Friday, June 30, 2006

return of miscellaneous links times five

I haven't done one of these in a while...

Dr. X's Evil Lair, from Andy Weir's mad science & roommates webcomic, Casey & Andy

The Common Commoner, a nifty thread from EN World

Gozzy's Cartographic Emporium

Panthalassic Worlds - giant world-ocean planets

Game-It-Yourself! - home of the canonical list of free print-and-play games

onto the wish list

Maddox, the man behind The Best Page in the Universe, has a book out. It's called The Alphabet of Manliness. Amazon and Barnes & Noble are both carrying it, at least online. You can also check out the book's official website.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Traveller5 Item

Traveller 5th edition is still a year away, so this might not end up in the published version, but it's still a pretty interesting development. T5 as planned will have two methods of constructing spaceships. One will be the old tried-and-true crunchy method, some sort of offshoot of Book 2 or High Guard or (Dear Lord help us) Fire, Fusion, & Steel. I don't really have any information on that part. The second method is the interesting item: design-by-typing. The plan is to have an official deckplan font, with all spaceship components available. You type up the font to draw the design you want and then total the components to find the ship's stats. I'd probably use the first method if it resembles the old Book 2 rules, but damn do I look forward to being able to make my own deckplans with that font!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

RIP Odolan and Bon Voyage Greyson

Last night's D&D game had some personnel shake-ups. Jonathan retired Greyson, his shapeshifting druid/spririt shaman. Since Greyson almost always took the form of a ginormous bear, last night's combat was the first in a long time to not feature the grappling rules. Greyson was replaced by Theravul (sp?), a Phrenic Human duskblade/spellthief/arcane duelist/kitchen sink and his handy cleric cohort Gregor Guntherson. Odolan the Tiefling taught us all a valuable lesson: don't taunt a dragon in its native tongue. Especially a Half-Fiend Dragon capable of casting destruction on your sorry ass. Jon, Odolan's player, now holds the distinction of losing two characters in the campaign.

Missing Tomes of Doom

Most Robert E. Howard fans in my generation cut their teeth on the Ace editions of the 12-volume Conan collection, the ones that included the superb Frazetta covers. Purists these days sometimes turn their nose up at these Conan paperbacks. The original pulps are much more valuable to collectors and the newer editions have excised the de Camp/Carter alterations to REH's work. But I treasure my Ace editions. I was cleaning up my game room a bit and reorganizing my trashy paperback section when I discovered that I own only nine of the 12 Conan volumes. I know I read all 12 as a lad, but apparently I borrowed my friend David's copies of volumes 6 through 8. So yesterday over lunch I ran over to the two downtown bookstores. No luck in nabbing more Conan, but I didn't come back to the office empty-handed. Main Street Books had some stuff and unlike most of my encounters with them, it wasn't all horribly overpriced. I got Perry Rhodan #1: Enterprise Stardust and Fritz Lieber's Ill Met in Lankhmar each for a buck! And my search for Howard stories was not completely in vain, as they had Black Vulmea's Vengeance, an age-of-sail pirate yarn by REH, for a meager sum. I haven't read Vulmea yet, but I have no doubt that Howard plus pirates equals awesomeness. I almost bought John Boorman's novelization of Zardoz, but that would have put my total in the range when I no longer consider it an impulse buy. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

3 Quick Feats

Big Boned
Prerequisite: Human, Half-orc, Gnome, or Halfling; 1st level only
Benefit: The character is at the absolute largest size for a member of his or her race. Big Boned members of medium races are actually Large size. Big Boned members of small races are actually Medium size.
Special: A character cannot take both Big Boned and Wee Git.

Wee Git
Prerequisite: Human, Elf, Dwarf, Gnome, or Halfling; 1st level only
Benefit: The character is at the absolute smallest size for a member of his or her race. Wee git members of medium races are actually Small size. Wee Git members of small races are actually Tiny size.
Special: A character cannot take both Big Boned and Wee Git.

Size Doesn't Matter
Prerequisite: Big Boned or Wee Git, Escape Artist 10 ranks
Benefit: Characters with this feat may switch between two size categories as needs dictate. They may use Big Boned or Wee Git when it is to their advantage, or use their race's normal size when that would be advantageous.
Special: This feat does not apply to worn items such as armor or clothing that must be fitted to the appropriate size.

The genesis of these feats lie in the relative growth of dwarves and elves since the earliest days of D&D. I blame Games Workshop and their big chunky dwarf models. And half-orcs are pretty frequently portrayed as larger than man-sized nowadays. That used to be the criteria for whether or not a critter was mechanically defined as large. Listing specific races in the prerequisites is a pretty ham-handed way of preventing Large dwarves, but I couldn't think of a better way to get the job done.

