Monday, July 31, 2006

BattleTech & Star Fleet Battles

What makes BattleTech and SFB so dang popular? SFB might only be accurately called a cult hit, but BattleTech is a veritable phenom. Clearly these two games have their differences. BattleTech lacks a hit TV show propping up its popularity and SFB's massive rulebook is its own worst enemy, scaring away potential players. But setting those things aside for the moment, these two games have a lot in common. And these commonalities are things that should be lauded.

One Trick Pony Resource Management

Both BattleTech and SFB focus on a single important resource. Cleaving unto its source material, Star Fleet Battles makes allocating your energy points a Big Effin Deal. Do you power all your weapons, move fast, or reinforce your shields? Most SFB vessels can't do all three at the same time. BattleTech is kind of a weird one, as you actually manage a critical 'anti-resource', heat build-up. As the inside of your giant robot gets hotter, your machine's performance degrades. At high heat levels your ammo might cook off or your engine can shut down altogether. Many, many mechs (especially prior to the large-scale adoption of Clan technology) cannot prance around the field, indiscriminately firing all available weapons. You literally have to play it cool. In my mind the textbook example is the original Rifleman battlemech. It had dual large lasers, but can you afford to fire both in one turn?

But by sticking to only one big resource to manage, both games made it possible for non-geniuses like me to enjoy playing. Regular gamers could massage the system enough to get some fun results. Two ridiculously important resources would have been one too many for average Joe Gamer. I try to imagine a world where BattleTech has both a heat track and energy allocation. It's a hurty place.

Silhouette Damage Displays

SFB has the so-called SSD (What the hell does that stand for? Ship System Display, I think) and BattleTech has the Mech Sheet. Both of these devices combined good functionality with great (for their time, at least) presentation. The silhouette provides just enough of a visual cue to jumpstart the imagination, the way even a poorly painted miniature can say a lot to the inner eye. And marking off each individual point of damage can be fun. It's not quite as fun as whomping on the opposition, but one should not underestimate the tactile and visual pleasure of marking off boxes on a nice damage display. It's like a consolation prize that can keep the player in the "hey, we're having fun" feedback loop, even though they might be losing. And after the game it's fun to pass around the sheets, comparing how shot up everyone got. In my experience these sorts of post-mortems are an important part of a complete gaming experience, just like you can't have a real lodge gathering without refreshments after the formal meeting.

[Maybe I'll be able to post some examples showing what a mechsheet and SSD look like. Right now Blogger is not cooperating.]

Fields of Fire and Range Bands

Different weapons having different ranges is nothing new. What both games do well is combining multiple different weapons systems on nearly every unit. The end result is that different ships/mechs are ideal at different ranges. Similarly, lots of game have rules for fields of fire but BattleTech and especially SFB turn this concept into an art form. Which way you and your opponent are facing determines what weapons you can bear and where damage will go when you are hit.

These two factors combine to form a system in both games where you can put yourself in a position such that you can shoot the enemy but they can't shoot back. Real world navies of the wooden ship era had an ideal situation called 'crossing the T', where the line of attack is perpedicular to the line of defense. The result: one side can fire its cannons while the other cannot. Neither game makes it simple to achieve that stark of a contrast in temporary relative firepower, but opportunity abounds for creating conditions where your fire is better and the foe's is worse. In BattleTech the classic case is a duel between Particle Cannon equipped mechs and Lone Range Missile carriers. The particle cannon units want that throwdown to happen at a range of 4 to 6 hexes, while the missile robots achieve maximum efficiency at 7 hexes. In SFB, the Federation is notorious for its forward-firing ship-busting Photon Torpedoes. You're aces if you can close with the Feds facing away from you.

'My Guy' Wargaming

Although BattleTech and SFB aren't roleplaying games in most senses and under most definitions, they are in a hybrid category of wargames with rpg-like aspects. Other notable games in this group include the various Old West shoot-out skirmish games, Car Wars and Dawn Patrol. (Dawn Patrol was arguably the first actual RPG, but that's a different post for a different day.) Most wargames put you in command of 50 counters or miniatures each representing five or fifty or five hundred soldiers. BattleTech lets you pilot a one-man fighting robot. Star Fleet Battles puts you in Captain Kirk's chair. You can look at one chit or mini on the board and say "that's me". I simply cannot achieve that level of identification or immersion while pushing around 60 pieces of cardboard. Even if I'm not part of a larger campaign, right here right now I become the guy sweating in the cockpit of that BattleMaster or the Klingon shouting to his crew to fire all forward disruptors.

You can play any of these games with each player running multiple units. (I seem to fuzzily recall one caffeine-fueled highschool weekend wherein two friends and I attempted to each run a 12-mech company.) But I've never really seen a game radically improved by someone running more than one ship or robot. Indeed, that immersive quality is lost in the process.

Can anybody think of any other games that have similar qualities?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

links X 5

The Tall Man - Levi Kornelsen's excellent gaming livejournal

World Creation - a broad outline for setting makers (the author, Richard Staats, has some other articles at the same site)

Avery Sign Kits
- there's got to be some good gaming applications for these

The Worst Dungeon Master Ever

Monty Python & The Holy Grail - script & other stuff

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Guardians of Order RIP

This time the reports of GoO's death do not seem to be exaggerated. From George R.R. Martin's website:
I regret to announce that Guardians of Order, the Canadian games company that issued the GAME OF THRONES role-playing game last fall, is closing its doors and going out of business.

Although the GoO website remains open and there is some fan activity on the message boards there, it would appear that orders are no longer being fulfilled and emails to Guardians itself are going unaswered. The company's office has been vacated, and the company phone has been disconnected, When I finally reached GoO's owner and president Mark MacKinnon last week, he confirmed what many had come to suspect -- that he is shutting down operations.
I first heard this news from RPGpundit and Dorkland. Dorkland also linked to this thread at the Mongoose boards discussing the fate of some GoO properties.

worship the box

Starship Combat News posted this awesome pic from Hasbro, showing the starter set for the new Star Wars ship-to-ship collectible minis game. Dig those two capital ships, baby! With huge vessels like those included, I could actually see myself buying multiple starters.

A Minor Nitpick

I'm going to pick on a little in this post, but I want you to know I heartily recommend the site for gaming news. Not to drive my own readers away, but if you come to this here gameblog for my occasional industry news (I sure hope that's not why you're here) you need to understand something: I get that sort of stuff third-hand from sites like the Ogre Cave.

Now on to my gripe. Our hobby has a lot of websites with awards and pseudo-I'm-pimping-my-fave-products-and-calling-them-awards. Some of these are more credible than others (*cough*Origins suck*cough*). If you've got the kind of page that pushes a particular list of awards-winners, please do me a favor. Link the winners and nominees so I can check out and/or buy the product. I'm kind of embarrassed to even have to point this out, but why go to the trouble of pushing a list of award winners if you're going to make me google all the products? Seriously, WTF? I want to know more about all the shiny products listed in the Ogre's Choice Awards 2006 and I think the Cave wants me to want to know more. Why not make it easy for me to get to that information?

