Tuesday, October 31, 2006

fukt up

At the pizza place tonight there was a kid dressed up as an Indian Warrior. Definitely a "WTF?" moment for me. Ten years ago that outfit would have been in bad taste. (Though, I guess racism is pretty creepy. So maybe if the kid was going for "Look at me, I'm a racial stereotype! Boogah!" then maybe he would have been on to something. I dunno.) I think I'm going to blame thw whole thing on the Chief. If a grown white man in Injun drag is appropriate, why wouldn't a kid in such garb be okay?

Horror Tips from the Pundit

I know that the RPG Pundit can be too ranty for a lot of people, but his post for today contains some awesome tips for horror gaming. No one gets called a swine in this post. I promise.

It's Halloween

a poem by Jack Prelutsky

It's Halloween! It's Halloween!
The moon is full and bright
And we shall see what can't be seen
On any other night:

Skeletons and ghosts and ghouls,
Grinning goblins fighting duels,
Werewolves rising from their tombs,
Witches on their magic brooms.

In masks and gowns
we haunt the street
And knock on doors
for trick or treat.

Tonight we are
the king and queen,
For oh tonight
it's Halloween!

Monday, October 30, 2006

a question no one wanted answered

I don't plan to post a bunch of stuff from my Brythunian Age journal, but I thought in the spirit of the Halloween season this little chart I made might be fun. The idea is to roll a d20 whenever the PCs burst in on a roomful of little green dudes.

What are the goblins up to?
  1. Making rope out of human hair. A coil 1-100' long is already complete.
  2. Boiling up a pot of mud and gravel stew.
  3. Singing songs about hidden treasure.
  4. Playing poker with blank cards. The printing on both sides is visible only to creatures with infravision
  5. Dancing. At least one goblin will be playing an instrument, probably a fiddle or a concertina.
  6. Playing tenpins with a skull and some legbones.
  7. Interrogating a rat tied to a tiny chair. "I'm gonna ask you one last time: Where is the cheese?"
  8. Building a house of cards with the deck from item 4.
  9. Discussing the pros and cons of sexual congress with a wide variety of other monsters and races.
  10. Eating meat pie. The pie might be stirge or it might be pixie. The goblins can't remember what they put in it.
  11. Debating the crisis of succession that would arise from the untimely demise of the current goblin king.
  12. Shining shoes of various sizes (kobold to ogre). They all radiate faintly under detect magic but have no known powers.
  13. Three words: bunny eating contest.
  14. Reading aloud someone else's love letters, preferably detailed notes to or from one of the PCs.
  15. Sewing filthy rags into patchwork tunics. If a completed tunic is worn it protects as platemail+1. If the garment is cleaned the magic fades. 1-3 tunics have been completed.
  16. Drawing obscene grafitti on the dungeon walls. Each goblin has d4 pieces of chalk in various colors.
  17. Arguing vehemently over the proposition that cannibalism should be kept strictly in the family.
  18. Strip chess tournament. There's a 1 in 6 chance at least some of the goblins are already in the all-together. Not a sight for the faint of heart.
  19. Pickling sliced shrieker. 1-20 jars are done.
  20. Trying on pretty pink dresses.

Five Things I Learned This Weekend

  • TNA wrestler Lance Hoyt can stand on the turnbuckle and leap all the way to the far side of the ring just to kick you in the face.
  • David Hasslehoff hates jugglers.
  • "Flushable" baby-wipes aren't. (This item I learned from the guy who unplugged my sewer line Sunday morning.)
  • My sister keeps her house locked up tight, but then leaves her car unlocked with the garage door opener in it.
  • Conan the Barbarian likes blueberries.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

suddenly... espionage!

Straight from Dragon #40, here's Merle Rasmussen's mission flowchart from his designer notes for Top Secret.

If I ever run James Bond 007 I'm totally keeping this thing handy when I go to design the adventure. That being said, I do find it a little incomplete for Bond-style spy antics. Where are the girls?

Patton: old school hack-n-slasher

"A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week."

- General George S. Patton

(swiped from ColonelHardisson's sig at the Necromancer Games message boards)

Being right is nice for a change

It's nice to have your armchair opinion confirmed by someone actually knowledgeable on the subject. Case in point: I occasionally blog about what they're doing wrong over at Total Nonstop Action wrestling. Not because I dislike TNA, but because I enjoy their shows. As far back as August I was nitpicking what TNA should be doing with wrestler Bobby Roode to make him into a main event star. Well, a couple of days ago pro-wrestler Lance Storm blogged about TNA and high on his list of complaints is the uneven booking of Roode. As I understand it booking matches for TNA is currently the responsibility of Vince Russo, who has a bit of a reputation for stupid gimmick matches and quickly-forgotten special stipulations. If I recall correctly Mr. Russo was at the helm of WCW when non-wrestling actor David Arquette was made their world heavyweight champion. That one really ought to go down as one of the worst booking decisions of the last decade. Considering that's one of many black marks against Russo, I honestly don't understand why the man is working for TNA right now.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Comic books! Huzzah!

