Saturday, July 31, 2004

A Journey of Twelve Hundred Miles

That's how far D.B. Pritchard's Encyclopedia of Chess Variants had to travel to get to my local library. Apparently the nearest available copy in the interlibrary lending system could be found in Los Alamos, New Mexico. I'm entertained by the possibility that previous readers of this tome might be nuclear physicists from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Pritchard's book is chock full of information, with most variants listed in super-abbreviated form. Randomly selected example:

MIRROR C[hess] Problem theme in which pieces move like non-stop equihoppers. Not playable.

I have no idea what that means but it sounds cool. Anyway, aside from general interest I borrowed this book primarily as research for a little article for the Chess Variants Pages. I wanted to see the variant known as Valentine's Chess, in particular I am interested in pieces named Templar. Valentine's is the oldest game I have seen which included a piece so named. Big let-down: Valentine's Templar is a well-known combo piece: Bishop plus Knight. Not much to write home about. The game as a whole has some promise, with several other variant pieces and some unusual promotion rules. I may have to do a write-up for it.

Pritchard also offers reports on two alternative interpretations of Enochian Chess. I should either update my article on it or write a follow-up piece. Meanwhile my latest original variants languish unfinished. I suppose that's not the end of the world. It's not like I'm going to set the chess variant world on fire with any of my efforts.

Friday, July 30, 2004

FLGS Shenanigans

I like supporting my Friendly Local Game Store, I really do. The owner is a decent guy who doesn't always get the respect he deserves in the local gaming community, but sometimes the dude drives me nuts. Special ordering stuff from him is a pain in the patoot. Maybe I'm just a bitchier than average customer but I believe that a good FLGS ought to go out of the way to make special orders happen. Otherwise, I'll just get my stuff from online vendors or direct from the publisher. I can't see why an FLGS owner would want to encourage me to do that, but that seems to be what happens with this guy.

That's an old complaint of mine and I don't let it get on my nerves. If I can get something off the FLGS shelves I will. If I can't find it there, I get it online. No big whup. Now there's a new wrinkle. The FLGS offers a store bonus program. Spend so much money there ($200? I don't even know.) and you score a store credit worth ten bucks. Nice program. It really helps offset the fact that sometimes his full retail prices exceed the cost of obtaining games online. I don't think about this program much, but last time I was in the store the owner mentioned something about being at or near the cut-off for a new $10 bonus. I wasn't really paying too much attention to what he said. I was too busy trying to find the Pocky display that was hidden under the Elvis action figure.

My friend John has talked about running Mutants & Masterminds and my daughter's birthday is coming up. I'm sure Elizabeth would dig having a set of her own dice that she could roll when she injects herself into one of daddy's games. So anyway, I have a couple possible purchases on the horizon that I would like to make at the FLGS. M&M I could easily get online, maybe at a discount on the eBay. I also know that my local independant bookstores has a copy, but normally if I have to choose I would prefer to give the FLGS my money. Curious as to exactly what he said last time I was in, I sent the owner an e-mail asking for a clarification. That was Tuesday.

Today I get an e-mail from the guy with a "MUST READ" flag in the title, in which he announces to his mailing list of regular customers that his sales/inventory machine has crashed and all store bonus credit has evaporated with it. Normally, that would not be a big issue for me. Easy come, easy go. After all, he didn't have to offer the bonus program to begin with. What's pissing me off is that he still hasn't responded to my email from three days ago. And if I did have store credit, I had fully planned to go in on Wednesday or Thursday and bought some stuff. Why no response to my email? Is an inquiry from a regular customer not worthy of a response? I've known this guy for maybe a decade and he doesn't strike me as that kind of jerk.

Still, I'm not happy with this turn of events. The Store offers typical online discount prices, sells many of the oddball products I like, doesn't cause me these kind of headaches, and the proceeds help support my favorite gaming website. Why shouldn't I use them in preference to my FLGS? How much do I value the ability to flip through the game prior to purchase, especially when I have to cram my fat ass into a tiny overcrowded store in order to do so? Has the local guy given me any good reasons to remain loyal? I can't think of any right at this moment. I'm trying not to be hasty here. I'm not rushing to buy the stuff from another source. But I'm not exactly making it a point to get back to the local store either.

Huzzah! Book!

After a national scale interlibrary search the firendly local library has found me a copy of D.B. Pritchards's Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. Cool! I'd like to pick it up over lunchy. Now all I need to do is get the energy to get my fat ass outta this chair.

Back to Idle Gaming Chitchat: BESM d20

Of all the d20 and Open Gaming License products I have seen, flipped through, and read about only a handful have ever interested me. Other than the 3.0 incarnation of Dungeons & Dragons I currently own only one other d20 corebook, BESM d20. BESM stands for Big Eyes, Small Mouth which is the name of the successful anime-inspired generic universal ruleset published by Canadian-based Guardians of Order. BESM d20 takes much of the mechanics for the original "Tri-Stat" version and welds it onto a set of core d20 subsystems and then adds some original stuff. One of my favorite bits from the "original stuff" category is the addition of fifteen nifty anime character classes:

  • Adventurer
  • Dynamic Sorcerer
  • Giant Robot
  • Gun Bunny
  • Hot Rod
  • Magical Girl
  • Martial Artist
  • Mecha Pilot
  • Ninja
  • Pet Monster Trainer
  • Samurai
  • Sentai Member
  • Shapechanger
  • Student
  • Tech Genius

It is not the intention of the authors to allow all of these classes into every anime-themed campaign. When establishing the initial parameters of a new campaign a BESM d20 gamemaster needs to intentionally winnow down the above list to which classes best fit a particular game. Heck, I could envision a Power Rangers game in which Sentai Member is the only class allowed to PCs. Personally I would allow more wiggle room, especially in a longterm campaign, but I think a successful shorter game could be structured that way.

