Friday, September 29, 2006

once again: 5 links

Flow in Games - a master's thesis tackling fun in video games, but I think it could be applicable to the tabletop

The original Sorcerer - I like this outfit much better than Hennet's goth-club gear, though I don't think I would send a PC of mine into a dungeon with his twig and berries hanging out.

The Dragonquest Shrine - I never played any of the DQ titles, but I absolutely adore some of the monster art you can find here. Evil has never been cuter!

Space Chicks: An alternative history of the future - I don't drop a lot of political stuff on this blog, but I found this item pretty amusing.

The Rasterbator - Not as naughty as it sounds, I'm afraid. This site allows you to make a cool-looking poster from any image.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

How to Awesome-Up Your Players

In the previous post I wrote that "[w]ith a cooperative GM you can buckle swashes without the mechanics holding your hand." It occurred to me that I could explain what I meant by that statement and in the process throw out a sort of DM's advice/personal DMing philosophy. Now, what I'm about to lay on you won't work for every campaign. Really, my comments are only applicable to the kind of game where kicking asses and taking names isn't a job, it's a calling. What I'm here trying to do is to outline how you as the DM can empower the players to make the game a non-stop high-octane freak-out. (Now, with extra hyphenation!) Activating caffeine-fueled stream-of-consciousness testifyin' mode...

Always Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing - Is that an old Bob Newhart line? My wife likes to bust out this phrase once in a while. Anyway, the Main Thing in an awesome-focused campaign is this: Your players are rock stars and they're here to rock your house. In this paradigm your job is to be the roady and the manager and all the other people who make the concert possible. This isn't one of those analogies that can be stretched forever, instead just mediate on the simple fact that your job is to help your players rock out without getting in their way. Everything below builds from this foundation.

Give the players the sun and make them fight for the moon - What I mean is that you give the players almost everything they want and them put them through a thousand chinese hells to get everything else. Put the PCs on the throne of Aquilonia, if that's what they want, then have ten-thousand angry Cimmerians invade, intent on burning their capital to the ground. Not because you're a sadistic asshole, but because fighting off an army of Conans is one of the cool things kings get to do.

One good place to put this principle in play is at character generation. Even a guy like me, who like robots and lasers in his D&D, occasionally gets on this funk where I consider trimming down the character build options to achieve some sort of artsy-fartsy effect. You know the drill. "I want to do something Arthurian, so no Asian-flavored classes in this campaign." or "This is going to be all Conan-y with the swords & the sorcery, so no demi-humans in this campaign." Although I truly, deeply understand the profound artistic reasons for such an approach, let me simply say: fuck that shit. We're talking about D&D here. If you can't fold themes and motifs into a game starring an elf ninja, a halfling bard, and two ill-tempered gnome wizards then you should be writing bad fan fiction, not running actual games for real players. Just please don't post your stories anywhere on the net where I might see them.

Your NPCs suck and they are all going to die - Very few players show up to the table in order to soak in the glory of experiencing your skills as a thespian. Even fewer will ever show the awe and respect you want for your own personal Drizzt. Leave that stuff at home. Instead show up to the table with stats for people they can beat up. Similarly, you and your players will be a lot happier if you get into the zone of thinking about your campaign world as "that place the PCs are going to destroy and then remake in their own image".

On a tangentially related note, I've never seen any good come from uber-powerful people sending the PCs on pissant missions. "If we don't pick-up Elminister's laundry from the Dry Cleaners of Doom then he might turn us into a toad" is never a sound way to structure an adventure. You'll do better just frankly stating to the players "I wrote this dungeon. That's tonight's adventure." and leaving it at that.

The game is neither the mechanics nor the rules - Don't let the mechanics dictate anything they don't have to. For example, Doug wanted a spiffy new magic sword. He had 120,000gp burning a hole in his pocket. (That's a big pocket.) The 120,000gp disappears from his char sheet and the ubersword takes its place. The rules say Doug's PC Angus has just purchased that sword. But Doug knows better. He knows the rules are there as a tool to support the game. So right in the middle of my hack-n-slash gamist pawn-stanced D&D game, Doug seizes directorial control and gets all narrative on our asses. "Angus is given an ancient ultimate sword by his homies in the church of Thor. He blows the 120K on the biggest motherfucking party the City of Greyhawk has ever seen." Doug rocks. And I rock too, because I run a game where Doug feels comfortable wailing on his mind-guitar like that. This example goes right back to Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing, as Doug was very actively rocking when he did this, but my rocking right then was more of the wei wu wei method of rocking. Sometimes the DM paints a picture, but sometimes he just sets up the canvas.

Here's an example that doesn't involve me high-fiving myself for doing nothing but sitting on my ass while my player does all the work. Last night Gruul the Half-orc had a bead drawn on one of the bad guys and loosed two feathered shafts into him. This dude only had 2 hitpoints left and Gruul hit him with two critical strikes. In some games those crit rolls would have been wasted. Any two arrows hitting would have iced that mofo. But Jon (the DM) freaked my shit out when he then called for Jason (Gruul's player) to roll two to-hits against another foe standing directly behind the first. The shots hit and damage is tallied. Jon: "The first guy totally explodes and the arrows pass through him, into the second guy, who drops dead." Do you see what Jon did there? He went over and above the call of the mere rules to allow Jason's guy to totally kick ass. In-character this did much to cement Gruul's reputation in the party as a badass mofo with the bow. Out-of-character my appreciation of Jon's DMing went up a big ol' notch.

When in doubt, let a player roll some dice - If your Inner Magic 8-Ball isn't giving you anything to work with, sometimes you should pitch things back to the players in the form of requesting a die roll. If you can't make up your mind how to answer a question just break it down to a simple roll, clearly outline the stakes, and have a player roll it. This technique gets at least one player engaged in the game (making it a good thing to drop on an otherwise disengaged player), gets them rolling dice (which all decent right-thinking non-communist players love to do), and gives them ownership over a part of the game that isn't their character (thus empowering the player). And if the die roll yield a result unsatisfying to them, the blow is softened because they had a fair chance to get another result. It's not like you faked some roll behind a screen. Not that I'm against faking rolls behind a screen.

