Friday, August 31, 2007

The numbered hexmap in other genres

Still thinking about sandbox play over here. Besides D&D and Traveller, what other genres would the numbered hexmap work for? Off the top of my head:

Pulps focused on exploring Lost Worlds and distant continents

Basically, you need a genre where wandering the map and finding trouble would be a cool thing.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wolverine's bad side

Per Stuart's request, here's the one panel appearance by Wolverine in Marvel Two-in-One #100.

That's not Logan.  That's Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, having a bad hair day.
In case you can't tell, that's Weapon X on the far left. I'm sure other folks can come up with more ineptly drawn/inked Logans, but I don't own a pile of X-Men books. I think I've bought one issue of X-Men in my whole life, the one where Rachel Summers tries to kill the Beyonder and hilarity ensues. Back in '91 or '92 I did read the entire run of Wolverine's solo series, but I was borrowing those mags from another guy in my dorm so I don't have them any more.

What is a campaign?

In the board wargamer/actual military sense, the term campaign describes a series of actions in the larger context of a war. A single campaign might be a series of related, sequential battles, like gaming out all the battles of Rommel in Northern Africa over the course of several sessions.

Figure 1: The red circle is a war, the dark red circle inside is a campaign.

In modern roleplaying terms, a campaign is basically the intersection of a group of players and a GM's setting. My copy of the World of Greyhawk plus the PCs equals the Bandit Kingdoms Campaign, or the Wild Times Campaign.Figure 2: The red circle is the GM's setting material or handful of modules or whatever. The blue circle is a group of PCs. Their interaction, the purple region, is the campaign

But at the start of the hobby, I don't think either of these definitions described what Gygax or Arneson was doing. I think the following diagram more accurately describes what was happening in those games.

Figure 3: Greyhawk/Blackmoor? The campaign is the ongoing GM sandbox, the red circle.

The red area is the GM's setting. Various groups would interact with the single campaign, all of which could thereby indirectly influence each other. If the green PC group slew the Dragon of Apple Hill and took all the loot, that monster and treasure would not be available to the blue group on a later visit to Apple Hill. I'm pretty sure I'm reading this right, as the section on campaign time in the DMG makes it clear that not all players necessarily come to all of his sessions because their PCs might be on a long journey not involving other players. This dovetails nicely with this line at the beginning of Men & Magic: "Number of Players: At least one referee and from four to fifty players can be handled in any single campaign, but the referee to player ratio should be 1:20 or thereabouts." That many players makes a hell of a lot more sense if you don't assume that every player comes to every session and they all act as a single party. That's how minis campaigns with multiple players work, right? Not every meeting of the campaign involves everyone putting their army down on one big board.

When you stop thinking about a campaign as these PCs in this setting and these players with this GM, then all those old stories of campaign hopping make a lot more sense.

Figure 4: The early hobby, before Runequest ruined it all. (Just kidding, folks.)

The green player(s) can operate the same PCs in both Gary Gygax's and Dave Hargrave's game (or whatever) because the effect on either GM's sandbox is negligible. Especially when you can just sic a rust monster on the laser pistols some player brought back from Arduin.

Am I reading the old style of campaign correctly? Is there something more here than semantic wankery? I think so. I think if you want to do a sandbox game like the old guard, then you need to give up the idea of equating the player group and the party. The player group is whoever from a large list of people happens to show up on D&D night. The party is the folks among those who attend that all agree on a single course of action. I think to do this sort of campaign, instead of taking my list of every cool gamer I know and whittling it down to four people, I need to invite everyone.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

5 links, all bloggy

Zach is back! - RPGBlog II is go! Zachary's last go at blogging was one of my favorite reads.

Strange Maps - Lots of game fodder here. What gamer doesn't like crazy maps?

Center of the Donverse - My good buddy and personal Traveller guru Don McKinney finally has a blog! Entertain us, Don! Dance, monkey, dance!

Books to Escape Reality - Susan's new book blog. In my experience she has fabulous taste in books and is spot-on excellent in recommending stuff for other people, rather than projecting her tastes onto others.

Stupid Ranger - I just found this one recently. I can't quite make up my mind whether I like it or not, but I love the name!

more Wilderlands musings

A couple weeks ago I blogged about how I was considering buying the Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set. I've decided to give the Wilderlands a pass. It looks awesome and I certainly wouldn't mind being a player in that setting, but it's not what I want to run. One of the reasons I decided that my unbelievably successful Wild Times campaign would be my last Greyhawk outing was because I felt I no longer needed to play in someone else's setting. Substituting Bob Bledsaw and crew for Gary Gygax and friends wasn't what I had in mind when I burned my Darlene maps. (Just kidding. I'm not that crazy. But I have considered selling all my Greyhawk stuff except my copy of Supplement I.)

But thoroughly investigating the Wilderlands has been extremely helpful, because the methods used to make that sandbox work are well worth imitation. Devin Parker said this in a comment on my earlier Wilderlands post:
I'm a huge cheapskate, so I always come back to the advice that Brian Gleichman gave on RPGnet many moons ago: look at the product you're salivating over, list the things you think are cool about it or imagine it contains, and then make your own version based on your perceptions of the product. Sure, you may miss out on some surprises, but you also don't get disappointed, and you save cash.
I think that's some pretty damn good advice. Which is not surprising, as Gleichman is one of the smartest cats I've met in the world of online RPG discourse. The biggest thing that caught my eye about the Wilderlands was the simple combination of a numbered hexmap and a key full of brief, punchy encounters. If the PCs happen to wander into hex 0312 or whatever, here in a nutshell is the adventure they can have. Many moons ago we did something like this in my Bandit Kingdoms campaign. The memory of exploring those little 1-mile hexes of the Bandit Kingdoms still sticks in my friend Pat's memory as a highlight of an overall pretty good campaign. (For my own part, I still fondly recall the time those pechs petrified his PC and he had to play his henchmen scrambling to get their stony boss out of the Dungeon of Doom. As a DM I live for moments like that, where the PCs plans all hilariously go to crap. But I'm getting off topic here.)

So I found that the good folks at Noble Knight Games would sell me some old Judges Guild numbered hexmaps and those babies are on the way to me as I type this. It's clear to me now that one of the reasons my poster-sized Wild Coast map and my recent Beyond Vinland map and my Brythunian Age map (Wow, anyone remember that project?) weren't working as I wanted was because the hexes weren't numbered for easy keying of encounters. I wouldn't have realized that was the problem without the Wilderlands.

This simple discovery, that I needed a numbered hexmap, has caused me to really dig into the Old Books once again. This time, I'm pouring over the Little Beige Books and the First Fantasy Campaign and the 1st edition DMG and my Arduin books and such looking for procedural advice. How did the old guys structure their campaigns, and how can that inform my play? I don't want to run Greyhawk or Blackmoor or Arduin or the Wilderlands, I want to use their methods to develop my own material. Just the same way that Ron Edwards, in Sorcerer & Sword, argues that we should stop running S&S games in Hyboria and instead look at how and why Howard constructed his world as a way of informing our own world-building.

The final piece of advice I can glean from the Wilderlands is to not be overly system-focused. Although the most recent incarnation of the Wilderlands is ostensibly a 3.5 product, you can use a crapload of the stuff in the Wilderlands for nearly any version of D&D, as well as many other systems. I want that. I want a campaign world where if I choose to once again run a campaign under an older version of D&D, it won't be much trouble for me. Or if I want to run some non-canonical MERP or something like that. And I really want to be able to use much of this same setting stuff for Encounter Critical. Will that mean Damnation Vans and Robodroid Warlocks in the same setting as clerics and beholders? You bet your ass it does.

More on this topic as my thoughts percolate more.

Buy My Crap! Round 2

I'm selling more game crap on the eBay, if anyone is interested.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

my favorite comic

Not that long ago if you had asked me "Jeff, what's your favorite individual issue of a comic?" I probably would have stammered like an idiot. My brain just doesn't always work like that, putting everything in my life into nice neat best and worst categories. But earlier this month comics blogger Chris Sims made an off-hand remark in a review that clarified things for me. "Take a moment and think about that one Marvel story that stands out for you above all the rest. Now imagine how much more awesome it would be if the Enforcers were in it."

Suddenly, I knew exactly which comic was my favoritest in the whole wide world, because my mind was swept up with the amazing possibilities of adding the Enforcers to one particularly old Marvel rag.

The end of the world?  No.  Just the end of the run.
Marvel Two-in-One is my favorite comic series from back in the day. I buy almost all my old comics out of the cheapass bins, but Two-in-One I'll actually pull out of the expensive back issue boxes. The formula for this comic has always been very simple. The Thing plus some guest star get together and then lotsa fights happen. Sometimes they team up to beat down a baddie, other times the Thing and the other character just wail on each other. Either way, my favorite superhero always had the front and center of the story, unlike many of his appearances in the Fantastic Four. I got nothing against the rest of the FF, but they don't amuse me the same way brooding orange rockmen do.

I've not read the full run of Two-in-One yet, mainly because I'm not really a full run level collector. I think the only full run in my comics box is the DC mini-series Spanner's Galaxy. But I've got a haphazard collection of issues, and just today I snagged the two Essential collections on eBay for less than 20 bucks, including shipping. Hot dog, I can't wait for that box to arrive in the mail!

Number 100 was the last issue of Two-in-One, but it was immediately followed by a Thing solo series that was pretty good. The Thing wasn't quite as nutty as its predecessor, simply because the title didn't have to shoehorn in a random guest star each month. But I still grab back issues of it when I can.

I'm not going to scan in the highlights of Two-in-One #100, because if I start I'll end up scanning the whole frickin' issue. It's that jampacked with awesome. Instead, I'm going to hit some bullet points of what makes this issue so much fun. If anybody request scans of a particular item on this list, maybe I'll post some pics later this week.

Why Marvel Two-in-One #100 is super-rad to the max.
  • The cover itself is a bit of a freak-out. How the hell can Ben Grimm co-star in a book headlined by the Thing?
  • The story opens with a splash page of John Byrne's rocky version of the Thing beating up Jack Kirby's lumpy version of the Thing. This is a retelling of the awesome events of Marvel Two-in-One #50, where the Thing travels back in time and fights himself. I don't have that issue, but it's reprinted in the second volume of the Essential.
  • Our hero travels back to the parallel alternative timeline dimensional universe where he fought himself only to find New York completely ruined. Turns out in this reality Galactus won.
  • We're treated to several flashback panels where Ben Grimm (the Thing that was cured of monster-itis back in issue 50) relates how Galactus beat all the heroes and stripped the planet of its bioessence. Included in this sequence is the single worst drawing of Wolverine I've ever seen in a comic. As a kid I didn't even recognize the dude!
  • Suddenly blue meanies show up and beat the Thing unconscious!
  • Ben wakes up in the ruins of the World Trade Center, where the frickin' Red Skull now rules New York with an iron fist! The blue guys are the Skull's army of 'synthezoids'.
  • Meanwhile plain ol' Ben Grimm gets some homeys together, jack a Nazi jeep and some uniforms and bluff their way into the Skull's lair. That's one of the things I love about the Thing: you turn this guy's powers off and he's still one of the biggest badasses in comics. How many times have you seen a hero get all emo when they lose their special magical abilities? When the Thing is depowered he just goes right on jawjacking and smacktalking!
  • Speaking of talking smack, the Red Skull torturers him with a weird energy gauntlet device and the whole time the Thing is saying stuff like "Get bent!"
  • The big final fight is the Thing in round 2 against the synthezoids and Ben Grimm beating the hell out of Nazis. The Red Skull tries to off the Thing with a face full of the Dust of Death, but our boy just blows it back at the Skull. Somewhere in another reality a little different than our own, the Thing stone cold killed the Red Skull. I'm a big fan of codes against killing in my superhero comics, but sometimes you gotta make an exception. Skullfaced Nazis ruling post-apocalyptic New York is one of those times.
  • The Thing heads back to the 616 and does some trademark emo Thing brooding.

Seriously, aside from the pisspoor Wolverine, this is my idea of the perfect comic.

Found an old map.

While cleaning out my game room I came across a dungeon map I made years ago.

This map was constructed out of TSR dungeon geomorphs. I don't think I ever ended up using this particular dungeon, as the rooms are unnumbered. But clearly I had plans to stock this thing using a methodology that was at least partially non-random. The colored areas are clearly zones of control, where groups of monsters (humanoids, probably) could carve out a territory. The purple, green, and yellow areas are strongly defensible, with few entrances. Off the top of my head, the purple area would be held by something fairly tough but numerous, say hobgoblins. The blue area is slightly different from the others. The mazey corridors make holding all those rooms a tougher proposition, so that area would be the poor section of town, where maybe a large but desparate band of goblins live on the edge of extinction. They're all just one wandering monster roll away from being lunch for an ogre. The unmarked sections of the dungeon would have many empty rooms and but otherwise be filled out with randomly generated contents.

Monday, August 27, 2007

2 micro-pseudo-reviews

The cover is amateurish but charming.
Labyrinth Lord is available as a free PDF download from Goblinoid Games or via print-on-demand from Goblinoid's Lulu store. When I first heard of this product it sounded to me a lot like the OSRIC project, but for my beloved '81 Basic/Expert D&D. Turns out that's not quite the case. I haven't poured over LL with a fine tooth comb yet, but there are just enough differences from the old versions to drive a purist nutty. The equipment charts include armor and weapons imported from 1st edition AD&D and/or the later Mentzer books. The magic item section includes some lifts from the original DMG. The xp charts for the various classes have been fiddled with a bit. And clerics get a spell at first level.

I could see one or more of these being a turn-off for somebody, but I'm just personally thrilled to see a new edition of D&D where elf is a class again. I used to think that an in-print Basic/Expert would make finding players much more easy, what with all the whining you hear on the internets like "Waah! My players won't play 'dead' games!" But last February I ran a Basic/Expert con game and ten players signed up for it, at least two of whom weren't born when my Moldvay books were published. So what do I know? Anyway, do yourself a favor and download a freebie copy of Labyrinth Lord. I'd love to hear what everybody else thinks about this game.
I'm not a huge fan of the original Traveller supplements The Spinward Marches and The Solomani Rim. Sure, you get a whole sector worth of adventure in each, but I find unpacking UWPs to be a pain in the butt. The old Gamelords book A Pilot's Guide to the Drexilthar Subsector is more my speed. You get a brief intro on the overall sector, but the heart of the book is the write-ups for each world in Drexilthar. You get a page of info for each place on the subsector map. That hits the sweet spot for me. You get just enough stuff to riff off of, without being inundated in information. If you click here you can still buy new copies of this 1984 classic from Different Worlds Publications. While you're at that page check out Wanted: Adventurers, Startown Liberty, and Lee's Guide to Interstellar Adventure for more awesome Traveller adventure.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

snarky quote of the day

My bud Pat picked this up from 4chan.
The only problem with them is that out of the three kinds of gaming crowds they have supposedly identified, they only ever design games for the narrativist one - and even in those they go into ridiculous extremes.