Has anyone seen feats like these before? I figure with so much OGL material out there that a lot of new crunchy bits are actually re-inventions of already published mechanics.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Grodd Bless Players...

...and their greedy, power-grubbing little hearts. In my mind the character build rules for my current D&D campaign are the height of generosity. The races, class, spell, and equipment choices span approximately a dozen published sources. We use the Gestalt rules to allow for broad ranges of power in individual PCs. And yet all of this is still not quite enough for some of my players. "Can we retool this prestige class to allow a good-aligned character to take it?" "Can you look over this class from the Wizards website?" The first time this happened I was annoyed. Like my reaction when I agree to buy my daughter a toy at Wal-mart but then she decides she wants 2 toys. But more and more I care less and less about this sort of thing. My only real concern is intra-party strife. If Doug's PC gets levels in Orc-Faced Killer and Jonathan builds a Dewonkeeper my campaign world isn't going to implode. But will it annoy Stuart and Jon? They're both grown-ups who can deal with it, but resentment is resentment no matter how small and silly the emotion. I think if half the party gets shiny new toys, then it would be best to come up with some sort of gimme for the others.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

TNA: Shut up and wrestle

Dear TNA,

I nearly turned off my TV during the first five minutes of this week's TNA Impact. With regards to the opening rantifesto from Jim Cornette: Who writes this crap? First of all, somebody give Cornette a title that will stick. "Commisioner" works fine. I understand TNA used the title "Director of Authority" for a while. That sounds kinda cool. Hell, call him "Chief Executive Officer" for all I care. Just give him a clear title that communicates the fact that he is now the bossman. Calling him "the new face of TNA Management" does not work. It's too long and it's unclear whether he's in charge or running water for some shadowy behind-the-scenes type. Second of all, start your damn wrestling show with some wrestling, m'kay? Nobody tuned into TNA Watch Some Guy In A Suit Yap His Gums. You like to call your program the "60-minute Adrenaline Rush", well book it like you mean it! Start the show with some action! Or at least keep the plot focused on the wrestlers. You could have started that segment with Jarrett coming to the ring and throwing a tantrum, then have Cornette come out and give him a brief verbal slap-down. Doing it the other way around was bass-ackwards. Finally, who the hell is Jim Cornette and why should I give a crap about him? Seriously, at least Zybyszko has some cred from the peak WCW days. When was the last time Cornette was a notable on-screen persona? Back when he was doing color commentary for Crockett? Is your target demographic really fans who remember the Midnight Express?

I must admit I'm glad I stayed with the show. I don't care about the muscle chick hanging out with Syles and Daniels, but the lion's share of the match was entertaining. Seeing the Alpha Male pull a goldbergian quick squash was nifty. As usual, the LAX was credible right up until the random swerve beatdown. Eric Young was funny, pulling off his dummy schtick without looking like a retard, but please tell him to stop using everyone's full name. I like the James Gang/3-D feud but at some point one of these teams needs to tussle with Styles/Daniels for the belts. Joe/Dutt/Senshi was a great main event. And I salute you for moving the X-Division title without besmirching Joe's 'unstoppable' streak. You can push Joe to the moon as far as I'm concerned.

Friday, June 23, 2006

A Tip O The Hat

I'd like to give a shout out* to David Willis, author of nifty webcomic Shortpacked!, for replying to my request for some Transformers information. Anyone who reads Shortpacked! for long will quickly discover that Willis is only slightly less of a fan than that guy who legally changed his name to Optimus Prime. Anyway I was impressed that Mr. Willis responded to my inquiry within 24 hours. I'm sure he's got enough pestering fans and is busy writing comics that I sorta fired my email off hoping I might get some sort of response some time in the distant future.

*"Shout out" is old enough slang that I can almost type it with a straight face. I had originally intended to use the phrase "mad props" but I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

this is totally blowing my mind, man

This item comes courtesy of Traveller 3-D graphics man Andrew Boulton, posting at Citizens of the Imperium. Some of you may remember the old hospital show St. Elsewhere, most notable in my mind as the last time Howie Mandel was entertaining. It was revealed in the final season of St. Elsewhere that the whole show took place inside the dreamings of an autistic child, much like the way the entire seventh season of Dallas had been Pam Ewing's dream. The dream season of Dallas was problematic for the fans of Dallas spin-off Knots Landing, as Bobby Ewing's death in Dallas season 7 was part of the plot of that show as well. Since Bobby was still dead in Knots Landing, one could conclude that Knots Landing from that point forward was all part of Pam's dream as well!

