Saturday, March 31, 2007

Ten Things You Should Know About RPG Pundit

One of the great enigmas in the roleplaying hobby is the commentator known as RPG Pundit. I first encountered him years ago as Nisarg, a snarky new member at RPGnet. From which he was banned. He's been banned from many other gaming forums as well. Eventually he found a venue for expressing his ideas, his blog. It's at that little corner of the internet where I first started to really get to know the man behind the mayhem. Later, when he took over theRPGsite the Pundit asked me to be one of the admins, a gig I continue with to this day.

To the extent that I appear on anyone's radar at all, I kinda assume that I am sometimes counted among the Pundit's Proxy Army. It was Nicole Lindroos a.k.a Nikchick first added the word "proxy" to the Pundit's vocabulary. Given the events of the time I suspect she was talking in particular about me and Pundit's buddy Jong. So despite publicly disagreeing with the man several times the idea that some folks think I drank the Kool-Aid wouldn't suprise me.

Still, I've managed to have a vantage point closer to Pundit than a lot of other people who have a strong negative opinion about him. He may only be an internet friend that I've never met face-to-face, but I feel pretty certain that I know the man behind the myth a helluva a lot better than his detractors. I think if everyone knew Pundit the way I do they would feel differently. They might still disagree with him, as I sometimes do, but they wouldn't be so hard on him. To that end I've composed a list of things I know about Pundit that you probably don't.

  • When RPG Pundit put on the One Ring, the Nazgul just said, "Fuck it."
  • The last man who made eye contact with RPG Pundit was Ray Charles.
  • RPG Pundit always asks for the same Christmas gift: A box of Smurfs and a sledgehammer.
  • The popular videogame "Doom" is based loosely around the time Satan borrowed two bucks from RPG Pundit and forgot to pay him back.
  • Once a cobra bit RPG Pundit's leg. After five days of excruciating pain, the cobra died.
  • RPG Pundit doesn't read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.
  • RPG Pundit's body is composed of 95% recycled material, making him earth friendly and of benefit to society. To balance himself out, RPG Pundit sets fire to one national park per year.
  • RPG Pundit has the heart of a child. He keeps it in a small box.
  • When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night he checks his closet for RPG Pundit.
  • RPG Pundit's calendar goes straight from March 31st to April 2nd; no one fools RPG Pundit.

(This list cheerfully cribbed from here. Happy April Fools Day, all.)

That Cage is one bad mother...

In issue 38 of Luke Cage, Power Man, Bill Mantlo devotes a hefty chunk of pages to our man throwing down with a superpowered punk named Chemistro. Luke eventually wins not due to his superstrength or unbreakable skin, but because of pure willpower. He refuses to be taken down by some chump in a costume just because the dude has total control over physical matter.

That's sheer awesome in and of itself, but what happens next is even cooler. Chemistro surrenders and agrees to cooperate with Cage's investigation of criminal mastermind Big Brother.

"Don't you ever mess with Luke Cage again! Dig??"

Holy crap, that's awesome! Not only does Cage threaten to kill this mofo, he waits until it's clear the fight is over and then wallops the poor schmuck one more time. Just to make the point that nobody messes with Luke Cage and gets away with it.

This issue has everything that makes me a Power Man fan. And then the big reveal at the end of the issue freaked me out:

My buddy Pat said it's like this guy came straight out of OMAC.
Man, I gots to get me issue 39.

Kobold Security: Tighter than expected

Here's the scene at the end of the first session of Beyond Vinland. On the right you have our intrepid heroes. On the left you have a horde of angry kobolds. That squiggly stuff inbetween the two forces? That's a pile of about 2 dozen corpses! The PCs are in phalanx formation at the entrance to the dungeon and the kobolds are in room 1 of their underground lair.

Uh, did that kobold in the red robes just throw a fireball at us?  Crap.
Despite about 3 hours of play, the party never made it past this first room. They made three separate attempts to break into the kobold's lair. The first two times they rushed in a bit sloppily. They killed all the guards but were in no shape to continue. I can't really blame them for not taking the first fight of the campaign too seriously. They're 3rd level and these are "only" kobolds. And I do have a bit of a reputation as a pushover DM in certain quarters.

And to be fair, the main problem wasn't the four or five regular kobold warrior 1 guards. It was their pets. At the beginning of each assault the guard room contained two Horrid Weasels, which are like Dire Weasels only worse. You can find the Horrid Animal template in the Eberron Campaign Sourcebook. It's pretty effin' sweet. It adds acidic saliva damage, chitinous armor, and a little bit of stat beef. None of that was the decisive factor though. The real problem was the Dire Weasel blood drain ability. When one of these critters bites you it latches on to you and starts draining 1d4 Con each round. Ouch.

So these four vikings dudes rolled into the kobold lair and thought they could roll over this encounter, but then they would end up with big gaping holes where their Constitution scores should be. The second time they tried this the party at least brought some ranged weapons. That was an improvement. But the end results were pretty much the same: all the baddies in Room 1 were dead but the good guys were in no shape to continue. On the third attempt they really had their act together and were using long spears and a tight formation, letting the foes come to them.

Unfortunately, not rushing the guards had consequences. One of the kobold guards escaped and raised the alarm. This led to every size Small miniature I own being pressed into service as a kobold. A couple more Horrid Weasels showed up too. And some kobolds with actual levels. Generally, even the higher level kobolds were pretty ineffectual against our heroes. The only real threats on the board seemed to be the weirdo weasels and the one kobold spellcaster laying down scorching rays and fireballs. Still, the raw numbers were sufficient that a few kobolds were bound to roll high enough to get some spear stabbin' done.

But then 10 o'clock rolled around and, as per my new house rule, the session was over. I think it was Doug who came up with the idea that the pile of corpses was now so big it cut off the opposing forces. That's pretty effin' cool. By my count the PCs had killed 32 kobolds and 8 Horrid Weasels. That gave them enough XP that they can start next session at level 4.

All of which went down in the first room of the dungeon.

One other cool thing about the session. Jason and I had played together before several times, but this was his first time as a player in an RPG that I was running. He was delighted and/or freaked out by some of my quirky house rules, such as my insistence on using the Arduin crit and fumble charts, and my special d30 rule. At one point in the course of the night he used the d30 to overcharge a magic missile and totally exploded a weasel. That was rad.

Friday, March 30, 2007

a linky

Levi Kornelsen is making sense today.

(That's not meant as an insult, by the way. It's me, not him. Dude's smart enough that I can't always follow him.)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Beyond Vinland: the party

Here's what the players came up with for my new campaign.

Doug took advantage of my pantheon clerics house rule to make Erik the Conqueror, a badass Cleric with the Death and War domains. The rest of the party subscribes to the Norse pantheon as well, so he was busting out a lot of faith healing last night. That's a new spell that work's like cure light but you don't roll dice. It does a flat 8+caster level. The trick is you have to be a believer in the cleric's faith. Erik dubs himself the Conqueror because he sees the new world as a land that rightfully belongs to men, not the inhuman monsters that presently occupy it. He plans on doing something about it.

Stuart whipped up Hjorek Hafgarson, a Bardic Sage/Warblade. Bardic Sage is a brainier, slightly nerdier bard variant from Unearthed Arcana. Warblade is the hot new class from Book of 9 Swords. Hjorek's deal is that he isn't the bard his daddy (the famous bard Hafgar) tried to raise him up as, but he spent a lot of time studying the legendary feats of great heroes and gods. His nifty Warblade powers represent his ability to mimic the deeds of past heroes. Pretty cool.

Jason created Zoyd Sampson, who wins the award for the least Viking sounding name in the group. But hey, I don't really care. We're not shooting for authenticity here, but awesome-osity. Zoyd is a Battle Sorcerer, another Unearthed Arcana variant. These guys trade in some of their spells slots to get a better hit die, better BAB, and the ability to wear light armor while casting. Zoyd desparately wants to be a sword-swinging hero even though his talents naturally lean towards sorcery, so he spend much of his time using his spells to make himself a buffer fight guy.

Pat's dude is Grandfather Thorne, a dwarf Fighter/Archivist. Archivist is a sweet class from Heroes of Horror. The main deal is that it's a divine casting class that uses a wizard-like spellbook. But viking wizards in this game don't use spellbooks. They use staves covered in runes. In Thorne's case he actually carves his runes into the haft of his bigass axe. I can't tell you yet exactly what Thorne's deal is, except that he's a grumpy old dwarf.

So that's Our Gang.

work is insane right now

One line summary of the awesomeness of Beyond Vinland session 1:

They fought until the pile of kobold corpses completely blocked off the passageway.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

it came from Jeff's harddrive

I dusted this baby off for a discussion at theRPGsite. You might find it interesting that I wrote it a couple of years before Enterprise was announced.
Star Trek: Voyages of the USS Saladin

Part I: Setting

The Federation is only five years old, with only a few dozen member-worlds.

The Romulan War ended barely two years ago. This war was the unifying event that turned the disparate navies of the Federation member-worlds into a single Star Fleet.

James Tiberius Kirk is a snot-nosed kid in Iowa. On faraway Vulcan a half-breed named Spock suffers under the taunts and torments of pureblooded Vulcan youths.

The Klingon Empire is a distant and indistinct menace, little more than a rumor.

The USS Enterprise is just a naval contract and some blueprints. The first Federation heavy cruiser is still years away from completion. However the first vessels built specifically for Star Fleet are starting to roll out of space dock.

The USS Saladin, NCC-500, is one of the very first starships christened as a Federation vessel. Built into the Saladin are the technical achievements of a dozen worlds: an advanced “space-warp” drive (cruising speed: Cochcrane Warp Factor 6!), dilithium-controled matter/anti-matter engine, energy shields, photonic torpedoes, phased plasma/laser batteries (or “phasers”), a multitronic computer,an experimental matter transporter, and the most complete sensor package ever assembled in one starship.

The newly assembled crew of the Saladin is as diverse as the Federation itself. Some of the crew may have actually fought against each other in Human/Kzin, Vulcan/Andor, and Earth/Centauri conflicts. Some earned their stripes in the recent Romulan unpleasantness. Still others are members of the first graduating class from the new Star Fleet Academy.

Part II: The Ground Rules

Assume nothing. No TV show, movie, book, or fan material will give you an insight into what has happened or what will happen in this campaign. Please don’t try to tell me I am doing something wrong because it doesn’t fit someone else’s conception of the Star Trek universe. The main inspirations for the campaign are the Original Series (particularly the 2 pilots), the Animated Series, and Franz Joseph’s original Star Fleet Technical Manual. Even these cannot be considered “canonical”, merely helpful to see where I am coming from.

I am expecting the crew of the Saladin to have a direct impact on the fate of the Federation, the galaxy, and even the universe. The campaign is a Star Trek series and the PCs are the stars of the show. You are the Kirk. Go out and grab the galaxy by the gonads.

I never actually put this document in front of prospective players because I dither about what system would best work for rollicking velour-clad Trek fun. For a project like this Classic Traveller, Risus, and Savage Worlds all speak to me in different ways.

I'm jazzed.

My new Beyond Vinland games starts tonight. Here's where we are starting:

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Five Links: The Next Generation

Dresdan Codak - comics with humor, wonder, science, and stuff

Necromancer of Awesome - I want to be this guy when I grow up.

A Collation of Viking Names - Note to my players: Feel free to ignore this.

Business Card CD-R - I had not seen these before.

The Theoretical Basis of Piquet - One of the most intriguing wargame articles I've ever read.

Like Bilbo, only evil

If you like stupid little dungeons with a sense of whimsy, don't pass this one up.One of my alltime favorite modules is George R. Paczolt's Rat on a Stick, a little number published in '82 by Judges Guild. While written for Tunnels & Trolls, I've run Rat for Basic D&D and converted on the fly.

The module is a multilevel dungeon full of the humor and heart so common to T&T products. Some folks think dungeoneering should always be deadly serious, but I find little romps like this to be charming and delightful. What really wins me over is the titular Rat on a Stick restaraunt located in the dungeon. Rules for opening your own franchise are provided!

Since I don't have a copy of T&T, some of the monsters in the dungeon are unfamiliar to me. Most of the baddies are Tolkienian standard, but there are slight differences. For instance, I used a balrog when a "Flame Demon" appeared on a wandering monster roll. The biggest issue when I ran the module were the Black Hobbits. Based upon the text I think these guys are regular hobbits corrupted by evil, so I simply used chaotic-aligned halfings. That led to some wacky hijinx thanks to the presence of a turncoat chaotic halfling in the PC party. If I were to run Rat on a Stick for 3.5, I'd probably use something like this:

Fiendish Halfling, 1st-Level Warrior
Small Humanoid (Halfling); CR 1/2; HD 1d8+1; hp 5;
Init +1; Spd 20 ft.; Space/Reach 5 ft./5 ft.; AC 16 (+1 size, +1 Dex, +3 studded leather, +1 light shield), touch 12, flat-footed 15; Base Atk +1; Grp -3; Atk Longsword +3 melee (1d6/19-20) or light crossbow +3 ranged (1d6/19-20); Full Atk Longsword +3 melee (1d6/19-20) or light crossbow +3 ranged (1d6/19-20); SA Halfling traits, smite good; SQ Halfling traits, Darkvision 60 ft, resistance to cold 5 and fire 5,SR 6; AL Always evil (any); SV Fort +4, Ref +2, Will +0; Str 11, Dex 13, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 9, Cha 8 Skills: Climb +2, Hide +4, Jump -4, Listen +3, Move Silently +1 Feats: Weapon Focus (longsword) Halfling Traits(Ex): +2 racial bonus on Climb, Jump, and Move Silently checks. +1 racial bonus on all saving throws. +2 morale bonus on saving throws against fear. This bonus stacks with the halfling's +1 bonus on saving throws in general. +1 racial bonus on attack rolls with thrown weapons and slings. +2 racial bonus on Listen checks. Smite Good(Su): Once per day a fiendish creature can make a normal melee attack to deal +1 extra damage against a good foe.

Putting together this stat block was absolutely effortless, thanks to YoYo Dyne Technologies' Monster 3.5 program, which takes SRD critters and adds Fiendish and Celestial templates for you. I've also used the Summon Monster statblocks available at that link. Good stuff.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Beyond Vinland: Viking PC rules

Here's the info I emailed my players for creating totally authentic pseudo-Hyborian viking types. Additional notes appear in brackets.

Viking Cultural Info

Alignments: Any

Races: Human, Elf, Dwarf, Half-Elf, Half-Giant, Troll, Half-Troll (If I can find a decent Half-Troll write-up)

[I have the half-troll from Bastion's Minions, but I'm not entirely satsified with it.]

Bloodlines allowed: Fey, Giant, Hag, Troll

Classes: No Monks, Samurai, Ninjae, Wu Jens, or Shugenjas. No psionic classes except Half-Giants may take levels in Psychic Warrior.

[The races list is pretty small, so I wanted to be wide open with the classes. But viking Ninjas and Psions is a little too wide open for even my tastes.]

Traditional Enemies: Giants, Drow, Serpent Men (Yuan Ti and such), Dragons & their kin, Trolls

Weapons of Choice: Shortbow, Shortspear, Swords, Axes

[The Traditional Enemies and Weapons of Choice fields have no mechanics attached.]

Pantheon Domains: Air, Animal, Chaos, Charm (SC), Courage (SC), Death, Destruction, Dwarf (SC, dwarves only), Elf (SC), Fire, Glory (SC), Glutton (SC), Good, Knowledge, Law, Lust (SC), Magic, Ocean (SC), Plant, Portal (SC), Retribution (SC), Rune (SC), Strength, Trickery, War (shortspear, longsword, warhammer), Water

[SC stands for Spell Compendium.]

Additional Clerical Note: Spiritual Weapon is always a hammer.

[Both the mighty Thor and tradition demand it.]

Miscellaneous: Big horned or winged helmets. Loud. Like to brag. Men wear beards and/or moustaches, often elaborately braided.

[Again, no mechanics here. Just window dressing.]

Note to PCs: The Dungeon is Dangerous

When a DM sends the PCs on a specific mission, I think you have an obligation to play fair. If Ganmerlinster sends you out to retrieve the Great MacGuffin the expectation on the part of the players is that the beardy guy won't ask you to do something you can't handle. It might be a tough gig but no DMPC should ever send the party on an unpossible quest. (And any DM that sets up a quest where only a pet NPC can finish the job ought to be tied up in a burlap bag and beaten with sticks.) To me, this issue goes straight to the trust and responsibility implicit in the DM role.

But the Dungeon is a different matter. I'm talking about the classic big, sprawling, multi-level underground complex, places like Castles Greyhawk and Blackmoor. I feel a different sense of obligation when it comes to these nightmare underworlds. For one thing, I don't feel like the DM has to be fair in the sense that all challenges are meant to be overcome by the PCs. If first level PCs take the elevator down to level 5 whatever happens next is on the players' heads. No one should ever be in a big, multi-level dungeon and say "We can take the Troll King! The DM wouldn't throw him at us if we couldn't handle him!" Sometimes in a big dungeon enviroment the right thing to do is to run away to live to fight another day, preferably after leveling up and buying some scrolls.

If I'm reading him right my Prussian homie Settembrini looks at these too different states ("Challenge but don't overpower the PCs." and "If the PCs tug on Superman's cape it's their tough luck.") and sees too different styles of play. The first he might call Tactical Gaming, which emphasizes setting up fair fights and pushing around the pieces on the game board. 3rd edition D&D really brought Tactical Gaming to the fore. The second he calls Strategic Gaming, which hinges on taking unfair situations and working to overcome those handicaps through smarter outside-the-box thinking. Earlier editions of D&D (going back to OD&D, Basic/Expert, and 1st edition Advanced) maybe weren't always clear on the importance of strategic play, but they were written implicitly with that play style in mind.

Maybe Set is right and D&D has (at least) two distinctive styles of play, but I would suggest that a hybrid approach is possible and perhaps even preferable. In my experience few players want to constantly face the challenge of strategic operations. I know personally there are many nights when I just want to the DM to line up some orcs to fight. But to know that every encounter will have the CR crafted to your party's level eventually leads to boredom. I relish occasionally finding myself in over my head. One of gaming's great thrills is to escape an untenable situation by the skin of your teeth. Even greater is the satisfaction of going back prepared and giving the bastards what for. Hey, undead dickweed! We're back and we brought wooden stakes!

I started this blog entry as a way of putting the players of Beyond Vinland on notice. Don't get cocky. There may be balrogs at the bottom of those stairs.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

my new hero

Last time I talked about heavy metal here on this blog some friends decided to hook me up with some mix CDs they had burned. Thanks, guys! Tonight I tried to listen to several of them on my X-box, as it is the only music device in my game room. I thought I'd crank some tunes while working on the Canyon of Chaos, the first dungeon for my new campaign. Think module B2, only turned up to eleven. I guess that would make it module B11, if that designation weren't already taken.

Turns out that the Box Named X does not support CD-R technology, so no Dragonforce for Jeffy today. Instead I popped in my totally legitmate (and thanks to reader horrox completely free) copy of Slough Feg's Traveller. I feel confident in declaring this disc to be the greatest Vargr-themed concept album ever created. By the way, anyone who is a fan of stuff that is awesome should consider shopping at horrox's music store Aquarius Records.

After the Slough Feg awesome-osity I decided to see if Bill Gates would allow me to play a DVD+R on my X-box. I had this disc Pat had slipped me a while back, labeled "Korgoth Hellsing Ultimate". I knew what a Hellsing was, having read a couple of the manga (also provided by Pat), but I had completely forgotten what Korgoth was supposed to be. Holy crap, but Korgoth of Barbaria is awesome.

Every once in a while I stumble across a parody so pure that the love the creators have for the subject material shines through and the parody itself becomes a grand example of the genre it is spoofing. I thinking of things like S. John Ross's Encounter Critical or the Tenacious D song "Tribute". Korgoth of Barbaria walks tall among those mighty ones as both a great parody of heavy metal sword & sorcery and one of the best S&S cartoons I have ever seen. If you're a regular reader of this here blog and haven't seen this cartoon, I give Korgoth my highest recommendation. You will laugh, you will cry, you will give the devil sign with both hands.\m/-_-\m/

Seriously, this Korgoth dude just wanders through a post-apocalyptic setting laying waste to foes in gruesome orgies of violence. When he's not slaughtering fools and monsters he spends his spare time quaffing ale and scoring with chicks. All of this is brought to you in the same wry, uncensored manner as the Venture Brothers. My head tells me Korgoth is lampooning Conan and Thundarr, but my heart tells me this guy rocks.

Friday, March 23, 2007

"Ninjas are quick and flexible."

Below you will see clear, undisputable documentary evidence that Ronald McDonald is a ninja master.

Real Ultimate Power, baby!
This clipping is from a super secret ninja training manual published by the McDonald's faceless corporate minions. They disguise these secret ninjutsu techniques by hiding them in plain sight, putting this hidden knowledge on the side panel of a Happy Meal bag promoting the new Ninja Turtles movie.

I'm still trying to figure out how the Madame Alexander Wizard of Oz dolls promo'd on the other half of the package fits in to this vast conspiracy. All I know is that we live in a world where the Clown Prince of Hamburgers is teaching kids how to unlock the warrior within. Suddenly the Glinda the Good Witch doll my daughter got seems a little sinister.

Who needs action when we've got exposition?

Today my daughter and I went to the book store. She got Green Eggs and Ham and I got Simpsons Super Spectacular #4. In the sequence below the Sciencester relates the events of 'Infinite Annihilation of Heroes' to Kid Queasy. In one fell swoop these three panels neatly illustrate both why I love superhero comics and why I loathe big crossover events.

Bongo Comics Presents Simpsons Super Spectacular #4, page 4 (Click for a larger, more legible version.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated

I haven't been online since Monday because spending Spring break entertaining my daughter is kicking my ass. She's a little atomic fireball ready to do a million things each day with the result being that by the time her mother is home I am dead dog tired. Too tired to screw around on the internet. (Yes, you really can get that tired.)

I hope to catch up with all you all tomorrow or Friday.

Monday, March 19, 2007

It has come for our 25mm women!

Howdy, folks! I've been busy at work, catching up from last week's superfun stomach flu/headcold adventure. Now I'm off for a week with my little sweetie. She's on spring break and we've got lots of fun stuff to do. Hopefully she'll allow me a little time to stock the first dungeon of my new campaign and/or paint some more minis.

Speaking of miniatures, you have got to check out the eBay list for seller 7onestreet. Right now they'll sell you all sorts of weird vintage sci-fi figures. Like this one:

How can you not love that? I'd buy this bad boy myself but I swore I wouldn't buy any new metal until I painted all the old stuff I have lying around here. Maybe later this week I'll post pictures of the figures I've painted since I took another stab at the minis thing. I seem to have acheived a momentum I never had in previous attempts. Which is to say, I've painted more than one miniature and not grown tired of the project.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Hey, local wrestling!

For a few months I've been aware of a new local independent wrestling outfit. New Breed Wrestling Alliance is based out of nearby Danville, IL. I have yet to get to one of their shows but I'm finally in the loop for a couple of upcoming dates. Next Sunday (the 25th) they've got an event at 3pm in their home venue in Danville. The show is 5 bucks at the door. And in April (on the 21st) they'll be crosspromoting a show with two other feds, Great American Wrestling and Supreme League of Wrestling. I have no idea who those guys are, but they'll all be slugging it out in just-down-the-road Rantoul. Admission is only 3 dollars.

Any of my local peeps want to take in one of these shows?

FASERIP update

The first draft of the Phil Reed's FASERIP ogl project is now avaible for preview here. The project has apparently been renamed Four Color Basic System. In my opinion if you're going to rename the darn thing you shouldn't pick a name even more boring than FASERIP. But hey, no one asked me.

Feedback on this draft should be directed to the dedicated subforum at Ronin Arts.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Classifying D&D adventures

I'm beginning to suspect that structurally there are only a few different kinds of D&D adventures.

Missions have clearcut goals, and are typically of relatively short duration. I think you see a lot of mission-based modules because the explicit victory condition simplifies the writing process. Classics in the genre include "rescue the princess", "find the macguffin", and "stop the evil overlord's scheme". I used mission-based adventures almost exclusively in my first 3.5 campaign, so I'm planning to go a little lighter on them in my newest venture.

Wander Around And Get Into Trouble is a good option for players who bristle at getting mission assignments from Elminister but lack the foresight to set their own mission goal. But I also think it is a viable adventure type on its own merits, at least if your DM is prepared for the players to go in directions he wasn't expecting. It has been suggested that you either ought to have everything meticulously planned out or be willing to make everything up on the fly. I find both approaches work well together. If you do a good job planning out part of the campaign world, that work will be helpful and informative when the players go off on a tangent.

Beat The Dungeon is a sadly overlooked category these days. You can have dungeon-flavored missions and you can simply wander the dungeons looking for adventure. But Beat the Dungeon is a different beast altogether, demanding that you explore every cranny, defeat every monster, and search for every gold piece. One of the greatest accomplishments of my original game group was when the players beat the Caves of Chaos. Their Expert level PCs returned to the Caves a game-month or two later, just to check for hidden treasures one more time. They were absolutely scandalized that new critters had taken up residence in areas they had cleared. Heh.

Anything I'm missing?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Flu bad, Groo good.

I'm finally showing some signs of recovery today. I felt good enough this morning that I wanted to try to go to work but my wife stopped me. She is wise. An hour later I was absolutely miserable and would have had to come home anyway. Still, I am making some progress. I even felt good enough to read a few issues of Groo the Wanderer that I recued from a local dollar bin a couple weeks back. This stuff is golden. I got into Groo only recently but as a kid Sergio Aragones was one of my favorite Mad artists. That guy can tell the most wonderful, human stories with little or no dialogue. I'm no expert on the ins and outs of Groo, but the basic schtick is that he's a dunderheaded nincompoop who also happens to be an unstoppable killing machine. He wanders a vague pseudo-Hyborian fantasy world, getting into lots of trouble. In other words, he acts a lot like pretty much every D&D player character I've ever met. Issue 37 pictured above is pretty much a one joke story, but Aragones spends 22 pages slowly and lavishly telling it. It's glorious.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Steriogram, "Walkie Talkie Man"

Here's one of the few good things I caught on television. Some New Zealand kids cranking out some rock 'n' roll in a video that does with knitting what Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" did with clay. Weird, but charming. I also caught the new Gnarls Barkley video, which was fantastic.

I gotta go. I'm still very sick. Stay awesome, everyone!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I feel like crap, but here have a map!

So I've been home sick today. So sick it wasn't even until this afternoon that I considered getting online. Too sick for the internet is pretty sick, at least for me. I spent couple hours this morning watching the second greatest movie in the history of cinema. There are parts of that flick that choke me up a little on a good day, but at a low ebb like today I just started crying my eyes out near the end.

On a totally unrelated note, here's the first draft of a map of the Five Seas region, the central area of my new campaign.

(Click to see a larger version.)

The scale is 1 hex equals 30 miles or so, I think. The settlements in the southeast corner mark the westernmost extension of Vinland. Any Vikings found west of those regions will be fellow adventurers, renegades, hardy traders, or explorers. The town on the map edge is Osvar, the largest Norse settlement this far west. The ruler there is the son of the founder of the settlement. He's a nasty little fellow whose favorite sport is troll-baiting. The tower is the domain of Randolf the Red, the greatest wizard in Vinland. He is rumored to possess both manrunes and godrunes, whatever that might mean. He's also known in wizard circles to be a bit of a perv for his fetishistic insistence on wearing pants, as opposed to the mumus, robes, and skirts so popular with normal, well-adjusted arcane masters. The village just east of the town and across the sea from the wizard's tower is called Ingvoll. It's little more than a trading post with a lawless Wild West vibe. The keep at the western terminus of the sea sits firmly on the border of Vestland, past that it's mostly unknown territory. Some sort of monster-infested cave system is rumored to be located near that keep. The village on the other side of the forest is inhabited and controlled by locals of some sort. I'm still working out the details.

I made the map with HexMapper, a little doodad you can download from here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

super bonus sixth link

Courtesy of Martin over at Treasure Tables, here's a great link that every gamer ought to check out: NearbyGamers is a new player finding service that leverages the power of GoogleMaps. Dig it!

The Five Fold Path of Inner Linkage

Steampunk Star Wars - This is making the rounds but I wanted to post it just in case you haven't seen it already.

Make Your Own Bigass Pile of Treasure

Medieval Cookery - This link is a blatant attempt to get my friend Pat to make me some medieval mustard. Or whatever else he wants to cook.

Why I'm Handing Out Free Heward's Handy Haversacks in My Next Campaign

Gorl Bonebreaker - an orc for the ages

Beyond Vinland house rules

This new campaign of mine will be run mostly with standard 3.5 D&D, but I do have a few tweaks I'm making. I'll bold the text I sent the players, with my explanation following afterwards.

Wizards' Runestaff: Instead of spellbooks wizards utilize quarterstaves with runes cut in them, one rune per spell. They function exactly like spellbooks normally do. Any book of spells found in play will be more less like Elminster's Happy Recipe Book and more like the Necronomicon. Also: Wizards wear big pointy Gandalf hats. Believe it.

I thought staffs covered in eldritch runes fit the theme much better than musty old books. Since mechanically a wizard's staff functions exactly like a standard spellbook, there is little effect on gameplay. A runestaff can also be used to thwack people or can be enchanted with other magical properties, but I don't think there's ever been a rule against doing those things with a big book. Doug notes that one big difference is that you can really pimp over a wizard by swiping his staff and breaking it across your knee. One of the reasons I like to game with Doug is that he thinks like that.

Pantheon Clerics: Cleric's are not required to pick a patron deity, but instead serve an entire pantheon. Clerics may be of any alignment and may pick any two domains available to the pantheon. (See the Viking Cultural Sheet attached.) One domain must be from the PHB.

Everybody bitches about the fact that following one patron deity to the neglect of all others is historically inaccurate, but I went and did something about it. Does widening the domain and alignment choices make clerics even more powerful? Sure. Do I care? Not really. I'm not exactly sure why I demanded one domain be from the standard list.

Ale & Wenches Rule: At any time the DM may demand payment of 'miscellaneous expenses'. Expect to pay at least 100gp times your level when visiting Viking towns.

I'm not that concerned about draining coinage from the players. I just wanted to clearly establish the default motivation for the PCs to go on adventures.

Buying stuff: The biggest Viking settlement this side of the Atlantic only supports magic item purchases of 3,000gp or less.

In my email to the players I almost wrote "this side of Atlantis" but ultimately resisted the strong temptation to name drop when it wasn't necessary. Anyway, the point of this rule is to notify the players that most awesome magic items will have to be made or found. I am going to try superhard to include more cool, flavorful magic items in this campaign. My hope is to avoid the same boring old mix of magic items that comes from a fully functional magical economy. Andy Collins discusses the problem here.

Special campaign rule #1: Unless otherwise noted by the DM, time passes between sessions at the same rate as in the real world.

Uncle Gary actually advises this in the 1st edition DMG. The big thing we're looking for is to fully address seasonal changes in the local weather. The campaign world will loosely be divided into three regions: the Five Seas (the Great Lakes region), the North, and the South. The weather in the Five Seas region will parallel whatever is happening outside the window of my game room. Unless the PCs spend summer in the North and winter in the South, they will be expected to face the wrath of the inclement weather rules in the DMG.

Special campaign rule #2: The game ends no later than 10pm, even if that means stopping in the middle of combat.

Seriously, I am tired of running late because we tried to squeeze in one more fight. The DM and/or players will devise some narrative excuse why that last battle ended prematurely, even if we have to resort to "they got away". Not only will we all get to bed at a more reasonable hour for a campaign that meets in the middle of the work week, but I hope that this rule will shake loose a couple of spontaneously recurring villains.

Special campaign rule #3: As is usual, all 3.5 D&D books I own are legal fodder for character crunchiness.

I just don't see a point in owning all these shiny books if I'm going to not let people make use of them. My special Viking cultural rules (which will be the subject of another post) do place a few restrictions on PC construction, but I also give the players an out on that. As long as they design a true weirdo, they can play a local. Like the one friendly caveman hanging out with the pulp expedition to the lost land of the dinosaurs. Or Hawk in the second season of the Buck Rogers TV show. One player is seriously investigating this option.

Unearthed Arcana exception to special campaign rule #3: I don't like the races in this book. All class options but Gestalt are allowed. Otherwise only the following sections may see play: Spelltouched Feats, Metamagic Components, Incantations, Taint. Are the players interested in Contacts, Reputation, or Honor?

I can't let all of Unearthed Arcana into the game. What is already a nearly unmanageable mess of rules would break down completely. And we're all burnt out on managing Gestalt characters. The raw power is nice, but the number crunching is a major pain in the ass.

So far none of the players have taken up my offer to discuss using Contacts, Reputation, or Honor. That sort of stuff can be handled without a dedicated subsystem, so no big deal.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Right up my alley

Tired of the same old double damage? Wouldn’t you rather chop your opponent’s head off in one clean swing or put an arrow through his heart? Paizo Publishing presents an all-new addition to its GameMastery™ line, the GameMastery Critical Hit Deck, releasing this June.

Rolled a critical hit? Draw a card and apply the result! Each of the Critical Hit cards in this 52-card deck has four different results based on weapon type, all of which are compatible with the world’s most popular fantasy roleplaying game. Chop off a head, slice through a tendon, poke out an eye—crushing your enemy has never been this much fun. Critical Hit Deck retails for $9.99 USD.
It will be mine. I'm a sucker for both card-driven mechanics and critical hit systems.

Friday, March 09, 2007

My new D&D campaign concept

Pirates require a bit finagling to work into standard D&D. In the previous outing we had to mess around with crazy things like Defense Bonus and gunpowder weapons. Then there was the whole ship problem. How much focus does the boat get? How many skill points should PCs spend on being able-bodied hands? How much time should be wasted on crunchy boat rules? Are we really pirates if large chunks of the campaign are spent away from the ship and messing around in dungeons?

One word dispels the confusion and provides a handy answer to all these questions. And that word is vikings. I'm not talking about the historical vikings here. I'm talking about the vikings in the modern imagination, guys like Elmer Fudd in What's Opera Doc? or Marvel's Warriors Three. You know, just loud, stupid medieval dudes with horned helmets out for plundering and partying. A mythical viking can get away with wearing goofy Kirbyesque platemail. A mythical viking doesn't even need a boat. And clerics are suddenly not just playable, they're awesome.

The name of the campaign is Beyond Vinland. The basic conceit at work is that in some sort of crazy Nietzschean cyclical history of the world the Norsemen tried to explore/conquer/colonize the Americas during the Hyborian Age. They didn't find the Native American types that later expeditions encountered, because those folk hadn't yet crossed the Bering Strait land bridge. Instead, these Ur-Vikings (or whatever) discovered a continent full of shattered and dwindling prehuman and nonhuman empires. The political and cultural landscape is almost post-apocalyptic in nature, as the Americas are chock full of ruined cities abandoned by enigmatic prehuman races.

All of which is an excuse for totally retrogade D&D play. There will be unknown lands to explore, dungeons to crawl, and Norse colonies to defend. And it will go down largely outside the normal faux-European context of baseline D&D. That Tolkienesque baseline will be used to construct the PCs and their allies, but the rest of the world will be more along the lines of pulpy Lost Worlds or Sword & Planet fiction. Most of the nuts and bolts of the setting will be developed over the course of actual play. We're gonna start with a dungeon delve and the assumption that the characters are 'somewhere' in the Great Lakes region. And that they're vikings. The goal is not to build a coherent masterpiece of world construction, just a place for some people in silly helmets to have adventures.

(Doug, Pat, and I knocked this concept out over the space of an hour or two, so whatever credit or blame should be accorded these ideas must be shared.)

Reaper plastic update

TheRPGsite member Stuart provides some pricing data for the new Reaper brand prepainted plastic minis.

Prices for Reaper's new minis:

20001_____ Skeleton Swordsmen (3) $ 5.79
20002_____ Skeleton Archers (3) $ 5.79
20003_____ Skeleton Spearmen (3) $ 5.79
20004_____ Skeleton Swordsman $ 1.99
20005_____ Skeleton Archer $ 1.99
20006_____ Skeleton Spearman $ 1.99
20007_____ Orc Warriors with Scimitars (3) $ 6.99
20008_____ Orc Archers (3) $ 6.99
20009_____ Orc Spearmen (3) $ 6.99
20010_____ Orc Warrior with Scimitar $ 2.49
20011_____ Orc Archer $ 2.49
20012_____ Orc Spearman $ 2.49
20013_____ Cave Troll $ 3.99
20014_____ Ogre Chieftain $ 4.99
20015_____ Minotaur of the Maze $ 5.99

That looks like a great price point to me. Everything's low enough that if my FLGS were to stock them I'd buy in a pack or two anytime I was in the shop. Randomly packed D&D boosters were never low enough in price for me to do that.

Sky Pirates: What Went Wrong

A couple days ago some folks asked me to clarify what went so wrong with my Eberron outing that I'm prepared to nix it after just a couple sessions. It wasn't any one big sweeping problem, just a number of minor things that led to this clear feeling that the game just wasn't clicking. Let me explain. No, let me sum up.

I Thought We Were All Pirates On This Bus - Was I expecting horrible Long John Silver or Captain Jack Sparrow accents? Goblins forced to walk the plank? Betraying the Ms. Johnson in the stupid intro adventure? Interparty fisticuffs? I'm not sure, but I know that the piratey-ness was just laying there dead.

Airships? Huh! What are they good for? - I did quite a bit of searching and tinkering trying to find some way of making airshipery work to our advantage, but it never it panned out. In the end I came to the conlusion that putting any focus on the ship rather than the people was probably a bad idea from the get-go.

Crunchy Eberron vs. Fluffy Eberron - Half of the Eberron Campaign Setting is golden. New races, new classes, new feats, new items, new templates. All the crunchy stuff that my players and I love. But the fluff doesn't really do that much for me. My favorite part of the setting is Xendrik, simply because it's a big unknown. If the book had been half as big and relied on a new implied setting rather than an explicit one it would work much better for me. As it stands I feel like I'm playing in someone else's sandbox. I stopped running Greyhawk because I didn't like that sensation and with Eberron the feeling was even more intense.

So there you have it. What wasn't working in Sky Pirates of Eberron? The sky part. Also the pirates. Oh, and the Eberron part. Everything else was aces.

Stay tuned for details on my next big crazy idea. Here's a hint: it will involve both swords and orcs.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The best cartoon intro ever

Quote of the Day

Dude, shot by a sniper on the steps of a public building? Again?

Cap died in 1969, shot to death by HYDRA in front of witnesses. Had a big funeral where people talked about his great importance. (Captain America #111)

Cap died in 1992, shot to death on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by the Punisher, who used a sniper rifle. Had a big funeral where people talked about his great importance. (Punisher and Captain America: Blood and Glory #1)

Cap died in 1996, when his body gave out due to the deterioration of the Super Soldier Serum. Had a big funeral where people talked about his great importance. (Cap #445 or so)

Cap died in 2002, blown up by a collection of aged Nazis in New Jersey who had an ICBM. Had a big funeral where people talked about his great importance. (Cap vol. 3, #50)

Cap died in 2005, shot by a random jackass in Harlem. Got better before there was time for a funeral. (Captain America and the Falcon #13)

The character lives to be martyred so people can talk about How Tragic It Is That America Is Dead, and Woe Is Us.

Man, they need to come up with better uses for the guy. Seriously, this is embarrassing.

I love Cap. Stop killing him, fer cryin' out loud! He's died enough!
-Harvey Jerkwater posting on Kevin Church's blog

Morning Video

I'm sorry, Iggy. Could you repeat that? What did you say you are?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Why you should be reading Dinosaur Comics, in one panel.

(Click the pic to be taken away to a magical world were dinosaurs are even more awesome than usual.)

The day I killed two campaigns

After much consideration of recent events Doug, Pat, and I have decided to bow out of the World of Alidor. And I'm abandoning my Eberron effort, with a new project to follow on its heels.

It might be possible to misread my report of the last session and come to the conclusion that Jon is some sort of blackhearted villain. That's not the problem. I think that there was an ongoing issue of incompatible priorities. We wanted to roll around the campaign world getting into trouble and breaking shit, while Jon had some sort of epic plotline he wanted to play out. We never seemed to get those interests to sufficiently overlap, frustrating both us and the DM.

The sidetrip to Hell and the events that followed only served as the camel that broke the straw's back. Every gamer I know has one or more hotbutton issues that simply turn them off completely. Doug bristles under permanent ability drain effects. Pat loathes being told he must play a Good character. When I go to the trouble of writing an elaborate background for my PC, I absolutely hate the DM overwriting my ideas and telling me that my background story was a false memory implant. The diabolic sodomy and the events leading to it were not my idea of a good time. Nor Pat's. Nor Doug's. I can't really speak for Jason as I haven't discussed the matter with him at as great a length, but I think he agrees with us.

Has everyone else been following the most recent Marvel crossover, Civil War? It takes the old Marvel universe we all know and love and makes some pretty startling changes. Iron Man becomes a fascist in the name of national security. He gets onboard a government program to either conscript or imprison all known superheroes. He does horrible and reprehensible things in the name of public safety. Captain America (you know, the Sentinel of Liberty) leads a ragtag group of rebels against Iron Man and his crew. In the final issue of the main mini-series, Cap surrenders to government authority and Tony Stark's fascism brigade wins. It's ugly.

And that's sort of my point here. For serious storytelling, maybe Alidor and the new Marvel universe work. As venues for escapist fantasy they are simply too ugly for my tastes. The thing that sticks out in my mind about Alidor right now is that in all our globe-trotting adventures we never found one place worth fighting for. As far as Osric the Slayer can see there's no Shire, no village of Hommlet. The elves are opressive samurai racists. The halfings are cannibalistic draco-lich worshippers. The dwarves are surly and inhospitable, even moreso than usual. The humans of Jelling, where we started the campaign, are all either totalitarian thugs or bumpkins straight out of Deliverance. Can all these ideas be the grist of great stories? Hell, yes! But as the player of a fighting man, I'm completely at a loss at to what the hell I'm fighting for. I am not exaggerating when I say that I've seen Gamma World set-ups more inviting and cheery.

And then there's my game. I'm not going to lie to you. One of the reason's I'm dropping the game is because I'm a big wuss. I don't want to call Jon on the phone and tell him that I don't want him to come to the next session. Out of fairness to the other player's I wouldn't drop the game for just that one cause. But even before this present mess I got a clear vibe about this new campaign that it wasn't gelling in the way that I had hoped. Something's not quite right. In actual play Eberron isn't speaking to me the way I had hoped it would. The setting seems almost like a burden. So I'm going to look into doing something else.

So there you have it. I sincerely hope Jon finds players that are more comptible with his ideas as to how D&D is run. I don't wish the man ill. But his ideas as to what goes into a good D&D game and mine seem to be at a fork in the road, and I'm going the other way.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Work on FASERIP has begun!

Phil Reed reports that he will begin in earnest on Monday, but he's got a bit of preliminary stuff already done. More information available at the official FASERIP forum. Dig this snazzy resolution chart:

I would have preferred the original color scheme.

(Click for larger version.)

Monday, March 05, 2007

I cast Otiluke's Overcompensation!

In the old days no self-respecting magic-user would be seen without his pointy hat, but these two take the cake.

Cagliostro the Magician, from Iron Wind Metals:

Darius the Blue, from Reaper:

Favored Class and the XP chart

I like keeping a running total of all XPs I've earned for a character. It's been part of the game since the beginning. And more importantly I enjoy the simple pleasures of scoring points and keeping score. But for this exercise I'm asking that we set aside that mentality and instead look at XPs as something we earn and then spend. Specifically, we spend n number of experience points to buy a new character level. From this perspective the standard XP progression would like this:


Under this method when a first level character earns 1,000 or more XP he subtracts a thousand points from his total and spends those XPs to buy 2nd level. This creates a second step, that of subtracting the purchase price of the level, but it allows us the great advantage of introducing other XP progressions.

For instance, say I want to run a campaign with both standard D&D characters and Arcana Evolved classes. AE actually uses a different XP chart, where it takes 1,100 XP to reach second level. What happens when a 5th level rogue gets to 6th level and wants to become an Akashic or a Magister? Under this proposal the player would simply look at a new column on the XP chart like this:


Find the entry for 6th level and pay that many XP to buy 1st level in an AE class. Easy as cake.

Now let's go back to all the himming and hawing myself and others have done about the Favored Class. Part of my beef with the present Favored Class system is that it only works with multi-classing. If I'm playing an Elf Wizard and don't multi-class to something else, then the so-called Favored status does me no good whatsoever. That strikes me as counter-intuitive and weird. I would much prefer for a race's Favored Class to be a profession at which they excel, not just a hack around 3.x's crappy multiclassing rules. To this end I suggest a third, cheaper-than-standard, XP progression:


When I originally envisioned this progression it was intended as a gimme to people who really wanted to try running one of the NPC classes. We all know an Expert or Aristocrat can't hold up to a standard PC class, but the classes are sound enough that maybe someone would be interested in running them. A different, faster XP chart seemed like a workable solution.

But what if Dwarf Fighters and Half-Orc Barbarians and Elf Wizards could use this XP chart? They would progress through their chosen professions with greater speed, and thus would get a benefit of being in a Favored Class even without multi-classing.

With the AE chart on hand you could even introduce Disfavored Classes. Want to go back to the days of few Dwarf Wizards, make Wizard their Disfavored Class. Anybody who still really wants a Dwarf Wizard can play one, they just have to pay an XP penalty.

Another use for the chart could be at the level of campaign framing. "Okay, gang. This campaign is all about attending a Hogworts-esque wizard school. Arcane casters use the fast chart. Other spellmonkeys use the medium chart. Anyone who insists on playing a non-spellcaster is stuck with the slow chart."

Peter Adkison on the GenCon/Chaosium spat

I'm still looking for information, but it looks like that at this moment Call of Cthulhu games are not welcome at GenCon. Adkison is quoted thusly:
I'd love to tell you why, but in this case it would not be professional to do so.

Please suffice it to say that we love Call of Cthulhu and we love the fine folks at Chaosium and we hope that CoC fans will feel welcome coming to our show. But we cannot allow CoC events at Gen Con Indy until certain confidential matters between our companies have been resolved.

In the meantime we are reserving space for CoC events in the hopes that these matters are resolved expediently to both parties' satisfaction.

Peter D Adkison
CEO, Gen Con LLC
Frankly, I think this is a load of horsehit. You want to act professionally and make sure CoC fans feel welcome at your show, Mr. Adkison? Then don't screw around with the CoC fans like this! It is obvious to me at this point that GenCon LLC is the repsonsible party here, because there's no legitimate threat that Chaosium could be holding over GenCon.

Even if Chaosium were threatening to litigate over the whole stupid actual-play-as-use-of-IP issue. There's three good reasons for GenCon not to bow to that kind of threat. One, running games at cons is their bread and butter. If they won't defend against this attack they have surrendered one of their primary reasons for existing. Two, the whole of informed RPG fandom would align with GenCon and against CoC. And three, Chaosium doesn't have enough money to actually go through with the case.

Seriously, how often do we hear that Chaosium is flat broke and near insolvency? How often to we hear that the next product on the release schedule will only come out if the current new release sells well? From my simple fan's perspective Chaosium has been on life support for over a decade. What was once a great company with a wide line of excellent games has now dwindled down to a niche company living parasitically off of H.P. Lovecraft's legacy.

And that is probably the whole source of the problem. The scuttlebutt on the net right now is that the Chaosium owes GenCon money.

If that's the real source of the trouble than GenCon and Adkison probably think they're playing hardball by pulling this 'no CoC games at our con' stunt. Speaking as a guy with over a decade in the field of debt collections, I call shenanigans. That's not hardball debt collection, that's reprehensibly unethical loanshark-style collections. If this scenario is true, it's the moral equivalent of me telling a customer's kids "I hope you enjoy walking to school" because I'm about to repo their dad's car.

I sincerely hope I'm wrong. I hope this speculation of mine is entirely off the mark. But until one or the other party speaks up, what else are people going to do but speculate?

UPDATE: More info and a different take on the matter courtesy RPG Pundit.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

New home for Iron Heroes

Monte Cook Presents: Iron Heroes, written by Mike Mearls, is one of my favorite D&D variants. With Mr. Cook supposedly getting out of the RPG business I figured there wasn't much of a future for Iron Heroes. But two days ago Cook announced the sale of IH to Fiery Dragon Productions. Fiery Dragon is perhaps best known for their colorful Counter Collection series, but they have also done other support material for IH and Cook's other great D&D variant, Arcana Evolved. Just friday I was at the FLGS checking out Dark Harbor, an Iron Heroes module published by Fiery Dragon. I couldn't make up my mind between that book or the new Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde module from Wizards, so I ended up getting neither.

Plans for the new IH line include a revised corebook incorporating the known errata and clarifications as well as a player's companion with new classes and other crunchy bits. Unfortunately Mr. Mearls will not be able to contribute to these upcoming products. That's okay, this way we can get both tricked-out new IH stuff and great Mearls material published by Wizards.

Big thanks to RPGnetter Moriarty for pointing me to this info!

Return of the creep

This post is a follow-up to Audience participation time, wherein I challenged everyone to rate three comic book panels in order of increasing creepiness. Thanks to all the usual suspects for participating in my silly little game. In the comments to the original post my buddy Pat suggested that I was not doing the Ms. Marvel panel justic by cropping it down to just the kiss with MODOK. So below you can find the entirety of page 30 of issue 7 of Ms. Marvel. The whole page takes place entirely in Ms. Marvel's mind. MODOK and his AIM goons have captured her and subjected her to his brainwashing "mindripper" device. This page is meant to illustrate her internal struggle with the dominating effects of the mindripper.

The coverblurb of this story rolls out the oft-used phrase ;fates worse than death'.  For once I buy the hype.(Click the pic for a bigger version.)

I find this page extremely effective in conveying how unnerving it is to lose one's power of self-determination. In one quick transition Ms. Marvel goes from mentally kicking MODOK's ass to re-imagining him as both god to be worshiped and idealized mate to be loved. Ewww.

On one hand I find the MODOK-smooching to be a very effective way of depicting the horrors of mind control. On the other hand I'm just a bit disappointed. The rest of the comic is a pretty gender-neutral story of superhero asskickery. You could redo the rest of this tale for a male super with very little alteration. Only with a superheroine on the field would mind control be depicted as swapping spit with MODOK. Maybe nowadays some enterprising writer would try to pull off a male/male kiss with MODOK. I dunno.

It would be interesting to compare this sequence to contemporaneous examples of female villains mindcontrolling males. Like maybe some superhero falling under sway of the Enchantress. (Was Nekra active in the 70's?) I don't really have the collection to undertake such a project.

My own personal clay golem

Remember all those old figures I showed earlier in the week? I got 'em all primed and started painting last night. So far I've only finished the clay golem.

I know he's not much to look at, but he's all mine. (In the background you can see my Demogorgon figure. I didn't paint him. He came that way. That dude is awesome.)

Painting up that golem reminded me of a great encounter with a clay golem from back in the mid 90's. It was in my old Bandit Kingdoms campaign, a 1st edition/2nd edition hybrid game featuring my friend Pat as the bard/mage Doctor (later Baron) Phostarius and guest-starring whoever else showed up that week. One of the other regulars for a long time was Ray St. John. That guy was wacky fun at the table. Ray played Sir Cleave, Doc Phostarius' half-drow half-brother. Cleave was a cavalier and we used the 1st edition Unearthed Arcana version of that class. Man, was that class over the top. Way more powerful than a standard fighter.

If I remember correctly I think they fought the clay golem in the invisible step pyramid composed of solidified elemental air. It was an upside down dungeon full of lawful good critters. Most of the PCs in this campaign leanded chaotic and/or evil, so a dungeon with halflings on level one and dwarves on level two was right up their alley.

So anyway, they end up throwing down with a clay golem. This was back before the adoption of Damage Reduction. Many more creatures were totally immune to various attacks in pre-3E D&D. In those days the only physical attacks that could hurt a clay golem were magical blunt weapons. They were completely immune to anything with an edge or point. Good ol' Sir Cleave doesn't realize this fact. I'm sure Ray had fought a clay golem before, he had been playing D&D since almost the beginning of the hobby. But he apparently didn't recall this special immunity.

Poor sucker goes after the golem with his ubermagical longsword. I don't recall exactly what kind of enchantment was on the blade, but it was something hardcore like +5 or vorpal. I've used some sort of critical system in pretty much every D&D game I've ran going back at least until 1989, and Sir Cleave scores a crit against the monster with this magic sword that it is totally immune to.

I think the record will show that I'm pretty pro-player when I'm behind the screen. I don't usually bend the rules except in the favor of the people at the table who don't wield absolute power. But something about this particular situation really spoke to me. And what it was saying was "hose over Cleave". Without really thinking about it I declared his wondersword to be completely shattered against the golem's clayey hide. You should have seen the look on Ray's face.

Was that dickerly of me? Probably so. But the DM sometimes has to be prepared to go above and beyond the mere rules in the search for an awesome gaming experience. And sometimes that awesome can only be found by messing with the players.

Update: FASERIP is go!

Phil Reed's ogl FASERIP project has met its $1000 goal several weeks ahead of the deadline. Allow me to extend a hearty thanks to everyone who pledged!

(my original FASERIP announcement)

Friday, March 02, 2007

What do you want first?

The bad news or the worse news?

It seems Chaosium and GenCon are having a spat. The official word from GenCon:
Unfortunately, we will have to keep all events for Chaosium products on hold until on-going negotiations between Chaosium and Gen Con LLC have been resolved. Events can be submitted, but they will not be marked as “Accepted for Consideration” until everything has been resolved. Badges and hotel arrangements will not be based on these Chaosium events.

This specifically affects any events for Chaosium-published products. It does not affect related games from other publishers (such as Call of Cthulhu d20) or the more general overall Lovecraft mythos.
I don't really know what this means, but I don't like the sound of it. It seems either GenCon is using this as leverage to force something out of Chaosium OR Chaosium is asserting some sort of rights over games run with their IP. Both options hurt the fans first and foremost. Whoever is responsible for this decision needs to own up and explain themselves.

(Thanks to theRPGsite member kregmosier for this item.)

In other depressing news Necromancer Games seems to be going under, and they are doing it in the same super-classy way that the story of Guardians of Order's demise broke: Somebody let it slip that Necromancer was going down, but the announcement was unauthorized and ahead of schedule. Now everyone is backpedaling, saying that the company isn't necessarily dead. Best of luck to everyone involved with Necromancer. Too bad it had to go down like this, especially so soon after someone involved with GoO pulled the exact same thing, twice. Here's the EN World thread on Necromancer's woes.

No more DDM boosters for me.

This item comes courtesy Ogre Cave, press release below.

Reaper Prepainted Plastic Miniatures

Reaper Miniatures is proud to announce the release of its first series of prepainted plastic miniatures.

This new product line will be released under the brand name Legendary Encounters™.

Offered in an open, non-blind, non-random format, Legendary Encounters™ prepainted plastic miniatures will be packaged using Reaper's standard blister card. Both single and multiple piece packs will be offered.

Unlike the several existing blind-sale prepainted plastic miniature lines currently available, Legendary Encounters™ will not be produced on a limited edition basis and will be available at any time.

Drawing on Reaper's vast experience in miniatures and a catalog of 1000's of metal models to design Legendary Encounters™, Legendary Encounters™will quickly become the most popular prepainted plastic miniatures line on the market.

Reaper has always focused on the creation of evergreen product lines and Legendary Encounters™ is the first product line of Reaper's new "Ready to Fight™"(RTF) series of games and gaming products.

Available this June Legendary Encounters™ initial release will include: Undead and Orc warriors of various types, an Ogre, Troll and Minotaur. Like our Dark Heaven Legends miniature line, future releases into Legendary Encounters™ will include every type of creature imaginable.
Maybe if Reaper's line takes off Wizards will offer D&D figures in a DM-friendly format. And a starter kit with the most common race/class PC combos.

two awesome pics

My friend Pat sent me this picture. It's a screencap from a cartoon, but I forgot the website. I'm sure Pat'll share the URL next time he's online.

I always knew the Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs at Midnight was on our side.

I don't normally play clerics, but I'd totally sign on to turn undead in the name of this guy:

See that in the background?  That's Captain America NOT GIVING UP.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Great Random Charts from RPG History, volume II

I can't say that I'm a big fan of Adventures in Fantasy, the second RPG that Dave Arneson ever worked on. It's too bland for my tastes. Like the new Blackmoor d20 material all the awesome stuff like laser beams and robots has been cut out, leaving behind nothing but super-vanilla Tolkienisms and Old World folklore. The section on dragons is pretty much the only part of the game that I like. These charts (which I have reformatted but not otherwise altered) look like a super-fun way of freaking out jaded D&D players.

Head (d10)
1) Horned Ram
2-3) Horned Camel
4-6) Hornless Crocodile
7) Elephant
8) Salamander
9-10) Serpent

Body (d10)
1-2) Green Scales
3-5) Armored Scales
6-7) Red Scales
8) Gold Scales
9) Green Armored
10) Red Armored

Extremities (2d10)
2) Shelled belly, front feet of tiger
3-5) Lion forelegs, eagle rearlegs
6-7) Forked tail, neck of serpent
8) Webbed feet, bovine ears
9) Winged, forked tail, neck of serpent, webbed feet, bovine ears
10) Winged, shelled belly, front feet of tiger, lion forelegs, eagle rearlegs
11) Winged, lion forelegs, eagle rearlegs, forked tail, neck of serpent
12) Winged, shelled belly, front feet of tiger, forked tail, neck of serpent
13-15) Winged, lion forelegs, eagle rearlegs, webbed feet, bovine ears
16-19) Winged, shelled belly, front feet of tiger, webbed feet, bovine ears
20) Winged, shelled belly, front feet of tiger, lion forelegs, eagle rearlegs, forked tail, neck of serpent, webbed feet, bovine ears

That last entry is a doozy! After these charts are several more pages of dragon details, include random personality charts and stuff like that. I'm not going to retype all 9 pages of draconic info, but let me hit a few interesting highlights.
  • Female dragons lay 1-6 eggs six months after mating occurs. Only 50% of the egges are fertile. Infertile eggs crumble to dust in 1-3 years. Fertile eggs hatch after 30 years, during which time they are impervious to all non-magical attacks. After the hatching the mother drives the young out of her lair.
  • Some dragons can be convinced to adventure with the PCs if sufficient treasure is involved. The treasure must contain at least 100,000gp, 4 magic items, or something of peculiar interest to the dragon (see below). In no case will the dragon venture more than 90 miles from its lair.
  • All dragons are hobbyists. Common areas of interest include magic, academia, warfare, crafts, history, the natural world, food, and sex. Only those dragons with specific interest in sexual matters ever go to the trouble to mate. The rest of them consider the act beneath the dignity of the species. By the numbers 90% of all dragons are celibate.
Arneson's dragons are like the ultimate super-nerds. They're pretty freakish looking, don't venture out too much, have weird tastes, and they're pretty much all virgins. Yet inexplicably they sit at the top of the food chain.

Our Vacation in Hell

I'm still trying to figure out my reaction to last night's World of Alidor game. There were plenty of awesome moments, like the unexpected return of the Champion of Ten Thousand Eyes, the creepy villain who is a collection of eyeballs in the shape of a man. But there was also some pretty fucked up shit going down.

Let's start with the events that led our party literally into Hell. Jon prides himself in having what my main man Settembrini calls a "strategic campaign". Alidor is one of those worlds where a bigass multi-continent map has been fleshed out. You can just wander the map, bumping into things already on the board and thereby have adventures. I know this for a fact, because me and my crew have done it. Between sessions John tries to feel us out for where we are going to go and what we plan to do, but if we change our minds he never misses a beat. For example, he had no clue we were going to crash a zeppelin into a wizard's back porch. We just found a zeppelin and pointed it in that direction until I blew a piloting roll.

So most of the time in his campaign I get the feeling that we are masters of our own fates. Another great example is the time we made a point of going to the city of the Elvish Samurai. After a few minutes of hassle from the gate guards I declared that I was not putting up with their pointy eared orientalist shit. We never even set foot inside the place and instead started hoofing it for a less annoying town.

That's how we ended up at Morgan, a dwarven town. Some small portion of last session was devoted to Jon making sure we understood that the dwarves of Morgan weren't much friendlier. They don't like humans. We smell funny. They try to keep us all in the Foreigner Quarter and are generally racist bastards, though outright pogroms seem to be rare. But we did our best to get along, despite the surly and bigoted locals. We tried not to cause any trouble. (Okay, I did murder that one dude, but he totally had it coming. And besides, he wasn't a dwarf, so how much could the locals have really cared?)

Last session ended with a massive horde of orcs and fiends heading straight towards Morgan. Anyone still reading this far probably knows me well enough to understand that one of my favorite things to do in D&D is to beat up orcs. Some day I really ought to do a blog entry about Why Orcs in particular, but today ain't the day for that. The point is that Doug and Pat had to talk me out of staying and defending a town full of dwarf racists from a huge orc/fiend invasion.

This discussion between the three of us took place mostly in e-mail. A week or so before each session the DM emails us trying to feel out what are plans are for the nest run. Sometimes he offers us specific options. This last time he offered 4 options.

A) Fight the orcs
B) Go down into the valley [where the dragons are]
C) Use a magic portal to completely vacate the region
D) An option I must not have liked, because I don't even remember it.

The player discussion was completely focused on A or B and B eventually won out. But we never made it to the valley, because after we re-killed the Champion of Ten Thousand Eyes we were suddenly in Hell.

That suddenly. With no real explanation available as to what happened. One moment we were fighting the eyeball dude just outside the dwarf town, the next we were chillin' on the first layer of the Bad Place. At this point I still do not understand what happened. All I know is that the DM had previous outlined four possible courses of actions for our PCs, none of which were a quick trip to Satan's backyard. Why even ask what we are going to do, if the plan was to zap us away like that? As a DM I start out sessions with a little railroading all the time, but I don't try to trick the players. I look the players in the eye and say "Here's the adventure I have planned. If we don't do this adventure, then I've got nothing." Arguably that's a pretty stupid way to run a campaign but unlike Jon I don't have an elaborate campaign world chock full of adventure.

So now we're in Hell, for no apparent reason. Theologically, all the PCs have done plenty of things to earn a roasting in a lake of fire but that's not really an explanation for this eyeblink transition. After almost no discussion we all agree that when one finds oneself in Hell, the most useful way to spend one's time is to look for a way out. So we proceed to do just that.

We had some really awesome moments in Hell. It turns out the first layer of Hell is a lot like the surface of Mars: dry, cold, unforgiving. We had to weather out an Infernal Duststorm in a cave, where we found the corpse of the last adventurer to venture upon the plane. Our souls were tempted by a deviless. We passed within spitting distance of Tiamat's lair. In order to get some information ('Where's the exit?') out of a giant mound of talking skulls we had to provide a sacrifice. The druid summoned a unicorn and offered it to the skull, who tore the poor beast to pieces and devoured it soul. That was trully creeptastic and the druid turned Evil as a result. Okay, we got hosed in the way we were sucked into Hell for no reason, but we got some great play out of it. And we looked to be well on our way of escaping the Netherworld.

But then the big finish for the night came like a punch to the gut. We're within sight of the giant Get Out Of Hell Free Card when the temptress devil showed back up with a kobold goon squad (yes, kobolds) demanding we sign on for the Blood Wars or fight her team. My group and I aren't really into choosing anything over fighting, so I charge the devilchick. We have a Fight-Man fight and everything goes well, but then the rest of the kobolds show up. By 'rest of the kobolds' I mean every kobold that has ever been killed in a Dungeons & Dragons game. It's a sea of kobolds out to the horizon and amongst them is Kurtulmak, chief of the kobold pantheon. I'm all for killing kobolds, but I'm not prepared to take on an apparently infinite number of them backed by even a smallish god. So we haul ass up the mountain to the gate that leads back to Kansas.

After a grueling serious of dice rolls and stupid mechanical tricks, we slog up the mountain. The Infinite Kobold Swarm is now close enough to ineffectually pepper us with arrow fire and some flying devils are winging their way towards us to boot. One by one we go through the magical doorway back home (or at least back to our home plane). Only after six members of our seven man team are through do we discover that this portal only works for six people in any 24 hour period.

Well, fuck.

It was getting very late and we were all tired and we were, you know, trying to escape Hell itself. This resulted in our withdrawal being a little less orderly than our unit normally prefers. Normally, we have well-understood priorities in situations like this. Normally, we try to make sure the spellcasters are first on the chopper out of Saigon. Normally, Doug's ranger or my barbarian would be the last man out of combat situation. As much as I like simply drawing my sword and going all berserkergang on evil's ass, this group tries to be professional. But this time we screwed up, big time.

The last man in the queue out of Hell was Pat's PC, the party wizard. I didn't orchestrate this situation, but I feel terrible for leaving Pat behind. Not just because he's the party's arcane blaster and therefore a valuable team asset, but also because I abandoned my good personal friend's PC in literally the worst possible situation. And it gets worse.

Pat's a smart cookie and he also likes playing bad guys, so once he sees he's not getting out of Hell today his wizard tries negotiating with the advancing hordes of Hell. Pat is nothing if not audacious, but I thought he actually stood a pretty good chance because his PC was a charisma based caster with something like a +28 Diplomacy check. Also, the DM had spent the night emphasizing that souls were valuable and Pat was offering up his PC's soul. Pat pulled it off. His soul was forfeit and he was now Evil, but the forces of Hell agreed to send him through the magic portal the next day. Then the DM dropped the biggest bomb of the night with what sounded like a casual, off-handed remark "Of course, the devils spend the next 24 hours sodomizing your character."

Of course. How could there not be sodomy at this point?

The game took maybe ten more minutes to wind down, but I wasn't really listening to the DM much after this point. I think I was distracted by the PC rape. Yeah, that's probably it. Or maybe I was just really tired. After all, this delightful little stroll through the underworld took a lot longer than most of our Alidor sessions.

No, I think it was the rape.

On the ride home Pat seemed to be in a decent mood, all things considering. I think he was trying to focus on all the cool feats and prestige classes now available to him thanks to his new Evil alignment. Prior to this session Evil aligments had been forbidden to our characters and so fun things like the Assassin and the Ur-Priest are now available to Jason and Pat's PCs. I'd be jealous of Pat, if not for the diabolic sodomy.

I'm not sure what's going to happen next in this game. Doug has already talked about calling it quits. Once before I talked Doug out of quitting this campaign, but I don't think I can bring myself to do it this time. I think someone needs to talk me out of quitting. The problem is that, as vile as last night became, this particular session seamlessly fits into the overall tone of Jon's campaign. At least in as much that I can find lots of awesome little high spots, but then the lows are lower than I want to go. And then there's the whole "Not Making Any Fucking Sense Except In The DM's Head" thing Jon seems to do a lot. Despite not everything always being awesome or logically coherent, in the past the players had agreed to soldier on and take the bad with the good.

That was before the rape. If a PC is killed, we can get them resurrected. No magic spell is ever going to unrape anyone.