I'm pretty sure it's been at least ten years since I bought some new comic books. Oh, sure, I've bought trades and graphic novels. I've checked a lot of stuff out of my local library. But today was probably the first day since the mid-nineties that I walked out of a comic book with monthlies in hand. Most of the floppies I've read since then have involved me mooching off of my friend Pat. But today I got my own comic books. I bought Scooby Doo #113 for my daughter and Nextwave: Agents of HATE #9 for myself. Elizabeth hasn't allowed me to read the Scooby book yet, but it looks pretty good on a brief flip-through. Nextwave is simply the best funny book I've ever read. It's loud, violent, and stupid in all the right ways.

check out my sack

Stuart posted a pic of the awesomely creepy dicebox his very talented girlfriend made for him. So I feel obligated to reply by posting a pic of my dicebag. True fact: I own the coolest dicebag in the universe. You might think yours is cool, but mine is way cooler.I wish I knew how to take decent photos.I bought this bad boy on my honeymoon in October '99 at the store attached to Pirates of the Caribbean, the single greatest amusement ride ever built by mankind. If you think your dicebag can step up to the pure radness of my skull-n-crossbones bag, please drop a link in the comments section or email a pic. (Please don't try pulling anything with one of those chainmail bags. Those things are so last week.) But honestly, the only dicebags I've seen that were in the same league as this puppy are the Dice Goblins.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

palate cleanser

I've talked about this concept before once or twice, I think. My last Greyhawk campaign will soon reach the End of All Things. This particularly games features the gestalt rules from Unearthed Arcana now runnig at a staggeringly high level, like above 20th. My next lengthy campaign will be an Eberron-based affair not using gestalt classes and starting at first level. So in between these 2 campaigns I want to run a short game of something else entirely, to shake up the neural pathways of all involved. I don't want me or the players coming into a new 1st level game with all the habits learned from epic-level awesome-osity.

At first I knocked around running a giant robot game of some sort. But the juice just isn't there right now. So my new idea is to go with Classic Traveller running one of the old modules. My first go at a Traveller game was a slow-motion trainwreck, but I'm positive that was all on me and had nothing to do with the rules. I'm ready for a second shot and the players have their act together in a way that could really make Traveller sing. Now I just need to pick an adventure. At first I thought Adventure 4: Leviathan would be neat. In it the players get a big shiny mercantile exploration vessel. They recruit (read: roll up) a crew and set out to open up new markets in the uncharted regions rimward of the Spinward Marches. But we just got this dirigible in Jon's campaign and my Eberron game will focus on sky piracy, so now I'm thinking I need an adventure that focuses less on zooming around in a spaceship.

a pretty good night

When I arrived at Jon's house for the game last night my purple d30 was sitting on the table in front of my spot. Huzzah!

Osric the Slayer, his new cohort Abu of the Thousand Scars, and Osric's beer buddies/fellow adventurers threwdown with some giant fucking wasps inside an abandoned dwarvish dirigible. First of all, GIANT. FUCKING. WASPS. Rock on. Secondly, we now own a dwarvish dirigible. Inside it were operator's manuals and 2 members of the party can actually read dwarvish. Those smug bastard psionic orcs are so toast.

The only downside to the night was that Andrew, the new guy, was AWOL last night.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Hey! Five links!

Swashbuckling Cards - I absolutely love card-driven hooliganism

The 8 Most Insane Moments in Professional Wrestling - Surprisingly lacking in Ultimate Warrior stories, but awesome nonetheless

Married to the Sea - a daily webcomical entertainment

Second System Effect - Wikipedia articles like this lead me to wonder whether game designers should look to software design theory for ideas

Net, Chain, Hooks & Spurs - A nifty livejournal post by Levi Kornelsen

click for larger

Holy crap!  This pic is rocking my face!
Someone posted this pic over at Dragonsfoot. It's an illo for the Swedish post-apoc rpg Mutant Chronicles. You know what really pushes this picture over the top? The sharkmobile in the corner. Also, 4-Armed Darth Vader is the best villain idea since 2-armed Darth Vader.

MIA d30

My purple thirty-sider has gone on walkabout. I'm hoping one of my Tuesday night players scooped it up with their dice when we cleaned up last session. I'm not one of those guys who attaches mystical significance to particular randomizers, but I do have some sentimental attachment to that d30. In fact, it's one of the few dice I own that I see as anything more than a useful chunk of plastic. And replacing a purple d30 is probably going to require using mail order, as none of the local game merchants sell such items.

Monday, October 23, 2006

This is how my brain works

So for the Brythunian Age, my new D&D Basic/Expert campaign, I started work on my first dungeon. It's a haunted house type place overlooking a spooky lake. From the get-go I called the place the House of Mawdorn. To my ear that "awdor" really gives a place an ominous sound, like Macbeth's title, Thane of Cawdor. But for a couple days something about the word "mawdorn" was bugging me. Finally, it occured to me that I had swiped that name from somewhere else. Mawdorn is name of the god of shadows in the Judges Guild product The Unknown Gods. And while I intend to crib the deities from that excellent tome for my campaign, the House in question really doesn't have anything to do with any shadow-gods. So I decided to come up with a different name. I considered going with Cawdorn and working some Shakespeare into the House's background, but I rejected the name as giving too much away. So I settled on another name I also thought I had made up, the House of Maladorn. Given how well "making up" Mawdorn had worked out for me, I decided to google my new name. Turns out that Maladorn is the name of the man who built the Round Table. But I'm keeping Maladorn. I can work both the Arthurian and Shakespearean elements into the dungeon. And goblins. Lotsa creepy little goblins.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Jeff salutes: Paul Montgomery Crabaugh

You may not have heard the name Paul Montgomery Crabaugh before. As far as I know he was never credited as author or designer for any books. Instead, he was the author of several excellent articles that appeared in 80's era gaming magazines, particularly Dragon and Different Worlds. My first encounter with his work was the little gem "Random Monsters", a nifty set of dice charts designed for creating new OD&D cThis pic from Paizo must be a later reprint.  My copy is $3.00 on the cover and lacks a barcode.ritters. "Random Monsters" originally appeared in Dragon #10 (same issues as Jon Pickens's fabulous article "Orgies, Inc."), but I originally read the piece in the Best of The Dragon compilation.

Incidentally, Best of The Dragon was one of the first supplements I ever owned and the free-wheeling spirit of many of those articles from the early days probably had a deep impact on my approach to the hobby. Paizo still has some copies for sale. They want 15 bucks though, so eBay might actually be cheaper.

From '84 or so to the release of 2nd edition AD&D in 1989 my original game group played a crapload of Basic/Expert D&D. One of the Dragon articles we got the most mileage out of was Crabaugh's "Customized Classes" from Dragon #109, May 1986. "Customized Classes" was the first build-your-own class system I had ever seen. Using this system we built a couple dozen classes for our local campaigns. My favorite was our version of the Barbarian, which dispensed with all the extra cruft found in the Unearthed Arcana version. Our barbarian was a souped-up fighter who rolled around in leather armor. Dave Dalley's fabulously memorable Axe Hobbit-hater was run under those rules. If I recall correctly Axe was one of the few PCs I've ever seen to survive expeditions to both the Caves of Chaos and the Isle of Dread. And he always attacked halflings on site, Grodd bless him.

This cover is gorgeous.  That spaceship is a little overt though.I didn't really recognize Crabaugh as a particular name in the hobby until I got deep into Traveller and started looking for old articles for the game. Issue 51 of Dragon featured seven articles on Traveller, four of which were written by Mr. Crabaugh. They were all short, punchy pieces that got the job done without messing around. "In Defense of Traveller Computers", for example, does a great job in just two pages. Every single one of Crabaugh's articles from that issue could still be of use to a Classic Traveller referee.

Crabaugh also did excellent work in Different Worlds #15, with his 2-page article "More Citizens: Six New Classes For Traveller". The Cavalry, Artillery, and Technician careers demonstrate clearly that Crabaugh wrote from a particular point of view. Each career fills a mechanical need that would only be clear to someone deeply emmeshed in actual Traveller play. You can dice up Cav and Art soldiers and Technicians using well-known career paths from Mercenary and Citizens of the Imperium. But it's not easy. It takes a lot of die-rolling with few useable results. As he puts it in the article "you can spend all day generating a few Mercenary characters and never see a decent artillerist".

Mr. Crabaugh also won my heart with the Civilian career. Finally, a lifepath for the average joe in the 3rd Imperium! I love playing regular guys in extraordinary circumstances, but until I got my hand on Different Worlds #15 I had to settle for the Bureaucrat and the Other career. The other two careers he presents, the Engineer and the Reporter, also have their uses.

As I look over the Crabaugh pieces in my gaming collection several commonalities come to light. All his articles are short. Two pages is about typical. You can tell in every one of them that they are written by a practical gamer for use by a practical gamer. Nothing high-falutin' or artsy-fartsy about this guy's work. This is why I like Crabaugh: he has something useful to say, he says it, and then he shuts up.

"Customized Classes" from '86 is the latest piece I have from Paul Crabaugh. After that he falls off my radar. Googling has failed to turn up any new work of his. And if he has an online presence he must operate strictly under a pseudonym. I hope he's still out there somewhere, still gaming. But wherever he might be, Paul Montgomery Crabaugh, I salute you.

Yikes!This cute little illo appeared at the end of Crabaugh's "Random Monsters". I really feel for the guy in the front of the party.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


My daughter and I have been playing this one crane game on and off for as long as she has been able to walk. Today I finally won her a prize. This little purple elephant is just perfect for her. She promptly named him Fred Fredburger.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

a quick question

Not much time to blog today. Work has been STUPID all week.

