Thursday, November 30, 2006


Cool game dude Levi Kornelsen asked me to be a mod over at GameCraft. I was rather floored by this request, but I felt like I could maybe do some good helping out over there. So I took the gig. You'll still be able to find me doing admin stuff and posting over at theRPGsite though. I'm not jumping ship because there's no ship to jump. People can participate in multiple forums, right? I like what both sites are doing, just like I also dig Dragonsfoot and Citizens of the Imperium. I make a point of saying all this because some people might try and interpret my actions as some sort of criticism or repudiation of theRPGsite or the RPGpundit. That's totally not the case. If you hear anyone saying otherwise, please set 'em straight.

Rasslin' in Rantoul...

...and I missed it! Argh! Obsessed with Wrestling has results of a November house show in excruciatingly nearby Rantoul, Illinois. The name of the fed is New Breed Wrestling Alliance and they have a show scheduled for the 10th in not-quite-as-nearby-but-still-close Danville, where they seem to be based. Of course I have to be at a family gig that day. Double argh!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

June is Worldwide Adventure Writing Month

Let's do this thing. I picked the month of June out of the air. NaNoWriMo sets its arbitrary goal at 50,000 words. Do we want some sort of similar goal. Can an industry professional tell us how big adventure modules range? Even just a single yardstick ('The Keep on the Borderlands is X words long.') would be helpful.

Other things we probably need:

a nifty graphic
a website of somekind, maybe? a forum? a group livejournal? I dunno.
a place to host completed modules (TheRPGsite Companion could work.)
a list of places to send press releases, forums to notify, etc.
enthused people spreading the word

Stuart has already committed to writing a D&D adventure module. I'm going to write an adventure for something. Who else is in? What am I not thinking of?

Wednesday is New Comics Day

But I'm sure as hell not going to the comic store today. Maybe tomorrow. I hear Nextwave #10 is out this week, the only periodical I currently read as it comes out. In the meantime, I'll tell you about the old comics I've recently laid my hands on.

'Can you bake a pie?' 'No.' 'Neither can I!'On Sunday my main man Pat hooked me up with this great Taskmaster action figure. It came with a reprint of Avengers #196, the big T's first appearance. Although I love this character it freaks me out a bit that his dialogue sometimes sounds like he's the love child of Ben Grimm and Metamorpho. Still, photographic reflexes is one of the coolest superpowers ever and the idea of an evil training camp for goons is golden. I can't quite make up my mind if the Wasp's costume in this issue is one of the best or the worst I've ever seen:

I spend all issue playing the damsel in distress.  Big effin' surprise.

On the one hand many of her costumes over the years have been uninspired, dowdy, or simply an excuse to show cleavage. This one is at least interesting. On the other hand the assymetrical sleeves and legs reminds me of Dazzler's worst costume, which is never a good thing. BTW, I swiped that little pic of Wasp from a website that meticulously chronicles every Wasp costume change in the entire history of comics. Grodd bless the internet.

Taskmaster doesn't get a whole lot of action in this one, as it's his 'introduce the villain and he gets away' appearance. His elite goons, Cyber-Squad X, get an old fashion Avengers style beatdown for their trouble. Fun stuff. (For extra yucks, try repeatedly yelling "Cyber-Squad X!" as if you were an ecstatic Dirk Anger.)

There's a vintage clothing and general gew-gaw shop in downtown Champaign called Carrie's. I stopped in on Monday hoping to find a Christmas present for my sister-in-law. It's the kind of quirky little place that would have something she might dig. You may find it interesting that she's a Methodist clergywoman who has a tattoo of a communion cup and wafer on her left breast. She and her atheist computer nerd husband go to the big SCA shindig in Pennsylvania every year. (I have the neatest in-laws in the galaxy. It's true.)

Unused cover art for Micronauts #1.  I couldn't google up a pic of the one I bought.I didn't find anything for Anne, but my eye caught a big stack of old comics sitting in a wire basket. A sign indicated they were all a buck apiece. Flipping though the lot, most of them appeared to be various X-titles from the late 80's and early 90's and a smattering of 2099 stuff. After much deliberation I bought three books. I thought one of the mags I was buying a shiny reprint of Micronauts #5, but it turns out I actually purchased Micronauts Special #5, a reprint collection containing collating material from several issues starting at #12, the wrap-up of the first plot arc. As such, it's a little disjointed. But it's also utterly awesome. Big props to Chris Sims for pointing me towards Bill Mantlo and the Micronauts.

The second book I got at Carrie's was John Carter, Warlord of Mars #6. It has everything I want from a John Carter story, namely Our Hero almost batshit crazy with frantic action in search of his beloved Dejah Thoris. As usual, she's been kidnapped but the added wrinkle is that the only man who knows where she's being held prisoner is dead. I love the way Carter tears through Mars barely pausing to do good deeds, relentlessly hunting for the woman he loves. That's badass. And Tars Tarkas, Carter's four-armed green-skinned buddy, makes a brief appearance as well.

Finally, I got Spanner's Galaxy #5. When I grabbed this one I knew nothing about it other than the cover, which tells me it's #5 in a six issue limited from 80's era DC. And this dude in a disco tiara is fighting a robot which in turn menaces a woman that turns out to be the hero's kid sister. I've been a sucker for man versus robot fisticuffs ever since the glory days of the old Magnus: Robot Fighter series. The story inside turns out to be one part The Fugitive and one part a muder mystery, with a sprinkling of space western. The thing in the hero's hand is a 'shek', his trademark weapon. It seems to work kinda like that boomerang thing The Beastermaster liked to throw at baddies.

Blogger is being a little uncooperative with me uploading my last two cover shoots, so I link to them instead. Here's John Carter #6 and Spanner's #5.

I think I did pretty well picking those three mags out. Should opportunity arise (and Carrie's had more Micronauts and John Carter) I'd buy more issues of any of them. As sort of a strange coda to all this comic fun, yesterday it occurred to me that I bought three comic books this week and none of them featured traditional superheroes. Kinda weird.

they've gone plaid

This is part of a study on how rapidly memes spread across the internet via blogs. Help by posting the following link in your own blog and pinging Technorati (more info at the link.) Research like this relies on the goodwill of strangers, so lend a hand!


crossposted from theRPGsite

I'm one or two sesssions from finishing my current D&D campaign and it feels pretty damn good. After almost 25 years DMing this will be the first time I've ended a full length campaign exactly the way I want to. The first session featured our heroes fighting some bandits and giant rats. That was in May of '05. Last night one guy karate kicked Surtur to death. Next session features the Final Battle at the End of Time. Our opponents include:

the Midgard Serpent
and some balrogs thrown in for good measure

The best part is that I still have one of my original players from that first night in May and he's running his original PC. Angus the Half-Orc has seen a helluva lot over the last year and a half.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Amber & Erick Wujcik fans take note

TheRPGsite now has a new subforum dedicated to the works of Erick Wujcik and his Amber Diceless RPG in particular. I don't really know much about Amber, but this?

This shit is golden.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The time is tomorrow night.

The place is here:

I'm going to miss this campaign when it's done, but man are we going out with a bang.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

5 Random Thoughts

  • I am no longer interested in character generation software for tabletop RPGs. If I need computerized help to make my character, I don't want to play that game. Some days I can barely tolerate the complication of modern D&D and that's my favorite game. I'm through trying to wrestle with complicated chargen for other systems.

  • This may be the best single comic panel I have ever seen:

    This scan is about 3 times the size it appears in the book.(From "My Day" by Chris Ware, appearing in the anthology McSweeney's Quartlery Concern (issue 13).)

  • System Does Matter, but a lot of time and effort spent chasing the perfect system could be focused into actually playing a mechanically suboptimal yet fun game.

  • I think RPG Pundit's constant drumbeat of 'swine' infesting the RPG scene is starting to damage my brain. Last night I had a dream in which I was reading a book on RPG theory and in it I encountered a new word: hamculture.

  • The hobby needs more ready-to-run adventures. Crunchtastic rules supplements are fun for the players but adventures drive my game. You've heard of National Novel Writing Month? I would suggest that our hobby needs Worldwide Module Writing Month.

Friday, November 24, 2006

new forum: GameCraft

Levi Kornelson's got a bit of a reputation as 'the nice Forgite'. While he's certainly one of the nicest gamers I've met online, I think his rep oversimplifies the situation. His body of work and online writings make it crystal clear that he's not a Cultist of Edwards or GNS-uber-alles type. Also, there are other nice Forge people.

Whatever the case, Levi has started a new forum called GameCraft. It's about the craft of gaming. I'm a big fan of utilitarian names like that. Hence, 'Jeff's Gameblog'.

My Fave Free RPGs

Dead Meat by Sean Wipfli - I hate to start this list with a game that appears to no longer be available for download, but Dead Meat deserves some recognition. It's the sort of RPG that a confident GM could run as a party game for non-roleplayers. The golden idea in this one: all players get three PCs, because the game assumes everyone will die at least 2 times per session!

Puppetland by John Tynes - Shit, is this one gonesville, too? I'm getting old and out of touch with my online freebies! Fortunately you can still find copies of the commercial release published by Hogshead. Anyway, Puppetland was the first game that really creeped my shit out in a good way. I'm not sure if I'll ever run it, because A) it looks like hard work to actually play and B) it gives me the jibblies.

by Mikko Kauppinen - Finally, one you all can actually download! Powergame is a supers game that takes the basic lighthanded approach of the old Marvel FASERIP game and ditches the big percentile chart in favor of small d6 dicepools. Nothing mechanically revolutionary here, just a solid design that gone through a lot of playtesting and rewriting. Years of chasing the mechanically perfect superhero simulator have left me jaded, but Powergame is one of the few supers games I still give a crap about these days.

Bad Attitudes by Uncle Bear - Shitburgers, this one seems to have gone AWOL as well! A nifty little uber-simple game devoted to action movie shenanigans, with a silly random adventure generator. Not enough game for a campaign, but makes for nice explodey one-shots.

Wuthering Heights Roleplay by Phillip Tromeur - I ran this at a con once and it was an absolute hoot. Overwrought period meoldrama is pretty much the polar opposite of the kind of games I normally run, but Mssr. Tromeur's design makes it a fun change of pace.

Perfect20 by Levi Kornelsen - One word: tight. More than one word: Does everything I want from a generic d20 light system, the 'build your own class' idea behind the advancement traits system is exactly what I want from a d20 game, and even the frickin' layout is perfect. A 'go-to' game every bit as awesome as slick commercial releases like my beloved Savage Worlds. If Levi sold this beauty as a softcover on Lulu I'd be first in line to buy one. Heck, I'd consider buying extra copies to hand out at my game table.

Mazes & Minotaurs by Olivier Legrand - This game is basically a re-imagining of original Dungeons & Dragons with two key differences: the setting is mythical Bronze Age Greece and the mechanics actually make sense.

FUDGE by Steffan O'Sullivan - The original toolbox RPG is still one of the greats, in my opinion. Am I the only one who thinks it's funny when gamers complain that you can't play this system without owning special dice?

The S. John Ross Triple Threat: Risus, Encounter Critical, and Pokethulhu by S. John Ross aren't just some of my favorite free rpgs, they're some of the best damn roleplaying games I've encountered. Full stop. Risus is the rightful heir to the kind of comedy gaming fun that I used to get out of Toon and Ghostbusters. Encounter Critical distills down everything that's awesome about Arduin, Rifts, World of Synnibarr and other crazy brain kitchen sink rpgs, leaving you with Over-The-Top Gaming Without Tears. Pokethulhu mashes together two jokes that have grown tiresome and unfunny to me, yet the resulting combination still cracks me the hell up.

Dungeons & Dragons - Sure, you can throw an infinite amount of money at the D&D, but these days you don't have to. The various online SRD sources make playing without corebooks a destinct possibility, though I find having the hardbounds at the table to be convenient. And then there's OSRIC, which makes 1st edition AD&D available as an Open Game License product. There's nothing I could say or do that would change the mind of anyone with firsthand experience of AD&D, but if you've never seen the inside of the old tomes following that last link may allow you to have a more informed opinion of the Bad Ol' Days. Basic Fantasy is also a good option, as it basically gives the OSRIC treatment to Basic/Expert D&D, with a few changes. 'Elf' isn't a class under Basic Fantasy, but otherwise it's pretty much on-target.

Jeff Goes Shopping

This morning I participated in the national consumer madness of Day After Thanksgiving Shopping. While I had been out shopping on what people in retail call 'Black Friday', this was the first time I showed up at a store for their special early-opening riots. This is the sort of mob action I normally avoid like the plague, but I had a strong motivator this year. In my household we place ironclad limits on what can be spent on each family member's Christmas gift.* This system is part of an effort to avoid bankrupting ourselves at the holidays. But I hit a snag when I started pricing this item: GIANT ROBOT WOOKIE!  This toyline is mad genius.That's the Star Wars Transformers Millenium Falcon/Han Solo Mech & Chewbacca Mech! And it is the perfect gift for my nephew. Under normal, rational pricing schemes this toy is just over our limit. But this morning one store in town was selling these babies for 60% off. I had to get up at 5am and wait almost an hour in a byzantine line that only leads to the real checkout line, but it was worth it to get Cameron the awesomest toy I can afford to buy him.

So I was waiting 50 minutes in this infernal line that starts in the toy department, loops around the back of the store, veers off into the 6th dimension, and reappears in normal spacetime in the vicinity of the actual checkout line. When I'm by myself in situations like this I don't normally make smalltalk with other folks in line. I just shutup, patiently wait my turn, and keep an eye out for an opportunity to somehow game the system by jumping lines or other trickery. I'm not a pusher or a line cutter, but if I see a non-rude way to circumvent waiting in line I want to be ready to get in on that action.

While I'm quietly waiting the woman standing behind me in the queue is talking loudly on her cell phone. Loud enough to annoy the crap out of me even over the din of a thousand bargain-mad customer clawing their way through the aisles and each other. This woman apparently called someone for the express purpose of bitching about the long, slow line. I help my peace, but I strongly felt the urge to turn around and yell 'Hey, lady! Did you not know how holiday shopping worked the day after Thanksgiving?' But I didn't. Who knows how long we were going to be in line together? I didn't need to be making any enemies.

A few minutes into this woman's long and boring tirade, the group immediately in front of me starts up a conversation. Turns out the lot of them are acquaintences sharing a cart. The subject of their chitchat is the bone marrow transplant and chemo regimen of the hubby of one of the group. Talk about putting everything into perspective. Behind me Madame Loudmouth is bellyaching about waiting in line for a bit, while in front of me a woman is bravely explaining the ongoing efforts to save her husband's life.

*This limit system in no way applies to my daughter. Because she's my little sweetpea and I say so.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

We celebrate Thanksgiving the traditional way...

...with Light Sabre Fights!

Even Bloo from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends was impressed by that parry.
That's me wearing a Power Ranger mask as Darth Vader, my daughter as Mace Windu, and my nephew the ninja as Anakin Skywalker. Yeah, I know Vader vs. Anakin doesn't really work. I didn't write this script. Makes more sense than midichlorians, if you ask me.

Best part of the whole throwdown was the fact that my nephew opened hostilities with a force push. That's a pretty subtle tactic when the alternative is whacking away with a laser sword.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Crabaugh Creeps

In last month's Salute to Paul Crabaugh the Doctor Rotwang! posted stats for the following nifty critter, created in part using Crabaugh's 'Random Monsters' article.
Level: 1
Intelligence: Semi-intelligent
Alignment: Chaos
Type: Mammal
Speed: 9
AC: 7
HD: 4
Special Characteristics: Hostile to magic users, Web
Damage Done: 1-3 (Dagger)
Size: M

Description: The thaumagrudge is a bizarre beast -- tripdedal, posessing of two sinewy tentacles atop its white-furred torso, its origin is unclear but most likely magical. It attacks magic-users on sight, wielding an oddly-curved dagger, seeking to kill. Upon a successful hit, the thaumagrudge may immediately wrap its tentacles around its target, which is then treated as if under the effects of a Web spell. It is theorized that thaumagrudges are decadently-mutated former magic-users themselves; this may explain their violent malice towards wizards.
Below are six critters I had intended to post in the original Crabaugh article, but I had misplaced my notes. (You'd be amazed how often I misplace my notes. I think I've ran more con games based upon my memory of my notes than games where I actually had the damn things in hand.) Note that I am totally ripping off the good Doctor's format.

Level: 1
Intelligence: highly intelligent
Alignment: law
Type: mammal
Speed: 15
AC: 5
HD: 2+2
Special Characteristics: can't be surprised or back-stabbed
Damage Done: 1-8 (sword)
Size: L

Description: A green-skinned giant with four legs and a single arm sprouting from the middle of its chest. Because it has to get all its shirts and pants specially made, the One-Armed Goondar is always following up on leads in an effort to locate a good tailor. A Goondar is nearly impossible to sneak up on, as its torso is capable of quickly rotating 180 degrees.

Level: 2
Intelligence: unintelligent
Alignment: neutral
Type: mammal
Speed: 6
AC: 6
Special Characteristics: mean!
Damage Done: 1-4 (bite)
Size: S

Description: This small badger-like canine roams deserts and moors in large packs. They will attack any group they outnumber, but are scared away by fire. Giants and ogres generally avoid dingorines as a pack of them chewing your feet and ankles can make walking and stomping much less fun than usual.


Level: 3
Intelligence: highly intelligent
Alignment: chaos
Type: mammal
Speed: 6
AC: 7
HD: 3-1
Special Characteristics: hate clerics
Damage Done: 1-6 (mace)
Size: L

Description: This subrace of sickly, besplotched ogres blames their affliction on all of cleric-kind. They are the last survivors of a nasty plague that swept the realm a century ago, afflicting human, demi-human, and humanoid alike. Clerical aid rooted out the disease, but their spells were unable to completely cure infected ogres. All of monsterdom drove the Spotted Skeptics into exile, but their ability to pass the disease on to other races seems to have faded.

Level: 4
Intelligence: highly intelligent
Alignment: chaos
Type: undead
Speed: 9
AC: 4
HD: 4+1
Special Characteristics: invisible
Damage Done: 1-6 (strangle)
Size: M

Description: These undead manifestations would be nigh impossible to fight were it not for their apparent need to make noise while attacking. Most Phantom Stranglers laugh hideously but some will sing showtunes or gossip about nearby monsters while choking the life out of you. Phantom Stranglers turn as wraiths.

Level: 5
Intelligence: unintelligent
Alignment: neutral
Type: mammal
Speed: 9
AC: 6
HD: 6
Special Characteristics: hate elves, poisonous
Damage Done: 1-4 (bite) plus poison
Size: S

Description: These fearsome green rodents haunt the forests that elves dare not tread. Any wood elf can instantly recognize the distinctly pungent aroma of a nearby Unseelie Squirrel nest. These beasties are sometimes trained by thouls as attack animals. A successful bite attack forces the victim to make a saving throw versus poison. Elves who fail are instantly slain but all others only sustain an additional 1-8 points of damage.

Level: 6
Intelligence: highly intelligent
Alignment: neutral
Type: reptile
Speed: 9
AC: 4
HD: 9-1
Special Characteristics: no head
Damage Done: 1-8 (sword)
Size: L

Description: These large, scaly creature resemble gigantic lizard men with faces on their torsos and eyes on long, snaky stalks. They speak Dragonish and are one of the few races on friendly terms with much of dragonkind. As such, they are privy to secrets known to few. But few are those who enter their marshy domains in search of hidden knowledge and return to tell the tale.

Paul Jaquays: Renaissance Gamer

I mentioned Mssr. Jaquays in passing a couple days ago. This guy did it all. He wrote what many consider some of the best dungeons ever created (Caverns of Thracia and Dark Tower from Judges Guild), edited gaming magazines (Dragon and Dungeoneer), plus he was one hell of an illustrator. Check out these fab Dungeoneer covers.

'Well, most of the best freighter pilots can be found here. Only watch your step. This place can be a little rough.'I love the yellow robot in the lower left. He looks like C-3PO after he retired and let himself go. Check out this close-up:

Dear God, is that robot wearing a swearer vest?!?(Incidentally, this little guy was the inspiration for Unit BX-652, a character sketch I wrote for Dr. Rotwang's awesome RPGsite thread about 'Casablanca in Space'.)

Here's the great spaceship cover for issue 12. Here Jaquays really shows off why the folks at GDW chose him to do the spaceship art for Supplement 9: Fighting Ships.

'Trouble with the nebula, sir, is all that static discharge and gas clouds our tactical display.  Visual won't function and shields will be useless.'That background is absolutely fantastic. I want to be on that ship, heading into that nebula. That's the exact emotional effect I want to get from this type of sci-fi art.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Silver Lining of Undead Cheesecake

While I was less than thrilled over the recent theRPGsite/RPGnet forum drama (If you don't know, do NOT ask. Seriously.), one good thing came of this nonsense. While I was over at RPGnet looking for posts slagging theRPGsite, I found an ad for a whole Bag O' Zombie Babes!!!!
Rar!  I am undead and sexy!  And you are a big perv!
From Twilight Creations, the same people who brought you the original Bag O'Zombies and the sequel Bag O' Zombie Dogs. These products are all ostensibly for the game Zombies!!! but I use the Bag O' Zombies my bud Pat gave me in my D&D games. They're a little small compared to regular D&D figures, but they work great for larges masses of cannon fodder. I've used the zombies as Smoldering Lemures and for the Ultimate Githyanki Slaughterfest.

By the way, I never found all the anti-theRPGsite venom I keep hearing about.

But I play on weeknights!

You scored as Weekend Warrior. The Weekend Warrior is in the game to kick down doors and kill monsters. After a long day in the office or classroom, he wants his character to wade into the action. Too much time spent on diplomacy, story arc, planning, or even character-building tends to bore him. He tends to prefer combat-ready, simple-to-create, simple-to-run characters, leaning toward fighter types or blaster magic-users. Optimizing the rules for an ideal character is secondary, so long as he gets to hit things. To the Weekend Warrior, the greatest reward in roleplaying is the exciting, action-packed battle.

With apologies to Robin Laws.

Weekend Warrior


Character Player


Casual Gamer






Power Gamer




What RPG Player (Not Character) Type Are You?
created with

(Levi found this great quiz.)

Monday, November 20, 2006

My Favorite Holloway

Today Dr. Rotwang! posted a new thread at theRPGsite about game artist Jim Holloway. Here's my favorite Holloway illustration, which accompanied Len Lakofka's Leomund's Tiny Hut column detailing the Entertainer class. I never used the class. It was one of the most convoluted and arcane classes in the entirety of 1st edition AD&D. But this drawing made me want to play one anyway.
Dear diary, we opened to mixed reviews.
That's from Dragon issue 69, January 1983. First issue I ever owned. The sorceress on the cover had quite an effect on young Jeff, let me tell you.

True Story

I paid five bucks for a copy of Dungeoneer Journal #23 just so I could lay my hands on a copy of this fullpage illo:

'Ignore it.  It's only an old well.'Finding the magazine containing this illo at our local con led me to becoming a collector of The Dungeoneer, a great little rag published by Judges Guild and edited by Paul Jacquays. The Dungeoneer and another JG mag, Judges Guild Journal, later merged to form the The Dungeoneer Journal. I don't have any other issues of DJ, but by issue 23 Jacquays is no longer at the helm and something seems lost thereby. Jacquays went on to have a stint editing Dragon.

Over the next week or two I plan on digging through my Dungeoneers and hitting you all with some old school goodness.

Badabaskor, ho!

Goodman Games continues to demonstrate that they know exactly what to sell to get my money.Stephen Colbert mentioned this one at least once on his show.I got a ton of old Judges Guild crap, but I've never seen the inside of the original Badabaskor. That makes me want the re-write even more, as I get all the old school goodness and the new stat blocks. And no chance at being disappointed with any changes from the original version.

I *heart* henchmen

In the Moldvay Basic Set they were called retainers, in AD&D they used the term henchmen, and nowadays they go by the moniker cohorts. In supers games they're usually called sidekicks. Whatever the label, I love PCs with their own trusty shield-man. As a DM I squeal with glee when PCs recruit junior adventurers to fight by their side. Two of my favorite characters from my old Bandit Kingdoms campaign were Sam and Tobit, the NPC henchthugs of Doctor (later Baron) Phostarius, Pat's chaotic bard/mage.

Until 3E made you buy your cohorts with feats a lot of DMs I knew weren't as hench-friendly as I. That anti-retainer bias combined with my tendency to DM rather than play resulted in me going over 20 years before I had a proper cohort for one of my own D&D characters. In Jon's World of Alidor game I've finally achieved henchitude. Here's a Heromachine rendering of Abu of the Thousand Scars, the xeph soulknife/rogue sidekick to my guy, Osric the Slayer.
I promise to buy the poor bastard some proper gear as soon as we get back to civilization.
His thousand scars are the result of henious mistreatment at the hands of the Dragon Worshipping Cannibal Halflings.

I'm so new at running a cohort that for the last two sessions I forget to give poor Abu his fair share of the XPs. He may have leveled and I don't even know it!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I don't mean to brag...

...but my readers are totally awesome. You folks never fail to amaze me, whether it's fabulous designers like S. John and Mearls, fellow bloggers like Zachary and the Evil DM, or regular joe gamer types like Doug and Rich. (I really shouldn't name names like that because I'm omitting a huge number of equally rocking people.) The comments you all leave are always fun and insightful. I started this blog to hear myself talk, but my readers make the experience so much richer.

And every once in a while one of you sends me a gift, which always blows my mind. Today in the mail I got this:

I am totally rocking out right now.Awesome dude horrox sent me this Vargr-themed heavy metal CD! Hot damn this stuff is rad! And don't get me wrong here. This isn't a case of putting some shit on the cover because it looks cool. The lyrics namecheck the Spinward Marches, the Imperial Navy, and assloads of other Trav setting fluff. These Weird Lord Slough Feg guys are cool. I had heard of them because the one and only Erol Otus had done a couple covers for them a while back, but this is first time I got to experience the Slough Feg sound. And I like what I'm hearing. The strings are full of pomp and the vocals aren't all gravelly like so many metal acts I hear nowadays. What did Dave Hoover call that sound? The Grover Voice, maybe? Rather than do that, lead singer Mike Scalzi actually, you know, sings.

Anyhoo, thanks again to horrox for the CD and the rest of you for making me love doing this blog thing. Don't ever stop being rad.

Awesome Arduin Quote

"I've been very curious about this game over the years too. I got the Spellbook at one point, the only Arduin book I ever managed to get my hands on, and I remember that it had, as its top-level wizard spell, a spell where the spellcaster ripped open his shirt and shot out a green starburst line of energy that was 10000 feet long, and did 200 hit points damage for 1D12 seconds/rounds in that line. For each second that he did it, there was a 5% cumulative chance that he'd be consumed by the spell and turn into a dessicated skeleton, but the skeleton would continue to stand there firing the starburst until the spell was over. That spell by itself convinced me this game fucking rocked."

--RPG Pundit, on theRPGsite

Friday, November 17, 2006

Five Overlooked RPGs

Today I'm just chewing the fat (or mangling the electrons, whatever) about some old games. It's sorta what I do here.

hot chick + formal attire + pistol = perfect coverJames Bond 007
The hip new kids have Spycraft 2.0 and the grognards clutch their tattered copies of Top Secret, but for me the quintessential espionage rpg will always be James Bond 007. Released by Avalon Hill's short-lived Victory Games imprint in '83 as part of Operation: Oops! We Passed On That Gygax Manuscript And Now We Have Some Catching Up To Do, designer Gerard Christopher Klug did everything right with this one. If it was a Bond staple, this game covered it. Guns, fistfights, gadgets, chase scenes, and casinos. And the first and maybe still the best system for seduction ever devised. Unlike most rpgs, these seduction rules are crunchy enough I don't think I'd feel weird if one of the PCs tried to bed their own Bond babe.

As a kid this game was a little too heavy for my group, but nowadays I look at oo7 and see something that would work well for a explodey and sexy little one-shot. The line supporting this product was pretty extensive, but large chunks of it consisted of adventure modules that were replays of the movies. I can't quite bring myself to plonk down money for an adventure I've already seen. But the other supplements were good, particularly Thrilling Locations and the Q Manual. The latter was the first 'equipment porn' book I ever owned for an RPG, though I'm not sure it's worth the collector prices nowadays. The core rulebook contains enough guns and cars and whatnot that extrapolating your own wouldn't be very hard. The one adventure module I'd really like to flip through is You Only Live Twice II: Back of Beyond. The other fake sequel Victory Games did, Goldfinger II , reputedly sucked donkey balls.

But questionable adventure modules aside, the corebook is solid. The random encounter charts include things like "shady contact" and "priviledged henchman". And the large NPC section includes stats for Pussy Galore. What else can I say?

I swiped this pic from Andy Collins.  I own a copy, mind you.  I'm just too lazy to scan it if I don't have to.
Lords of Creation

Lords of Creation was another member of the Avalon Hill rpg blitz. (The others were an oddball non-Gloranthan licensed version of RuneQuest and the infamously complex fantasy rpg Powers & Perils. It remains a mystery to me why anyone thought releasing two incompatible fantasy rpgs at the same time was a good idea.) Tom Moldvay created this puppy fresh off a stint at TSR, where he was responsible for editing the mighty 1981 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules, the one with the awesome Erol Otus cover, as well as writing the weird but fun adventure module X2: Castle Amber.

Turning the Moldvay weirdness first found in Castle Amber up to eleven, Lords of Creation was a game of dimensional-hopping, time-travelling, multi-genre adventure. Not a generic or universal system, Lords of Creation had its own quirky set of powers and skills that were not designed to cover every possibility. Rather the available powers were like the spells in Basic/Expert D&D: a good enough selection to get the game started with the implication that the GM could add more as necessary. (Crazy aside: I'd abbreviate the game as LOC but those three letters will be forever burned into my brain as Liquid Organic Cleaner. Back when I was a kid my folks almost ended up in the Amway cult and LOC was one of their big products.)

PCs in Lords of Creation worked on different rules than everyone else. They have levels, whereas NPCs do not. Although the PCs start out as simply skilled normal people, each new level unlocks some of the hidden godlike powers contained within them. It's very gnostic, really. At level ten you are declared a Lord of Creation and you gain the ability to make your own worlds. This is kinda like the ancient Gygaxian concept of the Junior Dungeon Master, as Lords of Creation are encouraged to GM when the party ventures into their realm. Although you could call achieving the rank of Lord of Creation a victory condition, the real heart of the game is much simpler than that: Here are the keys to the multiverse, kids. Go out and have fun.
If you can look at this cover and not give the Dio devil horns then you aren't in the target audience.  Also, you suck.SenZar

You gaming hipsters who know SenZar from its bad rep on RPGnet are probably laughing your asses off right now. This game has a World of Synnibarr-level bad rap over there. And it is mostly undeserved. I will grant you that it's yet another fucking fantasy game. And its over-testosteroned "Gaming in God Mode" approach is the absolute height of adolescent male power fantasy drivel. But if you judge the game on its own merits, as adolescent male power fantasy drivel, then SenZar gets a big shiny gold star. Because SenZar is the most mechanically-coherent adolescent male power fantasy I have ever seen. I am not pulling your leg when I say that before the publication of D&D 3E this was the single tightest design in the field of killing people and taking their stuff. Everything in the book was dedicated to the basic idea of rocking out - hard.

In fact, the only reason why I never played this game was because I didn't locate a copy until after 3.x was on the scene. I run a epic gestalt campaign where one guy took a level in Ninja just because he can. That, my friends, is the exact moment when SenZar started to look redundant. But if anything I've said about the game picques your interest, do yourself a favor and check out Jason Sartin's excellent review.

The MegaTraveller Players Manual called.  It wants its cover back.Space Master

RoleMaster's redheaded stepchild doesn't get nearly the love it deserves. Probably the main reason for this neglect is that by the time it really hit its stride the market for sci-fi games was already saturated. Stupid kids like me played West End's Star Wars or FASA's Star Trek or TSR's Star Frontiers. The hard core sci-fi gamers already had Traveller. But if you're the kind of nut who thinks percentile dice and uberlethal crit charts are neat, then Space Master is your kind of game. I can only really speak for the late eighties 2nd edition of the game, though I undertstand the 1st edition wasn't too different.

What really surprises me is that I have yet to hear of anyone using Space Master to run games set in Traveller's Charted Space/3rd Imperium setting. I'm telling you those two would go together like peanut butter and chocolate, especially if you had a Classic Traveller ruleset handy to cover things like starship construction and trade rules. One of the constant complaints of CT players is the relatively sparse combat rules. Space Master delivers on that in spades.

The Space Master GM book also rattles off some other ways of making the game work, aside from their own kinda bland 'Terran Empire' setting. My favorite suggestion was the idea that you could do modern era games in the mold of Buckaroo Banzai or the old British series UFO. I dig the concept of using a space operatic system for running around in dark suits (fedoras and skinny ties would be mandatory) and getting into laser powered fistfights with the grey aliens.

Subtitled The Earth Won't Hold The Dead (though I like to think of it as "That Other Zombie Game"), Zombi is exactly what you would think it is, a game about surviving the horrors of the zombie apocalypse. I got both Zombi and a huge pile of All Flesh Must Be Eaten books on the same trip to The Source in Minneapolis-St.Paul, Minnesota. The Source effin' rules. If you ever get a chance to go there, do not pass it up. It's a five star comics and games store with the best used bins I've ever seen at an FLGS.

Anyway, a year later I had sold off my AFMBE stuff but I've still got Zombi. In a nutshell here's why I pick Zombi over the more popular alternative: All Flesh tries too hard. That sounds stupid and maybe it is, but Zombi shows up to the gig, strums a few chords, and calls it a night. No big whup. Meanwhile I feel like AFMBE is killing itself trying to write a space epic rock opera concept album. AFMBE, even using just the core book, is way more game than I'll ever need for a concept as straightforward as "Holy shit! Zombies!" Hell, I have an old print-out at home for an internet freebie called Dead Meat that almost gets the job done in 3 or 4 pages. (Ron Edwards's old review of Dead Meat is almost as long as the game itself, as I recall.)

But Zombi has its own virtues, quite apart from not being AFMBE. Character generation is a snap. Your PC and everyone is only defined by 10 skills. Not traits, skills. If you want your dude to be strong or puny you use the under-defined advantage/disadvantage system. Which I like just as under-defined as it is. The zombie rising scenario outlined manages to contain both charming details and maddening holes. ("Why? Why are the dead rising?" is my favorite question to not be answered in a zombie game. I like my zombie apocalypses harsh and inexplicable, with a side order of black despair.) The brief adventure hooks are pretty sweet, too. All in a cute little digest-sized package. Well, it's made in Britain, so the books not exactly digest-sized. Rather it's some sort of alphanumerical size like A4 or B52 or U2 or something.

Incidentally, I should mention that Zombi was published by now-defunct garage outfit Crucible Design, who also released SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis XDO. That game that should probably win some sort of award for awesomest rpg title.

Return of the Armchair Booker

I missed the first hour of last night's TNA Impact! prime time special, coming into the show at the end of the Christian Cage/Rhino barbed wire cage match fiasco. Cage was wearing the ol' crimson mask already. The ending of that match, whereby Cage won the match but lost the war, was pretty darn good booking. But Cage did not need to be sent down to the ring to mess up the awesome-tastic 3-way X-Division championship match. Styles, Sabin, and Christopher Daniels were really on fire last night. I saw at least 3 maneuvers I had never seen before.

And the final match was a booking trainwreck. The contestants, Kurt Angle and Abyss, both have high profile matches headlining the card for Sundays PPV, right? Why on earth would Abyss be selected as the sacrificial lamb for Angle's first match in TNA. We all know Angle needs a clean win to establish his credentials for people (like me) who have never seen him work in the ring. Abyss's credibility is already shaky given the fact that no one seriously believes he will take the championship from Our Lord & Savior Stingus Christ. Why make the man do a clean job only a few days before. Is the plan to let Sting squash Abyss? And the double run-in was stupid as well. Samoa Joe doesn't need to pummel and unconscious Angle to build up heat for this feud. And he doesn't need to cast as the blackhearted heel of the piece. Up until this broadcast I was completely happy with the scenario that two badass tweeners were going at simply because that's what badass tweeners do. And I hate tweeners! Don't go off-script the moment you have me hooked, TNA! And as much as I think Sting should, you know, earn that bajillion dollars he's making, his appearance last night was effed up the moment he stepped off his magical flying pogo stick. Again, I ask if this run-in was necessary. It didn't help the match I was watching and it didn't make me more interested in the upcoming Sting/Abyss match.

The actual wrestling match between Angle and Abyss was pretty darn good. It's been a long time since I've seen a David & Goliath match-up where the David role was played by a technical mat wrestler. Nowadays that role is usually filled with a high-flyer. Given Angle's performance last night the match I want to see right now is Angle versus Robert Roode. Let those guys kick it old school for ten or fifteen minutes.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The way I see it.

A brief graphical response to an ongoing debate at theRPGsite.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

You Peoples Are All Wonderful

Thanks for all the fabulous suggestions in the comments section of the last post. You guys are great! Work is crazy right now and I've exhausted all the half-finished articles I've had lying around for quickie publication. I hope to catch you all soon, but I'm not sure when my next post will be.

Until then, stay awesome!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

in a metal mood

One of the regrets of my youth was that I spent too much money on roleplaying games and not enough on music. Which is to say I spent all my free money on rpgs and none of it on tunes. In particular I rue the fact that I missed the opportunity to hop on the heavy metal bandwagon back when it ruled the world of music. In many ways heavy metal and D&D go together like peas and mashed potatoes. Some people keep them separate on their plate but the awesomest folks mix 'em together with wild abandon.

So I've decided to try to re-edumacate myself on the good ol' days of heavy metal. I'm hoping some of my readers can help steer me to the good stuff. (Paging Dave Hoover. Mr. Hoover please pick up the white courtesy phone.) I'm mostly interested in the period of 1970 to 1983. Why stop at 1983? Because it's got to be hard to avoid irony after the 1984 release of a certain documentary. Below is my tentative list of stuff to look for.

Black Sabbath, Paranoid
Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell
Judas Priest, British Steel
Judas Priest, Screaming for Vengeance
Iron Maiden, The Number of the Beast
Dio, Holy Diver
KISS (Okay, I can't tell you if these guys are metal or not. But KISS fucking rules.)
Queen (ditto)
Uriah Heep (Are they metal or just hippy freaks with guitars? Do I care either way?)
Hawkwind (see above)
Twisted Sister

So, music scenesters, any other suggestions? I'm looking for the evil and the fantastical. Albums with at least one good chartmaker would be a great place to start.

Step aside, Gandalf

Alan Moore to appear on The Simpsons
'I will not hesitate to beat you soundly with my pimp cane.'Am I the only one who would use this as the character sketch for a badass magic-user?

Monday, November 13, 2006

new games

My sister had a couple of new games with her this weekend. The first we played was Tumblin' Dice, which she hopes to demo at Winter War. This is a fun little party that involves manual skill. It's the first such game since Jenga that I've really liked. The idea is simple: you roll, flick, or bounce dice off of the upper starting area to the lower levels of the board. Once you're across the black 'O points' line you score points equal to the number rolled times 1, 2, 3, or 4. Games are played in 4 rounds, so you have opportunity to knock other players' dice off the board or maybe you can knock a previouslly thrown die of yours into a higher scoring position. Tumblin' Dice makes for raucous fun and would be perfect as a party game. You can teach this game to anyone in a minute or two.
One nifty little feature is the dry erase scoresheets right on the board:
Whupped again by my kid sister.  She insisted on tallying my abyssmal final score before I snapped this picture.
Then we played Ingenious,a Riener Knizia tile-laying game. Its one of those deceptively elegant games at which my sister excels, so she beat me at this one as well. The basic deal is that you draw tiles shaped like two connected hexagons out of a bag. You score points by laying like colors in lines. Points are scored for each color (hence the multi-track scoreboard in the pics below). Whoever has the most points in their worst color wins the game. Very fun as a two-handed game. I'm hoping Jenn brings this one to Winter War so we can play it with more players.

This is one of those games where the final board configuration doesn't really tell you anything.  But it sure looks pretty.

Dice and the march of progress

Alot of gamers like sparkly dice and weird-shaped dice and whatnot. There's nothing wrong with being a gamer and having a dice obsession. Diceless games raise so many rankles because of the visceral reaction to the suggestion that these primal totems can be easily discarded.

But I really like also looking at dice as a tool, a piece of technology. In that vein here are two of the niftier dice in my collection:
I need a new battlemat.  Maybe one of those hugeass big-as-your-table jobbies.The purple d10 marked 00 through 90 makes rolling percentiles a snap. You never have to remember to indicate which die is the tens die. And it discourages cheating by some of the more morally challenged players. I believe Lou Zocchi's company Gamescience first came out with this kind of die. They called it the deckaider. Lou Zocchi's influence upon gaming is probably vastly underestimated these days. As I understand it he was a major distributor in the early days of the hobby, as well as the source for the best dice. I've seen Zocchi credited with inventing the original d10 as well. Before he came along everybody used d20's marked 0 to 9 twice. I know a few of my readers work in the game industry. If you've got any good info on Mr. Zocchi I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

The green die is the new d10 that you can get in some Hasbro/Wizards products. I think mine came from a D&D Basic set. Not the new one with the cool blue dragon. I still need to get one of those. Mine is from the immediately prior version. I love this die because it actually has the number ten on it. All my other d10's are marked zero to nine. (Well, except for these goofy Werewolf: The Whatever dice that have claw symbols on them. I got them free at a con.) Teaching newbies that zero means ten is an unnecessary pain in the butt. Wizards' new d10 eliminates that part of the learning process.

Neither new ten-sider does anything to elminate the '00' problem. A roll of one hundred is still represented in a way that is both counterintuitive and different from every other result that percentile dice can generate. For a further look at this issue, I recommend this old Critical Miss article.

Not Quite A Review: Alma Mater

[Here's a repost of an item from theRPGsite thread entitled Tell Me About "Alma Mater". I wanted to save a copy and also I thought maybe some folks who read this blog might find it interesting. I've made some edits to the original post, because having your own blog gives you the ability to rewrite history.]

Okay, I've got my copy in front of me. Time to break it down.

The Erol Otus cover depicts juvenile delinquents gathered at the front door of their high school. The common vices of high school are shown: horny guy grabs his girlfriend's crotch, junkie buys pills from generic black gangsta. As much as I like Otus's art, many of the figures look awkward. I really like the junkie though, he's really spooky looking and reminds me of Otus's ghoul from the Monster Cards set.

The inside front cover is a dungeon map of Central High. That should tell you a lot right there.

The first page of text is the generic rpg intro, explaining how the hobby works and how to use dice. The game uses d6's and the old d20 marked 0-9 twice.

Onto char gen. Each character has 7 stats: Strength, Coordination, Appearance, Intelligence, Learning Drive, Courage, Willpower, and Constitution. These are generated by rolling 7d10 and assigning each die to a different stat. You then pick a class, with some classes requiring certain stats or a specific gender to join. The classes are Average kid, Brain, Cheerleader, Criminal, Jock, Tough, and Loser. Anyone can get into the Average class. In order to be a Loser all your stats have to be 4 or less, which is cute. You then generate your social level based upon your class and a d10 roll, which in turn generates your starting money and allowance. Your age and birthday are then generated. You get stat pushes when you turn 16, 17 and 18.

Next you generate your PCs problems from the Problems table. The number of these you are assigned is a function of your Appearance score, the lower your App the more likely you are to have one or more problems. These problems included Respiratory ailments, speech impediments, missing teeth, weight problems, shortness, dental problems (including braces), vision defects, tallness, skin disease, unusual practice (leading to a subtable of sexual deviancy, a '7' on the chart makes you gay), phobias, and a miscellaneous physical defect subchart.

Next up are skills. Your class determines your initial skill set. In addition to skills you would expect from any skill system, you get neat stuff like Cheating/Plagiarism, Coolness, Dirty Fighting, and Homemade Drugs. Mechanically, the system is nothing to write home about but they do a great job of hitting the themes of the game in this section.

Then we get six and half pages of random encounter charts, allowing you to dice up who you bump into (whether in school or out of school), random events in class, and charts for determining random NPC skills and equipment. Taken together with the reaction chart that follows, a whole session could easily be devoted to just getting through the perils of a typical day of class. Think Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but with more violence.

Speaking of violence, next up is the combat section. I haven't read it thoroughly, but on the surface it's a pretty standard 80's design. Lots of modifier charts and maneuvers. The weapons charts are chock full of improvised implements, which fits the game quite nicely. Damage directly reduces your Con stat, and stunning, knockdown, and knockouts are based upon your Con as well. At 0 Con you are out. At -1 to -4 you are bleeding out. At -5 you're dead.

After a brief side-trip describing the rules for explosives, we come to the Social Rules, or as I like to put it the "How to Score" section. This section is very respectably crunchy, moreso than even the excellent seduction system in James Bond 007. The Alcohol and Drugs rules follow and then another fairly crunchy section on succeeding in Academics.

Next comes the very important section called "Success". In my opinion this should have been in the front of the book, before chargen even. Players score points for Social Success, Academic Success, and General Success. Academic Success is all about keeping your grades up (the char sheet has a report card on the flip side), General Success is mainly for Toughs and Criminals, who can gain points for illegal behavior. The main focus of the success section is Social Success. Dancing, dating, fighting, flirting, making friends, gaining lovers, becoming an officer of a club, getting drunk, throwing and attending parties, and participating in a sports can all score you points. Losing a fight, being humiliated, killing someone, becoming pregnant, raping someone, or being raped cause you to lose points. Although I'm a bit queasy about the fact that rape victims lose points, the fact that the attackers lose points as well ought to discourage such behavior in play.

The final passage of the "Success" section is called "Winning". Unlike many RPGs, there is an explicit victory condition. Whoever has the most Success Points after four years of game time wins the campaign. Personally, I think that rocks on toast.

Next up for no apparent reason is the section on vehicles, followed by some miscellaneous rules such as weather, and some GM and player advice. The player advice section is neat. It encourages each player to set their own goals "whether it is to pass the school year, become the football captain, score with a perfect '10', or start your own gang." Players are admonished to keep their grades up if they wish to win, and to avoid crime, unless they are Criminals. If they must commit a crime they are urged to not get caught.

Then we get some setting information on "Central High". The teachers each get a paragraph and a statline, as do the inhabitants of Mr. Buzz's homeroom. Ten scenario outlines are given a couple lines each, such as school dances, food fights, upcoming exams, and class trips. A page is devoted to a couple of Day Plans, outlines by the SchoolMaster (that what the GM is called) as to what happens on a given day of school, followed by a larger scale map of the school grounds.

Finally, we get to the sample adventure, entitled "Starr's Party". Basically, we get here a description of a party thrown by one of the cool kids. The players will have to either figure out a way to get themselves invited or crash the place. They can then interact with the other party-goers. Think of it as a "social dungeon" and you'll get the right idea. A timeline is given for events at the party, including such great items as "9:10, Blotto vomits on random PC" and "12:00, An orgy starts in the living room".

A glossary, index, and the map of the second story of Central high close ou the book.

So I hope that answers all your questions. Alma Mater is basically Teenagers from Outer Space minus the anime plus more teenage sex comedy and the occassional Boys Room stabbing. I really like the campaign victory conditions, but I am boggled at the idea of playing this game on a continuing basis.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

musings from campaigns past

Jim was my first adult DM, running a game for my highschool age group because my good buddy Dave was his brother-in-law. And while Jim may have ran a sadistic killer campaign (he was the DM who decided to troll-rape a PC of mine), I learned a heckuva lot about DMing from him. One thing Jim taught me is that you can give the players wide latitude when building PCs and still run a tight ship. One of the ways he did this was by basically allowing 2 different sets of rules at the game table. On his side of the screen he stuck close to the core books and a few minor additions of his own, while the players cobbled together all sorts of mishmashed combinations of unofficial races and classes. And it worked, largely because of the cool air of detachment Jim maintained. He didn't care what sort of freaks we ran, there were two black puddings in the next room no matter what kind of character opened the door. This is what I sometimes call the "objective" approach to DMing. Under this method the Dungeon Master aligns his forces, builds his dungeons, and maps out his world with absolutely no consideration of what PCs or players will be interacting with it. To some that sounds like apathy but it really is an old school virtue. When we kicked in doors and threw down with monsters the players all knew that we weren't being treated like kids. We went up against the same kind of opposition that Jim's adult players faced. We lost a lot, but when we won the victory belonged solely to us.

Sometimes I still cringe when I look at experience point charts that are weighted based upon player levels or modules with great attention paid to Encounter Levels. To me it smacks a little of hand-holding the PCs. I miss the grand old days of vast and unwieldy outdoor encounter charts loaded with monsters too tough for your PCs to handle. Sure, stumbling into a two-hundred strong gnoll war party can cramp your style, but when you beat them the glory is boundless. That actually happened to us in Jim's campaign. We were around 5th level or so. As I recall I was playing Chester of the Pointy Hat, a magic-user. We fought so long I completely ran out of spells and spent a dozen rounds poking gnolls with my wee little dagger. The party archer ran out of arrows. Our side won the battle against overwhelming odds with only a handful of hit points left between us. The fact that it was a completely unfair random encounter only gave that fight more meaning to us. We took the worse Jim's world had to offer and came out of it alive.

Cute, awesome, or disturbing? You make the call!

You've probably heard of otherkin and otakukin, but my nephew is the first of a new race of mutants, the ninjakin. He sometimes says things like "God made me a ninja." I absolutely swear I did not put this idea in his head, despite the fact that I know all ninjas are totally sweet. Here's the little dude in the traditional outfit of his people:Every time I see him he either kicks me in the face, karate chops me in the throat, or punches me in the nuts.  Sometimes all three.Part of me feels like discouraging his exploration of his ninja identity would be the equivalent of telling him there's no such thing as Santa Claus. Another part of me is afraid that if this phase isn't nipped in the bud he'll turn out like a character from one of Al Bruno's old rants.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Kid Skull remembered

Posting old crap has become a bit of a theme lately around here. Below the line is one of few instances I ever attempted to roleplay online. Back around the turn of the millenium I got into e-fedding, a.k.a. the online wrestling role-playing scene. I was most active in the first e-fed I joined, the LWA. If those three letters stood for anything I was never told.

E-feds are chock full of people interested in playing huge grunty, musclely guys. No surprise there. Most roleplaying posts by these people involve either showing off bling and bitches or establish that the character is the ultimate badass. So for my guy I decided to do something totally different. I played a comedy character called Kid Skull. He was basically a clueless fan with a skull mask and some pink trunks (he got them on sale). Kid Skull had no idea what he was getting himself into, but he could ignore a wide range of injuries based on sheer stupidity. His younger brother Stewart served as camera man for all of the Kid's utterly amateurish promo videos.

Kid Skull wrestled most of his matches in the Cruiserweight Division, where little high-flyers really came into their own. The promo below was written right before a big cruiserweight battle royal to determine the new Cruiserweight Champion. His two big threats were Leroy "Bad News" Brown, the villainous owner of the fed, and Nightwing, another rookie whose first promo was a total emo gothfest set in a ruined cathedral. Hence the themes and settings of the piece below.

Oh my! That's scary!
by Kid Skull

[Cut from static to another crappy home video. This time we are in an abandoned building of some sort. It's a dilapidated, rain-soaked mess. Vaguely boarded up windows allow moonlight to peer into the room. Broken, unidentifiable bits of furniture are scattered about. The wind howls as some rainwater drips from the ceiling into a large puddle on the cement floor. The lighting in here is rather poor and flickery.]


[Kid Skull leaps into the field of vision, menacing the camera. He's wearing his ring gear: wrestling boots, pink trunks, and skull mask. To this he has also added a black cape, a cheap vinyl job like you can get with bad dracula costumes.]

Are you scared? Well, you should be! For you have found Kid Skull, scary goth vampire wrestling guy, in his Lair of Doom! Before I suck your souls and crush your blood--no wait. Before I suck your blood and crush your souls (Yeah, that's it.) I will enlighten you as to my dastardly master plan! Come with me!

[Kid Skull makes a beckoning gesture as he moves across the room, stumbling over some of the debris and possibly his cape. The camera pans amateurishly/ We come to a card table. On it are a dozen tiny colorful birthday cake candles and three of the larger ones each shaped like the number 6. These candles barely illuminate Kid Skull's spiral notebook, which is open to a section entitled 'Winning the Belt' with lots of stick figure sketches. Laying in the middle of the table is a checkerboard.]

From this dark crypt I plat my opponents' downfall! Here, watch the game of human checkers unfold! [He points to the single black checker on the board.] This piece represents the People's Corporate Champion, yours truly. These other pieces [motioning to the red checkers] are the other participants in the upcoming battle royal, while the board represents the ring. Behold, my master stragedy!

First I'll chokeslam King Gangster right out of the ring.

[Jumps one red piece and discards it.]

Then I'll slap a Dimaond Stunner on Scarface and hoist his fat mafioso butt over the top rope.

[Jumps another piece and flicks it off the board.]

Native uprising eats a jackass powerbomb to the floor!

[He continues his checkers game, taking another red piece off the board.]

I'm saving an Outsiderazor's Edge for you, Viper Armed.

[Another red checker gets jumped and tossed.]

Nightwing, ah, Nightwing. So you think you're superbad, eh? I haven't seen a decent fight out of you since you and the Batman split up! You spent your entire Teen Titans career being saved by run-ins from frickin' Wonder Girl, fer chrissake! You thin I fear you? [Jumps the checker.] I'm just gonna scoop you up [picks up red checker] and slam you into the crowd!

[Throws checker in the direction of the camera.]


Oh, sorry Stewart. Anyway, that leaves just you and me, Mr. President Bad News, sir.

[Kid Skull looks down at the board, somewhat confused as he realizes that the two remaining pieces are nowher near each other.]

Uhhhh. Hmmmm. I guess we'll meet in the middle of the ring. [He quickly rearranges the pieces.] Two mighty titans on the world of professional wrestling sport entertainment industry. Unfortunately, only one of them can be Hardcore Intercontinental Heavycruiserweight Television Champion of the World! So then-

[Loud banging can be heard. Kid Skull looks off-camera.]

What are you kids doing in there?

Oh crap, Mark! I think it's the cops!

[Kid Skull looks around, panicked.]


[Kid Skull flees off camera. Cut to static.]
Kid Skull was surprisingly successful, primarily because none of the other players were doing anything like I was. I held that cruiserweight strap for a while and got a couple David & Goliath victories off of some serious heavyweight heels. All in all I had a good run with this character. When I purchased Legends of Wrestling II for the X-box I was thrilled to discover that the character creator menus included both a skull mask and pink ballet tights. Nowadays Kid Skull holds the Legends Tag Team belts with this Chyna-like amazonian grappler.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Free words for the taking

Every once in a while I rummage through old files on the harddrive on my computer at home. It's kinda neat. I found some stuff from the earliest phases of my current D&D campaign, such as stats for a half-dragon monstrous spider and the first four members of the Red Claw Cult the PCs encountered. I had forgotten that I had gone to the trouble of giving individual names and equipment to four first level warriors. Nowadays not even hill giants with 10 levels of barbarian warrant assigning a name; they're too disposable. I also found a list of faux words constructed by pulling apart English words and randomly reassembling their components. I almost certainly got these words from Chris Pound's awesome name generators page. Here's the list, if you're interested:
inreng, bipe, jitt, jashive, liveness, maiss, unless, unine, neth, fow, klozz, yeatchment, boyp, yaiben, tow, jip, yigeing, exline, deure, can, si, nupation, li, tip, cuspition, yotade, muffable, thoxin, inage, unell, incosh, que, fowff, thege, soubive, russing, le, chiss, kleaff, exyatt, wip, the, rasc, despep, gowshness, caw, girotion, exete, reeze, paw, dekloll, sux, chate, mottab, statt, liex, li, qui, theme, sciche, reep, chowp, lipetion, di, ineme, rejen, dattam, theng, socotion, gixill, cer, klailfing, tipition, keith, hexeme
I think it's neat that several real words came out of the blender.

a small item of future history

I used to own a whole lance of these in lead. I just found a note I wrote many moons ago when I was researching the history of the Successor States setting, the background fluff for BattleTech.

Here's what it says:
2305-2309 War between the Sian Supremacy and the Capellan Hegemony.

