Thursday, July 31, 2008

Please note: Games don't evolve

A tiny pet peeve of mine is when someone says that a new game or new edition is the "next step" in the "evolution" of RPGs. That's a line of crap. Games don't randomly mutate over generations. They are (more or less) intelligently designed. Some corporate committee or gang of designers or lone RPG nut directed the development of that game. When you say a game has "evolved" what you're actually doing is buying into some marketing flak or carnival barker's line of baloney that somehow their new product is more fit than others. The next time someone tries that malarkey on you, consider asking what totally random mutations in the product make it a better fit under the current environmental pressures.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

link, link, link, link, and another link

Steampunk Star Wars Custom Figures - In addition to the cool figures, I kinda dig the font used for the words "Star Wars".

Malcadon's deviantART gallery - One of the artists for Mutant Future. Some NSFW pics.

Manifesto for a New Literary Movement in Speculative Fiction

M.U.S.C.L.E. Archive - I had a crapload of these as a kid. They'd make good minis for Encounter Critical. #153 was always my favorite.

The Dungeon Masters Creed

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fear the Foil

I give my highest recommendation to The Dungeoneer issue 1-6 compendium. I like the other issues of Dungeoneer a whole lot, but the compendium packs a whole lot of neat stuff between its covers. Among others things it contains Night of the Walking Wet, one of the greatest D&D adventure/mini-campaigns ever written.

But this post isn't about that. Instead I want to talk about a monster. Dungeoneer has some really great crazy-go-nuts monsters. We're talking stuff so far out that the folks who made the Fiend Folio would look at 'em and say "You've got to be kidding me." I love lots of the entries in the "Monster Matrix" column, but my favorite has got to be the Tinfoil Monster.Pure genius. If Uncle Gary can make the Rust Monster and Bulette out of some old Japanese "dinosaur" toys, why can't Mark Norton crumple up some tinfoil and call it a critter? In fact I love the Tinfoil Monster so much, I did an Encounter Critical conversion and made my own custom miniature!

Googly eyes!(Man, the dice rolls were unkind to that Mutated Dwarf.)

Tinfoil Monster
Numbers: d20
# ATT: 1
ATT %: 49
Damage: d8
Hit Points: 2d12
Save: 56%
Edible: 4%
% Lurk: 28
Value: 220
Special: Treasure in gullet
Notes: 17% chance of encountering either a Copperfoil Monster or Silverfoil Monster instead, with equal chances of either variant. Copperfoil Monsters have the same statistics, but their scrap metal corpse is worth Gold Credits equal to their starting hit points divided by 2. Silverfoil Monsters are slightly tougher (2d20 hit points, 58% save, 230 value) and worth their hit points times five.

Reports of Goldfoil Monsters are completely erroneous. 2% of all Tinfoil Monsters have consumed enough gold treasure to add a slight golden sheen to their tinny skin. An Alchemist might be able to leach out 3-30 GC with a proper lab and d6 days work, but 2d6 GC worth of supplies will be expended in the process and a failed Alchemist roll will turn the gold into lead. Of course a clever con artist might be able to sell the monster carcass for much more than it is worth.

Imperviumfoil and Blackhole Metalfoil Monsters only exist in Fevered Dreams, and as such are sometimes sought out by Dream Witches and their ilk.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Retro Gaming Update

In the comments to my post on 4 things I don't like about Moldvay Basic kelvingreen asked whether Dan Proctor's Labyrinth Lord fixes any of my nitpicks. Turns out that three out of four of my gripes are addressed. Points swapping is not mentioned. The default chargen in 3d6 in order, with a note that some DMs use other methods like 4d6 or roll multiple sets and pick one. I can't find any initiative penalty for two-handed weapons in either the equipment chapter or the combat section. Spellbooks are not given hard and fast rules about limits. Instead some options are discussed, none of which involve the limitations I was whining about in Moldvay. Oil still does d8, but that was the least of my complaints.

While I'm talking about Labyrinth Lord, I should mention that you can get print copies at Amazon now as well as Lulu. How long has LL had that sweet new purple cover? I got to get me one of those! The free download version is still available at Lulu and the LL homepage.

Chris Gonnerman's Basic Fantasy, the nifty not-quite-a-clone that combines some of the best aspects of Basic/Expert and Advanced, is due out for an updated edition soon. You can get a pre-release draft at the Basic Fantasy downloads section. Looks pretty dang cool.

I really need to get a hardcopy of both of those games as I'd play either at the drop of a hat.

Another retro-game I'd cheerfully play is the all-new Microlite74, an OD&D-flavored hack of the already-awesome Microlite20. If you're an old schooler that loves the Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set and want to get some use out of those d20 statblocks, you ought to check out the Microlite games.

Edit because I am an idiot: Issue #2 of Fight On!, the super-awesome magazine for old school fantasy gaming, is now for sale at Lulu. Features 88 pages of articles by all sorts of cool people and me.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Adventure Games Publishing update

James Mishler of Adventure Games Publishing has made Adventure Games Journal #1 (glowingly reviewed at this very blog) available as a PDF through DriveThru/RPGNow. The price is $12 an issue, which is higher than I expected seeing as how that's what I pay for a print issue with my subscription. I asked James about this and here's a bit of his response:
[T]he primary reason I added PDFs was as a service for international customers who (understandably) balked at the $8+ shipping costs per issue (and these costs are going only going to increase). The last thing I want is to make the PDF a cheap alternative to the print product, especially as I make less on a PDF than I do on a print product...
You can read his whole explanation in the comments to this post at his Adventures in Gaming blog.

Those of you going to GenCon can check out James' stuff first hand. He'll have AGJ#1, the Southern Reaches map, the Rhadamanthia map (showing the Wilderlands in relation to the rest of the continent), and maybe a con special. That way you can decide for yourself whether this stuff is worth your money.

Friday, July 25, 2008

4 things I don't like...

...about Moldvay Basic D&D

Considering I've been doing some harping on 4th edition, I think in the interest of fairness I should take some time out to talk about the stuff I don't like in my favorite version of D&D. From time to time I've been known to claim that Moldvay Basic D&D combined with Cook/Marsh Expert D&D is the most perfect form of the game ever published. I will admit bias on this one, since this was the edition I started gaming with, but I still think you won't find a better version of D&D. However, there are maybe four rules in the game that bug me to a greater or lesser degree.

Oil & Holy Water

Variable weapon damage (you know, where swords do d8 and daggers do d4) is an optional rule under this version. My group always used it, but the default is that all weapons do d6, just like OD&D before the Greyhawk supplement. But then burning oil and holy water do d8 damage. Without the optional rule in play, that means a molotov is better than a two-handed sword. Admittedly, you don't have to carry a bunch of disposable flasks of sword around, but it still rubs me the wrong way. Oil is already extremely useful, it doesn't need to be the most damaging weapon available.

Two-handed Weapons

Two-handed weapons always lose initiative under Moldvay Basic. That strikes me as an unnecessary penalty when you must already forgo a shield. My thought nowadays is that the thing to do would be for two-handers to attack last on any round where initiative is a tie. That retains a bit of the intended effect without unduly harshing the polearm fans.

Points Swapping

The second column of page B6 gives some fairly unwieldy rules for ability points swapping at character generation. When we were kids we often played D&D Basic as a pick-up game and this is where group chargen got bogged down. In my experience that section slows down chargen just as much buying equipment (if not more) as each player tries to minmax their six 3d6 rolls into the best possible PC. Nowadays I'm a big proponent of stick with what you rolled, but I could also see another solution would be a handout that better explained how to turn your dice rolls into the character you want.


This one is the doozie for me. A third level Magic-User can 2 first and 1 second level spell a day. With me so far? Guess how many spells that Conjurer has in his or her spellbook? The correct answer is 3, one second level and two first level spells. No more spells are allowed. Spells may not be transcribed from scrolls to expand your spellbook and as far as I can tell a captured spellbook is worthless to an MU. This simplification makes writing up NPC magic-users and elves very simple. You list the spells they know and that list constitutes both what they have memorized and what is in their spellbook. But I can't stand it. I'm just too married to the Vancian ideal of a spellcaster, where two big deals for an M-U are Picking The Right Tool for the Job and Finding More Damn Spells.

So now I'm off to read up on how Labyrinth Lord handles each of these issues. Anybody else have any nitpicks with Moldvay/Cook? Or howzabout something that bugs the crap out of you in what is otherwise your favorite edition?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My Wizard is Fight

So last night was session two of Stuart's brave efforts to run the game group through Keep on the Shadowfell. This time I think I got into the swing of making a 4e wizard work. I had some great fun with a flaming sphere effect. I even had the perfect figure to use. Don't ask me where I got this little toy, just say hello to Fire Buddy!

Yeah, my M-U wears a Ming collar and sports a soul patch where his beard should be. He's only first level. I'm sure it's just a phase he's going through.

*The next part contains SPOILERS for Keep on the Shadowfell, so considered yourself warned.*

So in the kobold lair there's a maniac goblin named Irontooth who apparently wrecks the shit of every party that faces him. Stuart told us that according to the internets, this guy is the module's number one source of Total Party Kills. Seriously, who writes this crap? I know DMs have always been free to beef up monsters and that giving humanoids levels has a long and beautiful history. But why the hell do you write a game where my puny 1st level Harry Potter has 23 hit points if all you're going to do is give the goblin in session #2 over a hundred HP? I just don't effin' get it. What is being accomplished by making 1st level the new 4th level and turning the goblins into hill giants? I've been in plenty of campaigns where the DM wanted to skip the first few levels, so we did. And I've also been in lots of campaigns where everyone slugged it out with rats and mosquitos for a their first thousand xp. The latter seems to not be supported anymore. I hear it's not "fun". Are kids nowadays afraid of rolling up new characters or something? [/angry old man]

But like I said, last night's game was fun. I enjoyed pushing my piece around and selecting my attack options. And setting kobolds on fire is always a good time. But I also couldn't shake this feeling that it wasn't very Dungeony or Dragony. I don't think it was a coincidence that Doug made a couple of BattleTech jokes during the run. ("I move here. Now that my legs are in the water I lose heat points faster." That sort of thing.) For my own part, I started having flashbacks to my mid-nineties obsession with the HERO System, where each fight consisted of pushing dudes around a hexgrid and trying to figure out what trick to use from your Multipower array. Said out loud it's not that different from what a wizard does in any edition of D&D, but I feel an essential difference in my gut.