By the way, I break out a real Magic 8-Ball once in a while. Because I can.

Okay, folks. The buzz I got from that Mello Yellow I drank is finally wearing off. If anybody digs this rampaging, vaguely coherent look into how and why I run my games the way I do then maybe I'll touch upon this topic more over the weekend.

"I want to do something cool Every Round!!!"

This item ties neatly into an ongoing discussion my current game group has been engaged in. Rodney Thompson (who I don't know from Adam) has an interesting livejournal post here where he discusses a topic near and dear to my heart: awesome-osity versus mundanity in D&D. There's an accompanying EN World thread here. I'm of two minds on this subject. On one hand I like it when game mechanics encourage freaking out, but on the other hand this sometimes feels like a crutch. With a cooperative GM you can buckle swashes without the mechanics holding your hand.

cool session

Last night's World of Alidor session was full of awesome. We beat down some robots while standing on a giant metal cube that was tumbling through the plane of Acheron and had our second throwdown with the Metrosexual Soulblade Orcs from the Turtle City. Doug's suggestion that I retool Osric the Slayer was right as rain. Barbarian/scout wasn't quite as juicy as I had expected but barbarian/rogue was hitting the sweet spot. I was busting out some mad sneak attack on the forces of not-us. My only concern is that I was gloryhounding a little bit. Doug's ranger/psion or one of the other guys would set up the flank and then I would slide in and totally obliterate the foe. That's good teamwork, but I don't want my flank buddies to feel like I'm soaking up their limelight. Jason traded in his wolfish animal companion for a bear. I'm not always a big fan of bringing pets to the fight, but I can't find anything wrong with letting a bear maul the opposition. Pat's warmage/hexblade/fatemaker has reached the level where the fireballs are cutting loose fast and free. That's all sorts of awesome. In my mind I divide magician types into two groups, the guys you can count on for a timely fireball and the guys who pull rabbits out of their hats. When Pat is running the first kind you can rest assured lotsa baddies are going to fry. A new player showed up for the game, a fella by the name of Andrew who built a tricked-out elf monk/scout. Fortunately, he had the good sense to choose Lawful Neutral for his alignment. My crew doesn't roll with the L to the G. The paladin types sometimes want you to hold back. And we are all about not holding back. Anyway, I think I like this guy.

Best part of all, we ended the session in sight of one of the legendary giant turtle cities. Maybe even the one that's home to those damn Orcish Lightsabre Dandies.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Thomas Edison cover image

Seems someone took his sobriquet "The Wizard of Menlo Park" a little too seriously.
I cast magic missile at the darkness!
The funny thing is, if you were to crop out the magazine header this picture could be dropped into any of the 3 first edition AD&D corebooks and it would fit right in with the other illustrations. Even stylistically it looks a lot like the Sutherland and Darlene illos of the period. Which of course leads me to once again ask that eternal question "Who would win in a fight between Thomas Alva Edison and Emirikol the Chaotic?"

Well, poo.

I'm not going to FlatCon after all. My con budget just got wiped out by the arrival of an unexpected bill, an unexpected delinquent bill.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

FlatCon approacheth

This weekend I'll be visiting FlatCon in Bloomington, Illinois for at least a few hours. It's a small, newish con run with a lot of enthusiasm. The role-playing is a little sparse if you aren't an RPGA player of the Living Greyhawk or Eberron persuasion, but based on previous years the boardgaming and miniatures is pretty rigorous for a small con. I'm hoping to try Battlestations and the Star Wars miniatures game. Or maybe I'll hit one of the Dreamblade demos. I have no real interest in that last game, but I wouldn't mind snagging a giveaway mini to use in my D&D games. Anyway, if you happen to make it to FlatCon on Friday night or Saturday morning, look for a big redheaded goon with a goatee. It might be me.

Monday, September 25, 2006

an odd find

Traveller canon can turn up in the oddest places. Take, for instance, the Thieves' World boxed set released by Chaosium in 1981. Thieves' World was one of the earliest examples of a licensed RPG property and one of the booklets in the set, "Personalities of Sanctuary", is the earliest known massively multi-platform RPG supplements. Pretty much every single fantasy role-playing game that anyone cared about at the time was represented in that book. Setting characters were statted up for AD&D, Adventures in Fantasy*, Chivalry & Sorcery, DragonQuest, and Basic D&D (yeah, it gets a separate section), The Fantasy Trip, RuneQuest, Tunnels & Trolls, and... Traveller. Weird, huh? I think Trav's inclusion goes far to show just how high of esteem the game was held back then. It really was the D&D of sci-fi.

Like the other sections of the booklet, the Traveller section mostly contains stats for the characters from the Thieves' World books. But the first section of the book is devoted to making a place for the world of thieves in a Traveller game. The Universal World Profile of the planet is given: N-68956 0405 X866670-1. Agricultural World. Interdicted. RG. N-68956 is the name of the world on Imperial starcharts. The planet can be found in hex 0405, though it is left to individual referees as to what subsector that hex appears in. X866670-1 indicates a fairly earthlike world with no starport, no unified government, and low tech. The text explains that a Red Zone interdiction has been level against the world because either magic is real on Thieves' World or because the magic of the setting is leftover Clark's Law level technology. I like both of these options and I 'm tempted to sneak world N-68956 in my Gateway Quadrant project. I doubt anyone would notice one extra world in Blackedge Subsector, for instance. Several years back the canon-wonks on the Traveller Mailing List reached the conclusion that the planet Algine was the best fit if you wanted to drop the Thieves World right into the Spinward Marches. That works especially well for the ultra-tech explanation of magic, as Algine is near worlds of known Ancients activity.

