist, I have in the past been known to throw together a character sketch for one of my own characters or the whole party. These days, with my gaming schedule as packed as it is, I don't really have the time or inclination to do that. Yet nothing really beats the power of a good character sketch, I've found.

And so, for my ongoing Deadlands campaign, I decided to surprise the group with a set of commissioned portraits. I've recently started using Tumblr, and it's a great resource for finding art and artists of all stripes. At some point I began following the work of Arthur Asa, aka regourso on Tumblr, and quite liked his stuff. Then I saw that he offered commissions for character portraits.

Commissioning character portraits is something I've known about for years (anyone else remember those ads in the back of Dragon magazine?), so I decided to go ahead and take the plunge and see how it turned out. Contacting Arthur, I was quoted a very reasonable price and off we went. I sent him a bunch of photos for reference and short descriptions of each character, and tonight (after anxiously awaiting all four portraits being sent my way) I was able to present the finished pieces to my unsuspecting players. To say they were surprised and delighted would be an understatement.

The pieces are presented below, but I just want to reiterate that Arthur does great work at a great rate - if you're looking to commission someone for portrait work, definitely give him a look! If anything, the only point against him is that, like any good artist, he's quite busy and so you might have to wait a couple weeks or more for the finished product...but it's definitely worth the wait!

Cuad Hoyter Pertullus, Miner and Inventor

Kangee Taken-Alive, Lakota Gunslinger

Tobias Alvin "Doc" Funk, Veterinarian

"Jersey" Lilly, Songbird and Shitkicker

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Improvising Through a Railroad

This was a surprise to me. It just goes to show that having a plotted adventure doesn't have to mean taking away player agency, as long as the GM can improvise good, in-character incentives to stay on track.
Ding.

The above quote is taken from this post. I'm honestly surprised this point doesn't come up more often. Sandbox is not the only answer to the player agency dillemma; I think the poor reputation so-called "railroad" adventures suffer from is due mostly to, simply, poor GMing.

I'm currently running a Savage Worlds plot point campaign ("The Flood" for Deadlands: Reloaded) and have had three incidents in nine sessions where the players partially or completely derailed the plot. (Granted, this seems to be particularly endemic to Savage Worlds, which gives the PCs a fair amount of narrative control.) So what happens then? Improvisation. Creative problem-solving. The stuff that makes running games fun. Those "Crap! Now what?" moments are both totally scary and totally invigorating. And after the session, thinking about what can be done to bring the plot thread back into an intersection with the PCs, not by pallete-shifting, but by playing to their motivations and goals. Of course it also helps to write in extra sources of plot hooks or other information if the material you're working off of bottlenecks anywhere (something The Flood does a little too often, I'm afraid).


At any rate, as I said at the top: it was refreshing to encounter this attitude, that a plot-driven adventure need not be an agency-robbing railroad. Just trust the players to give you everything you need and the rest is gravy.
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