Friday, December 5, 2014

Book of the Warlord Now Available for Pendragon!


So as I wrote back in August, I've been contributing behind the scenes to development of various projects for the King Arthur Pendragon RPG. The usual NDA restrictions have prevented me from talking much about them, but the first fruit of these labors, undertaken with a truly phenomenal team of fellow fans helping Greg Stafford make this the best possible product it could be, is the Book of the Warlord. I'll let Stewart Wieck of Nocturnal Media, Pendragon's publisher, tell you a bit about it:
Dear Lords & Ladies, 
We are especially pleased with this one! Book of the Warlord is the biggest supplement for King Arthur Pendragon since the Great Pendragon Campaign — it is bursting with amazing material for your KAP game. And it's brand new on DTRPG. 
KAP-creator Greg Stafford, design & map savant Malcolm W. and a host of amazing fans helped create one of the greatest supplements ever for KAP. We say it in the text and believe it: this one is destined to be a classic. 
The PDF is available now, and we hope you'll hurry to the site and grab it. Your weekend will thank you. Plus, it's green for the holiday season. 
Hardcover and softcover print-on-demand will be added soon. We'll send a discount coupon to everyone who buys the PDF to reflect the discount you'll have when buying the POD and PDF at the same time. 
I'd love to see Book of the Warlord push onto the bestseller list at DTRPG, so I'll enter everyone who purchases the PDF into a drawing for a hardcover print copy.(*) This is good thru 12/12 at which time I'll order the hardback and you'll have it for the Christmas holiday. If you don't celebrate that particular day, then at least your Christian knight does! 
Thanks for supporting KAP! 
Stewart Wieck 
(*) If your account is set so that it doesn't reveal your email address, then I won't have a way to contact you if you win. Therefore, if such an anonymous person wins the hardback, I'll post the order number of the winner on the Pendragon forum at the Nocturnal Media website. You'll have to then contact me to claim your prize. Instructions will be on the forum for this as well. Good luck!

Seriously, there is so much good stuff in this book. Needless to say, I'm happy to see it finally available and am honored to have contributed in some small capacity to its publication. Now onto [redacted]!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Keeping Character Sheets in Play - What's the GM's Responsibility?


A recent event in my Pendragon game has brought up an issue for me, one that I haven't normally had to deal with until recently.

See, for many, many years, and with very few exceptions, if I wasn't running some sort of outright one-shot, I would typically run campaigns consisting of perhaps a dozen sessions at the most. Its only in the last couple years that I've started consistently running campaigns of considerably longer duration. My Deadlands: Reloaded campaign of last year ran for about two-dozen sessions. The ongoing Great Pendragon Campaign is clocking somewhere in the neighborhood of three-dozen and counting - by the time we're done, we'll be somewhere around the 80-session mark.

And in both those campaigns, I have run into an interesting and, to me, unfamiliar problem.

I'm sure you fellow GMs out there would agree without a moment's hesitation that gamers come in a variety of different variations of how much they enjoy the "bookkeeping" element of the hobby. Some players simply want to show up to a session and be told when they need to roll the dice, while others are almost quasi-GMs themselves, spending a fair amount of downtime between sessions charting their level progressions or detailing their holdings or backstories or what-have-you. I've found that these differences during a short-form campaign, such as I've been used to, are largely cosmetic. My attitude has traditionally been one of trust - trust that the players are keeping an adequate record of their character and maintaining their character sheets accordingly.

But what I'm finding with these longer-form campaigns is that with the former type of player, the one who doesn't enjoy the record-keeping aspect (or is simply not engaged with that aspect), cracks will inevitably start to show on their character sheet, despite their best intentions:

  • Advancement restrictions or prerequisites will be missed.
  • Derived values will not be recalculated.
  • Stats in need of updating will not get updated.

I've found that as often as not, this hurts the player more than anyone else, but sometimes it works in the PC's favor. Pendragon, for example, has rules for degeneration due to aging, which affects important derived stats like Hit Points and Damage. If those stats aren't being recalculated, the PC will enjoy an artificially-inflated advantage in combat.

Normally, this sort of thing doesn't really bother me. What are a few extra Hit Points between friends, after all? But it gets tough when one has a mix of players (like I do) at the table. Because then I start to worry that the players who are performing due diligence on their sheets, carefully making sure to deduct lost HPs or reminding themselves that they can't boost a Statistic again until they reach Veteran level, are getting rather the short end of the stick. Also, it tends to create more work for me as GM, since I find I have to step in and help unstick a problem that shouldn't have been an issue in the first place. ("What do you mean you haven't been keeping track of that?" is a phrase I've uttered more than once over the past couple years.)

The matter came to a head a couple sessions back, when one of the less bookkeeping-oriented players had to admit that their character sheet had gotten so disorganized they could no longer read some of the Trait values. I asked to borrow the sheet after the session to help sort things out, and discovered a laundry list of mistakes on virtually every part of the sheet. In the end, it was simpler to print out a fresh sheet and transfer everything over, making corrections as we went.

The obvious solution to this, of course, is for me as the GM to head off the problem by periodically stepping in and doing an "audit" of everyone's character sheets, much like how old-school D&D DMs will do encumbrance audits from time to time. But I'm trying to weigh the hassle factor involved with that. I mean, as a GM I'm already shouldering 90 percent of the workload involved in running a game, and with the GPC I'm going a bit further than that via our Obsidian Portal website. Do I really want to add one more task to the pile? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, of course, but sometimes that extra ounce can seem like a lot.

The crux of the question, then, is this: to what extent is it my responsibility as GM to police players' sheets? What about other players at the table policing each other? If they see something wrong on someone else's sheet, should they speak up? The character sheet is a physical specimen of player agency, and folks get rightfully protective of their copies.

To what extent do you, gentle reader, allow for error-riddled sheets at your table, both as player and as GM? To what extent are erroneous sheets a problem for you, personally? Is this a matter of player agency, or something that affects everyone at the table?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

More (Much More) on the History of Women in Tabletop Gaming

“I asked Gary what women’s libbers think of the situation, and he told me that he will bend to their demands when a member of the opposite sex buys a copy of Dungeons & Dragons!”
A couple weeks ago I bloviated a few lines about insights gained into the appearance of women in wargaming, courtesy of Jon Peterson's Playing at the World. The author was kind enough to leave a comment on my pseudo-academic ramblings, and promised a more thorough article on the subject in the near-future.

Well, that time has arrived. In Peterson's typical style, it is exhaustively researched yet fascinating to read. So go check it out!

Although we all know the real reason D&D appealed to the female demographic...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

[Solo GPC] 546: Hunting the Troit Boar


Although the Christmas Court had been fraught with an ill omen, the winter season in Salisbury, and at Du Plain castle in particular, passed by with relative ease. Graid, now a widower, took on a second squire, and the granaries and cellars were filled to bursting with provisions for the cold months.

All the talk around the winter hearths, of course, was about Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight.

"It's too bad we'll be losing Gawaine this year."

"Don't be so sure! Remember when he defeated the Grey Knight?"

"Only with Herringdale's help, and he's not around anymore."

Most agreed that Gawaine had redeemed the honor of the Orkney clan after what Gaheris did. Graid remained skeptical; Gawaine had ever been the hero, but this did not mean the other brothers are worth a damn.

It was late in winter that the monstrous boar, who bards were calling the Troit boar, awoke from its slumber deep in the Morgaine Forest and came forth to ravage Graid's lands once again. This time, it tore through the village of Broughton, destroying one quarter of the buildings there! Over 100 peasants were displaced, and Graid was obliged to lay out 30 Libra to aid in recovery from the disaster.

It was time to do something once and for all about that troublesome boar. He had an enchanted blade and instructions on who to give it to. Then it would just be a matter of mounting a grand hunt and introducing the blade and its wielder to the monster.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Female Gamers Go Back a Ways

[Since this has something to do with RPGs and something to do with miniatures gaming, I'm cross-posting it to both my gaming blogs.]