The Forge is like a guy who comes to tell you that vegetables are good for your health, but who says it in Latin, and then tries to prove his point by eating a truckload of carrots and dying of carotene poisoning.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Rebel Dispatch #2: Vuldrak's Nebula

Sauce for the goose, Mr. Saavik.Vudrak's Nebula is known throughout the sector as a deepspace rendezvous point for smugglers and other miscreants seeking to shield their activities from Imperial eyes. Some regions of the nebula are known for their static discharge and gas clouding tactical displays. Visual won't function, shields will be useless, and hyperdiving out of the cloud is impossible. Travellers through the nebula are also warned to steer clear of the turbulences around the protostars inside the denser clouds. Vudrak herself was lost on the third expedition attempting to map all the magnetic currents running through the active areas of the nebula. The coordinates to meet-up with the Tantive IV are deep inside the nebula. You'll hyperjump to the outer edge of the gas cloud then use standard stardrives to make the rest of the trip.

Rosicrucian: The Occidental Monk

Before I started blogging about games I went through a five or ten year period where I did a lot of reading of kook books. Not cookbooks, kook books. It started with the Principia Discordia and the Book of the Subgenius and the Illuminatus trilogy but soon led me to conspiracy theory rantings and academic/pseudo-academic texts on Freemasonry, Rosicrucians, and such. I note that this was my obsession before I started my gameblog because what I'm about to tell you is something I would have reported immediately on my blog.

In a text compiling earlier sources on Rosicrucians, most of these source being in German as I recall, I came across a report of secret Rosicrucian fighting techniques. If memory serves the story was of a Rosicrucian adept who was thrown into a pit with a hungy lion. This fellow escaped his fate by using punches and throws taught to him by his Rosecroix masters. It was a brief account with little detail, but it was clearly a description of a Western occultist using the fighting arts. On a lion, no less.

I bring this topic up now for two reasons. 1) I had hoped I would find my source for this tale as I clean out my game room in preparation of moving. So far no luck. So I bring you my hazy secondhand report. Better than nothing. And 2) it looks like the kung fu Monk of old may be on the chopping block again in 4e. Now, I'm no big fan of the Monk class, but cutting the Monk from 2nd edition AD&D was boneheaded back in the day and it would be boneheaded to do it again. Some people want to play Monks and anyone considering cutting the class is doing a disservice to those players.

If the reason the Monk may be going away is that it is too Asian-themed, I present the Rosicrucian mysteries as an escape hatch. A new Monk that was built as a karate-chopping internal alchemist could be wicked awesome. Swap out the black belt for a white apron and let the asskicking commence!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

quote of the day

I need to clarify, I game mostly because I never get to kill apemen in real life; I hate apemen and I was born to kill them. Therefore, gaming allows me to fufill my destiny. member Aos, in the thread 'Why We Game'

People don't like this module?!

I'm no expert on Judge's Guild D&D modules. I own their entire Traveller line, but my collection of D&D stuff from them is very spotty. I've never owned classics like Caverns of Thracia or Dark Tower. So I can't really comment on the entire oeuvre of JG adventures. (Can you use 'oeuvre' to describe a publisher's output? I dunno.) But I know what I like. Under the Storm Giant's Castle is cited by some as the worst D&D adventure the Guild ever published. Those folks are free to mail me their copy, 'cause this module is freakin' awesome!

Okay, to be fair to those folks, Under has some flaws. The text if full of annoying little typos. The castle mentioned in the title is not detailed. You adventure under the castle, just like the title says, but a simple castle map with a few detailed areas wouldn't be too much to ask. Especially since the adventure is short and pagecount is padded by fullpage art of fair-to-middling quality. And the cover art is a grievous wrong. You won't find many worse cases of a game cover totally misleading a buyer about the contents of the book. The bleeding warrior standing atop a couple corpses, surrounded by shadowy goblin-types utterly fails to represent anything that happens in the book. Even the general tone of desparate heroic action seems like a far cry from the delightfully weird romp inside.

I'm not going to provide a lot of spoilers for this book here, because I'm so enamoured of my recently-acquired copy that I intend to run it as a con game. But I'll share what I can. The adventure begins by a storm giant couple recruiting the party. Their baby was kidnapped by something living in the dungeons under their castle. But the storm giants can't enter the dungeons themselves because the access tunnel is designed for smaller folk. The fun of this is that the storm giant's home is one of those floating cloud castles and the entire dungeon is set inside a magical cloud! And the walls, floors, and ceilings are composed of billowly, fluffy, cloudstuff. This is the first dungeon I've seen with weather on the wandering monster matrix.

The encounters in the dungeon are a mix of fairly standard dungeon fair and totally zany off-the-wall crap. Several encounters feature some subplots afoot in the cloud. This is no static dungeon. Stuff is happening as the PCs arrive. They can be caught up in the plans of wayward wizards or forces even more mysterious. And they'll meet some new monsters the players will never forget. We're talking Vampusa level weirdos. (My D&D group is still kinda weirded out by the vampire/medusa they fought in House of the Axe, Calithena's Arduin module.) And the big badguy behind the kidnapping is probably the biggest surprise guest appearance in the entire history of gaming, even beating out that one time in a action movie game I ran where Christopher Walken himself turned out to be the Crime King of L.A. If you know who the bottom level lord of this module is, please don't spoil it here!

On a scale of one to ten, I give Under the Storm Giant's Castle a rating of totally weird-tastic.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

pic o' the day

Stolen from dragonsfooter Rizak the Really Horrible.

Monday, August 20, 2007

First Fantasy Campaign rocks your face.

In 1980 the good folks at Judge's Guild were already putting out retro stuff. They published an item call The First Fantasy Campaign, but Dave Arneson. The book is basically an choatic mess of campaign notes from the first few years of Arneson's original Blackmoor campaign. It doesn't really cohere as a setting you could run as-is, but as a look back at a bygone era this stuff is pretty dang cool. This week I'm gonna share snippets from the book and give my take on them.

First up we have a couple of lines from page 50 of FFC. The page header is 'The Original Blackmoor Magic System', but no magic system really follows this title. Instead we get a couple of paragraphs broadly outlining the system, but no actual system. Then we come to a subsection labeled 'Description of Magical Items' which contains no magic items. That's just how Dave Arneson rolls, my friends. But we do get 10 entries of high tech items that could be passed off as magical to the rubes in the campaign world. This where we get the robots. Below are the entire First Fantasy Campaign robot rules.
Robots: I roll one 6-sided dice for Armor Class and another dice for the number of Hit Dice. All Robots have a 10% chance of being able to throw one Lightning Bolt every turn for up to 20 Bolts.

Controller: Allows players to get Robots to do what the player wants, otherwise, there is only a 20% chance you can use the Robot, 20% chance it is defective, 60% that it is hostile.
That's it. Note that these rules may pre-date the turn/round division of game time, meaning that Lightning Bolt equipped robots might be able to fire every round of combat. I'd probably have robots of three Hit Dice or less to do the standard 1d6 damage in melee, with bigger robots doing 2d6.

Rebel Scum, session 1, part 2

Having departed Neldanis IV with a KT-57 Repair Shuttle, our heroes set the hyperdrive for the Urgonia system. Effo, the party's astromech, follows the party in the Green Thirteen. Effo parks the Y-Wing on a comet in Urgonia's Oort cloud and awaits the return of our heroes. Meanwhile, Cee-Lo and Boyd change into black stormtrooper armor with markings indicating that they are members of Imperial Intelligence. Cee-Lo's a Rodian, like Greedo. So I give a flat 1 in 6 chance his helmet just won't fit. Pat makes the roll, but we agree that sometimes the helmet shifts on his antennae, giving him the appearance of a bobbleheaded stormtrooper.

Kip puts on a spooky black robe. During pre-play email discussion Doug (Boyd's player) asked me how common darkside force users would be in the campaign. I basically responded that I wanted to keep the Force a special asset only available to a few, but that they could expect a lot of dodgy Sith types working in Imperial Intelligence. That's how Doug came up with this plan. What Doug didn't know was that before we had this conversation with him I had already statted up a couple of I.I. agents who would appear in the scenario. More on that in a bit.

So the disguised PCs and their Repair Shuttle zoom into the orbital shipyards of Urgonia, which I describe as full of skytraffic like rush hour on Coruscant. Finding Repair Dreadnought Reconstructor wasn't hard, as it was one of the largest ships in dock and the flat slab of a prow littered with space-ship scale Swiss Army Knife tools is unmistakable. Our heroes must now choose between landing in the upper repair shuttle access area or the lower one. They go for the upper shuttlelocks because it is slightly closer to their target, the Main Computer.

Since the Reconstructor no longer uses KT-57 Repair Shuttles, the space devoted to their maintenance and supplies had been assigned to other functions. The upper shuttle access had been turned into a janitor's supply closet, with crates of cleaning materials just on the other side of the airlock. Had the players used the lower shuttle access area, they would have walked right into an illicit cantina run by some rogue supply officers. That would have been an interesting encounter, given that all the PCs were wearing the colors of the S.S. of Outer Space.

Just outside the broomcloset the PCs encounter three dudes in the standard red jumpsuits of Urgonia Maintenance. I wanted to give the PCs one last chance to dump their disguises for something less eye-catching. Instead, the player's use this as an opportunity to boss around people that normally wouldn't take orders from them. This will become an ongoing theme throughout the rest of the run. Some GMs might turn up their nose at the abuse of faux authority by the good guys. Me, I think scenes where you boss people around are fun when done in moderation.

Let's talk for a moment about this huge ship the PCs are infilitrating. The Reconstructor, like the Death Star, is based on plans drawn up by winged aliens. So lots of gangways traversing large horizontal shafts. Not all of these gangways have safety rails. The aliens who designed the deckplans have a thing for Y-shaped intersections, making many of the decks confusing to people accustomed to floorplans laid out on a square grid. Here's my map of how all the encounter areas fit together.One of the PC's hacked a general purpose computer terminal to get good directions to the Main Computer, so we ended up using only a small fraction of the overall map. They started in area 3, the Repair Shuttle Access/Janitorial Supplies, and took the turboshaft nearby down to area 7, the Main Reactor. Here they encountered the First Officer overseeing the reactor maintenance schedule. The Internet kinda failed me at this point, because I really wanted to hold up a picture of Leslie Bevis as Commanderette Zircon in SpaceBalls. But Google image search found no pictures of her from that cinematic masterpiece. Fortunately 2 of the three players knew who I was talking about. The First Officer acted as if she totally expected three I.I. personnel to barge into the main reactor, "Can I help you, sir?" she says to Kip. Stuart was pretty fast on his feet here, as he immediately responds with a snappish "See that my ship is fueled immediately." So the Commanderette gets on her comlink and orders the Imperial Intelligence shuttle to be refueled. While she's talking into the mic the PCs get the heck out of the Main Reactor before they are asked any questions that can't answer.

From the Main Reactor is a short walk through a series of confusing Y-intersections to get to the Main Computer. A pair of stormtroopers are posted as guards here, as the Death Star plans are considered a very valuable commodity. Incidentally, that's why I.I. is on the ship, to audit the security procedures surrounding the Main Computer. Unbeknownst to the PCs, these stormtroopers have been recently briefed by Vaj Kerlac, badass I.I. agent, to the effect that even the Emperor himself must show his ID to get into the Main Computer room. But again Stuart came through in a pinch, as he immediately went for the Jedi Mind Trick. "Your First Officer has seen our passes." For the lack of hesitation and the invocation of the First Officer (who much of the crew fear) I awarded a +2 on the roll, which allowed Kip to easily trounce the Will Defense of these two armored goons. They get inside.

Here's a paraphrase of what I say next to the PCs:

"Cut to another part of the ship. Commanderette Zircon walks up to a dark hooded figure flanked by a pair of black-armoured stormtroopers. 'Your ship is fueled, as requested, sir.'"

The tension in the room became palpable as the players immediately grasped that the Jig Was Up.

Back to the computer room. A couple of ship's flunkies are doing some maintenance on the computer. One is on his back working in a small access panel, like a mechanic under a car. The other is up on a catwalk about 20 feet above the level the PCs entered on. There's a door up there that doesn't provide a means of escape, but the PCs don't know that. After milling about trying to figure out a clever way to steal the data while the NPCs continue to work, they just decide to get rid of the poor schmucks. They knock out the guy on his back by beating him with a rifle butt. The other guy makes his way for the upper door, with the idea being that he might be able to lock himself in and call his CO for help. But a couple of stun blasts put him down.

The two stormtroopers at the door bust in at this point. And again Stuart fakes them out, ordering them to 'dispose of this trash', i.e. the unconscious maintenance guys. The stormtroopers make sure the maintenance guys are dead and stuff them in a nearby trash chute. Meanwhile, Cee-Lo tries to hack into the main computer to steal the Death Star data. That doesn't go so well, so they eventually pull the main computer Data Core and get ready to leave. The big doors slide open and facing them are a dude in a dark cloak and two blackclad stormtroopers. And it's on like Diddy Kong.

This far from the session I can't give you a play-by-play of the action. The PCs and the black stormtroopers exchange a lot of blaster fire in and near the computer room. The white stormtroopers that were guarding the door have a lot of trouble figuring out who is on their side and they are eventually tricked into chasing one of the Imperial Intelligence troopers down the hall in a running gun battle. Vaj Kerlac, the guy in the cloak, takes a bad blaster hit early in the fight, so he hides behind a corner at one point, applying a bacta patch to his zorch wound and yelling into his comlink for someone named 'Ozzie' to get down to him.

Eventually, Kip pulls out his lightsabre, which is Vaj's cue to go after him. Vaj hates Jedi. He pulls out a wicked crackling electrolash. It's like a flexible yellow lightsabre that has reach and a stun setting. You'll find it on page 32 of Star Wars: Complete Guide to Stuff Jeff Totally Made Up, the latest hardbound not available anywhere. Anyway, Vaj was whipping this thing around like crazy but not scoring any hits, right up until the point where Boyd shot him in the back of the head with a blaster and totally explodified his skull.

Boyd retrieved Kerlac's comlink and tried to talk down whoever this 'Ozzie' fellow was, but all he got back was a bunch of Wookie howling. It turns out that Vaj Kerlac is based upon answering the ages-old question "What if Thundarr the Barbarian worked for Darth Vader?" Ozzie (short for 'Ozzitowa') is Vaj's Ookla the Mok. And Ozzie knows that his good buddy Vaj is in trouble.

Look back up at my map for a second. There are 20 numbered locations, so I can roll a d20 to randomly place NPCs. Not all NPCs in the scenario were so randomly placed. Zircon started in Engineering section. The Captain (who was a total tool) could only be encountered in areas 1 or 2. Ozzie was one of those d20 roll guys. The PCs are in area 8 and want to get back to their ship near area 3, but the shortest route there currently is host to a running gun battle between some very confused stormtroopers. So they take the alternate route, which leads them directly into the path of the angry wookie. I totally did not fudge that one bit. Had the die roll gone differently or had the party taken a different route, the pissed-off furball could have been totally avoided.

So our final fight of the night is a shoot-out in a Y-shaped intersection with the 3 PCs taking on a rampaging wookie armed with a one-handed Light Bowcaster (totally made up as well) and a Sikurdian Battle-Axe (first seen in the original Marvel Star Wars comic, issue 7). The wookie charges the PCs, firing his bowcaster as he closes the gap with them. They pepper poor Ozzie with blasters until the dude's fur catches on fire. He manages to get a few nearly-fatal axe swings in before falling over dead.

At this point we're a few minutes past 10pm, which is when I like to stop my sessions. But we're all having a good time so we take a few more minutes to wrap things up. Boyd starts the Main Reactor on a build-up to meltdown. Klaxons are blaring and red lights flashing throughout the ship. The party ends up in the main shuttle bay, where they see a Lambda class Imperial Shuttle customized with gattling lasers and a red racing stripe. They correctly guess that this vessel belonged to the dude with the lightning whip and totally jack it for themselves, blasting out of the shuttle bay just in time for the whole effin' ship to explode. A couple of escape pods jettison just before the blast, one of which holds Commanderette Zircon. No doubt several people made it out of the ship via the main airlock docked to the shipyard, but being right next to an exploding starship rather than in it has got to be almost as deadly.

The party meets up with Effo and the two vessels zoom into hyperspace to rendezvous with the Tantive IV. End of session.

note to local gamers: not moving away

Since my last post I've gotten some very kind inquiries, both via email and phone, concerned that I might be moving out of the Champaign-Urbana area. That is not the case. My family is looking for a new abode in the C-U area, preferably a place still in the same school district. I hope the general readership of my blog will excuse me for not publicly providing the details of what is essentially a non-game related domestic issue. Any friends who are curious about this turn of events can hit me up in a more private communication channel.

Getting back to stupid gaming stuff, this week I intend to talk about some old school stuff like Dave Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign and retro-gaming like Labyrinth Lord. Also, I need to finish part 2 of my Rebel Scum session recap.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Hey! Buy my game crap!

Or not. Looks like the Rients family will be moving to smaller digs. As a result, Jeff's Game Room is destined to become Jeff's Game Bookcase. Some of my stuff simply has to go. If you see anything in the pictures below that interest you, then click here to hop on over to my eBay listings. More items as I get stuff all lined up to sell.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Swiped from Dragonsfooter MrNexx

Looks like 4e is here

It's been leaked that Wizards will be announcing a 4th edition of D&D this weekend. Here are a few random thoughts on the matter.

1)Speculation on the contents of the new edition are entirely futile at this point. Yet see me speculate in some points below.

2) I will almost certainly buy this new edition, and play it at least a couple times.

3) There are some, not many, but some 3.5 products that I still plan on buying.

4) I worry that they will make the new edition even more complicated, rather than slimming it down like Star Wars Saga Edition. Because a more complicated edition that they can support online will drive Digital Initiative subscriptions.

5) If I'm right about point 4, I'll probably be happier with an earlier edition or Hackmaster, rather than 4e.

6) All those time Wizards people denied an upcoming 4th edition, when they said major announcements would only be made at the D&D Experience (f.k.a. Winter Fantasy), and when they noted that they had no room for a 4e on the product schedule? Lies, damnable lies.

7) Ryan Dancey is still a dick. That's not entirely related to the matter at hand, though.

Rebel Scum, session 1, part 1

After the opening crawl, the camera pans across a starfield to a pair of TIE Fighters bearing down on a weird old Y-wing, while in the distance a Star Desroyer lurches forward menacingly. Crackling across subspace radio comes the message "The Neldanis System is under Imperial quarantine, power down and prepare to be boarded." Our heroes, Boyd Bannon (Rebel Fett), Kip Fendo (Cargo Cult Jedi), and Cee-Lo (Rodian Gunbunny) opt instead to powerup shields and shipboard weapons. A brief exchange of fire results in one of the TIEs being explodified, with Green Thirteen (the PC's ship) flying through the expanding gas and debris field. Boyd diverts weapons power to the ship's engines, and outruns the remaining TIE Fighter and the creeping threat of the Imperial Starship Eviscerator. After discovering that a stock Star Destoyer has a tractor beam capable of a +68 grapple, the players where in no hurry to stick around a fight the remaing TIE.

Green Thirteen screams through the polluted atmosphere of Neldanis IV, eventually doing a flyby over the region known as the Graveyard of Ships. Sensors pick up a location with three silhouettes matching a KT-57 Repair Shuttle, put there's no place for a safe landing nearby. Stuart, Kip's player, asks "How big are the ships in the junkyard?" To which I make up a reply on the spot. "Most of the ships here are small, but a few capital ships and big freighters have been 'soft crashed' here using tractor beam landings." So the PCs find a scuttled Republic Cruiser with an open fighter bay nearby and hide their ship inside. After determining that Cee-Lo has the Mechanics skill necessary to refurbish a scrapped vessel, the party opts to leave Effo at the Y-Wing.

Cut to the party trudging through a filthy junkyard ("Like where Fat Albert and the gang hangs out, but with spaceship parts."), with Kip holding some sort of tracking devise to navigate to the Repair Shuttles, Cee-Lo hefting a bag full of tools, and Boyd letting the other two do all the work. We make a couple of rolls to avoid mishaps with shifting junk under foot or tottering stacks of parts, but the terrain fails to attack. But en route to the shuttles Kip notices a tiny spider-like droid scuttling away from the group...

A few kilometers of hiking later the party comes upon their goal. One of the shuttles looks mostly intact, which makes Cee-Lo nervous. The second shuttle has a hole punched in the canopy and wires and parts showing in the drive section. The third one is a rustbucket, but has flames painted along the sides. So of course the PCs opt to cannibalize the first two shuttles to repair the one with the cool paint job. I kinda expected that out of this bunch.

Cee-Lo and Boyd work on repairing the shuttle while Kip stands guard. They get most of the Shuttle systems online but one key component of the hyperdrive, known as the King's Valve, proves to be a problem. Two of the King's Valves are unusable. The third is just plain gone. Here's a picture of a KT-57 Repair Shuttle Hyperdrive King's Valve, which I totally forgot to print out for the session:

The whole thing is roughly the size of a frisbee. I think I did an okay job making it look Star Wars-ish. What do you think? Anyway, just as Cee-Lo and Boyd realize that they've got a major problem, Kip starts to hear a growing rumbling/clanging/churning sound coming from all around him. He summons the others out of the ship just in time for about 40 droids of varying sizes to appear in a circle around the ship. These droids are all haphazardly made of junk and droid parts, such as the dude who looks like a Terminator but has a C-3PO head where his right arm should be, or the guy who's a Droideka from the waist down with a jumble of erector set and stereo parts on top. The PCs are informed that they are trespassing on the territory of the Droid King and they are all under arrest.

After a brief debate the party opts to go talk to the robo-monarch, so cut to the Halls of the Droid King. There they meet Ferdinand Poofypants Blaycox the Second, King of All Droids, who is a generic robo-torso with an old battledroid head, at least a dozen random robot arms, all of which is built right into the king's cast iron throne. Guess what the King wears as a crown? ("The King wears a King's Valve. These droids are very literal." -Pat) On either side of the throne/king is a stack of droid heads piled nearly to the ceiling, all of which are operational and constantly chattering amongst themselves in Basic, which Cee-Lo happens to know. King Ferdinand explains that in his realm biological units serve droids, instead of the usual arrangement. When asked what service is expected of them the droidheads start chanting "Kill the Technovore! Kill the Technovore!" Soon the operational droids join the chant.

So the PCs strike a bargain with the king. If they can bring him the head of the Technovore, he will award them with any starship part in his realm. The King dispatches Sir Garglegax, a labor droid with a rivet gun for one arm and a blender for another, to lead our heroes to the lair of the vicious Technovore. Turns out the Technovore is some sort of cyborg lizard thing that eats robots. At one point I describe it as a tiger made out of dinosaurs and robots. The party gets the jump on the thing as it is finishing a meal and begin peppering it with blaster fire. Sir Garglegax, who is terrified of the beast, fires redhot rivets in a wide, dangerous arc. As the Technovore gallops towards Kip a valve opens in its forehead and it spews hot plasma at him, but the faux jedi matrixes out of the way. Kip then uses the force to pick up the beast and impales it on a nearby metal pole, killing it. With a single swift motion Kip decapitates the thing.

Cut to Kip holding the head aloft in the throneroom of King Ferdinand. All the droids are cheering. The droidhead columns are abuzz with excitement. Some of them are suggesting that someone needs to complete construction of the king's daughter, so she can be married to one of the heroes. With that note Boyd just walks up the throne and plucks the crown off the King's head. The PCs cheese it as the king screams "Come back with my crown." I'm not particularly in the mood for a chase scene right here, so I declare that the film speeds up just like on Benny Hill. Pat notes that Yakkity Sax is playing in the background.

Next scene is of Cee-Lo slamming the stolen King's Valve into position and the KT-57 zooming over the landscape to rendezvous with Green Thirteen. The party retrieves their two suits of black stormtrooper armor and scary dark jedi cloak. Cut to space where the shuttle and Green Thirteen zoom to hyperspeed.

In part 2 the PCs will encounter the Urgonia System, TechnoDreadnought Reconstructor, Commanderette Vixen, and a slight case of mistaken identity.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tonight is Star Wars night!

Tonight is the first run of my new Star Wars campaign. We're using the Saga edition rules, but I hope to run it with a lighter touch than my recent D&D outings. We took 'getting the rules right' very seriously, but for this campaign the emphasis will be on getting Star Warsy action first, correct rules interpretation third. (What's second? I dunno, but I want to leave room for something else to be second.) I think my Prussian pal Settembrini would call this method "roll & shout".

We'll be starting the campaign in media res, which is Latin for "Look out! TIE Fighters are zapping your ship!"

Now that's a grognard!

The following quote is from Crimhthan_The_Great in the 'Introductions' thread at OD&D Discussion. All emphasis is mine.

My birth year is 1937 and I turned 70 in April of this year. Our original core group of 9 guys all grew up together and we are all within a few years of each others ages. Out of the original 9, 5 of us still live in the same neighborhood and play regularly. The other 4 still show up about 4-6 times a year. They each have their own campaigns.

We started an organized twice-weekly game night in 1956 playing cards, boardgames, and wargames that we made up. We had played together from early childhood (cowboys and indians was a long time favorite), we were into westerns, fairy & folktales, science fiction and alot of other things. I remember homemade bow & arrows, spears, swords, staffs etc., and hunting with our fathers and grandfathers, and getting old enough to get our first guns.

Starting in 1956 (noted above) up until 1971 we had played about 1400 game sessions. Then in early April 1971, a cousin of one of my friends sent him a copy of the Fantasy section of Chainmail. We got hooked on it quickly and played it right up until the same cousin sent a copy of D&D in February 1974 and we immediately converted our Chainmail campaign over to D&D.

Starting with Chainmail Fantasy and continuing with OD&D we played our 1000th gaming session in January of 1982, our 2000th in December 1995 and our most recent was number 2832. One of our goals is to reach 3000 before any of us dies of old age or becomes to senile to play.

We have played through about 284 years of game time in the main campaign and have four OD&D side campaigns in the same world. I call the main campaign the Tarrozian Campaign and it is very deadly. TPK's are common and getting a group of characters to 4th level is always a cause for celebration. I also have two OAD&D campaign which share the same world(but not the same as the OD&D world).

We have dabbled a little tiny bit in Holmes basic, BX, BECMI and the Rules Cyclopedia.

We have played through 284 years of game time in the main campaign and the original core group of players have had between (I am guessing here) 500-700 characters each. In spite of about 350 TPK's, each of us have retired about 10-18 characters apiece. But in some gaming sessions we have went through 8-10 characters each.

(counting from 1956 we are at 4232 gaming sessions, counting from the start of the Chainmail Fantasy (proto D&D) campaign in April of 1971 we are at 2832 gaming sessions as of 06/23/2007)

Van Halen is back! Uh, sorta.

I saw on the TV this morning that Van Halen is attempting another comeback. David Lee Roth is back in the band, with what looked to me like new hair. But even more surprising was the lack of Michael Anthony, the bassist from the very begining of the band. You know, the guy with the beard and the Jack Daniels bass, that always seemed to be having a helluva good time in the videos? Well, he's been replaced by Eddie's sixteen year old son, Wolfgang. Someone remind me when the last time a musical legacy was actually inherited by a superstar's offspring, when a rock god sired another legend. The only example that comes to mind right now is Liza freakin' Minelli. Not that I wish ill on this strange new incarnation of Van Halen. I hope it all works out. But right now I have trouble seeing how Eddie + Dave - Michael + Eddie's Kid equals anything but a trainwreck waiting to happen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hey, kids! Comics!

Damn, I may have to finally get a pull list or something. DC has announced new kiddies comics, a new Superfriends book and Tiny Titans.

The only thing that could make this picture better is Batman giving a thumbs-up and winking.
I'd get this one for my daughter.  Not that I wouldn't read it, too.
Meanwhile Marvel is putting out a Power Man comic for kids done by Genndy Tartakovsky!Sweet Christmas!
Thanks to Dick for the tip!

Monday, August 13, 2007

five links OF DOOM!!!

Spider Meat - Free 5-page PDF adventure from S. John Ross

Star Wars deckplans - Note to self: Plan shoot-out on Star Destroyer bridge

Labyrinth Lord - Basic/Expert D&D given the OSRIC treatment.

Mongoose to publish Traveller - (in case you missed the hoopla)

I Should Write The Legion - This one goes out to RPG Pundit.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Neldanis IV, the junkyard world

The dark brown represents the single landmass on the planet, surrounded by a polluted ocean. The only non-polluted water on the planet is trapped in the polar caps. A few thousand years ago Neldanis IV was an ordinary filthy middle-tech industrial world, but nearly everybody abandoned the place once hyperspace travel made emigration cheap and easy. The Techno Union eventually took over stewardship of this poisoned sphere, turning the whole world into a hi-tech dumping ground. Visitors to Neldanis IV are urged to use breather masks, like the ones used inside the cave/asteroid worm in Empire.

The grey areas on the map are the individual scrapyards, with the densest grey blob in the center of the map the region the PCs can expect to find the scrapped KT-57 Repair Shuttles. The smaller island is a military proving grounds, where new weapons systems are sometimes live-tested. The squarish grey area is overflow storage for Honest Sclorbax's Used Speeders. Nearly every civilized world has at least one Honest Sclorbax's and they take a lot of trade-ins.

a Star Wars thought

If you were to ask whiny teenage Luke Skywalker, he would tell you that Tantooine was the most boring place in the galaxy. This is a planet where you keep a blaster rifle in your speeder because homicidal bantha-riders might try to brain you with a pointy metal stick, where mysterious midgets steal droids and drive around in megatanks, where giant slugs are galactic crimelords, where weirdo space wizards live just down the road, where a dude at a bar can be shot in the fucking face but everyone just turns back to their drink.

For my new campaign, I want Luke to be right.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Great Random Charts from RPG History, vol IV.

I've had a heck of time formating this one for optimum online presentation. I eventually just said to hell with it and published as-it.

The Arduin Grimoire Critical Hit Table

% Die Roll Hit Location Results Point Damage
01-02 Head, frontal Brain penetrated, immediate death 4d8
03-04 Neck, frontal Voicebox ruined, total voice loss. (permanent) 1d8
05-06 Wrist Hand severed, bleed to death in 1d8 minutes 3d6
07-08 Chest or back Impalement, weapon stuck there 3d10
09-10 Side 1d5 ribs broken 1d3 per rib
11-15 Leg Major artery cut, bleed to death in 1d10 minutes 1d8
16-20 Arm Major artery cut, bleed to death in 1d12 minutes 1d6
21-25 Foot, rear Achilles tendon cut, fall immediately (permanent) 1d3
26-30 Fingers 1d5 severed 1 each
31-32 Toes 1d5 severed 3 per two
33-34 Face Eye ruined or torn out (permanent), unable to fight for 1d10 rounds 1d6
35-36 Forehead Gashed, blood in eyes, can’t see or fight for 1d10 rounds 1d3
37-38 Crotch/chest Genitals/breasts torn off, immediate shock induced coma, death in d4 minutes 3d6
39-40 Head, side Ear taken off, 50% hearing loss, -2 charisma 1d3
41-42 Buttocks Buttock torn off, fall, shock induced coma for 3d10 minutes, permanent –3 dex, ½ speed 4d4
43-44 Head, general Stunned, 1d10 rounds no fighting 1d2
45-46 Head, general Stunned, 1d6 minutes no fighting 1d4
47-48 Head, general Minor concussion, Stunned, 1d10 minutes no fighting 1d6
49-50 Head, general Moderate concussion, unconscious 1d6 rounds, confused & groggy for 6d10 minutes 1d8
51-55 Head, general Major skull fracture, unconscious 2d10 minutes, amnesia: 1-60 lasts 2d12 hours, 61+ permanent 1d10
56-60 Neck, frontal Throat cut, death in 1d3 minutes 1d8
61-65 Arm Torn off (roll % for how much, starting at wrist), bleed to death in 1d3 rounds 4d6
66-70 Leg Torn off (roll % for how much, starting at wrist), fall, bleed to death in 1d3 rounds 4d12
71-75 Chest Heart pierced, immediate death 1d10
76-80 Back, lower Spine ruined, roll d6: 1. 100% paralyzed 2. Left side paralyzed 3. Right side 4. Waist up 5. Waist down 6. Death in one minute 2d10
81-85 Face Both eyes ruined or torn out (permanent), unable to fight for 1d10 rounds, permanently blinded 2d6
86-90 Face Nose ruined, -6 cha, stunned, breathing problems (-2 on con checks involving endurance), bad speech prblems for 1d12 months (relearning to speak properly) 1d8
91-94 Head, general Nothing apparent, later problems when brain hemmorhages in 1d10 days, 50/50 chance of death or permanent insanity 1d2
95 Guts ripped out 20% chance of tangling feet, die in 1d10 minutes 2d8
96 Head, top Skull caved in, major brain damage, all mental faculties permanently halved, 50-100% memory destroyed, -8 cha 2d6
97 Chest Lung punctured, internal damage, halve str & con (permanent) 1d12
98 Neck Head torn off, immediate death 5d10
99 Body Split in twain, immediate death 10d10
100 Head Entire head pulped and splattered over wide area, irrevocable death Total

Hargrave indicates that he only uses this chart for one strike in 400, which I interpret to indicate that one should use this chart after a to-hit roll of natural 20 followed by a crit confirm roll that is also a natural 20. We used this rule for a couple years in my D&D games and not gotten many gruesome crits. But the threat remains.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Quote of the Day/Micro-review

Nestled along the banks of the river known as "The Great Source", stands the mighty fortress City of Verbosh. Built ages ago by the great "Lord Verbosh I", who founded the great and noble, royal line of Verbosh. A line of great kings that lasted until the birth of Verbosh II, whose first great act was to lead his proud legion into "The Battle of Dead-end Canyon"; where they were overwhelmed by a host of Kobolds fully half their number. From there on, the line of Verbosh went steadily down hill. Verbosh XXI managed to lose the family castle and holdings in a game of dice. This proved to be the high point in Verboshian history.

-opening paragraph of Verbosh

Verbosh, by Paul Nevins and Bill Faust, is one of my favorite Judges Guild products, ranking right up there with Rat on a Stick and Unknown Gods. It's a mini-setting for OD&D, bigger than the Keep on the Borderlands and its environs, but smaller and less complete than a full-on D&D world. In 76 pages you get the eponymous city, a wilderness region of respectable size (maybe 2,000 x 2,000 km or so) with lots of encounters, several smallish dungeons, some ruins and another whole town. Though designed for the original boxed set and its supplements, the statblocks could pretty easily be used with most successor products with no real difficulty.

The humor in the opening paragraph shines through much of the rest of the product. I find Verbosh to be utterly charming. It's tone and mid-range scope (bigger than a standard 32 page TSR module, smaller than a complete setting) was one of Asteroid 1618's direct inspirations, along with the original Arduin trilogy and the aforementioned Rat on a Stick. If you wanted a ready-to-go set-up where you could pull a fantasy campaign out of a hat on a moment's notice, you could do a lot worse than Verbosh and your favorite version of D&D.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

the PCs

Here are my PCs for the upcoming Star Wars campaign, assuming I understand what they're telling me.

Cargo Cult Jedi - Went to an underground school established by ordinary folks with some training manuals and holovids and no real working knowledge of the Force. He's one of the few people for whom the training took. Then the stormtroopers busted up the whole thing.

Rebel Fett - A clone with a conscience. When Order 66 came through his psychoconditioning failed. In his mind all those other clones are commie mutant traitors. Having the face of the enemy has got to lead to some awkward situations.

BFG Rodian - On the run from bounty hunters from his homeworld and no fan of the Man, the Alliance seemed like the only place to turn. You can count on him to shoot first every damn time.

unfocused thoughts on the Wilderlands

I've been thinking a lot over the past week or two about the Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set. A wide range of really cool people over at TheRPGsite recommend this setting. I've given the free preview a close look as well. If you don't know, the Wilderlands setting was originally released by Judges Guild back in the day. It came out years before Greyhawk or any other big D&D setting. The new boxed set (Well, it was published in '05. That's still 'new' by my standards.) is a d20 update of all the old material, greatly expanded with lots of stuff.

Long story short, the Wilderlands boxed set is a hugeass map (eighteen 17" x 22" sections) covered with hexes. And a whole metric assload of those hexes are given short entries outlining their contents. It's the ultimate sandbox setting, as described by Melan. You could literally start a campaign by dropping the PCs into any hex on the map and they'd almost certainly be within a day or two of an adventure of some sort. We're talking *years* worth of "wander the map, get into trouble" style adventures. And the statblocks are as light as humanly possible for a d20-based product. You could run Wilderlands under a different system and not be wasting that much of your purchase. I look at the Wilderlands free preview and see a product that could be run with any version of D&D, or C&C, or Iron Heroes, or MERP, or RoleMaster, or even Encounter friggin' Critical. I am totally not joking about that last one. Hell, you could use Rifts and maybe make it work. The setting has the solid foundation needed to run it straight vanilla with the Rules Cyclopedia or MERP and the elasticity to go totally gonzo.

On one hand, a prefab world full of a million awesome mini-adventures is exactly the sort of product that I need. Setting books that read like encyclopedias appeal to me less and less these days. According to reports, Wilderlands excises that stuff from the boxed set and puts all that in the Player's Guide hardbound. Instead you get a whole world laid out like the outdoor adventure map in the Keep on the Borderlands. That's what I want. A sandbox all about the adventure, not a setting that exists as a thing unto itself.

On the other hand, part of me shies away from getting the Wilderlands boxed set. And it's not just my inner cheapskate at work here, unable to part with 45 bucks for a stupid game. Rather part of me sees the elegant structure of the Wilderlands and sees that I could do that myself. I could get a big ol' numbered hexmap, sketch out some terrain, and stock a bunch of hexes. Would I get that same level of do-it-yourselfer buzz by adding stuff to the Wilderlands? I dunno.

Another issue is the inherent tension between a big expansive wilderness and a big expansive dungeon. I like campaigns that focus on a big, nonsensical dungeon. But a party out exploring the wilderness isn't plumbing the depth of the dungeon and vice versa. Won't either one or the other get ignored a big chunck of the time? Another advantage of the do it yourself approach is that I could start with a mostly blank wilderness map and let the players fill it in as they explore out from their starting locale. That would be cool.

Maybe it all comes down to which I have more of, money to blow on stupid game crap or time to devote to a homebrew setting. Some days it feels like I've got neither.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Vote for Zach

Voting for next year's ENnie judges has opened. Click here to cast your vote. I really don't know much about the field of candidates, except for the fact that Zachary Houghton is totally rad. For a time Zach was responsible for the RPG Blog, which was one of my favoritest gaming blogs until time commitments forced him to set blogging aside. Zach's now got some free time in his schedule, which he hopes to fill by judging the gazillion products sent in for ENnie consideration. I know Zach will do a good job as an ENnie judge. I totally respect his level of interest and dedication to our fine hobby. And he's a big Palladium fan. I don't play any Palladium games (though I own and like several) but I know that anybody who thinks Rifts is wicked cool but still generally has his head on straight is exactly the kind of guy I want game recommendations from. So please vote and consider voting for Zach.

a visual aid

Here's a little graphic I whipped up for the Star Wars campaign. Click to see it at full size.

The basic idea here is that during a ship-to-ship encounter I want to be able to tell at a glance where each PC is at on the ship.

Friday, August 03, 2007

quote of the day

From Melan, spreading the gospel on EN World:

In sandbox play - as opposed to a cop-out/hybrid where the severity of challenges is scaled to the party - the responsibility for managing threats rests on the shoulders of the players, who have to make choices whether to explore a certain hazardous area, range far from civilisation centres or not, etcetera. Collecting information becomes very valuable. Rumors, and listening to them, is very important; augury and more advanced divination spells become better lifesavers than fireball (no exagerration - PCs in my campaigns have been saved more times by the first than the second) and of course, sacrificing to deities or consulting sages for their advice is a prime way loot is spent. This is, in many ways, outside the currently fashionable D&D paradigm. It is often the experienced players with set-in playing procedures, who are less successful in it, and newbies who adapt more quickly (while certain old hands are immediately "at home", and fare very, very well - that's the mythical "player skill" in action ).

Of course, none of this preserves the party from random encounters, or accidentally stumbling into something way over their heads. Here, responsibility gets divided between the DM and his players. The players must shed the mindset that challenges in the world are tailored to their abilities. They must be prepared to say "We are not going there", they must be prepared to declare "RUN!", and they must be prepared to negotiate or, yes, grovel/surrender before an obviously superior and intelligent foe. Getting out of an unpleasant situation imposed on them by a demon, lich or dragon (who could, for example, take their valuable equipment, even spell books hostage to prevent flight, or use a magical sort of compulsion) is always possible, while death is very final.

But the DM must excercise care as well. It is not ethical to slaughter the party by a proverbial lightning bolt from the sky. He should provide clues to draw attention to the fact that danger may be present (although, of course, some places may be innately dangerous: weird temples, very ancient ruins, swampland and mountains, for example, are always hazardous in my campaign). He should also handle encounters with a certain amount of flexibility, and usually allow a way out if there could concievably be one, and the players are willing to take it.

Finally, let it be noted that sandbox play is not for the cautious. It only works properly for players who are risk-takers, and don't mind a higher death rate. It is, simply put, not always the material of D&D's usual "quest fantasy" when you die more or less without a special significance. I could recount the tales - of Brantar the Cleric, who was flattened by the ceiling, or Mutambo the Fighter who was cut down by enraged amazons, or Grond, Morgos and Panther who were killed by orcs, and Tyr Wulos, Eldon the Purse and Valmard Levandell who came as a rescue party for the previous and were also killed, this time by a shambling mound (well, except poor Eldon, who died when he accidentally shot the party barbarian in the back). For risk-averse players, or those too attached to PCs, sandbox games are inappropriate, because they induce a sort of paralysis, where, by avoiding risk too successfully, the PCs effectively remove themselves from the ranks of adventurers. Alas, I have seen this in person, and it made for a very boring campaign. Having learned my lessons, I live by the sage advice now seen in my signature:
"5. If they do not wish to take a few risks, their characters should stay home and become shopkeepers and farmers.

Then wish them luck!"
-- Gary Gygax: Shrine of the Kuo-Toa

Thursday, August 02, 2007

meet the team droid

Beep beep boop bop!R5-F0 ("Efzero" to his friends) is the astromech droid assigned to Green Thirteen. It lacks the flying capabilities of R2-D2 and its motivator has been known to blow out once in a while. But unlike the standard R2 statblock in the book, Efzero comes with that little lightsabre launcher tube already installed.

things in my head

I woke up with this phrase flitting through my mind:

"the most obscure narrator since the Martian Manhunter's orthodontist appeared in Tales of Dentistry"

Also, I've got part of an old song in my mind. I can't quite make it out. The lyrics are jumbled, I can make out the voice clear as a bell but can't name the artists. The guitar riffs are distinct as well, but I can't put together the name of the song or band. I think it's an old hair metal love anthem thingy that is totally rad if you dig old hair metal love anthem thingies.

Q: Jeff, how awesome is Serious Sam?

1) When I finished the game on easy mode, I immediately started over at the next highest difficulty. I literally went from "End of game, huh?" to "Let's fire that puppy up again!" in the space of a few seconds. I have never done that on a video game before now. Usually I have zero interest in replaying stuff I've already tackled. But Serious Sam provides gobs of frantic action feeling. (It turns out that in Medium difficulty you can hurt yourself with misplaced grenade and rocket fire. That took some getting used to. No more dropping grenades at point blank range to clear out Beggar Mobs.)

2) I got the sequel and started playing it, too. But then on the first level I encountered a buch of non-combatants and a friggin' crate stacking puzzle. I don't want civilians in my non-stop shoot 'em ups and I sure as hell don't want to stop blasting baddies to stack some damn crates. If I wanted to stack crates, I'd get a job in a warehouse. That stuff is like pure anti-fun in this kind of game. So I popped out the disk and played some more of the original. But you know what? The first game is so damn fun I'm considering putting up with the unnecessary additions in the sequel.

I may have to shoot all the civilians, though.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

He's really hoping for option B.

Deadshot is totally a PC. Every RPGer has gamed with somebody like this at one time or another:

'Just let me pull my mask on here and then we can murderize some mooks.'

This scan totally stolen from Dave's Longbox.

Rebel Dispatch #1

Adventure I


It is a period of great strife.

Rebel agents have been sent

to the junkyard world Neldanis IV

to retrieve and repair a scrapped

KT-57 Repair Shuttle, which they plan

to use to sneak aboard the Imperial starship

RECONSTRUCTOR, one of the vessels being

used to build the Evil Empire's new Super Weapon.

The computer on the Reconstructor contains crucial data

that will allow the Rebel Alliance to destroy this terrible new

weapon before it can tip the balance of power in the galaxy...

PC briefing

"During the Clone Wars the Forge-class TechnoDreadnoughts provided shipyard-level repair and maintenance to Republic capital ships in the field. Most Imperial Records show that the last of the Forges were taken out of service several years ago, either scrapped due to wear and tear or sold off to commercial ventures. But Rebel intelligence has recently discovered that the Reconstructor was taken off the books and secretly put to work on the Empire's new super weapon.

Back in the day each Forge-class carried fourteen KT-57 Repair Shuttle in addition to its usual array of ship's craft, but the KT-57's had a much shorter service life and were never replaced. Most of them were sold off but a few were junked on Neldanis IV. Rather than docking in the shuttle bay, each KT-57 fitted into a custom docking socket, basically an exterior airlock with clamps to hold the shuttle to the hull of the vessel. Using a KT-57 should allow you to enter the Reconstructor and bypass ship's security. The Reconstructor is currently undergoing maintenance in orbit over Urgonia, one of the busiest commercial and military shipyards in the galaxy.

We're issuing you uniforms appropriate to Imperial maintenance personnel, so you can move through the ship relatively safely. Once inside the Reconstructor, you need locate the central computer on level D-14 and copy all the technical data on the 'Death Star'. You must deliver that data to the diplomatic vessel Tantive IV, which will be waiting for you at the following coordinates inside Vuldrak's Nebula. We've arranged a rather large distraction for the Imperial Navy during this operation, so even if the situation inside the Reconstructor gets messy pursuit should be minimal. Any questions?"