Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Cree Summer: Cartoon Diva

She's everywhere! These days you can't hardly turn on a cartoon without hearing Cree Summer's distinct voice. Her regular work includes Suzie Carmichael on Rugrats and All Grown Up, Numbuh 5 on Codename: Kids Next Door, the best friend on The Buzz on Maggie, and Foxxy Love on Drawn Together. She's also done guest appearances on numerous shows like Danny Phantom and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. If Conan: Red Nails ever gets released we'll hear the delightful Ms. Summer as the voice of Valeria. In totality Cree Summer's voice credit list amounts to well over a hundred different projects. Would you believe she was Elmyra on Tiny Toon Adventures? Discovering Elmyra and Foxxy Love were the same person totally blew my little mind.

Ms. Summer is quite a singer as well. She's sung in-character on Kids Next Door and numerous Rugrats-related projects, including the opening theme for All Grown Up. I haven't seen a credit for it, but I'd bet dollars to donuts that she's the voice behind the slick theme song for the new superhero toon Ben Ten. In '99 she released a solo album called Street Faerie. I really ought to track down a copy.

Monday, February 27, 2006

I got your threefold model right here, buddy!

RPG theory time, kiddies! Ron Edwards closed the GNS worship section of the Forge, so someone has to pick up the slack. As we all know, every good RPG theory has to divide all games into several vague categories. My categories are Retro, Stupid, and Pretentious. Any RPG worth playing will fall into one or more of these categories. Here's a handy chart:

(UPDATED 1/29/07 to feature a less asstastic pic.)

Retro games make use of settings, mechanics, or assumptions that are now considered outdated by the rpg mainstream, but these same assumptions once defined that mainstream. Does a game have classes and/or levels for no damn reason? That's a retro design element. Do you have a group of PCs going on ill-defined adventures with little or no motivation? That's another hallmark of retro design. These games may be old, or intentionally designed with an old school vibe.

Stupid games do not take themselves seriously. PCs can die horrible deaths and other grim stuff, but that horrible death might involve being eaten by a horde of zombie chickens. Big dice charts, such as wandering monsters or random mutations, are often associated with this style of game. Most comedy games fall into this category, as do all the good versions of Gamma World. The new editions of Paranoia and WFRP look pretty Stupid to me as well.

Pretentious games know that they are better than Retro or Stupid games. They're not just games, they're cutting edge explorations of blah, blah, blah. I'm sure you can all list an armload of Pretentious games: Vampire, most of the rest of the World of Darkness, Nobilis, various Forge-inspired designs. I'd also put HERO and GURPS into this category as examples of mechanically Pretentious games. You can have setting-based Pretension as well: Blue [Rose, Planet], Tekumel, Harn, etc.

In addition to more a more useful categorization schema, my theory has another leg up on Edwards's: incoherent play is better. You don't need laser-like focus on Stupidity, Pretention, or Retro-osity. Retro play is fun. Stupid play is fun. But Retro Stupid play is totally awesome. Case in point: Encounter Critical. Similarly, Vampire is plain ol' Pretentious, but add some Stupid to the mix and you've got Exalted or Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game. And how about Retro Pretension? I've got 2 words for you: Classic Traveller.

The big hole in my theory is that black area in the chart where Retro Stupid Pretention is found. That ought to be the most totally rad place in the universe, but right at this moment the only game I can think of that definitely goes there is World of Synnibarr. But that game is at its best when drifted to Retro Stupid play. Which is really easy to do. The trick is to not be Raven c.s. McCracken. I suppose one could argue that Dungeons & Dragons fits the requirements to be Retro Stupidly Pretentious. But every RPG theory fails the moment D&D is taken into consideration, so I probably ought to quit while I'm ahead.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Fun with math

One of my favorite Bob the Angry Flower comics:(click the pic for a larger version)

Anyway, I decided to do the math to see how long 10^11 and 10^36 seconds are in more easily graspable terms. A year ought to be roughly 60 X 60 x 24 X 365 seconds. That's about 3 X 10^7 seconds in length. "10^11 seconds earlier" would be 4 orders of magnitude larger, or around 10,000 years. So the transition from Angry Flower to Robo Galactic Mega Brain took about that long. Mega Bob has 10^39 more seconds before the universe collapses. That's a pretty dang long time, something like 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years. That's about 22 orders of magnitude larger than the present estimated age of the universe. The authors of The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity invented a whole new time scale to be able to deal with these sorts of spans. They use, IIRC, 'cosmological decades' where each decade is an order of magnitude of seconds larger than the previous one. I.e. the first cosmological decade was over when the universe was one second old. Ten seconds later the next one ended. I think we're presently in the tenth cosmological decade. I'll have to go back to the library and check to see if Bob's numbers for the End of All Things match the predictions of Five Ages authors Adams and Laughlin.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

War Drums minis list

found on EN World

Lawful Good
Arcane Ballista....Rare #1
Arcanix Guard Common #2
Aspect of Moradin....Rare and Epic #3
Axe Soldier Common #4
Combat Medic....Uncommon....#5 (Confirmed)
Elemental Wall Uncommon #6
Large Bronze Dragon Rare #7
Sacred Watcher Uncommon #8
Sand Giant....Rare #9
Shieldwall Soldier Common #10
Warforged Bodyguard Uncommon #11
Warforged Captain Uncommon #12
Warforged Scout Uncommon #13
Warpriest of Moradin....Uncommon (Commander) #14