I know I'm singling out the Ogre's Choice Awards when that's unfair. But I expect the people running the Origins to screw everything up, so I don't even need to look at their page to know there are no links. (I just double checked and I'm right. No, I'm not going to link to the page. In case you couldn't read it earlier when I was being coy, the Origins suck.) I think even the awesome Diana Jones Award needs to get on the ball with this problem. Their page could use a lot more nominee links. And the ENnies, which has its shit together far more than most other awards I've seen, could use some more linkage in their archives of past winners. The nominees for this year's ENnies are all linked properly. Kudos for that.

So if you are thinking about having some sort of industry award, please link the nominees and winners. You want your winners to prosper, right? Then make it easy for Joe Surfer to get to them. Joe Surfer probably isn't going to vote (if you have open voting) and he probably won't go to the awards ceremony (if you have one), but he sure as hell is the guy driving any largescale commercial success. Don't make him find the product you're holding up as an example of excellence.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The 3 Round Massacre

A couple weeks back I posted a picture of the set-up for my next session of my D&D campaign, wherein our heroes were scheduled to fight almost a hundred githyanki. I had feared a total party kill but instead my bad guys were mercilessly slaughtered. Partly this was my fault for putting too many complicated NPCs on the field. I was not up to the task of handling four 19th level spellcasters and a pair of dragon riders. But mostly these guys fell down due to the sheer unrelenting power of four 16th level chrome-plated Gestalt killing machines. Jon happened to have his camera with him and snapped pictures as the event unfurled. Here's the beginning of round 1, with one of the dragon's flying over the mass of Gith to attack the PCs. Notice my awesome purple d30 in the foreground.

Get those PCs!
Next we have the general bum rush of Gith moving in to swording range. The poor fools.

Hi!  We'll be your mooks for today.

Darwane (Stuart's PC) drops a pair of fireballs, one of which is Maximized and Empowered, leaving a smoudering crater where a bunch of Gith once stood.


One round 2 Jon's cleric, Gregor Gunthersson, dropped a dictum spell, paralyzing all but 2 of the mooks for 9 minutes. Since they were essentially 'mobility kills' I pulled them off the board. One of the dragonriders was ganked as well, so I swapped the mini for him to a riderless green dragon.

The other dragonrider was elminated, leaving the opposition down to the 4 big bad NPCs and the dragons. None of these guys had enough AC or hit points to stand up to the party, a lesson I will not soon forget!

Gregor grows to large size, just 'cause he can. So we replace his figure with a troll. Why a troll? I just love that mini. I like in this pic how a ghostly halo appears around Angus the Half-Orc and his dwarvish cohort.

The dragons, the beguiler, and the blachguard are all slain. The sorcerer and duskblade get away thanks to the Gith plane shift ability. The PC party is all that remains standing on the field.

And finally, here's the corpses piled up next to the map!

Nest session: using the special Githyank silver swords acquired from this battle, our heroes take on the leaders of the Infernal Legion. Can the PCs save the Wild Coast from the diabolic invaders?

Here comes the Cavalry! Or not.

How come I'm the only one?!Quiz time, folks! How many figures in the D&D Minis line are mounted cavalry? Times up, pencils down. Out of eight releases of 60 figures each, only 8 of the little suckers are cavalry. And fully half of those appeared in the most recent set. Extra credit: If you want a figure to represent your PC knight on his horsey, how many choices do you get? Two, but only if you count the Blackguard On Nightmare as a viable option. Otherwise you are stuck with one lousey Mounted Paladin. What is going on here? Back in the days before so-called Collectible Whatever Games every fantasy army fielded huge troops of mounted figures. Heck, some of the best bad guys I've ever seen sculpted are the Chaos Knights from Citadel/Games Workshop. Is the armored knight on steed not cool with the kids these days? Is it a mechanical issue? No version of D&D has ever done as good a job handling mounted combat as Pendragon, and maybe there are too many other better options for the 3.5 fighter types. Am I the only one who thinks it odd that the mounted warrior is so under-represented in DDM? Heck, I got better choices when picking kobolds than when picking knights. Something's wrong with that.

Here's my opinion: Wizards should put out a DDM release emphasizing mounted combatants, even moreso than the most recent batch. Include a dismounted version of each rider in the set. In tandem with this release Mike Mearls or some other mechanical wonk should be given the task of writing more oomph! into the mounted combat rules of both the minis game and the RPG. I want to get medieval on some orc asses and the present state of affairs is not conducive to that goal.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

linkos cincos

By the Seven Green Moons of Gongle! - Thanks for the link, coeli!

Atari comic books - Yars' Revenge is the pick of the litter.

Brian's Adventures in Findlay, Ohio - I don't know what to say about this one.

Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked

Atomic Rockets - a guide to putting better science into sci-fi


Blogger is really burning my biscuits this week. I can't get lots of blog pages to load, including my own. And I've got a bunch of pictures that I just can't upload. And no word from the Blogger people on the problem. Is anybody else having difficulties, or does the Internet just hate me right now? It was this sort of unreliability that got me to move from tripod. I don't really want to find another host, but this friggin' annoying.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

boardgame round-up

My boardgaming has been curtailed recently, as my daughter requested I spend fewer nights away from home gaming. Either the regular boardgame night or World of Alidor had to go, and I'm not about to jettison a regular D&D game lightly. But Saturday I got an opportunity to play a couple of games with my brother-in-law Jim and his sons Ian and Alex. We played two games neither of which I had played before. One of the afternoon's diversions was Thurn & Taxis, which was a cute little game about running routes through the German postal system. I had a good time but the amount of interaction between players is pretty low in this one. I couldn't see a good way to pimp over the leader and nothing can be done to ally yourself with another player. Not a bad game, but with the same group of hardcore gamers I'd much rather play Puerto Rico.

The other offering was my swank new copy of Ticket to Ride: Marklin Edition. The aforementioned brother-in-law and his family got me this number for my birthday and I hadn't yet had an opportunity to play it. If you've played any of the previous Ticket to Ride installments you already understand 90% of this game. And if you like those games you'll probably like this member of the franchise. My sister doesn't like the little victory point chips stacked at nearly every city on the map. I agree with her that it's a clunky implementation, but that's not a deal-breaker for me. The rest of the game is absolutely gorgeous and well-designed. The train cards all have individual pictures of various Marklin brand toy trains (hence the name of the edition). These cards are so beautiful and clearly labeled that, according to rumour, this game is crossing over to model train enthusiasts who don't even intend to play the game. I got burned on this game, taking second place when first was within my grasp, due to two factors. First, I was paying attention to Jim's train inventory and he ran out earlier than I expected, ending the game earlier than I had hoped. And second, I had forgot for part of the game that, unlike previous Ticket games, there's no special award for longest contiguous route. I was chasing a phantom bonus for much of the game. Still, I had a great time and look forward to playing more Ticket to Ride of all varieties. It's a great line of games that are easy to teach to the non-hobbyist but engaging enough to keep the interest of the serious boardgamer.

I'd normally include a graphic of the Ticket to Ride box in a post like this, but for the past several days Blogger seems to be having trouble uploading pics. It's not just me either, I've seen other blogs reporting this problem. Thank goodness (or is that evilness?) that the Evil DM was able to upload his Wednesday cheesecake.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

the mysteries of Traveller

Sometimes I blow past the introductory pages of a roleplaying book, skipping ahead to the "good stuff" (crunchy mechanics, pictures of naked succubi, etc). But sometimes, hidden among descriptions of how to roll dice or lame comparisons to Cops & Robbers, you can find a real gem. Take this paragraph from page one of The Traveller Adventure (1983, Game Designers' Workshop):
This book is presented as a role-playing adventure. Readers assume the fictional identites of the science fiction characters, and--guided by a referee--make their own decisions about pursuing the mysteries they have encountered. All action takes place in the imaginations of the players as they sit around the room, working as a team to solve the riddles put before them.
This would be the first time I've seen solving mysteries listed as the primary activity of a role-playing game. I'm a big fan of slaying dragons and winning treasure, but that's a pretty cool approach. It's a much more intriguing way to look at Traveller than hauling freight for credits or Shadowrun style coporate espionage.

