Saturday, January 31, 2009

Another HexMapper

I used to use the Hexmapper program featured here (members only, unfortunately) for some of my area and overworld maps, but the other day I stumbled upon this second HexMapping program, also apparently named HexMapper. It's a java-based app and I'm still toying with it, but I thought it may be of some interest to folks.

(Note: For the original Arr-Keelan Hexmapper, here's a direct link to the .zip file. The original hosting web page for it still appears down & out).

Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Discussion: Who Makes The Best Adventure Modules?

It's a slow, sleepy Friday leading into the weekend (unless you're at DDXP, and then there's a good chance you're not reading this), so I thought I'd open it up to a simple discussion: which current company makes the best adventure modules? Paizo? Goodman Games? XRP? Necromancer/Judges Guild? Wizards of the Coast? What makes their products stand out for you, and which ones in particular are your faves?

Bonus question: What's your favorite module of all time?

A random commenter in the first 24 hours will win a pdf copy of Introduction to Irrin!

Let's B.S. our Friday away. Comment below!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

More Regarding HARP

It looks like yesterday's post on HARP got some wheels turning, as evidenced by this post at Stargazer's World and this one at Dungeon Mastering 101 (look at us, leading a mini-mini-revival)!

So what happened to HARP? A few years back, it was what seemed to be selling for Iron Crown. There were solid supplements, good support, and all in all, it seemed to be at least a mild success. So did ICE's support dry up, then talk about the game? Or did the game peter out, followed by ICE's support for it? OR (perhaps most likely) was it just that ICE is large enough for one supported line at a time, and Rolemaster Express and the Rolemaster 2 revival was the new (old) hotness?

I don't claim to have answers, and I haven't dug too deeply, but it occurs to me that HARP might be a case study for many d20 alternatives that make noise for a bit, only to quiet down to a mere murmur.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Games We Forget About

Tooling around the internet yesterday, I came across some discussion or other discussion the HARP RPG, by Iron Crown. I stopped, and blinked. Back when I was in Spain, we ran a campaign of Irrin with HARP, but hadn't done so with any of my groups in the states. A thought jostled about in the back of my brain.

I called my buddy (and game group member) Matt.

"What was the problem with HARP--who had a problem with it?" I asked.

"HARP--like Rolemaster Lite?"

"Yeah, like right before our second season. We all talked about it, but someone didn't care for it."

"Dunno".

I let my thoughts percolate. Someone had objected to playing HARP, but damned if I could remember.

I spoke with Matt yesterday after work.

"Maybe it was Loud Joe". Loud Joe is known for his penchant for abilities his characters shouldn't have and rune weapons (which his characters also shouldn't have). He loved Rifts.

"I don't know."

"Well, what do you think of it?"

"Looks good".

"Huh".

Point is, HARP is a very good game, one that simplifies some of the Rolemaster bits without going too loosey-goosey (while keeping those open-ended percentiles we love). But since I've been back in Indy, we've used Palladium Fantasy, Epic Roleplaying, Rolemaster, and Castles & Crusades. HARP came up, was rejected for a reason no one can remember, and was forgotten about.

What we have here is an embarassment of riches. There are so many game systems to discuss and try out, it can be easy to dismiss one out of hand or forget about it. Before we choose our next system, I'm going to make sure we take the time to review all the options. If you're forgetting about games you've had fun with in the past, you might be going in a few too many directions at once.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

First Irrin Review Is Up!


Thanks to The Bone Scroll for taking time to do the first review of Introduction to Irrin. It got 3.5/5 stars, which I'm very pleased with! Here are a few key excerpts:

"The Economics/Money Section is short and sweet. And like most settings, takes the Gygaxian approach to money in general, but with a slight twist. There are two coin standards each covering a fairly large area. Since conversion between the two standards is fast and easy, It shouldn't bog down a game to use them".
"Then comes the Calendar & Festival section. As some may know, this is a pet peeve of mine, even though I myself fail to follow my own advice. The calendar system in use, is simple and familiar. I like the fact that there are two name systems in use for months. One is number based and the other a proper name".

And, the almighty synopsis:

"So, how to sum up “Introduction to Irrin”? In general, I would have like a little less timeline and a little more fluff in some of the other sections. I have to say that I think the religions of Irrin give the setting a more Middle Age feel in my opinion than many other fantasy settings I've seen and I wish to learn more. Overall, I'd rate this book about 3.5 out 5. Which for a product of this type and for a first time effort, I think is high praise".

The only response I have (aside from thanks very much from reviewing) is that I loooooove timelines--I find them great adventures and ideas mines, and since I was the one compiling everything for Irrin, one of the things I included was a solid, solid timeline. I like to think it is general enough to inspire, rather than hamstring, creativity, but that's something folks will have to check out and decide on their own.

Just a reminder: the PDF of Irrin will cost you $3.50, has plenty of maps & freebies to go with it, will help support this site, my Gen Con coverage, and my other online endeavors, and will make me clap my hands in a truly undignified manner. I'll try to get pictures of that last bit, if you pick it up.

Free PDF: Castle of the Mad ArchMage

Joseph Bloch of Greyhawk Grognard just released his fan production WG13: Castle of the Mad ArchMage. You wanna talk about people producing new and exciting stuff? This is it. It's my opinion Joseph was uniquely situated to give us something of a continuation after the cessation of Castle Zagyg, and did he ever!