Chaotic Good
Brass Samurai Uncommon #15
Dragon Totem Hero Rare and Epic #16
Dragonne....Rare #17
Halfling Slinger....common 18/60 (Confirmed)
Hunting Cougar common #19
Lion of Talisid Uncommon #20
Mephling Pyromancer Uncommon #21
Steelheart Archer....Uncommon (Commander) #22
Warbound Impaler Rare #23
Warforged Barbarian....Rare #24
Wemic Barbarian....Rare #25
Wood Elf Ranger....Common (Fixed Starter) #26

Gulgar Rare any faction #27

Lawful Evil
Aspect of Hextor....Rare....#28 (Confirmed) Epic
Flameskull....Uncommon #29
Goblin Blackblade....Common #30
Goblin Underboss....Uncommon (Commander) #31
Hobgoblin Archer Common #32
Inspired Lieutenant....Uncommon (Commander) #33
Karrnathi Zombie Uncommon #34
Khumat Rare #35
Large Duergar Uncommon #36
Night Hag....Rare #37
Shuluth, Archvillain....Rare (Epic/Unique) #38
Skeletal Legionnaire Common #39
Snig, Worg Rider....Rare (Unique) #40
Terror Wight Common #41
War Troll....Rare (Epic) #42
Zakya Rakshasa....Rare #43

Chaotic Evil
Blood Ghost berserker Uncommon #44
Chimera....Rare #45
Derro....Common....#46 (Confirmed)
Fiendish Girallon....Uncommon (Large) #47
Frost Dwarf #48
Hill Giant Barbarian....Uncommon (Large)....#49 (Confirmed)
Hill Giant Chieftan #50
Horde Zombie Common #51
Howling Orc Common #52
King Obould Many-Arrows....Rare(Unique) #53
Ogre War Hulk Rare #54
Orc Mauler....Common (Fixed Starter) #55
Orc Wardrummer rare #56
Quaggoth Slave....Common #57
Tiefling Blademaster....(Uncommon Commander) #58
Troglodyte Thug Common #59
Warduke....Rare(Unique/Epic) #60

Combat Medic? We used to call those guys clerics.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

This is how my brain works sometimes

My family ate at a Mexican restaraunt today. This place has a frequent patron punch card, whereby if you get twelve punches on it then your next lunch combo is free. Here's the side of the card that doesn't have the little cells for the punch:

Do you see how the card seems to be saying "REST ME" and "ANTE NO"? Or maybe the message is "AUR XICA"! Probably the restaraunt logo originally appeared in 3 colors: the red, white, and green of Mexico's flag. But the tinfoil crazy guy in me sees this card and thinks it carries a hidden message.

Beware the Aur Xica and its minions. They're everywhere.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Players Handbook Cover Art etc.

In recent years the cover of the original AD&D Player's Handbook has inspired several homages.

I seem to recall some internet drama when the Hackmaster PHB premiered. Apparently John Kovalic got mad because he thought Kenzer & Co. was ripping off his idea, which was to rip off someone else's idea. Weird.

As I write this blog entry the PHBII has not been released. I found this image on Amazon, so the final cover may differ from this version.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

More Apocryphal Gaming

Just so you know, Encounter Critical is not the only game based upon a foundation of phantasm. S. John Ross's earlier Pokethulhu rpg often refers to the original Pokethulhu cartoon, despite no such cartoon ever existing. Another example of an apocryphal game is Green Ronin's Spaceship Zero. It's based upon a sci-fi radio serial that also never existed. As I understand it, the rulebook even contains an episode guide just like you'd get from a licensed game. Cynthia Celeste Miller's Omlevex operates on a similar but more subdued conceit, using such devices as faux comic covers for the characters in her super-hero setting. Silver Age Sentinels does much the same with it's house setting. Neither Omlevex or SAS push the hoax angle as hard as Encounter Critical did or Spaceship Zero continues to do. Heck, you can buy the soundtrack to the Spaceship Zero movie. (Toren "MacBin" Atkinson and Warren Banks, the authors of Zero, are members of Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, whom I consider to be the heirs apparent to the throne of Blue Oyster Cult. In my mind that's a pretty cool throne, with skulls and stuff.)

Another great example of an apocryphal RPG is Olivier Legrand's Mazes & Minotaurs. Back in 2002 cool game dude Paul Elliott (a.k.a. Mithras, a.k.a. the author of GURPS Atomic Horror and lotsa other cool stuff) wrote an RPGnet column entitled The Gygax - Arneson Tapes, in which he outlines a thought experiment with the following premise: what if the grandfathers of roleplaying had been more into Jason & The Argonauts? Monsieur Legrand takes this idea and rolls with it, producing a complete vintage game that was the progenitor rpg in some alternate universe. And it looks pretty dang cool, too.

HackMaster could also be viewed as an apocryphal game, considering that the author is a fictional character from the pages of Knights of the Dinner Table. I'd really love to see someone produce a first edition HackMaster rulebook, or a Basic HackMaster. I'd buy a Basic HackMaster boxed set in a minute, as long as it came with a module like Little Keep on the Borderlands or Quest for the Unknown. The full-on version of the game is just too much for me. I can only handle one 1000+ page rpg in my life and that slot is already taken by you-know-what.