Eliot Cracks the Conundrum

I want to take a moment to highlight Eliot Wilen's proposed solution to my Cleric Conundrum:
I probably don't know what I'm talking about (since I haven't played D&D in decades) but maybe a solution is just to give EVERY party a periodically-refreshed, shared pool of healing dice without any need for a character to actually administer it. Scale the pool based on the total number of levels in the party or something.
I think Mr. Wilen may be on to something here. What if healing were simply a group meta-resource? How would you determine the number of points in the healing pool? How often would the pool refresh? Who decides when to draw points from the pool and when can it be done? Does anybody have any thoughts?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Ballsack of the Nut People

You know the old saying that you can't judge a book by its cover? There's at least one exception to that rule: Balzan of the Cat People #2: The Caves of Madness. I barely made it through one chapter before putting this book down in disgust. And it's not even entertainingly bad. Here's the paragraph that pretty much made me hate this book before I even got to page 10:
He was a tall man, a humanoid, with two arms and two legs and a head growing between his shoulders. He was hairless, except for the tousled brown crown of his head and the area around his genitals. He had five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot, and he normally wore clothes. His features--two eyes, a mouth, a nose, two ears--were sharp and set close to his skull, which was more or less oblong. He was an alien to this world, a planet twice the size of the earth which had spawned him, a world with two moons, an unknown number of continents, and at least three sentient races. He'd never known his parents. He was an adopted member of the Cat People. He was a wanderer in self-imposed exile--what men on another world might call "a loner."
Thank you Wallace Moore, author of this crap, for telling me the hero has a head between his shoulders! And that he wears clothes! And he's a loner! What depth of characterization! And I love how we go from learning about Balzan's pubic hair to a mini-dissertation on his adopted homeworld, all in a single paragraph! Sheesh.

What really gets my goat is the tremendous inefficiency of style at work here. If Robert E. Howard were writing this story, we'd discover all the relevant setting information as quick throwaway lines in the midst of slaying foes and wooing wenches. Not that everyone has to write just like Howard, mind you. People who lived and wrote before Howard was born are excused from adopting his style.

So here's the lesson for the day: just because someone at Wikipedia puts something on a Selected Reading List doesn't mean it's going to be good.

I Like Swords, Part 3: D&D

8-Bit Theater rules!Today's installment of I Like Swords is a special request from my gaming buddy Doug. At last week's World of Alidor session he mentioned that he wanted one of those triple-bladed sword things (from Part 1 of this series) for his character in my Wild Times campaign. It's nice to know that I'm not the only guy in the local gaming scene with a fondness for The Sword & The Sorcerer. Unless you were a stupid kid in the 80's, you'll probably never appreciate the incredible awesomeness of that film and the others of its ilk (Beastmaster, Hawk the Slayer, etc.). It's like Silver Age comics, some people get 'em and some people just don't. Anyway, here's the d20 version of the Triple-Bladed Sword of Sorcery, broken down into its atomic components.

Component The First: Triple Swords All Up in Here!

Triple Short Sword This movie friggin' rocks!
light exotic weapon
Cost: 100gp
Damage (S): 3d3
Damage (M): 3d4
Critical: x2
Range Increment: --
Weight: 4 lbs
Type: Piercing

Triple Longsword
one-handed exotic weapon
Cost: 150gp
Damage (S): 3d4
Damage (M): 3d6
Critical: x2
Range Increment: --
Weight: 7 lbs
Type: Slashing

Triple Greatsword
two-handed exotic weapon
Cost: 250gp
Damage (S): 3d8
Damage (M): 3d10
Critical: x2
Range Increment: --
Weight: 12 lbs
Type: Slashing

Component The Second: Flying Blades of Doom!

Those wacky French forgot to mention the Sorcerer in the title!Launching Blade

This ability allows the blade of a weapon to fire from the hilt or haft as a ranged attack. The range increment of such an attack is 10'. Damage is normal with most weapons, but trilple bladed swords do only one die of damage per blade launched. The remaining blades of a triple bladed sword subtract any dice launched. (E.g. a medium-sized triple bladed greatsword only does 2d10 damage if one of the blades has been launched.)

Unless the weapon also has the Returning ability, the blade must recovered from the square occupied by the target. Reloading the blade is a standard action. Weapons with all blades launched may be treated as small clubs (in the case of hilted weapons like swords) or normal-sized quarterstaves (in the case of long-hafted weapons such as polearms or spears).

Only piercing or slashing weapons with discernable blades can be Launching.

Moderate transmutation; CL 7th; Craft Magic Arms and Armor, telekinesis; Price +1 bonus.

Component the Third: Hold-Out Dagger in the Eye!

Melee weapons and shields may be purchased with hidden daggers that may be drawn as a standard action (allowing an Attack of Opportunity if the observer's Spot roll beats the Sleight of Hand roll of the one drawing the dagger). One-handed melee weapons and light shields can conceal hold-out daggers of one size category smaller than the size of the weapon or shield. Light melee weapons and bucklers can conceal daggers of two size categories smaller. Two-handed weapons, heavy shields, and tower shields can conceal daggers of the same size as the weapon or shield.

A weapon or shield with a hold-out dagger installed costs 100gp extra and weighs 5 lbs than a normal item. Hold-out daggers may not be added after the fact to pre-existing equipment.

Putting It All Together

Going strictly by my memory of the original film I would stat up Prince Talon's awesome sword as a +1 mithril Triple Longsword, Launching Blades x2, with a hold-out small dagger. The cost of such an implement would be 21,250 gp.

Now go forth and kick ass in the name of Talon!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

speaking of saturation...

Today I deleted my automatic daily eBay search for all things Traveller related. Not because I've suddenly stopped digging on Trav, but because I don't need it anymore. Except for a very few cases where I am unwilling to pay collector prices for an item (Spinward Marches Campaign, I'm looking at you), I otherwise have pretty much everything I want from the out-of-print Trav market. I'm not one of those guys who has to have every single item ever printed for a gameline. I can quit anytime, I tell you! At some point I could see myself picking up some more Far Future reprints, such as the Journal of the Travellers Aid Society compilations or I might get some of the '101' line from BITS. But for now I'm quite satisfied with the mountain of material already in hand. There are a few PDFs floating around that are of some interest, I suppose. Some of the stuff from ComStar Games looks pretty good. Still I wouldn't be surprised if my next Traveller purchase was the new 5th edition of the game, whenever that might come out. Don't expect me to shut up about Trav, though! I've still got plenty to work on in my obsessive wiki project.