Incidentally, I think some of the BESM d20 classes would work just fine in a standard D&D game. The Adventurer is a good jack-of-all-trades, better than any bard I've seen. The Dynamic Sorcerer is a great class for folks who like casting spells on the fly. The Samurai ought to work well as a fighter variant. The Ninja and Martial Artist look good, too. I think I prefer the Martial Artist to the standard Monk. Some of the other classes could also fit in with D&D. The Gun Bunny could make a decent archer. The Giant Robot and Shapechanger classes could make for nifty PC golems and lycanthropes. And unleashing Magical Girls upon a standard fantasy world sounds like too much fun. I call dibs on playing Sailor Scout Oerth! ^_^

(That would be the first time I've used a kawaii smiley. Did I do it right?)

Some other bits from BESM d20 that I'm fond of involve the combat system. Mapless, abstracted combat is the norm for BESM d20. No Attacks of Opportunity and no 5-foot Steps of Doom. That's a big relief for me. I can dig on a decent map-based combat system, even something as complicated as HERO, but the 3.0 D&D combat just doesn't do it for me. Another change that I like is that AC has been split into a damage avoidance component and a damage resistance component. Under this plan Armor Class represents the ability to avoid being hit while things like a thick hide or armor plating shave damage points off of successful hits. You know, the way many people have wanted D&D to work for 3 decades.

So I generally like BESM d20. But I see a couple of hurdles towards actually running it. First, the powers chapter (what they call "attributes") is a 35-page info dump that's a little hard to swallow. The second problem is related a bit to the first: I'm not sure how many people own the book. I had my copy out at last Wednesday's Savage Worlds game; only Pat and the GM seemed to recognize it. Even though I usually buy the manual, I'm not against folks playing rpgs that they don't own. My real concern is that games with lotsa kewl powerz often require significant consultation of the manual in play, even more so at character generation. I've just seen too many good games degenerate into a not-so-stirring round of "Can I see the book next?"

Fortunately, I see a good solution to both of these problems. Unlike every other third party d20 publisher I've seen, GoO actually has the balls to publish free System Reference Documents online. As far as I can tell, their Anime and Mecha SRDs give you all the good stuff found in BESM d20 and d20 Mecha. Armed with the SRD files, I should be able to produce my own "Player's Guide to [Campaign Name]" that includes all the system rules! This is why Guardians of Order kicks ass.

I've mentioned my two most recent BESM-inspired campaign ideas, "Super Sentai Golemriders" and "Steel Dragons". Before tackling either of those I think I will try something smaller, like my earlier "Samurai Song" idea. Basically, "Samurai Song" would be a one-shot or mini-campaign set in a fantasy version of Warring States-era Japan. With orcs. The first edition of the (not-so-)classic Oriental Adventures serves as the primary influence. All the player characters would be samurai or attached in some way to a samurai house. A castle previously controlled by the Good Guy Samurai clan is currently occupied by the Forces of Evil. Let the adventure commence!

Obligatory Stupid Quiz Results Post

You are 30% geek
You are a geek liaison, which means you go both ways. You can hang out with normal people or you can hang out with geeks which means you often have geeks as friends and/or have a job where you have to mediate between geeks and normal people. This is an important role and one of which you should be proud. In fact, you can make a good deal of money as a translator.
Normal: Tell our geek we need him to work this weekend.

You [to Geek]: We need more than that, Scotty. You'll have to stay until you can squeeze more outta them engines!

Geek [to You]: I'm givin' her all she's got, Captain, but we need more dilithium crystals!

You [to Normal]: He wants to know if he gets overtime.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at

Thursday, July 29, 2004


Today someone started a thread on asking folks to talk about the coolest people they've ever gamed with.  I immediately thought about my old buddy David.  He and I go way back.  He was in my very first game group, the one I started with a D&D Basic Set and no idea what I was doing.  We gamed together regularly through grade school, junior high, and high school.  We played all sorts of games: boardgames, roleplaying games, video games.  Dave eventually assumed the role of Dungeon Master for some of our Dungeons & Dragons games.  He was a fun DM.  One of the best that I have played with to this day.  He had a great knack for finding that fine line between fudging all the dice rolls and letting the chips fall where they may.  His campaigns mixed equal parts goodnatured humor and deadly earnestness.  I really miss the opportunity to play with him.  He and I had a falling out last time we tried to schedule a get-together.  I didn't do a very good job communicating the fact that I was flat broke and so couldn't participate in lavish festivities nor did I succeed in getting him to understand my anxiety over being too far away from my family.  Heated words were exchanged in a series of increasingly asinine emails on both sides and eventually the whole thing dropped.  We haven't been in touch since.  Damn, that hurts.  I don't have a lot of close friends and David was always one of the closest.  I'd like to patch things up with him but I'm still angry at him too.  He was totally harshing on me and rather than keep my cool I lashed back.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  What makes me nuts is the fact that it was my second attempt to get together in a row that got all fucked up.  I thought the previous one was a fluke.  Now, I dunno.  Maybe we've just drifted too far apart.  Dave seemed to be acting like an asshole, but if you asked him I was acting like one too.  What can we do?  I feel like I really reached out and tried.  Heck, my wife didn't even want me to contact him the second time because she saw how depressed I got over the first fiasco.  But I felt that my good friend was worth a second chance.  That sentiment got me nowheresville, Daddy-O, as Dave seemed to be pushing for a confrontation from his first response to my inquiry.  Maybe I misread his emails.  After all, it's harder to read someone's intentions when you can't hear the tone of their voice or see their body language.  That's always the great challenge of communicating with folks over teh intarweb.  Still, I can't quite shake the suspicion that maybe Dave didn't want to hear from me that second time, like maybe he came on so strong 'cause he wanted to torpedo the rendezvous.  It's breaking my heart to even speculate like that, so maybe I'd be better off assuming the whole damn thing was my fault.

In Memoriam: Rondoo & Dante

I am shocked to report that only two characters bit the dust last night. Pat and Joe did a stellar job last night trying to fend of the Antish Horde so the rest of us could escape. Unfortunately, due to Rondoo's "Loyal" rating I couldn't take advantage of the opportunity. Sadly, my guy ended up as so much ant chow. Even worse, Count Dante was the other casualty. I feel bad about that. Joe didn't want to enter the lair of the Ants of Doom. He only sent his guy in to save me and Loren, so I'm at least partially to blame. I don't know Joe well enough yet to tell if he is pissed at me or not. Hopefully not. I like Joe and don't want there to be any bad blood between us. Dave read my blog entry in which I statted out Sir Hugh and okayed him as a replacement. Apparently I get to start with half the xp of my previous character, giving Sir Hugh 14xp. That's two advances! Nifty!

In lieu of pouring a forty on the curb, here's my three favorite stupid things I've said whilst playing Rondoo:

Upon my puny guy getting much too deep into a brawl: "I'm utterly fearless in the face of stupidity!"

When the aged Myron suggested that he and Rondoo practice fighting side by side: "What'll we call it, Old Man and Moron Fu?"

Teaming up with Myron last night: "Individually we are weak, but together we have the power of two weaklings!"

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Tonight is another session of Dave's "Avatars" campaign and I am locked, cocked, and ready to rock!  We may be staring down the barrel of a Total Party Kill and I'm excited to see how it turns out.  I love this sort of edge-of-the-seat play.  I'll miss my PC Rondoo should he kick the bucket, but if PCs didn't die now and again I would tend to lose interest.  I need to know that the risks my guy takes are real risks.  I've played in campaigns where the house rule was  such that a PC couldn't die without permission of the player.  That may be fine for player-as-auteur roleplaying environs, but I crave the tension of betting your PC's fate on the roll of a die.  Sure, you lose beloved PCs that way, but a dead PC is a shining testimony to a game in which all the character's accomplishments had substance.  Those moments of triumph were won through overcoming actual dangers, rather than hollow GM threats.

WraeththuWatch: an idle thought

It occurred to me today that the magical swordwielding hermaphrodites of the Wraeththu rpg might be more palatable to mainstream rpg players if it was first filtered through an anime lens.  After all, girlyman prettyboys of indeterminate orientation are so common in anime that there's a special term for them: bishounen or bishi's.  I kinda think that by using anime art one could sugarcoat the Wraeththu setting, if only just a little bit.  Bishi are perhaps more tolerable to the average occidental otaku because they are Japanese in origin (an therefore already part of the Other) and because of the unrealistic cartoon style of most anime (as opposed to the more realistic art being used in the Wraeththu rpg).  I imagine that if I were to try to run Wraeththu: From Enchantment to Fufillment at my local con I would likely end up with no sign-ups.  I think my chances would be much better if I were to run "Postapocalyptic Bishounen MageWarrior Attack!"

Speaking of BESM d20...

I've had a couple ideas for BESM d20 games.  The older one is "Steel Dragons" a re-envisioning of the BattleTech universe with an anime flair.  In Steel Dragons the good guys would be Houses Kurita and Liao, with the action focusing on some up and coming Kurita codets.  The bad guys would be Houses Steiner and Davion, depicted as Nazis and Romans respectively.  The new idea I came up with a week or so ago I like to call "Super Sentai Golemrider", a Power Rangers show set in a standard D&D universe or maybe in S. John Ross's Uresia setting.  Instead of robot lions the sentai heroes would ride cockpit-equipped golems.  Of course, there's no particular mechanical reason why I couldn't do either of these with Savage Worlds, but I would like to give the BESM d20 system a spin.  And both my ideas have distinct anime influences.  Maybe I could look at doing them as con games.

It occurred to me last night one of the reasons why I have this gut level positive reaction to Savage Worlds, BESM d20, and even Mutants & Masterminds.  They're all roughly the same dimensions and weight as the AD&D hardbacks of old.  I got tons of use out of the 1st edition Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, etc.  I took 'em to school all the time as reading material.  Heck I even managed to totally wear out my original PHB, UA, and DMG through overuse.  So on some instinctual level these new gamebooks just plain feel right, the way an RPG book is supposed to feel.  The match isn't perfect, what with the glossier covers, different grade paper, and (in the case of M&M) full color illos, but these books are the closest I've seen to the tactile sensations of those heady days of my youth.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Star Wars RPG factoid

I knew that back in the mid-eighties several companies vied for the license to do a Star Wars rpg.  Today on I heard that some game publishers that lost the bidding went ahead and published there intended system anyway, sans Lucasian IP.  The only such game that was mentioned by name was FASA's Renegade Legion line, which I didn't even know included an RPG!  According to my informant the four RL wargames all smoothly integrated with the Legionaire rpg.  Very interesting.  I had always kinda wondered why FASA had bothered to put out another sci-fi brand.  I'd sure like to know what other almost-Star Wars games are out there.  MegaTraveller or T2300? Space Master second edition?  Buck Rogers XXVc?
When you're into old rpg stuff like I am you must have resources that the kids playing the shiny new games don't need.  They can just open a browser window a type and score all sorts of product support and whatnot.  On my bookshelf at home I have some useful tomes, particularly Dicing With Dragons by Ian Livingstone, The Complete Guide to Role-Playing Games by Rick Swan, and Heroic Worlds by Lawrence Schick.  IMHO Heroic Worlds is the best of the bunch by far.   If you own only one book about rpgs, Schick's the one to get.  These days I do a lot of my research online, usually at the Pen & Paper database, but sometimes at John Kim's RPG Encyclopedia.  Kim's site I really like for the ability to look at all the games published in a particular year.  Another site I just discovered today is called RPG Index.  Haven't used it yet, but it looks good.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Savage Worlds: Knight Errant

I've been kicking around ideas for a replacement PC should my fella Rondoo buy the farm Wednesday night.  (A likely occurrence in my estimation.  He's severely wounded, low on power points, and the Ant Riders of Doom are closing in.)  So I decided to investigate playing a knight that travels the land doing good deeds and smiting evil.  The big issue with playing one of these types in Savage Worlds (as in many games) is the equipment.  For just a basic knight I would need a warhorse with saddle, chainmail armor, a pot helm, a shield, a longsword, a lance, and a few minor miscellaneous items (a whetstone, some decent clothes, etc).  All told this stuff comes to a total of slightly more than 2,000 bucks.  Considering a basic character starts with only 500 smackers, the economics of being a knight pretty much demands that I either start out missing key pieces of gear or else I absolutely need to take two Edges: Noble and Filthy Rich.  That gives me 2,500 in starting funds, making the equipment I need affordable.  The next problem is how heavy the stuff is, which plays out in two different angles.  First, most combat gear has a Strength min.  Most of the gear I want has a minimum of d6 Strength, but in the case of medium shields and lances the Strength min is d8.  So I lower my guy's Smarts to d4 and up his Strength to d8.  I didn't want his Smarts to be on the bottom rung, but the other stats are all higher priority.  The other problem is that the total weight of my combat gear comes to 59 pounds.  At Strength d8 that means he'll suffer a -1 penalty on all Agility and Strength related activity.   To carry the stuff without penalty would require either a d12 Str or the Brawny Edge.  Not wanting to lower any of my other stats, I guess I'll have to go with Brawny.  That's three Edges total for the poor slob, so I'll have to max out on hindrances.  Heroic is a good start. That'll be his major hindrance.  He also needs two minor hindrances.  Vengeful (minor) ought to work, but I'm still trying to figure out a good third hindrance.

Sir Hugh
Agility d6
Smarts d4
Spirit d6
Strength d8
Vigor d6

Skills:  Fighting d6, Gambling d4, Guts d4, Notice d4, Persuasion d6, Riding d6, Knowledge (heraldry) d4, Tracking d4, Survival d4, Shooting d4, Swimming d4, Throwing d4

Edges: Brawny, Noble, Filthy Rich

Hindrances: Heroic, Vengeful (minor), ?

I find it interesting that I needed to maximize my character in this fashion just to start out as a knight in somewhat shiny armor.  Are the price lists out of whack or was the game designed to make it hard to build medieval tanks?  This guy has to be in the upper, upper class to start out with a horse and armor.  Is that some sort of political commentary hardwired into the game?

Savage Lunch

During lunch today I was flipping through my Savage Worlds rulebook.  I really dig this game.  Today I noticed how short the Edge development trees are compared to D&D Feat progressions.  Heck, even calling them trees is not exactly justified.  Usually it's just one Edge followed by a slightly improved version.  It's not that I am against planning the development of a PC.  My plan for spending advances on my PC Rondoo goes out to 50xp or so.  Rather, I don't like the way in D&D that you can find yourself wanting a Feat and saying to yourself "If I had only known six levels ago I would have done things so differently!"

I am really starting to think that I can make Savage Worlds work for a jaw-jacking original series Star Trek game.  With sci-fi games I always get continuity jitters.  What if the PCs point out some factoid that totally hoses my plot?  Not the end of the world, but when it happens it can put me off my game.  Enter my newest idea:  Continuity Bennies.  The bennies themselves work just like ordinary bennies.  What is different is the addition of new ways the bennies can be gained and/or lost:
  1. Catch a continuity glitch OUT OF CHARACTER, gain a bennie.
  2. Point out a continuity glitch IN CHARACTER, lose a bennie.
  3. Explain, in character, why a continuity glitch isn't 'really' a glitch, gain a bennie.
Basically, rather than trying to curb fanboy enthusiasm my method enforces maintaining the in-game reality in the face of GM continuity blunders.  Rather than freak out when a glitch is caught, I can go into a game knowing that glitches will be handled in the manner of the Marvel No-Prize.  In other words, let the fanboys catch the bugs but encourage them to do the work of writing the patch.  Please understand that my use of the word "continuity" in this context only refers to continuity as established within my game.  I don't give a rat's ass what happened in episode 52, in my game Talosians have 2 genders.  Or whatever.

This idea could be pushed even further by giving out bennies for player-introduced complications.  You could give out bennies for players who circumvent some of the more common problems in running Trek games.  Examples:
  • "I'm sorry, Captain.  Subspace ionic interference prevents me from contacting Starfleet for back-up."  Give the Communications officer a bennie.
  • "The creature's brain is too alien for my mind probe to be effective."  Give the Vulcan a bennie.
  • "Bridge to landing party.  Klingon vessels in system.  Are unable to beam you back or send help."  Give the bridge officer a bennie.  Heck, give him two if bringing the Klingons into the scenario was his idea.
Admittedly, the second idea is riskier.  But imagine my joy as I sit behind the screen watching the players sabotage their own PCs mission!