I plan on using this with my Castle Zagyg: Upper Works boxed set. Joseph describes Level Two: The Deep Cellar, and includes a key, maps, appendices, and a host of fun encounters. This doesn't strike me as mere nostalgia, but as an effort to continue a worthwhile legacy. The goal is apparently a level a month of the course of 2009, which I'm very much looking forward to.

Joseph thanks me in the forward (though I cannot imagine whatever for), but those of us who loved old-school dungeons, Castle Greyhawk, and Castle Zagyg should be thanking him. A lot.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Shocking D&D 4E Revelation

As first reported by my Prussian friend, word reaches us from Amazon:


...And the Edition Wars were never the same.

Introduction to Irrin Campaign Setting Released!

After a lot of work and almost a decade of homebrewin' it at various game tables, I'm proud to release Introduction to Irrin, a world primer for the world of Irrin. Irrin attempts to emulate many of the classic campaign setting primers, providing world detail while not suffocating with minutiae. Irrin was designed as a "vanilla fantasy", system-generic campaign setting, one that could act as a common meeting ground for great friends and great adventuring. Included are races, nations, geography, languages, religion, calendar, economics, a timeline, and more! The pdf version sells for $3.50, the print version for $10. A free map and the heraldry of Irrin can be found at my lulu storefront.

On a personal note, this was really rewarding, and I urge anyone else out there who's had a dream to put something out there to do it. It's scary, but the whole time while I was compiling our setting notes, making the maps, designing heraldry, I kept thinking of all the good times we had, of the gamers who had moved on or were no longer with us, of all the wins, losses, common experiences, and friendships that made it all so worthwhile. It's my hope that you find something of the same in this product-- that feeling from caffeine-fueled post-midnight epic sessions, from characters you and your friends made your own, and of not being able to wait until the next gaming all-nighter. That's what gaming was and is for me, and that's what went into this product.

This is also a way for you to help support this blog, if you've enjoyed my posting here or have gotten anything out of it. I anticipate the funds going to help defray the cost of my online projects, so keep that in mind!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Big Announcement Soon...

...at least from where I sit. Some of you already know. Stay tuned!

GOLD: Episode 2 Is Live

Quick note: the second episode of the web series GOLD is up. Running laps for falling down bottomless wells? I admit, the idea does bring a certain amount of perverse pleasure.

Friday, January 23, 2009

RPG Publishers & Keeping Their Release Schedules

Inspired by this thread, I wanted to chat a bit about RPG Publishers and their release schedules. Most will admit that in this hobby, vaporware is not unknown. The question is, how much does a publisher's adherence to a promised or projected release schedule bug you or turn you off from supporting that company?

I want to look at a couple of different publishers for my answer on this. In gaming, Palladium Books and Eden Studios are known as two of the prime offenders in this area (though there are certainly others). Now, of the two, I tend to be more forgiving of Palladium, because a) I know a lot of the folks working on the titles, and b) it's Palladium, and I've gotten used to it since Junior High. Palladium also has a much larger back catalog to keep me occupied while I wait. If anything, Eden is probably slightly better on delivering, but I cut Palladium the slack, and not for any really good reason--just my reasons. I suspect I'm not the only gamer to forgive because of a relationship with personnel or the talent at a gaming company.

In another vein, Wizards of the Coast has been slow--not in their RPG releases, which are very regular--but in their promised support, such as DDI and pushing out the GSL (and the revised GSL). I'm probably even more critical of WotC because, hey, it's WotC. They're the presumed big kid on the block, the holders (legally, if not spiritually) of D&D. Given the public nature of their series of support debacles (which appear to have been calming down as of late, happily), it really drew attention to all the miscues. Silly as it is, the notoriety of a slowdown or delay seems to magnify it, and I think that's what's happened to WotC.

Despite my griping and sniping at the above examples, I'll be honest: except for a brief flare-up, most delays don't bug me too much. I know for many of these folks, it's a pure labor of love, and they still have families and day jobs that take priority. The instances that really get me is when I waiting for a promised additional product to make a complete game (which is a model I've gotten away from, so it doesn't really happen much anymore), or when a trilogy or series is cut off incomplete in the middle (Land of the Damned, I am looking at you here).

All in all, I think gamers are a pretty forgiving bunch, so long as you don't compound delays with P.R. miscues, poor customer support, or leaving us in the lurch with less than was promised for a core game. Do it too often, and you're going to hear some jokes and frustration. Stick to a solid schedule but put out mediocrity, and folks will still wait for your peers to finish up. I could be wrong, but that seems to be the majority view from where I'm sitting.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Whitehall ParaIndustries

I was pleased to find that Gleichman, one my favorite folks for talking everything gaming-related, now has a blog. Whitehall ParaIndustries is up and running, and there's already some solid pieces on there. Gleichman often brings a refreshing view to conversations and isn't afraid to cite examples and to back up his arguments. So drop on by, tell him hello, and subscribe to his feed--agree or disagree, I think you'll find him a welcome divergent viewpoint on a great many RPG topics. To me, this is just another sign a lot of quality gaming discussion is moving from message board onto blogging platforms.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Grand OGL Wiki

It had been a bit since I checked into the Grand OGL Wiki. I have to say, it looks like there's definitely been some positive movement, especially with OGL items from Mongoose.

What always got me about the idea of this product is the sheet scale of the undertaking. Consider how much OGL product has been made in the past near-decade--some good, some abysmal, but a vast amount nonetheless. I know they'll never get each and every product in there, but even getting a part of it hosted online is a big task. Let's face it--a lot of folks have stuck with some form of an OGL/d20 system. This can be a very successful resource for a good many games if it is followed through on properly.

In any case, a tip of the hat to those involved, and a thank you for their efforts. I look forward to seeing continued progress.

(Oh, and if you visit, make sure to check out this article on the PROSE system for a quick fleshing-out of NPCs. Nice take on it.).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Quick Note On The Direction of Old-School Gaming

James Raggi is excellent letting 'er rip and letting you know exactly what is on his mind. And while our online personas aren't even close to being similar, he does make an excellent side point in this post here--namely, it seems trying to get the old-school gaming community to pull together and look at unified efforts to publicize and grow the renaissance is always checked by some firestorm or argument over something or other. Making games is fine; remaking games is useful; playing games is how they stay alive and manage to grow.

I've been saying there should be an old-school gaming booth at Gen Con Indy for months now--I hope it is something that TARGA is looking at doing. A unified front, with everything from Labyrinth Lord to OSRIC to Swords & Wizardry to Adventure Games Publishing to Fight On! and their supplements being demoed, sold (or given out, as the case may be), publicized, demoed some more, and introduced to all the gamers at Gen Con who never gave up on legacy D&D (or want to find their way back).

A unified front doesn't mean agreeing on everything. It just means co-existing long enough to get your point across, and compromising in order to work for the common good. I hope that's a lesson taken to heart.

I can only hope there's a robust game lineup for the convention season (I'm thinking of running some Microlite '74 or Encounter Critical along with my other Gen Con games this year). The old school style and gameplay has reach, I know this. It's a matter of showing up and reaching out. If folks decide they want to do an Old-School booth for Gen Con, I'll be the first one to volunteer, I can guarantee you that.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Swords & Wizardry Whitebox Rules Free PDF

Mythmere Games has just released the Swords & Wizardry Whitebox Rules in free pdf form. Looking through, it seems like this edition goes even further back than Swords & Wizardry--we're talking 3 original books here.

This makes me take a moment to wonder--are we set with Old-School simulacrum products? We seem to have plenty of them to choose from--GORE, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, BFRPG, Swords & Wizardry, etc. Are we to the point where we see more of an emphasis on publishing original items stemming from these efforts? Ceraqinly there have been some efforts, with folks like Brave Halfling Publishing, but I know I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more support for all these systems. I do know I'll be watching this link closely.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Planning A GM's Binder of Awesomeness

Inspired in part by this post at The RPG Corner and previous commentary at LotFP, I've been working on my GM's Binder of Awesomeness. I suspect it may differ in several regards from their examples (I somewhat breezily pull mechanics and source material from just about any RPG I darn well please, and make it fit, or cheerfully ignore where it doesn't), but that's ok. For those that do a GM binder, it isn't just compiling deadtree copies of your most-used gaming material, it's compiling a little autobiographical collection of you as a gamer and a GM--what moves you, what you use, what you love. I can see an affinity to how some people do a shadow box or a scrapbook--granted, the GM binder is to be used, and used hard, not just admired or treasured as a memento--every GM could make one, and every single one would be a little bit different. There's a neat sort of simple pleasure in that fact.

In any case, here's the tenative rundown of what my binder will contain by section. I'm going shopping for the perfect D-Ring binder tomorrow morning:

Rules

-Excerpts from Castles & Crusades Player's Handbook and Monsters & Treasure
-Castle Keeper Screen References
-House Rules
-Expanded Weapons Explanations and Identification
-Character & Reference Sheets
-Character Creation Cheat Sheet

Background

-Epic Roleplaying Background Tables
-The Page of Three
-Talents & Flaws Excerpts from Rolemaster Character Law
-Summary sheet for all character attributes, skills, traits, and bonuses/penalties

Tables & Reference

-Poison/Herb List
-Various random tables, including those from Dark Quest Games
-Monsters & Treasure treasure type excerpt
-Adventure Games Publishing's Treasure Trove pdf(s?)
-Scans ofvarious tables from the HackMaster GM's Guide
-The Random Esoteric Creature Generator

Setting

-This basically includes the primer, timeline, and various articles for our homebrew world of Irrin

Spells and Magic

-Excerpts from the volumes of Encyclopedia Magica
-Additional various OGL spell sources

Articles

-Matt Finch's Quick Primer For Old School Gaming
-About a dozen articles from Jeff's Gameblog, Grognardia, Tankards & Broadswords, and several other great blogs
-Several articles from Fight On! (still deciding on these)

So there you have it. I expect this binder to have items added and removed (just like the house rules in our campaign) as my gaming experiences and tastes change. But for now, this is a collection of things that aren't only useful to my campaign, but also make me pretty happy.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Thoughts on Hackmaster 5e

There's a really interesting forum discussion going on with Dave Kenzer and company right now over at the Kenzer boards regarding Hackmaster 5e. I'm really apprehensive about this product. On one hand, as regular readers know, I consider the Hackmaster Game Master's Guide one of the best RPG resources ever created for my style of gaming. With Kenzer departing a bit from the delightful 1e/2e mix we saw in HM4e, I'm curious to see how the 5th looks. I think HackMaster Basic as an introductory product will definitely be something I'll at least check out, but beyond that, I don't know yet. I do know Aces & Eights was superb, and if I know if I'm going to trust anyone with humorous-yet-playable "tribute" gaming, it has to be Kenzer. But how do you go about keeping the soul and feel of a game when going a pretty different way (apparently) rules-wise?

Anyhow, check out the thread. Highlights include discussions on combat and initiative (combat sounds a little tricky, but we'll see), some interesting d12 usage, and Learn to Hack events at Gen Con (sign me up!).

Anyone out there going to consider picking up Hackmaster 5e when it's released? Why or why not?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Going Super-Cheap At RPGNow

I usually troll RPGNow for bargains come payday, but I outdid myself this time. I was looking for a few tables and charts to add to my GM Binder of Awesomeness. Here's what I came away with:

Dark Quest Games:

100 Treasure Chest Stuffers

100 Whispered Insult About The Adventurers
100 Arcane Book Subjects
100 Bag and Pouch Contents
100 Crate and Barrel Contents
100 Dark Street and Alley Encounters
100 Daytime Street Encounters
100 Marketplace Goods
100 Tavern Names (likely the one I need the least,m given how much I already have on this) but I was on a roll)
Fantasy Community: Applehaven (subpar map, but not bad writeups for a drop-in settlement)

Adventure Games Publishing:

Castles & Crusades: 100 Treasure Troves--Type 1 (to be the first in the series, and it was $1)

Total cost? $6.69. That's good, because that's about all my gaming budget allows for right now. I imagine I'll be picking up the rest of the AGP Treasure Trove series as it comes out--the price is right. We'll see if I think the Dark Quest purchases were worth it in the long run, but my love of random, system-generic or multi-system tables and charts knows no bounds. Probably one of the reasons I love the Hackmaster GM's Guide so much.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Never too early for Gen Con...

I received notice in my email that Gen Con Indy event submission begins January 21st this year. I'm thinking of a few events that I want to submit or would be interested in:

Old School Renaissance Panel: I'd really like there to be an event where some folks discuss and publicize some of the options out there for folks interesting in Legacy D&D and its simulacra, as well as that derived from other sources. A panel to answer questions, to help introduce folks to what's going on within the hobby, and some handouts with links to items like OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, and the like would really help. Then again, I'd also like to see a booth with those sort of products and demos at Gen Con as well.

GMing Panel: Until I had a scheduling obligation last year, I was on a regular GMing panel at Gen Con--sort of a Q&A/suggestion session, and it was a blast. I'd be really interested in doing something similiar again.

Demoing Games: I'd really like to run some Castles & Crusades, In Harm's Way, Epic and one of my legendary "Rifts in 60 Minutes" demos. I want to play a metric ton of different games, as well.

The Future of the OGL: I'd love to see a seminar with reps from Paizo, Green Ronin, and assorted others talking about the legacy of the OGL and what their plans are for it, and how they see it continuing down the road.

Pathfinder Society: My friends and I plan to get in on a few sessions this year. Fun stuff!

RPG Blogging: Of course, I really want to get together with some of the other RPG Bloggers this year. I will be liveblogging the show again, but would really like to attend a couple of get-togethers, maybe work on some publicity (a RPG Bloggers booth, anyone? Hand out dice and business cards, maybe draw the attention of some publishers for our members), and perhaps even hang around for a panel.

Whatever I end up doing, August can't get here soon enough. Feel free to drop me a line (email is at the bottom of the column, right-hand side) if you have any Gen Con happenings you want to discuss. It'll be here before you know it!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Quick Spell Failure Table For My Sorcerer

Recently, I've been working on a sorcerer class for Castles & Crusades. I want to present him as a spontaneous caster who cannot always handle to primal energies he's channeling. Therefore, I depicted him as more of a Wild Mage--for starters, he needs to roll when casting. On a natural 1-2, something unexpected happens, and it generally ain't good, though the seasoned Sorcerer will learn how to turn some negatives into positives. Here's the quick n' dirty chart I made up:
Sorcerer Spell Failure Table (Roll 1d20)
(Note: All particulars at GM discretion)

1) Spell forgotten; relearned in d8 hours.
2) Lose all but 0-level spells for 1d4 rounds.
3) All in 30’ radius take 1d4 fire damage.
4) Caster glows brightly for 2d4 rounds.
5) Caster blinded 2d6 rounds.
6) Spell casts at half effect, caster asleep d10 min.
7) 50’ radius filled with black smoke 1d6 minutes.
8) All in 30’ radius take 1d6 cold damage.
9) Spell does opposite of normal effect.
10) Polymorph cast on self instead. Goblin form.
11) Spell forgotten; relearned in d6 weeks.
12) Lose all but 0-level spells for 1d4 days.
13) All food and water spoils within 25’ radius.
14) Seismic event; STR check to stay upright.
15) All in 30’ radius take 1d6 lightning damage.
16) Animal summoned; caster has no control.
17) Caster becomes elemental being 1d4 rds.
18) Random spell of +d4 levels cast.
19) Hungry infernal being summoned; stays d4 rds.
20) Spell forgotten; relearned in d6 months.

I will likely eventually expand this to a d100 chart, but I think it works well enough as a starting point. The finished version, however, must contain a grue.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Transcript From The RPG World Congress

In the last part of the first decade of the 21st century, the online RPG community, tired and worn from the D&D Edition Wars and continual, virus-like flame wars over different ways of pretending to be a wizard, decided to unite at Gen Con Indy in an RPG World Congress to attempt iron out its differences. Here is a partial transcript of that event...

Speaker: Very well, then, we have the vote upcoming on Congressional Resolution 1-A, "Gaming Is Fun". Before the vote, the Chair recognizes the Head of the 3rd Edition Party.

3e: Mr. Speaker, we move that the phrase "except for 4e, which is for power-gaming twits" be included.

(general uproar)

Speaker: Order! Order! The Chair recognizes the Head of the 4th Edition Party.

4e: Mr. Speaker, we move that the phrase "except for 3e, which was fun 12 months ago, but now is for Luddites" be included instead.

(even more uproar)

Speaker: Order! Order I say!

3e: Mr. Speaker, we and our allies in the d20 Coalition, the Pathfinder Party, have a number of conditional modifiers which we believe will add to this resolution. We only ask your patience, as we have forgotten some of the page numbers they are on, as well as which ones stack.

4e: GOLDEN FLAME DRAGON STRIKE!

Speaker: The Chair reminds the 4th Edition Party Head he is out of Daily Powers, and so orders the last comment and effect be stricken from record. Please stick to At-Wills, Congressman.

4e: BURSTING SWORDFLAME BURST FLAME!

3e: Just one more moment, Mr. Speaker...carry the 2...subtract 2...

Speaker: (sigh) The chair recognizes the Gygaxian Naturalism Party.

GNP: Mr. Speaker, we ask for a postponement of a vote on this resolution. Several of our members stumbled into a 10'x10' room on the way here and were attacked by 37 Dire Weasels.

Speaker: Is anyone here taking this seriously?

4e: THOUSAND BLADES OF BARSOOMIAN FURY!

Speaker: .....

4e: Sorry.

Speaker: Uh, yes, Nobilis Party? You had your hand raised?

Nobilis Party:


(Uncomprehending Silence, with 3e being heard in the background faintly muttering about grappling)

Speaker: Ummmm...thank you? Now, if you all don't mind, we'll be taking a vote. Um...well, wait, I've just been handed a note. Apparently the Rifts party, the SenZar Party, the Encounter Critical Party, and the Synnibar Party have merged to form the Kitchen Sink Coalition, and wish to propose an alternate resolution (unfolds piece of paper, blinks confusedly). This just says "more lasers".

Kitchen Sink Coalition: HUZZAH!!!

Speaker: Look, knock this off. We've already wasted half the morning with the Gaming Hipster Party introducing a new resolution every 10 minutes for a different game to be proclaimed "The Most Incredible RPG To Rock Out To Ever". Let's take roll call and get on to voting.

4e: Mr. Speaker, before we proceed, can we please get miniatures and a hex map representing the members of this Congress? We, um, don't need them, you see, but there are a lot of conditions and markings to be made, and it does enhance the--(barely dodges a D&D Miniatures Starter Pack thrown from somewhere suspiciously close to the Speaker's chair)

Speaker: Ahem. Now then, Roll Call. White Wolf Fan Party?

WWFP: We never got to add 57 pages of "edgy" goth fiction to this resolution!

Speaker: Traveller Party?

TP: We'll vote as our 77A67B UPP demands!

Speaker: Eden Studios Party?

ESP: Look for our vote--coming soon, in 2015!

Speaker: Inconsistent RPG Blogger Party?

IRBP: Hey guys, sorry I haven't voted on here for awhile. Life got kinda crazy, I'm in a new job, and I just didn't think that...

Speaker: Overzealous GNS Theory Guy Party?

OGNSTGP: (sniff) Gamist.

Speaker: GSL Party?

GSLP: You can use that title, but I retain full rights to this vote, any residual votes, and reserve the right to change your vote at any given time. Your vote may not include the words "vote", "voting", "Beholder", or supplant any original voting material for the purposes of creating an new, stand-alone vote. We reserve the right to notify you to burn your votes in the searing flames of Hell, and you must comply within 30 days. Changes will be made to this vote, and it is your responsibility to be in accord with those changes at all times. Further, you--

Speaker: OK, that's good enough. Now let's vote on the resolution to--YES, WHAT IS IT, Old School Party?

OSP: Excuse me, Mr. Speaker, but we think this electronic balloting is perverse and unnatural. May we please vote by random paper chits? Otherwise, we'd be doing it wrong.

(Chaos Ensues)

The Great Geek Riot of 2009 destroyed several parts of Downtown Indianapolis and led to the outlawing of all imagination-dependent games within Indiana state lines. Unfortunately, this left several old Dragonlance modules as the only available gaming material within 200 miles.

Friday, January 9, 2009

That RPG Book Smell

As much as I love my RPG pdfs, and as convenient and as handy as they've been, there's one area they can't hold a candle to my print RPGs--that "book smell". I've always thought books have the greatest smell about them--walk into a library, and just smell all that paper and print!

New RPGs and old RPGs also seem to have their own distinct smells--new RPGs smell a little sharper, have a bit more of a glue-y smell. On older books, its a little musty, but the paper takes on a scent of more subtle gravity. If they made a Yankee Candle out of it, I'd definitely pick it up.

The room in my old FLGS that had all the used RPGs in it just smelled like gaming, you know? I don't mean geek sweat and Mountain Dew, either. I'm talking about rummaging through your Player's Handbook some late Saturday night, or looking through a bunch of books during character generation for a new RPG.

I don't make a habit of going around and sniffing books, but it is something I've noticed, and I don't think I'm alone. Until there's scratch n' sniff pdfs, deadtree is going to be sticking around.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

If Fantasy RPGs Were Written About Like Sporting Events

TOWERS OF DAMNATION, PLANE OF INFINITE DREAD --Coming back from the edge of defeat to score yet another miraculous, improbable victory, the Warriors of Light beat the Dark Army Saturday night on the Dark Army's home field.

"It's really discouraging," said Dark Army coach Albzug the Unsleeping, "You think you have the ruling piece of the legendary Dragon Gem with which you can bring about the destruction of the entire world, but a last-ditch assault on your vile fortress of evil can really turn things around in a hurry".

By the end of the first half, the Dark Army was well-ahead, having killed off several beloved secondary characters, but they could never quite manage to contain Gar, the peasant-turned-knight who won the love of a princess and was destined to become Lord Evilsbane, Ruler of the Seven Isles of Fate.

"We keep letting some peasant kid have a breakout game against us," said Albzug, his incorporeal body still reforming in the emptiness between worlds.

"We need to start killing them off when they're still 1st-level".

The Dark Army's Warg n' Orc formation, which worked so well in the first half, seemed to grind to a stop in the last minutes.

"Zogg kill guardsmen left and right early on," complained porcine, veteran team leader Zogg Orcblood, "Then all of the sudden Zogg can't hit characters key to the plot despite most implausible circumstances".

Along with Zogg, the Dark Army team shot 89% in the first half, but shot a dismal 4% in the second, with most of those being only superficial, plot-driving wounds. On the other hand, the Warriors of Light, despite being a motley assortment of washed-up warriors, unorthodox rogues, and reclusive, half-mad mages, increased their accuracy from 13% early on in the game to a whopping 114% by the end of it.

"Aye lad, 'twas a fine fight, and to be sure, Love and Justice prevailed, but ye cannae rest easy despite this battle! By my Beard and Axe, more ale!" exclaimed Burdin Rockhammeraxerockshieldhammer, 7-time All-Pro Dwarven Paladin.

With the loss, the Dark Army dropped to 0 wins, 544 losses in the face of True Courage and Friendship. They are, however, favored heavily over next week over the Fellowship of Justice, who have been crying out for a hero lo these many years thus far this season.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Resolution Lag

"Let's see...now he is...Prone, I'm Charging, but he was Surprised, which means...no, that's on page 115..."

"Um....ok...so 75% to hit, plus 12% for this round, add in the 37% from the weapon...carry the 6..."

"Wait....what do I roll to hit again? I can't remember".

"OK, let's see I do 4 points of damage--dangit, I can't hear over the store radio--I SAID 4 POINTS, AND THAT'S--HEY GUYS, DO YOU MIND? WE'RE PLAYING HERE!"

"No, that isn't how that At-Will Power works! Yes! Look it up, then!"


Ah, Resolution Lag (RL, for abbreviation purposes). This is a topic I covered on a blog now perhaps forgotten, and I've made some updates to this article, which was one of my top 3 most-visited at my old site.

Now, in gaming, resolution lag refers to anything that slows down the resolution of a conflict. Lags can be mechanical in nature (a complicated system), human-wrought (a player being unfamiliar with a system or poor at math), or even environment-based (a gaming area with a lot of loud distractions). Not exactly a profound theory of academia, just the identification of something that can screw up a game.

The thing about resolution lag is that it's such a simple concept, but it's one that doesn't seem to get talked about that much. And to my mind, it's one thing that can kill any cinematic campaign for sure, and can cripple many others. With resolution lag, players get bored, what should-be high-intensity, high-powered scenes of conflict go by the wayside, and players can feel left out as scenes not involving them drag on and on. Nor are "skill monkeys" or combat-light games exempted from this threat. A social confrontation, battle of wits, or any sort of skill/talent use can suffer from resolution lag as well.

Now, I don't think there's really a way to quantify resolution lag, as it will differ from game to game, person to person. For example, one might assume that Rolemaster would be a high-lag game (due to multiple modifiers and chart-based resolution), but I've been in groups where combat is resolved faster than a comparative d20 encounter. You can point to a game and say that certain mechanics might make them high-risk for resolution lag, but you can't say for certain that they'll have it. Certain groups find the multiple adders/modifiers of D&D slow their resolution. Some don't. And so it goes with every system, every title out there. Exalted, GURPS, Rifts, Fuzion, you name it. Experience with a system, play style, ability, and, of course, personal bias will play a large factor into what folks are comfortable with, and what in particular bogs their games down.

Of course, there are minimalists out there who say that the easy fix to this is to simply have shared-narrative power, wherein people in the gaming group take turns what happen. Others will suggest systems no more complicated than a coin flip. In the first case, you can still suffer from resolution lag: a long-winded storyteller, a person anxious to hog the spotlight, or those loving an anal-retentive level of detail can bog this sort of game down. In the second case, simple resolution systems may not only rob you of a more tactical or structured gaming experience (if you want it), but can also lead to lag themselves through long-winded players or extensive verbal resolution of details (i.e., arguing over what just happened). Rules-heavy, rules-medium, rules-lite--any RPG can have resolution lag, for many different reasons. RL is a big tent. One person's simplicity can be another's unstructured nightmare, and one person's attention to detail can be another's nitpicky snore-fest.

In the end, really, you can look at your system, look at your group, look at yourselves, and look at your environment, and ask yourself, "how bad is our resolution lag? Are players getting bored with how long combat or tasks are taking? Do parts of our game stretch on a lot longer than they should? Is it because the system is more detailed than have a need for, or is that we just haven't learned the system yet? Are too many modifiers giving us a headache? Are their too many distractions from our players or our surroundings?" Ask yourself these questions, and then trim the fat. Streamline, focus, adapt, convert, but find out how much lag is too much for your gaming group. And remember: not all lag is bad. That breathless anticipation while you wait to see if you rolled the natural 20 you needed to keep your party alive is a pretty great part of gaming. But if your group is sitting around, not getting to the juicy story bits, sighing through immeasurably long "simple" encounters, and generally resembling a Friday afternoon line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, you do need to ask yourself, "what's the slowdown here?"

As many of us get older, we often find that we no longer have time to game as much as we did before we grew up and had to deal with all this responsibility business, and that a wasted gaming session is a lot more of a nuisance than it was when it seemed like we had all the time in the world. To this I say, find the lag, find the reason, and control it as best you can. That doesn't mean that all HERO players should convert to Wushu, or that D&D folks should just cut out all tactical elements or modifiers from the game. But look at simplifying where you can (charts, player references, learning how and when to adjudicate rulings to keep the game going, streamlining unneeded system bits, and [gasp] even learning more about the system), cutting where you must (changing to a non-distracting location, muzzling the disruptive, and perhaps even changing systems or system versions, if need be), and above all, keeping the parts you like.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Scholar Class

As promised, I've finished my Scholar Character Class . Although designed for Castles & Crusades, he may be able to be ported to other d20 offerings without much ado. Bottom line, not great Hit Points, more of a role-playing than hack n' slash hardcore class, but handy in a number of traditional "skill monkey" roles without the annoying "hey nonny nonny" of the Bard. The scholar gets a modest but useful selection of weapons, but pretty much eats it in armor. Not a front line troop, you'll want to protect the scholar so he parley with barbarian tribes, wow them with predicted eclipses, fire off a few scrolls, translate the ancient runes guarding the Lost Tomb, and figure out exactly how that mechanical apparatus with all the shiny, swinging blades in the middle of the dungeon works. All while remembering the answer to the dragon's riddle from some moldy old book of bad gnomish poetry! Not the sneak the rogue is or the motivator/charismatic dynamo the bard is, the scholar boasts more learning than either, and must rest on that and his wiles to mark his worth to the party.

I've received some nice feedback from the Troll Lord forums, and so am releasing this pdf download as sort of a 2nd revision. The particulars are below for those who don't feel like clicking:


The Scholar is an individual of great learning, often employed by nobility or other wealthy interests as part of a patronage system. Scholars may be found adventuring as employed translators, cultural liaisons, or seeking powerful artifacts and items of lore for themselves or their masters.

Abilities

Decipher Script (Int): This ability allows the scholar to decipher writing in an unfamiliar language, a message written in an incomplete or archaic form or a message written in code. If the check succeeds, the character understands the general content of a piece of writing. It takes 2d4 turns to decipher each page of a script. The attempt may be made only once per writing per day. A scholar may use this ability to decipher and then use an arcane scroll, as a wizard or illusionist would.

Identify Object (Int): This ability gives the scholar a chance to ascertain the purpose or manner of an object’s workings. Upon a successful check, the scholar knows what the item would ideally be used for, time frame of construction, and originating culture.

Scholar’s Learning (Int): This ability represents the vast breadth and depth of a scholar’s knowledge. Upon a successful check, the scholar will know the answer to a query regarding lore, history, linguistics, the sciences, religion, and culture. Characters should pick one of the above as a specialty; any checks that pertain to this field of knowledge will receive a +2. At level 4, a second specialty bonus may be chosen for an additional +2 bonus. A third and fourth may be chosen (also at +2) at levels 6 and 8, respectively.


Prime Attribute: Intelligence
Typical Races: Any
Alignment: Any
Starting Gold: 1d4x20
Hit Die: d6
Weapons: Sword, bows, club, sling, dagger, staff, spear
Armor: Padded, leather coat, leather, leather laminar, mail shirt
Abilities: Decipher Script, Identify Object, Scholar’s Learning

Scholar Level Progression
Level HD BtH EPP
1 D6 0 0
2 D6 +1 1501
3 D6 +1 3250
4 D6 +1 7501
5 D6 +2 15001
6 D6 +2 30001
7 D6 +2 60001
8 D6 +3 120001
9 D6 +3 240001
10 D6 +3 450001
11 +2 +4 625001
12 +2 +4 800001

Monday, January 5, 2009

Compromise Systems

I've noticed here and there on various message boards the idea of "compromise systems". You often see this in the vein of "Well, the group wanted to try Rolemaster, I wanted to try Savage Worlds, and we settled on d6" (ok, maybe not that particular group of games, but you get the idea).

I've had this in gaming groups, too. We talk about a number of different systems, but then end up playing something familiar. For a lot of groups, this means some version of Dungeons & Dragons, since it is the lingua franca of the hobby. This isn't necessarily a bad thing--at worst, it does possibly deny folks the opportunity to play a new system they might like, but if there's a middle ground everyone is comfortable with , that's not a bad option. Plus, time constraints and good old-fashined bullheadedness might make learning a new system a chore, if not an outright pain.

If you've got the time, of course, a demo or one-shot might be the best way to see if the group is going to dig a system. Financial outlay (if a system doesn't have a "lite" or quick-start version) can be a consideration against this.

There's also setting compromises. George has a hankering for Eberron, Edgar digs Dragonlance. Maybe we play in a mishmash of the two--enough to offend any setting purist, but perhaps enough to give those two a fix of what they like about those settings. Then again, maybe we all play in Forgotten Realms as we have the last 3 campaigns.

I think the thing to remember is that if you've been running a game and the players talk about wanting something else--it isn't an insult--we all want to try something new. For many groups, a moderate approach of seeing if you can add some of what's wanted into your game without making radical changes may be the best way to avoid alienation. Then again, listening and responding appropriately to your group is always the best way to avoid alienation, but that's a given (or should be).

Do you or your group have a "compromise system"?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Novella From Jonny Nexus

For those of you who enjoyed Jonny Nexus' deific gaming romp of a novel that was Game Night, or for those just looking for a little free gaming-related fiction by a very funny man, Jonny has now released the free novella Saving Stone in pdf form.

Game Night was a fun read that was very much in the vein of Adams/Pratchett, and I'll still happily recommend to anyone who enjoys the works of either of those worthies.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

RPGnet Game Index: What I Like (Apparently)

RPGnet's RPG Game Index is a great resource, don't get me wrong. The biggest issue I have with it is that it's pretty clear that the core populace of Big Purple and I often don't like the same RPG systems and supplements (I wince every time I see the murky Nobilis at slot #5 in the "10 Best Entries" classification, and scowl at Keep on the Borderlands--friggin' KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS--in the "25 Worst Adventures". Clearly, the latter alone must prove there's something rotten in Purple Denmark.

Still and all, the Game Index is useful for looking up information on nearly any gaming product. There's also the User Index feature, which will tell you (if you've bothered to rate any products) what and who your top four rated settings, contributors/authors, and systems are. I've rated 340+ products now on the scale from 1-10. I think you have to rank 4-5 products on any classification showing on the list. Let's see how close my RPGnet ratings to my actual preferences (all scores are an average on the 1-10 scale), courtesy of my user page:

My Top 4 Backgrounds/Settings, According to the Game Index:
1) Greyhawk (8.05)
2) Palladium Fantasy (7.71)
3) Traveller (7.14)
4) Erde (6.89)

Anyone who's read my blog for an extended period of time know Numbers 1 and 3 are no surprise. I'm a big Greyhawk fan and I love the Imperium. Palladium Fantasy was one of my first RPGs, and the later sourcebooks for it are especially chock-full of gaming ideas that have really influencing my fantasy gaming, which likely explains such a high rating.

Erde is the odd man out. I imagine the in-house setting from Troll Lord games made it on here due to me rating Castles & Crusades products highly. They are classified as having Erde as a setting, even though I'm buying C&C for the system. A lot of other setting I like only have a few products out, so they may not have qualified for the list. I'd have thought Middle Earth would make it, but looking things over, I've hardly rated any MERP stuff.

My Top 4 Contributors/Authors, According to the Game Index:
1) Erick Wujcik (8.80)
2) Brent M. Bernstein (8.00)
3) Gary Gygax (7.83)
4) clash bowley (7.75)

The Wuje takes the top spot, and I can't begrudge the man behind Amber Diceless and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG for it one bit. It is well-deserved. Brent is the head honcho at Precis Intermedia, and since I really like games such as Two-Fisted Tales and Coyote Trail, this isn't a surprise.

Uncle Gary clocks in at #3. I esteem highly many of his adventures, even as I shun Cyborg Commando, and it is well and proper that he be on here. The infamous clash bowley rounds out the Top 4, no doubt thanks to Starcluster, In Harm's Way, Book of Jalan, and Cold Space. I thought Bill Coffin might sneak in there due to his Palladium Fantasy work, but he did not--likely due to a few Rifts books I didn't care for.

My Top 4 Systems, According to the Game Index:
1) Casltes & Crusades (8.13)
2) Palladium Fantasy (8.09)
3) Generic (7.77)
4) Rolemaster (7.75)

OK, this one is a bit screwy. I'm down with C&C being up there--it's pushing all the right buttons for me right now, I've really enjoyed the core book and Troll Lord's recent products, but Palladium's system definitely wouldn't be in my Top 4. Again, this is likely a consequence of me rating the product overall so high.

"Generic" is what is listed for many system-neutral products--I'm heavy into a lot of things that can be used easily with multiple RPGs, so this one is pretty spot-on. Rolemaster got in there--this is a system I love to play, but also gut the snot out of. I tweak, fiddle, and toss out rules left and right to streamline it. There's enough goodness in there to keep the core concepts and remove what we don't want and simply what we don't want to mess with I wouldn't play it as written, but love the basics nonetheless. I know for a fact there are numerous RM products I rated poorly--the really good ones must have compensated. For this category, I can think of many great systems--Rules Cyclopedia D&D, Burning Wheel, True20, Amber--that just didn't make it for whatever reason. This list was likely the furthest off-base of all, but still not bad.


Well, all in all, not far off the mark, but marking the product overall instead of by system/setting did cause some anomalies. But it was still interesting for me to look back and see what my highest-rated items were. I wonder it will be if I rate another 100 products, and fill in some of the gaps I'm sure I've overlooked. I'm not 100% reliable with it, but as my perceptions and experiences change, I try to update my ratings, to keep them as honest and useful as possible. We'll see where things are at then.

Do any other Game Index users have a link to their stats or wish to share their rankings?