Saturday, February 28, 2009

Pathfinder RPG Fan Sites

The Pathfinder Open Beta playtest ended this week--now it's all previews, talk, and snippets until the PFRPG release at Gen Con Indy. I'm optimistic about Pathfinder and its continuation of OGL support, but will withhold final judgment until we see a final product.

In any case, in honor of the closing of the Beta, here's a few Pathfinder fan site I've discovered that folks may wish to check out:

Pathfinder Wiki:
This pleasantly-designed site is a repository for information on the Pathfinder setting of Golarian, as well as how concepts such as magic work in the RPG.

pfogc: If its Open Game Content, and it's in Pathfinder, you'll find it here. Clean and simple, functional layout.

Pathfinder Portal: Not a whole lot going on here yet, but there are a few nice links here and there. It does feature nice, regular news updates.

I'm sure there's a few more sites out there (and will be many more to come), but that's a nice start to get you going.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Discussion: What's Your Favorite Space/Sci-Fi RPG?

Every Friday, the hustle and bustle of the blogosphere's superhighway turns into the folksy quietness of a country dirt road, punctuated by the occasional passing fruit truck or lost tourist. In other words, all of us bloggers see our traffic take a nose dive. But here at RPG Blog II, we refuse to give into despair, which is why every week we offer up a hard-hitting, insightful gaming question to keep the conversation motoring into the weekend.

So lift your weary head, and let's have another pre-weekend chat! No prize this week, but if I see you at Gen Con I'll throw a d20 or dsomething your way (be ready to duck).

Our question today is an easy one (right?):

What is your favorite space/sci-fi RPG? What in particular makes it your favorite? (Bonus: How would you pitch it in one or two sentences to someone else?).

Have a great weekend! Let's chat!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Top 10 Favorite DnD Monsters

So recently, I've seen a number of other blogs post their favorite D&D monsters; guess it's my turn. Below you'll find my 10 most favorite D&D baddies, monsters, and creepies of all time (with links to the appropriate entry in the d20 SRD):

1) Rust Monster: This creature may well be a litmus test for DMs everywhere. I love letting the players know nothing is sacred, and challenging them in different ways than they're used to. Personally, I say don't nerf it; just accept it.

2) Goblins: Monster? Heck, I love them as a PC!

3) Black Dragon: Nasty, vicious, cunning, monstrous bastards without a shred of redeeming qualities. Plus the acid breath seems to always catch my players at the worst time (not that there's a good time for a stream of acid, mind).

4) Troll: He's down. He's back up. He's down. He's back up. He's horribly dismembered. He's back up. Fire. He's down.

5) Bulette: A shark. On land. Landshark. For more on this predator that's only silly when you aren't in it's path, consult Jeff Rients.

6) Gray Elf: I really don't like elves. In my setting, gray elves (or rather, their equivalent), are total d-bags. We've killed more elves in our campaigns than R.A. Salvatore. For this, they make the list as a preferred villian. Wood elves fare much better, but that's a tale for another day.

7) Hill Giants: Because nothing makes your players feel better than taking down a FRIGGIN GIANT.

8) Red Dragon: Sort of the classic dragon, isn't it, with the cone of fire and whatnot? I think they show up as lower/mid-level "boss" villains as much as any other baddie in my games.

9) Gelatinous Cube: One of the best "oh crap" monsters at a DM's disposal during a dungeon delve.

10) Kobolds: Since I prefer goblins more as PCs, kobolds are the best magic missle fodder I have.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Weird Notes From Old Campaigns

While unpacking this weekend, I stumbled upon a folder with hundreds of player notes from fantasy campaigns of around 4-5 years ago. It was an absolute blast down memory lane, and a reminder that even your best-regarded campaigns probably look more coherent and smooth in hindsight. I was able to decipher most of the notes, but there are a few that I just could not puzzle out. Here are the strangest, funniest, or most mystifying of those notes. Remember, all these notes were written from players to their GM (me, in this instance). I'm open to theories as to their meaning.

I just realized I died 3 rounds ago. What do we do?

5 Pebbles. He isn't getting any more as long as I'm in the room.

3 Pebbles. No more, no less.

(What the heck were we doing with pebbles? -ZH).

Can I travel faster unarmed at night?

Can I play an emo drow next? With a magical sensitive panther?

(OK, so I have a pretty good idea on that one. -ZH).

Is it choreographed?

I act like I'm an actor.

(The above two were in the same handwriting. -ZH).

None. The pebbles are a lie.

The 5th Sword is actually a SPEAR, really.

Everyone squeezes.

Stabby stabby stab stab!

(Written with musical notes all around it--perhaps to the tune of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"? -ZH).

I stare at the beggar (the blind one) when he isn't looking.

Turkey, or I leave.


As you can see, most of the time we weren't creating meticulous, Pulitzer-winning stories (or apparently making a whole lot of sense--I will admit this was a time when wine in a box was a feature at our table, which may explain as much as anything), but those campaigns still count as some of the best gaming memories I possess. But if you want to take a crack at any theories about the above, I'd still appreciate it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

You Must Be This High To Ride

Our next fantasy homebrew campaign, due to to start in about a month's time, is shaping up to be an interesting one. Right now, of 4 players, 3 will likely be playing short races. We're looking at a goblin, a halfling, and possibly a dwarf or a gnome. Our holdout may be playing a human, but we're really close to having a party comprised of smallfolk only. I'm wondering how such a thing would impact the campaign--the big thing I can think of is NPC perception of the characters (thinking of Monsieur Frodo & company and their reception in various parts of Middle Earth) , but I'm also wondering if there are many traps or encounters that would be thrown wildly out of whack for this. I've GM'd a lot of campaigns over the years, but that would definitely be a first.

Monday, February 23, 2009

RPG Book Covers

I've been thinking that perhaps a good-looking RPG cover isn't as important as it once was. While I enjoy companies who seem to put a lot into a snazzy-looking front cover (such as Palladium and Paizo), with the decline of brick-and-mortar stores, is the eye-grab factor weigh in as much as it used to?

That's a question that I'm certain publishers could back up better than I could, but it did get me thinking about RPG covers I really admired. I remember as an ENnies judge last year, there was a bit of a stink because the Thousand Suns cover was nominated for an award, but it was revealed the image used was stock art. My reply was, "well, it must have been the right stock art".

Point being, there doesn't seem to be a need for a celebrity artist or certain type of cover art
for me--I like tasteful, muted covers while same consistency I like loud, frenzied battle landscapes. Here's my list; see how it matches up to yours:

Some Covers I've Liked Over The Years:

Rifts: Madhaven
Thousand Suns
AD&D 2e Player's Handbook
Rules Cyclopedia D&D
D&D 3.5 (yep, I liked the faux-tome look)
Burning Wheel
Mouse Guard

What are some of your favorite RPG covers? If you're a publisher, please feel free to weigh in: how much does a cover factor into one's sales?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

GOLD: Episode 3 Is Live

I've been moving all weekend, so apologies if I was a little slow on the email responses. I did, however, want to let everyone know that GOLD, the web series about the harrowing world of professional RPGing, has just released Episode 3. There's been a few attempts at online shows about our hobby, but this one so far has the best acting I've seen out of any of them. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Watch The DnD Cartoon Online

I'm not sure how long it'll be up, but over at veoh I stumbled across the old Dungeons and Dragons 80s animated series. So kick back, relax, and enjoy some crazy fun from the high-water mark of TSR cultural saturation.

(Incidentally, those kids are an excellent example of "run and trick" instead of straightforward hack n' slash. You don't go toe-to-toe with Tiamat and Venger out of the gate, friends. I'm sure the old school dungeon crawlers are gratified).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Discussion: The Economy's Effect on RPG Purchases

Another Friday in the blogosphere so quiet, I can hear a virtual pin drop. But I'm here, you're here, and by gum, that calls for some conversation.

We're moving one town over this weekend, so I'm going to be all over the place, but I didn't want to get the pregame show to the weekend started with a little back-and forth:

Question: With all the economic worries worldwide and in the U.S. right now, has your gaming budget been affected (purchasing less, being more conservative with your choices, etc.)? Are you buying more or less RPG-related material than last year? Have you seen any change at your local gaming store or in your online communities?

Comment below, and, as usual, one commenter gets a free pdf copy of Introduction to Irrin (I promise I'll change up the freebie soon, but I've got to be frugal myself, you know).

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I noticed over at hack/ yesterday a nice article on the use of gold coinage in RPGs. This nicely complements an article I'd been kicking around on electrum, so I finally decided to finish it up.

Electrum is sort of the red-headed stepchild of fantasy gaming coinage--neither fish nor fowl, and often discarded altogether. Many folks know the basics--electrum is a naturally occurring alloy that sees silver mixed with gold (and a just a hint of a few lesser metals). One electrum piece was worth 5 silver pieces in pre-3e D&D. But let's take a look at why this odd duck may not be as odd as some folks think, and why there may be a place for it after all.

First, why such a "electrifying" name? Well, electrum (the metallic composite) shared its name in Greek with amber, which was noted for its electrical properties. We get the name "electrum" from the Latin translation for the Greek name for these items, and that's actually the base for our word "electricity".

Historically, electrum was used for coinage from cultures stemming from ancient Anatolia to the cities of Greece. As it is more durable than the softer pure element of gold, it was favored over gold in coinage (also in part because gold refining wasn't too advanced as of yet). One of the big issues this sort of coinage had, however, was the fact that the composition ratio of gold to silver would vary wildly (if you use electrum in your game, remember this--it can be great for use with a failed Appraise roll or being swindled by a merchant in unfamiliar lands). So there's definitely a historical basis for this denomination of coin.

Outside of coinage, electrum did have some other uses. It was used in diningware, such as cups and plates. It also decorated monuments and obelisks from ancient Egypt onward. Forget about seeing it in mundane weapons, although Hesiod mentions it as part of the Shield of Hercules (electrum is also mentioned in Homer, but with the translations, there's always the question of whether they actually mean metallic electrum or amber). Volo's Guide to the North for Forgotten Realms did have an electrum-plated magical morning star called the Storm Star with electrical attack properies. If you are going to include electrum in a magical weapon, something with an electrical lightning effect may be the way to go, as electrum is an excellent electrical conductor.

Pliny the Elder alleged that a cup made of electrum could discern whether or not the drink therein was poisoned, by reflecting a rainbow-esque pattern within, and by sparking and hissing. Not a bad idea for a magical item!

Aside from that, electrum in the occult also has been referenced as a tell-tale--a marker of veracity and truth. Perhaps an enchanted electrum pendant to give a bonus for Detect Lie or Gather Information?

Even if you don't want to fall back to an earlier coinage system for your fantasy RPG, you may consider throwing in a few electrum coins or items--perhaps the rare coins of some ancient civilization, or a goblet that a paranoid king seeks to ensure his wine is not poisoned. If you do end up using electrum, remember you're in good company.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Help Me Choose My Other Gen Con Event!

OK, so I've already submitted and am waiting for my other two Gen Con events to be recognized. One is a Microlite74 2-hour dungeon bash called "Smash n' Grab at Kobold Caverns" that's aimed towards folks who have limited time at the Con to game and don't want a 4 hour block of time, but still want to get in some not-too-serious gaming goodness. The other is the 2009 GM's Jam (and if you volunteered to be on the panel, thanks, I'm just waiting back to hear it was accepted before letting folks know).

Those will both be on Saturday, with the game at 10:00 and the seminar at 1:00. I'm thinking of doing one more event Thursday afternoon--everything else will be interviews, photos, demos, and liveblogging (and possibly a RPG Bloggers panel)!

So, with me willing to register one more event, I need to narrow it down what I want it to be. I am open to other suggestions, but below you'll find the 4 I primarily had it narrowed down to. If you would, please read over the following list and take a minute to comment on which one or two would be your favorites:

Additional GM's Seminar:
I'm already doing one GM's Seminar--it's designed as a give-and-take, relaxed event that's more of a generalist's look at GMing issues. Given the number of panel volunteers and just because I love discussing stuff with other GMs, I was thinking of doing a second panel--either another generalist one (for folks who can't make the other one) or one that's issue-specific (I'm thinking maybe "How to Deal With Problem Players"--that should be a common issue).

Risus Traveller: By far my favorite beer n' pretzels, short-notice RPG, Risus is fantastic for running a number genres, but it works surprisingly well when paired with Traveller. I'd love a little light Free Trader smuggling-run-gone-awry action, and think this would be a blast that's easy for folks to get into, but I'm also worried it would attract a bunch of Travnards who don't enjoy the "loosey-goosey" rules I'm using. Bottom line, not sure what the audience would be.

Rifts: Palladium Books won't be at Gen Con this year, and I usually run one or two short demos of my favorite illogical post-apocalyptic kitchen sink madhouse. I have a couple of pretty good convention scenarios folks seem to like, but crowds for the game seem to be split about evenly between folks who love Rifts and really want to play, folks who have heard of Rifts and want to give it a shot, and folks who hate Rifts and want to spend time telling you how much they hate it (while playing in a Rifts game).

Additional Microlite74 Session: I'm really looking forward to my one 2-hour session of Microlite74--it's my hope that folks who are only there for one day or who have a lot of obligations canuse it as a way to get some gaming in without using up half of their time at the convention. I'm thinking of offering the same that Thursday.

I would add in addition to this, I plan to run In Harm's Way for some friends one night, but that's not anything I'll be registering. Thanks in advance for the advice and input!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Question: What's "Core" In Your D&D?

I see this a lot: "Well, X should have been part of the Core Books in D&D", or "They can dump that, I never saw it as a core part of Dungeons & Dragons".

So what would be "core" (vital, necessary, needed, desired) for your ideal edition of D&D? Hit Points? Vancian magic? Classes? Gnomes, elves, halflings, bards, monks, rangers, half-orcs? Perhaps all you need is 3 basic classes and a star to sail 'em by? What would you miss if they took it out of the 3 D&D core books (or the core books of your preferred edition)? Or is there already something missing from a more recent edition you feel should have stayed in?

(Honestly, I'm the only person I know who really liked playing gnome bards, so I'm just going to bow out right now and await the comments below...)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Budget Gamer: 5 RPGs For Under $5

So you've looked through a lot of the free RPGs available, but still have an itch to scratch. Problem is, you don't have much of a gaming budget, but you still want to check out something new. Not a problem--here's a list of 5 solid RPGs that you can check out for a fin or less each:

1) BASH! (Basic Action Super Heroes) This supers RPG has been out for a while now, and is still going strong. Easy character creation, quick action, light bookkeeping, and an impressive array of superpowers to choose from make this a continued winner. $5.00 at RPGNow (on sale from $6.50).

2) HardNova 2 I've mentioned HN2 before, but it remains at the top of the "pick up n' play" style of space and sci-fi RPGs. With an impressive number of cheap supplements to boot, this is a great game for the budget-minded supplement hound as well. $4.95 at RPGNow.

3) Houses of the Blooded John Wick's stuff has always been hit-and-miss with me, but when he does hit, its a big one. I first saw Houses of the Blooded at Gen Con this past year, where it was selling like hot cakes. This game of intrigue, cut-throat ambition, courtly politics, and deadly vendettas absolutely sings. $5 at Indie Press Revolution.

4) Resolute There's a lot of game squeezed into this 24-page superhero RPG. A simple 2d6 system (as a Traveller partisan, you know that alone will please me) masks a lot of customization options. $3 at RPGNow.

5) 1PG RPG Line Deep 7's series of quick-play RPGs perfect for one-shots have received a lot of praise, and rightly so. Sword n' Sorcery fans will want to check out Broadsword; I really enjoyed Bloode Island for some one-shot pirate swashbuckling. $3.95 each at RPGNow.

Thanks to some of the folks at theRPGsite for helping me research and check out the games on this list! There are plenty more solid bargain RPGs out there, so look for a Part II to this list shortly.

(I should add I was also turned on to Realm - Antique, which didn't quite make the price cutoff, but which I had downloaded at some time past but never really got around to reading. French Revolution + a little bit of a fantastical bent is really an interesting idea)!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Second Review of Irrin!

Just a quick Sunday note: Questing GM was kind enough this past week to post his review of my self-published campaign setting (and personal mini-adventure) Introduction to Irrin. Very nice review, with a couple of things to take to heart for my next outing and what I felt was a very positive review overall.

If you haven't checked out Irrin yet and want to do so, you can purchase the print or pdf here. You'll also be helping support this site, my online projects, and my annual Gen Con coverage, since that's where any profits go. The print copy came out pretty nicely, which is something I was worried about with lulu. But my own copy and that of the other folks who have gone the print route did not disappoint.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Running Microlite74 At Gen Con?

I'm thinking of running a 2-hour gaming block at Gen Con on Saturday, so some of the 1-day badge folks can get in some gaming without blowing their entire day. I was considering using Microlite74 for the system (though Swords & Wizardry remains in the mix). I want a game of pure old-school, avaricious dungeon crawling. Here's the pitch I'm considering:

Microlite74: Smash n' Grab At Kobold Caverns

While the Kobolds have marched out to rout the Baron's army, your village decides it's time to make up for a poor harvest by snatching whatever they can from the now (allegedly) lightly-defended Kobold lair. But the kobolds haven't completely abandoned their caverns, and no treasure goes unguarded...

A 2-hour quick-play block. Basic rules available at Characters provided. A prize for the player who grabs the most loot (and still makes it out alive)!

Anyone interested in playing or have feedback? If you think you'll be at Gen Con and want to play Saturday A.M., let me know and I'll be sure to let you know when the event opens!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Discussion: Your Favorite Free RPG

Another Friday, another catatonic blogosphere. I would think blog traffic would be higher on Fridays, what with people slacking off at work, but that's just never the case.

Let's get a little discussion going and get this thing warmed up. Our question for discussion today: what is your favorite free RPG? What do you like about it, aside from it being free?

(Don't worry, Rob Lang. I'm not muscling in on your territory).

Let's discuss below! Free PDF copy of Introduction to Irrin goes to a random commenter!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I am an Adversarial DM.

I wanted to spin off a bit from this post by Chgowiz over at his blog. There, he passionately refutes this comment that "tyrannical DMing" is some inherent part of old school gaming (and the implication that a "shared narrative" model is superior).

The Gentleman from Illinois needs no assistance from me in making his point, but the entire business did make me want to explain about what being an "Adversarial DM" may entail, and why I consider myself one as well.

First off, "tyrannical" does not equal "adversarial". Tyrannical GMs exist regardless of system. In rules-light games, they railroad the players into the ground, stupidly shooting down every positive thought or idea they may have had. In a game where's there more emphasis on the rules as written, a tyrant will seek to bend the rules where he can, interpret where he can't bend, and cheat when all else fails. Tyrannical GMs exist, because a-holes exist. Take away the GM, go to your loosey-goosey "shared narrative control", and you can still have Tyrannical Players in Director Stance or whatever the hell the hippie kids are still talking about (I kid because I love!). Let's look at that versus Adversarial GMing:

I'm an Adversary for my players. That isn't all I am as DM, but part of what I am. Yep, at times, I am the bane of my player's gaming existence. We (through our characters) match wits; I try to frustrate their plans, and they try to frustrate mine. Why? Because conflict is a key aspect of a successful RPG (or story, for that matter). They love to be challenged, to have their characters weighed in the balance and either found triumphant or wanting. If triumphant, they know their victory wasn't handed to them by a guy who was just setting up dominoes to be easily knocked down. If found wanting, then they have something to work towards, and it makes any eventual victory that much sweeter. I know I will hears roars of delight when they best my creations; I will hear groans and rueful laughter when I get the upper hand on theirs.

Now, as a DM/GM, that's not all I do. By turns, I am an Ally, Collaborator, and Facilitator for my players and their characters, and each of those turns have a place in our game. But by positioning myself as an adversary, I help fill one of my most important roles as a DM--I help create the nucleus for conflict and plot. That's not to say I remain the creative drive behind it--I create a spark, the players respond in kind, and soon we have a happily crackling fire. This also isn't to say I'm the only one who can create a spark--there can be (and usually is) player-created conflict--but as a DM, I throw situations to the characters, they react, I react, and so the whole game evolves and grows. I introduce conflict to the game, or situations from whence conflict may arise, according to the players' reaction.

I'm not interesting in sadistically torturing the players/characters any more than I am in holding their hand through a no-brainer wish fulfillment romp. I'm interesting in running a challenging, balanced, fun RPG for my players, and part of that is being an adversary when they need one within the guidelines of our game.

Here's a quick ruling for you: if you're being an adversary for your players, you're likely ok. If you're being one just to be one, you may want to look and see what sort of benefit your game is actually getting from that sort of behavior. And if all you're being is an adversary, then you may wish to consider Lord Byron.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Using Google Sites For Your Campaign

So a while back, Google replaced Page Creator with Google Sites. Since I utilize a lot of different Google products (Mail, Feedburner, Groups, Analytics, Docs, etc...), I decided to give it a spin for creating a website for our Irrin homebrew setting campaign. Here's what I ended up with.

The above site is for my upcoming HARP campaign (yep, I decided to give it another whirl). (I'm also running a Castles & Crusades campaign based in Irrin, but that site is another project for another post). I just opened it and the discussion group to our players this morning, so this is still pretty new. As you can see, it isn't the fanciest site in the world, but I do think it is pretty functional. There's still some items and some organization that need tended to, but there's plenty of time for that.

My review? Google Sites was pretty easy to use, especially for a design-challenged individual such as myself (I can understand where folks more adept at this sort of thing would want more customizable options, but that's nothing I need). Creating new pages, hosting files--all of it was in a nice, friendly, Google-style interface. Then again, there are some parts and missing features that give it an unpolished feel. Here's a little list of the pros and cons for Google Sites I've encountered:

-Free (you knew that would be #1)
-Easy to create and position new pages
-Can edit background and banner images
-100 MB free storage (may be a con if you are planning to use it for your prime storage)
-WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor makes typing what you want easy
-Integrates pretty nicely with other Google Tools (this is an area that continues to improve. Not long ago, it would have been under the "cons" heading)

-Ugly domain names/does not allow for naked domain
-Limited templates/design choices
-Little features, like a spell checker on the edit page, are missing
-Poor sorting options for files
-Cannot load larger files (had trouble past 10 MB or so)

So, as you can see, if you're looking to create a campaign website, Google Sites has some things going for it, and likely some things that you'd like improved or changed. The good news is, it's free and easy to try, so if you don't like it, there's always something else.

(For those that have trouble with hyperlinks, here you go:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Do You Dream In Percentiles?

My buddy Paul & I often talk gaming systems. We're both tinkerers, happy to discuss how to port Weapon A or Concept B from this game to that. What I find interesting is the "numbers language" we both use.

Paul is a die-hard d20 guy. He's got d20 books out the yin-yang, and he's had a hand in a few of the supplements from the wild n' woolly early days of the GSL. He still enthusiastically plays and supports the 3/3.5e era rules. When he talks about bringing in an item or creature from a novel or movie, his default mode of thought is d20 attributes and rules--STR, DEX, HP, AC, and so on. He's able to stat things for a variety of systems, but he starts by relating it to d20.

I come from systems such as Palladium Fantasy and Rolemaster, which use percentile dice (partially and near-completely, respectively). I tend to put things in terms of percentiles and percentile bonuses. I do this in my head, before I translate it into whatever system we're using or discussing. We know another guy who's hardcore into GURPS--I'd say he's perhaps played 90% of his games over the years under some sort of GURPS umbrella, and when he talks gaming, it starts by being couched in GURPS terminology and concepts.

As gamers in general, I believe we tend to frame things in terms of the system we grew up on, or with which we're the most comfortable. Since many of us started with D&D, D&Disms seem to be the lingua franca for our hobby, albeit a hodgepodge mongrel of one, grabbing from this edition and that into some combined assumption of what D&D is.

I wonder how I'd look at things more differently if I'd started with a form of D&D. Even now, after years of 3.5 and Rules Cyclopedia, when I'm statting things out, it's my Gamescience percnetiles that are dancing through my head. I know when I first really got into the how, what, and why of D&D, some of the terms used were like a foreign language--I didn't share some of the assumptions of others as far as what a certain party composition meant, what a certain monster encounter indicated, or some of the context of terms.

Here's a little exercise: think up a character concept. Then start adding defining attributes. Do you begin to stat him or her in any specific system?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Palladium Books To Go Digital (Really)

Buried in the latest Palladium press release was the following item:

"Palladium is probably going to start a limited release of its books to be made available as PDF downloads within the next month or two via, and

We’ll be starting with older and out of print titles and see where things go. But we feel the time is right to do it. In final negotiations".

I think this is excellent news, with the following conditionals:

-How much the pdf versions will cost (hint: if they're priced like White Wolf or current WotC stuff, count me out).

-When "soon" actually is (us old-school Palladium fans know how much "soon" can change definitions).

-The eventual scope of the program (if it expands to more recent titles, or is a small, incomplete scattering of miscellania).

Bring up Palladium Books online, and people immediately like to start talking about their litany of purported poor business/layout/gaming decisions. I'll leave that to others. I'll just say that I've had a lot of fun with Palladium products over the years, and for that reason, I wish they'd done this sooner.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Looking For GMs For Gen Con Panel!

Going to be at Gen Con? Have about 90 minutes you can contribute? Are you a Game Master, and a damned good one at that?

No matter what system folks utilize, some Game Master/Dungeon Master/Referee problems are the same all over--player distractions, prop ideas, rules arguments, what to add to our games, and how to give the players the gaming experience possible. This year, I plan on doing a GM's Corner seminar at Gen Con Indy, likely 90 minutes in length, where a panel of experienced GMs lead a general idea sharing, brainstorming, problem-solving session where Game Masters can find answers to problems, and give solutions of their own to other common GM issues.

I've done this before on the "GM-Fu" panel, and it was a lot of fun. I would like 2-3 experienced GMs out there to be on the panel to help me sort of direct the flow of discussion and to help get things moving. If you're a RPG Blogger who's dialed a lot of the discussion out there, so much the better! I have learned something every year I've done this, and I hope plenty of folks take the time to stop by. If you're interested, please drop me a line at mail(dot) Even if you don't want to be on the panel, please stay tuned here for an event announcement on the seminar itself!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

HinterBlog & Gaming Company Blogs

In what's sort of a tie-in to my post earlier in the week, I heard today that Bill Corrie of HinterWelt Enterprises is starting up a blog, aptly titled HinterBlog. Bill is the force behind not only one of my favorite settings/games of all time, Roma Imperious, but he also has this strange obsession with squirrels. (Seriously, Squirrel Attack! products are great beer n' pretzels and convention games). I don't want to pigeonhole here, because HinterWelt does everything from light comedy to alt-history to fantasy to sci-fi, and have become one of my favorite companies in the process. Also, Bill is really interesting when he discusses the business and design side of the hobby (at least to me), and I think it'll be refreshing to have a gaming blog leaning towards those sorts of articles.

First Precis Intermedia, now HinterWelt--it seems my favorite gaming companies are going bloggy. What other gaming companies do you know of that have blogs worth following? I know there are a number out there--I just want some other takes on what you find worth following.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Using Goblins As A Player Character

One thing I always admired about Palladium Fantasy was how it really made the typical monster races playable character races as well. (To be sure, books like Savage Species also address this possibility, but it somehow seems less labored and more natural in Palladium Fantasy). The first few times I was GMing in my homebrew world of Irrin, I really felt like adding 1-2 races as player options that they usually don't have access to. Enter the goblin.

As a proud supporter of the Goblin Defense Fund, I haven't been too wild about recent iterations of the goblin race in D&D. Kobolds are usually my default Magic Missile fodder, to be honest. I wanted my goblins to be a challenge to role-play. I didn't just want green cutesy mischances halflings. I wanted a race barely holding on the lower rungs of civilization, used to being beaten down at every turn. Below is how I describe them to my players:

"Long considered a pestilence by mankind (as well as the other races), many goblins still are bandits and thieves preying on travelers and the like, or slaves and servants across Irrin. However, 90 years ago, one band of slaves on a ship destined for Cerras [a cut-throat sort of merchant's haven] managed to fight off their slavers, and wrecked upon the rocky shores near the High Elves’ Elder Forest [not a good place for most non-elven races to be]. Amazingly, these goblins succeeded in creating a miniature society. They took to fishing, scavenging, and basically to living a modest, simple life.

Somehow, word spread of this goblin settlement, and many escaped slaves attempted to make their way there (though most died along the way). Cerras was determined to wipe out this embarrassing settlement, but couldn’t, for two reasons: first, it was too close to High Elf territory, and they did not wish to present a show of force in the High Elves’ backyard. Second, Hastal [an amalgamation of sea principalities that are the main rival of Cerras], seeing a chance to humiliate their long-time rival, put the settlement at least nominally under their protection.

The civilized goblins are still very few in number, and will often (though not always) be treated poorly in every area except their new homeland. Most others encountered are servant and slaves, with a very few practicing (mostly in slums) as free tradespeople. At the goblin's free settlement, their defense consists largely in the potent shamanistic and elementalist traditions of their religion. Lifespan is 35-50 years, much less in the wild".

In short, being a goblin in our campaign isn't easy. Most folks think of you as low-class vermin, and even if you are a free goblin, you know there are many places in the world, you would be clapped in irons for the slave market straightaway. Yet for all that, it remains a fairly popular choice in our games, which I suppose speaks a bit to our "zero-to-hero" preference in play.

Do any of you allow goblins or other "monster" races in your settings?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Are RPG Blogs Supplanting RPG Forums?

Sounds like a self-important sort of question from a RPG blogger, doesn't it? Before you jump to conclusions, bear in mind I'm a moderator on two fairly large RPG boards, subscribe to the Imperial Moot, and have joined many different gaming message boards in general. So why am I spending more and more of my time surfing gaming blogs?

Here's the thing: there are some things that message boards are always going to do better in terms of organization or community when compared to blogs. If you don't believe "better", at least "better according to the tastes of many". Threads, private messaging, a single-point community--these are all things RPG forums offer that most blogs don't. But, as has been mentioned in comments here, Whitehall ParaIndustries, theRPGsite, and many other internet locales, there seems to be a popularizing of the RPG blogging community and commentary. I notice more and more esteemed and well-regarded message board posters and publishers striking out for Blogland.

For my part, I know my readership was increasing even before RPG Bloggers Network, the institution I credit for the biggest jump we've seen in cross-pollination and blogging synergy. But personally, I've been spending more time reading gaming blogs at the expense of forums. I just found I like the pace of a blogging community. Many posts seem more well-considered, the pace of discourse is a little slower, a bit more courteous. You don't have to worry as much about the inevitable Gaming Theory/Edition War/Palladium Books threadcrap.

Forum discussion is often more knee-jerk, moderated by a third party who likely won't share your views on what constitutes disorder or off-topic. Arguments blow out of proportion, aided by the twin spectres of "everyone's watching, gotta score points" and "they just know me as OgreTroll_LupinIII! I can free the beast (read: a-hole) within!". At it's best, it can bring together a nice group of regular contributors, who give a great series of opinions over the course of a thread. At worst, it can produce an inbred, toothless "safe haven", where overmoderation leads to sniping, passive-aggressive snipes, and baiting. At blogging's best, it's a community of folks doing their own thing, but learning from other blogs in the community, writing a variety of interesting items with moderation left up to the individual blogs. At worst, it's a widely-scattered, inconvenient mess of folks who can go silent or burn out for weeks at a time.

Honestly, blogs and forums can both be a heaven or hell for gaming. And I still love many of the forums I visit, and wouldn't trade them for the world. But I can't help but notice when I'm surfing the web at night, my blogroll is now my first stop, right after my email. And Webkinz for my daughter.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Using Winter In Gaming

As I am currently residing in Indiana, a place that can't seem to stop getting mounds of snow at inopportune times this year, it is only natural that my thoughts are of winter--specifically, how winter can be presented and used in a roleplaying game. Below are a few ways winter can be in the context of a RPG:

Winter is a physical challenge. Think about how cold you are just walking in from the parking lot to work in the morning. Then think about a journey of even 50 miles, on foot or on horseback, near-zero winds cutting into your heavy, suffocating clothing. Think of having to spend the night in the middle of an ice storm, with only the barest shelter. Thinking of never being truly warm for days on end, of losing extremities to frostbite on what modern-day folks would consider just a jaunt down the interstate highway.

There's a reason many armies used to go to winter quarters rather than continue campaigning through the dead of winter. Even simple travel can be frustrating, slow, painful, and even deadly.

You don't need to use frostbite rules and exact gauging of temperatures if characters are out gallivanting in that sort of environment. But you can throw in some reminders that it isn't a walk in the park.

You can also use winter as a physical limiter/inducement--"we have roughly two weeks to force our way through this mountain pass before the snows make it impassable!".

Winter is the continuation of gaming by other means. Games such as Pendragon allow for an offseason for characters. In the winter, instead of crusading or dungeon delving, knights and nobles may go home to manage their estates. Soldiers make camp, drill, and plan for spring's campaigns. Adventuring parties may pack it in and winter in a city near the wilderness they've been exploring all summer, giving the opportunity for some new bad guys, city intrigue, and alley crawling. Whether you decide to concentrate on character growth and training or use winter to change venues, it can be an interesting change-up for your game.

Winter is a theme. From frost giants to elementals of ice, there have been a metric ton of baddies designed for use in frigid climes. Don't be afraid to throw these at your players--note the passing of seasons with seasonal enemies, as it were. This can also help keep things fresh in the bad guy department.

You can also frame conflicts in the contexts of a harsh winter. A goblin raiding party just isn't out for loot and slaves--hunting is poor, and they've taken to raiding villages just to get enough to eat. Towns you pass through may be wary of strangers, frightened that they wish to take from their pitiful food stores that they're hoping will just see them through until spring. In a tough winter, hard bread and mealy carrots can become more valuable than platinum.

Winter is down time. Some groups skip right over winter, and get back to when the adventuring is good. Sometimes, this can coincide with the real-life holidays break. You should never feel forced to include winter challenges if they don't fit the style and tempo of your game, but as you can see from above, there are many reasons to do so.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Temple Map Contest Extended

I've had mapping on the mind lately--likely not least because of this month's Blog Carnival Topic. So I was pleased to find and share that Iron Crown has extended out their Temple Map Contest until March 1, giving prospective entrants almost an entire month to submit their best temple map and win anywhere from $25-$75 in gift certificates (it sounds like there will be 3-5 winners). Follow the link for the details and to view some of the submissions thus far! I know we have some cartophiles reading this blog, so I expect some readership representation at the awards podium.

Monday, February 2, 2009

If Wizards Dropped D&D....

OK, let's say, just hypothetically, that in a few years Wizards of the Coast decides that D&D, the tabletop roleplaying game, just isn't making money the way they want. Maybe it isn't even that--for whatever reason, Hasbro sends down the word that they're gonna just sit on the D&D IP--they'll license some video games, authorize some more really bad Forgotten Realms novels, but they won't be doing anything more on the pen n' paper RPG side of things for the forseeable future.

My question is, what do you think would happen to the current pool of D&D players? Would a large chunk stop gaming? Would they keep on, bereft of DDI, using their 4e books until WotC or whomever came along and revived things? Would there be an online "4e Simulacrum" movement? Would any return to earlier, OGL-derived games? What other gaming companies might see boosts if that were to occur?

I certainly don't wish or even suspect this will happen; I'm just interested in hearing how folks think such a momentous event for our hobby would unravel. If you're a dedicated 4e player, I'd also be interested in what you would do, if such an event occured--business as usual, or a sign for a big change?