Another form of apocryphal gaming would be adventures in the de-canonized. FASA produced some great material for Star Trek that no longer fits the overal Trek milieu. My favorite such bit would be the Four Years War, a Klingon-Federation conflict set prior to the Original Series. Similarly, you can't run a canonical Star Wars game based upon the Droids cartoon series anymore. Due to the events in Episode I, Droids has been banished to the same Lucasian Limbo as the Star Wars Holiday Special. According to reports Marc Miller, Traveller's Lord and Saviour, has seen fit to remove his blessing from two previously official regions of the Traveller universe: the Gateway Quadrant from Judges Guild and The Beyond from Paranoia Press. I've got the four sector books from the Gateway Quadrant series. I can see why some hard sci-fi fans would find them too silly, but to me the Quadrant looks like a great place to set some zap-bang space opera. I don't have any firsthand knowledge of The Beyond, but my sources say its even less serious than the Judges Guild material. At the moment I can't think of any non-sci-fi examples of previously-canonical-now-apocryphal gaming material, but I bet it's out there and I'm just being dim.

The gold medal example of an apocryphal game has to be Epic Legends of the Hierarchs: The Elemenstor Saga Pen & Paper RPG, which was definitely not published by Black Fox Games back in 1997. ELotH:TESP&PRPG was never produced because the Epic Legends of the Hierarchs saga is itself a playful hoax meant to mock fantasy novels and anime and such. No doubt someone will eventually write a d20 version anyway. Me, I'm tempted to get get a copy of Spaceship Zero and write up a Savage Worlds conversion. IMHO the authors of the officially licensed SSZ game clearly failed to capture the true spirit of the original radio show.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Phillip K Dick Android Missing

I Swear To Grodd I Am NOT Making This Up.

from the Sydney Morning Herald:
Philip K Dick is missing.

Not the American science fiction writer whose novels spawned hit films such as Blade Runner and Total Recall -- he died more than 20 years ago -- but a state-of-the-art robot named after the author.

The quirky android, was lost in early January while en route to California by commercial airliner.

Click on the link for the whole story and a creepy photo. Man, I am freaking out right now.

quick meta note

Anyone getting this blog via a feed will probably be seeing some old posts pop up over the next week or so. I'm going back and changing where I'm hosting some of the older images on the blog. I'll also be doing some minor updates to The Incomplete Pictorial History of the Bulette and The Wraeththu Report.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Ask not for whom the drums beat...

They beat for the Warduke!

Warduke is the badass Boba Fett/Darth Vader knock-off from the D&D toyline of the eighties who re-appeared a while back as a Critical Threat in Dungeon #105. And he'll be getting his own figure in the next D&D minis release, War Drums. As far as the old D&D toys go my heart will always belong to Zarak, the evil half-orc assassin. But Warduke was hella cool too.

Absence of the word 'cold' interesting

NY Team Confirms UCLA Tabletop Fusion

"The new study also verified the fundamental physics behind the original experiement."

Monday, February 13, 2006


According to a new thread at ENWorld it seems someone at RPGShop kinda screwed up. They took a list of game designer blogs from the supposedly confidential "cool game designers only" forum at RPGnow and sent the list out in their February 9th newsletter. I usually trash the newsletter without reading it, but since I use Gmail I was able to retrieve the list:

Highmoon: http://dmperez.blogspot.com
Gareth-Michael Skarka: http://www.livejournal.com/users/gmskarka
Chris Pramas: http://www.livejournal.com/users/freeport-pirate
Nicole Lindroos: http://www.livejournal.com/users/iamnikchick
Bret Boyd: http://dmbretb.blogspot.com/atom.xml
Deborah Balsam: http://dogsoul.blogspot.com/atom.xml
Ari Marmell: http://www.livejournal.com/users/mouseferatu
Erik Mona: http://www.superunicorn.com/erik/atom.xml
Mike Mearls: http://www.livejournal.com/users/mearls
James Maliszewski: http://www.livejournal.com/users/maliszew
M. Jason Parent: http://www.livejournal.com/users/d20hound
Rob Schwalb: http://www.livejournal.com/users/roninevil
Steve Kenson: http://www.livejournal.com/users/xomec
Chad Underkoffler: http://chadu.livejournal.com
Andrew Kenrick: http://littlestkobold.livejournal.com
Keith Taylor: http://93gamesstudio.com/blog1.htm
Lisa Hartjes: http://www.lisahartjes.com/ http://www.hartfeltproductions.com/
Preston P. DuBose: http://flametoad.com
Silven Publishing Team: http://silvenpublishing.blogspot.com/
Sir Clay: http://www.livejournal.com/users/sirclay

Some people on the above list are annoyed that their WORLD WIDE WEB page has been publicized. Mike Mearls puts that annoyance, and blogging in general, in persepective:
I think blogs are kind of funny. They really bring out the drama queen in people (ZOMG I HAD THE MOST TRYING TIME SHOPPING AT BEST BUY TODAY!@!@!). On one hand, it seems like people blog for attention. On the other hand, they want a blog to be private enough that they can be drama queens without embarrassing themselves.

I think it was Mr. Goetz, my high school Social Studies teacher, that used to say "Don't write down anything you wouldn't want your mom to read." Considering that my mom has read this blog at least once, that was pretty good advice.

This whole development is pretty timely, since just last week we were discussing over at RPGPundit how many game designers have blogs that are as exciting as watching the corn grow.