I've been slowly making my way through Jon Peterson's magnificent Playing at the World, a deep and scholarly (yet readable) account of the origins of role-playing games that goes all the way back to 18th-century chess variants and the emergence of genre literature and then traces things up through to the publication of the original boxed set of Dungeons & Dragons. It's a gaming nerd's dream, frankly.

One thing I've been taking away from my readings so far (I'm about halfway through) is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Back during the whole "Consultancygate" brouhaha in July, for example, I just happened to be reading a section that touched on some of the infighting in the nascent gaming community following the publication of D&D, wherein two camps emerged, divided between the old guard wargamers and the more counterculture-inspired RPGers, both of whom claimed the other was "doing it wrong" and that they themselves had the moral high ground. It was certainly illustrative of the fact that the gaming community has always been subject to passionate debates on perceptions of who or what should and shouldn't be allowed in the hobby.

More recently, of course, there's been a much more widely-reported controversy surrounding the acceptance (or lack thereof) of women in the larger video-gaming community. I'm not a video gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but over the years I've witnessed similar prejudices being expressed in the RPG hobby as well. Once again, Playing at the World has provided an interesting and timely point-of-view.

In my latest reading, the book is discussing a game called Fletcher Pratt's Naval War Game. Published in 1943, the game was developed from soirees Pratt (a pulp fiction writer) would hold at his Manhattan apartment (and later, when attendance got up to around 50 people, at a nearby hall) in which attendees would engage in a wargame featuring model ships, played out using the floor as the game space.

The game was significant to the later evolution of RPGs because it influenced the development of mechanics like Armor Class and Hit Points. But it was also significant for being the first time female gamers got a mention in a published wargame, previously perceived as the exclusive domain of men. Quoted from the rulebook itself:
"[Once Pratt's group had embraced the system] the sweethearts-and-wives influence became manifest. One of the latter appeared as a spectator of what was originally intended to be a purely stag game. In the midst of the ensuing red-hot engagement she was discovered flat on her stomach, aiming the guns of a cruiser and muttering something like, 'I'll get the so-and-so this time.' From that date on there was no checking the rising tide of feminism. Today there are nearly as many players of one sex as of the other; and one of the feminine delegation has been praised by a naval officer as the most competent tactician of the group."

Playing at the World goes on to feature an illustration from the book in which "a skirted woman, alongside her male counterparts, is shown kneeling on the floor, angling a cardboard arrow to fire at her target."

It also discusses how this inclusion represented an evolution from H.G. Wells' Little Wars (1911), the first wargame marketed to casual gamers; although the book subtitles itself as a "game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys' games and books", Wells also complains within the pages of his rules of being interrupted "by a great rustle and chattering of lady visitors" who "regarded the [game] with the empty disdain of their sex for all imaginative things."

In my 25-plus years of tabletop gaming, I've gamed with at least as many women as men. My current weekly face-to-face group is comprised of a majority of women, and has been all-woman (save for yours truly) at times in the past. I've also gamed with women who were flat-out denied the opportunity to join other groups because of their gender.

I've written about this before, but I just want to reiterate that, of the women I've gamed with, some have sucked at math and others have loved crunch; some have been totally story-oriented and others have been violent and bloodthirsty. In other words, they've been just like all the male gamers I've played with.

I wanted to post this little piece of history simply because it shows that women's interest in the tradition of gaming from which RPGs, wargaming, and video games grew out of goes back a long ways. If this sort of history was better-known...well, we'd still probably have lots of stupid trolls out there spewing misogyny in-person and online, but knowing about stuff like this puts their ridiculous appeals to the "tradition" of an all-male hobby in an even weaker light, I think.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hey, There's A New Edition of D&D Out - So Of Course I'm Running ACKS...

I run two weekly games. One is currently slogging its way through the Great Pendragon Campaign. The other found itself, a couple weeks back, "in between campaigns" after a couple false starts (first RIFTS and then a Savage Worlds space opera campaign that ended in a TPK).

The fact of the matter is that we had given the new D&D Starter Set a spin and quite liked it, but none of us quite wanted to pull the trigger on starting a 5e campaign until the full set of core books has been rolled out. So I figured I'd offer to run a little short campaign arc of something else to fill the gap until November rolls around.

I guess we were all in a fantasy mood still from all that D&D talk, because we ended up settling on the Adventurer, Conqueror, King System. This came as a real surprise to me, as I didn't even own ACKS at the time of discussion. I was only aware of it by reputation. But we were talking about the old 2e Birthright setting, and one of my players in particular expressed a fondness for that setting's attempt at bringing domain-level play back into the game, and I mentioned ACKS and that was that.

Here's the thing, though: I am now seriously in love with this system.

It's really inspired me to just jump in and start designing my own sandbox. Of course, I'm stealing liberally from a bunch of different sources, from GURPS Tales of the Solar Patrol to Vornheim to bits of the Wilderlands to Ralph Bakshi's Wizards to a variety of Appendix N authors (Vance and Burroughs in particular), all in the service of creating a sort of science-fantasy mishmash that's maybe a bit reminiscent of JRPGs like Phantasy Star.


And after I'm done setting up this sandbox, I want to take a crack at adapting the old AD&D HR1 Vikings supplement into an ACKS historical fantasy sandbox. The combination of the system's toolkit approach and support for world-building has proven an unexpectedly heady brew for me, such that I'm going to be focusing all my FRPG efforts for the short-term in that direction.

In the meantime, we're still planning on playing 5e starting sometime this winter. One of the other folks in my group is going to run Hoard of the Dragon Queen, so I get to get some actual time in as a player after running ACKS for a couple months. Win-win!

Incidentally, here is the precis for my current setting, if you're curious...


Friday, September 5, 2014

The Solo GPC Patreon is live!


After much cogitating, I've taken a small step into the world of crowdfunding with the launch of my Solo GPC Patreon campaign.

If you're unfamiliar with how Patreon works, it's essentially a way to crowdfund ongoing creative work. Each backer pledges a certain amount of money per "unit" - in my case, any time I post a Solo GPC report. The cool thing about Patreon is that you can set a monthly limit, so it's easy to budget how much you want to contribute.

I explain more on the Patreon page linked above, but briefly: I'm going with Patreon because I feel like it's a great way to incentivize getting my Solo GPC series finished up, plus I can use the money to help produce a slick and professional free PDF of the complete chronicle once it's done.

As I mention in my Patreon video, each Solo GPC post averages about 7,000 words a piece. At the $5.00 pledge level, that comes out to about 14 cents a word, which is a pretty good deal, and a fair writing rate to boot. I'm anticipating getting out about two posts a month.

So if you want to see more Solo GPC posts on this blog and fund the creation of a quality gaming artifact, please consider funding the campaign.

Thanks!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What's Going On


I'm going to take a page from the Wine and Savages blog and write a bit about what I'm up to these days. It's been a bit quiet here, but all for good causes.