But a third option is offered to explain Thieve's World fantastic magic in a sci-fi setting. And here's where we get to the canonical information. Dig it:
The third rationale goes farthest afield. Thieves' World is truly far-fetched fantasy. It has no real existence in terms of a world or of a planet. Instead Thieves' World is the figment of a vast, high-powered computer's imagination--a gigantic role-playing game for real people. On Trin, in the Trin's Veil subsector, in the Spinward Marches of the Imperium, ISMM Corporation maintains a computer software laboratory dedicated to the advancement of the computer sciences. To this end, the Thieves' World simulation is available (for a price) to travellers who find out about it and make the right contacts. For a price (about Cr10,000 per person) a band of adventurers can step into specially-constructed "experience tanks" and spend about two weeks (both real and experienced time), with options for additional two-week extensions, provided money has been left on deposit for this purpose. Within this computer-moderated game, absolute parallels with the Thieves' World anthologies are possible.
There you go. In the middle of a boxed set fleshing out a licensed fantasy setting, we get piece of throwaway canonical information on a world and a coporation in Traveller's Spinward Marches. Did I mention the Traveller section of the booklet is credited to Marc and Mary Beth Miller? That's why I keep calling this info canonical. "Marc Miller said it, I believe it, and that settles it." is a catchphrase I seen used to express what Mr. Miller means to the world of Traveller.

*That reminds me. I really got to review this game some time. It's Dave Arneson's attempt to write an RPG without Gygax. Reading AiF disabused me of the notion that Arneson was the unsung genius of the duo. Don't get me wrong, I like lots of stuff by both guys. But in my opinion neither ever really outdid their earliest works.

Shannon Appelcline's cool history of Chaosium -includes a neat passage on Thieves' World

A Notable Guide to Thieves' World

Green Ronin's new Thieves' World rpg line

Saturday, September 23, 2006

daddy bragging

Here's a couple pictures of my daughter in her Halloween costume. I know its not even October yet but past experience has shown that you really need to get your kid's costume early if you want to avoid going to five stores to find something A) that the child likes and wants to wear and B) that fits.I am the cutest.  Just ask my dad.
This next one I really like. It took likes three tries to get this shot. I told Elizabeth to give me an action pose. She kept running up to me and throwing punches. That's totally awesome.


Friday, September 22, 2006

nifty art

A news item on EN World recently linked to the d20 Modern Dark*Matter art gallery. Dig what I found:That's a really sharp set of Square & Compasses right there. I wonder how long before it starts showing up on masonic websites?

in defense of bog standard fantasy

A lot of gamers on the internet gnash their teeth and bemoan that staple of our hobby, the Tolkien derivative fantasy setting. Plenty of other settings have made their bones knocking the old model provided by D&D. Talislanta with its tagline of "No elves!" immediately springs to mind. And in many ways Eberron is a new-fangled variant on this theme. Keith Baker and his WotC masters are smart enough to leave room in his setting for play of stereotypical D&D tropes, but my read of the basic message of the Eberron Campaign Setting book is "Steampunk robots are cooler than elves". You can argue that my characterization sells Eberron short and you'd probably be right, but I think my point remains.

Still, I find some uses for all those old tropes that so much of the gaming's online intelligentsia seem ready to jettison. Just as d20 (and before it, plain ol' D&D) serves as the mechanical lingua franca of the hobby, so too is the standard fantasy setting a common ground most of us can meet on. A lot of great work has been built upon the foundation of bog standard fantasy. And such work continues to this day. Goodman Games may target the nostalgia market for sales of its Dungeon Crawl Classics, but one of the secret strengths of its modules is they can be dropped into any of a thousand Tolkien-ripoff campaigns. The retro-adventures of Necromancer Games offer similar advantages.

And you don't need to be an oldster to appreciate much of their work. A newbie with the core D&D rules could build a perfectly functional campaign by stringing together a series of Goodman and Necromancer modules. You can't make that same claim about adventures written for more specialized and less generic campaigns. One could build a campaign out of say, Shadows of the Last War (for Eberron), Sons of Gruumsh (for the Forgotten Realms), and Madness in Freeport. Such a campaign could be totally awesome. But it could also be a terrible mish-mash that could drive the DM and players to distraction.

Part of my preference for generic fantasy over the idiomatic, stylized campaign setting lies in my approach to a campaign. We all bandy about terms like "campaign" as if everyone in the hobby agrees what that means. In my experience the term campaign carries a lot of connotations that vary from player to player. For some, a campaign is best understood as a setting in action. Take a setting, set PCs loose on it, let the two (setting and PCs) interact and that's your campaign.

To me setting does not necessarily enter the equation. My idea of a campaign is all about what the PCs are doing right now and the record of their deeds performed in play. For such an approach you only need the barest bones of a setting, the rest can be filled in during the course of play. To take an example from my current campaign, the Red Claws started out as the generic "evil cult" villains of one module. Within the overall scope of my campaign they became the single greatest internal threat the people of the Wild Coast have ever faced.

Now this sort of build-as-you go approach has its downsides. Until Zadrian the Wizard made an appearance I had no answer to the question "who is the most powerful magic-user on the coast?" Fortunately, the players intuit what kind of game I am running and don't ask unnecessary and impertinent questions like that. But if you keep the game focused on the short term ("Hey, someone get this giant leech out of my pants!") and the mid-term ("When I find the mad wizard who built this dungeon I'm going to make his skin into a billowy cape.") no one will have time for useless speculations.

The big upside of my way is that the PCs witness everything that is important to the campaign, because you construct the details of the setting out of the window dressings of their adventures. Starting with a generic setting gives you a leg up in this regards, as you don't spend any time explaining what a wizard or an elf is like in your setting. Instead you can take all that as a given and drill down to the specific wizards and elves that interact with your PCs. Which would you rather spend your time doing, explaining "oh no, in this setting dragons are different because blah, blah, blah" (cue eyerolling from the players) or detail why this particular dragon the PCs are up against is particularly awesome? The former all too often degenerates into the different-for-differences-sake ramblings of an artiste. The latter keeps things personal for the players and feeds directly into the single most important skill for a DMing: reminding the players that their PCs are awesome heroes struggling against impossible odds and unstoppable foes.