Check out that wicked awesome cover!With the elimination of my daily Traveller scan, I'm down to exactly one automated eBay search. (Down from a peak of around 25 or so searches. At one time I was buying old crap like it was going out of style.) I'd still like to scare up a copy of Tom Moldvay's module Seren Ironhand. Over the last few years several copies have shown up for sale, all listed by this same "hamilcar" fellow who must have a case of them stashed away somewhere. Every time one comes up my cheapskate bid leads the auction until the collectors swoop down en masse and snipe the price well out of my comfort zone. I love Moldvay's work but I ain't paying forty bucks for one adventure! Especially for part two of a trilogy when parts one and three were never published.

Now that I think about it, I don't know for certain that Hamilcar owns more than one copy of Ironhand. Maybe he sells the same copy over and over, and he's really some sort of psycho who stalks and kills his buyers! Clearly I should call the police! Surely they would want to consider this possibility!

Friday, July 21, 2006


I think I've finally worked my way through the paperback buying spree of the last couple weeks. On Wednesday my good friend Pat dropped off about 35 Perry Rhodan novels. It is blowing my mind that this stack of adventures represents a little under two percent of Major Rhodan's adventures. He also through in a Lin Carter novel and John Flint Roy's A Guide to Barsoom, which looks like a great example of pre-internet continuity porn.

However three dozen Perry Rhodan books was not quite enough to sate my lust for cheap and cheesy adventure novels. I reached that point today, for today I got to visit the Old Book Barn. If you're a bookworm and you live anywhere in the general vicinity of Decatur, Illinois then you need to visit the Book Barn in Forsyth. It is your moral obligation as a bibliomaniac. And it's not even hard to get to, as it is one of the last buildings in Forsyth on 51 heading North. It's on the right (east) side of the street at the last stoplight as you leave town, right behind the combo barbecue joint/gas station/bank. No, I'm not making that last part up. In Forsyth you can really find a small brick building that houses a bank, a gas station, and a barbecue restaraunt. The drive-thru for the bank is right next to the pumps.

While more of a shed than a barn (no self-respecting barn lacks an upper story, the so-called hayloft), the Book Barn is still a vast edifice overflowing with books. As with most such outfits there's a vast wasteland of yellowing romance novels, but you can find specialty books of an amazing variety as well. And it's the place to go for books about ghosties in Illinois, as the same building also houses the publisher of a sizable line of Haunted [insert town name] nonfiction, assuming you're of the mind that a collection of vaguely researched folksy bugaboo tales can be described as 'nonfiction'.

The one downer about the Book Barn is that all paperbacks in the sci-fi/fantasy room cost at least two bucks. The upside is that they have a bunch of great stuff. I snagged three more of the Dumarest of Terra series, a Sword & Planet novel by Michael Moorcock (writing under the pen name Edward P. Bradbury), Transit to Scorpio (the first in the immense Dray Prescot series), and the two Conan books that were missing from my collection of Ace paperbacks. Awesome!

For my next trick I need to figure out where the hell I am going to put all these new books. The bookshelves in my game room are already ridiculously overloaded. Surely I can find a place for all these new novels without having to *gasp* get rid of some of the other books.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Embarassingly bad cover art

Now that Blogger seems to be cooperating I wanted to show you the pictures of the two novels I nearly didn't buy because of the ghastly art on the cover. The Caves of Reglathium is bad, with no real action in the pose of the hero and the bad guys looking retched. But The Caves of Madness is simply atrocious. A bowie knife, a headband, and a skirt? I like how Lothar of the Hill People, er, I mean Balzan of the Cat People, shows off his perfect teeth and well-oiled abs. And the logos for the titles of the two series are just awful as well.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Welcome to Nonsequitaria

Blogspot is acting ginchy for me right now, but I wanted to throw out three quick items.
  • Am I the only one who thinks picking Feats is a chore? I'm down to brass tacks on finishing my new PC when all of the sudden it hits me: I got to come up with some friggin' feats. One hand I can take the feats that push my Barbarian towards Frenzied Berserker and on the other hand I could take the feats I actually want, like Combat Reflexes or Improved Unarmed Combat. Either way, I find picking feats to be just as much of a downer chore as picking weapon proficiencies in previous editions. I know some folks gleefully search out the crunchiest feat combos, but that scene just bores me.
  • Fried Pineapple: does it exist? If not, why not? I'm talking about breading some pineapple rings and tossing them in the deep fryer until you have a soft, moist cakelike breading (think funnel cake). I'm off to google to see if I can find any recipes.
  • One reason why a Star Wars rpg never made it as big as D&D is because in a typical D&D campaign your PC takes the role of the local Gandalf or Elrond or whatever. But in the Star Wars games they seem to assume that Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are NPCs in your campaign. That makes the imaginative space too cramped for awesome PC heroics. Sure, there are workarounds of various sorts, but a normal person can quickly intuit that they can't be Han Solo if Han Solo is already in the game. That intuition leads to resentment and resentment leads to the Dark Side, or at least to less success as an RPG line.


Over at Treasure Tables I seem to be having a little bit of a disagreement with Don Mappin, who I don't know well but has always struck me as a pretty cool guy. Don is coming down on the fact that I use a Fumble Table in my Wild Times campaign, because such things tend to be hard on the PCs for no real gain. Three of my players read this blog, so I'd like to hear their opinions on how my funble houserules have been working out. Anyone else with an opinion on fumbles is welcomed to speak up, as usual. Back in the late 80's/early 90's I was using the Dragon article "Good Hits & Bad Misses" in my campaigns and the worst effect I can recall was Tom Novy's ranger losing an ear to a critical hit from a skeleton. His ranger started wearing a helmet after that, as one of the great features of those charts were that some of the results could be negated if the body part affected war armored. When that same group played MERP and Rolemaster we all avoided wielding morningstars because they had a high fumble rating and would send you straight to the critical hit charts. Has anyone lost a favored PC to a particularly egregious fumble result? That would suck.


It just occurred to me one of the reasons why I might be so pro-fumble. Back when 2nd edition AD&D came out my good buddy Dave Dalley was the first guy in our group to run a lengthy, successful campaign with the new rules. His campaign was awesome, still ranking quite high in my mind as one of the best I've ever played. My PC, the ranger Bartholomew Bolt (a name swiped from a Citadel/GW miniature released at roughly the same time), and Chris Kaufman's PC, the swashbuckler Sir Ian Wulfric Belvedere, had this great lawful good boy scout/chaotic good bad boy chemistry going. And it was a fumble on Bart's first adventure that really created that 'boy scout' persona for him. He threw a handaxe into the melee, blew the roll, and hit an ally, nearly killing him. After the fight the rest of the party harangued him about being so reckless with the lives of others. Ol' Bart took that stern talking-to seriously and went on to develop a persona that was obsessed with minimizing unnecessary risks, always pursuing optimized pre-adventure preparations and especially always having the right equipment on hand. It was a great contrast to Sir Ian's fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants roguery. I don't think that great dynamic would have developed as easily had it not been for that fumble on our first adventure.

I had to do it

A couple days ago Chris Sims posted the following Doom Patrol panel over at his Invincible Super-Blog:


Looks to me like a perfect opportunity for another episode of Slapdash Template Theater!