Well, Tommy Westphall's Mind - A Multiverse Explored totally blows the Dallas/Knots Landing situation out of the water. Site maintainers CorssoverMan and Smash have tracked over 200 TV shows with connections to St. Elsewhere. They maintain that all of these shows must also be occurring within the mind of Tommy Westphall. And these are not all obscure shows that no one has ever heard of, either. We're talking about X-files, Cheers, and I Love frickin' Lucy! You thought you were watching a TV show, but you were wrong. You're just getting a glimpse into one of the infinite worlds within Tommy Westphall's dreams! This insane spiderweb of interconnections is panstakingly documented and graphed in the way only obsessed geekotronic fans can.

Man on fire

Doug, one of the cool players in my Wild Times D&D campaign, is really on a roll. First, in the comments to my new campaign proposal, he suggested tying the three subcampaigns together by making the three PC groups 'eternal champion' style lateral incarnations of each other. That's too cool. Now he's got a nifty idea for curing the Epic Rules Blues I've discussed in this earlier post. Doug suggests dropping the epic rules from Wizards and instead taking a page from Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved: stretch the campaign by adding standard progressions for levels 21 through 25. This would be a snap for some classes, like the fighter and sorcerer. Others, such as the monk, would need shiny new special abilities. I don't really need all the core classes statted out for this to work, just the ones that my players plan to take past 20th. Heck, with all the multiclassing shenanigans they pull, maybe no one will end up with 21 levels in any single class.

With four post-20th gestalt PCs, I bet we could still play Quicksilver Hourglass, the 30th level adventure published in Dungeon last year. That's been my big honkin' goal for this campaign for a long time.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What skills are you testing?

When you run your game, what skills are most advantageous to the players? Knowledge of the rules, or the ability to use them as a rhetorical weapon? Quick thinking or ponderous debate? Is the ability to kiss ass to the GM more important than the ability to entertain the group? Is player expertise demonstrated by a twinked-out character build or by the ability to make best use of whatever charsheet is in front of you? Do risk-takers profit in your game or does playing it safe work out better? Do nice guys finish last in your campaign or do the meek inherit the earth?

There's no right answer to most of these questions. Every GM is going to encourage some behaviors and discourage others. By reflecting on your own GMing behavior you might be able to steer your feedback loop with the players so that you see more of the kind of play you want and less of the kind you don't.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Campaign Proposal

Let's start with the premise that a campaign is about a group of players. It doesn't have anything to do with the setting, rules, or characters. I've been in campaigns where the character mix was almost completely overhauled, where one rules set was dropped in favor of another, and where the PCs relocated from a homebrew setting to published setting. So a campaign is the label for a group of people agreeing "unless we later negotiate otherwise, this is what we are playing for the next X sessions". Nothing more.

Given that definition of a campaign, here's my idea: three settings, three sets of PCs, three similar but not identical rulesets, one campaign. We start with 1st level Eberron PCs and play through a module. When that module is done we whip up some starting Arcana Unearthed PCs and play through a single AE adventure. Once that is done we play one Iron Heroes adventure with a third set of PCs. Rather, rinse, repeat until we've exhausted all available modules. If along the way someone realizes that they don't like one of the three settings/rules we're using, we can discuss that as a group. Everyone at my table is a grown-up. If someone isn't having a good time I want to hear it and try to resolve it.

Eberron has four short published modules and Dungeon adventures, as well as being fairly conducive to adapting other D&D stuff I have laying around. I've got three AE adventures, two of which are substantial. A few others are floating around out there. The weak link is Iron Heroes, with 2 medium-sized adventures. We may run out of IH stuff before we're done with the others. Since I'm proposing playing IH third, I'd be happy as a clam to reach the point in the campaign where I need more Heroes adventures; that would mean the campaign was chugging along at a goodly pace. Around that same time the Eberron PCs will hopefully be approaching the right level for Red Hand of Doom. If so, I would like to conscript Doug to run that adventure for the Eberron section of the campaign. That would give me a break and hopefully sufficient time to write and/or adapt some material for Iron Heroes. And I would get to play a robot for a while.

My one concern about this scheme is that Doug is the only player I know that has copies of all three of the key books. As I understand it a PC built from the D&D corebooks (and associated splatbooks and whatnot) is still pretty functional in Eberron, but the other two settings absolutely require access to the book to build the PCs. I absolutely loathe the concept of the "chargen session" because in my experience it is a good way to start a campaign on a downer. In games with wildly random chargen they can be fun, but for any sort of points-monkeying game the chargen session bores me to tears. I also abhor the idea of asking players to buy big expensive hardbacks just to play in my crazy campaign. Hell, I didn't pay for IH or Eberron, why should they? But they seem to be more eager to buy big shiny hardbacks than I, so maybe I'm seeing a problem where none exists. I guess Doug and I could knock out some 1st level PCs for the whole party after a little Q&A to establish the general parameters of what everyone wants to play.

