Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Random Starting Gear for Mutant Future

Melee Weapon (d12)
1. Crude Spear
2. Rusty Meat Cleaver
3. Rusty Machete
4. Rusty Butcher Knife
5. Ball Peen Hammer
6. Crowbar
7. Baseball Bat (2 in 6 chance Cricket Bat instead)
8. 2x4 with nails in it
9. Hockey Stick cleverly adorned with rusty razor blades
10. Lead Pipe
11. Fondue Fork
12. Broken Beer Bottle

Missile Weapon (d12)
1. None
2. Shortbow, 2d12 arrows
3. Longbow, 2d12 arrows
4. Light Crossbow, 2d12 bolts
5. Sling, d12 stones
6. Slingshot, d12 stones
7. d4+1 Pub Darts
8. Boomerang
9. Black Powder Pistol, ammuniton for 2d12 shots (d10 damage)
10. Black Powder Rifle, ammuniton for 2d12 shots (d12 damage)
11. Bola
12. None

Armor (d12)
1. None
2. Heavy Furs & Hides (Ac 8)
3. Biker Jacket (Ac 8)
4. Leather Armor (Ac 7)
5. Football Pads, 2 in 6 chance w/jersey (Ac 8)
6. Biker Jacket & Miscellaneous Metal Bits (Ac 7)
7. Leather Armor & Miscellaneous Metal Bits (Ac 6)
8. Roadsign Shield (Ac 9)
9. Roadsign Shield plus random armor (roll d6)
10. Ridiculous Agglomeration of Metal Bits (Ac 4, encumbering)
11. Kevlar Vest (Ac 5)
12. None

Still working on miscellaneous equipment.

UPDATE: Changed the armor chart to give a 2 in 12 chance of starting with nothing.
UPDATE 2: Made some changes based upon the comments.

Monday, June 29, 2009

For Your Consideration

Rule -1

"If the participants are enjoying the simple acts of rolling dice, eating chips and talking in funny voices that trumps anything ever thought, said or written about RPG theory."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Activate Not-So-Wayback Machine!

While cleaning out a box o' stuff today I found a CD labeled "Gaming Stuff 5/13/05" in my handwriting. Here's what it contained:

Folder labeled "d20 Modern Adventures" - Contains pretty much all the freebies offered by WotC. Used a few of these in a short d20M campaign ran for my teenage nephews and some of their friends. They played a super secret special ops team that dealt with Fortean threats to humanisanity.

Folder labeled "D&D Adventures" - All the 3.x freebies from Wizards available up to that date. I don't think I ever used any of them. None of them really spoke to me as interesting situations.

A folder that shall remain nameless - containing version 4.0 of a fantasy RPG that I helped proofread/edit. As far as I know it never was released. Just like all the freebie work my friends and I did on that unpublished draft of Star HERO. That's the way it goes sometimes, I guess.

Folder labeled "Living Greyhawk" - Chock full of crap, mostly Verbobonc regional stuff. After 2 or 3 LG sessions I decided it wasn't for me.

Folder labeled "Misc Gaming PDFs" - Spare copies of free PDFs and stuff purchased from SVGames.com back when they help the license from WotC to sell electronic versions of OOP stuff. Early pre-pub draft of Legends of Steel, the Evil DM's nifty little 80's barbarian chic RPG. The 3.0 version of House of the Axe, Calithena's rad to the max Arduin module. House of the Axe later appeared in Fight On! #4 in an old school format. A copy of Powergame, which may be the best supers game I've never played. Teaser sample pages of HeroQuest and freakin' Wraeththu.

Folder labeled "RPGNow" - Mostly 3.x crap.

Folder labeled "SRDs" - The 3.5 version of the System Reference Document, the d20M SRD, the d20 Future additions to the d20M SRD, and Guardians of Order's two SRD, the Anime SRD and the Mecha d20 SRD. I really wanted GoO's BESM d20 stuff to work, but I don't think it did.

Dave Hargrave's Fumble Table from the Arduin Grimoire - Just 'cause that's how I roll.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Friday, June 26, 2009


Gameblog reader rcade asks the simple question that is the title to this post.

The short answer is No. I'm superthrilled with all the great modules (still available here, thanks to James at Age of Fable) that resulted from the two WoAdWriMo outings, but I don't plan to attempt to organize another Worldwide Adventure Writing Month. The reason I'm not continuing the project is twofold:

1) The two WoAdWriMos have made it abundantly clear to me that one of my personal strengths is not Organizing the Fans. That takes a special combination of limitless enthusiasm, abiding patience, technical know-how and general smarts that I can't quite muster. I don't regret trying, but my talents lie elsewhere.

2) Someone else has improved on the formula and WoAdWriMo is in many ways redundant now. I speak, of course, of the One Page Dungeon Contest. It's not the same as WoAdWriMo, but it's got a rip smart format. Format was one of the things I struggled with and the One Page Dungeon just effin' nails it. Look to the future for the One Page City, the One Page Encounter, the One Page Secret Society, the One Page Kingdom, the One Page Tavern, etc, etc.

So no WoAdWriMo. HOWEVER, don't let me hold you back. There's still need in the hobby for new materials for GMs trying to keep their campaigns running. July may not be Worldwide Adventure Writing Month, but there's nothing stopping it from being [Your Name Here] Adventure Writing Month. And if you want a cheerleader to Ra! Ra! you on, or just someone to talk about the module writing process don't hesitate to leave a comment on my blog or send me an email (jrients AT gmail DOT com). Or call me, I'm in the book. It always amuses my wife when someone on the phone asks for "Jeff of Jeff's Gameblog".

ADDENDUM: I should probably also note that if someone else wanted to take the reins of this project, that would be totally cool with me.

Random Game Design Thoughts

I think the guts of most RPGs can be disassembled into three mechanical categories:

1) Mechanical playing pieces (either buildable stuff like character generation, vehicle design schemes, etc or readymade items like spells and equipment lists).

2) Combat

3) Stuff you do that isn't combat.

Some games use a so-called 'unified mechanic' that attempts to squash items 2 and 3 together. Most of the time this claim is overrated, as you quickly find that the unified mechanic is highly modified with special cases and charts and crap once Fightey Time starts. Relatively few games use the exact same mechanics for a barbwire cage match and a tea party with the Queen. S. John Ross's Risus is about the only game I personally play that does that.

Not that I wouldn't try another system that works that way, though I am wary of such designs. A major pitfall with many unified mechanic games I've seen is that they tend to look like a perfectly decent game that would be good if only they had remembered to put in the chapter on combat. Somehow Risus avoids that sensation of playing a stripped down game. But maybe because I'm confident that the designer isn't a hippie trying to make a point about the unhealthy ubiquity of combat mechanics in RPGs. He's still pretty hippie-ish, but Ross doesn't have an anti-combat design agenda.

In the case of games that separate combat and non-combat resolution, pretty much every single time the combat section is a lot more interesting, both in terms of fiddly mechanical parts you can play with and actual nifty cool results in play. Off the top of my head I can recall only two subsystems that approach the same level of awesome as nearly any game's combat system: car chases in Savage Worlds and seduction in James Bond 007.

So here's my challenge to game designers everywhere: more cool rules for car chases and scoring with hotties, please! If your setting doesn't have cars, chases from horseback or spaceship cockpit will do nicely. And if your setting doesn't have sexy people, please go back to the drawing board and design a new game. Elfwood exists for a reason, folks.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


...sixties Japanese Batman had the raddest rogue's gallery known to mankind.

Professor Gorilla!

The Mutant! a.k.a. The Man Who Quit Being Human!

Lord Death Man!

Go-Go the Magician!

Doctor Faceless!

All these awesome baddies can be found in the sweet reprint volume Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan. Since I just totally sold out to Amazon, you can click the thumbnail to the left to go directly to where you can order a copy. (Assuming I'm doing this product link thingy right.) Or order it from your local comics-type retailer. Or you can do what I did and borrow it from your library, assuming your local library is as supercool as mine.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

An Alchemical Proposal

Back in the Before Times a DM generally started out with a rulebook and was expected to homebrew everything else. Later when RPGs became commercially successful, whole product lines came into existence to support play. The DM as artiste/worldbuilder/lone nut is very fun but a helluva lot of work. The DM as high priest of canon has its own challenges and rewards. Personally, I think the smart thing to do in the latter case is to treat a games' canon as a lawyer treats the canons of law or an English professor treats the canonical literature: pick a position and bend the hell out of the canon to suit your needs. But today I want to propose (or perhaps just highlight) a middle road between the two, the Dungeon Master as alchemist.

Here's one alchemical recipe for a new campaign.

1) Start with any ol' D&D-esque ruleset, though a simpler system without alot of fiddly bits probably works better here.

2) Add some supplementary rules material. You're primarily looking for new Gygaxian building blocks (classes, races, spells, monsters, magic items, etc) to drop into the game. In this recipe you want exactly two different sources for this stuff, one of which is easy to put into your game, like adding Mutant Future as a source of monsters and treasures to your Labyrinth Lord game. For the other one choose something that might be a little harder to fit into your system of choice without some work. Something like Creatures & Treasures II for Rolemaster or the monster book for Mazes & Minotaurs, the Hekatoteratos. Don't be scared to go far afield for this second supplement book.

Part of the magic of this formula will come from the tension between the two selected supplements and part will come from your own personal adaption of the second, less compatible source. Another tension, and thus more fuel to the fire, can possibly be achieved by making one of supplements an ancient text and another one a more modern invention, like using your favorite issue of Fight On! or Knockspell combined with the Best of Dragon, volume I.

With most supplements that you select, there will be some material you don't like. Like I adore the monsters, magic items, and spells in the original Arduin Grimoire, but some of the classes leave me cold. The best thing you can do would be to challenge yourself to use this stuff anyway, to stretch your own chops. You don't have to use everything in your selected books, just try to go a little outside your comfort zone.

3) Now you need some fluff to hang all this stuff on. Pick exactly three sources of campaign inspiration. Two of these sources should be recognizable as fantasy material, like selecting your favorite Conan paperback and maybe Jack Vance's Dying Earth. Note that you are picking individual works, not entire bodies of work. Pick one Conan book. Don't use the later Dying Earth books. And for Grodd's sake don't look at a fan wiki or crap like that. These books are meant to be launchpads for your own campaign, not the final word on your setting.

Your third fluff is meant to be the wild card. Pick something way out in la-la land for this one. Don't even look at fantasy novels. That'd be too pedestrian. You want something like an issue of the Micronauts comic or the movie Krull or the Principia Discordia. Or a book like Barlow's Guide to Extraterrestrials.

Using the Alchemical Method your job as Dungeon Master is to make something syncretic/synthetic that takes all this disparate stuff and coheres it together in a single campaign. Achieving this will require a lot of trial and error work as you decide what from each source to keep, what to adapt, and what to drop. The result may be a trainwreck, but it will be YOUR trainwreck.

Monday, June 22, 2009

contents of a wayward folder

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mini-review: Points of Light II

Last week my copy of Points of Light II: The Sunrise Sea arrived at my friendly local game store. The first volume of Points of Light stands out as one of the great game books to come out in '08. Which really says something given that '08 was a banner year for neat-o gaming stuff. Rob Conley improves on the basic sandbox formula so excellently employed in the first volume.

Once again, the game mechanics are treated with a light touch. For benefit of 4e players the monsters are described as things like "4d12 giant crayfish (level 4 skirmisher)". I don't know what mechanically distinguishes a skirmisher from a controller or a brute, but it's no harder to ignore than similar oddness in old crap I use all the time, like the Arduin Grimoires. If you can't figure out on your own that Level 4 Skirmisher probably 4 Hit Dice then you should probably steer clear of third party materials in general.

In addition to PoL II have just plain more material (64 pages worth, up from 48 in the original), I'm really digging on the diifferent settings. The first one works as a fantasy version of the colonization of the New World, while another has a great potential for chopping through lost jungles with machetes, and a third is a bunch of islands begging for maritime adventure in the vein of Sinbad or Odysseus. And holy crap! The final setting is a giant ass volcano full of evil. It's almost like Conley wrote that one just for me.

So I give Points of Light II a heart recommendation. Not only is the material excellent but it looks just as easy to drop into a campaign as the original volume. I plan on using at least two of the PoL II sandboxes in my own home campaign.

You can get your copy of Points of Light II: The Sunrise Sea from your local game retailer or at the Goodman Games online store.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Happy Shatnerday!

Friday, June 19, 2009

What's Your Gygax Number?

a.k.a. Six Degrees to Gary's Game

This is a stupid little exercise inspired by today's xkcd strip, Paul Erdös and Kevin Bacon.

Here's how it works:

  • James Mishler once played an rpg with Gary Gygax. That's gives James a Gygax Number of 1.
  • I once played OD&D with James, but never played with Gary. That makes my Gygax Number 2.
  • If you have played an RPG with me, the biggest Gygax Number you can have is 3. For example, chgowiz and I played Labyrinth Lord together at my local con. Assuming he never played with Gygax or James, he would have a Gygax Number of 3 and the biggest Gygax Number his gaming buddies could have would be 4.
One time Gary played Mordenkainen in Arneson's Blackmoor campaign, meaning the biggest Arneson Number one could possibly have would be their Gygax Number +1.

With the linking criteria set as "played an rpg together" there will be people in the hobby to whom no Gygax Number can be assigned. Until I went to my first convention I couldn't possibly have a Gygax Number, as I started out as an isolated kid with a Basic set and my original play group all learned the game from me.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

World of Cinder, session 9

So last night all the PCs died. While on a mission to bring back the head of a rogue wizard they decided to mess with a sleeping dragon. It woke up and breathed on the entire party. Johann the Gnome, Carl's henchman, was the only one in the gang with enough hit points to survive if he saved. And he didn't. I feel bad for Dane. It was his first session of the campaign and less than an hour into it he and everybody else was dead. But that's just the way it goes sometimes in the kind of game I run.

I passed out some new character sheets and the players started clacking the 3d6s but total party kill by dragon breath had sucked the fun out of the room. So we got to talking and Carl indicated that he was ready to play something else for a while. Before the session had started Wheelz and I had been discussing our mutual interest in Labyrinth Lord's gamma ray powered sister system, Mutant Future. Carl was onboard with that and Dane seemed willing to play along. So I have two weeks to develop something resembling a Mutant Future campaign, or at least an initial scenario. Good thing I was already working on a MF wilderness map!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Three Wizards Making Magic

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Life with Lulu

I thought I'd share a little bit of info regarding my experiences with selling the Miscellaneum of Cinder through lulu.com and other related nonsense involving life as a self-published RPG author.

Today I got my first funds transfer from the lulu people, so I guess that officially makes me an RPG professional. Expect all my future posts to contain snide disregard for all you mere consumers. Actually, I want to offer a big "Thank You!" to everyone who paid money for my dumb little book. I know at least one buyer has actually used it in his campaign. If you've rolled on some Miscellaneum tables for your own game, please share in the comments!

Lulu tells me that since offering the Miscellaneum for sale on their site a total of 85 copies have been sold, 62 PDF downloads and 23 printed books. Thus I've already met my goal of selling more copies of the Miscellaneum than the print edition of Asteroid 1618, my Encounter Critical adventure that was available for one month through S. John Ross's Cumberland Games & Diversions lulu storefront.

At my pricing of one buck for the PDF and $5.50 for the hardcopy, I make 80 cents on each download and 9 cents on each book. That adds up to a total of $51.67 in gross profits. Since I got my buddy Pat to do all the illos for free, the net profit equals the gross profit. There's a lag time between sales and getting paid, so today's PayPal transfer was for the sales period ending 6/16. That amounted to $45.98.

I'd been eyeing this website called Kiva.org since the beginning of the project. Kiva is a non-profit that facilitates micro-lending. The basic idea is that a bunch of sappy do-gooders each chip in some dough, which Kiva passes down a revenue stream to people normally unable to take advantage of modern financial services. The borrowers on the other end use the funds to try to bootstrap themselves out of poverty. For example, I put $25 in a pool totalling $650 that is going to a farmer in Viet Nam. She's borrowing money to buy livestock, trying to turn her subsistence farm into an economically viable commercial venture. Me and some other folks from all over the world have pitched in to give her a chance to do just that. Assuming she pays the money back (and the default rates for Kiva microloans are quite small) everyone gets their money back to either lend to another project or put back into the ol' PayPal account.

I also made a small donation to Kiva itself to help pay the cost of operations. My original plan had been to use some of the profits to buy Jim Raggi's Green Devil Face #1 and the new Carcosa module Obregon's Dishonor, but since coming up with those ideas GDF has come off the market temporarily and I just got a review copy of Obregon. That leaves about 17 bucks burning a hole in my PayPal account. Anybody care to make a recommendation?

So far I've received some nice comments on the Miscellaneum but also one complaint. One fellow was dissatisfied with his PDF copy because the cover was omitted from the download. Have you seen the front cover? I was suprised that anyone cared about it besides me.

When you put something up on lulu you upload the insides of the book and the covers as separate files. When you buy a download Lulu does not send the covers. This is probably why most everybody else I know lists downloads as separate items from the print version. That way they can upload a second copy with the covers incorporated into main file, but people who buy the print version don't end up with two covers. I sent the dude in question a PDF with the covers included, but right now I don't plan to change the storefront. If you want a PDF with the covers attached, please email me at jrients at the gmail to the dottity com.

Turns out a few other people cared about the cover. A couple weeks ago I approached YourGamesNow.com about listing the Miscellaneum with them. Not everybody likes Lulu and I thought I should find another channel for selling the PDF to those folks. YourGamesNow was the first PDF-only vendor I contacted because I like how they run their operation pretty much as a hippy commune of game vendors. Well, that came back to bite me in the ass, as apparently many of the commune members thought the cover was unacceptable. When I got the news, I was a little bit upset. Here were a bunch of people who I had assumed were fellow enthusiasts for the fine art of writing stupid crap about RPGs, yet they go and judge my book by its cover? I still think YGN is a nifty concept with a bunch of cool people involved, but that caught me off guard.

Not long after I put up the initial post announcing that the Miscelleneum was for sale I got a very kind offer to do up a splashier cover for me. I got another such offer last week. But here's the deal: I am completely satisfied with the cover as it currently exists. That cover went through something like six full drafts and numerous minor tweakings. I decided on the top-to-bottom purple-to-whitish fade only after rejecting several shades of green, fades from left-to-right and vice-versa, a fade from purple to black, and a totally different take with a beige textured OD&D-esque thing going on. The font I used (also used for all the table headers) was based upon my own handwriting, but the font went through a couple drafts as well. And then I streched it vertically for the cover and outlined it, both of which needed a few attempts to get the effect just right. I didn't expect anyone but myself to appreciate these efforts, so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when the cover cost me a spot at the YGN table.

So that's life with one toe on the bottom rung of the RPG business ladder. Glamorous, ain't it?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Basic by proportion

Some folks are expressing a level of dismay at the upcoming release of HackMaster Basic. Our own Pope of Old School, Jamie Mal, has recently joined this chorus. Two main concerns have been repeatedly raised:
  1. 192 pages does not a Basic rulebook make.
  2. Holy crap, this and this sure looks complicated.

I agree with both points. With regards to point #1 I've all but reached the conclusion that I'm not interested in any new RPG with a pagecount above 64 or so. And those two links do hint at a system that's a wee bit more robust than I usually dig on.

But I still plan to buy a copy of HackMaster Basic. A lot of people are turned off to HackMaster because it has a bad attitude and is overly complicated. That's exactly what interests me about the game. HackMaster draws a line in the sand and says "Here. This is where the tolerable extent of the macho/maso nerd excesses of the hobby end." The game then goes three steps beyond that line. That may not interest you but it sure as hell intrigues me. I don't want every game to be like that, but I've certainly got room in my life for one such system.

And regarding the page count, let's do a little math.

Moldvay Basic: 64 pages

AD&D 1st edition PHB, DMG, MM: 478 pages total

Ratio of Basic pages to Advanced pages: .133891

HackMaster Basic: 192 pages

HackMaster 4e PHB, GMG and Hacklopedia: ~1,666 pages

Ratio of Basic to Advanced HackMaster: .115246

(Note: The page count for HM 4e is probably a little low. I estimated each Hacklopedia at 112 pages, but I think some of them are actually one signature larger, or 128 pages.)

I had to use the 4E advanced books because I don't have any pagecount info on the new edition, but I still think there's a point to be made here. The two ratios aren't that different, are they? In other words, a more complicated game is going to have a more complicated introductory set. HackMaster Basic is going to be more complicated than the full monty version of a lot of other RPGs. Is that really a big surprise for anyone?

I'm not saying HMB is the bee knees or that everyone should go buy it. For all I know, I may end up hating it. But I think we need to take a step back and look at what has actually been promised us. Yes, the cover is Erol Otus giving us a great new take on the Moldvay Basic cover. Yes, the word Basic is in the title. But for frig's sake did anyone at Kenzer actually claim to be selling us anything other than a HackMaster product, with all that the brand implies?

the Buddha weeps at my RPG collection

Over the weekend I tried to re-organize my game stuff. I do this every year or two, as inevitably all my little projects unravel the previous way I had arranged it all. I have three places that hold all my game crap, a tall halway bookshelf, a short pair of bookshelves next to my bed and a very narrow shelf next to the TV in the bedroom. I started off by deciding that all my fancy-pants hardbounds should be displayed in the hallway and built from that starting point.

I was really happy to get all these books properly shelved. Previously the majority of them had been stacked horizontally, making it a pain in the butt to get at the book at the bottom of the stack. In case you care, that's a big chunk of HackMaster, a Rules Cyclopedia, several retroclones, My AD&D hardbounds (the one without the spine is my original DMG), Wilderlands stuff of variou stripes, three Castles & Crusades tomes, a Holmes Basic D&D boxed set and two Savage Worlds books (the 1st edition rules and Andy Hopp's Lowlife).

The bottom shelf is more motley of a crew: a Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader hardbound, the Traveller aliens reprints and a couple Trav adventures, Aces & Eights and some Knuckleduster books, five or six Palladium books, everything I kept for D&D 3.x (a few adventures and some Dungeon/Polyhedron issues), Uncle Gary's Canting Crew, three copies of the Starmada Compendium (I kinda like that game), three or so GURPS books, two BESM settings (Centauri Knights and S. John Ross's Uresia), Pokethulhu (more Ross), the LUG Star Trek Narrator's book (even more Ross), and books about RPGs (Lawrence Schick's Heroic Worlds and lesser lights in the same vein).

And here's the ugly stuff. The brown box on the left contains the ashcan version of my Miscelleneum of Cinder and a few outlaw copies of Encounter Critical I made to give away to people. Underneath the box is a stack of old Dragon issues and TSR (A)D&D modules. I got rid of my gigantic collection of Dragon issues (excepting Best of the volume 1) when I got the Dragon CD-ROM archive years ago. Since then I've accumulated about a dozen issues without really trying, mostly in odd lots bought at eBay and con auctions. The big, messy stack to the right of that one is a mix of other RPG magazines: Stardate, Battletechnology, Adventure Gaming, Different Worlds, White Dwarf, Valkyrie, Shadis, etc. When I need to steal some ideas for a session that's a pretty good place to look.

The other two stacks on that same shelf are sort of a catchall of stuff I didn't find a good home for when arranging the other places. The plane white box has some Traveller stuff in it. The top of that same stack is a couple of neat new things I've gotten from Mythmere Games and a cheap edition of Lord Dunsany's Gods of Pegana (no Sime illustrations inside, but for ten bucks what can you ask for?).

The leftmost stack on the second shelf consists of a big pile of Judges Guild D&D-type products (modules, Dungeoneer & Pegasus issues, and miscellany) with a few Mayfair items from the Role Aids line on the bottom. Next to it is a schizo stack with Judges Guild Traveller supplements on the bottom, then a layer of books full of random tables, and on top is my OD&D stuff. The stack on the right is a bunch of other RPGs, mostly in poor condition and missing the original boxes: Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Paranoia, the Price of Freedom, Living Steel, Ghostbusters, the Palladium FRP, and probably a few I'm forgetting.

The bottom shelf holds mostly comics and other non-RPG books, but you can maybe make out the Castles & Crusades boxed set on the left. Next to it are a bunch of Traveller LBBs.

Not pictured is the stack immediately to the left of the brown box. It's made up of a few ragtag member of the Gazetteer series for Mystara and all my Moldvay Basic/Cook Expert rulebooks. It probably says something about me that without planning it I arranged my books such that I could reach my Moldvay Basic books from where I sleep at night.

I also didn't snap a picture of the tall, thin shelving unit that mostly holds boxed sets: Dawn Patrol, Boot Hill, Lords of Creation, Marvel Superheroes and a buttload of BattleTech. I didn't really do anything with it except to make sure that all my Encounter Critical stuff was together in its spot stacked on top of Lords of Creation.

And then there's the bag of stuff I take to the game store for my World of Cinder campaign. And the books in my briefcase. And I probably forgetting about some stuff stashed somewhere...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

random scans

Found while rearranging the game stuff: a list of Encounter Critical monsters and their corresponding OD&D equivalents.

My daughter saw me watching some Homestar Runner and immediately fell in love with it, especially Dangeresque: Puppet Squad. At her suggestion we made our own puppets to continue the story. She also made some Teen Girl Squad puppets. I made a non-canonical robot named B.O.B.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fresh Baked Shatnerday

Friday, June 12, 2009

My Ideal Gaming Table

Over the last few years I've seen pictures of several 'ultimate' gaming tables. I can appreciate the pimped-out gadgetry of those things, but my idea of a perfect game table is coming from a totally different angle. So today I thought I'd share my thoughts on this subject.

First of all, my table would be circular, not rectangular. I think King Arthur was right on the money in this regard. From a practical matter the rectangular table can obscure your view of some of the people sometimes. And it's easier to trick the players into thinking they're your equal if you're not at the head of the table. But seriously, I'm one of those old-fashioned DM's of the Judge Dredd school ("I am the law!") but I also believe that everyone at the table deserves the same courtesy and consideration. A round table de-emphasizes the DM-player power relationship in favor of a more egalitarian mood.

Also, the tabletop would totally have this totally rad magickal okkult symbol on it:

There'd be a chair at each corner of this unicursal septagram, for seven spaces at the game table. Six players is pretty close to an ideal for me. Three or fewer players feels inadequate, like I'm running half a game. Four or five feels like a full table. Six is where it really gets interesting, because at six players it's usually clear that I don't have any real ability to predict what the group is going to do. At that size of a group I'm slightly out of my league and have to work a lot harder.

To me one of the best parts of DMing is that you get a chance to build all sorts of fun static pieces like monsters, dungeons, wilderness environs and then you let players loose on them to see what happens. Usually it involves watching your toys getting broken, but hopefully the players do an interesting job of wrecking your precious creations. A few more players than you can safely handle adds a little extra frisson.

Also, I just like the idea of having a game table with a spooky-looking symbol on the table.

Another element of my gaming table goes back to my ridiculous pet theory on the origin and relevance of RPGs. It might have been over at the Forge where I first heard it explicitly claimed that role-playing taps into the storytelling circuit of the brain that's been present in humanity since cavemen sat around bullshitting about the giant mammoths that got away.

I don't dig on the notions of "storytelling" and "narrativism" in terms of RPG theory and design, but I think there's some truth to this premise. And that's why when playing a game that did not require a board or display, I'd put some fire in the center of the table. Sitting around staring into the fire and chewing the fat is becoming something of a lost art in modern technological societies. Instead we either sit in front of the TV and let it do all the talking or hang out together someplace without the soothing benefits of watching the flames dance.

Now, I know that if I put a candle or something like that in the center of the table every single session I'd eventually set something on fire, like a charsheet or my sleeve. To avoid that possibility I'd use a substitute that happens to be one of the greatest inventions of all time:

Lava lamps are pure distilled awesome. I never did drugs in college. I didn't need them to enter interesting altered states as staring at my lava lamp achieved the same effect on the cheap and without any biological side effects. But even if you aren't as susceptible to lamp-induced hypnosis as I am, the lava lamp produces intricate patterns of light in much the same way as a crackling fire. Think of the lava lamp as updated game equipment the way modern plastic polyhedrons are updates of dice carved out of bones.

So there you have it. My ideal gaming table: circular, with a strange seven sided star on the surface and a lava lamp in the middle.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fun with Jumpspace

One of the constant criticisms leveled at Traveller and several other sci-fi RPGs is that the spacemaps are all in 2-d. It's a legit beef, since being three dimensional is sorta why we call it Outer Space and not Outer Plane. Among the Trav fans I've seen three basic responses to this problem:

1. The Trav maps are like roadmaps. Triple A doesn't usually mark elevations on their maps because all you need is clear directions to your destination, not feet above sea level.

2. Jumpspace, the spooky fairyland ships use to go FTL, is flatter than realspace and thus a 2-d map works just fine.

3. Shut up. We're playing a stupid game, for crying out loud.

While choices 1. and 3. have a certain appeal, I like option 2 the best because of all the rad stuff you can do with the concept of a jump plane running through the galaxy. I'm going to try to demonstrate some of these ideas with pictures, but this is my first time working with iso-type graph paper so it may be a little inept.

Figure 1 - Here we have a perfectly ordinary subsector, sitting in space minding it's own business. A jump plane map (i.e. standard subsector map) and a realspace map of this region would look identical. If you imagine a Star D floating above or below the plane, that star would be inaccessible by jump drive and hence astrographers would omit that system from the standard jump map.

Figure 2 - What if more than one jump plane cut through the galaxy? Ships on the yellow jump plane could visit systems A, B and C. Ships on the white jump plane (below and parallel to the yellow one) could visit D, E and F. Even though B and E are very close to one another, you cannot plot a jump course from one to the other because there is no jump plane connecting them. If you want to get really crazy with your campaign you could introduce a second FTL drive that doesn't use jump space at all. A merchant with a warp drive (or whatever) could make zillions of credits moving goods between B and E. Without such a drive the civilization of A, B and C would probably be completely different from that of D, E and F. They could communicate via lightspeed transmission and STL ships, but compared to the hustle bustle of life with jump drives that may not amount to much.

Figure 3 - Here we have two different jump planes, but they intersect. A ship at system A could jump to B or C but they couldn't reach D or E in a single jump, since there's no direct jump plane connection. The ship at A would have to jump to B, then jump to D or E. Obviously, a world like B could be of enormous strategic interest to the powers that be.

Figure 4 - Here the jump plane is curved vis-a-vis normal space. Here you can plot a course from A to D, but it would be a very long jump, possibly outside the range of any known drive. Jumping to B then D would be the smart thing to do for most vessels. A navigator in a ship at system C could actually plot two different courses to system B, a short one and a long one.

Figure 5 - Here's a bump in the jump plane. B and C appears to be one parsec away in real space, but the the navigator has to plot a Jump 2 to get there. The Scout service identifies these sort of hazards and marks the maps accordingly, but in uncharted space something like this could leave you in the middle of space and out of fuel.

Figure 6 - A hole in the jump plane makes travel to world C impossible. And to go from B to D requires an intermediary jump to world A.

Now imagine that the the jump plane used the the 3rd Imperium, et al., is twisted and torn and tangled in ways a hundred times more complicated than my simple examples. This would easily explains oddities in the official maps like the Antares system being in the wrong place. It would also explain why ships need both fancy nav programs and high paid navigators. You can't just point the ship at the nearest star and hope for the best.

Someone with actual skills at geometry could probably come up with additional jump plane scenarios.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Recommended: The Spire of Iron and Crystal

So yesterday I read The Spire of Iron and Crystal, a Swords & Wizardry adventure from S&W guru Matthew Finch. Man, this is great stuff. The Spire compares very favorably in tone and content to module B4 The Lost City, by the late great Tom Moldvay. Both riff off that great old weird fantasy trope of the forgotten last outpost of an ancient, corrupted civilization. I eat this sort of Cthulhuesque stuff up and it makes for great drop-in adventures that could be slotted into nearly any campaign. I could totally use The Spire of Iron and Crystal in either my World of Cinder or the pseudo-historical Japanese setting I've been working on. And adapting the module to Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa would require rather little work, mostly just changing a couple spell scrolls. Though branded for Swords & Wizardry, I don't spot anything that makes the module incompatible with the vast majority of old editions and retro-clones of D&D.

You can get your own copy of The Spire of Iron and Crystal at lulu.

they had a sale on ellipses

So my daughter got a Happy Meal the other day with a Night at the Museum 2 themed toy.

That's supposed to be a monkey astronaut emerging from his tiny space capsule, but when I looked at it dead on like this...

...all I could see was this...

...plus this...

Wouldn't the Doctor visiting the Planet of the Apes be totally awesome? And imagining Daleks with little monkeys inside them, running the machines with little clockwork levers, is cracking me up.

You know what else could use some intelligent apes? Star Trek. Consider the awesomeness of a timeline where the Apes movies (at least the ones where the humans and apes eventually got along) formed part of 'ancient' Earth history. You could have apes in Star Fleet uniforms working alongside the humans and vulcans.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

excluding the middle

Today I want to talk about magic items. In D&D-type games magic items can be broken down into three broad categories.

Expendables – Potions and scrolls probably immediately spring to mind, but this category also includes charged items like wands and rings of wishes. Some miscellaneous items, like Quaal's feather tokens and the various dusts of also count here. And stuff like laser pistols with a limited number of shots in their power pack. You might be able to get back to town and reload some of this stuff, but if you can run out of the magic in the middle of the adventure then it's an expendable.

Bonus Gear – This covers your basic sword +1 and the vast swath of other magic items with predictable and reliable effects like rings of invisibility and horns of blasting.

Artifacts – The weirdo unique crap like the stuff that originally appeared in Eldritch Wizardry: the Wand of Orcus, the Recorder of Ye'Cind, etc. and other magic items that are one-of-a-kind (or nearly so) and tricky to use.

A fairly common complaint among D&D veterans is that magic items can seem dull as dishwater instead of wondrously awesome. I think a lot of this problem can be laid at the feet of the Bonus Gear category. The combination of reliability, non-expendability, and ease of use results in magic items that are about as arcane as an electric can opener. I don’t have copies handy as I type this, but if you look at the fantasy adventure RPGs put out by TSR after OD&D, such as Empire of the Petal Throne and Gamma World, I think you’ll find a lot less Bonus Gear.

So if you’re building an old school campaign world from the ground up, here are some ideas on how to downplay the Bonus Gear:

Ban the Stuff Outright – This is harsh and if the players catch on they will probably cry like big ol’ crybabies. The smarter players will research spells and order custom potions from alchemists and stuff like that to work around the holes in the magic items charts. The result would be an awesome campaign where demons are banished with custom Demon-B-Gone spells rather beaten up by swords +2, silver weapons are in high demand, alchemists are even bigger pains in the ass and everybody carries way too many flasks of oil. That’s assuming your players don’t just kill you and sell your internals to Chinese organ-leggers.

Artificial Maximum Scarcity – Get out your musty old D&D rulebook or retro-clone of choice. Flip to the magic item charts. Now imagine for a moment that there’s exactly one example of each item in your campaign world. There’s only one shield +2, only one wand of fireballs, only one of everything. Simple supply and demand results in players suddenly treating every stupid little magic item as the coolest thing since sliced bread. Want a good time? Slip the poor bastards a rumor that the only mace of disruption in the whole dang campaign is in Dracula’s castle.

Add New Layers to Old Items – Basically this method takes Bonus Gear and turns each item into one of the other two categories. A simple example would be an expendable rope of climbing where each time it is used there’s a 1 in 6 chance it completely unravels. Or going the other way consider an already-awesome flametongue sword that has artifact-like bonus powers and secret curses. This creates a lot of extra work for the DM, but making crazy crap like this is supposed to be one of the fun parts of running the show. And not every Bonus Gear item need be customized.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

And I'm back.

I hope you all had a good Gameblog-free week. Big thanks to Zachary over at the newly spiffed-up RPGblog2 for taking care of yesterday's Shatnerday post! I've spent a fair amount of time I'd normally be blogging watching Futurama with my lil' sweetpea (she thinks Leela is cool) and doing some reading. I re-read R. Buckminster Fuller's Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth for the first time in forever. I highly recommend it for any referee wanting to run a Star Trek game where the Federation is a genuine Roddenberrian hippy-dippy utopia. I also started Michael Hanlon's 10 Questions Science Can't Answer (Yet), a light but entertaining pop science book.

I also spent some time doing more research for my Saikaido campaign concept. I've been grasping at exactly what I'm trying to accomplish with this whole schlameel, but reading this excellent post helped me zero in on the target. Saikaido is a straight swords & sorcery/weird fantasy game that happens to be set in southwest Japan circa 1275 instead of Hyboria or Atlantis or whatever. That's it. That's the whole concept. What can I say? I like starting with dirt simple elevator pitches and building from there.

Another item I worked on was "Welcome to Slimy Lake", a mini-sandbox for Mutant Future that I hope to see published in the next issue of Fight On! magazine. Gameblog reader and all-around cool guy VacuumJockey kindly did a sweet computerified map based upon my hastily scribbled one. This I guarantee: there will be a bear with laser eyes.

The big bummer of the past week was the Wednesday game session was a no-go. The gamer known as Squirrel has dropped out of the local gaming scene to deal with some sort of personal issue, and he was responsible for bringing two of my other three regulars to the table. So Carl is now my only regular player for the World of Cinder campaign. If next run he's the only other person at the table I may shelve the campaign and try something else for a while. We'll see what develops.