5 unknown links appearing on sensors, sir!

Mars Attacks - the original bubble gum card artwork

Swashbuckling Cards - a free-wheeling card-based d20 add-on

The Knave & The Bold - Story time!

The truth hurts, fanboy. - I'm over here patting myself on the back for letting my daughter play with my Star Wars toys.

Dwarfstar Games - Legal downloads of some cool microgames.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

2 Traveller items

I meant to post this stuff yesterday but the computer ate my homework. In a previous post I mentioned the forthcoming Classic Traveller CD-ROM. Yesterday I finally found the some hard info on this Far Future Enterprises webpage:
Ships November 1-
Classic Traveller. the canon for Classic Traveller-- the original texts of all of the Little Black Books in the ground-breaking and award-winning science-fiction role-playing game. Each image and text PDF contains original page images and searchable text. All files are printable in whole or in part.

The Traveller Book.
The Traveller Adventure.
Books 0 through 8.
Supplements 1 through 13.
Adventures 0 through 13.
Double Adventures 1 through 6.
Games 0 through 6.
Modules 1 through 5.
Aliens 1 through 8.
Special Supplements 1 through 3.

Plus: The Official Guide to Traveller - an overview of the Classic Traveller game system and its components, and the History of the Imperium - an overview of the background for Classic Traveller

That's a metric assload of Traveller for 35 bucks plus shipping and handling. I already own a bunch of that stuff, but $35 is a good price even for just the eight or nine items I don't have sitting on my gameshelf. The link above has a button for pre-ordering this puppy as well as December's offering, a compilation CD-ROM of everything from The Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society. I own exactly one issue of JTAS, so that's an even better bargain for me.

The other Traveller news I have for you is the announcement of a new edition. And I'm not talking about Marc Miller's T5 project. Avenger Enterprises, one of the new generation of third party Traveller publishers, is working on a project they are calling Avenger Classic Traveller, or ACT. What publicly available info is out there can be found at this ACT Forum. From what I can tell this game will be one of those Classic-Traveller-plus-chrome sort of projects, with an eye for backwards compatibility with older CT publications.

Nearly every Classic Traveller fan on the internet seems to have their own 'CT+' version of chargen, combat, ship construction, and/or task resolution. Lately the Classic Traveller section of Citizens of the Imperium has been nothing but stuff like that. But this is the first I've heard of someone actually planning to professionally published their own tweaks to the old game. Like T5, the playtest for ACT is a closed affair and theoretically you can only get the manuscript by signing on as a playtester. While I'd like more info on both games I don't have time to playtest and frankly I'd prefer to buy a polished product. What little I have heard about T5 are mostly unsubstantiated rumors, which makes me loathe to pass it on.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

an interesting answer

I don't get over to Dragonsfoot often enough. It's chock full of old school D&D goodness. Here's an interesting exchange from their Classic D&D Forum:

Q: I realize the term "roleplaying" was not used right at first, but when it was used, what did the term ROLE signify? Today most people consider role to mean you invent a fictional persona complete with emotions and feelings and then somehow try to faithfully become that person. I suspect that it was not nearly so pretentious way back in the day, that role simply meant you had a job to do (I'm the cleric!) or perhaps the psychological sense of role-play (what would you do if you were in this situation?) Was there a pretentious thespian elite right from the beginning?

A: Heaven forefend!

Back in the day all the participants realized it was nothing more than a game for diversion and amusement, did not pretend to thespianism or consider play an "art form."

These days some do give themselves airs in order to try to elevate their hobby activity into something grander in the eyes of others, perhaps even to fool themselves.

I must say that you absolutely nailed the sense of what the term role-playing was meant to mean--a role in the game and role assumption in regards to problem solving.

The answer here is supplied by none other than Gary friggin' Gygax. The 'heaven forfend!" makes me imagine him clutching a string of pearls, which amuses me to no end.

news item

DC Adjacent Supervillain Lair For Sale By US Government

No, seriously.

Monday, September 18, 2006

quick question

Is theRPGsite broken for anyone else, or is it just me?

UPDATE: Everything seems A-okay now.

irons in the fire

Here's a brief rundown of the gaming projects I'm working on when I'm not prepping for Greypocalyspse Now, my current campaign's ultimate showdown of ultimate destiny.

Nova Walker Chronicle: Glimmerdrift War - This is my palate cleanser game, a mini-campaign designed to shake up the groups preconceived notions learned from the game we are about to complete. NWC: GW will be a anime-influenced giant robot space opera set in the Gateway Quadrant of Classic Traveller, using the robot designs from the Japanese version of Battletech for the mecha art and d20 Modern and the Polyhedron mini-game Mecha Crusade for rules. That sounds grotesquely frankensteinian but to me it makes perfect sense. If wrapping your head around this beastie causes you to go all googly-eyed just remember this handy phrase: it's all an excuse for giant robots to blow shit up.

Sky Pirates of Eberron - My friend Doug gets beaucoup kudos for this idea. After much gnashing of teeth over whether my next campaign would be Iron Heroes, Arcana Evolved, or Eberron, he threw this idea on the table and I immediately snatched it up. Imagine the Black Pearl flying over the unsuspecting Five Nations and you instantly get what we're hoping to accomplish with our next big campaign. D&D + Captain Jack Sparrow = Crazy Delicious! We may monkey with the fight mechanics just a teeny bit to encourage more buckling of swashes and less plating of mails. One of the nice things about a pirate game is I can get away with house rules like "no lawfuls allowed". Those dang lawfuls, always ruining our fun.