Now, you've probably come to the conclusion that this is a pretty complicated way to avoid having to pick one of three campaigns. You'd be right on that point. But for me this crazy plan offers some advantages over a more traditional campaign structure. First, we get to try triple the settings/rulesets in the same time. Second, jumping from setting to setting will help me keep my short attention span engaged. And third, we could prolong the period spent at low to mid levels, the part of the game that interests me the most.

spoiled rotten brat

The title of today's entry was my wife's suggestion. This last weekend I scored a big pile of gaming books as a slightly early birthday present from my folks. Thanks, ma and pa! I won't bore you with listing all the shiny new stuff I got, but I'd like to note a couple of items. The big items are the Eberron Campaign Setting and Monte Cook's ( Mike Mearls's) Iron Heroes. I'm breezing through Iron Heroes and I am really liking what I'm seeing. I don't think I was ready for this game right when it came out, but I've gotten a bit more d20 experience since then. I haven't done much with the Eberron book other than reading the stats for the robot guys, but I plan on tackling it after I finish my first pass through Heroes.

Getting both Eberron and Iron Heroes right now sorta complicates the Next Campaign question. Until now I was pretty set on Arcana Unearthed. Now I don't know. There's still plenty of adventure to be had in my Wild Times campaign, but as we get closer and closer to level 20 the epic rules are looking lamer and lamer. It might be for the best to finish that campaign at 20th, unless in the meantime someone comes out with a set of epic rules that impress me. I'd still love to run that 30th level adventure from Dungeon and part of me says that my group's finely-tweaked Gestalt monstrosities might actually be able to handle it at level 20.

And I no longer have to mooch off of Pat's copy of Complete Arcane, so that's nice.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

How the mighty have fallen

In my opinion Kevin Nash is one of the greatest big men in the world of wrestling. While he might not be as physically intimidating as Andre the Giant or the Big Show, Nash has great charisma and can really work the mike. I'm one of those old fashioned wrestling fans that usually boos the bad guys and cheers the heroes, but Nash played one of the wrestling villains that I could really dig.

Last week Mr. Nash returned to the wrestling ring for the first time since last October, IIRC. He had some chest pains the day before he was to main event at a TNA pay-per-view. His spot on the card went to Rhino the War Machine, who enjoyed a brief title reign as a result of this lucky break. I don't think I had seen Nash wrestle since around the time of the Finger Poke of Doom incident, so I was looking forward to his TNA X-Division debut. While I had hoped for a classic David-and-Goliath match, what the fans got was a cheap gag non-match. Nash's opponent was a midget wrestler. (I know "little person" is the current label, but in the neanderthal halls of rasslin' the correct term is still midget.) Basically, the joke was that Nash was mocking the size of the average X-Division participant and X-Division wrestler Chris Sabin in particular.

So Nash beat up a midget for a couple of minutes, while the announcement staff did their best to play up the travesty of it all. Not a bad way to sell Nash as a disrespectful heel, I suppose. And it might have worked too, had Nash not blown out his trick knee at the end of the match. As a youth Nash had desired to play in the NBA. He was semi-pro for a couple years in some sort of European basketball league, as I recall. But his bad knee prevented him from getting into the big leagues and he ended up in pro wrestling instead.

This isn't the first time Nash has injured himself in the ring. He once attempted to give the Giant (now known as the Big Show) a jack-knife powerbomb. I'm not sure the exact injury, but it was something in the leg, maybe that same old knee blew out. Anyway, he couldn't complete the maneuver and dropped the Giant on his head in a way that can legitmately snap your neck. 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin nearly saw the end of his career from a similar injury. But the Giant is even bigger than Kevin Nash. Attempting that powerbomb was akin to Hulk Hogan bodyslamming Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania 3. And to this day Hogan has a torn muscle from that feat of strength! There's no shame in failing to lift one of the biggest wrestlers in history.

But blowing out your knee after beating up a man a third your size? That's a pretty big pit for your reputation to climb out of. Really, only the fact that Nash is pals with TNA ownership can save him now. Between the bum knee and the chest pains I wouldn't clear Kevin Nash to wrestle in Jeff's Wrestling Federation, and I doubt Vince McMahon would have a different opinion. Add on top of that the humiliation of injuring oneself while beating up a midget, and a smart man might decide to hang up the wrestling tights. I'm not sure Nash's ego will let him do that. As I write this I don't have the results of this Sunday's TNA pay-per-view. Rumours on the internets indicate that Nash intends to show up. Will his scheduled match with Chris Sabin go as planned?

All I can say is that Nash really needs to consider this: what does he have left to prove in professional wrestling? He's been world heavyweight champion in both WCW and WWE. His tag team with Scott Hall was probably the best heel tag team of its era. He was a major contributor to the New World Order story arc, perhaps one of the greatest plotlines in the history of pro wrestling. In sumo once you you achieve the rank of Yokozuna (grand champion) no one can take that title from you. But a wise Yokozuna retires before he becomes an embarrassment to the sport.