Like +Sean Bircher, I too find myself rather up to my eyeballs in gaming-related work. Which is quite wonderful in and of itself. The tricky part comes with working a full-time job as well, particularly at this time of year. (Can I get an "amen" from all my fellow readers who dread the turn of the fiscal year for all the extra work it brings?) Here's how things are shaking out at the moment:

Writing
  • Part of the reason for my more relaxed blogging pace through most of the summer was the fact that my writing energies were otherwise engaged after I connected with Pendragon author Greg Stafford, answering a call for help with proofreading and formatting the Guide to his long-awaited Pendragon Atlas. That proofreading (which I started doing back in the winter) gradually turned into actual outright editing, so you'll be seeing Yours Truly on the credits page of the Atlas when it eventually drops. I'm looking forward to working with Greg on future projects as well, but nothing's set down in stone just yet. Keep an eye on this space for announcements, whenever that might be. 
  • As Sean mentioned, he and I, along with my podcasting co-host +David Schimpff, are batting around ideas on how to expand Sean's Miyamoto Academy Combatters setting seed into a full-fledged Savage Worlds setting. Sean and Schimpff have been doing yeoman's work on that so far, but I'm getting ready to jump back in as well.
  • This bit of news is perhaps better suited for The Minis Corner, but I'm going to be contributing articles to the Warlord Games website, starting with a short piece on Operation Goodwood that should be popping up in the not-too-distant (and will get linked on my other blog when it does appear).
  • I'm also working on developing a series of online pick-a-path game books with fellow author, gamer, and good friend +Alex Christy. This past weekend, we finally nailed down the mechanics of the system and a rough outline of the first book. Alex is a wiz at Flash programming, so he'll be handling the programming end of things, and we'll both contribute to the writing. I'm hoping to have something presentable done and posted by this time next year, but I've never written something like this before, so we'll see how long it takes!
  • Later this week (most likely tomorrow) I'll be launching a Patreon campaign on this blog for my remaining Solo GPC posts. More details forthcoming on that, but I'm hoping that the campaign will both provide the needed boost to get the series finished off and raise enough money for me to bring in a collaborator and produce a really professional-looking (but still totally free) PDF omnibus of all the posts.
  • As if that weren't enough, I've got a couple other potential RPG-related book projects in the works that are too early in the development phase to really talk about, but still have me doing background reading and note-jotting when and where I can fit in the time.
Wow, looking back at that list, that's a lot of stuff going on! Oh yeah, I also have to make time to actually game, don't I...?

Gaming
  • With my weekly face-to-face tabletop group, I'm currently in the midst of running The Great Pendragon campaign - no small undertaking, as you can see from the Obsidian Portal! Next up in the docket? Oh, just a little larf called Horror on the Orient Express, no biggie. Oh wait, yes it is.
  • I'm also carrying on with my weekly Hangout game with my old friends/gaming group in California. We're sort of in between things right now, but I have every intention of running a D&D 5e game come the fall, and in the meantime I'll be running a mini-campaign or two - TBD tonight, actually.
  • Much like Mr. Bircher, part of the way I make time to spend with my lovely wife in between all this other business is through "duet" gaming (like the Solo GPC!), and we're getting ready to start something up in that regard. It won't be weekly, nor will I be regularly chronicling it online (how could I with all this other crap going on?), but it does constitute yet another campaign to set up and run. But these are the kinds of problems you want to have, amirite?
And yes, maintaining some semblance of a marital relationship in general is also quite high on the ol' priority list, should that even need to be said. (I'm reminded of S. John Ross's sig: "Husband. Cook. Writer. In that order.")

With all this stuff on my plate, I've been forced to drop a few commitments here and there. Sadly, I'm going to have to bow out of podcast hosting for one thing. I had thought that cutting things back to a monthly appearance would work out, but even that's proven a bridge too far. Just too many things taking up my mental energy and focus. My co-eponymous co-host has found an excellent replacement in the form of Susan Steward, and I'll continue to contribute with managing the Google Plus community and helping out with managing the feed, but for now I must turn my attentions elsewhere. I'm hoping to return at some point, but I have no idea when that might be.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thoughts on D&D 5e (and the Starter Set) After Running a Session


I participated in a couple playtest sessions of "D&D Next" back when it first went public. The mechanics were intriguing, but then I realized I had neither the time nor inclination to actually put up with the playtesting process (not for D&D, at least). So I set the impending Fifth Edition aside and figured I'd check back when it actually came out. I wished it the best.

When the Starter Set went up for pre-order, I figured, "Why the hell not?" Fifteen bucks and I'd have a good idea of the core elements of 5e. Then Wizards announced the free Basic D&D PDF. Hmmm, intriguing.

My Starter Set arrived and I read through the contents. I got together with my Wednesday online group and they made characters using the Basic D&D rules. Scheduling conflicts prevented us from meeting again until last night, when I ran the introductory chapter of the "Lost Mines of Phandelver" module included in the Starter Set.

I've read that the designers took the classic "Night's Dark Terror" module as a point of inspiration for "Lost Mines", and I can definitely see that, especially after having just run "Terror" in my 2e campaign earlier this year. Like "Terror", the adventure's got a central plot spine, but lots of little mini-quests and side adventures as well. (There are even some echoes of locations and plot elements from "Terror" in "Lost Mines" - nothing overt, but recognizable.) It's a "semi-sandbox," which is really cool to have in a product intended for folks just coming into the hobby.

It's also a very, very vanilla adventure. This is not an objective criticism, of course. Vanilla's a perennially popular flavor because it's safe and it's classic. I would not hesitate to buy or recommend the Starter Set to a friend or associated rugrat interested in D&D.

It's actually a testament to 5e's mechanics that we all had a blast playing despite the relatively uninteresting setting/set-up. I think we're all a bit sick of vanilla D&D at this point after wrapping our classic Realms campaign, but the mechanics made for a really fun game nonetheless.

We were all a bit concerned going in about the amped-up healing rules, kewl powers, and whatnot, but then we nearly had a TPK during the initial encounter with four goblins. The fight was resolved when the dwarf fighter, down to 1 hit point and using his Inspiration to gain Advantage, scored a critical hit on the final goblin to great cheers from everyone. This was followed by a nail-biting sequence of "Death Saves" for the PC that had been knocked down to negative HP - two successes, then two failures, then a success!

We all found the system to flow very nicely. Having just wrapped a 2e campaign, I felt like combat compared favorably in terms of balance between speed and crunchiness. As we figured we would, we all loved the Advantage/Disadvantage system, and it made ruling on the fly quite easy. The use of attributes as a basis for ability checks, skill checks, and saving throws reminded me strongly of Castles & Crusades - definitely a good thing. We're also enjoying all the little touches of how the rules interact, which is always a positive sign when you're first getting to know a system.

Initially, the idea was that we were going to play through the whole of the "Lost Mines" adventure, but after last night we really don't feel the need to. We've gotten enough of a feel for the system to know that we're into it, but the vanilla setting's really doing nothing for us, so I'm going to wait until I have all the core books in hand (particularly the DMG, with its advice on rules-hacking and world-building) to put together a non-vanilla campaign. Maybe a mashup of the new edition of City State of the Invincible Overlord and noisms' forthcoming Yoon-Suin? Or maybe my perennial setting-in-search-of-a-satisfactory-system Uresia will finally find a home? Regardless, it'll be a 5e winter this year.

In the meantime, I'll be running a Savage Worlds campaign in the vein of Guardians of the Galaxy...because how could I not?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Palladium Parable

When I was a teenager, I had a crazy uncle who gave me a stack of notebooks from his old D&D campaign. It was a gonzo mash-up of house-ruled First Edition AD&D, some Gamma World, and lots of stuff of his own invention, all set in this sort of crazy kitchen sink post-apocalyptic landscape peopled with cyberpunks, dragons, giant robots, and demons.

That uncle was Kevin Siembieda; those notebooks were collectively called Rifts.

Obviously, ol' Kev is not really my uncle, but he comes solidly out of the Stan Lee school of customer relations. Back during the height of my Palladium fandom, I felt like I had a somewhat personal relationship with the guy thanks to his personable writing style. And as for Rifts being a disorganized mess of a mash-up, so were most RPG products back in the early 90s. Hell, I remember one of the main selling points of games like GURPS or 2e AD&D was the fact that those rulebooks had indexes and clear chapter headings. No joke, kids.

I recently wrapped up a pretty epic 2e campaign (which I'll be writing about presently), run online with my "original" gaming group. We had such success revisiting a previously-maligned game of our youth that we figured we'd charge right on into another one in the form of Rifts.

I have to say that the core 2e experience holds up really well thanks in large part to that vaunted "organization," as well as the fact that, well, it's D&D, and even for one of the most maligned iterations of that game there are still a ton of great resources, both in-print and online, to tap.

Rifts (and Palladium games in general), on the other hand, feel like this sort of fossil trapped in amber, a call-back to another time. I'd argue against the common wisdom and say that the Palladium house system works, given a few caveats - although I've assembled the obligatory house rules document to fine-tune it to how I want to see it run. What I'm actually finding most difficult is extracting the actual usable material from the wall of two-column-formatted text. (I had to laugh when I recently saw someone call Palladium books "the Chilton Auto Repair Manuals of the RPG world" - so very true.)