Large Undead (Aquatic, Incorporeal)
Hit Dice: 8d12+3 (55 hp)
Initiative: +3
Speed:20 ft. (4 squares), swim 30 ft., fly 30 ft. (perfect maneuverability)
Armor Class: 19 (–1 size, +3 Dex, +7 natural), touch 12, flat-footed 16, manifesting 13
Base Attack/Grapple:+6/+17
Attack: Tentacle +12 melee (1d4+7)
Full Attack: 8 tentacles +12 melee (1d4+7) and bite +6 melee (1d8+4)
Space/Reach:10 ft./10 ft. (20 ft. with tentacle)
Special Attacks:Improved grab, constrict, Corrupting Touch, Draining Touch, Manifestation
Special Qualities: Ink cloud, jet, low-light vision, Turn Resistance, Rejuvenation
Saves: Fort +6, Ref +9, Will +2
Abilities: Str 24, Dex 17, Con --, Int 2, Wis 10, Cha 11
Skills: Escape Artist +13, Hide +21, Listen +11, Search +8, Spot +13, Swim +15
Feats: Alertness, Skill Focus (Hide), Toughness
Environment: Warm aquatic
Organization: Solitary, gang (2–4), or mob (7–12).
Challenge Rating: 11
Advancement: 9–12 HD (Large); 13–24 HD (Huge)
Level Adjustment:
An opponent can attack a giant octopus’s tentacles with a sunder attempt as if they were weapons. A giant octopus’s tentacles have 10 hit points each. If a giant octopus is currently grappling a target with the tentacle that is being attacked, it usually uses another limb to make its attack of opportunity against the opponent making the sunder attempt. Severing one of a giant octopus’s tentacles deals 5 points of damage to the creature. A giant octopus usually withdraws from combat if it loses four tentacles. The creature regrows severed limbs in 1d10+10 days.
A ghost retains all the attacks of the base creature, although those relying on physical contact do not affect creatures that are not ethereal. A ghost retains all the special attacks of the base creature, although those relying on physical contact do not affect nonethereal creatures.
Constrict (Ex): A giant octopus deals 2d8+6 points of damage with a successful grapple check.
Improved Grab (Ex): To use this ability, a giant octopus must hit an opponent of any size with a tentacle attack. It can then attempt to start a grapple as a free action without provoking an attack of opportunity. If it wins the grapple check, it establishes a hold and can constrict.
Ink Cloud (Ex): A giant octopus can emit a cloud of jet-black ink 20 feet high by 20 feet wide by 20 feet long once per minute as a free action. The cloud provides total concealment, which the octopus normally uses to escape a losing fight. All vision within the cloud is obscured.
Jet (Ex): A giant octopus can jet backward once per round as a full-round action, at a speed of 200 feet. It must move in a straight line, but does not provoke attacks of opportunity while jetting.
Corrupting Touch (Su): A ghost that hits a living target with its incorporeal touch attack deals 1d6 points of damage. Against ethereal opponents, it adds its Strength modifier to attack and damage rolls. Against nonethereal opponents, it adds its Dexterity modifier to attack rolls only.
Draining Touch (Su): A ghost that hits a living target with its incorporeal touch attack drains 1d4 points from any one ability score it selects. On each such successful attack, the ghost heals 5 points of damage to itself. Against ethereal opponents, it adds its Strength modifier to attack rolls only. Against nonethereal opponents, it adds its Dexterity modifier to attack rolls only.
Manifestation (Su): A ghost dwells on the Ethereal Plane and, as an ethereal creature, it cannot affect or be affected by anything in the material world. When a ghost manifests, it partly enters the Material Plane and becomes visible but incorporeal on the Material Plane. A manifested ghost can be harmed only by other incorporeal creatures, magic weapons, or spells, with a 50% chance to ignore any damage from a corporeal source. A manifested ghost can pass through solid objects at will, and its own attacks pass through armor. A manifested ghost always moves silently. A manifested ghost can strike with its touch attack. A manifested ghost remains partially on the Ethereal Plane, where is it not incorporeal. A manifested ghost can be attacked by opponents on either the Material Plane or the Ethereal Plane. The ghost’s incorporeality helps protect it from foes on the Material Plane, but not from foes on the Ethereal Plane.
A ghost has two home planes, the Material Plane and the Ethereal Plane. It is not considered extraplanar when on either of these planes.
Rejuvenation (Su): In most cases, it’s difficult to destroy a ghost through simple combat: The "destroyed" spirit will often restore itself in 2d4 days. Even the most powerful spells are usually only temporary solutions. A ghost that would otherwise be destroyed returns to its old haunts with a successful level check (1d20 + ghost’s HD) against DC 16. As a rule, the only way to get rid of a ghost for sure is to determine the reason for its existence and set right whatever prevents it from resting in peace. The exact means varies with each spirit and may require a good deal of research.
Turn Resistance (Ex): A ghost has +4 turn resistance.
Skills: A giant octopus also can squeeze and contort its body, giving it a +10 racial bonus on Escape Artist checks. A giant octopus has a +8 racial bonus on any Swim check to perform some special action or avoid a hazard. It can always choose to take 10 on a Swim check, even if distracted or endangered. It can use the run action while swimming, provided it swims in a straight line.
Ghosts have a +8 racial bonus on Hide, Listen, Search, and Spot checks.

'Designer' Notes

Since an average Giant Octupus has less than the required 6 Charisma for a ghost, I added +1 CR to the base creature and gave it the Elite Array. This allowed me to jack up the Cha to the required level.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

son of trashy paperback round-up

I hit the downtown Champaign used book stores today, my list of Sword & Planet books firmly in grasp. I found many more such novels than I could possibly buy or read, so I limited myself to the cheapest available. I spent two whole dollars on another Burroughs' Mars story and found one of his Venus series as well. At Main Street Books I would have liked to have purchased one of the works of Burroughs' hated rival, Otis Adelbert Kline, but they were priced for collectors. I ain't paying ten bucks for less than two hundred pages of some guy swording martians. However I did buy two more Lin Carter books despite yesterday's comment about not wanting to buy a second of his books until I had read one. For less than a dollar each, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity.

Two of the books I ended up getting almost didn't make the cut based on cover art alone. Balzan of the Cat People #2: The Caves of Madness by Wallace Moore and Dannus #3: The Caves of Reglathium by Mike Sirota have just godawful cover art and logos. My rather philistine tastes in fiction are pretty embarrassing as it is, but I'd actually think twice before reading these books in public! I've never felt that way about any Conan books, despite the fleshtastic Frazetta art. The only thing that saved these puppies was the word "caves" in both titles. As a big Dungeons & Dragons geek I have to give some consideration to the possibility that some part of these novels will be set in an underground edifice full of monsters, deathtraps, and treasure. I'd put up cover art for you to gawk at, but Blogger stopped cooperating with image uploads at some point after I loaded the picture below.

Jane Addams also had a large quantity of the Dray Prescott series, the single longest Sword & Planet series I know. But at 4 bucks a copy those would have to wait for another day.

Erin Gray, space babe, and some guy.In addition to Sword & Planet goodness, my eye caught a copy of Philip Francis Nowlan's Armageddon 2419 AD, the original Buck Rogers novel. Although I managed to get this book for only a buck seventy-five, I'm a little dubious of the fact that this particular edition has been "specially revised and updated for the modern reader by noted science fiction critic and Hugo Award winning author, Spider Robinson". Isn't he the guy responsible for Callahan's Crosstime Saloon? Has adventure fiction degenerated to the point that a guy who writes about space pubs is the go-to man for this job?