UPDATE: I didn't order the PPV but I've read some results. Nash showed and had something resembling a match with Chris Sabin. Nash's sidekick Alex Shelly involved himself in the match, perhaps moreso than most outside interference bookings. Nash got the win. Is that the end for Mr. Nash? Lots of great wrestlers have had less than stellar final matches. Arn Anderson's final match was tag-teaming with Steve "Mongo" McMichaels against the Quebeceurs.

Friday, June 16, 2006

dig on this

Table of Malcontents, the blog of internet wonderman Lore Sjoberg (there should be umlaut over the 'o' in 'Sjoberg', but I'm not in the mood to hunt down the proper coding), passed along a link to Wondermark: An Illustrated Jocularity. Wondermark is created by adding text to Victorian era clipart. Hilarity ensues.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

My hat's off to this group

Today EN World is reporting that someone has completed AEG's World's Largest Dungeon. This task was accomplished by the folks at, who have made the entirety of their play sessions available as a podcast. That amounts to over 5 complete days of audio, gathered from 40 sessions over 2 years! Truly, this is one of the epic feats of dungeoneering, ranking right up there with slaying Lolth after trudging through the G and D series, or making it out of the Tomb of Horrors alive.

And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

nifty science item

This two-paragraph report has like a dozen Call of Cthulhu adventure seeds hidden in it.

Minute droplets of oil from 2.4 billion years ago are providing evidence that life on Earth survived a period when the planet was covered with more than a half-mile of snow; an era affectionately deemed "Snowball Earth." The oil, retrieved from ancient rock crystals, contains molecular fossils that scientists can identify as having come from specific life forms. A paper published in the June edition of Geology concludes that eukaryotes and cyanobacteria were alive before "Snowball Earth" and survived the hostile period.

The same meteor that created a 300 mile-wide crater in Antarctica may have also caused a massive extinction 250 million years ago, Ohio State University geologist Ralph von Frese announced on Wednesday. Satellite data shows that the crater, which lies more than a mile beneath a sheet of ice, dates back to the same period as the Permian-Triassic extinction, when nearly all of Earth's animal life died out. Scientists had believed that a series of volcanic eruptions caused the extinction that cleared the stage for the dinosaurs to inherit the Earth.

from's Week in Science: 6/2-6/8

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Rank Your Top 10 Campaigns

A couple months back Martin over at Treasure Tables passed along this nifty idea from Don Mappin, the Abulia Savant. Don proposes ranking the top ten campaigns you've played as a tool for self-analysis. After compiling and ordering your lists, do you see any trends? Below are my top ten. I omitted World of Alidor from consideration. I'm having a helluva good time, but I don't feel I've played enough of it yet to be able to meaningfully compare it to my other gaming.

1. Bandit Kingdoms - mid 90's D&D 1st/2nd edition hybrid, rotating DMs (player & DM)
2. Wild Times - my ongoing D&D 3.5 game (DM)
3. Dave's Krynn Campaign - 2nd edition AD&D, ~'89-'91 (player)
4. Known World Campaign(s) - Mentzer Basic/Expert D&D, on and off from ~'83 to ~'91 (DM)
5. Unnamed Call of Cthulhu campaign - 1989 or so (Keeper)
6. Sue's Pickup Game - D&D 3.0, 2005, ongoing? (player)
7. Home Team - originally Heroes Unlimited, later Mutants & Masterminds 1st edition, '03-'05, ongoing? (GM)
8. Ultra Force Omega - d20 Modern, 2005 (GM)
9. Retro D&D Campaign - AD&D 1st edition, '02 or '03 (DM)
10. Mekton series - Mekton Zeta Plus, ~1997, rotating GMs (player & GM)

So what trends do I see? It's no shocker that D&D dominates the list. As much as I like a whole bunch of other genres and systems, I'm a D&D man first and foremost. I'm surprised that pretty much all my recent campaigns made the list, except for my Traveller fiasco. As much as I pine for the gold ol' days of Basic D&D, my games seem to be getting better, not worse. That's good. I GM or share GMing duties on 8 of the 10 campaigns that made the top ten. I tend to be a DM first, player second. Conspicuous by their absence are all the various HERO System campaigns that occupied much of my gaming for the first half of the 90's. That could very well be 'anti-nostalgia' at work, because I've soured considerably on the system and at least some of those campaigns involved my one rather buffoonish attempt at courting a gamer chick. Pendragon was the other big game of this period. Unlike HERO, I could see myself taking another stab at that, if I didn't have 5 D&D ideas and Traveller already on my campaign to-do list.

I'm also pleasantly surprised that 3 of the four OGL-era campaigns I've been involved with made the list. Some days this new stuff feels like hard work, but I'm slowly starting to see the dividends of chugging along. Heck, just this week for the first time I made some high-level 3.5 NPCs from scratch, with no computer assistance. A year ago I wouldn't have even tried.

And my one Mekton campaign just barely slipped onto my top ten. I'm not sure what that means, but it sure has me thinking.

Monday, June 12, 2006

here, have a robot

I modified a standard iron golem using Mike Mearls's Monster's Handbook from AEG. Monster's Handbook was published during the 3E era, but I still find it pretty useful. And it's got the Godling prestige class, which is fun.

The design was intended to fit the look of this Heroscape robot. I've got a pair of these guys and I was itching to use them.

Large Construct
Hit Dice: 24d10+30 (162 hp)
Initiative: –1
Speed: 20 ft. (4 squares)
Armor Class: 30 (–1 size, –1 Dex, +22 natural) touch 8, flat-footed 30
Base Attack/Grapple: +17/+33
Attack: Slam +28 melee (2d10+11)
Full Attack: 2 slams +28 melee (2d10+11)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./10 ft.
Special Attacks: Gas Nozzle, Grenade Launcher, Electro-Rod
Special Qualities: Construct traits, damage reduction 15/adamantine, darkvision 60 ft., immunity to magic, low-light vision
Saves: Fort +8, Ref +7, Will +8
Abilities: Str 33, Dex 9, Con —, Int —, Wis 11, Cha 1
Environment: Any
Organization: Solitary or gang (2–4)
Challenge Rating: 16
Treasure: None
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: 25–54 HD (Huge)
Level Adjustment:
A Robo-Guardian is 10 feet tall and weighs about 5,000 pounds. It cannot speak or make any vocal noise save for the occasional meaningless beep, nor does it have any distinguishable odor. It moves with a ponderous but smooth gait. Each step causes the floor to tremble unless it is on a thick, solid foundation.

Gas Nozzle (Su): 10-foot cube, cloud of poisonous gas lasting 1 round, free action once every 1d4+1 rounds; initial damage 1d4 Con, secondary damage 3d4 Con, Fortitude DC 19 negates. The save DC is Constitution-based.
Grenade Launcher (Su): As per flamestrike, but half the damage is untype instead of holy. 8d8 damage, Reflex DC 20 for half damage. Useable 3 times/day. The save DC is Constitution-based.
Electro-Rod (Su): As per lightning bolt. 10d6 damage, Reflex DC25 for half damage. Useable at will. The save DC is Constitution-based.
Immunity to Magic (Ex): A Robo-Guardian is immune to any spell or spell-like ability that allows spell resistance. In addition, certain spells and effects function differently against the creature, as noted below.

A magical attack that deals electricity damage slows a Guardian (as the slow spell) for 3 rounds, with no saving throw.

A magical attack that deals fire damage breaks any slow effect on the Robo-Guardian and heals 1 point of damage for each 3 points of damage the attack would otherwise deal. If the amount of healing would cause the construct to exceed its full normal hit points, it gains any excess as temporary hit points. For example, a Guardian hit by a fireball gains back 6 hit points if the damage total is 18 points. An iron golem gets no saving throw against fire effects.

A Robo-Guardian is affected normally by rust attacks, such as that of a rust monster or a rusting grasp spell.

A Robo-Guardian’s body is sculpted from 3,000 pounds of pure iron, smelted with rare tinctures and admixtures costing at least 25,000 gp. Assembling the body requires a DC 25 Craft (armorsmithing) check or a DC 25 Craft (weaponsmithing) check.
CL 18th; Craft Construct, cloudkill, geas/quest, limited wish, polymorph any object, flamestrike, lightning bolt, caster must be at least 18th level; Price 200,000 gp; Cost 100,000 gp + 7,000 XP.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Ah, so there's a name for it

Thanks to ENworlder Rystil Arden for helping expand my vocabulary of gamer jargon:
Oberoni's Fallacy states that no game material can ever be unbalanced because the GM can rule 0 it. Baloney. Of course you can Rule 0 it, but that is not an acceptable excuse to apologise for blatantly unbalanced material in the game products you pay for.
In case you're out of the loop, Rule Zero is the term given to the basic premise that the GM is the final arbiter of his or her game. I first saw it in print labeled as Rule 0 in a Guardians of Order product, but the idea goes back at least as far as Gygax and Arneson.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Back in town

Howdy, folks! I just got back in town from a couple days in Kansas City, where I was lacking in internets. I would have told you all ahead of time, but after the one time someone called the cops after reading my blog* I've become a bit more circumspect in what I say here. Flying to Kansas City via O'Hare was the exact opposite of a good time. The only good thing I can say about it is that I had plenty of time to read the books I had brought. I started out with Lallia, book #6 in E.C. Tubb's Dumarest of Terra series. I recently learned that this series had a lot of influence on the development of Traveller, so I picked up a couple of old paperbacks. Turns out this Dumarest stuff is some pretty good adventure fiction with some cute space opera trappings and the backstory of the Odyssey added for good measure. And Lallia in particular is a pretty grim look at a down-on-her-luck free trader. I'm going to scour the used bookstores around here to scare up some more in this series.

I also read Almuric, which was Robert Howard's go at planetary romance in the vein of Barsoom. Excellent, excellent book. It had all the trappings I associate with the planetary romance genre overlayed with Howard's over-the-top barbarism. If you're the kind of person that likes Howard's Conan, Almuric ought to be your huckleberry. As Stan Lee would say, "'Nuff said!"

My third book, Paul Naudon's The Secret History of Freemasonry, turned out to be a snooze-fest. Normally I'm up for this sort of thing, having been into the whole Templar/Masonic/Jesus/Vampire/UFO/Merovingian/Illuminati thing years before The DaVinci Code made it cool. But whatever zest might have been in the original French text has been drained away by an entirely pedestrian translation or else this Naudon fellow is the most annoyingly pedantic writer on the subject since ol' A.E. Waite.

I didn't have any big plans for what to do in Kansas City while not in my training seminar, so I spent an inordinate amount of time in front of the TV. I caught most of Spider-man 2, so that was cool, and I watched Revenge of the Sith for the fifth or sixth time. I paid fourteen bucks to watch Chronicles of Narnia on the hotel PPV system and fell asleep about 20 minutes in, I think. I don't think I saw any actual Narnia before I conked out. I also saw a couple episodes of Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! and some Power Rangers. Hey, stop laughing! That's fun stuff! I seriously need to run a sentai based game some time, maybe as a one-shot.

So anyway, I'm back home. Even if it was only a couple days this trip has been kinda rough. I've never been gone this long from my wife or daughter and none of us enjoyed being apart.

*For the details, read this old entry and the first comment to it.

Monday, June 05, 2006

How not to Mod a Board

Citizens of the Imperium had gotten a bit more flamey than usual recently, but nothing that couldn't be ignored for the most part. But apparently moderator MJD has had it up to here and he's not going to take it any more.

As I said some time ago, I do not have time to police these boards and right now I'm the only moderator.

If you want to have personal arguments and hate each other, just go do it somewhere else. I do not appreciate having to waste my time moderating a board that's supposedly a friendly forum for adults.

Yes, I'm annoyed. I've been here before and it seems that courtesy towards me has been forgotten along with manners in general.

By flaming one another, some people are making work for me. You want me to police flame wars or produce Traveller materials? Choose.

As much as I don't like the modding at RPGnet sometimes I don't recall a moderator over there attempting to hold the whole board hostage. I'm not sure how effective this threat of withholding Traveller material really is going to be. As far as I can tell MJD is Martin J. Dougherty, the Traveller d20 guy. I had to figure that out myself because user MJD has no sig or anything to indicate that he probably owns the board. So if the guy really wants to threaten to stop cranking out T20 stuff, I'm not sure how effective a motivator that's going to be for all the folks who hang out at the various non-T20 sections of the board.

But more importantly, I'm trying to figure out why this guy is modding the board at all. With over six thousand member accounts, you'd think that someone would be able to take on some of the modding duties. I don't understand why that isn't a possibility. Yet those aren't one of the options available to us. MJD gives us the Lady or the Tiger. There is no "C: none of the above" for us to pick. I dunno, maybe the guy is just venting at the prospect of actually having to mod his board. But guess what? Message boards have moderators for a reason. Human discourse, especially on teh intarweb, is a messy business. Once many years ago I was asked to consider modding a board and I turned it down flat because it's obvious to me that it is a thankless, unforgiving task. There will always be drama on message boards and someone will always have to handle it. If MJD doesn't understand that he doesn't just need an assistant moderator, he needs someone to take over the job completely, thereby allowing himself to get back to writing his T20 stuff.

BTW, I heard that they restored the search function over at RPGnet, if anyone cares.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Pride & Shame

Today I celebrate a little, because I now have a credit in a published RPG project. Over the last 10 or fifteen years I spent some time on the edge of the line between the hobby and the industry, occasionally playtesting or looking over manuscripts for people and whatnot. But until now none of those projects reached fruition. My first actual published credit is in a free fan PDF, but I'm still very happy to see my name listed among the contributors. The name of the project is Hekatoteratos, the new monster book for Mazes & Minotaurs, the retro Bronze Age fantasy rpg from Olivier Legrand. I blogged about M&M previously when talking about what I call apocryphal games. My four contributions to Hekatoteratos are the Attack Kelp, Carnivorous Cloud, God-Shadow, and Hooded Horror. Click here if you want to download a copy of Hekatoteratos for yourself. The name of the book is pidgin Greek for "100 monsters".