At the end of the session we agreed to play a third session and that maybe we should add some strikers to the party. Anybody in the area want to run a Rogue, Warlock, or Ranger with my crew? If not, I may have to carry through with my threat to double up and run a ninja-themed Rogue. Before heading out the door, Stuart maybe put his finger on this whole 4e mess: if we're having fun, how much does it matter whether or not the game "really" is D&D? I think for me the answer is "it matters at least some", even setting aside the fact that what Hasbro markets has repercussions for the hobby at large.

Or to put it another way, as my wife and I got in bed last night I told her "I had a good time tonight, but I think I'd rather be playing Dungeons & Dragons."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Holy carp! It's Gilligan's Planet!

I adore the premise but the intro voiceover is rough as hell. Especially in comparison to the brilliant theme song from the original series. Natalie Schafer's line "What mysteries now haunt us in a strange, enchanting place?" is pretty cool, though.

Julius Caesar was a PC

Dig this panel from The Life of Julius Caesar, a comic book I found in the kid's section of my local library.

Take a close look at that panel. You know what I heard in my head when I first saw it?

DM: Enough with the lesbian jokes, you nimrods. Are you going to attack this city or not?

JC: Those soldiers I instructed to make scaling ladders, are they done yet?

DM: Not really. They're about fifty percent complete with the ladders.

JC: Good enough. I grab one of the ladders and rush the city, shouting "Come on, you Nancy's! Do you want to live forever?" to my troops.

DM: Okay, you run up under heavy arrow fire. You take twelve points of damage total but you reach the walls.

JC: Ouch! I place the ladder and scramble up to the top, inspiring my troops to bravery!

DM: I've got good news and bad news. The good news is that you only take 3 more points of damage from arrow fire. The bad news is that you didn't specify that you were grabbing a completed ladder.

best quote ever

That's it. I'm sick of all this "Masterwork Bastard Sword" bullshit that's going on in the d20 system right now. Katanas deserve much better than that. Much, much better than that.

I should know what I'm talking about. I myself commissioned a genuine katana in Japan for 2,400,000 Yen (that's about $20,000) and have been practicing with it for almost 2 years now. I can even cut slabs of solid steel with my katana.

Japanese smiths spend years working on a single katana and fold it up to a million times to produce the finest blades known to mankind. Katanas are thrice as sharp as European swords and thrice as hard for that matter too. Anything a longsword can cut through, a katana can cut through better. I'm pretty sure a katana could easily bisect a knight wearing full plate with a simple vertical slash.

Ever wonder why medieval Europe never bothered conquering Japan? That's right, they were too scared to fight the disciplined Samurai and their katanas of destruction. Even in World War II, American soldiers targeted the men with the katanas first because their killing power was feared and respected.

So what am I saying? Katanas are simply the best sword that the world has ever seen, and thus, require better stats in the d20 system. Here is the stat block I propose for Katanas:

(One-Handed Exotic Weapon) 1d12 Damage 19-20 x4 Crit +2 to hit and damage Counts as Masterwork

(Two-Handed Exotic Weapon) 2d10 Damage 17-20 x4 Crit +5 to hit and damage Counts as Masterwork

Now that seems a lot more representative of the cutting power of Katanas in real life, don't you think?
-from 4chan, passed on to me by my buddy Pat

Monday, July 21, 2008

here's some cool news

(At least it's news to me.) Toren Atkinson, nifty illustrator, Darkest of the Hillside Thickets rocker, and one of the minds behind the keen Spaceship Zero rpg is working on a Spaceship Zero comic! Cool!

The Gospel of Saint Zalazar

I happened to have the good luck to marry into a family of gamers. My wife isn't a gamer, though she's played a couple of games of Illuminati over the years and she's currently obsessing over the GameBoy version of Lego Star Wars. My brother-in-law Jim and his sons play boardgames and wargames. Sister-in-law Anne will plays some games from time to time.

But this post comes courtesy of Anne's husband Rod. He's a D&D man going back to the Basic days. He played in my 3E campaign and the 1st edition campaign I ran immediately afterwards. Back in the Navy he played D&D, Traveller, Champions, and Gamma World. His game group got a lot of playing done because there wasn't much else to do on a ship all day.

Now here's the cool part: In most of those games Rod played the same character. When his group switched games they all converted/translated characters. Rod's played other characters over the years, but Zalazar, his primary PC, has adventured under Basic D&D, 1st edition AD&D, 2nd edition AD&D, and all those other games I named above. Behold, the Purple Grimoire of Zalazar!

A metal bound tome, with each page encased in plastic and back by black construction paper, this dread volume tells the tale of a world-hopping 32nd level magic-user and the artifact sword known as Niffelheim. Click on a page and bask in the unbridled awesomeness.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


After a lot of searching on the internet I was finally able to score a copy of the official Encounter Critical Atari game.

(The space pirate ape is a panel from an old Legion of Superheroes issue. The whole thing was put together with this doohickey.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cinder and the Normal Man

From my notebook of OD&D house rules:


A 4th level Fighter is a Hero indeed, an adventurer worthy of a bard's praise. Veterans of many wars may never reach such lofty heights. In fact, nearly all people encountered will be Normal Men and Normal Women of 1 Hit Die and no levels, including many knights and hereditary nobles.

Similarly, most of the clergy at the various temples are Normal. In the safeties of civilization some so-called Patriarchs may be nothing more than Normal Man ecclesiastical bureaucrats. The ability to Turn Undead is generally considered a sign to expect great things from a young acolyte.

Even the Magic-User Guild has its share of Normal type people, forming a body of almost-apprentices who work as assistants to various higher grade MU's. About 1 in 6 such assistants have some minor skill with spells. See below.

1) Can cast a first level spell per week.
2) Can cast a first level spell per month.
3) Can cast a single first level spell once per day. (E.g. only understands a single spell)
4) Can Overcast 1/day as MU2 but -2 to the overcast roll.
5) Can write scrolls twice as slowly as an MU1.
6) May research spells at double cost or assist others in such research.

The basic deal is that in my low-level oriented setting having even one level in an adventuring class is a Big Honkin' Deal. The town guards? Almost assuredly Normal Men. The king's vizier? He may not be a wizard, but instead just a really clever dude with one hit die.

The last three items on the d6 chart for assistant magic-users were written under an earlier draft of my house rules for MUs and don't make a lot of sense outside that context. Still, I think you can get the general idea.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

one more pic

While looking around for yesterday's Willingham pics I found a black & white example of Roslof's wicked awesome kobolds.

We hates the Bagins!These guys are the more-than-half-starved remains of a kobold tribe pushed out of their territory by the Slavers. They subsist on raw fish as they've lost both the ability to make fire and access to their traditional hunting grounds. All kobolds are puny by design, but compare this duo to the healthy specimen from the Monster cards. I think those blotches suggest some sort of untreated disease, or perhaps they've lost scales in those places due to malnourishment.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Willingham by request

Back when I posted a couple of cool pics by James Roslof some readers expressed interest in seeing some old Bill Willingham D&D art. Here's what a quick flip-through of the ol' game collection produced. First up, some color Willingham art that appeared in the AD&D Monster Cards set.

Next, two pieces from module L1, The Secret of Bone Hill.

In module X1, The Isle of Dread, Willingham depicts some of the new monsters that appear therein.

(I love the way that phanaton on the right is taking one right in the kisser.)

(Is it just me, or is the dude in the cape checking out Red Sonja's ass?)

Now let's look at some of Willingham's interior illos for the '81 D&D Basic set. I often rave about Erol Otus's contributions to this book, but several other great artists did great work in it, too.

Man, I love this illo.

I find this troglodyte to be much more menacing than its counterparts in the original Monster Manual.

The stats for pixies and rust monsters appear on the same page. I love how this piece neatly sums up the anything-can-happen spirit of the game. "Crap! Tinkerbell and the armadillo monster have teamed up to kick our ass!"

And here's Willingham's work on the '81 Expert Set.

Those three adventurers are awesome. I don't know who owns the hands in the foreground but these Expert level PCs are going to ruin his day. The shaven-headed MU seems to be about to cast two different spells at once (check out the different special effects surrounding his hands). And that guy's eyebrows are beyond belief. His eyebrows are more badass than some whole characters. Because of this illo as a kid I sometimes wondered if some elves had ram's horns growing from their temples. How awesome would that be? And that dwarf has the same wicked eyebrow look. Notice he has no beard but sports a supersweet moustachio. And I like how he's sorta casually holding that blade. Like next round he's just going to saunter over to Mister Hands and coolly shiv him.

Again with the overwrought eyebrows.

I really dig this basilisk. The smooth skin, the slinking pose, and the huge blank eyes kinda creep me out.

That the 3E iconics got their own line of novels but this guy didn't is a crime. Hell, that mustache should have its own action figure line!

Finally, some vampiric shenanigans from the back cover of module A4, In the Dungeon of the Slavelords.

If I was a vampire, I wouldn't dress in a way that exposed my left breast. I wouldn't want to give people with wooden stakes any ideas. You know what I'm saying?

Quote of the Day

In my LATEST phase, I feel that character background should be 25 words or less, and the GM's world background should be 500 words or less. The GM may have more information, but all the PLAYERS get is 500 words or less.

After all, George Lucas only needed 83 words to introduce players to HIS universe.

93 words if you include

"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."
--oldgeezer, a.k.a. Gronan of Simmerya a.k.a. Mike Mornard a.k.a. Mister I Played In The Original Blackmoor, Greyhawk and Tekumel Campaigns

Monday, July 14, 2008

AGJ #1: Mishler responds

In the comments to my review of Adventure Games Journal #1 a lot of people expressed dismay at the price of the mag. I have to admit that, given the prices, I probably wouldn't have bought a subscription had James not sent me a review copy. Anyway, here's what Mr. Mishler has to say about the price:
Hi guys! Sorry I've not replied earlier; I still don't have Internet access at home yet (this was written at the local library).

The price I think is reasonable. 48 pages per issue for $12 isn't bad when you realize that there are only two ads (both house ads) and save for the cover and the index/OGL page, everything is content. Compare that to any classic Dragon magazine and you will see that there are at least the same, if not more pages of content. Also realize that Dragon was subsidized by ads, while AGJ is not, so the full cost must go to the consumer.

As for printing, it is damned if you do, damned if you don't. I print at a Print on Demand printer, which means that the number printed can be very low, but the per unit cost is rather high. I cannot print at a standard printer, as to get even a half-decent discount I would need to print thousands of units, and the market just isn't that big anymore.

You can also compare it to the Paizo products. 96 pages for $19.95 from them; yes it is in full color, but again, they go through standard printers and print tens of thousands at a time, getting a much, much greater discount than I ever could. It is a matter of scale.

As for the subscriptions, a 3-issue sub actually includes three issues of the magazine and three issues of the campaign installment (the Judges Guide for the various Wilderlands settings) plus free maps and other goodies and discounts on non-sub products. So the $84 cost is actually $14 per unit, and that includes shipping and handling (all products are bagged and boarded and sent First Class Parcel). The 6-issue sub is even a better deal, at $144 or $12 per unit (six magazines and six installments). Essentially shipping is free for a 6-issue sub.

Subs are not offered at 50%+ discounts because, again, there is no subsidy from advertising. Print media is dying because of a lack of advertising; that's what killed Inquest, not to mention many, many other magazines and newspapers. And the gaming industry is even worse for advertising. Without that advertising, the full costs must be passed on to the buyer.

That's why the cost is so high on a per-unit basis. As a final thought, when you look around and say, "But so and so sold a 48-page product for only half that!" look to where that company is today... likely, they are out of business, as they were not charging what they needed to in order to make their product profitable...
Thanks for taking the time to respond, James. Some people are wondering about making AGJ and/or the campaign installments available as PDFs. What do you think of that idea?

Quadrant 65 needs dice!

Rondo is the foremost Mesmerator of the 65th Quadrant. He's the only guy I know running an ongoing Encounter Critical campaign and he's having a contest to see who can send him the oddest or ugliest die. Dude wants authentically crappy or weird dice for his EC game. First prize is a scratchy copy of Kiss's disco-tastic album Dynasty.

Most serious Kiss fans seem to hate Dynasty and Kiss's disco experiments. Fortunately, I'm not a serious fan. I've had Dynasty on the ol' Amazon wishlist for years, so I gotta try to win this thing. Rather than send Rondo one or two sucky dice, I've put together a care package for his campaign. Whether any of these dice trump the competition isn't really that important to me. Hell, I don't even own a turntable. I mainly just want to support the guy's efforts to party like it's 1979.

  • One Fudge die (two blank sides, two "+", two "-"). I keep one of these with my D&D dice. Sometimes I roll it behind a screen alongside a normal roll and add or subtract 1 from the results. "The goblin hits you for zero points of damage."
  • One blank d6
  • One round d6 (weighted so it can actually produce results)
  • Two uninked/partially crayoned light blue d20's, from D&D Expert sets of yore
  • One uninked/partially crayoned light blue d8, also from an Expert set
  • Eight wooden dice with letters instead of numbers, swiped from some old word game of my folks.
  • One transparent d20 marked 0 to 9 twice, from my buddy Dave's old MERP set
  • My spare black d24
  • A uninked beige d20 marked 0 to 9 and +0 to +9. Came in my original Call of Cthulhu boxed set. Two digit numbers hadn't been invented yet.
  • An uninked d8 with some red creeping crud on one corner
  • A paperclip
  • An orange speckled d12 with orange numbers, nigh-unreadable under anything less than ideal lighting conditions
  • Various crap d6's
  • Marbled pink d12. I love this die but sometimes if you love something you have to set it free.
  • Oversized blue d12
  • d6 with different colors on each side instead of numbers, plundered no doubt from a children's game
  • A cyclops with a ray pistol
  • A rather nice marbled blue d6. Found it on the game room floor after a run and nobody claimed it. Except for the pink d12 above, marbled dice don't do much for me.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Spidergoat economics

Mutant Future is rad to the max. Here's a handy visual to explain what the game is about.



The one place where the game falls down a bit is the starting equipment section. It's basically the exact same crap you can buy in any old edition of D&D. To run an MF campaign I'd definitely need to jazz it up a bit with stop sign shields and blackpowder weapons and miscellaneous debris.

The Food Vendors price list is an excellent example of how the rest of the equipment section should have looked. "Mystery meat kabob" and "rat on a stick" are listed as standard lunch fare. You can also get various mutant foods. Five gold pieces buys you a "spidergoat haunch".

Spidergoats are quickly becoming the Mutant Future mascot. They're featured prominently on the cover as foes of the PCs and they appear in a couple other places in the rulebook. Everyone online who has looked at this game seems to love to hate them. I know I do.

That five gp per haunch got me a thinking today. Spidergoats have eight legs. That's eight haunches, right? 40gp a goat, retail. So could a Mutant Future PC turn in dead spidergoats to frycooks for maybe 20gp a piece? Seems reasonable to me. Of course, knowing how PCs operate some carcasses will be more intact than others. Maybe a die throw of d4+4 for legs intact, and then sell the dead spidergoat for number legs times 2.5?

I really can't help myself. I think about things like this all the time.

Et tu, five links?

Eldritch Weirdness

Create A Graph

The Death of Gallium

Custom Random Number Generator

The Multinauts

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Jeff's Threefold Apocalyptic Alignment System

Here's how alignment worked the last couple times I ran OD&D, Basic/Expert D&D, etc. Answer the quiz below to determine your alignment.

1) Ragnarok just started. Aligned on one side are the Kirby versions of Thor, Odin, etc. On the other side are Cthulhu and Shub-Niggurath. Where does your PC stand?

A) I fight alongside Thor!
B) I fight alongside Cthulhu!
C) Where do I stand? Are you crazy? I get the hell out of there and find a place to hide!

If you answered A your character is Lawful. If you answered B then your character is Chaotic. If you chose C then you're Neutral. It's that simple.

No other behavior matters for alignment purposes. You can sleep with your best friend's spouse and steal your grandma's last gold piece. If when the chips are down you fight alongside the inexplicable vikings with bad English accents or their proxies, then you're on the side of Law. You can fund orphanages and pay for Aunt Tilly's spleendectomy, but if you pal up with Yog-Sothoth it just doesn't count for anything alignment-wise.

Lawfuls can fight wars against each other, as can Chaotics. But if two Chaotic groups are fighting and the Lawfuls attack, be prepared for those Orcs and Goblins to suddenly act like fast friends. Good and evil, for purposes of detection spells and such, measure intentions. A man with malice on his mind detects as evil, no matter how good his previous deeds.

In short, Lawful and Chaotic are a decision (conscious or not) made by a character as to what side they are on in the grand cosmic throwdown between the barbarian gods and the outer gods. Good and Evil usually indicate a temporary state of mind. And no one is bound to any particular code of conduct, unless they take such a code upon themselves.

Friday, July 11, 2008


My little sweetpea has been doing a good job monopolizing the computer again. This time, rather than Barbie & The 12 Dancing Princesses, my computer time is foiled by a combination of My Little Pony, Hello Kitty, and an sci-fi edutainment number called Starflyers. The Hello Kitty number is surprisingly good, basically a collection of soundly designed casual games. But I have trouble getting into a game called Hello Kitty Bubblegum Girlfriends, no matter how well-designed.

In the meantime I've been re-reading some Wilderlands material (finishing that review set off another round of feverish interest) and playing the crap out of Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy. I've had a copy of Lego Star Wars II pretty much since it came out. The game keeps a little "percentage complete" meter running. I'm now stuck at 99.5% complete. Somewhere in Mos Eisley is an orange lego brick that I simply cannot find. I've blasted every thing destructible I can find in that wretched hive, but still no luck. It's maddening.

Actual content tomorrow, if my daughter cooperates. ;)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Review: Adventure Games Journal #1

The last couple posts around here have been a bit of a bummer, so it's obviously time for some unbridled enthusiasm! Adventure Games Journal is the magazine side of industry veteran James Mishler's growing one-man FRP empire, Adventure Games Publications. James comped me a copy of AGJ #1 to review here and I dug it so much I signed on for the long term with a 6 issue/installment subscription. I say "issue/installment" because James is rolling out a modern day version of the Judges Guild campaign installment system. The subscription I paid for is good for 6 issues of AGJ and 6 campaign installments of the Wilderlands of High Adventure. Note that's High Adventure, not High Fantasy. This Wilderlands is a new licensed version of Bob Bledsaw's original, statted up for Castles & Crusades and fleshed out with lots of original material. I can't wait to get my first campaign installment.

But anyway, back to the magazine. Physically, the book is an 8.5" x 11" black & white affair running 48 pages. The cover depicts the Invincible Overlord on his pegasus throne, with two of his trusted aids at his side. I believe this is the first time I've ever seen an illo of that dude. And the weirdo in the robe is creepy-tastic. This piece and all the interior art and cartography are by Peter Bradley and I think his linework is pretty dang good.

James uses the interior covers for fullpage ads for his products. The first interior page is a table of contents and OGL declaration, while the next page is an editorial explaining what the magazine is about. The rest of the mag is chock full of pure gaming goodness, all written by Mr. Mishler. I'll give the rundown article by article.

"The World of the Wilderlands of High Adventure"

This is where James hit one out of the ballpark and got me to pony up for a subscription. In a dozen pages he gives a fabulous overview of the Wilderlands' cosmology and astronomy, thumbnail sketches of each of the 18 regions of the setting, and similar descriptions of the rest of the continent of Rhadamanthia, of which the canonical Wilderlands are but one small part. Each subsection of the article is full of meaty stuff you can spin into adventure fodder, NPC background material, or treasure item histories. But there's not so much there that you can't fill each place full of your own material. In terms of efficient delivery of inspiring setting info, the only two settings I can compare to Mishler's work here are Gygax's Greyhawk and S. John Ross's Uresia. Most settings deliver half this much awesome in twice as many words.

"Hanging Out in the City State: The Invincible Overlord, His Concubines, and his Children"

An article with the word "concubines" in the title had the potential to go south quickly, but Mishler handles this quite well. For those of you who like adventures full of politics and intrigue, this article is your huckleberry. The strange life and times of Hygelak the Dread, Invincible Overlord, his 12.5 concubines, and their children is a situation teeming with plot potential. A braver GM than I could build a great adventure where all the players assume the roles of various concubines during an assassination attempt or somesuch. For less ambitious or crazy GMs, all you need is a way to hook the PCs into the court in order to launch some high stakes fiascos. (PC to party: What didn't I tell you my sister was married to the Overlord? Must have slipped my mind.)

"Knights of the Realm and FEAR"

The first part of this realm is a detailed outline of the institution of knighthood in the City State. Lots of great details here in terms of the probably character levels of various knights, their equipment, their obligations to the Overlord, and their lifestyle. The second half of the article deals with the Fraternity for the Eradication of Armored Riffraff. The organization known as FEAR gets a brief write-up in the old Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets. Their basic deal is that they like to beat up low class PCs running around in platemail. The info Mishler provides here gives some great background to the organization, taking what looked to me like merely an excuse to pimp over the PCs and turning it into an important and relevant social institution. And they know this wicked combat maneuver called Great Plate Crush they can use to pummel the bejesus out of uppity PCs. The article ends with rules for ransoming knights, something D&D has needed for a long time, and brief C&C stats for various forms of plate armor.