2449-3049 The BattleMech Era

It's the second item that floored me a few moments ago. That's exactly six centuries of giant robot slugfests. Hot damn!

RIP Basil Poledouris

This morning I found out that Basil Poledouris passed away yesterday, a victim of cancer. Mr. Poledouris was responsible for one of the awesomest musical recordings ever created, the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack. I'm not familiar with the rest of the man's work but the Conan soundtrack is so amazing it was actually the first CD I ever purchased. And I bought it years before I ever owned a CD player. It's one of the few pieces of music I'll play at my game table, as it never ceases to be inspiring. When it distracts me from the game with its pure over-the-top pomposity, I just don't care. If it's wrong to briefly pause from smashing orcs to listen to "Anvil of Crom" then I don't want to be right.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

And now for something completely different...

I don't usually talk about my work here on the Gameblog, mainly because I want all my readers to think I'm an awesome dude and not the blackhearted villain I play during work hours. You see, I handle residential foreclosures for a bank. I could try to smooth over this hard fact by telling you all about the ridiculous lengths I go to in order to not take someone's home away. But that won't erase this brutal truth: somedays it's my job to take people's homes away. Based on past experience that last sentence will no doubt drive at least one of my regular readers away. Some people will never believe that I can do the job I do and not be an unrepentant bastard.

The above paragraph is meant to set-up today's weird work story. This afternoon I was in an abandoned home with my friend, Tom. He's a great, talented guy and a true friend. Tom was with me because he's my go-to guy for a lot of dirty work a desk jocky like me farms out to others. He inspects properties I may have to foreclose, changes locks, repairs damage, mows lawns, and pretty much anything else I need done to a house. He also repossesses cars for my organization. If I'm the guy that pulls the trigger, that makes him the bullet I guess.

Anyway, we bust into this abandoned house that my customer had rented to a relative. The relative stopped paying rent and rather than sell the house or work something out with me the customer decides to just let the property go back to the bank. The inside of the place was about average for an abandoned property: filthy and smelly, with a mish-mash of bric-a-brac strewn about. The smell was so powerful I had to go outside and spit a couple times to get the taste out of my mouth. And I used to have a job cleaning pig pens. (Note to self: Maybe I should try getting a nice job for a change.) So we're looking over the place and we see the usual collection of filthy old couches, broken cabinets, and miscellaneous trash. As I move into the back bedroom, I see a dildo laying on the floor. I'm hip to the existence of such things, having an internet connection and all, but I don't see sex toys laying around as part of my everyday experience. So I call Tom's attention to it. He seems completely unphased, which I found a bit strange.

Tom's a straight shooter of the old school variety. He doesn't drink. He doesn't smoke. He spends a lot of time over at his crazy fundy church. (I call it that to his face and we both have a bit of a laugh, so I'm not speaking behind his back here.) We spend a lot of time talking about politics. Somewhere along the way he got the idea that I was one of the few good liberals, probably because I think the right to bear arms is as important as the rest of the Bill of Rights. Meanwhile I tell him regularly that he's one of those wrongheaded conservatives, so he's probably a better man than I in this regards. Either way, if I'm the kind of guy who doesn't see sex toys very often, I figured that made Tom the kind of feller who I could almost believe didn't know such things existed.

But later back at the office we get talking about the incident with my co-worker Laurie. She posts in the comments section from time to time and will probably get a kick out of this story. Laurie points out the strangeness of abandoning a dildo in a house you were leaving. I totally see her point. If you're going to own a sex toy, wouldn't you value it? It's not like the broken printer or ripped mattress across the room. As far as I could tell (not that I inspected it closely, mind you) the phallus in question looked intact and functional. Why leave it behind? I wouldn't leave my game collection if I was leaving my house for good and while I enjoy the hobby I wouldn't exactly call orc-smashing an orgasmic experience. I would guess that a dildo owner would have a greater sense of attachment than I would to some books and dice.

As I'm pondering the deep psychological ramifications of discarded faux weeners, Tom pipes up. "You'd be surprised how many abandoned homes contain such things." He reminds me of a house he had a while back where he literally had to shovel a pile of dildos into a dumpster. Tom deadpans "Apparently women treat them just like they treat their men. When they're finished they just discard the things." Tom's single. Can you tell? Given his political and religious allegiances, I didn't have the heart to point out that not every plastic wang he's encountered in his career necessarily belonged to a woman.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Table madness

One of my favorite things to find in a game text is the Stupid Random Die Chart. Whether we're talking about treasure tables or wandering monster charts or potion miscibility or whatever. I love the simple magic of rolling a die to produces non-intuitive and even non-sensical results that I can then fold into my game. The amazing Doctor Rotwang blogged on this very subject a couple weeks ago.

Back in '98 or '99 I discovered a program called TableSmith, written by a fellow by the name of Bruce Gulke. Bruce has a nifty campaign world website and a fairly active blog. Anyway, TableSmith allows you to code your own random tables and generate volumes of results. Similar programs have been done before and since. The only thing that made TableSmith stand out was that it was the first time I had found a free-to-download version of such a thing. And it was super easy to edit tables or create my own.

1998 was also the year my Bandit Kingdoms campaign probably peaked and I got deep into using TableSmith in support of my kludged "1.5" AD&D hybrid. At the time TableSmith wouldn't hold any variables, but you could have one chart to call another for output, allowing you to build some very sophisticated results nonetheless. Nearly any chart in the DMG that I might need a lot got turned into a customized TableSmith file, allowing me to generate scads of results. I had 20 of every treasure type at my fingertips, with gems, jewelry and magic items all detailed. Also at the ready were twenty complete bandit camps, with 100 or 200 bandits apiece, and similar quantities of patrols and castle garrisons. My buddy Pat and I found my 27 page bandit printout this last weekend. (Thus precipitating this post.) The first five bandit mobs were all crossed out; Pat's wizard had set them all on fire.

My henchman generator was by far my largest TableSmith project, as it incorporated every race, class, and multi-class combination I allowed in the game. And that was a lot. We're talking half-satyr ranger/thieves and moutain dwarf deathmasters here. And each potential henchman had a random name from an incredibly diverse random name generator I put together over the course of several weeks of work. And each magic-user had a randomly generated spellbook incorporating nearly every AD&D spell published in Dragon.

But my favorite TableSmith projects were my random book generator and the tavern tables. The random book generator would produce a title and subject matter for a book. "On the History and Genealogy of the Duergar by Denro the Gentle" would be a typical result. I had a hundred of these ready should any player be silly enough to start browsing in a wizards library. I even had a chart that would give a brief sketch of the usefullness of the work in question. "A shallow treatment of the subject" or "Excellent info, but some parts are dangerously out of date" or somesuch. So guess what happened? No one ever even glanced at a book for the rest of the campaign. (Except spellbooks, of course.)

The tavern tables were glorious, in their own quirky little way. The tavern name sub-table actually produced a place called The Bee's Knees without any rigging of the results. And thanks to the results generated I can tell you cool things like The Lazy Wolf is the place to go if you like chess and the drink to get while playing is the imported Furyondian wine. Meanwhile The Salty Boar is famous for its pickeled chicken in wine sauce and for the nightly swearing contests. And The Swaying Lady has cheap ale, brawls, and naughty girls. What else do you need to know?

The latest version of TableSmith supports a whole lot of new features not available back in '99, including the ability to use variables. (People with no programming experience will have no idea what that means, but trust me when I say its important. I'd try to explain but in truth I'm barely computer literate myself. I once showed my programmer friend Don some of my TableSmith output. He said "You'd be dangerous with just a little Basic compiler." At the time I couldn't quite bring myself to ask him what the hell a compiler was.) Also cool is the fact that TableSmith is supported with a metric buttload of pre-made tables. Mr. Gulke also has some other little gamer utilities here. I've used his Wilderness Mapper a couple of times, for my 3E "Greymoor" campaign and for this re-draw of the Outdoor Survival hexmap. Nowadays I think I prefer Ar-Kelaan's HexMapper, as it's designed to look like the various maps of Mystara, but Wilderness Mapper still gets the job done.

I really ought to download the latest version of TableSmith and type in all the various random charts from Basic/Expert D&D. I wonder if it's robust enough to support Clasic Trav chargen? That'd be cool.