Does anybody know where I can purchase one of these on this side of the Atlantic? Such a thing would be perfect for organizing player stuff for my Basic/Expert campaign. Players could just leave their charsheets and notes at my house. Everyone would know exactly where all their crap was. Unlike modern incarnations of D&D, there's no need to take sheets home to work on the character. You can't pimp out your build and leveling up is easy as cake.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Reverence as Vice

I think I'm going to scrap my plans to run a FUDGE game set in the Village of the Prisoner. As much as I like the idea, I don't think I can make it work and here's why: I take the source material too seriously. The idea of getting it wrong fills me with dread. I think this same problem hindered me when I attempted to run Nobilis as well. (Though that game had other problems as well. The game group was a wreck. And Nobilis isn't the easiest game for me to wrap my head around.) This reverence for the source material is a terrible habit for someone trying to work creatively. Fortunately, I only suffer from this malady occasionally. Most of the time I'm fine. For example I love S. John Ross for writing Encounter Critical but in no way do I feel I owe it to him to cleave unto his original vision for EC. As far as I'm concerned it's my toy now and if I want to pull the limbs off and melt the head with my magnifying lens that's exactly what I'm going to do. Ditto most other games. I'm utterly breaking the World of Greyhawk in my current campaign partly as a way of weaning myself off of the need to hold Gary Gygax's campaign as the Platonic ideal of fantasy gaming. It isn't that at all. It's a great example of one way to do it. With Nobilis and the Prisoner and a few other things I don't feel that same sense of ownership or empowerment or whatever. I think my 80's Marvel game grew difficult for me because of this same issue.

Time to Ragnarock

Last night we started the Greypocalypse Arc of my campaign. Fimbulwinter has come to the Flanaess and frost giant vikings roam the land. The players totally beat the crap out of my giants. Their 21st level gestalt PCs pretty much slapped them around as if these guys were just another pile of 1 hit die orcs. Then the blizzard came, and with it the five Old Feral White Dragons. "Feral" is an old template from Mike Mearls's Monster's Handbook for 3E. It basically shuts off a dragon's more fiddly spell power and ramps up the killing machinery. 3.x dragons as written drive me nuts. Too many crunchy bits to manage. At the end of the session I put my Galactus action figure on the board, to stand in for this guy. Once the heroes put down the Glacier That Walks Like A Man then we can get to the meat of Ragnarok: god-killin'.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"Hot dog and french fries."

My 5-year-old daughter Elizabeth has a slight speech impairment. Her mouth has oversensitive nerve endings, which can discourage the development of speech-producing muscles as an infant and toddler. As a result Elizabeth has attended weekly speech therapy since she was three. I talk to Elizabeth everyday and sometimes I can't quite understand her. That's partly my fault. My hearing is slightly below average. But she's always chipper about my inability to comprehend her speech. By the third time I ask her to repeat herself she usually stops trying and just smiles and says "I love you, daddy." Melts my heart. Then I ask her to repeat herself again.

Most people who don't know Elizabeth have even greater difficulty understanding her and often her mother or I have to translate. That is, when we can get her to talk in the presence of other people. She's very shy sometimes, no doubt at least partly due to the speech issues.

Yesterday my wife Amy and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary. So the three of us went out to eat. Usually we go to the Beef House near Covington, Indiana for these sorts of events. If you ever get a chance to go there don't pass it up. But this year we went to the Texas Roadhouse, a chain of casual dining places that plays both kinds of music: country AND western. I don't dig either genre much, but they played 2 Johnny Cash songs while I was there, one of which was "Ring of Fire". So I can't complain at all.

The waitress comes around to our table. Some damn fool country song is playing in the background and the house is packed with chatty people. I can barely hear the gal as she takes our orders. Elizabeth's turn to order comes around and she looks right at the waitress and says "hot dog and french fries". It comes out clear as day to her mother and I. More importantly, the waitress understood her!

Best. Anniversary. Gift. EVAR.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Ignorance, Mystery, & Wonder

Two of my all-time favorite Doctor Who episodes are "The Pirate Planet" and the first one with Pertwee, "Spearhead from Space". Not because they're the best Doctor Who episodes ever made (I think "The Pirate Planet" still holds up. It was written by Douglas Adams, after all.) but because they were the first two episodes I ever saw. And at the time I didn't have a clue as to what the hell I was watching. The first time I viewed both of them I wasn't tuning in to see Doctor Who, I was just flipping through the channels. I came in partway through both times and had no idea what I was watching. It was years later before I knew the name of the show. By the next time I was able to see both episodes I owned like a hundred Doctor Who books, had a dozen episodes on tape, and for a short period I even wore a stupid scarf. Why? Because the wonderment of not knowing what the hell was going on energized me.

To bottle that magic, that sense of wonder, for gaming really only requires a little bit of work. To produce wonder you first must show the players that the campaign world is bigger, grander, more horrible, or more beautiful than they expect. To do this the GM simply must be prepared to go off script from time to time. Don't be a slave to the sample magic items or setting info or monster stats. Just don't overdo it. One kobold with a laser pistol is enough. Where did it come from? How did the goblin get it? Later, when they see a metallic wedge flying at high speed overhead, maybe they will get that it's a spaceship. Maybe they won't. Don't be afraid to leave little bits like this dangling. Ignorance is the stepping stone of wonder.

Incidentally, this need for ignorance probably goes a long way to explain my reaction to later Star Trek series and Joss Whedon's Firefly. By the time I encountered Firefly or Voyager I felt jaded, like I knew everything that was going to happen in each episode.

Friday, October 13, 2006


I was meandering along the information superduperhighway when I stumbled across a comic called Occult Crimes Taskforce. I've never read this comic, but the name struck me as awfully familiar. And then it occurred to me. Occult Crimes Taskforce was the name of a campaign idea I came up with two years ago. I later ran an Savage Worlds-powered OCT game at Winter War in February, 2005. Image Comics is clearly not ripping off this blog for ideas, despite their version of the Occult Crimes Taskforce coming out later than mine. Their OCT is part of the NYPD and stars Rosario Dawson. My OCT was a branch of the Department of Homeland Security and starred a grumpy old FBI agent and a science nerd who happened to be a giant praying mantis from outer space. Still, it's kind of amusing to see my game title on the cover of a comic book.

Go away, Tails, you bother me.

Recently I've been working my way through the Sonic Mega Collection Plus, a bunch of old Sega games ported to the Xbox. Other than an occasional foray into the original Sonic the Hedgehog, I never played any of the compiled games as I never owned a Sega console of any sort. Playing all the way through the original Sonic was fun, and the Tetris-like Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine is positively addictive. Bean Machine reminds me a lot of Dr. Mario, which I played so much back in the day that at one point I had to quit cold turkey. I was waking up in the middle of the night having played the game in my dreams.

Having polished off Sonic the Hedgehog, I immediately started working on the sequel. Unfortunately, Sonic 2: Electric Boogaloo introduces this new character, Tails the Two-Tailed Fox. And the little bastard follows you around throughout the entire game. It's driving me nuts. Imagine your kid sister (Hi, Jen!) following you around all the time, doing nothing but distracting you from the task at hand. "Cripes, kid! Could you go do something else? I'm trying to dodge robot-monsters and collect rings over here. You're cramping my style." What genius decided that being followed around by this Tails character would somehow enhance the playing experience?
Bugger off, you two-tailed freak!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

a tiny epiphany

Just a few minutes ago I was struck out of the blue. I now understand exactly why I love it when my wife wears turtleneck sweaters.

It's so obvious to me now that I feel like an idiot for not realizing it sooner.

Three Steps to Memorable Villainy

Last night was another remarkable World of Alidor session, featuring the slaying of no less than two dragons, one of which was also a lich. Gruul the Archer shot a foe so hard it knocked over the giant pine tree behind the guy. Dix the Warmage was lighting off fireballs like there was no tomorrow. And Kane Bloodtiger slid down icy slopes all John Woo style, firing his bow along the way. Andrew, the new guy, eased concerns about letting a lawful monk join the party by having his guy booze it up before the fight. And he doesn't even have levels in Drunken Master yet.

But I am going to be a selfish jerk and give myself the Badass Moment of the Night Award. Osric the Slayer was busting some fools with his flail when the dracolich popped up on the scene. On my next initiative I handed my flail to one of my opponents, deadpanned "Play time's over kids. Time for daddy to go to work." and charged the dracolich while drawing my greatsword. I am still patting myself on the back for that move. It's soooooo reeks of 80's action movie machismo.

Telling y'all how awesome I am is only one of the reasons I am writing this post today. I really want to talk about this great new method for making memorable villains I swiped from Jon, the Alidor DM. Well, maybe I didn't swipe this method. I inferred it from playing his game. He might not be consciously using 3 Step Villains, but they are one of the things that makes his game rock on toast.

It's a simple technique. Start with a basic type of critter that could be seen in your campaign, one of those archetypal encounters that people have been using since the stone age. Here's the examples from Jon's game: Orc, Merchant, and Halfling. Now modify these basic encounters with a word or phrase that is not normally associated with the basic encounter. Don't be afraid to go far afield in this step. You want something that can be justified in some way but on the surface it can make no damn sense. This should give you something like Metrosexual Orcs, Hextor-Worshipping Merchant, and Cannibal Halfings. Now do that again, making sure the new modification has nothing to do with the original word or the first modification. Now you're sitting pretty on Soulblade Metrosexual Orcs, a Hextor-Worshipping Merchant Grandma, and last night's encounter, the Cannibal Halfling Dracolich-Minions.

Now I'll bust out three examples of my own. We'll start with Ogres, a Wizard, and Elves. Let's make the Ogres into Ogrish Minstrels, the Wizard becomes a Wizardly Sports Fan (he follows chariot races or knightly tournaments or whatever), and the Elves become Elf Slavers. Now for the last step we transform the Ogrish Minstrels into Ogrish Minstrel Kidnappers, the Wizardly Sports Fan becomes a Wizardly Sports Fan Usurper, and the Elf Slavers become Undead Elf Slavers.

Brainstorming that out took maybe 5 or 10 minutes. Now some of your results will look like nonsensical garbage. Don't throw those out; they might very well be your best ideas. The key to making them work is to build a plausible explanation for how the three disparate elements fit together. Let's take the roughest of my examples, the Ogrish Minstrel Kidnappers, and try to flesh it out. How did these ogres learn their minstrel skills? Perhaps they come from a hidden realm where the ogres are civilized. Encountering these guys could be a good hook for a later adventure where the PCs try to find their homeland. How can they be successful kidnappers when ogres aren't exactly trusted in most communities? Two solutions spring to mind. These ogres might have some sort of magic that allows them to appear human. But a more intriguing solution would be that the ogres are visiting the lands of other monsters such as regular ogres or orcs or hill giants. The kidnapping victims are monsters themselves. How cool would that be! And why are these ogre minstrels kidnapping orc children or whatever? That's the easiest question of all: they're selling the little green tots to the Undead Elf Slavers, of course!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

...Doomed to Repeat It

"JF" posted this to Dragonsfoot yesterday.

The Trojan Horse - video powered by Metacafe

I need to say this

There's this constant drumbeat in the hobby about "Story". The Forgites clamour for "Story now!", Andy Kitowski named his post-Forge message board Story Games, some good folks over at theRPGsite have a lengthy thread going called Game; Story. (The latter and threads like it are what prompted this post.) And you know what? I don't get it.

Seriously. Lord knows I've tried. I tried to keep up with the Forge for a while, I read all the big honkin essays. I've downloaded and/or pruchased a slew of story-oriented games. I've even played a few of them. And the more I try to figure out what the hell is going on the more confused I become.

What I'm about to lay on you is going to sound anti-intellectual but it isn't. It's just simple-minded. Story, to me, is one of those things you recall with your gaming buddies weeks or months or years after the game. "Hey, wasn't it cool that time we took out the Elf Hater and his cronies in that tavern?" "We?!? Your little xvart hid behind the bar the whole fight!"

The story didn't happen until after the events themselves occurred. Stories are always already retellings of events past. Those of you out there trying to build stories as you go are speaking incomprehensible moon language to me. I feel like you're trying to skip your PCs lives and get right to the highlight reel.

Does anybody else see what I'm saying?

5 links about gaming blogs

You might have seen me link to these before, but I wanted to throw out some commentary.

Best New Blog: I Waste The Buddha With My Crossbow (yes, I'm going to pimp this blog again)- Highest signal-to-noise ratio of any blog I've ever seen, even including the recent Erol Otus/Rugrats post.

Best Blog Not Enough People Are Reading: Neitherworld Stories - Stuart, the author, is an interesting cat. On one hand, he's one of those World of Darkness guys. On the other hand, his insights into d20 are some of the smartest I've seen. I'm serious as cancer when I say that (despite his short credits list) he would make a good pick for a D&D 4th edition design team.

Best Two Blogs I Don't Read Regularly Because the Authors Are So Smart I Don't Always Understand Them: Eliot Wilen and JH Kim's livejournals. Damn, these brainiacs make me feel like a caveman sometimes. But that's okay. Cavemen are cool. They get these neat clubs and hang out in caves and stuff.

Best Guy I Know Who Should Be Blogging: Don McKinney. I've known Don for like 15 years now. Not only is he my personal Traveller guru, he's got a masterful grasp of like a zillion other games. Don's always got several cool projects in the works. I wish the gamers on the net could hear about them. Join the Legion of Bloggers, Don! One of us! One of us!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Why not the Rules Cyclopedia, Jeff?

You need a copy.  Seriously.The Red-Haired Maniac asked this very legitimate question in a comment to my previous gameblog entry. If I'm going to build my own sweet retro-awesome campaign setting, why not use the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, the Cadillac of D&D editions? Why go with the now-obscure '81 Basic and Expert rules?

First of all, let me say that the RC kicks ass. It's the slickest incarnation of the Old Game and arguably the best "one book is all you need" rpg ever published. I think every serious gamer should own a copy. My own copy of the RC would be among the last items I would part with if I had to sell off my game collection to buy medicine for my daughter or something like that.

But it has a lot of stuff in it that I don't need. Stuff like the weapon mastery rules or the skills system. Don't get me wrong, the weapon mastery rules are wicked cool. But they also strike me as unnecessary to the essential D&D experience. And call me backwards-thinking, but the more I play D&D with a skill system the more I am convinced that bolting skills on after the fact was a bad idea. Hell, the 3.5 skill system is cumbersome enough that the prospect of new skill points almost makes me not want to go up a level. How crazy is that?

Then there are things like the proto-prestige classes and the mystic class. I just don't need that stuff junking up my campaign world or the rules I use with it. I mean, if a player approaches me and really wants to make his 9th level fighter into an Avenger I'm hardly the type to say no. But I'm not going to build my campaign around every half-baked class some power-mad player might want levels in. For that matter, if a player wanted to play a 1st or 2nd edition AD&D class/race combo I'm not going to turn up my nose. My campaign setting isn't meant to limit and define the PCs, it's meant to limit and define the game board those PCs move on. The point of the Brythunian Age is to use simple building blocks and my own extrapolations to construct my own personal vision of a D&D setting. The Rules Cyclopedia is already pre-loaded with a more-than-implied setting that I don't want influencing my work. No Mystara in my peanut butter, thank you.

On the other hand, the 1981 Basic and Expert rules have everything I need. Seven classes going no higher than 14th level, three alignments, 106 spells, a few dozen magic items, 28 pages of monsters. Some hard rules and a lot of guidelines and suggestions. Anything else I want can be invented or swiped. Maybe from the RC, who knows? What I do know is this: nearly everything I've purchased for D&D has been an expansion of some sort. Bigger, better, more of everything. Personally, I think there's still plenty to be done with those two 64-page softbounds. I know I'm letting nostalgia color my perceptions, but I also know that it is true when I say this: those booklets are the keys to unlocking a thousand ass-kicking adventures. I don't need anything else to play D&D.

Monday, October 09, 2006

the journal

In a comment to the previous post the good Dr. Rotwang asked about the physical book itself that I am using for my new campaign journal. I found it in the blank books section of my local Borders and it is produced by a British stationery company called Paperchase. It measures 6 inches by 8 inches, with 300 pages making the book approximately an inch and a quarter thick. The grid is 6 squares to an inch, which is smaller than I like. But since the paper is small than usual I think it will do. The exterior is a softbound faux leather. It weighs enough to have a sense of heft to it, but doesn't seem an undue burden. I'm pretty sure this journal and the two '81 rulesbooks are still lighter than the 3.5 corebooks.

Here's what it looks like, sitting on the computer desk in front of me, with the rulebooks present for scale (and because they're awesome):

That's my daughter's Hello Kitty game, I swear!
And here's a close-up of part of my second entry:

Watch out for the stone giants.
As a starting point for a map I'm using a close-up of Brythunia as it appears on this map, which I believe is from the old Hyborian Wars play-by-mail game. But my campaign isn't going to be a Hyborian setting in any purist sense. All I'm attempting here is a kitchen sink D&D setting with a different Howard to Tolkien ratio.

Behold, the Brythunian Age

Lately I've been shifting through 20 pages of threads in the Classic D&D forum at Dragonsfoot and reading about Prussian gamer Settembrini's strategic approach to adventure gaming at theRPGsite (this thread and this thread were particularly edifying). And I've come to the conclusion that it's time for me to step up to the plate and join the Big League with a persistent, interactive homebrew campaign world centered around a bloodcurdling megadungeon. And I'm using the rules I first started out with, the '81 D&D Basic and Expert sets. I keep saying I haven't gotten all the mileage out of that set that I can and now I intend to prove it.

Anyway, to this end I have purchased a 300-page book to serve as my campaign journal. Every page is gridded so I can do dungeon maps right in there. Keeping all my notes together has been a major problem for me in the past. I'm a lot more likely to be able to hold on to a single book containing everything.

You may not be hearing a whole lot about this project in the future, since I'm organizing this puppy with paper and pencil rather than electrons. But I wanted to share with you a picture that serves as some visual inspiration for the kind of effect I'm trying to achieve:

1st edition Deities & Demigods, page 18.
In case you don't know, that is King Arthur laying the smack down on a troll! Kickass!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

experiment: corkboard combat tracker

At one of the local superstores I saw a package of four 6" corkboard squares for sale. I immediately thought of a game application for these babies. First, I designed and printed this graphic:

Osric is a 5th level barbarian using the new variant rage version from Player's Handbook II. Under this system you can't rage voluntarily, instead you go apeshit each and every time your hit points drop to five times your level or less. Thus the area on the hitpoint display labeled "The Freak Out Zone". I really enjoy this new version of rage, by the way. I don't have to track uses per day and I feel like an ultimate badass because I keep hoping the bad guys hit my dude hard enough to make him go berserk on their asses.

Anyway, here's the printout attached to the corkboard and ready for use:

Hopefully, you can all see how incredibly useful this sort of thing could be for spellcasters of folks with per day abilities. Iron Heroes characters could easily track token pools with something like this doo-hickey and the new "per encounter" based classes in the Book of Nine Swords could benefit as well. I plan on trying this puppy out this Wednesday and I'm hoping to talk some of the other players in giving it a go as well. I'd especially like to see if this system would be useful for Pat's warmage/hexblade or Jason's ranger/druid.

Incidentally, I bought those cubical, spherical, and pyramidal pushpins over a decade ago. This is the first I've really done anything with them. At the time I bought them I just knew I'd come up with some sort of use for them some day. (The pink pin at zero hit points is for tracking non-lethal damage, BTW.)

A Blog to Watch

Without a doubt one of the coolest mofos to ever post on RPGnet is a feller who goes by the moniker Dr. Rotwang! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the handle). Well, now the good doctor has a blog, called I Waste the Buddha with My Crossbow! If that name alone doesn't get you to click through I can only assume you're reading this blog by mistake. Hi!
The original Doctor Rotwang.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Erol Otus does Arduin

Vroat versus Phraint!

Vroat versus Phraint!

Vroat versus Phraint!
Pure, unadulterated awesome.A vroat is a half-crocogator/half-frog, while a phraint is a totally rad bug-man (sort of a proto-thri kreen). Both are from the classic Arduin setting/game/steak sauce/shoe polish. And Erol Otus is the king of old school gaming illustrators.

Dungeon Map Theory

(This item is crossposted from theRPGsite.com forums.)