The Prisoner: 6 x 6 - This is the most serious game I've planned since my Jack the Ripper game for Call of Cthulhu. The idea itself is braindead simple: you're in an episode of The Prisoner and all the PCs are Number 6. Why are there six people who all claim to be the real Number 6? Which one is the real deal? This is the sort of premise I can only maintain for a few hours, so I plan to run this one as a con game. Probably at the next Winter War. For mechanics I think FUDGE is in order, though I'm not sure how I'm going to fine-tune FUDGE to my needs. Part of me wants to look towards the designs of Ron Edwards and Vincent Baker and put together a set of mechanics that shine a laser on the narrative needs of the game. The other part of me wants to slap together the easiest mechanics possible and *ahem* fudge the rest. Since I'm a lazy ass GM and not a mechanical wonk I think the latter will probably win out.

Emerald Knights of Uresia - More giant robots blowing shit up! S. John Ross's Uresia setting combines all the best features of a kitchen-sink approach to settings with a idiomatic vision of how those elements can fit together. For this game I'd focus on one of those elements, the magical mecha of the Emerald Knights. I think I'm going to set the game in the region of Uresia called Rindenland, the rather backward land where princess and wizards still wear pointy hats, but with this twist: instead of horses, all the best knights ride giant green robots. Uresia: The Grave of Heaven saw release as both a BESM and BESM d20 product. Mr. Ross has a systemless electronic version in the works as well. But for this game I'm thinking of going with the king of giant robot games, Mekton Zeta. I think this one would be a good con game. I'd really like to run both this one and my The Prisoner game at the same con, but that sounds like a lot of work. Especially when I can get just as much con fun out of running something stupid and easy.

Risus Rasslin' - The name says it all, super-awesome Risus plus Big Time Professional Wrestling. You've seen the illos and I've actually started writing the text. This is another game I'd like to run at Winter War but falls more in the "stupid and easy" category than the others. I know this sounds ridiculous, but Risus Rasslin' is actually intended for campaign play moreso than one-shots. Given the decompressed, soap operatic nature of wrestling stories, you really need a lot of time to build up a good plot. But with a Winter War schedule slot lasting four hours, I might be able to fit in a TV episode and a Pay-Per-View for the same game, effectively running a one day mini-campaign.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

mission demolished

Earlier in the week I mentioned I was helping out a friend on a game project of his. At the time I wasn't sure of the confidentialities involved, so I was rather coy about providing details. But the document in question is now available for download, so I guess I can blab. The friend who contacted me was Traveller guru Don McKinney and his project was a major overhaul of his excellent Traveller Integrated Timeline. Don's been working on this baby for longer than the 10+ years I've known him. You don't get more hardcore geekish than a project of this calibre. The Integrated Timeline is an attempt to catalog literally everything that ever happened in every Traveller product. With each item taking only a line or three this history goes on for about a hundred and thirty pages!

My contribution was very small, mostly pointing out grammar and punctuation errors (which ought to amuse regular Gameblog readers to no end) and asking the occasional stupid question like "Who are the Lords of Thunder and why should the reader care about them?" Duh. You care because these mofos call themselves the Lords of Thunder. That's badass. Still, I'm glad to help where I can. Don did the overwhelming lion's share of the work, pouring over nearly everything published for one of the most widely-written-about settings in the history of the hobby. I just nitpicked his work.

What's makes this project even cooler is that Don's timeline is about to become official Traveller canon. Marc Miller plans to include a copy in the forthcoming Classic Traveller CD-ROM. I don't have any details on the CD-ROM as I type this post, but the previous MegaTraveller CD-ROM contained everything ever published for the game, barring a very few items where rights did not belong to Mr. Miller. But you don't have to wait for that super-awesome disc to see the Traveller Integrated Timeline for yourself. Just click the link above. If you're a Traveller fan your mind will soon be crowded with a thousand nifty plothooks.

Friday, September 15, 2006

story time

The Snetzer Sword, without a doubt, was the greatest treasure I ever encountered in roleplaying.

The game was D&D Basic, in one of the earliest runs by my old gaming buddy Dave Dalley. The players were myself, Gopher, and Eric. We were tromping around in a very classic sort of dungeon. To this day I wish I had experimented more with the magical calliope in a previous room.

Anyway, as we entered an elaborately decorated and becolumned throneroom a magic mouth peeled out "All Hail the Snetzer!" Sitting upon the throne was the withered corpse of some longdead king, in his cobwebbed hand he held a shining sword. We all expected the dead man (who we presumed to be the Snetzer himself) to attack us, but instead we replayed the sequence from Conan the Barbarian: the sword was pried from the skeletal fingers and the body crumbled due to this disturbance.

Now we had the Snetzer Sword! Ah, but who would wield it? I remained neutral but Gopher and Eric, both hotblooded young hack-n-slashers, each claimed the mighty Sword of Snetzer as his own. Tempers flaired and one party or the other demanded combat. Initiatives were rolled. Gopher's Elf won the right of first strike. He poured over his crude, hand-drawn character sheet, trying to puzzle out what action would give him the most advantage against Eric's Fighter. Without fully understanding the implications of his words, Gopher declared "I cast sleep."

Kids nowadays do not understand the awesome might of the sleep spell. In the arena of Basic Dungeons & Dragons it ruled supreme. Although many were the creatures immune to its effects, when cast against men or orcs it always ruled the day. Because in that bygone era sleep allowed no saving throw. Well, that was the day my group discovered the awesome power of sleep. It was also the day we discovered that Eric tends to hurl his dice across the room when he gets mad, for mad he was when Dave, after much pouring over the rules, confirmed that the Fighter was sound asleep. Gopher's first use of the Snetzer Sword was to dispatch Eric's Fighter.

That day marked the first time in my gaming group that two PCs, heroes who had fought together to overcome many perils, came to blows. And later what awesome powers did we discover, contained within the mighty Sword of the Snetzer?

It was a sword +1.

(I posted this earlier today to this thread on theRPGsite, but I thought I would put it up here as well.)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

more Risus Rasslin' art

This first one will go in the section of Risus Rasslin' that explains the several different mechanical ways for villainous wrestlers (and open-minded good guys) to cheat during their matches. The one new mechanic I intend to introduce is called Cheating Dice, but there are plenty of ways to be a dirty scoundrel using Risus as written.
And this one I did just for fun.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Risus Fanart

Here's two pieces of fanart I made in homage to the Little Cartoon Bastards that festoon Risus, the supernifty little comedy RPG game by S. John Ross. Membership in the uber-elite International Order of Risus provides many perks and benefits, not the least of which is detailed instructions for the creation of such magnificent works of art. Risus Rasslin' is the working title of a little project of mine using Ross's excellent rules to power lowbrow adventure in the world of sweaty, masculine soap operas. I wanted some original art to go with the text and since anything worth doing is worth doing bass ackward, I drew the 'illustrations' before writing the text.The Champ!
High risk maneuver!

Monday, September 11, 2006

excuses, excuses

I won't be updating for a couple of days. I've been summoned to jury duty this week and any time at the computer is being devoted to a special rush task: a good friend emailed me a 126-page gaming document he needs double-checked and it's scheduled to be published (electronically) later this month. I'll touch base here when I'm through with that little task.

In the spirit of Saturday Night Live's coffee talk segment, I'll leave y'all with a topic for discussion:

The D20 System neither requires a d20 nor is a single system. Discuss among yourselves.

Friday, September 08, 2006


Growing up on a farm here in the midwest the archetypal evening meal was some sort of meat (beefsteak, a pork chop, fried chicken, whatever), potatoes (mashed, hashed, french fried, etc.), and a vegetable (usually corns, peas, or carrots). One of the best of these various combos was salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, and peas. The men folk of the family would cut the meat into little cubes and mix both that and the peas into mashed potatoes. It was called the "farm style" of serving such a meal. My mother, having grown up in a sprawling metropolis of some twenty-five hundred souls, wasn't quite used to such displays and occasionally recoiled in horror at such gustatory minglings. (She inherited her own set of weird foods from her Wisconsin-born father, such as "Osh Kosh spaghetti", a soup made from ground beef and the aforementioned noodles.) My palate has broadoned and refined since those bygone days of my youth, but sometimes I still spoon my peas into the mashed potatoes.

I am Subotai! Thief and archer! I am Hyrkanian... the great order of Kerlait!My gaming is much the same way. I can get a crapload of fun out of a laser-focused Pendragon or MERP campaign. But I also enjoy running a D&D campaign with copious amounts of deathray robots. I respect guys like Jon, the DM of the World of Alidor, for all the work he's done in creating a weird yet coherent homebrew setting. But I also adore the kind of DM who will whisk his players' paladins and half-orcs off to the wild west milieu of Promise City or the gamma-radiated ruins of Pitzburke. One time my friend Dave and I played Conan and Subotai in his brother-in-law's Greyhawk campaign. It was both totally awesome and an utter travesty. Right now I'm working on a mecha mini-campaign set in the 3rd Imperium, the official campaign world of Traveller. Maybe I ought to go on the Traveller Mailing List and innocently ask for stats for the giant robo-suits of the Imperial Navy. That'd be fun. Mean, but fun.

These sorts of heresies can be a lot of fun, but you need to be careful. Nearly every player I've ever met has had at least one deeply held belief about some setting or another, in much the same way that I don't want to live in a world where Greedo shot first. As silly as such sentiments are, it's important to respect these boundaries. I know some players that wouldn't play Mechas of Imperium 3, simply because the idea of introducing giant robots into that venerable setting would cause great cognitive dissonance. It's important for many players that these mish-mashes not sneak up on them. That's why, despite my transgenre leanings, I am not a fan of bait-and-switch campaign settings. You may have been in one of those yourself in the past. The classic version is a GM who tells you he's running a modern day or sci-fi campaign but at some point the PCs find themselves fighting orcs on Middle Earth. Super-narrow Forgie* designs manage to avoid this sort of situation, but in exchange you miss out the zany fun of whalloping Darth Vader with Mjolnir.

*Is "Forgie" an insult? I hope not, but I'm not sure.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Campaign Ups and Downs

Last night's session was a bit of a mixed bag. Jonathan brought in his third replacement PC. I'm starting to believe that he plays a character until he has proven to himself that the stats he's assembled can break the campaign in half, then he moves on to an equally system-straining character. I will give Jonathan credit for his kung fu showdown with one of the Serene Magma Buddhas. By proving his martial arts credentials he allowed the party avoid a general melee with all five of the Buddhas. That would have been a hell of a fight, as the Five Serene Magma Buddhas were built as 20th level Lava Children Monks with Vows of Poverty. I first read about Lava Children in the original Fiend Folio, they're these weird elemental guys who are completely immune to metal. Swords and stuff pass harmlessly through them.

The real fight of the night was against 4 Lava Golems and a pair of Lavawights. The Lava Golems were built starting with the Lead Golem from (IIRC) Tome of Horrors, advancing it 5 hit dice and adding the Elemental (fire) template from AEG's Monster's Handbook. I like the Lead Golem because it's attack is 4d12+Str bonus of "pulverizing fist". How can you not like that? The Lavawight is a creature from the Epic Level Handbook. The 3.5 stats for it can be found in the SRD. Here's the thing that makes an encounter with a Lava Wight particularly memorable:
Blazefire (Su): Living creatures taking damage from a lavawight’s attack find themselves ignited with blaze-fire; they must succeed at a Fortitude save (DC 35) or permanently lose 4 hit points. The DC is Charisma-based. The opponent must continue to save every round for the next 6 rounds (7 rounds total) to avoid being permanently drained of 4 more hit points each round. The lavawight heals the same amount of damage whenever a creature is drained of hit points, gaining any excess as temporary hit points. These temporary hit points last a maximum of 1 hour. If an opponent is slain by blazefire, only blackened ash remains of the victim. Hit points lost to the blazefire never heal naturally and cannot be magically restored—they are gone for good.
That's pretty harsh stuff. Doug's PC Angus the Half-orc permanently lost 16 hit points due to blazefire. Folks around the table discussed the possibility of using wish or miracle to restore the hit points, but in retrospect those spells already existed when the Lavawight was written and yet they are not mentioned as possible cures. Looks like the intent was that nothing can bring those hit points back. (BTW, the Blazefire quote above is from the The Hypertext d20 SRD, an absolutely wonderful reference site.)