The name of this post is "Pride & Shame" because I have a bit of a confession to make: I've never played M&M. I'm the first to harp upon commercial products that seem to be written by people with no firsthand knowledge of the game. I will offer a mild two-pronged defense of this indefensible hypocrisy. First of all, making monsters in M&M is easy, fun, and mechanically sound. You can whip up pretty decent monsters in much the same way someone with no play experience can build fairly acceptable Classic Traveller spaceships. Second of all, it's a free PDF for a free game. If my four critters suck I will offer a full refund to anyone who requests it.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Passing on Ptolus

If you follow the D&D scene in any way beyond keeping up on Wizards stuff, you've probably heard of Monte Cook's Ptolus. This upcoming product is a zillion page mega-module/campaign setting from Malhavoc Press, one of the few d20 design houses I truly respect. But I don't plan to get Ptolus anytime soon, and today I'm going to talk about why.

First of all Ptolus is a 'city of adventure' type setting. City adventures have a fine pedigree going back to the original Conan stories, but urban settings don't speak to me the way rural environs do. That's why my Greyhawk campaigns tend to keep the eponymous city off-camera. I'm much more interested in the green fields of the Wild Coast or the Bandit Kingdoms, or the pine forests of the Thillronian Peninsula. The Shire has always been my favorite part of Middle Earth, even though I'm no hobbit fan. A big stinky quasi-medieval city is hardly worth defending, but my good guy PCs will fight and die for a green and pleasant land. (And the modernized-by-magic cities that have become popular in recent years just turn my stomach. ) You can probably chalk up this attitude as the psychic residue of a happy childhood on a farm. In my mind a city is a place where you go and do things and then come home. The thought of spending most of a campaign in a city just does not sit well with me.

My second concern is that although I like several products from Malhavoc Press, I'm not sure it's the place to go for setting material. Truth be told, vast swaths of Arcana Evolved's flavor text leaves me cold. I can totally work with the implied setting built around the the mechanics, but the actual setting stuff just falls flat. Heck, it's almost an admission of the inherent weakness of the Arcana Unearthed setting that the newer version included a metaplot update. I'm still quite fond of AE. Heck, I think my next fantasy campaign will be AE-powered. But it speaks to a flaw in the setting when I keep looking for other settings in which to set my campaign. Some days I seriously consider kludging Arcana Evolved's classes and races into Northern Crown or Harn or whatever-setting-catches-my-eye-today. I'm a lazy bastard of a DM, so I don't normally go looking for extra work like that. Now, AE and Ptolus aren't one and the same, but my reaction to AE's fluff does not set me up to feel confident about buying Ptolus.

Finally, there's the price. One hundred and twenty bucks. Yes, this product is monster-sized and yes, it is Monte Cook's magnumn opus. But come on. I am not spending that much money for one friggin' RPG book. Not when I look at what else that $120 could buy me. I could buy 3 Eberron hardbacks and 3 of the 4 modules out for that setting. Or if I wanted to give Monte Cook my money I could buy all three Iron Heroes hardbacks, the three PDF modules for IH, and the Iron Heroes Battlebox and only spend like 7 bucks more. Or I could get everything I want but don't have yet for Arcana Evolved, spend less than $120, and still get two books and a slew of accessories and PDFs. Or I could hit eBay and purchase some seriously overpriced out-of-print stuff, like the old Tom Moldvay module Seren Ironhand and the Spinward Marches Campaign for Traveller. Or I could buy both Northern Crown hardbacks and spend the other 70 bucks on Harn crapola.

I guess the real issue price-wise is that I don't normally spend a hundred bucks at a single pop on RPG stuff. Even the $80 asking price on Amazon is more than I normally blow in one outing. The shiny new hardbound editions so prevalent in the industry are just barely within reach of my comfort zone, and then only one at a time once in a while. Otherwise I'd already own those two Northern Crown books. Call it stinginess, call it sticker shock, call it whatever you want. But $120 or even the $80 sounds too much like real money for me to be blowing it on one big piece of gamestuff. That same $120 might last me a year bottomfeeding for out-of-print stuff on eBay.

Sometimes I like to convince myself that I'm Average Joe Gamer Guy. I play the Dungeons & Dragons just like the kids and generally get along with other fans in the hobby. But this tendency towards Super Deluxe Editions and World's Largest Whatevers is making me feel like trendsetters in the industry are going in one direction and I'm going in another. It's weird to feel alienated from your favorite hobby.