Platinumhand is more like it

Tom Moldvay is one of my favorite game writers from back in the day. He wrote Lords of Creation, the universe-hopping, time-travelling kitchen sink game published by Avalon Hill in 1983. Moldvay's most famous game gig was editing the '81 Basic D&D rules, the one with the awesome Erol Otus cover. The one book by Mr. Moldvay I long to acquire is a third party module called Seren Ironhand. Out-of-print game hawker Hamilcar has yet another copy of Ironhand up for sale on eBay. I swear this guy must have a case of them or something. Every few months he lists another copy and the D&D collectors dutifully bid it up to 40 bucks or more. Too rich for my blood. I want to know what's inside the creepy castle on the cover, but not that bad.

Fun fact: Seren Ironhand is part 2 of a module trilogy. The other installments were never published.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Movie Quote

Dr. Evil: The details of my life are quite inconsequential.
Therapist (Carrie Fisher): Oh no, please, please, let's hear about your childhood.
Dr Evil: Very well, where do I begin? My father was a relentlessly self-improving boulangerie owner from Belgium with low grade narcolepsy and a penchant for buggery. My mother was a fifteen year old French prostitute named Chloe with webbed feet. My father would womanize, he would drink, he would make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark. Some times he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy, the sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament. My childhood was typical, summers in Rangoon, luge lessons. In the spring we'd make meat helmets. When I was insolent I was placed in a burlap bag and beaten with reeds, pretty standard really. At the age of 12 I received my first scribe. At the age of fourteen, a Zoroastrian named Vilma ritualistically shaved my testicles. There really is nothing like a shorn scrotum, it's breathtaking, I suggest you try it.
Therapist: You know, we have to stop.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Expert Barrier

Remember the Sound Barrier and how people used to think a plane couldn't surpass it? Nowadays we have the Light Barrier, which seems just as unbreakable in 2006 as it was in 1906. Well, in my mind there is an Expert Barrier, such that no PC can surpass the 14th level without the physics of D&D breaking down. Back in the earliest days of Basic/Expert D&D the rules only went to level 14, with mere suggestions for post-14 play. Sure, OD&D and AD&D had rules for wizards of level 18+ and the '83 version of Basic/Expert/Companion/Master/Immortal D&D had rules for 36th level and PC godhood. But I started with the Moldvay & Cook version of D&D and its level 14 cap. To this day I have these this niggling little voices of doubt concerning levels 15 and above. These voices maintain that only munchkins and cheaters play characters with levels that high. The voices also say that the rules strain under that much PC power.

Although I've run some 10th level and higher level stuff (such as multilple forays Against the Giants), my real comfort zone in D&D is pretty low. Those first three Basic levels are golden for me. And the early Expert range of 4th to 8th are a lot of fun. But once PCs start to hit what used to be called Name Level I start getting a little freaked out. And that is with rulesets I feel I can handle! I pulled the plug on my 3.0 campaign largely because 6th level PCs making magic items seemed Just Plain Wrong. I'm doing better handling this mental baggage of a bygone era, but looking at my present campaign has me worried. We're coming to the end of the first huge-ass campaign arc (I don't even normally do huge-ass campaign arcs, but Dungeon Interludes makes that job a snap.) and it looks like we'll be done in perhaps as few as 2 more sessions. Assuming the Good Guys win most of the party will be 12th level or so by the time we're finished, maybe even 13th. That's dangerously close to the Expert Barrier. And I've only thrown fuel onto the fire by running a campaign using the Gestalt rules from Unearthed Arcana.

So here I am running a campaign that I enjoy and that my players seem to enjoy. But with each new session I'm more and more concerned that the game will collapse under its own weight and form a little black hole of suck right where my game room used to be. Even now I have trouble handling things like spellcasting NPCs or monsters with more than one or two special abilities. Experience running such freaks will not doubt help my confidence, but once Dungeon Interludes is done I'll lose the boost gained by having a clear structure to hang the campaign on. To help with that end I'm thinking the post-Interludes campaign needs to go in one or both of two directions. One path is to use more Dungeon Crawl Classics from Goodman Games. Right now they sell no less than four modules that would be of appropriate levels. And I really like the DCC line. The other route would be to spend mutliple sessions looting Castle Maure, the old Gygaxian adventure site updated for 3.5 in the pages of Dungeon. It might be possible to do both of these options. I've got a few other Dungeon adventures that might work as well. And I need to run at least one do-it-myself adventure. I've already started working on some notes for it. It's called Union of the Snake and features a whole slew of serpent-themed monsters and some evil outsiders. The party rangers will finally get to use their special anti-monster abilities!

I feel a sense of investment in my current campaign and I'm actively working towards making it function and grow. But I still can't shake the notion that I should also be doing some preliminary work on my next campaign. That's why sometimes in this blog you'll see me talking about running Low Life or Arcana Evolved or maybe Northern Crown. Part of me feels doomed by the Expert Barrier.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Man, this is too cool

There's a new review up at RPGnet for a new PDF of spells called 50 New Ways to Blow Things Up. Love that title! According to reviewer Charlie Dunwoody this is a well-written and tightly designed book of 50 interesting new evocation spells. You can buy 50 Ways direct from Silven Publishing by clicking here.

Times like this I wish I was playing a wizard in somebody else's D&D campaign.

D&D 3.5 Stats Test

Category 1
Here are your Stats!