If old school D&D is your thing, I heartily recommend Dragonsfoot as the premier source for such things. The forums there are fantastic, marred occasionally by anti-d20 whining, but excellent nonetheless. In the middle of a lengthy thread about megadungeon construction I found the single best analysis of dungeon map design I have ever seen:


If you ever do dungeon crawls in your games, do yourself a favor and follow that link.

(TheRPGsite.com discussion here.)

the PCs are big meanies

I was expecting them to kill all my Mutant Half-Dragon Cycloptic Huge Monstrous Spiders, even though that Mutant template I found on the internet was utterly broken. My lovely spiders were built like tanks: eggshells with hammers. But then they killed my dragon. And not just any dragon either. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...

The original Weapon of Mass Destructionthe Two-Headed Half-Dragon Tarrasque!!!

For weeks now I have been looking forward to mauling them with this bad boy. But the gith monk went and ruined that. He went first on round one, tumbled up next to the dragon, and nailed him with a stunning fist. I rolled a '1' for the save, the only number that would have allowed the stun effect. This blown save cleared the way for the rest of the PCs to close to ass-whomping range without drawing attacks of opportunity. My poor little CR27 baddie with almost a thousand hitpoints never even got a chance to attack once. *sniff*

Next run, we kick off the final arc of this campaign: Greypocalypse Now!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

must-miss D&D

Every two weeks I try to send an email reminder to my players noting that today is a game day. Here's what I sent them just a few minutes ago:
In tonight's very special episode Angus sits down with his father over coffee for a heart-to-heart talk, while Darwane meets the girl of his dreams while volunteering at a homeless shelter. Meanwhile Gregor Guntherson trains hard for the upcoming rollerderby competition. Will he be able to overcome his fear of rollerskates and win the big game? Or will the greedy land developers bulldoze the family roller rink?
Sometimes I like messing with my players' heads. What's really on tap tonight at my game table? Three words: GIANT FUCKING SPIDERS.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Minis & The Art of the Visual Metaphor

I love miniatures at the gaming table, especially the wide variety of prepainted plastic figures you can get these days. My D&D campaign features the deployment of a wide variety of D&D, Heroscape, and MageKnight figures. And a Star Wars or Heroclix figure makes a guest appearance once in a while as well. Sometimes I knock myself out sorting through my large pile of little plastics dudes, looking for the exact right guy. But the thing I always try to remember is that the criteria for "the exact right guy" has very little to do with the weapons, armor, race, or gender the figure displays.

When selecting a figure for the gameboard, you really only need to consider two things. First, make sure the figure functions properly as a game marker. Is it easily differentiated from the other figures on the table? Secondly, look at the overall message suggested by the appearance of the figure. For example I've played two different PCs in the World of Alidor campaign, each of which was represented on the table by a Wizards of the Coast figure.. For mmy first guy I used the Elf Swashbuckler while the Shifter Barbarian usually stands in for my current guy. Note that Randolph of Falcon was neither an elf nor a swashbuckler. His hair wasn't blond and he didn't wear leather armor. But the pose and corresponding attitude of the Elf Swashbuckler was just perfect for representing my devil-may-care Favored Soul/Bard. Similarly, the Shifter Barbarian just oozes "I'm a rough-and-tumble bastard here to wreck your shit" and that's my new guy Osric in a nutshell.

Let's look at a less personal example. Say you're reffing a Traveller campaign. Your PCs are mucking around the spacelanes in a standard Beowulf class Free Trader, probably a limpy old model that's several decades old and many months in arrears on the loan payment. Suddenly, a massive Azhanti High Lightning class cruiser appears on the radar. Like me, you absolutely enjoy using miniatures as a way to scare the crap out of your players. You don't have any Trav ships (and sadly, they never made an AHL figure), so you break out some old Star Wars toys, from the excellent Micro Machines line. These two figures make the situation abundantly clear to the PCs: You might call this the worst thing to ever happen to your PC.  Han Solo calls it Tuesday.Before the session began many or most of your players had no friggin' clue how big and powerful an Azhanti High Lightining is in relation to their wee tramp freighter. But now they know, and they're scared. Without a single line of description, you've conveyed the situation quite nicely simply by picking the right minis.

But let's say you want to send a message to the PCs, something besides "The Evil Empire is on your ass and you're quite resoundingly fubared." Let's say you drop these two figures on the table instead:
Truly, a cooler crossover could hardly be imagined.That's a horse of a different color, isn't it? The players might come to the conclusion that rather than running like a mofo, perhaps they could discuss the situation calmly and rationally. Or maybe get in a fistfight with the captain of the cruiser. Or maybe a female PC could reach some sort of understanding with him. Either way, you sent a completely different message to the players without saying a word. And not just about the captain of the opposing ship either. Both figure choices also convey totally different messages about the nature of the setting. In which example would you rather be busted for smuggling? I'll take my chances with the Imperium that employs Captain Kirk, thank you.

One more spaceship example. Same basic situation, but again a different figure choice for the big Imperial ship.
Chewie, do you think they'd stop chasing us if we told them we're smuggling a load of tribbles?Like the first example, the players are probably going to assume that this cruiser is less than friendly. In addition they might be wondering if the crew of the vessel is even human. But they do know that being frozen in carbonite is the least of their concerns right now.