I've been contacted by an online friend (from who's looking for playtesters and such for an rpg.  He's working on his own fantasy heartbreaker combining his favorites parts of OD&D and Tunnels & Trolls.  Needless to say, I agreed to look at the manuscript.  I'd love an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a good retro dungeoneering game.  That's why I've been following Castles & Crusades.  I really hope one of these two systems works for me, so I can tackle my longtime ambition: getting a dungeon crawl of my own published.  Nothing overly fancy, just three levels of beer & pretzely fun whacking on monsters and scoring fabulous loot.  Modern D&D does not support beer & pretzel play.  I want a game that allows for superquick PC generation and easy play such that within 2 or 3 hours a group can make characters and run through a level of a dungeon.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Con Malaise

This weekend FlatCon is being held in nearby Bloomington, IL.  For two years now I've known of the existence of this game convention less than an hour's drive away.  For two years I've said to myself and others "When July rolls around I'm going to FlatCon."  For two years now I've just not bothered to go.  Similarly, next month will be the second Gen Con held in Indianapolis, a location nearer and easier to get to than the previous Wisconsin venue.  I just hop onto the highway and go straight to Indy.  No big whup.  And I've driven in Indianapolis, it's not a hard city to get around in.

So why am I always passing up the opportunity to go both this nice little local con and the Big Game?  Money is certainly part of the issue.  Even a local con costs money for admission.  Add in gas to get there and meals and you've expended some substantial play money to go.  Gen Con is hideously expensive compared to the local cons I've been to.  Still, if I really wanted to go, I could scrape together the funds, despite the fact that things are pretty tight in my household at the moment.  The fact that I would also have to spend time away from my family also factors into the equation.  I didn't get married and start a family to spend all my time attending cons while my wife and daughter stayed at home.  Of course I don't really spend that much of my free time away from them.  And two or three cons a year as opposed to the one con I go to isn't that much of a d ifference.

But both of these hurdles aren't the main issue here.  But I can't quite put my finger on the reason I don't try to get to these cons.  Am I getting curmudgeonly and don't want to go to a con where things will be different?  Certainly more than a decade of participation in Winter War has got to have some sort of an effect on me.  Maybe I just like being one of the big fishies in the small pond of my local con.  Knowing all the staff and many of the regular attendees gives Winter War a homey feeling that I'm not going to find anywhere else.

WraeththuWatch update: LARP and CRPG!

The launch of the Wraeththu RPG now appears on the Dragoncon schedule as a part of a large body of programming centered on Storm Constantine and her works.

It looks like Gabriel Strange (a.k.a. gabby2600) isn't the only person who thinks Wraeththu role-playing is a good idea. A Wraeththu LARP called Seven Deadly Sins is being organized in Germany and a British software company is working on Wraeththu Rising, a hybrid RPG/strategy game.  I am also totally thrown for a loop by the existence of a paintball arena working on a Wraeththu scenario!  They've got a great tagline: The sun is setting on mankind...can you survive the WRAETHTHU?  I figured these Wraeththu paintballers simply had to be Brits, but no.  This outfit can be found right here in my native Illinois!  It's relevations like this that show me just how small my own personal universe is compared to the totality of possible worlds waiting to be experienced. 

Reading the Wraeththu omnibus edition I finally encountered the infamous flower-penis that was the subject of so much confusion and laughter over on  This passage, from early in the first novel, describes Pellaz first realization of the changes in his anatomy following his metamorphosis into a hara, a member of the Wraeththu race:
I looked, and looked, and looked again. There was no damage, no scars. Just this exquisite instrument of magic and pleasure. Not changed too much, just redesigned. An orchid on a feathered, velvet shaft. It is something like that. When I touched it, it opened up like a flower, something moving in the heart of it, but I had seen anough for now.
Also of note is the fact that I am into the third chapter and no swordfights nor even a single sword sighted. There have beens Wraeththu armed with knives, and even mention of guns in passing, but no swords. Admittedly, I'm only 50 pages into a 700+ page book, so maybe their are some swords further in.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Watched a couple episodes of my swank new Superfriends DVD today.  That cartoon always gets me jazzed about supers gaming.  What's interesting about the Challenge of the Superfriends version of the cartoon is that the Legion of Doom have many of the best adventures!  Maybe that's why I sometimes think that supervillainy ought to be gameable.  One idea I've had (maybe the only good idea I've ever had that could serve as the kernel of my own RPG) is to have each player run a hero and a villain.  You could cut back and forth between each superteam, bringing them together for the final conflict.  At that point the special "nemesis" rules kick in, whereby each hero gets combat bonuses against a specific villain and vice versa.  The trick is, you can only select as your nemesis another player's character, so no player should end up with his PCs facing off against each other.  Anyway, it's little more than a germ of a good idea at the moment.

I flipped through a copy of Mutants & Masterminds at the bookstore this evening.  I don't normally like playing in RPGs unless I have my own copy of the rules, so I'm seriously considering picking up a copy.  It would pain me to buy it and then John not run a game after all, as I already own supers games out the friggin' wazoo.  It's like how I end up kicking myself whenever I buy yet another game that features swording orcs.  How many variants on D&D do I need?  And how many games featuring cape ultraguys do I need?  Apparently I need an f-ing lot, 'cause I can't seem to stop buying the damn things.  Still, I haven't been a player in a supers game since I first discovered HeroMachine.  It would be a tragedy to pass up an opportunity to finally get to play a superhero with a decent visual.  Comic-book superheroes is such a visual medium.  I love the fact that I can finally produce my own superheroic character portraits.  Now I just need a game for my heroes!  I'm crossing my fingers that John will come through for me.
Last night's Heroes Unlimited game was a lot of fun, even though my puny supervillains (Alpha Wolf and the Ani-Men) got mercilessly beat down.  At least Frog-Man got away.  We introduced Paul's character, which he ended up calling Radar-Man since he couldn't come up with a better name on the spot.  I gave Paul a plot hook that we will explore next issue: his PC's brother was mudered after becoming onvolved with the Maggia.  It looks like maybe Don & Sue's son Michael will start playing in our game.  That would bring our little super-team up to five members.