Members of my group has been gaga the last few weeks over the new Wizard's book Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords. A copy was passed back and forth last night. We discussed using Nine Swords in an Eberron game, possibly as the next big campaign we play. I haven't read it yet, but since it bears the name of Mike Mearls, our group's patron saint, it ought to be loaded with awesome. Doug held up a copy opened to this illustration. Everyone at the table was all "Hey! The Caves of Chaos! How cool is that!" Well, everybody except Jonathan. We had to explain the Caves of Chaos to this young whippersnapper. Now I can't make up my mind whether for our next campaign to once again dust off B2 The Keep on the Borderlands or to buy 0one Roleplaying Games's Caverns of Chaos map and stock it myself. Both options have their advantages. I'm not sure I could capture all of Gygax's finer touches stocking the Caverns, but it would allow me to put a lot more of my own twist on things.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Now THAT'S a monster

It seems that Goodman Games, the folks who brought us the excellent Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure modules, has gotten into the metal minis business. The Dungeon Crawl Classics Miniatures feature a nice mix of old school PCs (no dungeonpunks need apply), special characters from the DCC adventures, and some absolutely fabulous monsters. Check out this amazig otyugh sculpt:

Dig the white chompers.  This monster takes dental hygeine seriously.
This critter neatly sums up what makes the DCC line so great. Goodman doesn't just repackage the Good Old Days for nostalgic consumption. They take everything that was great about the bygone eras of dungeon hacking and builds something new and exciting with those materials. Just like this otyugh re-interprets the classic beasty without losing the essence of the monster.

PS: If anybody from Goodman is reading this, please hurry up and get Belly of the Great Beast out the door! I'd love to use it in my current campaign dropped in between the current adventure and the next one, but I can't hardly run it after Ragnarok. That'd be gauche.

Centaur Sex: the DM's response

Jon, the DM for the World of Alidor, got around to reading my post speculating on centaur/PC sex in his campaign. He sent me an email response:

A little physiology:

Mare centaurs have a natural breeding season. Increasing daylight stimulates receptor centers in the brain, which in turn trigger the production of reproductive hormones. These hormones initiate the pattern of regular periods of 'heat", or estrous, that characterize the breeding season each spring. These periods continue throughoutthe summer, and cease during the autumn.

In Alidor you are past the breeding period so, well... Offspring are not possible at this time of the year. As for promiscuity, I figure centaurs are like dolphins and since you are now considered part of their group, you can partake in group activities. I supposed they are just as curious as you are, so if you want to James T. Kirk a centaur you could. If your relationship lasts to next spring we can check for viability of offspring though genetically there will be a high probability of miscarriage.

Odd never had to answer that one before...

That's a nice, reasonable response considering the nature of the original line of inquiry. Some DMs would have just ran screaming for the hills, and not without some justification.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Bob the Fighter welcome here

Over at (pimp, pimp) there's a neat little thread going called Originality in Fantasy: deeply over-rated?
which has drawn some comments from one of my alltime favorite designers, S. John Ross. (You can find all of S. John's latest awesome work at his site Cumberland Games & Diversions. He occasionally posts a comment here, which always causes me to audibly squeal with delight. It's pathetic, really.) Originality in game design is sorta a pet subject for Mr. Ross. He developed a specific and idiomatic approach to the subject quite some time ago, which you can find in the general RPG stuff section of his Blue Room FAQ. The Blue Room is Ross's personal page for non-commercial stuff and it's chock full of great stuff.

Anyway, today I wanted to riff on a snippet S. John's comments in the Originality thread. I'm going to quote him completely out of context and build my own position from there, basically because I have no journalistic standards whatsoever. Here's the quote:
nobody who just wants to play a Human Fighter need ever feel like the poor cousin in the party
Ross is writing specifically about how he made his nifty Uresia setting broad enough to allow for totally weird character concepts, but grounded enough in the fantasy staples that any of the old guard of fantasy archetypes fit in just fine. So in Uresia a party could be composed of something like a Sailor Scout, a Ninja Pastry Chef, and a Surly Dwarf with an Axe. No big deal. Note that this is one of the virtues of Eberron as well. Richard Baker made it a design goal to find a place for all the core D&D stuff, then built a whole new edifice upon this foundation.

I think this approach is exactly why I find both Uresia and Eberron compelling. From a practical prospective I can pitch these games as "everything you already know about traditional fantasy, plus extra added awesomeness". That's a lot easier to get people onboard for than, say, Arcana Evolved ("trad fantasy with every class and race replaced by new ones") or Tekumel ("what if JRR Tolkien obsessed on Mesoamerica and India rather than Western Europe"). It's not that AE or Tekumel are less rad, just that the learning curve is tougher on the newbies. From an artistic* perspective I'm not ready to abandon orcs and elves because I feel like I still have plenty to say with them. And from a social perspective setting-intense RPGs and the kind of GMs who run them can be a pain in the ass.

On that last count, I think it comes down to this: I want the guy who makes Bob the Fighter to be welcome at the table. Bob may have no backstory, no discernable personality. He's probably nothing more than a Walter Mitty vehicle for putting the player into the adventure. And in my book that's just fine. This hobby needs Bob's player just as much as they need the players who write fanfic about their own PCs. Some games and some GMs want to talk down to Bob's player, telling him things like "You'll need to develop a background compatible with the setting before Bob can come in." or "Bob is a terrible name. Here's a list of names appropriate to the setting. Please pick one." I understand the impulse at work here, but in my opinion elevating the setting over the PC is the exact wrong approach to take in D&D. If you're playing a historical game I can see the concern, but if your D&D game can't endure one or two PCs with lame names and no personality then either your setting is too rigid and/or you're being a control freak. Stop picking on Bob.

On a completely unrelated note, today I discovered that John Kim, keeper of the incredibly neat-o Encyclopedia of Role-Playing Games, also maintains an RPG livejournal. Cool!

*Yes, I said artistic. I side with the "RPGs aren't art" crowd, but I'm not blind to the art in roleplaying. I just loathe any attempt to elevate the artistry above other elements, such as the social aspect of the hobby or the sheer fun of playing silly games.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

old files from the hard disk

From an ancient quote file:
I got my Grandparents to buy me the full kit: The Player's Handbook, the Monster Manual and the Dungeon Master's Guide. They of course read them to check for suitability and were surprised that I should want any book which had a harlot encounter table! You don't really get quality like that anymore in RPGs.

-Steve Dempsey

This is from a WordPad file full of brainstormings for con one-shots:
The Corellian Caper - Star Wars heist film featuring Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, Greedo, Chewbacca
The idea was that these guys work together to steal the Pink Panther Diamond or the Kaiburr Crystal or something. Then the double-crossing begins! Why was Greedo looking forward to toasting Solo in Episode IV? When Han says "That was a long time ago. I'm sure he's forgotten all about it." en route to Cloud City, what was he talking about? The Corellian Caper is meant to generate answers to those questions. Someone please steal this idea! Include a high stakes sabacc game if at all possible.

Friday, September 01, 2006


That's a Tablet Golem on the cover.  Sumer-ific!Today I forgot to bring the novel I'm currently reading to work. (For anyone that cares it's Winds of Gath by E.C. Tubb, one of the Dumarest of Terra series. Fun stuff.) I usually knock out a few pages while eating my lunch. I also forgot to bring my lunch. What can I say? I'm the kind of guy that can recite the FASERIP stats for Spider-Man from memory, but only forgets to take out the trash about every other week. Anyway, I decided to spend my lunch hour walking over to the Friendly Local Game Store for reading material and then getting a bit at one of the hipster cafes downtown. My hope was that the FLGS would have either Dungeon Crawl Classics #33: Belly of the Great Beast for my current campaign or Mastering Iron Heroes for my next campaign. No go on either. I pondered getting DCC #23: The Sunken Ziggurat (pictured at left). It looked pretty rad, combining a Sumerian archaelogical theme with good ol' fashion dungeon crawling. Eberron DM's might consider dropping the Ziggurat into the tomb-haunted continent of Xendrick for some Indiana Jones type escapades.

While I'm mentioning Iron Heroes in passing let me note that I've sorta been warned off of Song of the Blade, Malhavoc's first level model for IH. Word on teh intarweb is that it's a conversion from an unpublished D&D manuscript. I'm not against adapting one d20 product to another but I'm not going to pay good money and hope somebody else did the conversion to my satisfaction. Heck, I half talked myself into purchasing The Sunken Ziggurat as material to use in IH. More importantly, I have some doubts as to the plot. Apparently the opening to the adventure involves being sent by the mayor of a small town to find a hat. I wish I was making that up. Anybody got Song of the Blade who can confirm or deny this report?

Anyway, I left the gaming joint empty handed and headed down to the cafe. I ended up reading the Wall Street Journal instead. I work in banking but this behavior is really inexcusable. But I did learn something pretty interesting by reading today's WSJ. I don't know how many of you have heard about Socially Responsible Investments (SRI). I first heard about them a few years back in a nifty NPR report on Domini, one of the leading SRI funds. The basic idea behind SRI funds is to put together a well-performing mutual fund that avoids investing in companies the fund perceives as, well, evil. I've done some meager research into SRI funds because my wife and I have a small amount of money squirreled away for our daughter's college fund. Rather than have that money sit in savings, I was hoping to get it into one of the larger SRI funds, like Domini or Pax or one of the green funds. The idea behind going SRI was that I would be to grow the money while making sure Haliburton and Lexcorp didn't get any of it.

The article in question discussed how Pax shareholders were going to vote on changing some of their standard for what they consider ethical companies with who they will do business. Pax has been underperforming for the last year or so and maybe needs to make some changes. But that's neither here nor there and since this place is called 'Jeff's Gameblog' and not 'Jeff Bores You To Death Talking About Finance' I will get to the interesting part. The article mentions that the SRI funds as a whole are being radically outperformed by the Vice Fund, which sinks all its money into tobbaco, alcohol, casinos, and defense companies. I can't make up my mind if that's the best or worst thing I've read all day.

TV chit-chat

Last night I managed to watch some grown-up TV shows, at least if you count the wrestling show and Who Wants To Be A Superhero? as grown-up shows. As I returned from putting my daughter to bed I found my wife watching the last few minutes of Superhero. She's not a geek beyond owning the Star Wars films in multiple versions and formats, but reality shows are definitely her thing. Of the two finalists I was really hoping for Fat Momma to take home the prize, but earlier in the show I had liked Major Victory and Ty'veculus. I didn't really see enough of the series to make a fair evaluation though, a deficiency my wife plans to cure by buying me the DVDs. Rather than offer my own ill-informed analysis, I'll link to the commentary by Scipio of the Absorbascon.

Later in the evening I watched a pretty good episode of TNA Impact!, although there were some rough spots. Once again they tried to push Bobby Roode via promo package rather than putting the man in the ring, but at least he promised an appearance in the Impact Zone next week. The other big problem was the final sequence. Am I the only one who thinks the last segment on a wrestling show whould be the main event match? Instead we get a Jeff Jarrett/Jim Cornette talkfest. I've already emailed TNA regarding my concerns over too much Jim Cornette. Wrestling shows should always keep the focus on the wrestlers and the wrestling and each usage of Jim Cornette as the corporate guy blurs that focus. Also, Jarrett's use of AK-47's as props in the ring was completely inexcusable. Guns and wrestling do not mix! The old "Brian Pillman's got a gun!" angle should have been enough to convince everyone of that. Am I the only TNA fan who remembers that debacle?