The final book in today's grab-bag is War-Gamers' World by Hugh Walker. Turns out this is a gimmick book of sorts, as the World in question really was designed by a group of German fantasy wargamers called FOLLOW. According to the preface this group has been developing the Magira setting since 1967. Does anyone know anything more about these fellows? Where they minis players or did Germans invent D&D before Arneson & Gygax and I never heard about it? So far googling this stuff has lead to dead links and pages that only sprechen the deustch.

I Like Swords, Part 2: Mazes & Minotaurs

8-Bit Theater rules!I Like Swords continues, with three new swords for Olivier Legrand's fantabulous Mazes & Minotaurs. M&M is one of the best free PDF rpgs I've ever seen. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Sword of Black Glass

Atlantean traders claim these weapons come from a strange land east of their home island where no metal can be found for the crafting of implements of war. When found these weapons will have a bonus to Melee Attack rolls as high as +4, but each time a wielder of a black glass sword scores maximum damage the bonus degrades by one point. This reduction in bonus continues until the sword becomes -1 to Melee Attack. The next reduction shatters the sword. Only the creators of the sword or Hephaestus himself can repair or sharpen one of these blades.

Curved Barbarian Blade

Some barbarian tribes make use of these oddly shaped swords. Against foes wearing a brestplate such weapons do one less point of damage upon a successful hit. Creatures with Natural Armor or Invulnerability are similarly protected. All other targets take one extra point of damage when struck.


Only the mysterious black-clad assassins of the Far East wield these magnificent single-edged swords. Katanas are so sharp as to be able to slice through most metals, ignoring the EDC bonus for wearing a breastplate or helmet. (Shields may still bat the blade away.) Creatures with Natural Armor or Invulerability are considered to have 4 points less EDC when attacked by these swords.


Type: Folk
Description: These deadly assassins from distant realms claim such high fees for their services that only the richest of Mythikan rulers can afford to hire them. They are unrelenting in their quest to slay an assigned target.
Number Appearing: 1d6
Size: Medium
Ferocity: Deadly
Cunning: Crafty
Mystique: Weird
Movement: 180'
Initiative: +8
Melee Attack: +9
Defense Class: 15
Danger Evasion: +14
Mystic Fortitude: +2
Special Abilities: Lightning Fast, Missile Weapons, Poison, Sharp Senses, Sixth Sense, Stealthy, Uncanny Agility, 1 in 6 Ninjoi have Psychic Powers (as a level 4 Sorcerer, 19 power points)
Glory Award: 90 (110 if Psychic)
Wisdom Award: 10 (210 if Psychic)

Monday, July 17, 2006

trashy paperback round-up

Today I had to go across town to confab with my employer's attorneys. This gave me the opportunity to make a quick stop in the used bookstore across the street. (For benefit of the locals I'm talking about Priceless Book in Urbana.) I had with me a print-out of the author's and novel's listed in the Wikipedia entry on the Sword & Planet subgenre. Since reading Robert E. Howard's Almuric I have sought more entries in this field. I found three books on my list, of which I bought two. My first find was Leigh Brackett's The Ginger Star. Previous to seeing her name on my list, I had only known Ms. Brackett for her script credit for The Empire Strikes Back. The other two Sword & Planet novels I found were both by Lin Carter. Since we were talking about spending a whole American dollar on each of these babies, I decided it would be wasteful to buy 2 different Carter works until I had assured myself I like his writing. It's amazing how big of a cheapass I can be when buying these things. I also took a pass on the second book in David Brin's Uplift trilogy, as the price was a staggering three anda half bucks. Anyway, I took home with me Lin Carter's By The Light Of The Green Star, book 3 of the 5-book Green Star series. A wiser man might have selected the alternative, The Man Who Loved Mars, since it is the first book in its series. But since I was getting a ginger star I thought a green one would look nice with it. Besides, there's a blue guy on the cover! I've dug blue aliens since I first saw an Andoran on Original Series Star Trek.

I also picked up two more novels in the Dumarest of Terra series. This will allow me to test my hypothesis regarding the plot structure of the Dumarest series: will Dumarest's love interest die? I've only read 2 books in this 30-some-odd book series, but so far author E.C. Tubb is batting a thousand when it comes to killing off the girl. After the second such incident I started wondering if Mr. Tubb doesn't know any other way for his hero to end a relationship than to wait around for one of his enemies to zap the poor gal. I guess in one of the two I've read there was the woman he just stone cold walked out on. That's less violent, if no less emotionally stunted. But, hey, this post is labeled "trashy" for a reason. I'm not expecting great literature here, just rousing tales of adventure. Still I can't quite shake the suspicion that Tubb kills his heroines because it allows Odysseus-ripoff Dumarest to continue his Kirk-like escapades without the guilt of leaving a thousand broken hearts and perhaps as many star-babies in his wake. I hope I'm wrong and it's just a coincidence that the two previous installements I've read both ended with the girl dead.

The Cleric Conundrum

My fellow player Doug and I have both decided to retire our current World of Alidor PCs. Doug was playing a Paladin/Cleric and my guy was a Favored Soul/Bard. (Favored Soul is a divine spontaneous caster, the clerical equivalent of Sorcerer.) Both of us are interested in playing fighters of one stripe or another, but that leaves the responsibilities for healing in the hands of the Ranger/Druid. Going from three healers to one will certainly affect our operational tempo, so I've been giving some consideration to playing a Barbarian/Cleric instead of my earlier plan of Barbarian/Scout. (For the moment I've tabled the elf Duskblade/Ninja concept. I'm not sure the world is ready yet for Obiwan Shinobi to make the leap from Encounter Critical to D&D.)

Now, Barbarian/Cleric has its advantages. Few people will dispute the fact that the Cleric is one of the most powerful base classes in the game. And the good Will save makes the proposition of playing a Frenzied Berserker all the sweeter, as the chance of an accidental freak-out is greatly reduced. But really, I don't think I want to play the cleric. In fact I pretty much don't dig playing the cleric at all. I know some people out there like playing the team cleric, but those people are moral degenerates in the same metaphysical gutter as guys who don't like mustard on pastrami. This whole situation points to what I see as a fundamental design issue that mainstream D&D has never satisfactorily addressed: clerics are generally needed but not wanted. You gotta have a healer in the party if you want to kick optimized quantities of ass. And having someone who can turn undead ain't too bad either (though turning has become both more complicated and less useful in recent years). Each new iteration of the game has tried to sweeten the pot by making clerics more powerful, to the point where on sheer power alone the cleric is now my first pick as a class.

But that raw power has not made the class any cooler. For the other members of the "Big Four" (fighter, wizard, rogue) I can name lots of awesome role models from myth and fiction. For the fighting man we have Conan, John Carter of Mars, every Knight of the Round Table, El Santo, Hercules, Fafhrd, the Knights of the Round Table, Zatoichi, and many more. For magic-users we have Prospero, Merlin, Gandalf, Thulsa Doom, Sparrowhawk, Doctor Strange, and others. I can't name quite as many thieves but even for them we have Subatai, the Grey Mouser, the Saint, Bilbo Baggins, and some others. How many pre-D&D clerics can you name? Bishop Odo clubbed people with a mace back in 1066, so I guess he kinda counts. And one of Charlemagne's companions was a priest, but I can't tell you his name off the top of my head.

Do you see my point? Describe the basics of D&D to the uninitiated and, assuming any interest whatsoever, what kind of character would they like to play? Some will want to play mighty-thewed barbarians or armored knights. Some will yearn to be a master of kung-fu or a cat burglar. Others will seek to play mighty wizards or witches. Has anyone gotten the pitch for D&D and responded "I like the concept of a fantasy game of magic and dragons. Can I play a vicar?" In the computer game Ultima IV wizards could heal and 'Turn Undead' was a spell. Do you think anyone missed the cleric? I sure didn't. Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed/Evolved uses a unified spellist, making clerics completely unnecessary. Huzzah, I say!

And then there is the issue of PC autonomy. There are lots and lots of players who do not want their character to be answerable to anyone. But for many campaigns playing a cleric means you are answerable to a particular deity and/or a church hierarchy. It's baggage that many players don't want. Getting a god involved in your adventure is almost always a bad idea, even when you're character class choice doesn't automatically make you a loyal follower.

You know what? I'm gonna play that Barbarian/Scout. We'll be underpowered in the healing department but maybe a few PC deaths from now I'll be ready to compromise on this cleric thing.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

2 years at blogspot

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of this here Gameblog moving to My first gameblog is still out there on tripod. I actually started the original Jeff's Gameblog in February, 2004. I've somehow managed to ramble on about gaming and other crap for over a thousand posts spread out over a little more than two years. When I started I really didn't expect this blogging thing to hold my attention for so long.

Coming up this week on the gameblog: whining about clerics, the next installment of I Like Swords, and maybe some blathering about sci-fi and fantasy fiction.

Friday, July 14, 2006


Meme from coeli!

If you read this, if your eyes are passing over this right now, (even if we don't speak often) please post a comment with a COMPLETELY MADE UP AND FICTIONAL memory of you and me. It can be anything you want - good or bad - BUT IT HAS TO BE FAKE. When you're finished, post this little paragraph on your blog and be surprised (or mortified) about what people DON'T ACTUALLY remember about you.

[External Memory] Wild West rpgs & such

Just a list of Cowboy games

Boot Hill - TSR ('75 & '79 editions very similar, '90 edition is reputedly very different mechanically)
Gunslinger - AH wargame
Wild West - FGU, 1981 had a location supplement called Widow's Peak or somesuch
Western Hero/Outlaw (essentially the same supplement statted for HERO and Rolemaster)
GURPS Old West
Aces & Eights - Kenzer & Co.
Sidewinder/Sidewinder Recoiled - d20, IIRC
Dust Devils
generic Wild West supplements: Knuckleduster Firearms Shop and Cowtown Creator

PS - friggin' rules!

I Like Swords, Part 1: Encounter Critical

8-Bit Theater rules! Welcome to the first installment of a new five-part feature, I Like Swords. Pictured at the left is our ILS mascot, Fighter from 8-Bit Theater. He likes swords too. You might know Fighter as the inventor of the sword-chuk, possibly the most awesome sword idea since Immortal Scottsmen started swinging katanas.

We'll be starting this boatload of sword-related fun with three swords useable with S. John Ross's retro-awesome Encounter Critical. If you haven't checked out EC yet I'm hoping these swords will convince you that it is the only game for true scientific realism.

Computo-Sword of Vulkinia

Normally only found in the hands of elite Vulkin samurai, these deadly blades require extensive practice before any benefit is realized. (1d6 weeks of 8 hours training session, with a successful Machine Friend roll at the end of the training.) In the hands of an untrained user a Computo-Sword acts as a bastard sword with -10% chance of striking and -1 point of damage. But to someone able to take advantage of the sword's onboard multitronic brain these weapons become fearsome indeed, giving +15% chance of striking and allowing the wielder's Logic score to be used to parry blows (Logic replaces Saving Throw). Logic parrying is halved against ranged attacks and any successful parry of an energy attack (melee or ranged) results in a percentage chance of destroying the sword equal to the damage rolled.

Triple-Bladed Sword of Sorcery

It is said that the secret of constructing these blades is known to Dagramal, the noted War-Smith of Blackhawk, which he perhaps learned from his ex-father-in-law Norrek, Bladewright of Crane. Neither man will part with their most deadly tools of battle for mere money, so the number of Triple Bladed Swords in circulation is quite small. Only a warrior of at least third level may wield one of these mighty tri-swords. In such hands it allows for three attacks as one, doing 1-8, 1-6, and 1-4 points of damage each. Alternatively, the two side swords may be individually launched by a clever mechanism, out to a range of 15 inches and doing 1-8 points of damage. In melee the range of the Triple-Bladed Sword is 1" and the scare rating of this weapon is 42%.

The Doomsword of Darth Viraxis

This blade is the personal weapon of the mighty emperor of the infamous realm betwixt the Slaver Kingdoms and the Holdings of the Zombie Princess. Legend reports that Emperor Viraxis acquired this weapon during one of his many searches for the lost Crystal of Chi-Bor. It is a two-hand sword constructed of Black Hole Metal, so heavy that no being with less 17 points of Strength may wield it. It does 5-50 points of damage at a range of 2 inches with a scare rating of 82%. The 5 kryptonium gems decorating the pommel and guard of the Doomsword are worth no less than 1,000 gold credits each and may have other properties as well.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Shape of Things to Come

Here's the set-up for the opening fight of my next Wild Times session.Holy crap!  That's a lot of freakin' Githyankis!
This is the sort of thing that can happen to you when you go up an army of foes who can all use dimension door. In the center of the map are 4 of our heroes, with Darwane the Dragon Sorcerer in the bottom left corner coming in as cavalry on round 2. Completely surrounding the 4 good guys in the middle are 4 badass Githyanki, 2 Giths on dragons, and a horde of Gith goons. This will be the biggest fight in the campaign so far and the EL for this encounter is literally off the freakin' chart.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Five Star Link

One of the best D&D resources on teh intarweb is Jans Carton's Hypertext d20 SRD. Navigating Carton's site is much simpler than flipping through a rulebook. I've used the Hypertext SRD to prep numerous encounters and to sift through tricky rules. Right now I've got a print-out from the site that lists all the SRD monsters. I'm using it as a brainstormer, crossing off all the monsters I've used recently and seeing if anything left pops out at me. I haven't used an Aranea since the last time I ran X1 The Isle of Dread, that was probably around 1989 or '90 and my last Naga deployment was probably that long ago, too. And I've never used a Nightshade or a Titan. Lotsa neat possibilities in this list...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Kudos all around

Stuart, one of the players in my D&D game, is now a published, paid freelancer type. Way to go, Stuart! He has an article in the June issue of Silven Trumpeter, the PDF house organ from Silven Publishing. I don't know much about these Silven guys, though I am enchanted by the title of their product 50 New Ways to Blow Things Up and the sequel 50 New Ways to Turn Things into Other Things.

Martin Ralya's Treasure Tables blog turns one year old today. Happy Birfday, TT! If you're a GM and haven't checked out Martin's blog before, I heartily recommend it. It's chock full o' useful GMing advice. I suppose it isn't even proper to call TT a blog, since the site also includes some nifty forums and a GMing wiki. It was the Treasure Tables 2-parter on Wikis for GMs that gave me the tools necessary to start my own obsessive Traveller fan-wiki.

An Interesting Observation

Jon and I both run local D&D games, he has his awesomely weird World of Alidor and I have my all-fighting-all-the-time Wild Times campaign. Both of us use miniatures and a Chessex mat to take full advantage of all the fiddly bits in the 3.5 combat system, with its AoO's and 5-foot-steps and whatnot. But there's one big difference in our set-ups: I use a Battlemat (measuring 26 inches by 23 inches) and Jon uses a Megamat (34" x 48"). His mat pretty much covers the entire table and much of our other game periphenalia sits on top of it, but even so the actual playing field for our little plastic and metal dudes is much larger than the little almost-square sitting in the middle of my table. The size of our playing fields has a noticeable affect on combat. In his game spell and weapon ranges are much more critical and you need a lot more movement to close with an enemy. My game is far more forgiving on plateclad melee types. Admittedly, we both end up exacerbating the differences. I treat my mat as the battle screen on an old computer game; any movement off the mat counts as 'escaped' like we were playing a tabletop version of Ultima IV. Meanwhile Jon is perfectly willing to say things like "the enemies are approaching you from 200 feet from the map edge". You can get away with only carrying an axe in my game, but in Jon's game you best be carrying a bow if you don't want to miss out on a LOT of combat. I'm seriously considering a Barbarian/Scout for my next Alidor PC, partially for all the extra movement (an partially because I've been reading a lot of Howard lately). Meanwhile, in my campaign Pat's 'speedster' half-elf was wasted on my tiny tactical display.

I'm now seriously considering getting one of the larger Megamats and alternating between the two sizes from session to session, to try to balance out the relative advantages of light infantry/archers/artillery versus the tanks.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Pro wrasslin': trash culture at its best

One of the wrestlers who really got me hooked on Total Non-stop Action was "The Fallen Angel" Christopher Daniels. He's got this arrogant badass character that works as a heel or a face, real ring charisma, and some great moves. In his TNA appearances he wears these cool robes that make him look like he's about to swing a wavy-bladed dagger and invoke Set. Today I discovered that when he wrestles in Japan he dresses like this:
Curry Man lives!On this side of the Pacific he's the Anton LaVey of wrestling, but in the Land of the Rising Sun he is Curry Man! I love this sort of inexplicablility. Curry Man?!? WTF?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Have you noticed...

...that surfing the web makes you want to buy more stuff? Or is it just me? I've been in greater and lesser stages of eBay addiction for 7 years now, but I only end up there when some other site puts the bug in me. I certainly don't need more Traveller stuff, but I search eBay for more old Trav crap after nearly every lengthy visit to Citizens of the Imperium. Recently the Evil DM put me on the hunt again for fun comics blogs. How much time can I spend reading Dave's Long Box or Chris's Invincible Super-Blog before I break down and buy some comics? Not much longer, I think. Recently I've been reading some more astronomy/science/science fiction blogs and, lo and behold, I'm suddenly buying and reading sci-fi paperbacks again. And I can't visit a place like Bad Movies or The Ruthless Guide to 80's Action without feeling the urge to buy some DVDs. Am I the only one who gets this way? Some times I feel like my entire internet experience is one big commercial advertisement for my geekotronic lifestyle.

Strangely enough, one of the few sites that lacks this effect is I used some freebies from Wizards now and again and I appreciate the articles, but never has Wizards' website ever talked me into buying a product of theirs. That's what the ENWorld forums are for.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

All hail OSRIC

As my experience running and playing D&D grows, so grows my confidence that I can actually hack it running a game that runs to almost 1000 pages of core material (not to mention the near limitless supply of supplementary stuff available). At this stage I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm competent with the 3.5 rules, but I know enough that I can use 20+ years of accumulated low DM cunning to fake my way through it. So nowadays I don't pine for the fjords of retro play as much as I used to. It wouldn't take much searching through the older posts of this blog or my previous blogging effort to find endless words of mine wasted on whining about how the new game is hard and not the same and blah, blah, blah. I still have as high opinion of the old ways of the Rules Cyclopedia and Moldvay's Basic Rules. And I find myself continuing to buy Castles & Crusades books in a slow trickle. But I no longer yearn to flee the artifices of modern gaming civilization and return, like some Ludo-Luddite, to a nostalgic golden age of gaming that never existed.

Max Von Sydow as Osric the Usurper from the film Conan the BarbarianStill, I would be remiss if I didn't tell all y'all about OSRIC. OSRIC stands for 'Old School Reference and Index Compilation'. The basic idea is to extract the rules information, the hard mechanical data, from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and release it as Open Content. I am not a lawyer but it looks as close to legit as any such project could get without Wizards' approval. For all the reasons outlined above I'm not exactly racing to hop on the OSRIC bandwagon, but I find the project exciting. A free version of AD&D would make re-recruiting old gamers much easier; no slinking through bookstores for used copies of the old books or chasing copies on eBay. And even better, we may see new modules for the old game. That would be pretty dang cool. Best of luck to the followers of OSRIC.

Monday, July 03, 2006

spacemen & pirates & barbarians

I was very pleased to be able to polish off Perry Rhodan #1: Mission Stardust over the weekend. The story didn't involve as much direct shotout/swordplay action as I prefer, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I was surprised when Major Rhodan and his crew discovered human-like aliens from the Imperium. Could this be the inspiration for the first encounter between the Solomani and the Vilani in the Traveller setting? I found in my game room a copy of Conan the Buccaneer, one of the three Conan volumes I thought I was lacking. Conan the Warrior and Conan the Usurper are all that remains in completing my Ace paperback Conan collection. I think I'll re-read them all once I get through my current batch of paperback adventures. Today I started Black Vulmea's Vengeance, a pirate tale book also by Howard. Yar! Ol' REH must have really liked panthers, because as far as I can tell in every one of his stories at some point or another he compares the speed and dexterity of every single one of his heroes to panthers. In this book he pulls the panther ploy on page one! Could Panther Hunting be the Howard equivalent of Clench Racing?

As I was messing about in my game room I made a second discovery. I found a copy of To Duel With Dragons, the second module for Iron Heroes. I could've sworn that I had purchased the first such volume, Song of the Blade, but it looks like after I finished pawing through all the IH book at the Dragon's Table I ended up carrying the wrong book to the counter. No real harm done, I suppose, other than owning a 4th level module for a game when I had intended to buy the 1st level adventure. I fully intended to purchase both eventually.

Need more mooks

As I'm slogging through building baddies for my campaign I was once again reminded about how annoyed I am that the DMG doesn't have standard NPC charts for Warriors like they do for the PC classes. Has anyone out there put together a bunch of stat blocks for simple warriors? I could maybe see myself paying a buck or two for a collection of decent stat blocks. Hell, I can imagine a whole PDF product line like this. Call it Goons or Grunts or something. Each installement in the line would give you statblocks for Warriors levels 1-10, or even just 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th for a certain theme. I've used Warriors with levels in the teens, but I'm not sure if anyone else does that.


Orcs with Falchions (like the 1st level guy in the MM)
Orcs with Double Axes
Orc Archers
Viking Raiders
Guards (you know, generic guys with spears or polearms)
Peasant Cannon Fodder (beat on some Commoners!)
Ninjas (using the Expert class)
Pirates (again using the Expert class)

Are such things available and I don't know where to look? Would anyone else pay a buck for ten or twenty statblocks full of mook? Setting aside for the moment the feasiblility of this concept as a commercial product, what if I did up some stat blocks and threw together a PDF. Would anyone download a freebie full of cheap orcs?