The gang talked a little bit about other games.  Don has seen the Castles & Crusades playtest doc and is not impressed.  According to him the old school contigent has seized control of the project and has drained all the d20 compatability out of the game.  If the published game turns out that way I will be sad.  I was hoping I could use C&C to run standard D&D 3E modules with minimal fuss, especially retro stuff like is coming out from Goodman Games.  John mentioned that he was interested in putting together a group to run Mutants & Masterminds.  I've never given M&M a serious look, but I've heard lotsa good things about it on  Sue suggested that she might be able to run a session of her D&D 3E campaign in the second half of August.  That would be cool.  I'd love to play my kung-fu druid again.

Friday, July 23, 2004

I don't have any plans to run a Savage Worlds game in a standard fantasy setting. If I want orcs and such I'll run D&D or any of a dozen fantasy-specific systems. But if I was going to do swords & sorcery with Savage Worlds, I had an idea this morning that I would maybe try to use. I think it would be possible to adapt S. John Ross's Unlimited Mana to be useable in a SW game. I suppose I might get some mileage out of this idea if I ever took a shot at a "Savage World of Thundarr the Barbarian" game. Hmmm. That could rock.

The eBay auction is over for White Wolf Magazine issue 10 and I won it, which is surprising considering my cheapass lowball bid. That puts me one step closer towards having all the material for my "Android Dreams" article. Now I just need a copy of the module GW10 Epsilon Cyborgs for Gamma World 3rd edition. GW10 is a little pricier, going typically for ten bucks or more. Still, that's no Seren Ironhand. I still can't believe that module sold for almost 40 bucks!

Web Comics

I'm a big fan of webcomics, One of the first pages I put up on my original website was a page of webcomic links.  My one problem with webcomics  is that I can only keep my attention focused on two or three of them at a time.  Right now I'm following three regularly.  Something Positive is a nifty little strip that manages to focus on people who happen to be gamers without degenerating into yet another gamer comic.  Penny Arcade is a strip about videogames and the love/hate relationship videogamers have with the people who make them.  Like the wonderful site Old Man Murray (R.I.P.) it manages to be very funny even though I don't always know what the hell they are talking about.  I'm also fond of Diesel Sweeties, which updates daily. 

Past that, I don't follow any webcomics regularly.  When I remember to, I try to check Bob the Angry Flower for updates.  I sometimes reread the archive for Eagle-DNA.  I sure would like to see some new strips for that one.  My friend Pat also ocasionally points me towards new stuff to read.  The last one he clued me in on was Scary Go Round.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

WraeththuWatch update

I continue to follow the development of the Wraeththu rpg.  The new release date for the game is now the first week of September.  Meanwhile, I have acquired a copy of the Wraeththu novels (in a nice omnibus edition) via interlibrary loan.  I'm only a few pages into it, so it's hard to develop a distinct opinion, but I kinda like it.  The writing is a little clumsy in spots but overall it's not bad.  So far the story is developing as a coming-of-age adventure narrative.  The homosexual elements seem almost secondary at this point, but that may only be because I haven't reached the steamy parts yet.  I was a bit surprised to find that standard ornament of fantasy fiction, the hand-drawn world map at the front of the book.  But I guess I'm also surprised that I found the map so surprising.  I suppose I was expecting queer fiction to be totally different from the types of books I am used to.  Could I be any denser at this point?  I doubt it.
Anyways, here's my favorite passage so far, the first rumours about who and what the Wraeththu are:
It was said it had started as small groups of youths. Something had happened to them. Perhaps it was just one group. Perhaps, once, on a street corner of a damp, dimly-lit sity suburb, an essence strange and huge had reached out from somewhere and touched them, that first group. A catalyst to touch their boredom and their bitterness transforming it to a breathing, half-visible sentience. Oh yes, they changed. They became something like the werewolves my grandmother remembered tales of. Spurning the society that had bred them, rebelling totally, haunting the towns with their gaunt and drug-poisoned bodies; all night-time streets became places of fear. They dressed in strange uniforms to signify their groups, spitting obscenities upon the sacred cows of men, living rough in all the shunned places. The final act of outrage became their fornications amongst themselves amid the debris they had created. The name they took for themselves was Wraeththu. To distraught mothers and splintered communities, this spelt three things: death, rape, and darkness. The Wraeththu hated mankind. They were different; on the inside and on the outside. Hungry, baleful fire smouldered in their skins, you could see it looking out at you. They drank blood and burned the sanctity, the security of society, infecting others like a plague. Some even died, it is said, at their touch. But those who survived and joined them were strong and proud. Werewolves really would walk the desert again.
Stirring, eh? I can almost hear Duran Duran's "Wild Boys" playing in the distance.

Evil-doers beware!

The astonishing Radar-Man is here! My friend Paul stopped by the officie today. He guest-starred in last issue of "Home Team" as Nomad, but now he's working on his own PC. Fortunately, I had my Heroes Unlimited rulebook with me. Between that and Irony Games nifty web-based dice server, we were able to rough out a PC.  Paul is playing a mutant with Daredevilish radar sense and military specialist training.  He's not really called Radar-Man.  But if Paul doesn't come up with a character name between now and Friday then he will be.  I also suggested to him that he design a costume for his character, otherwise he might get stuck with me inflicting a Heromachine horror upon him.