"Maze of the Mad Mage"

In my opinion this is the one weak point in the magazine. There's nothing wrong with most of the adventure and the key. In fact, it looks like a fun little dungeon romp in the style of the stuff in the old Dungeoneer magazine. But this dungeon comes with a gimmick and I'm not a big fan of gimmick dungeons. In this case the gimmick is that the dungeon level is chock full of instantaneous undetectable teleporters. It strikes me as the kind of dungeon that could set off riots among the players. And the teleporter key is hard to read in black & white. A full color map would have really helped here. Were I to try to run this thing, I'd probably attack the map with highlighters or colored pencils to make it easier to use. Also, one tiny nitpick is that the dungeon map has no scale marked on it.

"Monsters & Treasures"

I love these sort of meat-&-potatoes type articles. First you get stats for the Orblings, a new class of floating eyeballs with tentacles. I eat that stuff up. Michler notes that the Orblings are based upon the Steelies, an old Paul Jacquays monster from the Dungeoneer, but its not just a redo of an old monster, but an interesting new creature inspired by Jacquays work. Then you get a couple of magic items, the Wand of Witchery and Cauldron of Wisdom. With very little work this stuff should be usable in nearly any old edition of D&D.

"Lost Gods of the Wilderlands"

This one's a nice little 2 page article on Rash'l, God of Tyranny. Page one is devoted to stuff followers need to know and some neat history of the faith. Page two is stats for the dude. Even if you don't regularly feature gods popping up in your campaign, there's plenty of hash to be made out the first page of this article, including some nifty political tie-ins to the City State.

"Lost Lore of the Wilderlands"

Next we get a nifty write-up on the Cozy Cave, a wilderness inn built into a Esgalbar, a secret elven outpost in a big tree, kinda like a Ewok habitation. Esgalbar is jam-packed with dangling adventure hooks and lots of meaty Wilderlands lore. The back cover of the magazine is a map depicting the Wilderlands hex containing both sites. (Map 5, hex 3119 if anyone cares.) My favorite part about this article is the die chart for who else might be at the Cozy Cave when the PCs arrive. Good stuff.

"Rumors Around the Wilderlands"

A page full of adventure ideas in the form of short rumors. Several are specifically for the City State, while others are tied to a specific Wilderlands map. Three of the rumors are for the Southern Reaches (map 18), which will be featured in the first campaign installment.

"Shopping List"

A "coming soon" list mostly for Troll Lords, Goodman Games, and Mishler's own stuff. Out of date at this point.

"Adventure Finder"

Some of you might be familiar with Goodman Games' Adventure Finder for their Dungeon Crawl Classics line. It's basically a big chart that helps you pick the right DCC for your party based upon their level. Mishler provides a similar service but across pretty much all the publishers I care about: Goodman, Green Ronin, Kenzer, Necromancer, Troll Lord, Paizo, and WotC. And seeing as how the sky fell last month, this list is probably about as complete as you're going to get for 3.x. File this one under "Why didn't anyone think of this sooner?"

So that's issue #1 of Adventure Games Journal. Like I said, this thing made me a believer, despite the fairly high prices. The quality is just that damn good. I still work on my personal Cinder setting, but after reading this stuff I dropped the Wilderlands onto my map of the star systems near Cinder. So now the Wilderlands, like Encounter Critical's Mighty Land of Vanth and several other settings, is just one small corner of my overall campaign universe. Did you know that the Kings of Kelnore had starships and once fought a space war with the Beast from Krull? It's true.

One final thing about James's version of the Wilderlands. There's been some confusion in some quarters about his campaign maps. Mishler is not simply producing color versions of the black and white maps that appeared in the Wilderlands boxed set from Necromancer. His maps have more detail. Check out these two samples.

I'm thinking that the old black & white maps might be useful as handouts for the players.

Friday, July 04, 2008

4e: reader response

I got some good comments to the previous post about my 4e run. Today I'm going to respond to one of them. Here's devan:
Don't play the pregen adventures, as they suck. I played one and was wholly underwhelmed. Then, last weekend, I played an adventure my friend made up, and had an enormous blast.

People who say it's more limiting are lacking in imagination. My group was fighting some dwarven soldiers holed up in a barn. There was one blocking the doorway, nearly immovable, fighting the dragonborn paladin. The wizard of our group was doing her best to rid us of the crossbow firing dwarves peeking out of the second floor window. My cowardly, city-rat-kid-turned-conscript rogue was doing his best to appear useful while not taking any heat, until he took a bolt to the shoulder. I built him in the direction of avoidance and mobility, figuring he was never much a fan for fighting fair, more for running away. I used an ability that let me move two squares before an attack, opting to make those two squares vertical. I made the acrobatics check to perch in the window frame upon my moving those two squares, and attacked the dwarf. Next round, after nearly being knocked unconscious and pushed out the window, I scurried in and used an ability that moves an opponent squares = to my Cha mod. Dwarves always move one square less for pushes, but I still got one square out of him; enough to trip him out of the rafters and onto his buddy downstairs, knocking them both unconscious.

So yeah, you can absolutely do fun, creative things with this system, you just have to learn this system. I urge you to play for a while to get in the swing of things before saying "Eh, it's not for me, cause I didn't learn exactly how to play the way I want in two games." It's different, it takes adjusting, and it really is leaps and bounds more fun than previous editions, as no one is sitting around waiting for their turn with nothing to do anymore. There are fun things to do and keep track of on nearly everyone's turn.
I know you are trying to be helpful, dude, so don't take this the wrong way. Do you know how many people have told me "Don't judge the game by the pre-release hype"? This despite the fact that Wizards obviously wanted people to judge the game based on their hype machine. And then a bunch of people said "You can't judge this new D&D by the text alone, you need to play it!" Now you're telling me I have to play several sessions before I judge the game AND that I can't use the adventure Wizard's obviously wants me to use.

Exactly at what point do I stop giving these guys a break? When do I get to trust my own instincts on this one? How many hoops do I have to jump through before I'm allowed to have an opinion? I'm starting to get a little tired of people who lay out prerequisites for me before I'm able to have my say. Again, I'm not trying to call you out, here. I'm just highlighting this annoying trend I see everywhere among 4e boosters.

Your brief play report sounds like a good time and I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from having a good time with any game they are digging. But you and a zillion other gamers liking the system doesn't automatically make it a good fit for me. And like my adventure Wednesday, I don't see much fun stuff that couldn't have happened under a different edition or a different game.

Reader asmodean66 may have put his finger on the problem "I think the main change is that 4e is not a "simulation" of adventuring, like previous editions of D&D, but rather, it is a game about adventuring. The mechanics enforce game balance and playability over real world physics." Now, D&D has never been an exacting simulation of anything, but some of the changes make the game look less like an RPG and more like something else that I don't want or need. People have accused D&D of being a minis game or a video game in RPG drag. To me, it looks a little bit like a Euro style boardgame: an exquisitely balanced abstract game about nothing in particular with a whitewash to give it a little context. In this case the whitewash is "D&D but not the boring old D&D you've loved for 30+ years".

Finally, I'll end this post with S. John Ross offering a little perspective on the situation:
My reaction to 4E is pretty much exactly the same as 3E and it goes like this: If this game didn't have the D&D trademark attached to it, it would pass mostly unnoticed as yet-another-D&D-like-game. Nobody would feel obligated to try it, nobody would feel obligated to give it a chance, nobody would feel any need to have an opinion about it, and it would sink or swim (or, more likely, just sort of coast into a quiet place on the shelves) like everything else.

The most interesting thing about 4E is, IMO, exactly the same as the most interesting thing about 3E: it's another game with the Dungeons & Dragons trademark legally applied to it by those who purchased said trademark.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

"Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in."

[Sorry, Doug. I couldn't find the screencap you suggested. So I just quoted the movie as the title of the post.]

So last night Stuart ran a couple of encounters from Keep of the Shadowfell for the group. I played Owen, a human wizard loosely modeled after the protagonist from the film Dragonslayer. Doug played Morgan Ironclaw, a dragonborn paladin straight outta the pregens. Doug noted that for once the pregens Wizards created don't suck. And Pat played Bloodaxe Axebeard, a surly dwarf and one of those new-fangled laserclerics. Why do clerics now shoot lasers every round?

When I finagled Stuart into running 4e for us I figured I'd probably end up here on the Gameblog either declaring the game the Great Satan or eating massive crow and admitting it was the bee's knees. But mostly my reaction is "meh." It's a new edition of D&D. It does some stuff differently than previous editions, A LOT of stuff. Probably too much for my taste. Those sacred cows all the hip kids wanted to see dead and buried? From where I sit D&D is made of that stuff and very little else. But that alone doesn't make this new edition a bad game.

In terms of actually playing the damn thing it just didn't knock it out of the ballpark for me. We had some fun messing around with the tactical elements of beating up kobolds, but I wouldn't say any more so than playing 3.x with this crew.

My online pal Settembrini's concern that "the game plays your character for you" may be overstated, but after playing a couple fights I certainly see what he's saying. On any given round it seemed pretty clear that there was exactly one power suited to the tactical situation and if I didn't use it I was being a damn fool. Of course I opted to be a damn fool when I went after that spellslinging kobold with my quaterstaff but the little jerk had it coming. But still, having a longer list of mechanical tricks that my first level magic-user could accomplish felt a lot more limiting than playing the poor schmuck with one spell. With earlier MU's if I ran out of spells it forced me to come up with lots of on-the-fly shenanigans to beat the baddies. To understand the brave new world of 4e imagine a magic missile crushing the darkness, forever.

The most interesting thing I've noticed about 4e so far is how powergaming the system seems to work. Some people will try to tell you that the simplified character creation makes powergaming impossible. Those people lack vision. The munchkining of the game obviously lurks in synergizing among your teammates. The era of the overpowered "character build" may be over, but I predict that the smart munchkins will be all over "team optimization" like stink on poop.

Overall I had fun last night but the system had fairly little to do with it. I could have played any of a dozen crappy RPGs and gotten the same good times with these guys. We're going to try again in two weeks but unless something new shakes loose you can count me among the non-adopters of this new edition. So far it just isn't delivering anything I want out of a D&D that I don't already have.

The best thing about last night was the birthday present Stuart gave me. He commissioned Angela of Necropolis Studios to produce one of her custom "monstrous" dice boxes. I've been saying for a while now that Angela's dice boxes will be the thing that all the cool game junkies will need to own and now I've got one of my own. Check this baby out: