Tuesday, July 31, 2007

this ad is awesome

I swiped some stills of an animated ad that ran on Penny Arcade last weekend.

1) We pan across a majestic, sweeping vista of snow-laden mountains and fragrant evergreens.

[insert Python lumberjack reference here]

2) The obligatory Hawtsome Fantasy Female appears, with attendant cleavage and come-hither glance.

Come on, people.  An arrow-shaped pendant pointing down to her boobs?  That's just guilding the lily.

3. OMG! Bear attack!

I'm telling you, every single game ever made can be improved by adding bear attacks.

Apart from some additional text, that's the whole ad. The bear attack is never explained. The bear just pops up behind the chick. And then the ad cycles back to the beginning. She's trapped in a loop, forever menaced by Inexplicable Bear.

A bit of catching up

Here are a couple of items that I missed out on reporting due to my recent vacation and last week having gone completely to crap for me. Better late than never, says I.

1) We all know RPG Pundit as one of most spectacularly polarizing figures in the world of RPG jibba jabba. But now he's a published game author as well. Thanks to that cool cat Clash over at Flying Mice Games, Forward... to Adventure! is available in print from Lulu and as a PDF from RPGnow. Pundit's design goals were to create a newbie-friendly game that was all about the action, and based upon getting an eyeful of one of the drafts I think he hit the mark dead on.

2) Dammit, I was gone for Silly Template Week! Did you miss Silly Template Week also? Then head on over to Neitherworld Stories and start reading here! Stuart has a killer knack for whipping up little mechanical treats, and these templates are some of his awesomest work to date.

An Unrelated Note to Folks I Hang Out With: I need to free up some space in my way-cluttered game room. If you have ever lent me a book or whatever that I haven't returned, please shoot me an email. I am terrible at remembering such things. Heck, if you gave me a something that you want back, don't hesitate to speak up. Or if you just want something in my collection that I don't really need, I won't be offended if you ask. I might say no, but I won't be upset. Doc Rotwang, send me your mailing address and I will send you my copy of Starfaring. Kathleen, Josh can have my copy of Field Guide to Encounters. Don, you want my Starter Traveller?

Monday, July 30, 2007

greatest fast food ever?

My daughter loves hot dogs, or as she puts it in her exacting way "hot dog on bun with ketchup". So last Friday I took her to Weinerschnitzel, a fast food chain restaraunt that sells hot dogs and hot dog accessories. She got a basic hot dog, some fries, and a soda pop. We picked up a chicken sandwich for my wife, who doesn't always get into the spirit of things. I got a pastrami dog, a big beef hot dog with a pile of pastrami on top. I thought that was pretty rad, but as we were waiting for the nice folks to fill our order, I saw a poster advertising what may be the single awesomest fast food item every devised. Even awesomer than the infamous Deep Fried Snickers Bar on a Stick. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

My heart seized up a little just looking at this pic.


Man, I am totally plan to get one of those next time we hit the 'Schnitzel. Then I plan to get sick and throw up.

(Big thanks to MeatHenge for uploading that pic, so's I could swipe it.)

a note for the discriminating RPG connoiseur

Powells.com has a copy of SenZar for ten bucks.

Friday, July 27, 2007

3 great Star Wars pics

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"No Time To Blog" Lightning Round

Last night was the last session Beyond Vinland, Season One. Too bad it ended with a Total Party Kill. The party waltzed into the lair of a couple of Yuan Ti abominations and ended up getting sliced, diced, mutilated, and poisoned. While it was kind of a buzzkill, everybody is still pretty enthused about the upcoming Star Wars game.

Also, they did finally catch up with and killerfy that duergar chieftain that had given them so much trouble. In my mind the PCs and the chieftain are all in Valhalla, drinking mead together and having a good laugh over this whole mess.

Ride the Snake!

Not only am I late hopping on the meme bandwagon, but I'm referencing an obscure old SNL sketch.
Just a couple more days left to get the snazzy print edition of my Encounter Critical module, Asteroid 1618. Click on over to the Cumberland Games & Diversions Lulu.com storefront and slide down to the bottom of the page to order your copy. While you're there do yourself a favor and order one of S. John Ross's great works. Again, no one but Lulu is making any money off of the print version of my book. S. John and I want the price as low as possible. Of course the free PDF version is even cheaper (still available at WoAdWriMo central and the EC yahoo group), but that version doesn't come with staples!
Here's a first look at the PC's starship in the new campaign:'You came in that? You’re braver than I thought'Green Thirteen (the Space Winnebago below the Y-Wing) is an old prototype of a Y-Wing variant that never made it into production. Based upon the slightly more successful 5-person courier variant of the Y-Wing, the BTL-D2 Y-Wing was an attempt to turn a non-frontline modification of the Y-Wing back into a fighting vessel. It didn't quite work out. But beggars can't be choosers, and the Alliance needs every ship it can muster.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I did not cheat on this quiz.

Which Encounter Critical character are you?

You are IG-666, the Robodroid Warlock! You are merciless to the weak and filled with a lust for magical power.
Take this quiz!

Quizilla |

| Make A Quiz | More Quizzes | Grab Code

Starting Equipment Charts for Rebel Scum

In the comments to yesterday's post reader jinnetics requested that I share these charts with the group.

1-2 None
3-4 Blast Helmet & Vest
5-6 Padded Flight Suit

1 None
2 Vibrodagger
3 Vibroblade
4 Cesta
5 Light Sabre
6 Knife
7 Stun Baton
8 Combat Gloves

1 Hold-Out Blaster
2 Blaster Pistol
3 Sporting Blaster Pistol
4 Slugthrower Pistol
5 Heavy Blaster Pistol
6 Blaster Carbine

Understand that I'm not married to these charts. If Doug absolutely needs a dayglo orange jumpsuit for his pilot, I'm not going to make him roll. Similary, Pat has talked about making some sort of heavy weapons dude. He can have a bigger gun than a Blaster Carbine, if he wants. Anyone rolling a light sabre will be urged to come up with some sort of cool explanation for why they've got it. The default assumption will be that one of their parents was a jedi knight who fought in the Clone Wars.

Also, I recommend reading Settembrini's last comment on yesterday's blog entry.

Monday, July 23, 2007

more on the new SW campaign

  • For the last several weeks I've been saying to myself "Luke was first level in the original movie" as a sort of mantra. No PC kills kobolds in sewers for copper pieces in Star Wars, no matter what their level. But here's my new twist: Han, Chewie, Leia, and even Obi-Wan were all first level, too. Maybe the Saga Edition doesn't map out the character's abilities that way, but it 'A New Hope' was that party's first adventure in Lucas's campaign. Our new campaign should strive for that same level of excitement, despite the low levels of the newbie PCs.
  • Recommended reading: Jonathan Tweet's article There Is No Try. Tweet's main point is that a blown skill roll does not always have to be an indicator of utter, dismal failure. Sometimes a PCs can blow a roll and the GM can offer a less than perfect, but not totally suck alternative. "You failed the climb roll? Then you make it partway up the mountain. Interestingly enough, there's a cave near the point where the cliff becomes too steep to climb further. What do you do now?" "No good on the knowledge check? Okay, you don't know the location of the Jing-Soon Temple, but you do know the guy who does. He lives on Coruscant, in the underlevels below the UltraMegaMallPlex." (I should mention that Tweet, S. John Ross, and Ron Edwards all seem to have independantly discovered this idea. Any one of them can have a bad idea. Any two of them, maybe. But all three? I doubt it.)
  • PCs in my campaign get two stat options. They can roll 4d6, drop one. Or they can choose the Awesome Array: 17, 16, 14, 13, 10, 10. If someone rolls a better set of numbers than that, that set immediately becomes the new Awesome Array. We like high stats. It allows us all to more easily pretend that we're cooler than other people.
  • Dear Wizards: Money, WTF? The players are really supposed to roll to see if their starting characters can afford to buy blasters? Doug's pilot doesn't get to start with a stupid orange jumpsuit because it costs too much? Forget that crap. Pat and I banged out some random initial weapons and armors tables. Past that whether a PC can afford something or not will be a simple function of asking how hard it would be for Han Solo to buy it.
  • I'm thinking that every PC should have a short list of People They Care About. Some of these people will die, to make the Empire look evil. Others will mysteriously disappear and return as masked cyborg sith types. Etc.
  • Pat made this, and it is awesome:
I pity the foo who BEEP-BEEP WOO BEEP!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Arctic Thunder & Heinz 57

Not just awesome.  WICKED AWESOME.So the wifi connection at the resort went down after my last post, but my family and I are now safely back in the Land of Lincoln. The bar at the resort we stayed at had a few videogames in the back corner. My daughter and I fell in love with one of these games, a snowmobile racer called Arctic Thunder. While Elizabeth loves racer games of all sort, most of them do little for me. But Arctic Thunder is seven shades of awesome. The little saddle-type seat you sit in is equipped with rumble technology and the accelerator being on the handle bar means that my daughter can completely operate the game herself. She can't reach the gas pedal on most arcade race games. But the real joy of Arctic Thunder is in its sheer over-the-top gonzo-osity. For your choice of racers you can play an extreme sports enthusiast, but you can also select a superspy or a gorilla. Possible race courses include normal places like the Swiss Alps but also a haunted forest, a lost city in the Himalayas, and a post-snowpocalyptic Washington, D.C. In short, you can play an ape-man piloting an atomic snowmobile through the Oval Office. No lie. I have done this myself. Turns out Arctic Thunder was released for the Xbox a few years back and you can bet your bippy I'll be tracking down a copy.

Deaf giftshop: WTF?So Wisconsin seems just a little bit weird to me. Part of it is that the state has hills and forests, whereas I'm used to the vast flat farmlands of Illinois. Hills and mountains are awesome, but they always strike me as a little unnatural. Another factor, no doubt, is the cheese shops and fireworks emporiums that you can find on practically ever street corner. We don't have either in Illinois, and seeing a giant statue of a mouse eating a wedge of cheese every few blocks is just odd. But I really think the thing that set off my weird-ometer the most was the gift shop at the resort. They had all the usual touristy crap that you expect from such a place. But they also had two bottles of Heinz 57 steak sauce. No ketchup. No mustard. No barbecue sauce. No other condiments at all, and precious little else that would assist in the making of a meal. But for $2.50 you could buy one of two ten ounce bottles of Heinz 57. I just don't get it. It's like going to the library and finding a live aardvark filed among the encyclopedias. I almost bought one just to prove to myself that they were real.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

a self-observation

When making D&D villains I often start the process by thinking something like "well, I want this dude to be a Half-Dragon Githyanki Beguiler 12". The game mechanics drive the process. While working on my new Star Wars campaign my thoughts have been more along the lines of "I need a bitter jedi that survived the Purge but blamed both the Sith and the antiquated jedi order. In anger he has turned to the Dark Side but is in no way an ally of the Empire or the Sith." Character and setting drive the process instead of mechanics. I'm totally digging that.

FYI TheRPGsite is down

I'm being told the site will be back up in a day or two.

They carry magazines, books, and books.

Hayward, Wisconsin is a cute little town of a few thousand people. Main Street is devoted to a large array of touristy shops selling mostly T-shirts and kitschy gift stuff broken up by the odd candy shop or bakery. At the toy store my daughter bought these adorable pink-handled diecast sixguns. Two Gun Lizzie now wanders the resort, accusing everyone of being Dirty Dan in disguise and blasting them. I also spotted a little storefront with a green awning labeled simply "Magazines...BOOKS...Books".

I was very impressed by this little bookshop. In addition to a reasonable collection of comics and graphic novels (mis-shelved in the children's and young adult's sections. Sin City next to the Hardy Boys, I kid you not.), the RPG section was bigger than I've seen in many big chain bookstores. They had a very respectable selection of 3.5 tomes, the new World of Darkness, and second edition Exalted. Any regular bookstore where you can get the D&D core books, some dice, and Book of Nine Swords is okay by me.

Lesser lights represented included three copies of the new Star Wars rpg, some Accordlands books, a couple Iron Kingdoms hardbounds, and the latest comprehensive BattleTech rulebook. I nearly bought that last one, but it was forty bucks and I still haven't used the last comprehensive BattleTech rulebook I bought for the previous edition. I don't play that much BattleTech anymore, and my old copy of the Rules of Warfare still covers pretty much everything I need.

The most surprising item in the RPG section was the Exalted boardgame. I didn't even know there was such a thing, and here were two copies for sale right in the middle of hunting & fishing country. Back in the day over on RPGnet I had gotten the impression that Exalted was set in a pretty gonzo world, with flying cities and magic battlemechs and all kinds of crazy crap. So I was kinda disappointed when I flipped the box over and saw this:

That map and those pieces look like they could come straight from a Lord of the Rings game. Where are the volcanoes that spit molten souls? The little plastic robosaurs? Don't get me wrong. The pieces look pretty cool. The map is bland, but functional. My big issue is that this stuff could be game equipment for any ordinary fantasy game, with elves and shit. Where's the gonzo? The whoop ass? Tiny spearmen are perfectly jake, but where are the tiny plastic demonninjamonkeys or whatever? There aren't even any extraneous sea serpents on the sea areas.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Allies and Enemies of the Lone Ranger and Tonto

My daughter's continuing fascination with the Lone Ranger often manifests itself as untimely requests for spontaneous storytelling. Common venues for such tales include the grocery store, the drive home from day care, and this week, while in the swimming pool for the umpteenth time since vacation began. Here is a small selection of the characters that the Lone Ranger and Tonto have encountered as I have scrambled to come up with material for wild western adventures.

Captain Pierre, Louisiana ship captain and treasure hunter
Emperor Norton
The Mayor of Austin
The Miners of Silver City, Colorado
The Moon-People
Professor Smartypants, goodly steampunk inventor
Mr. Cunningham, owner of Cunningham's General Store
The Editor of the Cactus Gulch Gazette

Dirty Dan Daniels and his brothers, the Daniels Brothers Gang
One Eyed Pete McCoy
Professor Thaddeus Q. Nasty, evil steampunk inventor
Captain Chronos, Time Pirate

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

2 thoughts on a Star Wars campaign

1) You can get a lotof mileage out of only taking the first movie as established fact and using the rest of the films as inspiration. Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader are not necessarily one and the same. Luke, Leia, and Darth may not be related. Darth Vader's dark master is not necessarily the Emperor. Jabba could be merely a local thug or an intergalactic criminal mastermind able to threaten the Empire.

2) Should some characters receive Get Out Of Death Free cards? I'm kinda thinking major villains only work when they are recurring villains. No GM-created villain should get more than a single 1-Up. But I'm willing to cut Darth Vader or Boba Fett a bit moe slack than that. PCs should also get at least one Miraculous Escape if the bad guys get such consideration.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Greetings from Cable, Wisconsin

Turns out the resort I'm at has a wifi connection and two of my in-laws brought their laptops, allowing for some small amount of blogification this week. In my spare time here (which is limited given my daughter's desire to go swimming 3 times a day) I've been able to do some work on the first adventure of the forthcoming Rebel Scum campaign. Later this week I hope to post some more thoughts on this campaign. The players are hashing out there PCs in gmail, which is awesome. I'm not around to coordinate things so these guys are just working stuff out themselves.

I'm doing some gaming here, as my brother-in-law brought some cool games. Note to my sister and any other cool boardgamers: try Pitchcar for silly racetrack/tiddly winks fun. My wife's family is a very competitve lot, so we're playing several game tournaments. The Scrabble tournament started today. I'm doing okay so far, but the professional writers and PhDs in the family are a hard lot to play against. Also on the tournament schedule is croquet, Pong, and readings from Eye of Argon. That last one was my idea.

Has anybody seen Rodman Down Under? I found it in the dollar DVD bin at the local Walmart. It seems to be an indy wrestling card from Australia featuring Dennis Rodman versus Curt Henning. I hadn't realized that Rodman did any wrestling after his rather sad run in WCW.

Catcha all later.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

the session that wasn't

So last night was supposed to be a session of Beyond Vinland, wherein Our Heroes trap the duergar chieftain inside a barrow mound inhabited by the Union of the Snake, a yuan-ti death cult from the 80's. But the adventure never quite started. I accidentally sent the group off on a 3 hour tangent by attempting to handle some campaign business before we rolled initiative against the first band of snakemen.

As longtime Gameblog readers will recall, the Gestalt PCs in my last Greyhawkesque outing reached 23rd level or so. That got really boggy mechanics-wise towards the end of the campaign. Part of the problem was the sheer awesomosity of Gestalt characters, but the other part of the equation is that D&D at its highest levels bends the system in ways that I just don't plain dig. Prepping games for high level 3.5 seemed less like fun and more like doing homework. And the combats felt like we were swing swords in a sea of molasses.

So I asked the table what an appropriate cut off level for this campaign would be, a place on the advancement chart where we would stop and go play something else. 3.x D&D's structure heavily favors longterm advancement planning, so I thought the players would want to know in advance that their PCs would never advance beyond level X. I felt a group consultation was in order, in case some player was just dying to get a special ability only available at a certain level.

In my mind's eye we would all agree to end the campaign when the PCs reached some level in the low to mid teens. Instead, Doug said "If you're talking about switching to Star Wars Saga, I say we stop the campaign at level six." The PCs are 6th level right now.

Doug went on to explain that the present campaign was a good time, but that he was eager to play the shiny new Star Wars game. And we had kinda lost campaign momentum with the Sunken Ziggurat module, which I still think is awesome but just doesn't fit my high octane/low attention span style. And losing Jason as a player also took some wind out of the sails of the campaign. Meanwhile, I am also very keen to try out the new Star Wars game. It looks pretty damn sweet.

So we spent the rest of the night talking out the dimensions of a new Star Wars campaign as Stuart and Pat flipped through my copy of the rules. We played my copy of season one of the Clone Wars cartoon, as Stuart hadn't seen it yet and a Clone Wars era game was one of the possibilities we discussed. Although Doug made some very good arguments for a Clone Wars game, we eventually settled on a Rebellion era campaign.

As I see it, a Rebel campaign provides at least three big advantages to a Star Wars GM. First, kicking off adventures is a piece o' cake. Mon Mothma/Princess Leia/General Dodonna/your mom gives the PCs a mission and they fly off to adventure. Or the Empire shows up to wreck everyone's shit. Second, the Rebels are the underdogs, not backed up the resources of the Republic. And third, I get to play Darth Vader once in a while. On the players end, they get to stick it to the Man and any Jedi in play is one of a mysterious handful in the campaign, not part of a stodgy order with 10,000 members and a bunch of stupid rules.

Beyond Vinland is not going away immediately or altogether. In two weeks we'll fight some serpent people as planned. But that session is going to be the end of Season One, so to speak. The plan is to come back to that campaign later, perhaps after retooling it a bit and recruiting a fourth player. But in August we'll be starting Rebel Scum, which will begin just a bit before Episode IV and play out adventures running parallel to and weaving in and out of the Original Trilogy.

The first mission for the PCs: steal some boring technical data to this new space station thingy the Empire is building.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

miscellaneous image roundup

Let's see what's clogging Jeff's harddrive today!

impending hiatus

Starting Friday I'm off to Cable, Wisconsin for a family reunion. I'll only be posting gamebloggery during the next week or so if I find an internet connection somewhere and if the mood suits me. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to post tomorrow, but otherwise expect silence here at least until a week from Saturday. Until then, stay awesome everyone!

Does anybody know of any cool game stores, comic shops, or used book outfits in the Cable area?

My brother-in-law is cool

My brother-in-law Jim is a gamer of the boardgame/wargame persuasion. I'm told he played D&D back in the day but he's been out of that scene for a long time. Anyway, he just got back from Origins and he brought me some swag. He grabbed me some Tokkens, which are kinda like the magic item cards from Paizo I got a while back, but weird. Instead of paper cards, they're little tin plates the same size as normal playing cards. Unlike the Paizo cards, these things have game statistic information on the back of them, but the info is truncated and refers you back to the official item description. I wouldn't pay money for a set of these, but I may get some use out of the freebies on hand.

Jim also found some vendor clearancing d20 books in lots of 10 for five bucks apiece. He grabbed one of these stacks for me, settling on a stack that included Orcfest, an orc-filled adventure from Fast Forward. He knows me well enough to figure I'd get some sort of use out of pretty much any book with the word "orc" in the title. Half the stack were Avalanche Press books. You know, the guys who put all the gratuitous T-and-A on their covers. I've heard good things about some of Avalanche's products, but I could never bring myself to buy one. My wife would never let me live it down.

Anyway, the Avalanche book were Aztecs; I, Mordred; All for One, One for All; Nile Empire, and Noble Steeds. Note that Noble Steeds, a book about horses and such, doesn't feature a nearly naked chick on the cover. I've been kinda interested in I, Mordred for a while, as a D&D game with some dark and dirty Excalibur action thrown in appeals greatly to me. And I might get some use out of Aztecs in my present campaign. We'll see.

The odd man out of the lot is Marauders of the Wolf, a sourcebook not for D&D but for Sovereign Stone. If I was a gamestore owner sitting on a bunch of Sovereign Stone books, I'd probably try to sneak them into a d20 lot, too. If there are fans of that game out there I don't think I've ever met them.

The Troll Lords were represented in the stack by Heart of Glass, a module by Stephen Chenault. I'm a bit of a fan of the Troll Lords Castles & Crusades line, but I think this is my first straight D&D module from them. It's set in Erde, their house campaign world.

The picks of the litter are probably the two books from Skirmisher Publishing. Warriors is an interesting-looking take on expanding the fighter options for a straight medievalish setting. It's full of crunchy stuff like prestige classes and feats and whatnot. Tests of Skill is an unfortunate name for an very intriguing book. From the title I thought it was going to be a crunch book all about expanding the D&D skill system. But Tests of Skill isn't that at all. Instead it is a mini-setting book that emphasizes skill use, particularly social skills. For example, the wandering monster charts include starting attitudes for the encountered creature and the best way to influence a more friendly reaction.

Tests of Skill will be a little too plain vanilla, a little too SCA/Ren Faire for some D&D fans. But if you want to focus on politics and normal folk in a faux medieval world, it looks like maybe a good product to fit your needs. It's the kind of setting where most DMs will want to very carefully pick what optional material to allow players. Ninjas and robots just don't go well with this book. A straight core book game would be a much better fit, with perhaps a sprinkling of a few choice bits from supplementary materials. If I ran Tests of Skill I'd plonk down a bit stupid dungeon somewhere on the map, which the book as written lacks.

Thanks for all the fun reading material, Jim!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

yet another five links

NEMESIS - the new Detwiller/Stolze horror RPG

Dungeon Master Zero

Ceres As An Abode of Life

Flow In Comics - I recommend starting at the bottom entry and working your way up.

Fantascene Gothic Terrain

picture time

One of the greastest silly threads in the history of RPGnet was "Overly Honest RPG Covers". Sadly, many of the pictures on that thread are now dead links, including a great Krull based Encounter Critical cover and a Traveller cover that featured the cast of Futurama. Below are some of my favorites that I'm preserving for posterity. The first one is by our own Doctor Rotwang!

I can't make up my mind which of these Pendragon covers I like more.

I can't believe it's not Odinsday

Worldwide Adventure Writing Month put me off my normal schedule for Odinsday's updates and session summaries for my Beyond Vinland campaign. This post will be an attempt to get everybody up to speed before tomorrow night's session.

Just before last run Jason announced that he would no longer be able to join us for Beyond Vinland. Jason lives in Bloomington, about an hour's drive away. The extra to and from time was killing his schedule, especially now that he apparently has a new lady type friend in his life. We all wish Jason best of luck in his future endeavors. Dude's welcome back at my game table at any time. There's plenty of good gaming to be had in Bloomington, so hopefully Jason won't go gameless without us.

The last Odinsday Update I wrote left Jason's PC, Zoyd Sampson, gravely ill and wounded after participating off-screen in the doomed Anti-Duergar Punitive Expedition. I decided that since Jason wasn't coming back any time soon that his PC would succumb to his wounds, but not before asking his fellow adventurers to avenge him. So last session involved the party staging an attack on the village of the belligerent duergar.

The PCs carefully scouted out the enemy. I described how the palisade wall encircling the village had been partially destroyed and some of the buildings inside wrecked. The duergar had been attacked in their homes by a pair of Storm Spirits, like the PCs fought atop a pyramid back in session 4. These Spirits had been roaming the countryside attacking people at random. The paranoid duergar thought the Storm Spirits were sent by some wizard among the Viking settlers and that's why that had been on a rampage. I don't think the players made the connection and I'm not sure they would have cared if they did.

The attack on the duergar started with setting one of the large huts ablaze, which mobilized a duergar bucket brigade. The PCs then punced upon the tiny firefighters, which started a general melee involving some 30 or so duergar. The leader of the duergar avoided the initial brawling, instead making his way to the House of Skulls, a hut decorated with bones and stuff. That's where the duergar kept their heavy artillery: four animated dinosaur skeletons with laser beam eyes. I had bought these cool dino skeleton toys that sat perfectly on a 2" x 2" base and was itching to us 'em. For stats I pulled out some Large dinosaur skeletons from Libris Mortis. For the laser eyes I simply added the ability to use 2 Magic Missiles per round. I usually use Scorching Ray for lasers, but I was feeling lazy and didn't want to roll laser to-hits every single round. Since normal skeletons don't shoot lasers, I treated these guys as +1 CR when I handed out XP later.

As I was putting the dino toys on the table Stuart suggested that they might be mecha of some sort. I went with it and thus was born NecroDinoMechaLaser Squad. As the party annihilated the rank-and-file duergar these giant robotic dino skeletons slowly stomped across the battlefield, peppering the party with laser fire. Meanwhile the duergar chieftain attempted some psionic trickery, but successful saving throws prevented that from amounting to anything. Eventually all the village was burned, the roboskeleton thingies shattered, and all the duergar warriors killed. All but the chief, that is. He got away.

But not for long. Erik, Hjorek, and Thorne refused to consider their task complete until the chief joined his fellows in whatever Hell holds duergar souls. For three weeks they tracked him, playing a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. On three occasions they almost had him, but he used psionic levitation to get away. Twice the party was attacked and wounded by traps laid by their quarry. Once he stampeded a large herd of bison in their direction, nearly killing all three adventurers. Finally, tomorrow night, they get their big chance. The duergar chief has holed up in an ancient burial mound and, as far as anyone can tell, there's only one way in or out. The party is hundreds of miles from home, in unknown territory, about to enter an unexplored dungeon. But they've got the bastard trapped.

This is why I like Serious Sam

Last night I fought a giant alien devil guy.

That's no moon, it's a SpaceSatan!
The battle ended on top of the Great Pyramid of Cheops, with a gigantic UFO floating overhead.

Monday, July 09, 2007

insane panel of the day

Courtesy of Every Day Is Like Wednesday.

Ol' Festus would never steer you wrong

I was flipping through some back issues on my Dragon CD-ROM set, when I spotted this little ad:Anybody ever seen a copy of Time Drifters? Undead cowboys and time travel sounds like an awesome mix of crazy crap. John H. Kim has an encyclopedia entry on this one. He notes that despite promising sci-fi adventure, the "basic game" is set entirely in the old west. According to Shannon Appel's awesome indices, issue 30 of White Wolf magazine contained a review.

Noble Knight has a copy for sale, but they want forty bucks for it. There aren't too many games that I'm forty dollars worth of curious about. Meanwhile Titan Games will sell you the same thing for five or ten bucks.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

new (old) videogames

There's a place on Neil Street in Champaign called Game Crazy that sells used video games. I got the following Xbox games for less than 5 buck apiece there. But man, it took for frickin' ever to check out. I don't think I'll be going back any time soon. Normally I don't mind a wait to get a bargain, but my wife and daughter were with me. There's no good reason why they should have to hang around for 20 minutes just so I can buy this crap:

No, wrestling's not the least bit homoerotic.  See, here's a chick with big hooters to prove it!  Never mind the clown with the phallic symbol.

I'm not a big fan of backyard wrestling or the extreme style it poorly apes. Too much blood, too many props, and not enough proper grappling for my tastes. And many of the wrestlers have no sense of ring psychology or match storytelling. But five bucks for a new wrestling game was too cheap to pass up. The make-a-wrestler section delivers pretty good results. The wrestling engine is a bit over the top (no surprise there) but does allow for some technical holds and reversals. And much of the terrain in the various fighting venues can be destroyed. You can Irish whip a mofo into a plywood shed, shatter the shed, then pick up the plywood and beat the dude with it. I hate that kind of wrestling in real life, but as a video game where no one really gets hurt? Good times.

I pity the fool who paid full price for this game! I knew Celebrity Deathmatch was going to be awful when I bought it. The real questions were how awful and in what ways. Answers: unbelievably awful and like the show but even worse. Still, any game where I can play Mr. T and beat the hell out of Marilyn Manson can't be all bad. Not that I loathe Marilyn Manson or anything, but Mr. T dropping the A Team van on him as a finishing move just seemed so right.

Doom + Croatians = Awesome
I've been meaning to get this game for years, ever since Old Man Murray did those two awesome interviews with the head of the all-Croatian design team. It's the only first person shooter I've really wanted since that time I nearly wrecked my academic career playing Doom when I should've been studying for finals. So far Serious Sam is fun and stupid in all the right ways. I swear to Grodd, it's like the Rifts of first person shooters.

Friday, July 06, 2007

free Sword & Planet rpg!

Click here to download Under the moons of Zoon, a new Sword & Planet rpg by Luigi Castellani. Mister Castellani has been one of Mazes & Minotaurs most talented contributors. I can't wait to read this new project of his!

Top Ten Weirdest Aspects of the Field Guide to Encounters

10. The Cover

The pink slippers get me every time.
When you look at this cover, what kind of game do you imagine underneath it? Some sort of horror comedy romp, perhaps? Instead you get one of the most whacked-out D&D variants I have ever seen. In fact, I would go so far to say that this cover is so inappropriate as to somehow be a transcendentally perfect match for the insane contents.

9. Mystery Author

Look back up at that cover for a sec. Notice that it says "by Dragon's Byte". If somewhere in the text there's a clue to the identity of this mysterious entity, I have yet to find it. My buddy Pat proposes that the game could be a group effort by an old BBS. Some Googling turned up a Dragon's Byte BBS in Salinas, California run by some dude named Ric Vittum and another such operation out of San Francisco adminned by a 'WildCat'. There was Sheboygan 'Dragon's Byte' BBS as well. Any readers remember any of these BBSes? UPDATE: James Mishler reports that none of these BBSes were the Field Guide's authors.

8. Woeful Incompleteness

Starting as early as Dave Hargrave's excellent Arduin Grimoire the hobby has a tradition of trying to pass off D&D house rules as a complete RPG. But for a game that encompasses two 110 page volumes, the Field Guide has some pretty glaring holes. Nowadays you can maybe get away with publishing an RPG with no equipment list, but back in '82 that was a pretty big deal. And I'm baffled by the lack of any spells. The chargen section is chock full of strange spellcasting classes, but there's no spells for them to cast! I cast nothing in particular at the darkness!

This product was originally advertised as the Marvelous Mystic Missive of Mighty Meek and Magical Monsters, though it was never published under that name. I suspect that what started purely as a monster book (volume 2 is little more than 600 monster entries) was expanded at the last minute into a full-fledged RPG. Except someone along the way forgot that a complete game needed to be, well, complete.

7. Play a Bear!

Many of the nearly 200 insane PC races in Volume 1 of the Field Guide are drawn from various bodies of myth. One of those sources is the folklore of the Blackfoot tribe of Native Americans. Apparently their mythology ascribes humanlike intelligence to bears. So you can play an absolutely ordinary bear with a standard adventuring class like wizard or acupuncturist (see below). Here's a hint: don't choose a class that relies heavily on weapon or tool use.

6. Random Levels

For random NPC generation you roll d100,000. NPCs are first level only on a roll of 00001 to 00011. Rolling a 99,992 or higher gets you a 17th level NPC. Most NPCs are 4th level, because any roll of 27,282 to 63,642 gets you that result. I love this chart. I want to use it in other class and level games. Hell, I'm tempted to let my players roll on this chart for replacement PCs in my current 3.5 game.

5. Kitchen Sink Classes

Every good gonzo D&D variant has a wild assortment of nonsensical classes and Field Guide to Encounter is no different. Let's just run down the list quickly: Acupuncturist, Amulet Maker, Astrologer, Bard, Cleric, Crimson Seeker (a psi warrior type), Demonist, Druid, Elemental Wizard, Fighter, Frost Wizard, Geo-Sage, Healer, Historian, Houri, Kabbalist, Magus, Martial Artist, Merchant, Necromancer, Ninja, Ronin, Sailor, Shadow Walker (psi thieves), Shifter, Smithie (elemental wizard/warrior hybrid), Thief, Tracker, [Animal] Trainer, Translator, Venefic (assassin), Warrior (a fighter who specializes in brute force even more than a regular fighter), White Wanderer (psionic/wizard hybrid). Whew!

4. "Ints"

Some games use a specific term to refer to all intelligent species. I like "peoples" or "folk" in fantasy games. Traveller uses "sophonts", which sound cool. Field Guide to Encounters uses "Ints", which is short for "intellgent species". That term trips me up every time I encounter it.

3. Manitou Combat

"Manitou Combat is a form of mental combat where the souls of two people actually engage each other on a slightly higher plane. During the combat, the two combatants' bodies remain rigid and neither will move until the battle is over."

In my mind's eye this plays out the way Professor X sometimes throws down with fellow psychics. Astral bodies, invisible to others, conjure up ectoplasmic weapons and armor and knock each other around. The absolute coolest thing about Manitou Combat, apart from the name, is that anybody can be taught to use this exotic fighting method. Two Historians arguing over 3rd century doily design could take their argument to the astral plane.

2. Mandatory Apotheosis

Two classics in the field of gonzo gaming, SenZar and World of Synnibarr, make achieving godhood one of the major goals of play. At least one PC achieved demigod status in Hargave's original Arduin campaign. All of these games (and the less gonzo but still awesome Mentzer version of D&D) make becoming a god an epic adventure, possibly the most difficult adventure of your PC's career.

Field Guide to Encounters, on the other hand, posits godhood as a natural consequence of standard D&D type play. When you achieve 20th level your are summoned by the gods and offered a position in their ranks. PCs not wanting to become gods must talk their way out of the honor. Why would you want to do that? Because the influx of deific energies kills 95% of new recruits. The survivors may then pick out their own sphere of influence and join the ranks of the gods. The text notes that the gods settled on this form of conscription as a way of replenishing their ranks. It seems that high level adventurers would eventually make their kind extinct otherwise.

The only other game I know that does forces godhood upon successful PCs is Lords of Creation. LoC doesn't use the term 'god', but the whole PC advancement system is basically a low burn to deific power. Field Guide is much more abrupt and jarring. One day you're a 19th level Translator and a few xp later you're either dead or a newly minted god.

1. Killer Breakfast

Field Guide to Encounters has one of the greatest/craziest monster sections in RPG history, ranking right up there with World of Synnibarr and Element Masters. The lion's share of volume 2 is dedicated to the monsters, at eight critters to a page for 76 pages! Each one gets its own little illo, too. Many of these creatures are standard fantasy fare, most of which are attributed to various mythologies or fantasy novels.

But a not insignificant fraction of the included monsters are just plain crazy-go-nuts. There's the "Car-Rot", a golem carrot that will stab you with it's pointy end and inflict a rotting disease. And 2 meter tall living cigarettes that do d8 damage by blowing puffs of smoke at you. And giant coffee cups that burn their victims by pouring out their contents. Then there are the Tinkles, a class of monster that generally looks like a Tribble with little eyes. They come in a bewildering number of equally crazy variants. The Shoo Monster is a harmless relative of the Intellect Devourer. It has no attacks and leaves whenever someone says "shoo!" to it. And then there's the Toast. Imagine a piece of toast 2 meters tall, with arms, feet, and a little face. Burnt Toast is given its own listing. It's AC is better than regular toast.

Martinglass on the Judge's Guild message boards rightly asks "Do people WANT to see Conan fight breakfast foods armed with tridents?" Now, I wouldn't want to read a Robert E. Howard story where something this stupid goes down. But in a roleplaying adventure? Hell yeah!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

OMG! Ninjas!

Here's some photos I've been meaning to post since Mother's Day, when I ran Dungeons & Ninjas for my nephew the ninja. First up we have the HeroScape ninjas used for the PCs:

The shiny metallic acrylic I was working with just didn't want to stick to the paint already on the figure. And here's the Ninja World we made:

do not pass go, do not collect 5 links

Sean K. Reynolds stats up some Barsoom critters for 3E

Different Worlds Publications - Tadashi will sell you back issues and lots of neat old gaming crap.

Leaders and Battles of the Franco-Prussian War

A Brief History of Role Playing Games

Custom Tokens - Game making fodder if I ever saw such a thing.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Lot of a Lifetime

Someone is selling all three known World of Synnibarr tomes on the eBay. That's the '91 edition of the rules (the one with the angel chick and the dead lion men on the cover), the fairly well known 1993 edition, and the only known supplement, the Ultimate Adventurer's Guide. I've long wanted to see the insides of the 1991 edition. My gut tells me chargen would be simpler. Two of the three character generation options in the 2nd edition look like later additions to me.

I suspect that there might be earlier editions of Synnibarr, done in very small print runs. But at this point I don't have any hard evidence, other than the fact that in the copy I own McCracken copyrights his book "1980, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993". I need to go through the Dragon's classifieds and see when the Synnibarr ads first appear.

Great Random Charts in RPG History, vol III

01-30 lamp goes out completely
31-70 lamp burns on, unbroken; roll for beam direction if dropped.
71-85 lamp breaks and spreads all over the floor, leaving a very slick surface.
86-00 lamp breaks and spreads burning oil over floor; treat flames as a small fire

01-10 Slovenly trull
11-25 Brazen strumpet
26-35 Cheap trollop
36-50 Typical streetwalker
51-65 Saucy tart
66-75 Wanton wench
76-85 Expensive doxy
89-90 Haughty courtesan
91-92 Aged madam
93-94 Wealthy procuress
95-98 Sly pimp
99-00 Rich panderer

Monday, July 02, 2007

Tripping through the galaxy

WARNING: The appearance of space nipples in the graphics below may make the following post Not Safe For Work.

Starfaring is a cool little game. Written by Ken St. Andre of Tunnels & Trolls fame, this sci-fi aventure game dates back to the embryonic era of rpgs, when the formulas we play by nowadays had yet to solidify. Don, my personal Traveller guru, thinks its unfair to compare Trav to the earlier Starfaring. He points to the contemporary Starships & Spacemen from FGU as an example of a game in Starfaring's genre. I think TSR's Star Probe/Star Empires duo can be placed in the same pidgeon-hole, maybe Gamescience's Star Patrol as well, but I dunno about that last one.

I'm not really familiar with any of those games, but I think the basic deal with them all was strategic space imperialism in a loosely defined sci-fi universe, with a moderator overseeing game activity. Each player is Captain Kirk in the GM's galaxy and the players compete at least as much as they cooperate, all flying their own ships. I think Don's wrong about comparing these games to Trav. Traveller was probably going to look a lot like this sort of game, before it was retooled in the wake of Dungeons & Dragons's breakout success. You can look at the original Traveller books today and it's clear (to me, at least) that Trav is a hybrid case, a transition form preserving some earlier wargaming concepts. It wasn't until I got Starfaring that I could see what those earlier concepts actually were.

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail here about the mechanics of this game. The Museum of Role Playing Games already has that angle nicely covered. While you're there, the rest of the Museum is well worth a read. That site was one of the reasons I started looking seriously into OD&D and classic Traveller so many years ago. Today, I'm going to be showing off Starfaring's amazing art.

With the exception of the inside back cover ad for T&T, all the art in Starfaring is credited to Ernest Hogan. Googling a bit leads me to suspect that this is the same Ernest Hogan who wrote the sci-fi novels Cortez on Jupiter, High Aztech, and Smoking Mirror Blues. That Ernest Hogan is described in a few places as a cartoonist and illustrator as well as a novelist. Enough jibber-jabber, let's look at the pretty pictures!


What kind of artist puts his signature on a boob?


BACK COVERThis one perfectly captures the spirit of the game.


"Because we all know everything is cooler with big creepy eyes!" - Melan, yesterday.

Space Arabs!


I really feel for the girl. In the game the Slishi are the main enemy of humanity. Also: Holy crap! Tentacle sex!


I swear this exact ship appears in Tom Wham's Planetbusters.

In the future many spaceships are piloted by brains in jars.
Bodies still wear out but brains can be preserved for much, much longer.

That's roughly half the illos in the game. I picked out the ones I liked best to scan in and share. Personally, I totally dig this art. It's a cartoony throwback to the disco-fueled era of drugs and one night stands. Unlike a lot of stodgy sci-fi game art, Hogan's pieces are fun!