Chess Variant Status

Variant: 6 Islands Chess Status: rules done, graphics done, HMTL in progress

Variant: Gygaxian Chess Status: rules done, graphics done

Variant: Draconian Status: rules done, graphics done

Variant: unnamed 5x9 chessgi/shogi variant Status: rules incomplete, graphics incomplete

Variant: unnamed 4-player variant Status: vague ideas

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Watchlist addendum

I omitted one item from my RPG Watchlist post.  The No Press Anthology is a collection of indie rpgs that is going to print soon.  I think an anthology of hip indie games is a darn good idea and special kudos to "abzu", who I believe is the fellow behind the Burning Wheel rpg, for putting it together.


Pat came over last night for pizza and pissing around.  He had in hand a copy of another trade paperback for The Goon and a DVD set for yours truly: The Challenge of the Superfriends first season!  The Superfriends is my number one favorite cartoon of all time, with Thundarr the Barbarian a close second.  If I can lay my hands on enough Superfriends DVDs I may have to go through with my crazy idea of designing a little RPG that simulates the cartoon.  I'd probably also want to get a copr of the Cartoon Action Hour rpg before I tackled my own project.  No need to cover the same ground twice.  CAH is written by Cynthia Celeste Miller, an regular and author of a nifty rules-light Golden Age rpg called Four Colors.  I believe she is also the brains behind the wrestling rpg called Kayfabe and she's currently working on a licensed WWE wrestling rpg.

Speaking of superheroes, it looks like my "Home Team" game is a go for Friday night, with the venue changed to Don & Sue's place.  Now I need to finish my darn adventure! 

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Jeff's RPG Watchlist

These are the products that are coming out soon that I am looking forward to following the reviews, flipping through at the Friendly Local Game Store, and maybe even purchasing.
  • Wraeththu, as discussed in my last blog entry
  • Necessary Evil, the supervillains-save-the-day module for for Savage Worlds
  • Castles & Crusades, the OGL retro-D&D system from Troll Lord Games
  • Castle Zagyg, a C&C compatible version of Gary Gygax's original Castle Greyhawk
  • Blackmoor, the new d20/OGL version of Dave Arneson's campaign world

So there you have it.  60% old stuff turned new.  20% supervillainy.  20% just plain weird.  Most interesting to me is the fact that two adventure modules are on my list.  I think this is the first time since the heady days of the TSR Supermodules that I've found myself drooling over as-yet unreleased adventures.

My wife found a note in the mail from the local library saying that my interlibrary request was in and could be picked up.  Trouble is, the note did not say which request.  That means I could be showing up to pick up either D.B. Pritchard's Encyclopedia of Chess Variants or Storm Constantine's Wraeththu.  As far as I can tell Pritchard's tome is the closest thing to a definitive reference on the subject.  (Other than the Chess Variant Pages, of course.)   I'm mostly interested in an obscure game called Valentine's Chess, but who knows what other chessy wonders lurk within its pages?  Wraeththu is a three-novels-in-one omnibus edition of the books that inspired the (hopefully) forthcoming roleplaying game Wraeththu: From Enchantment to Fufilment.  I'm interested in the Wraeththu rpg and hence its source material for a couple of reasons.  First, its the first RPG I've encountered aimed at the Gay-Lesbian-Bi-Transgendered community.  And second, the setting is just plain weird, featuring posthuman psionic hermaphrodites in a vaguely post-apocalyptic world.  The people creating this game may be naive about how the RPG industry works, but I want to see what sort of game they actually end publishing.  If they end up publishing anything at all.  I still leave some room for the possibility that the whole thing will end up as vaporware, forever existing as some sort of ghostly quantam apparition, bound in the same non-existant limbo as Digest Group's A.I. or TSR's Proton Fire.
For a little more on the Wraeththu rpg, check out this post from my old blog.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Crossing my fingers

So I've sent out an email to my players once again attempting to schedule a session of my "Home Team" campaign, a Heroes Unlimited game set in Marvel Manhattan during the Secret Wars.  I've got my villains selected, a rough idea of the plot, and a faux comic cover done.  Today over lunch I statted up four villains.  Now I need a couple more for a complete set.  Also, I think I'm going to use the vehicle rules in the TMNT* supplement Road Hogs to whip up a dastardly vehicle for the forces of evil to zoom around New York.  I'm also working on some appropriate inserts for my spiffy new Savage Worlds brand customizable screen.  My original plan was to first do a set of inserts for the '81 Basic/Expert D&D rules, but the possibility of actual play takes priority.  Still, I can't wait to put together some great Erol Otus art for the outside panels.

*Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness, of course.
My buddy Pat came over again yesterday.  He had to help us eat the huge supply of fresh sweetcorn my Dad had supplied us.  Nothing like fresh sweetcorn from the farm you grew up on, nothing in the world.  We talked about Savage Worlds and all the neat ideas we had for it.  Pat is seriously considering running the forthcoming adventure book Necessary Evil in which the PCs are supervillains.  I like the idea of playing NE, but am saddened by the fact that I may not get to be a player in it with my best bud Pat.  I think we would make excellent partners in crime.  Pat also had a great Victoria horror one-shot idea he calls Shaka Cthulhu.  Finally, we ruminated about structuring a series of one-shots in the same manner as Hong Kong Action Theatre, in which adventures vary wildly in terms of settings and subgenres but you keep the same PC from session to session.  The basic paradigm is that the PC roles are sorta like actors that migrate from one movie to another.  For example, in session 1 of the campaign you might do a sci-fi horror adventure inspired by the Alien series of movies.  My PC, Ace Hardslab, is cast as the space marine sniper, thanks to his studly Shooting d10.  After that adventure is over maybe we'd do a little quasi-historical romp in which my guy is cast as Lord Hardslab, the finest archer in Darbyshire.  One of my favorite parts about this method as used in HKAT is that the players rotate GM duties and you get to use your own PC as one of the villains.
One interesting sideline from all of the SW conversation was that Pat finally helped me realize why I like SW so much better than Big Eyes, Small Mouth and its descendants.  BESM puts almost all the nifty mechanics in a big lump o' powers sitting in the middle of the book.  SW is much more digestible to me.  This  little epiphany clicked so well for me that I now wonder if maybe I can safely sell off BESM and Silver Age Sentinels.  They're just not for me, I think.  Of course, this raises the old dilemna that I still have with regard to the HERO System:  Does it make sense to keep the supplement when you are dumping the corebook?  You can have my copy of Aaron Allston's Strike Force when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.  Similarly, it would be painful to dump Ninja Hero.  I think S. John Ross's superfabulous Uresia: Grave of Heaven probably belongs in this same category.  I guess I'm afraid that mere moments after selling my HERO and BESM corebooks I will suddenly find a group that wants to play nothing but Ninja Hero and Uresia.  Should the heavens somehow align in such a way that this preposterous turn of events comes to pass, I guess I may just have to use another system.  Savage Worlds looks sufficiently ninjatastic, and Uresia could go several routes: BESM d20, straight D&D of various sorts, SW again, etc, etc.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

So yesterday went pretty darn well I thought.  Despite my infinite capacity for getting lost, we made it to the party with minimal fuss.  My cousin and his dad were both on good behavior.  I had a very nice time.  No Fluxx or Uno, but at the last moment I grabbed my Namco gamestick to bring along as well.  Down in the basement in the room set aside for the kids to play in I found a TV I could hook it up to.  My cousin Brian, myself, and several of the kids all had a good time playing some old school videogames.  One of the older children even gave me some tips on Bosconian!

Saturday, July 17, 2004

So today the whole family is going to a Rients family get-together of reputedly unprecedented proportions.  My cousin the Conquering Hero is on leave from the Armed Forces.  Now he's an okay guy, but his dad seems to need to put his son the serviceman on display at every opportunity, going beyond the usual fatherly pride and into a new realm where he seems to be in direct competition the members of his generation.  Like they're playing a game Who Can Raise the Best Kids.  I dunno, maybe I'm reading too much into daddy-o's bahavior here.  Anyway, I think I'm going to pack my Uno and Fluxx decks in hopes of getting a game going at some point.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Old School & Retro

In the past I have sometimes refered to my gaming habits as Old School or Retro, but it occurs to me that they are not the same thing, but overlapping phenomena.  Old School gaming involves turning back the clock to the non-existent Golden Age of Gaming.  Old School is getting together with your high school game club and running your old PCs through module G3, because you never quite managed to finish the G series when you were kids.  Old School is teaching your nephews to play D&D using the '81 Basic rules so that you can assure yourself that you helped raise them right.  In short, Old School gaming is pure undiluted nostalgia.
Retro is different.  The nostalgia shines through but it is tempered by modern sensibilities.  A Savage Worlds game set in the World of Greyhawk is retro.  Using the latest GMing techniques to drift your AD&D game into narrativism, that's retro.  It would be the height of retro to run an old Traveller adventure exactly as written while ironically winking at the outdated sci-fi technology.  Retro looks back at the Old Days, but remains apart.
At least that's how I define these two terms with regards to gaming.

Curse you eBay!

In the mail today was my latest eBay purchase Pantheon and Other Roleplaying Games by Robin Laws.  I believe I only need one more New Style rpg (an experimental line from the old Hogshead) to complete my set, De Profundis, the game of going insane via the mail.  I'm trying hard to steer clear of the browse-and-buy mania of the last year, but it's creeping up on me again.  This purchase is only the most obvious symptom.  I've got two things in the "Item You Are Watching" field, one of which I could use for my "Android Dreams" project.  Most worrisome is the fact that my automatic search list has been steadily growing.  I had it trimmed down to two items at one point, now it is a dozen searches long.  Good thing most RPG items that interest me are dirt cheap.  If I had a more expensive hobby I would be so screwed.
Thanks to the public library I've at least been able to steer clear of bidding on non-game books.  Last night I finished reading Al Franken's Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot & Other Observations.  Good read.  It didn't seem as funny as his book Lies but that may be due at least partially to the fact that this one is a little less topical.  Still, I'll be eager to read his next book.  In the meantime I need to finish Stephen Fatsis's Word Freak, a horrifying (not really) account of the seedy world underworld of bigtime professional Scrabble players.  And on deck is Political Parties in American History, 1890 - Present by Paul L. Murphy.

No more pretty pictures.

The only thing I'm not digging about this new blog is the lack of image hosting. I really got into putting graphics in the old blog entires. I've got free accounts at and, but that's not the same as easy, free, integrated image hosting. Still, it allows me to do stuff like this:


This is my all-time favorite panel from the webcomic Bob the Angry Flower. I'd love to include Knife Ghosts as a monster in some future D&D game.

[UPDATE: Blogger now supports free imagehosting.]

New Blog

This is my second blog devoted primarily to gaming, but also about books, food, TV shows, all the usual crap one finds in blogs.  My first blog is  Tripod has gotten so darn buggy though.  I really didn't want to switch.  I was just getting decent at the user interface, when it worked.  About half the time I click on buttons like "Edit Draft" I get back some sort of stupid error message, not to mention the fact that Tripod apparently ate two or three decent sized entries that I had to retype.   So anyway, I'm hoping to stick to my regimen of blogging at least once a day, allowing myself a day off once a month.