Palladium games are almost universally packed to the gills with great ideas and settings, but when it comes time to actually stat things up, to generate NPCs and adventure locations and so forth, I'm finding myself hitting a bit of a snag. Once upon a time, sifting through ideas to find the "crunch" was de rigueur for the harried GM. I guess I have grown soft and weak in the years since, the years in which the RPG industry learned about a little something called "information architecture" and began applying it to their books.

I want to like Palladium games. I really do. But getting down to the nitty-gritty and actually trying to assemble something gameable is proving tougher than I thought. I'm reminded of how I got spun off on my own little "conversion project" some six years ago, the last time I tried to run Rifts. Who knows how this little venture will play out this time?


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Cotemplating Patreon

As I mentioned in passing at the top of my last post, I've been scribing this blog since 2008. Over six years now. I've never really been one for anniversaries or milestones, but I've been thinking about word count recently.

As far as I know, there's no easy way to get a word count out of Blogger, but my stats tell me I've posted 490 times since 2008. Some of those posts were no doubt mere trifles, but I do try and provide some kind of substantial content (at least to my own mind, if nothing else) every time I hit "New Post" - mine is not a blog merely for links to new product announcements. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) As the Great Blog Roll Call put it, "A lot of reasons to like this blog, not the least of which is that the author tends to think critically about everything he writes."

As far as my own word count goes, my meatiest posts, my Solo GPC updates, clock in at an average of about 7,000 words a piece. I just tallied that up on the old adding machine, and that comes out to a probable average of 420,000 words written just on the yearly updates alone. In case you're not familiar with word count benchmarks, that's somewhere between Middlemarch and War and Peace. (Which proves, at the very least, that word count alone is not a very good indicator of literary merit.) But regardless of value judgments, self-imposed or otherwise, it certainly represents a fair amount of work on my part.

I'll be honest: when I started this blog, it was with a completely solipsistic goal in mind. I had no plan or pretension towards connecting to any sort of community or providing any sort of focused content; I just wanted to have a place where I could ramble on about gaming and maybe have a handful of people read it and leave the occasional thoughtful comment. This had been about the extent of my prior online involvement and experiences on message boards, newsgroups, LiveJournal, etc.

Maybe it's because I started this blog right at the dawn of 4e's release and the rise of the OSR, but I rather quickly found myself pulled into an active, vibrant community and idea mill. This no doubt encouraged me to blog more, although I've certainly gone through times of much more frequent posting than others, influenced by available time and inclination. After all, this has always been something I've been willing to do with no recompense other than the occasional virtual high-five and a few shekels here and there via the RPGNow affiliate link in my sidebar.

Which sort of brings me around to the point of this post. See, I've recently become aware of a site called Patreon, and of the fact that some bloggers use that site to help make their blogs pay a bit. I certainly like the Patreon model much better than the idea of putting ads on the blog, something I've resisted from the start. Essentially, Patreon is an ongoing crowd-funding site; you pledge to pony up a certain amount of money every time I post, and you can set monthly limits and/or opt out at any time. If I have, say, five patrons giving 5 bucks a post, or 25 patrons giving one dollar, and I post once a week, well that's a cool 100 bucks in my pocket at the end of the month, which certainly makes the whole venture a bit more tangibly rewarding.

I'm contemplating setting up a Patreon for, at the very least, my Solo GPC posts. I know there's a hardcore cadre of folks out there who are itching for me to push on and finish off the series, and I'm not going to lie: adding a monetary incentive would kick my writing of those posts up the old priority ladder by more than a few rungs. In fact, if I raise enough money, I might be able to bring in a layout person/artist to help put together a swanky PDF collection of the posts once everything's in the bag.

But I'm sort of further contemplating just making Patreon a general option for all blog posts. As with the Solo GPC project, a fiduciary reward would definitely result in a somewhat more frequent posting schedule.


There's a certain tendency among writers and other creative types to devalue our work (especially when you're writing about elfgames), but goddamn if I haven't written somewhere between and half-million and one million words on this blog over the past six years. That strikes me as something that should probably start providing a return at some point, right? And so I wanted to float this idea out to the general readership, see what you guys thought:

If I provided a Patreon option for the blog, what would you like to see that would give you the incentive to shell out a few bucks a month? Would you only want to fund the Solo GPC posts, or would a more general model be of any interest? Is there something else you'd want to get back out of your patronage other than seeing more posts from this blog? Any other thoughts? Do tell.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Thoughts on 5e...so far


Just about six years and a month ago, I wrote my first substantive(?) post for this blog, talking about my thoughts on the just-released D&D Fourth Edition Player's Handbook. I struck a tentatively optimistic note at the time, but with some pretty big caveats and reservations. Looking back on that post, I can see the seeds of my rapid abandonment of that edition and long winter out in the cold from D&D fandom were already in place.

Zachary Houghton at RPG Blog II posted today about looking forward to potentially returning to the mainstream fold as well, and I have to admit that that's a big part of 5e's potential attraction for me personally. But I've also been more-or-less pleased with the various meta-decisions that have been going on. I like the "living ruleset" idea, the Starter Set, the free PDF of D&D Basic. I'm not really planning on diving into 5e with any great vigor until the autumn, when all (or nearly all) of the core books are out, but I did (along with about every other gamer with any inkling of interest) download said free document today and took a look.

I was surprised by how much I remembered from playtest drafts - both that the memory had stuck with me, and that a lot of that material made it through, considering my experiences were with the earliest of the drafts. I'm looking forward to giving the rules a more detailed look in coming weeks. One thing I did want to share, though, has to do not with the mechanics so much as some interesting semiotics.

My original (or at least my most lasting) D&D point of reference, in many ways, is the Second Edition Player's Handbook, and I very much remember the little blue-shaded call-outs at the beginning of each class write-up. These call-outs discussed the folkloric and mythological origins of each class; "Here are some famous examples of paladins you might have heard of: Roland, Ogier, Lancelot, Galehad..." That sort of thing.

The formatting in the D&D Basic PDF takes a similar approach, but with quotes drawn not from mythology but from classic D&D novels. Likewise, the example of character creation has the would-be player rolling up a dwarf named Bruenor, and later we see other familiar names from Dragonlance and the Realms cited in rules examples or sidebars discussing differences in culture or alignment. Based on those precedents, I would imagine that more such incidences will be found throughout the doc upon closer reading.

It's no big secret that D&D long ago stopped referencing literature and mythology and instead became a self-referential genre unto itself. Some people are okay with this, others aren't. I find it interesting from a cultural point of view, but it doesn't bother me too much. Things that happen in D&D sessions and media derived from the game don't really happen in any other medium, and in fact I believe that RPGs are at their best when they're not trying to explicitly recreate the experience of reading a book or watching a movie or TV show.

Still, it was somewhat surprising to see such an open representation (admission?) of this fact. It's not a bad thing, per se. In fact, I would guess that, in addition to making an appeal to tradition - this is the 40th-anniversary year of D&D, after all - we see these familiar names throughout the rules because they're intended as a gateway for people who are coming into the game via books and computer games based on the brand.

As jarring as it was to see this melding of IPs, I'm thinking it's a good thing, if only for the reasons I just mentioned. Even as someone who has only read, collectively, maybe 1.5 novels' worth of D&D lit and whose CRPG experience extends to playing Baldur's Gate over TCP/IP, even I recognized the names; I have to admit, they carry a lot more weight and resonance than the so-called "iconics" of Third Edition.

At any rate, I've got a Rifts campaign to prep. More on Fifth Edition...soon? Probably.

Friday, June 20, 2014

[Solo GPC] 545: Blind Man's Bluff

Winter came to Broughton and brought with it tragedy. Graid's beloved wife, Lady Alis, gave birth to a son but did not survive the labor. Grieving, he ordered the hall draped in black, hired a nurse to look after his children, and departed for Sarum, where he intended to surround himself with the knights and ladies of the Earl's court.

At Sarum, Graid brooded. He wondered if the death of his wife had been caused by the machinations of Lady Madule of the Raven Hair. He publicly denounced her every chance he got, but at night his dreams were haunted by visions of the reclusive woman. He began to drink heavily, both to forget his grief and dull his strange feelings for Madule. It was in this altered state, then, that he set his sights on the beautiful young wife of the steward of Ebble Castle, Sir Melianus. Her name was Amide, and, despite being a newlywed, she was captivated by Graid's winish swagger. Their burgeoning affair was an open secret, particularly as the cold weather forced them to conduct their assignations inside Salisbury Castle - not the most private of locales for such scandalous behavior.

Sir Melianus was forced to stand by, impotent with rage. He was a knight of middling rank and advancing age, while Graid was the county's greatest living knight and young and handsome to boot. Even worse, he was a favorite of King Arthur, so there could be little hope for justice even if Melianus took his case to the High Court - or so he felt. To his closest confidants, he swore vengeance upon Graid, but he knew it would have to be undertaken on the sly. He would have to be devious and catch Graid at a vulnerable moment. And so he began to plot and plan. . .

Thursday, June 5, 2014

[Solo GPC] 544: Bizarre Love Triangle

The year got off to a great start for Sir Graid: he developed a Loyalty (vassals) passion, his harvest was once again excellent, his wife Alis gave birth to a son, and Graid was formally recognized as patriarch of his extended family. In fact, one of his cousins even sent Graid a bastard child to raise as his own, a request Graid magnanimously granted.

All these boons resulted in Graid putting on a few pounds of muscle as he slowly recovered from his brush with the Fae from some years previous...

Monday, June 2, 2014

Pendragon Bargain Alert!

The newest "Bundle of Holding" is all Pendragon!

(If you're not familiar with the BoH format, you pay what you want from a certain minimum on up - in this case $9.95 - and if you pay more than the current average donation - currently $18.95 - you get a bunch of cool bonus stuff. They've been known to add more content - which is fully accessible if you've already paid your money - as the BoH rolls on.)

The minimum threshold is perfect for prospective players, as it includes the core book, the Book of Knights and Ladies (expanded chargen options), and the Book of Records (a form-fillable character sheet PDF). The expanded bundle is perfect for GMs, as it includes The Great Pendragon Campaign, and the expanded battle system (Book of Battle and Book of Armies).

If there's one thing that's always bugged me about the latest edition of Pendragon, it's the high cost of the PDFs. This Bundle nicely eliminates that criticism for the period of time that it's up, which is for a full week from this post...so check it out!


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Some GURPS-thoughts Occasioned By Transparency

No "Solo GPC" update this week, I'm afraid. Keep an eye out for the next installment this time next week.

I do quite like the idea of trying to stick to a posting schedule of one post every Thursday, minimum. So, in order to keep up the momentum, this week I'm going to ramble a bit about GURPS.

Okay, this is actually pretty cool.
If you've been a follower of this blog for any length of time, you know I have a...complicated relationship with GURPS. It's the system I've always wanted to love, but never really been able to commit to. The bad apple I just can't seem to drop.

A couple weeks ago over on Gaming Ballistic, current GURPS line editor Sean Punch and frequent GURPS author David Pulver weighed in with some surprisingly candid thoughts on the state of the game today. I have to say, I was really impressed with their candor, and I took a lot away from the thread personally, particularly this bit:
GURPS Vehicles. With apologies to David Pulver, this supplement was the origin of the "too much math" meme. Before it, GURPS was the go-to system for well-researched supplements; after it, GURPS was the go-to system for geeky number-crunching. We can't really "undo" this.
Yes, this precisely. I hadn't really thought about Vehicles as being the tipping point, but it's so true.

Prior to Vehicles' release in the late 90s, my main problem with GURPS wasn't the system at all, but rather convincing my friends to give it a try in preference to more dedicated genre games. But after Vehicles, I found myself grappling with the system as well. A subtle but significant change was under way, one that I wasn't even aware of until, some years back, I stumbled across an obscure note at the bottom of a neglected page on S. John Ross's website in which he coined the phrase "Classic-Era GURPS" (a sort of proto-OSR for the GURPS set, I suppose?). Written back before the release of GURPS 4e and Ross's own switch to using his Risus RPG as his go-to system, he had this to say about how he played GURPS with his home group:
...I game a little differently, using only what I call "Classic-Era GURPS," meaning (to make a long, rambling story short) GURPS that uses only rules present in the GURPS Basic Set, 3rd Edition (and some of my house rules, like Unlimited Mana). This means I still use Magic and Grimoire, for example, because they use the same spell rules as in the Basic Set, but I don't mess with more complex additions like Maneuvers, the Supers rules, or the Vehicles rules.
(Those bits he mentions towards the end? They would all end up folded into the core rules with the release of Fourth Edition GURPS.)

I honestly hadn't realized the change that had come over the system until I read that piece, and I think that's probably when my true disenchantment with the system began.

If you get a chance, be sure to check out the Gaming Ballistic comment thread. There's some really illuminating discussion about the current state of the game, and some tentative stabs taken in the direction of getting the game back in a direction of accessibility to the general gaming public. I, for one, would love to see a Fifth Edition of GURPS that took the game back towards its "Classic-Era" roots while retaining some of the improved mechanical changes from 4e.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

[Solo GPC] 543: The Hard Rock Tournament

It was an easy winter at Broughton Hall. The harvest had been good once again, and the granaries and cellars were full to bursting with provisions. What's more, Graid's exploits at Camelot the year before had boosted him to a new level of prominence in the kingdom. Had there been any free seats on the Round Table, he would have been a shoe-in. As the Edition 5.1 Pendragon rulebook puts it, with Graid surpassing 8,000 Glory this year he was now "known throughout all in Britain [as] one of the best in the land...and sits at the High Table in any court save Camelot."

[Such rapid advancement so early on in his career did give me pause, I must say. But Graid started out already well-known thanks to inheriting a huge chunk of Glory from his famous dad. This is typical of generational progression in KAP - each succeeding generation gets more and more of a leg up thanks to inherited Glory. Plus, I was beginning to appreciate how much more quickly Glory is accrued by an individual character in a single-player game, since Glory awards aren't split between a group. It's a nice reflexive mechanic, actually - it's tougher to get through adventures on your own, but you become a badass much more quickly, so it balances out in the end.]


Thursday, May 15, 2014

[Solo GPC] 542: There Wolf, There Castle

I love the Tournament Period. This is high Arthurian roleplaying goodness, the apogee of the Pendragon experience, in my opinion. And this year was the year that Graid immersed himself fully in the sights and experiences that accompany the period. Onward, then...


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

On Monster Manuals as Catalogs

Well, hello there. Took a bit longer of a break than I'd intended after two straight months of daily updates, but I'm back. So what have I been up to?

Well, in part I've been thinking about monster manuals.


I finally got around to designing proper random encounter tables for my AD&D 2e campaign. Prior to this, I'd been using various third-party resources, but there's really no substitute for making your own. Particularly with 2e, which has the marvelous Very Rare/Rare/Uncommon/Common 1d8+1d12 table system. And then noisms went and posted a fantastic variation on that table that simultaneously generates circumstances of the encounter and, well, I pretty much had to get off my ass and make my own tables.

One of the things that's cool about making your own random encounter tables is that you're effectively designing the local ecology as you do. You're saying, "Okay, this region's forests have elves living in them in enough of a population that you're more likely to run into them than goblins. And there's at least one green dragon in this forest, too." Stuff like that.

But in the course of making the tables, I had a small epiphany. Now, I haven't run a ton of D&D since my callow youth, so you'll have to forgive me if you're a regular DM who figured this out years ago, but...it occurred to me that just because a monster is in the Monstrous Manual (or whatever) doesn't mean it has to exist somewhere in my game world. In fact, until I've placed that monster in a random encounter table or scenario design, it doesn't exist in my world.

The fact that I just assumed otherwise (in the way we often carry a strange, unexamined assumption from our youth around in our heads until we shine a light back on it) is probably due to the aforementioned Monstrous Manual. Don't get me wrong; I love that book, with its wonderfully overwritten monster descriptions. But the "Ecology" section in each description definitely conveys the idea that these are monsters that already exist in a given game world, and it's simply up to you, the DM, to place them geographically on your particular map.

And you see this sort of approach in published D&D adventures quite a bit, this idea that you've got to interweave all the different monsters somehow and give them presence in the world. "The jermlaines, in concert with the wolfweres, are working to summon a guardian naga." Personally, that sort of D&D monster mash gets really tired for me really fast, either as DM or player. I'm a big fan of less-is-more world-building, where most allies and opponents are human and the monsters are truly monstrous. So the idea that I'm starting essentially from zero and building out was quite pleasing to me.

In effect, it changed the process of building random encounter tables from building a local ecology to an act of world-building in its own right.

Friday, April 4, 2014

[Breachworld] Q&A with Jason Richards

I found out about the Breachworld Kickstarter about a month ago, and it quickly shot to the top of my list of most-anticipated games. The Kickstarter is wrapping up this Sunday, but I was able to bug Jason Richards, the game's author, for a bit of Q&A before it does. Read on. . .

I was a big fan of Palladium Books back in the day, but had largely drifted away from their products by the late 90s. I understand you've done some freelancing for them in recent years. What sort of work did you do for Palladium? Have you done any other projects for tabletop RPGs, commercial or otherwise?

I've been writing for Palladium in some form or other for about 17 years. I started writing Rifter (the Palladium fan publication) material with Rifter #2 back in 1998. I contributed to a number of sourcebooks and then wrote World Book 28: Rifts Arzno - Vampire Incursion. My writing focus is now for Chaos Earth. My manuscript for my first Chaos Earth book, First Responders, has been in for a while. Once that's published, I'll pick up working on Psychic Storm. Chaos Earth is a great setting that I love to play and to write for, so I'll be excited to put pen to paper on that again.

Beyond working for Palladium, I've just done some more self-publishing. I have a series of detailed characters, done under the d20 OGL, called Complete Characters. It was a warm-up project for Breachworld where I learned some of the ins and outs of self-publishing and distribution. They're still up on DriveThruRPG, so feel free to check them out.

Due in part to your association with Palladium, comparisons have been drawn between Rifts and Breachworld (including on this very blog!), but you've stressed that the two games, while sharing a broadly similar genre, are quite different. Care to expand on the differences between the two?

Rifts and Breachworld have some common themes, simply by way of both being post-apocalyptic, open-world, "kitchen sink" games that incorporate a lot of different genres all mashed up together. Both include alien invasion of a sort. Beyond that, there aren't many similarities, particularly in tone and theme. Rifts is very big. Sourcebooks cover dozens of countries on every continent. There are vast empires and international corporations. Whole cities are brought into the future, and whole land masses have reappeared and reshaped the planet.

Breachworld is far more focused, and fleshes out a relatively small area to begin the game. Supplements seek to cover all of the bases of that setting. In the future, other parts of the world will be discussed, but in a similar fashion, in small bites. In Breachworld, technology is rarer and more precious, and most of the world is far more primitive than seen in Rifts. Maybe most importantly, Breachworld has an intrinsic goal built into the setting: close the Breaches and secure Earth's dimensional shores. That's not to say that every campaign needs to revolve around that task; there is plenty of adventure waiting for a game as bandits or treasure hunters or quests for hidden knowledge, but that basic setting element does exist to tie everything together. It provides drive and purpose to a significant element at large in the world, and even if the player characters aren't directly tied up in it, it will affect the world around them, just as you could play a game set in the 1940s without being directly involved with World War II, but the war would still be a driver for world events.

Now, having just explained how Breachworld and Rifts are different, what appeal do you think Breachworld offers to fans of science-fantasy games like Rifts or Gamma World, particularly lapsed fans such as myself?

I think that Breachworld's focus in regards to the building of a tactile, down-to-earth world is its biggest appeal. It seems like a strange reference for what is effectively a sci-fi/fantasy game, but a huge influence on my world design is Rockstar's console hit, Red Dead Redemption. That's a world that feels so real, so complete, that just "living" in it was a great gaming experience. Each village and camp had such character. Roaming around that open map you would routinely come across some link to a wider world, like an abandoned house or an old battleground that has nothing to do with the story and is never even brought into the context of the game, but there it was, adding flavor and texture. That's what I aim for in developing Breachworld. Of course a 160-page RPG can't fill out the map on its own, but I want every town that I map, every NPC that I write, every creature I design, and every random encounter that I conceive to feel like that. I want the players and their characters and even the Game Masters absolutely submerged, swimming in the fun of running around in this sandbox.

Sorry if that sounds too poetic or melodramatic, but it's really how I feel. I've put a lot of time and thought into this setting, for years and years. World-building is important to me as a writer, gamer, and designer, and I believe in Breachworld.

Breachworld uses Mini Six for its game engine. What, in particular, drove your decision to use that system?

I'm a "system doesn't matter" guy, and somewhat ironically, it's easier to be that way when you've got a great system. That's paradoxical, I know. Basically I want a system that is simple, adaptable, and gets things done without getting in the way. You shouldn't need a calculator on your table. Mini Six is incredibly fast and fun, and easy to teach and learn. It has a single mechanic and a single type of die. Its statistics are very solid without too many weird soft spots. If things get too hard or too easy in the game, all it takes is for the GM to slide difficulty scales to compensate and maintain Rule #1: have fun.

It doesn't hurt that the whole system can be written right into the core RPG and not take up the whole volume, which eliminates the need for a separate system book. It also doesn't hurt that it's basically the system behind one of the most beloved RPGs of all time, the old West End Games D6 Star Wars RPG. Who doesn't get nostalgic for rolling up Brash Pilots, Wookie First Mates, and Cunning Smugglers? Last time I was at Gen Con (and it's been a few years, before FFG's new incredible take), there were more D6 Star Wars games being run than all of the other Star Wars RPG games (3rd ed., Saga, etc.) combined. That's the sort of enthusiasm that is great to tap into, and using Mini Six helps in that regard.

The Breachworld Kickstarter has funded at this point, and you're getting into stretch goals. So far, you're mostly offering expanded content, which I think is a wise move. Can you give readers a preview of further stretch goals? Once Breachworld has been launched into the world, do you have any plans for follow-up supplements or adventures?

So far, I've included in the stretches just about every type of expansion that you'll see over the months after Breachworld hits the shelves, such as new Player Races, new Breach Creatures, additional Character Folios with templates, new Destinations to explore, etc. The next Stretch Goal is at $10,000 and comes in the form of a full plot-point adventure. We're on pace to hit that one, and it's going to be a great expansion.

The next one that we'll have to push to make at $10,500 is a real winner. This is a major expansion that adds a whole character type to the game. Currently, you could generally say that we have "basic" characters, though I don't mean that to say that they are overly simple or lower-classed, and then you have Epics, who are the spellcasters and psychics of Breachworld. They have special Feats that they can perform that more or less align with spells or supernatural abilities. That's the only "advanced" type of character in the core RPG, or perhaps more appropriately, the only highly "focused" character type; players will have to leverage a lot of build points or experience to step into that role and gain access to those Feats.

The $10,500 Stretch Goal is for the Fighter, which is a similarly "advanced" character type. Instead of wielding supernatural powers, the Fighter has a set of Feats focused on hand-to-hand combat. These are treed abilities such as special combos, advanced techniques, and special attacks. A Fighter might learn skills that help him or her fight off multiple enemies at once, focus on heavy-hitting "boss" type opponents, become master of a particular weapon, or similar sort of upgrades. The specifics are still in development and need some testing, but backers will get access to that as well. This will be just the first of many such specialties to be released as supplements, to include things like piloting power armor, being a jockey for a giant robot, having a special mount, becoming a cyborg, or filling any of a dozen other roles. Players can even start to combine some of these elements for some real fun that changes with every character build.

Just to say one more thing about the digital add-ons, I'd like to point out that these are a great value to backers. Each dollar that goes to one of these add-ons directly adds production value and brings new assets to bear for the benefit of the game. There's no profit here for Jason Richards Publishing, at all. This Kickstarter is about building and improving upon a quality product. Your add-on dollars go to pay for additional art, editing, proofreading, and all of the things that make a good product, a great one. Supporting the Kickstarter supports the gamers, directly, with every cent. I think that's as good a deal as there is in the market.

In closing...

Thanks to David for the chance to talk about Breachworld, a game and a world and a project that I believe in all the way down to my core. Thanks to all of my backers that have shown such faith in me, and in the promise of this game. I take your trust very seriously, and will do right by it.

I honestly believe that as a publisher, my duty is with those who spend their hard-earned money on my product. I serve you, the gamer. If there is anything at all that I can do to improve your Breachworld experience, please let me know. I'm always happy to answer questions, field complaints, or listen to suggestions. In the end, we're all gamers sitting at the table together, grinning at each other over the rattle of six-sideds. Game on.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Plans Going Forward

Phew! Two consecutive months of blogging challenges! I'm pretty proud of myself, I have to say - I managed to keep up a daily posting routine for 59 straight days, even while going through an outpatient medical procedure right smack in the middle of the whole process.

Because I'm not completely insane, I'm taking a pass on the April A-to-Z challenge, but I'm looking forward to seeing what my fellow bloggers come up with. At this point, I'm itching to use the momentum from these two challenges to transition back into writing my own material: getting back to the Grey Box Project, Solo GPC write-ups, and other random musings.

Having said that, I'm also going to take a couple days off!

March Madness Non-D&D Blog Challenge: Day Thirty-One

What out-of-print RPG would you most like to see back in publication? Why?

"Well that's the problem right now. At the moment nothing comes to mind."

Seriously, I've had a month to think of an answer to this, the final question of the challenge, and I'm kind of drawing a blank. I mean, sure, there are games like Cyberpunk 2020 that I'd love to see available again, but only for purely selfish reasons. There are still excellent cyberpunky games in print today, so it's not like an aspiring GM can't find something good, either purist or mash-up. And most of my beloved old-school games are either still in print, or else readily available on the second-hand market. I guess I'm just lucky that way - I know there are folks who have beloved games that aren't available in PDF, and with second-hand prices going for ridiculous sums.

When I think about games I'd like to see back in print, I think about genres that are currently underrepresented. It seems like mecha games aren't as common as they used to be. Palladium recently re-released Robotech, but gone are the Mekton Zs and Mechwarriors of yesteryear. And, in a related vein, there's not a whole lot going on with what, ten years ago, was seemingly a flourishing genre: anime RPGs.

I was somewhat of a Big Eyes, Small Mouth fan, and I always thought it was pretty unfortunate that Guardians of Order tanked right when the Third Edition of BESM was dropping, although admittedly 3e was pretty damn crunchy. At least it's still available in PDF (along with the other editions).


And that's the thing - many "out of print" games aren't actually so OOP. They're either still knocking around in PDF format, or else, thanks to Kickstarter, if you just wait long enough, it seems like a new version will come out eventually. Case in point, another anime RPG, OVA, has been out of print for nearly a decade but is now coming back after a very successful KS.

At the end of the day, it feels pretty good to realize that there aren't really any games that I'm actively pining for.

And that is that. Fifty-nine straight days of blogging! I think I'm going to take a couple days off...

Sunday, March 30, 2014

March Madness Non-D&D Blog Challenge: Day Thirty

Which non-D&D supplemental product should everyone know about? Give details.

I have somewhat mixed feelings, personally, about Robin Laws as a game designer. Not that he designs bad games - quite the opposite, in fact. But what he wants out of the games he designs seems to conflict with what I like to see in games I enjoy playing.

On the other hand, I always get something out of his thoughts on game theory, whether it's adventure design, how to be a better player, or how to up your game as a GM. In fact, I think the first time I was really made aware of who Robin Laws was was when I picked up a short booklet put out on the latter topic, Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering.


It's only available in PDF nowadays, but I still have the printed version I picked up soon after the book came out. At the time, I'd been running games for some years but I felt I could be doing a better job. Robin's Laws didn't exactly contain anything I didn't already understand, but it helped organize and clarify a lot of concepts and undoubtedly sharpened my GMing skills. I've largely internalized the contents of the book at this point, but I occasionally go back and flip through it nonetheless. It packs a lot of great advice into a little less than three-dozen pages, and is, in my opinion, required reading for all GMs.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

March Madness Non-D&D Blog Challenge: Day Twenty-Nine

What OSR product have you enjoyed most? Explain why.

By total coincidence, I started this blog right when the whole OSR thing was just getting off the ground. I knew Grognardia "when" - that sort of thing. It was fun to go along for the ride, to watch the first wave and second wave of posts and products, watching the evolution from close-readings to retro-clones to neo-clones (and, of course, less fun to watch the inevitable degeneration into petty bickering, in-fighting, and dick-measuring that accompanies the emergence of any sort of grass-roots creative movement).

Along the way, I experimented quite a bit with OSR tropes and themes. Because, frankly, the OSR style of gaming was actually before my own time, and to me the OSR was less an exercise in nostalgia and more a way of engaging with the history of gaming and reevaluating certain bits of received wisdom.

At the end of the day, I decided that "purist" OSR gaming (megadungeon-centric crawling, murder-hobos and high PC mortality, super-gonzo fantasy, etc.) just wasn't for me. But it did lead me to embrace my love of old systems like BRP and to gain a greater understanding of what I want out of a system, and out of my fantasy gaming.

In retrospect, my favorite output of the OSR (to date) have been the so-called "neo-clones" - the games that took old-school D&D and did something new with it. Out of all the neo-clones, the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG has proven to be my favorite. Which is a bit ironic, as I initially rejected it out of hand when it first came out.

I'm particularly pissed that I didn't pick up the limited-edition gold foil cover when I had the chance.
It was published at a time when I was pretty much done with the D&D-centric world of the OSR, and was sick to death of the glut of clones coming out at the time - I had bought several and been varying degrees of unimpressed. Everything I heard about DCC seemed to indicate that it played to the OSR's sacred cows, of which I was avowedly uninterested in. And so I took a pass.

Last year, however, I stumbled across a blog post on Age of Ruins about using DCC to run Dark Sun campaigns, and I was sold. Any system (like BRP) that can easily handle running Dark Sun immediately nets approval points in my book, and I saw that DCC didn't necessarily have to be about dungeon-crawling, despite its name - that it was more about a certain attitude, one that lined up naturally with Dark Sun and appealed to a certain personal sensibility.

In fact, as I started looking up published modules, I saw an abundance of delightful creativity, and once I bought and read the rulebook, which was full of more of the same and (even better) written in the breezy and engaging style I look for in a rulebook, I realized I'd found "my" OSR game. The absolutely fantastic art didn't hurt, either.

I ran a short campaign set in the Anomalous Subsurface Environment setting, and found the world and the rules went together like peanut butter and chocolate. I used Tower of the Stargazer for the character funnel, and that also adapted perfectly. In the end, the high character mortality rates proved too derailing for the two-player group I was running, and so the campaign was put on deep-freeze. But I really want to return to DCC (and the ASE world) one day with a bigger group. It's the game that got me excited about open-ended sandbox-style "D&D" again, and I've only begun to plumb its depths.

Friday, March 28, 2014

March Madness Non-D&D Blog Challenge: Day Twenty-Eight

What free RPG did you enjoy most? Give details.


I have to admit, this question makes me feel like a bit of a capitalist tool. I've downloaded a few free RPGs here and there, but I couldn't actually tell you what they were. They went straight to my Gaming: Miscellaneous folder and there they probably still sit, unplayed and unread. I guess there really is something to perceived value?

(What's worse is that this question seems to imply that I've got multiple free RPG play experiences under my belt, let alone just one. . .)

At any rate, two experiences do come to mind, and both from relatively recently. First off, I played in a mini-campaign of Zombi, a zombie-horror RPG with a free PDF version I'd first read about on Jeff's Gameblog and which I'd suggested to a fellow member of my face-to-face group who was interested in learning to run games. I figured the rules-lite structure would make for an easier experience, and it came off well for a novice GM's first try.

If we're counting playtests, then I also ran what was essentially a one-shot (stretched over two or three sessions) and played in a mini-campaign of the D&D Next playtest. The games were enjoyable, but were also subject to the realities of playtesting, which is to say, we were playing with half-baked rules that changed with each new version. After that experience, I don't think I'll be playtesting any rules any time soon, although I'd still be happy to playtest scenarios.

At any rate, that's a pretty sparse resume. I know there are tons of fabulous free RPGs out there - anyone have any suggestions they want to share?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

March Madness Non-D&D Blog Challenge: Day Twenty-Seven

What IP that doesn’t have an RPG deserves it? Why?

I had to think about this one a bit since, as I wrote yesterday, I tend to not buy RPGs based on IPs I'm already familiar with.

In a general sense, I suppose, it would probably be cool if there was a Harry Potter RPG, just because it would do a great service towards growing the hobby, although the iron's not nearly as hot now in that regard as it was even a few years ago.

I guess, personally, the best answer I can come up with - and this is a bit of a cheat, I'll admit - is that I'd love to see a decent English-language Lone Wolf RPG. No, not the manga; the 80s game books. Mongoose had a d20 version that was, well, pretty execrable. Both in terms of mechanics and (especially) art. They redeemed themselves quite a bit with their second try, a rules-lite RPG that stuck very close to the game book mechanics. But there was still something missing from the aesthetic, although Rich Longmore got a lot closer than previous Mongoose illustrators.

The folks at Le Grimoire publish the French language version called Loup Solitaire, and they clearly get that a big part of the appeal of Lone Wolf (which is, let's face it, a fairly generic fantasy world) lies in the art, and they brought in original Lone Wolf artist Gary Chalk as well as the mighty Russ Nicholson to do illustrations. If I was a Francophone, I'd have no problems.

But for some reason, English-language efforts keep trying to update the look of the world to make it into just another post-3e/post-Skyrim clone. Snoozers.

Mongoose finally lost the Lone Wolf license and it went to Cublice 7 last year. I'm optimistic. C7 does good work and has a firm track record of putting out excellent licensed games. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we'll finally get an English-language Lone Wolf RPG that does justice to the setting's legacy. We shall see...


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

March Madness Non-D&D Blog Challenge: Day Twenty-Six

What RPG based on an IP did you enjoy most? Give details.

I've talked about some IP-based games in this series already: Riverworld, Aliens, Robotech...but I can't really say I've played any of those enough to enjoy "the most." And there are a few biggies I've been interested in but have never had a chance to play, namely any iteration of a Star Wars RPG.

Even though Lovecraft's works are in the public domain now, they weren't when Call of Cthulhu was published, so I guess that qualifies as an RPG based on an IP, right? Is something still considered an IP once it's in the public domain? Does anyone care?


At any rate, my love for Call of Cthulhu is well-documented on this blog and even preserved in audio amber. Like most other IP-based RPGs, I was unfamiliar with the property prior to buying the game, but the game then served as a gateway to familiarizing myself with the source material. This has been a pattern of mine ever since I started gaming, to the exclusion of buying IP-based games based on properties I already know about. It's almost like there's an aversion there. Maybe it's because there's a feeling of familiarity, or a feeling that it's somebody else's story? If I don't know the major players in the story, or I'm intrigued by the setting and want to find out more, it seems I'm more apt to enjoy the game initially.

I've got a couple friends who are very interested in the forthcoming Firefly RPG. I've never seen so much as a minute of footage from either the show or the movie. (I've got a passing familiarity with the characters and the world because, really, how could I not have absorbed that through geek osmosis?) At this point, I'm thinking the greatest service I can do to guarantee my interest in playing in those campaigns would be to maintain my ignorance, and only check out Firefly and Serenity after we started playing! Something to ponder...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March Madness Non-D&D Blog Challenge: Day Twenty-Five

Which game has the sleekest, most modern engine?

Ooh, see, I've got a problem with the implication in the wording of this question. Because it kind of gets into issues of Western historiography in general. "The march of progress," and all that. Newer=sleeker=better. If the OSR has taught me anything, it's not to dismiss older games as antiquated and unplayable just because they're, well, older.

But there's no denying that games go through trends in design, and nowadays we're seeing a lot of designs that are intentionally narrow of focus and light of design. One example that leaps immediately to mind is Cthulhu Dark by Graham Walmsley. This is a system that fits on a brochure-sized foldout, and that uses no character sheet and only good ol' six-siders, yet (according to everything I've read and the couple actual-plays I've listened to - I have yet to play it myself) perfectly captures the significant tropes of Lovecraftian horror gaming.

For a sleek universal system, it's hard to beat S. John Ross's Risus: The Anything RPG. It's more "traditional" in design, in that it uses things like attributes and character sheets, but it also fits on just four pages. Haven't played this one yet, either, however.

Of the games I have played, Dungeon World stands out as another example of a sleek, focused design, this time oriented towards explicating all the implicit elements of the D&D experience. Although not nearly as rules-lite as Cthulhu Dark (frankly, I don't think you could get much lighter and still have a recognizable RPG), it shares a similar focus mechanically in that there's an emphasis on "plug and play" gaming - ideally, the first session should be all improv on the part of the GM, with world-building taking place through game play, and character sheets have pretty much everything each player needs to know about how the game mechanics apply to their character and nothing more.

As a post-script, and in reference to my grousing above, I'd like to point out that TWERPS ("The World's Easiest Role-Playing System"), which featured only one attribute and one die type and certainly gives games like Cthulhu Dark and Risus a run for their money in terms of simplicity, was first published in 1987.

Plus ├ža change...

Monday, March 24, 2014

March Madness Non-D&D Blog Challenge: Day Twenty-Four

What is the most broken game that you tried and loved to play, warts and all?

My initial knee-jerk answer to this was any game by Palladium, but then I gave it some thought. For all the guff it receives, I wouldn't call Palladium's core system "broken," necessarily. Creaky as hell? Yes. Non-intuitive? Absolutely. And it's those elements that killed our enthusiasm for Palladium rather than any perceptions of brokenness.

Of course, Rifts is a whole other ball of wax, potentially. But even then, I think the most broken system that got played warts-and-all anyway had to have been AD&D 2.5. That is to say, Second Edition circa the mid-90s, back when there were a ton of splats and (even worse) the Player's Option series. I've written before about those dark days, when TSR was churning out unplaytested material by the ream, and that's not even counting the stuff that showed up in Dragon magazine every month. My memories of games played back then are full of just flat-out game-breaking characters.

But we still had fun with it. Some of our most successful AD&D campaigns of that era hail from the 2.5e years. There's no doubt that by the time Third Edition came out, we were all ready for it, and welcomed it with open arms, but I think there's something to be said that, up until August of 2000, we were still chugging along with our "broken" AD&D games.


The funny denouement to all this is that I've recently come back to running 2e. I've played a bunch of retro-clones and neo-clones over the last five years or so, but so far this 2e campaign is the most fun I've had playing traditional D&D. I'm sure part of that is simple familiarity - 2e is by far the edition I've run the most of - but I have to say that I'm also enjoying the "warts and all" nature of this particular edition. It hits a nice sweet spot in terms of organization and explication versus funky old school mechanics that allow for rulings over rules. Pretty much all the house rules we're using right now come out of personal preferences rather than any attempt to "fix" the system.

That said, I'm exercising quite a bit of DM oversight in terms of what I'm allowing in my campaign, and I have zero interest in returning full-on to the days of Player's Option and edition 2.5.
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