Strength: 10
Dexterity: 10
Constitution: 10
Intelligence: 10
Wisdom: 10
Charisma: 10
You are the Average Joe! According to our variables you were AVERAGE
in: Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis and Cha. You were BELOW AVERAGE in: n/a.
You were ABOVE AVERAGE in: n/a. You were POOR in: n/a. You were VERY
HIGH in: n/a.
Not happy with your stats? Work on it for three months and then take
the test again!

Link: The D&D 3.5 Stat Test written by texasgamer on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Thursday, February 09, 2006

BattleTech press release

Classic BattleTech: Back with a Vengeance!


August of 2006 sees the unveiling of a whole new look and presentation for Classic BattleTech.

The basic rules and concepts of the game have not changed: thirty-foot tall metal titans of doom-piloted by feudal MechWarrior knights-firing lightning bolts, coherent lasers and autocannons in an orgy of destruction across a futuristic landscape of thousands of worlds.

These concepts have made Classic BattleTech/MechWarrior® one of the most successful science fiction lines ever created, spawning millions of sold MechWarrior PC games, almost a hundred full-length novels, more than ten million sold MechWarrior: Dark Age Collectable Miniatures Game figures, comic books, toys, a cartoon, virtual reality centers, over five-thousand fan-based websites and more.

Yet it all began with the original board game, which still conveys all the best the universe has to offer, presented in a whole new way:

*All the disparate game systems from BattleMechs® to vehicles, battle armor to aerospace units: all are fully integrated into a single, unified rules set.

*The new series of six core rulebooks are organized and presented to provide a foundation of game play (and the universe), for the various aspects of Classic BattleTech. Knowing which core products to stock or purchase for Classic BattleTech will be simple and easy, allowing for a smooth transition from one core rulebook to the next.

*The core line of Classic BattleTech rulebooks will be published in full-color, hard back.


Total Warfare

The product of over twenty years of gaming experience, Total Warfare presents the rules of the BattleTech game system as never before. Fully integrated and meticulously updated, Total Warfare provides the most detailed and comprehensive rules set published to date for BattleTech; the perfect companion for standard tournament play.

Starterbook: Sword and Dragon™

The Starterbooks are a perfect way to jump into the further excitement of the Classic BattleTech universe once players have tried their hands at BattleTech. Starterbook: Sword and Dragon provides a short synopsis of the conflicts between the ancient enemies of House Davion and House Kurita, as conveyed through the infamous Fox's Teeth and Sorenson's Sabres.
Includes record sheets for everyone in both commands, including eight, never-before-seen 'Mech variants!

Sword and Dragon 'MechPacks

Iron Wind Metals (www.IronWindMetals.com) will be simultaneously releasing Sword and Dragon 'MechPack Davion and Sword and Dragon 'MechPack Kurita to support Starterbook: Sword and Dragon. Each 'MechPack contains four unique 'Mech variants, to be used in conjunction with the new variant record sheets found in the Starterbook.


A companion volume to Total Warfare, Classic BattleTech TechManual combines all the construction rules for the various units presented in that core rules set. More than just a rulebook, the TechManual presents numerous sourcebook-style treatises, providing the in-universe context for these units and the technologies of their development.

Classic BattleTech Introductory Box Set™

For the first time in over a decade, plastic miniatures are back in the base box set! As ever, the introductory box is the starting point for any player, containing everything needed to play. But now players can have the thrill of 3-dimensional figures to bring excitement to their games from the moment they open the lid.


FanPro LLC has big plans afoot to support the re-branding of Classic BattleTech.

*Issue #8 of Games Quarterly (shipping February 10th) contains an interview covering some of the behind-the-scenes decisions for this re-branding and the launching of the new core line of Classic BattleTech rulebooks.
*An extensive marketing campaign leading up to August's release will launch in March.
*Kicking off the launch will be a great new look to the www.ClassicBattleTech.com website. Fully integrating the new branding look of Classic BattleTech, the site will be streamlined, while retaining the depth of information of the current site, including the ever popular forums.
*A new weekly BattleBlog will be featured on the front page that will have insights and information direct from the Line Developer, Randall Bills, on a whole range of topics pertaining to all aspects of this new and exciting time. Topics include everything from what this re-branding means for fans and retailers to what rules will be improved upon and how they will be presented.
*Starting on March 18th (and running the third Saturday of every month through August) an open-to-the-public Live BattleChat will be hosted by www.BattleCorps.com, at 10AM Pacific Standard Time. Randall Bills will be answering questions posted by those in attendance; look to both www.BattleCorps.com and www.ClassicBattleTech.com as we near March 18th for details on how to attend.

Feel free to use the attached PDF, containing most of this information, as you deem appropriate and make sure to keep watch at www.ClassicBattletech.com (and www.FanproGames.com) for updates, sneak previews, and more!

©2006 WizKids, Inc. All rights reserved. Classic BattleTech and WK Games are registered trademarks and/or trademarks of WizKids, Inc. Used under license.

The Trashmen Tests

The Quarter Bin is an old webpage devoted to comical funnybooks, what with the caped superguys and all. It's well worth the read if you are into that sort of thing. My favorite piece from the Quarter Bin is Comics Reality Checks I: The Three Trashmen Tests. In this article you will find how an obscure Minnesota surf band leads the author to the formula for good comics. What's more, lately I've been thinking that the Trashmen Tests are applicable to the kind of roleplaying games that I like. Here's the relevant passage from the article:

Some music makes it, and some doesn't. Often the bloviated importance granted to pieces by long-winded critics travels in inverse proportion to the compliance with the standard; while we can roll our eyes at hopelessly self-important acts whose works find their way into freshman literature courses (masquerading as poetry or as words of substance), we can turn, wrily, towards three truths the Trashmen understood. Music can qualify as fun and worthwhile if it qualifies three criteria that together compose a necessary condition.

*Only such music as we might describe as loud at any volume qualifies.

*Only music which we might describe as annoying to grown-ups qualifies.

*And, most importantly, only music which we might describe as stupid qualifies.

And that, in a nutshell, explains why "Louie, Louie" by the Kingsmen holds a warm place in the hearts of overly loud drunks in a way that "Revolution Number 9" probably never will. It undermines the necessary loudness by dabbling in long stretches of quiet and subtlety; rather than annoying grownups, it invites them to greater feats of self-admiration by basking in a glow of perceived genius; and it invites too-serious discussion, denying it the label of "stupid" even where certain details of the song make the exclusion somewhat problematic.

Why are D&D and Rifts successful while so many indie masterpieces languish in obscurity? Because D&D and Rifts are louder, more immature, and stupider, that's why! The closest thing to a 'serious' game I've ever enjoyed is Call of Cthulhu. Even then, that game is hardly at its best when played with a straight face. All the Cthulhu plushies and whatnot ought to tell you how seriously people really take CoC.

The Trashmen Tests also help me come to grips with what I was doing wrong with my old Traveller campaign. I was trying too hard to make my game a deep exploration of setting in a realistic sci-fi universe. Clearly I should have put way more emphasis on blowing shit up and other hijinks.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Maclennan & Sartin review Wraeththu

Although I've been kinda down on RPGnet lately, I feel I must pass on this link to a new review of the Wraeththu rpg. Darren MacLennan and Jason Sartin's review of FATAL is now the stuff of legend. It would be remiss of me to not pass on a link to this new joint venture.

Northern Crown

When you step back and think about it for a moment, some honky in the Midwest of America running faux-European D&D is only slightly less ridiculous than that same honky running an Oriental Adventures campaign. So when Don McKinney introduced me to Northern Crown from Atlas Games, I thought maybe I could make such a setting work. Northern Crown is a D&D campaign set in alt-history America, circa 1666. Great premise, especially for this kid raised in the far western wilderness of Illinois. And the ability to play a Freemason in the New World would allow me to really buy in to Lawful Good and paladins and such.

Unfortunately, the author has seen fit to trim things that ought to be included for Northern Crown to work as a D&D setting. Gone are the non-human PC races, replaced by 17 sub-varieties of humans based on regional, ethnic and political divisions. Similarly, I could find no references to orcs or dragons in the two published Northern Crown hardbounds. The dealbreaker, though, is that the author excludes the following classes from his campaign world: barbarians, fighters, rangers, monks, and rogues. WTF? Viking-occupied Vinland appears on the map, but you can't play a barbarian? Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed are real people in this setting, but you can't play a ranger? No fighters or rogues?!? I am boggled. (Monks I'll give them. Kung fu monks only snuck into an otherwise occidental game thanks to David Carridine and weekend chop sockey TV.)

Not that I need a new campaign setting. I still haven't run Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed/Evolved. If I do some sort of alt-D&D game, that really ought to be my first priority.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I got ponked!

In Monday's convention report I told you about all the fun I had running Encounter Critical, a super obscure game from the 70's. I wrote a lengthy piece about EC here. Well, dig this press release from that sly dog S. John Ross:



In the spring of 2004, S. John Ross (Risus, Pokéthulhu, Uresia, et al) released "Encounter Critical" - a new free RPG - onto the Web. A retro garage-job throwback to the smallest-press RPGs of the late 1970s, Encounter Critical was released without any indication that S. John designed it himself ... and for nearly two years, it slipped quietly into place as a genuine gaming-history footnote.

Today, the warm wriggly bag turns out to have contained a cat all along, and Encounter Critical has come home to Cumberland Games & Diversions, where "gaming from another past" will continue into a more definite future. The game - still and forever free - is now available in a slightly spiffier new file that gives credit where it's due, including the revelation of Cody Reichenau and Dave Insel as the master illustrators behind much of EC's ... let's say "remarkable" ... artwork. New support freebies available for download include the long-lost character sheet that would have appeared in Encounter Critical Gazette #4, and the loose Armor Table insert missing from the previous PDF. For those in the mood for more, there's new Encounter Critical swag available at Lulu and CafePress.

Come visit, snag some free stuff, and undertake Encounter Critical: where your Evolved Hobling-Frankenstein Doxy Pioneer can use her Unusual Sexual Gifts, detachable limbs, evil birthmark companion and brand-new Damnation Van to brave a world where the Ape Sultan's sorcerers fill pits with a substance such as crocodiles. Better still: true scientific realism on
every page!

ALSO NEW FROM CUMBERLAND: One of Cumberland's best-selling PDF titles, Lisa Steele's "Fief," is now available in softcover print-on-demand form from Lulu!

Related Links:

Cumberland Games Homepage
Encounter Critical Homepage
Cumberland Lulu Stuff
S. John Ross mini-bio


That's right, folks. EC is a hoax straight from the twisted mind of the author of Risus and Uresia. But in light of this revelation I put Encounter Critical in the same category as the Tenacious D song "Tribute". A work of art can both mock a beloved genre and be an asskicking example of that genre on its own merits. Hats off to Ross for writing such a great homage to the days when RPGs were all good, stupid fun.

New D&D campaign seeks players

Jon Ekman, one of the players in my D&D campaign, is starting a new campaign set in his homebrew World of Alidor. He's searching for players right now, so let me know if you're keen on a 3.5 game using the Expanded Psionics Handbook and Planar Handbook and I can get you in contact with Jon. No word right now on when or where the game will be played, or how many players he is looking for, but I'll provide more details as they are forthcoming. Did I mention that the tagline on the Alidor website is "Dead Orcs tell no Tales"? That's awesome.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A Good War

Winter War was a friggin' blast. For the first time in a decade or so I missed the first time slot (and the super secret con organizers breakfast, which is a shame since I think this was the first time in a couple years that the chairman had remembered to send me an invite!) but getting to the con when things are already well underway has an appeal of its own. The new site of the con was a bit smaller than the previous venue, and that cramped quality was exacerbated by the table company delivering 8' tables when the order was for 6 footers. Still, I'd rather be squeezed into a happening convention than have plenty of room in a less vibrant event, at least if no one smells. By my nostrils the con was generally light on Cat Piss Men, but one fellow in the rpg room Sunday morning had the overpowering aroma of human feces. I wish I knew a polite way to let a stranger knows he smells like shit, but I don't.

The food at the new venue was comparable to the Chancellor hotel. The burgers were a little blander but the chef salads were better, with a nice strawberry vinagrette dressing that was great if you ladeled it on lightly. The dealers were pretty much the same folks as last year, though the War Store Collectibles was scheduled to appear but no-showed. That's unfortunate since I heard that our new FLGS, Valhalla Games, was dying to be in the dealer room but couldn't get a space. Castle Perilous continued to be the place to go for nifty old gaming crap. Thompson Productions (no known web presence) was selling singles of D&D collectible minis. When I saw the Bulette he had in stock I had to buy it. It's big and cool! Later I got some reasonably-priced Ophidians from him as well. What DM worth his salt couldn't find a use for a big pile of snakemen?

Friday night I ran Dragons of Ancient Days, a session using original D&D with a dash of Supplement I: Greyhawk and a light sprinkling of the Arduin Grimoire. It made my day to see modern gamers (into all the lastest anime and high-faluting Generic Universal systems and campaigns with plots) degenerate into gold-grubbing orc-hackers with such glee. I should have kept track of how many PCs bought the dust and how, but Kathleen was on her fourth character by the time we finished and only Josh made it through the whole game on one dude. I especially like how early into the session some of them retained the notion that the GM was obligated to only use 'fair' or 'balanced' encounters. They outgrew those quaint notions when their 1st level wimps ran into the 9th level magic-user and later a giant slug. Still, it wasn't a killer dungeon by any means. Foes were vanquished and treasure was won. I got quite charge out of running this event and may very well repeat it next year, or perhaps I'll use a different set of slightly less musty D&D rules, like 1st edition Advanced or my precious Moldvay Basic.

Saturday I ran S. John Ross's tour de farce Risus: the Anything RPG, using some of the most ludicrous characters to ever appear in Marvel comics. Osprey, Captain Ultra, Blue Streak, Squirrel Girl and Monkey Joe successfully saved the Central Park Zoo from far lefty supervillains releasing the animals, served a summons on the Sorcerer Supreme without bringing doom upon themselves (ol' Doc Strange hasn't paid taxes on the Sanctum Sanctorum ever since they started assessing him based upon the internal size of the place), and defeated a time-travelling Doom 2099 and his henchmen, the vile and Liefieldian Team EXTREME!!! The heroes even took pity on a couple of members of Team EXTREME!!! When they defeated Broozor they declared his fate to be a nice hopsital bed and treatment for steroid abuse. And Nimbo was reduced to sobbing in the corner, being comforted by Squirrel Girl, who promised to help her work through her body image issues and chronic bulimia. On the other hand, Clawzor and Captain Bow were just beaten to pulps. AND I got to play Mr. Fish and tell no less than two PCs that "No one laughs at Mr. Fish!" Joy! Let me tell you folks, Risus, at its underwhelming 6 pages, manages to provide more mechanical oomph to comedy gaming than any other system I have read or played. The "anything can be a combat" ethos allows you to do great things like forcing the PCs to navigate New York City by entering 'combat' with the city itself! And the Inappropriate Cliche rules lead to many wacky hijinks, such as a squirrel defeating Doctor Strange with his cartoony cuteness.

Saturday was also the day of the RPGnet Gathering at Winter War. This turned out to once again mean lunch with the aforementioned Kathleen (known as coeli on RPGnet) & Josh (UnkaJosh) and RPGnetter BethDragon. I'm sure I've heard and/or read BethDragon's real name more than once by now, but I have trouble identifying her as anything but BethDragon. I spent much of the time listening intently as Beth and Kathleen compared notes for their respective Buffy the Vampire Slayer campaigns. I was delighted by the descriptions of the various soap opera romanceries afoot in their games while at the same time a bit scandalized by how little vampire slaying seemed to come up. But then my usual kind of game involves beating monsters until the candy pours out, so what do I know?

Saturday is also the day traditionally reserved for two defining events at Winter War: the live auction and the Blind Sniper game. The auction is always a raucous affair, as people shout out their opinions of the crap up for sale. For me this year was all about selling rather than buying, and I couldn't help myself when my copy of the Wraeththu rpg came up and no one had any idea what is was about. Me from the peanut gallery: "You play post-apocalyptic hermaphrodites. No, seriously." That got several bidders to perk up!

Rather than explain Blind Sniper all over again, I think I'll just quote an old webpage of mine:
Anybody who likes limited information games like Scotland Yard, Kriegspiel, Battleship, hidden movement wargames etc., ought to get a kick out of Blind Sniper. Gaming guru Bruce Gletty runs this 20-player game behind a wall. Only he gets to look at the copy of the official map (the original SPI Sniper map, the one with the slanted buildings). Only he sees each player’s piece on the board. Everyone else makes do with a map and a secret turn orders/turn results sheet. It’s every player for themselves as everyone tries to achieve the objective and not get killed by other players. Written orders produce results like “see man with flamethrower in hex 217” or “he blasts you with the machine pistol, you are crippled”. Blind Sniper takes a long time with huge turn results lag times because of the written orders/written results stuff. It’s standard operating procedure for the players to put together pick-up games of other stuff.
This year I couldn't play Sniper because my Risus game was scheduled in the same slot as the Sniper game started. But I did managed to get in one of the pick-up games later into the night. After I collected my money from the auction I hopped on over to the dealer area to spend a bit of it. Only two game lines really caught my attention sufficiently for me to consider actually purchasing them. Back in December I blogged a bit about Andy Hopp's Low Life, a Savage Worlds Plot Point Book with a truly unique vision for a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. The Dragon's Table had a copy of Low Life in stock and I absolutely fell in love with it. For more on this beautifully drawn and fabulously written Savage Setting check out the official website, MuthaOith.com. The other game line that intrigued me was Northern Crown from Atlas Games, a D&D setting in an alternative fantasy Colonial America. I didn't buy either of the Northern Crown books for sale at the con. Later this week I intend to blog more about why I took a pass, even though I'm still interested in the setting.

Sunday was my Encounter Critical game. The players loved EC and my PCs. I built a new wilderness area (set in the Forbidden Waste region) around the sample dungeon from the rulebook, with the Great Dingus (aka the Holy MacGuffin) as an integral component of Skullbryn the Warlock's spacecraft. The wilderness was pretty tame, but I loved it when they decided to camp out in an old battlefield. Zombies, duh. In the dungeon Roy Beta the Frankenstein Warrior and Obi-wan Shinobi fell (heh) victim to the meat pasting pit, while IG-666 was dismantled by the Cave Ooze. Gipp Ramsey, Snobbish Astrogator convinced Skullbryn that if he was allowed onboard he could navigate them both to the planet of the Hot Bi-Curious Ninja Amazons, while Lady Lotus Blossom got a place on the spacecraft by claiming to also be Curious. Too bad about the navigation beam thing. I had explained it at the beginning of the game when I read the three paragraphs in book that outlines the Vanth campaign, but they had all forgot. When I announced that Skullbryn didn't know jack about building spacecraft and that they were all dead the room erupted in laughter. Great ending to a great event. Earlier in the adventure they had tea with some Sultanate apes, but Lotus Blossom committed a horrible faux pas and it erupted into a fight to the death, in the tea room. Horribly, the dessert cart was among the casualties of the fracas. Best line of the night had to be from the robot to Gipp Ramsey: "Does your phaser have a 'dispose of evidence' setting?" It did.

All in all, I was very satisfied with the results of my three games. But I think I'll probably only run two games next year, and I definitely don't want to run one of them on Sunday morning again. That's too early on a day too late in the con for me to have my 'A' game going. It was very nice seeing all the old hats at the con. I got to play games with great people like Kathleen & Josh Fuller and their friend Doug (whose last name I can't recall), Dave Hoover, and Ray Bott. I also got to chat at least a bit with Paul Pomykala, Thom Hendricks, Chris Gray (or is that Grey?), Don & Sue McKinney, John Pedigo, and Jon Satterfield among others. Messrs. Pedigo & Pomykala and the McKinneys expressed interest in restarting my Mutants & Masterminds campaign in March, so that was nice. I didn't buy a stupid amount of stuff at the dealers' tables. There's more good stuff to report about Winter War 33, I'm only touching the highlights here. Really, the only way to get a real feel for these sorts of events is to take the plunge yourself and go to your local con. And if you live anywhere near Champaign, Illinois you ought to come to my local convention. The more the merrier.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Winter War is here!

The final program is posted to the official website. The front desk opens at noon and the first scheduled events start at 2pm. Tomorrow and Sunday things get underway at 8am. Remember, the con has moved across the street to the Hawthorne Suites. I hope to see several of you at the con!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sam & Max go webcomic!

First page here. The dialogue and sound FX appear as you mouse over each panel. I haven't made up my mind yet whether that's one of those inspired Reinventing Comics-style explorations of the narrative space or a stupid gimmick that I hate. Either way "I've got killing hands!"

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Behold, the Osprey!

The Osprey, one of the most minor characters in the Marvel universe, finally has his own entry at The Unofficial Handbook of the Marvel Universe. He only appeared in two panels of one issue of the Fantastic Four in '76. I only knew of his existence because the Osprey is used in an example in the advanced rulebook for the old Marvel Super Heroes rpg from TSR. The picture of him in the game was black and white, so for all these years I've wondered what the color scheme for his costume was like. Now I can sleep at night, knowing this hidden arcana.

I wasn't expecting him to so blatantly bite Superman's style. Here was the guess I made back in June of last year when I did a microhero of Osprey: