Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Feature: Zack's Dozen

At any given time, I have a hodgepodge of RPGs, gaming resources, and role playing products that I feel are worthy of discussion and interest. My tastes in gaming materials run towards both the generalist and eclectic, so I thought a fun way to keep tabs and inform folks on some of the gems I feel are deserving of notice would be to create Zack's Dozen. In essence, this is a short links list in my sidebar of All Things RPG that I think folks might want to check out. Some of these items are on my gaming table or in my reading stack; others are still in pre-release buzz status. Some are old popular favorites, and some new, relatively obscure arrivals. But for one reason or another all of them interest me (to see if our tastes match in that regard, you'll just have to follow the links).

Our inaugural list is as follows (in no particular ranking):

I plan on updating my list fairly regularly, so look for these entries to change! Just because something isn't on here doesn't mean I've lost interest in it, not by a long shot (I could easily have a list 3 times this long, but a solid dozen seemed like a good stopping point for now). But I do hope that if you find yourself wanting to try something different as far as gaming goes, or have an eclectic taste in gaming like I do, you'll find my sidebar Dozen interesting and helpful in that regard.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Classic Traveller and the Almighty Xerox

This little bit has escaped my notice until now. Who knew that the key to unlimited power was so simple?

That's from Traveller's Supplement 1: 1001 Characters, for those wondering. Try as I might, I can't see giving my players a plot hook in CT that involves a Xerox machine and keeping my dignity as a Referee.

Interview With Pathfinder Publisher Erik Mona

Our series of interviews with the good people at Paizo Publishing continues, and today I'm pleased to feature a Q&A with Paizo Publisher Erik Mona. In this interview, Erik discusses a bit of the business strategy behind the Pathfinder RPG, the whys of keeping Vancian magic, Pathfinder supplements we might see, a bit on Pathfinder Barbarians, and even a little bit about Greyhawk. Let's get to it!

-What does your job as Publisher at Paizo entail?

I manage the art and editorial staff, set the production schedule (decide what products to do), coordinate publication budgets, run numerous staff meetings, handle most of the company's marketing, and crack skulls that need to be cracked (occasionally including my own).

-With all the magazine issues of Dungeon and Dragon that Paizo published, is there an article or series of articles that stands out as a favorite?

Over the course of my career I wrote almost exactly 100 editorials about Dungeons & Dragons, from childhood memories to issue overviews to articles about readers in prison or the vast vocabulary shared by those who play the game. After the first two dozen gaming anecdotes it becomes a challenge to say something worthwhile about the same subject. At one time I was writing monthly editorials for both Dragon and Dungeon magazine, which meant I had to come up with 600-word essays every other week. I think I managed a few really good ones along the way (especially one about "explosion dogs" that inspired a Tony Moseley cartoon). As a series I think the editorials are my favorites.

As far as individual accomplishments go, I'd have to say Dungeon #112, the mega-opus of "Maure Castle" that allowed me to put together what amounts to a dream team to do an adventure in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons. James Jacobs and I reimagined the original levels of the 1984 AD&D module "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" for third edition, with editorial contributions from Gary Gygax and a completely new level of the dungeon by the adventure's original author, Robert J. Kuntz. Wayne Reynolds provided the cover, and James Ryman did many of the interior illustrations. My great friend and frequent collaborator Sean Glenn did the art direction, which heavily informed the Dungeon redesign that came two issues later. To top it off, the magazine featured the very first design work by Sarah Robinson, the art director who makes the Pathfinder product line look as good as it does today.

Maure Castle is the greatest single Dungeons & Dragons design project I've been involved with. As an editorial feat I almost can't believe we were able to pull it off.

Then there's the Age of Worms campaign in general, the Dungeon re-launch, my adventure "The Whispering Cairn," Gary Holian's death knights and Fred Weining's Vault of the Drow in Dragon, putting a modron on the cover, Jonathan Tweet's Omega World, Dungeon's 30 Greatest Adventures of All Time...

I have many, many favorites.

-Let's turn to the Pathfinder RPG now. You wrote for the 3e/3.5 rules. As a continuation of the OGL, do you see Pathfinder being easier, more difficult, or about the same for writers to work with, and why?

I'd say about the same in the short term, but easier in the long term. The changes are easy to memorize, the way the skills have been consolidated makes the toughest part of stat block grind easier. Because there are new options available to character classes it's got the feel of a brand new game, which infuses some extra energy into your creativity. At the same time, the engine is based on 3.5, so the rules remain flexible to handle any kind of play.

-Was there ever any thought of turning Pathfinder into an online magazine as we've seen happen with Dungeon and Dragon?

No. While Paizo offers PDF versions of all our Pathfinder products, we are primarily a print publisher.

-How important is retail-chain saturation to the success of Pathfinder? Will we be able to find it readily at Borders, Books-A-Million, or Barnes & Noble?

All of those chains have picked up Pathfinder Adventure Path volumes at one time or another since the product's launch, but the swift turn-around of monthly releases makes it somewhat difficult for chain stores to keep an entire series in stock. The bigger stores tend to focus on larger releases like core rulebooks. The Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting and broadly focused Pathfinder Chronicles books like Classic Monsters Revisited are very popular at chain stores. But chain stores carry the risk of returns, which is not the case with direct sales or sales to the game and comic book shops, which buy your product outright.

We need all three: Direct sales, hobby retail sales, and mass market sales in order to continue to produce products with the high production values Paizo's customers have come to expect.

Interest in the upcoming Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook is phenomenal in all tiers of the distribution system, so I imagine you will be able to find the main book and Bestiary at least in numerous locations.

-Now that the Open Playtest Alpha and Beta are both officially closed, can you look back and see anything you'd have done differently? I know Paizo ended up with far more downloads of the playtest versions of Pathfinder than many thought there'd be--what was the reaction like at Paizo as it became clear there was a pretty high level of interest running out there?

I wish that we had not let our trust that 4th edition would have a reasonable Open Game License in a reasonable amount of time delay our decision of what to do with our core line for as long as it did. I am 100% confident that sticking with 3.5 was the right decision for our company and our customers, but the months of what turned out to be pointless waiting could have gone into the playtest. That said, I'm pleased with what turned out to be the largest open playtest in the history of tabletop roleplaying games. We are thrilled with the level of interest in the Pathfinder RPG, so it's difficult to look at what we've done with an overly critical eye.

-I know you've asked for feedback for fans on what sort of supplements they'd like to see, but what add-on supplements do you think would be fun to do with Pathfinder?

I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but I think it would be fun to see the Pathfinder RPG rules applied in a science fictional context. This could range from something relatively simple, such as an exploration of the Red and Green Planets of Golarion's star with rules to place a "sword & planet" lens over a standard Pathfinder campaign to something full-on ambitious like a complete science fiction rules engine with tons of laser guns and stuff.

There are a few "boilerplate" books that people will want us to do and that we should probably do, such as an Asian fantasy book or some sort of psionics book or an epic level book. None of those ideas make me supernova with excitement both because they've been done numerous times before and because I haven't had much use for them in my own games. I'm not saying those are bad ideas for books, but the stuff that gets my blood pumping is more in line with the core rules themselves than built alongside them and stuck on awkwardly with sovereign glue.

For example, I'd be far less interested in an epic level book than I would be in a book that tightly focused on a level band (say 10-15), with lots of rules appropriate for campaigns at that level. Lots of info about hirelings and achieving fame and influence and nobility and hideouts and stuff. I also think such a book might include easy quick-start rules that explain how to build a high-level character in as simple terms as possible. Material that expands my use of the core rules garners my favor much more easily than quirky sub-systems, new forms of magic, and turning into gods and stuff.

-Will we ever see a "Pathfinder Basic" or Boxed Set as an introductory or special product?

If the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook sells very well, something like this might be in the offing. I would love a "basic" version of the game I wouldn't be embarrassed to ask my girlfriend or other not-so-heavily-invested-nerdfriend to read and roll up a character. As awesome as I think the Pathfinder RPG is, there's no question it's a daunting prospect for someone who has never before played an RPG.

-I read recently on the Paizo boards that you had rolled up a Barbarian character, one of the classes that is looking at some fairly considerable change for the final edition of the game. How's the class in play, and if we ask very nicely, can you maybe give a hint on something new we'll see with the Barbarian?

Well, your timing is unfortunately just a little bit off, as we've only gathered once to create characters and I haven't actually played him yet. I've actually never played a barbarian before in any serious capacity in any edition of the game, so all of the powers are quite new to me at the moment. I do have access starting at 2nd level to a huge number of "rage powers" that include things like getting low-light vision while I'm raging, a great one that gives me a bite attack, and a few really cool tactical abilities. A lot of these kick in only at higher level, and I can tell I'm going to enjoy thinking about which ones to use and when to use them. I can say that with my two first-level feat choices of Endurance and Die Hard I can go to -19 hit points when raging without losing consciousness and I automatically stabilize when below 0 hit points. That's why I'm calling my barbarian Ostog the Unslain.

But I'm easy to impress. I'm still excited that I have a d12 Hit Die!

-What do you see as the pros and cons in keeping Vancian magic a part of the game?

It anchors the game to the pulp fantasy traditions that inspired it in the first place. After three decades of presenting magic in this way, it seems ludicrous to all of a sudden say that it no longer exists. You can build other systems of arcane jiggery-pokery without sacrificing this core fantastic element of the game, so why bother?

The more you cut the ties the game has to the pulp fantasy traditions that inspired it, the less it begins to resemble itself. It's part of the lingua franca of the game, and it has been since the very beginning. It is a feature, not a flaw.

Getting rid of Vancian spellcasting for the Pathfinder RPG was never on the table. It would be as preposterous as scrapping the alignment system. It was Not Going to Happen.

-Golarion (the default setting of Pathfinder) sounds like it was a project that got most everyone around the Paizo offices involved. What's your favorite aspect or region of the world, and why would folks want to base a campaign there?

My favorite aspect of the world actually makes this question difficult to answer. When we sat down to create Golarion, we started by thinking about all the types of campaigns people like to run. Some GMs love pure dungeon crawl megadungeons, so the campaign had to accommodate that. Others would want a "hot" war, so we made sure to include some areas of active conflict. Want a heavily political game? Try the courts of decadent Taldor, or the diabolical empire of Cheliax. Want to explore the wilderness? The Mwangi Expanse awaits. Pyramids? Vikings? Something more cutting edge? Something ghoulish? Golarion was designed to accommodate all of those campaigns styles and more.

But if you ask me, one of the best nations is Numeria, which was my tribute to "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks" by way of Thundarr the Barbarian.

-I know, like myself, you're a fan of Greyhawk (not to mention one of its most accomplished contributors). In a perfect world, if Erik Mona somehow ended up with the rights to Greyhawk, what would you like to publish for it? Which time frame would you use?

I'm much more interested in Golarion and the Pathfinder RPG than I am in Greyhawk or the current iteration of Dungeons & Dragons these days. I was able to coordinate the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, co-launch Living Greyhawk, edit dozens and dozens of articles about Greyhawk, and even had a chance to participate in designing a version of Castle Greyhawk itself. Frankly, there's not a whole lot I need to do with the setting that I haven't done already. I'm content to let someone else have a turn.

That said, I think what's most needed is a serious 128-page overview of the Domain of Greyhawk loaded with adventure sites that could be spun off as stand-alone adventures. People need to be reintroduced to the setting, and that's enough of a taste for people to get the gist of what the world is all about. Personally, I'd favor a timeline that incorporated the design I'd already contributed to the setting, so I'd most likely go with the current year a la the Living Greyhawk campaign, which would be 599, I believe. There's something sexy about a YEAR 600 logo.

-Why do you think Greyhawk endures as the favorite setting of so many, despite its often rocky history with TSR and WotC?

Its spirit is intertwined with first edition AD&D because both came from the same creator. That game was the common touchstone for players at the absolute height of D&D's popularity in the early 80s, so it's the iconic setting for the most iconic version of the game, a version of the author's very first home campaign. Add to that the fact that many of D&D's current biggest fans discovered the game while they were kids or young adults, and you've got the glow of nostalgia, which never hurts. But Greyhawk gained a lot of popularity in the last decade as the setting of the world's largest tabletop organized play RPG campaign, Living Greyhawk, so nostalgia alone does not account for its modern popularity.

For fans new and old alike, one thing that sets Greyhawk apart is that it is a setting associated primarily with ADVENTURES and not novels or big books of history and continuity. I think most people love Greyhawk because it's where they ventured into the Temple of Elemental Evil or fought Against the Giants or Descended into the Depths of the Earth. Memories of the setting become entwined with memories of the game experience itself, which strengthens the bond.

-You've written or contributed to a solid stack of gaming books over the years. Which one is your personal favorite and why?

I'd say it's probably a tie between the Pathfinder Chronicles Gazetteer which first set the blueprint for Golarion into stone and the Mutants & Masterminds hardcover CROOKS!, which was designed and written from the ground up by myself and my best friends Sean Glenn and Kyle Hunter. Both books won ENnies, which is a nice confirmation of my impeccable taste.

Thanks, Erik! Erik's most recent adventure, "Howl of the Carrion King", is now available here. Make sure to check it out!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Castle of the Mad Archmage: Lower Dungeons Released!

(This post could be alternately titled "Joseph Bloch does it again!"). My favorite RPG product of the year has seen yet another release! March's edition of the amazingly still-free Castle of the Mad Archmage is up and ready to be enjoyed! There's new monsters, new "classic blue" dungeon maps, and an entire new level to explore. Not to give any spoilers, but this level should see plenty of opportunities for negotiation, dungeon politics, trickery, and diplomacy for those who want it!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Art of the Old School

Old-school ventures Fight On! and Swords and Wizardry both have a chance to win a top 3 finish in Lulu's current contest. To close the deal, they need to sell a few more print copies (Fight On! is currently ranked at #3, and Swords & Wizardry at #7). The top 3 finishers win cash prizes and get some cool publicity perks on lulu, so that this could be a very good thing for the companies that win goes without saying.

To help push their print sales across the finish line, both endeavors have teamed up to offer Art of the Old School, a compiled collection of pieces from the various old-school renaissance publications. Click here to get it from Swords & Wizardry, click here to buy it from Fight On! And make sure to check out both storefronts from limited-time sales on some great products to help out with this contest.

DM's Sketchpad

I really appreciate the work Mark Gedak puts forth on the Grand OGL Wiki. Evidently, he wants to keep the giving going, because this week he announced DM's Sketchpad, which is sort of a throwback to a subscription service Phil Reed used to do called the DM's Idea Pipeline. The idea is to get a daily dose of OGL fantasy material on various topics.

Mark has worked as a freelancer in the hobby with the OGL, and I'm excited to see where this goes, especially since he is taking requests for what folks would like to see! (Please, deluge him with requests--its Saturday morning, and there's gotta be some concept you're thinking on this great gaming weekend!). I don't know about you, but with all the talk over subscriptions and the like, it's nice to see that this is free. Here's hoping it really takes off! And thanks to him and contributor Stefen Styrsky for the March 27 entry on gnomish technology/alchemy feats! They took a rather specific request and knocked it out of the park!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hey, Artists and Old Schoolers! Look over here!

And now, a quick message from Swords & Wizardry's Matt Finch about the current lulu.com contest that both Fight On! and Swords & Wizardry are kicking butt in:

Guys, I'm posting very rapidly on this, so forgive that it's in the format for other messageboards!

Probably most of us are aware, at least in the back of our minds, about the Lulu competition that's going on right now, because Fight On! gained a standing of second place for direct sales through Lulu - which is NOT a small arena of competition.

Updated standings are now up, and both Fight On! and Swords & Wizardry are in the top ten, with Fight On! holding onto third place and Swords & Wizardry in seventh place. (there is not, interestingly, a 3e or 4e publisher up there).

Anyway, I think it would be a great thing to have us both place in the top three. The top three contestants gain cash prizes, and the first place winner gets interviewed on a high-profile blog. For my part, if Swords & Wizardry wins a cash prize, I will donate the after-tax amount of that prize to Dragonsfoot, Knights & Knaves Alehouse, The Delver's Dungeon, Fin's OD&D board, and to various bloggers in smaller amounts (since they don't pay for hosting). Grognardia would obviously be in there, Society of Torch Pole & Rope, Skathros, bat, Sham, Trollsmyth, Greyhawk Grognard, and others. I'll also use some of the money to get free materials out to TARGA for use at conventions (that will be some printed S&W material, or t-shirts, or something like that - since there's a partial conflict of interest in the S&W connection, I'll keep that to one-tenth of whatever we might win).

And here is my plan for us to win. Over the course of the next 72 hours, I want to assemble a jointly-produced Knockspell and Fight On! special edition called "Art of the Old School Renaissance." I haven't talked to Cal about this, so if he objects it will just be me. But I don't want to knock FO! out of the top three - I want us both in there.

Here is what I need. I already have a lot of the B/W art (and this has to be b/w or grayscale, or we'll be paying color-copy rates on lots of b/w art - it's just the way Lulu works). Back on topic - I have a lot of b/w art from the S&W books that have been done so far, plus from Knockspell #1. IF YOU ARE AN ARTIST and you have done some art you'd like to have in this special edition, please email me a 300dpi scan of the art, along with permission for its use (in the body of the email).

I also will need a color front cover. Please also submit any possible candidates.

I want to get the book to Calithena and get it posted on BOTH our storefronts. People can decide which one to use, and the sales will thus permit both of us to advance in the rankings. Cal obviously can't suddenly produce an issue of FO! out of nowhere, and Knockspell #2 is also not ready. But we can win this competition if we add a new product to both sites and people buy it (not out of charity, but if you're interested in the first collection of old school art since ... never).

So, artists, please contact me if you have a work you'd like to put into a special issue!

(You should be able to contact Matt over at the boards at Mythmere Games, if interested, or at mythmere AT yahoo dot com. I think it would be fantastic to have two RPG projects represented as winners of this contest!).

The Great RPG Tournament: Final 4!

Well, we are now down to our final four contestants for ultimate RPG bragging rights! That’s right! Out of our original 64 RPGs vying for this honor, we are down to four games. Brackets have been busted, hopes dashed. And for a very few, the dream continues. Let’s go to the action

(For our last round, click here):

Rust Monster Region

4 Warhammer Fantasy 2e defeated 2 Pathfinder
-What a bloodbath! Warhammer isn’t even slowing down.

Grue Region

1 D&D 3.5 defeated 7 Spycraft 2.0
-D&D looks tired. But they managed to remind a pesky Spycraft squad just where they came from.

Black Pudding Region

5 Hackmaster defeated 2 Call of Cthulhu
-The lowest-remaining seed, Hackmaster is on the warpath. Even a cosmic horror can be hacked.

Flumph Region

2 Labyrinth Lord defeated 5 AD&D 1e
-AD&D proved that a veteran RPG could still make a great run. Labyrinth Lord is showing a veteran RPG revitalized may be able to take it all.

So, our Final Four matchups for a place in the championship game will be:

Warhammer Fantasy vs. D&D 3.5
-Does D&D have anything left in the tank? Warhammer takes no prisoners.

Hackmaster vs. Labyrinth Lord
-Does the Hack stop here? Can Labyrinth Lord finish the dream season?

Tune in Monday to see who will be in the final battle! However it plays out, it looks like it’ll be all-fantasy!

Friday Discussion: Which RPG Has Inspired You The Most?

Every Friday, we here at RPG Blog II rage, rage against the dying light of the fading blogosphere of the weekend by engaging in a bit of old-fashioned gaming talk. Nothing too heavy, just a little bit of back-and-forth discussion about the hobby we love.

This week's topic is one inspired by a topic over at RPG Haven:

Which RPG has inspired you the most? Be it in matters of game design, campaigns, play style, what RPG has had the biggest inspiration on your participation or the way in which you interact with the hobby?

A little bit more in-depth of a question than we usually have here, but I extremely interested to hear your answers. We've been having some great participation, and I'm excited every Friday to read the responses. Have a superb weekend!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Need Something Quick? Check Out These Risus Resources!

Long-time readers of this site will know I'm a huge fan of Risus--its my favorite beer n' pretzels/one-shot RPG, and I consider almost infinitely flexible yet absurdly simple.

This is a reprint and expansion of one of the most popular articles from my old blog, listing some of the sites that allow you to quickly mold Risus into a number of genres and playstyles, so that whatever you feel like running on short notice is within your grasp:

It seems I've stumbled upon a lot of conversations lately where Risus has come up. I know there's folks out there who see it as either too light or too silly to do anything with. Although S. John Ross does tend to write with a fair amount of humor and whimsy, Risus is far from being either unworkable or an elitist tool. In fact, I can't think of many works written with more irreverence tempered with a combination of love and understanding of gaming. Some games attempt to be a psychiatric session; others push too hard to be a One True Way. In my mind, Risus still stands for Beer n' Pretzels. It's rules-light, sure, but it's friendly, fun, and accessible to most gamers. I think that's something we can all admire.

Just so you don't think Risus is for one-shots and tongue-in-cheek play only, here's a look at just a few of the genres people have undertaken using Risus:

Supers: Risus Supers

Fantasy: Belgarion's World, The Heroes of Oblend, Risus Magic

SciFi/Space: Travelling Light (My personal favorite)

Horror/Conspiracy: Cthulhu Risus

Mecha: Mobile Armour Fighting Team Risus

War: Risus Tenhut

Wild West: Risus Wild West

You can find tons more at Risus' fan sites page. Have fun!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Great RPG Tournament: Elite 8!

Believe it or not, we are down to our last 8 contestants for the Ultimate RPG Bragging Rights! And boy, did our Sweet 16 results produce some MAJOR upsets! I personally gnash my teeth, as my personal bracket lies in shambles. Read on for the results:

(Winners in bold, upsets in red)

Rust Monster Region

1 Rules Cyclopedia D&D lost to 4 Warhammer Fantasy 2e
-The Cyclopedia's comprehensive playstyle was narrowly beaten by the sheer grit of WFRP.

14 Torg lost to 2 Pathfinder
-Torg's dream season ended to the OGL up-and-comer. Still, they should be proud of their run.

Black Pudding Region

1 D&D 4th Edition lost to 5 Hackmaster
-Despite running some complex offensive scheme and continually shifting all over the court, Hackmaster was just too adversarial. Our second #1 seed falls!

6 Thousand Suns lost to 2 Call of Cthulhu
-Thousand Suns met its match in a blowout. Revenge next year?

Grue Region

1 D&D 3.5 defeated 4 Two-Fisted Tales
-3.5 needed overtime to beat a pesky TFT crew, but beat them they did.

6 Swords & Wizardry lost to 7 Spycraft 2.0
-Spycraft has had some tough contest, but keeps making it through.

Flumph Region

1 Classic Traveller lost to 5 AD&D 1e
-One of the closest games of the tourney, AD&D barely squeaked this one out. CT's veterans have no reason to be shamed, though.

11 Squirrel Attack! lost to 2 Labyrinth Lord
-Squirrel Attack's Cinderella season ended here. Labyrinth Lord is picking up steam!

Let's see what our matchups will be for this round:

Rust Monster Region

4 Warhammer Fantasy 2e vs. 2 Pathfinder

Black Pudding Region

5 Hackmaster vs. 2 Call of Cthulhu

Grue Region

1 D&D 3.5 vs. 7 Spycraft 2.0

Flumph Region

5 AD&D 1e vs. 2 Labyrinth Lord

The competition continues to heat up! At this point, the title winner is anyone's guess (including mine!) Anyone still have a dog in this hunt?

Is Mountain Dew Still The Gamer's Drink?

Time was, we'd gather on a Saturday night for our gaming session, one we knew would last long into the wee hours of the morning. In our way, we were very much a typical younger midwestern gaming group. We would always have our twin refreshments on hand--Doritos (how many old character sheets have orange stains on them?) and Mountain Dew.

It was assumed this was the gamer's drink of choice. Old discussion used to talk about it as a clear part of gamer culture and lore--where gamers gathered, there would be Mountain Dew.

It had the caffeine. It had the inoffensive-yet-saccharine taste that made it easily drinkable. It kept us wired during those marathon gaming sessions.

Sure, when we gamed while stationed away from our families in Korea, we drank beer and wine in a box (cultured lot that we were), but for our teetotaler crowd, it was still Mountain Dew time.

In the last few campaigns I've run, though, I've noticed Red Bull and Monster supplanting Mountain Dew, especially amongst our younger gamers. I think they taste like swill, but there's no arguing they have enough caffeine and other chemicals to keep a 6 year-old up through the next mission to the moon.

So is Mountain Dew still the majority drink of gamers, or has it been supplanted? Or is this a regional or area thing, and do other drinks reign elsewhere?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Worldwide OGL Game Day?

Fresh off a Worldwide D&D Game Day that seems to have gathered some mixed results, there have been calls for Worldwide OGL Game Day, which seem to have originated on publisher Louis J. Porter's blog:

I was thinking, with Worldwide D&D Game Day coming up this weekend, and Free RPG Day and Free Comic Book Day right around the corner these are great opportunities to get more people involved. And then I thought, why isn't there a Worldwide OGL Game Day? Why hasn't someone thought that up? And I realized, I just did. So here is my idea, All the OGL publishers I know get together and support each other with one day where we promote and play our OGL based games. We do it online, in local gaming store, any where you can. Just simple promotion of why OGL is good for the gaming community in general. I think it is best to pick a summer month, because most schools are out and game time is high. I think the first weekend in July would be best...

At first glance, I like the idea. However, I haven't the foggiest how it would come about, what sort of participation it would have among OGL publishers, or anything else, or how competition between the publishers would be muted enough to ensure everyone is on the same page, but anything that gets people trying different RPG products is aces in my book. There are a lot of different OGL games out there, ranging from (ostensibly competing) fantasy RPGs to hard sci-fi. You'd need to make sure the effort was one that would be beneficial to all participating companies, as well as for participating FLGSs.

My other thought is I wonder if this sort of effort could be combined with Free RPG Day, which is a small but already-established event?

Rules for Kitchen-Sink d20

I've been thinking a bit more about kitchen-sink d20. Even though the term "kitchen-sink" likely conjures up visions of carte blanche, even the most permissive game needs a few safeguards. As always with GMing, a lot of trouble can be avoided by a give-and-take of expectations before the kickoff of a campaign. Here's my rules thus far:

-Max level adjustment of +2 for any race chosen.

-Nothing purposefully game-breaking (if you found out on the Character Optimization boards at Wizards of the Coast this amazing combination granting you 500 1st-level hit points, don't do it). As a guideline, feel free to do something different, but respect the game. If in doubt, ask!

-Players must own the book or (legal) pdf in order to use a race, class, or spell. My collection, the collection of other players (with their permission), and approved online resources (such as the Grand OGL Wiki and Netbook of Feats) are also allowed.

-AS GM, I reserve the right to deny any build or character option if I feel it would not be in the best interest of the game, but intend to be pretty liberal in this regard.

Those are my basic thoughts on it. I don't want to go too far with this, as I'm fortunate that I believe I can trust my own group with pretty simple guidelines. If anyone else has any input, I'd be glad to see it!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Great RPG Tournament: Sweet 16

We're down to only 16 RPGs still standing in our 2009 Great RPG Tourney! And boy, were there some upsets! I was very disappointed to see a lot of personal faves go, but that's just how the dice roll.

(Click here for Round 1 action)

(Winners in bold, upsets in red):

Rust Monster Region

1 Rules Cyclopedia D&D def.
8 Basic Fantasy RPG

5 In Harm's Way lost to
4 Warhammer Fantasy 2e

6 Basic Roleplaying lost to
14 Torg

7 Star Wars d6 lost to
2 Pathfinder

Black Pudding Region

1 D&D 4th Edition def.
9 Castles & Crusades

5 Hackmaster def.
4 GURPS 4e

6 Thousand Suns def.
14 AD&D 2e

10 Houses of the Blooded lost to
2 Call of Cthulhu

Grue Region

1 D&D 3.5 def.
8 Risus

12 Microlite74 lost to
4 Two-Fisted Tales

6 Swords & Wizardry def.
3 RuneQuest

7 Spycraft 2.0 def.
2 Savage Worlds

Flumph Region

1 Classic Traveller def.
8 Encounter Critical

5 AD&D 1e def.
4 Mongoose Traveller

11 Squirrel Attack! def.
3 Aces and Eights

7 7th Sea lost to
2 Labyrinth Lord

Here's the pairings for the next round (with results to be announced Monday):

Rust Monster Region

1 Rules Cyclopedia D&D vs. 4 Warhammer Fantasy 2e

14 Torg vs. 2 Pathfinder

Black Pudding Region

1 D&D 4th Edition vs. 5 Hackmaster

6 Thousand Suns vs. 2 Call of Cthulhu

Grue Region

1 D&D 3.5 vs. 4 Two-Fisted Tales

6 Swords & Wizardry vs. 7 Spycraft 2.0

Flumph Region

1 Classic Traveller vs. 5 AD&D 1e

11 Squirrel Attack! vs. 2 Labyrinth Lord

Only a few more roadblocks, as we use this ultra-scientific method to determine the Best RPG. Are 3.5 and 4e on a collision course? Does Torg have any magic left? Does Classic Traveller have enough in the tank for one more run to glory? Who will be the first #1 to fall? Can Hackmaster do the unthinkable? What the hell is Squirrel Attack doing? What do you think the biggest upset of the round was? Not even I know what's in store for the next round! Tune in Wednesday to see who makes it into the Elite 8!

Kitchen-Sink d20

One of the campaigns I've been considering running once Pathfinder (final) is released and our current game runs its course is a Kitchen-Sink, Anything Goes, d20/OGL campaign. I'm talking 3.5, Pathfinder, OGL products, Green Ronin, Alderac, Forgotten Realms, Iron Kingdoms, Dragon Magazine, and everything else under the sun. If it is d20 and fantasy-based, and you have the book or pdf (legally), then we can work it. The rule would be "everything's ok until it isn't", meaning unless I specifically say no, it could be allowed.

There is a stunning amount of OGL product out there, and there's a lot of it that wasn't very good. And between using 3.5, Pathfinder, and a mess of eclectic supplements, there's sure to be some "rubbing" where the rules don't quite line up, or parts of the game that seems a bit at odds with one another. Old hat if you're a Rifts GM, but furthermore, I sort of like when that sort of "rubbing" or non-fit occurs. It can generate some interesting results and decisions. Of course, it can also drop into an unqualified mess.

If I go through with this, I can only imagine the Grand OGL Wiki will be a great ally with this, in addition to usual use of the SRD. I guess I'll allow the Netbook of Feats as well, though that's somewhat of a terrifying prospect.

(C'mon, Zack, you can do this. You've faced down Mega-Damage and Coalition Proto-Nazis and Vagabonds with their starting item of candy and True Atlantean Robot Pilots and Gunslinging Cyborgs and Palladium Combat over 25+ World Books and auto-dodge rules for Juicers. It can work. You can make it work. Lock it up).

I see I'm not the only blogger to consider this campaign/experiment. Could be interesting to write about. I'm not sure if I ever will get this off the ground, but I think it would be fun to compile a list of all the books used as we go through the experience. And it could be the only time my players would get to use some stuff from Eberron.

Any experiences with a game like, or something close to it? Anything d20-wise you've always wanted to use, but never had the chance? Do share!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The RPG Haven

Even though I'm not on message boards as much as I once was, there's still an awful lot of folks whose opinions and ideas on gaming kick-assedness I really enjoy. A number of those folks have showed up over at The RPG Haven, a fledgling board focusing on low-moderation, low-noise general RPG discussion without an overabundance of drama.

Generally, the larger a board gets, the harder it is to maintain any sort of ideal on low moderation/free speech. And plenty of start-up boards dwindle or stagnate; it might happen with this one, I don't know. But I know the type of folks who've signed up thus far, and I'm at least going to to give it a whirl. I think they've got some great voices in gaming over there, and that's enough for me to at least take it for a test drive. If you're like-minded, I hope to see you there!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What I'm Working On

Some folks have been nice enough to ask what I’m working on right now for gaming. Well, on the actual gaming side, I’m getting ready for our next season in our homebrew world of Irrin. That’s pretty much all set, and it’ll be go time at the end of the month. I just finished up an e-mail mini-campaign using Castles & Crusades (but it was pretty rules-light), and am working on my next e-mail campaign, which will likely be either some stuff I need to test for Epic Role Playing or playtesting a few items for C&C; I’m not sure which yet. I’ve also been asked for feedback on a few more projects, so I need to somehow find time for one-shots. Busy times, especially when you add the new baby into the mix!

For Gen Con, I’m just waiting for my press pass, and I need to get the invites out to those folks who will be on the GM’s panel with me (I ended up with like 14 applicants, which blew me away. I’m trying for a mix of playstyles in the final group--I wish I could just add them all, but then there might be more panel members than audience members!).

On the writing front, I might have some exciting news for Irrin soon—I’m kicking around a few revisions thanks to some great advice from some game publishers—and I’m pretty happy with reactions so far (if you absolutely, positively don’t want to spring for the pdf, I’m looking for one more review for the game—so if you’d like to be it, drop me a line).

I believe I should see my first article for Fight On! published in the next ish, and that prospect is really an exciting one for me. I’m working on two more items I hope to submit soon: a beginner’s dungeon for younger players, and “The Lesser Treasure of Koboldus”, which details the less-than-stellar magical and mundane treasures in the lair of a would-be kobold legend.

I had an article I was pushing for the Rifter, but I don’t think I’ll be submitting it. I’ll likely end up just releasing it on here instead.

There are about 1,000 other projects I have in my head, but like most everyone, its all a matter of obligations, and only having so many hours in a day.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Great RPG Tournament Update!

Fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gents, because the battle between RPGs for supremacy is just heating up! Here's the region by region recap of the first round of our March Madness, which pits 64 RPGs against each other for ultimate bragging rights! See if your favorite is alive, or was one of our crushing upsets! Each contest was decided by the rolling of the percentiles, as detailed here. Don't forget to update your brackets!

1st-Round Recap:

(Winners in bold, upsets in red)

Rust Monster Region

1 Rules Cyclopedia D&D def.

8 Basic Fantasy RPG def.
9 Spirit of the Century

5 In Harm's Way def.
12 MegaTraveller

4 Warhammer Fantasy 2e def.
13 Lords of Creation

6 Basic Roleplaying def.
11 StarCluster2

3 Amber lost to
14 Torg

7 Star Wars d6 def.
10 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

2 Pathfinder def.
15 Wushu

Black Pudding Region

1 D&D 4th Edition def.
16 Spawn of Fashan

8 Werewolf: The Forsaken lost to
9 Castles & Crusades

5 Hackmaster def.
12 Rifts

4 GURPS 4e def.
13 Cyberpunk 2020

6 Thousand Suns def.

3 True20 lost to
14 AD&D 2e

7 Roma Imperious lost to
10 Houses of the Blooded

2 Call of Cthulhu def.
15 Empire of Satanis

Grue Region

1 D&D 3.5 def.
16 Nobilis

8 Risus def.
9 Lacuna Part I

5 Shadowrun lost to
12 Microlite74

4 Two-Fisted Tales def.
13 Truth & Justice

6 Swords & Wizardry def.
11 Palladium Fantasy

3 RuneQuest def.
14 World of Synnibar

7 Spycraft 2.0 def.
10 Epic Role Playing

2 Savage Worlds def.
15 Exalted 2e

Flumph Region

1 Classic Traveller def.
16 Cyborg Commando

8 Encounter Critical def.
9 Star Wars Saga Edition
(this one was a tie, and I had to reroll!)

5 AD&D 1e def.
12 Tunnels & Trolls

4 Mongoose Traveller def.
13 Maid RPG

6 Burning Wheel lost to
11 Squirrel Attack!

3 Aces and Eights def.
14 SenZar

7 7th Sea def.
10 Vampire: The Requiem

2 Labyrinth Lord def.
15 Wraethuthu

We're already down to 32 RPGs left vying for the top honor! This round will see who makes our Sweet 16. Here are the matchups, with results Monday:

Rust Monster Region

1 Rules Cyclopedia D&D
8 Basic Fantasy RPG

5 In Harm's Way
4 Warhammer Fantasy 2e

6 Basic Roleplaying
14 Torg

7 Star Wars
2 Pathfinder

Black Pudding Region

1 D&D 4th Edition
9 Castles & Crusades

5 Hackmaster
4 GURPS 4e

6 Thousand Suns
14 AD&D 2e

10 Houses of the Blooded
2 Call of Cthulhu

Grue Region

1 D&D 3.5
8 Risus

12 Microlite74
4 Two-Fisted Tales

6 Swords & Wizardry
3 RuneQuest

7 Spycraft 2.0
2 Savage Worlds

Flumph Region

1 Classic Traveller
8 Encounter Critical

5 AD&D 1e
4 Mongoose Traveller

11 Squirrel Attack!
3 Aces and Eights

7 7th Sea
2 Labyrinth Lord

Remember, upsets will get a momentum bonus going into the second round, so we should have some barnburners! Stayed tuned to see which RPG can finally be declared The Best!

Friday Discussion: What Were You Playing in 1991?

Its been a fun week, between the Jason Bulmahn interview, a new (old) article about Braunstein, and talking about Heroic Worlds and gaming in 1991.

Today's Friday Discussion is straightforward, and a chance for some reader to come clean about their age: what RPG were you playing in 1991? If, like me, you didn't start gaming until after that (1993 here), what year did you start, and what was your first game?

Let's start the weekend off with some gaming talk! Have a great one--whether or not you're partaking in Worldwide D&D Game Day, enjoy yourselves!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gaming In 1991: Dave Arneson Speaks

It had been some seventeen years since the initial publication of Dungeons & Dragons when Dave Arneson contributed his essays to Heroic Worlds in 1991, but his words were sharp as ever. I found the following excerpt in the book from Professor Arneson especially entertaining:

"Contrary to rumor, the players and I were all quite in control of our mental processes when D&D was designed. I also hasten to point out that the Chainmail connection was the use of the combat matrix and nothing more. Find a first-edition Chainmail and compare it to a first-edition Original D&D someday and you will see that for yourself: not a hit point, character class, level, or armor class, much less any role-playing aspects in Chainmail.

The lads in Lake Geneva got turned on to it. Tactical Studies Rules [TSR], a Lake Geneva-based game company, was already publishing historical rules and was willing to do D&D. The rest, as they say, is history."

Strategos and Braunstein: New Historical Documentation

Most of this week, we've been looking at 1991. I'm going to go over a century back in time from that, to look at an article I've found that should be of great interest to those curious about the origins of role playing.

It has been discussed elsewhere that Major Wesley's Braunstein game may well be the precursor to modern roleplaying games. That fateful evening, Major Wesley and company were playing with rules from Charles A.L. Totten's book from nearly a century past, titled Strategos: The American Game of War.

Here's where it gets really cool: in the NY Times archives, I was able to find this article (click here for the full pdf) dated December 30, 1879, in which Lt. Totten demonstrated his game in New York for (Civil War hero) General Winfield Scott Hancock and other assorted U.S. Army personnel. Reading about this session, its eerie to see the references to tabulated resolution and "casting a single die" in a session held for a group of men not 14 years out of the U.S. Civil War.

Certainly you can keep going further and further back for more originating checkpoints for our hobby, but I find that article utterly charming. Who knew that 100 years after that game, we'd have AD&D in full swing?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Presenting The Great RPG Tournament!

Inspired the current NCAA basketball March Madness, I made my own Grand RPG Tournament Bracket, where an eclectic mix of RPGs battle against one another for bragging rights. I confess I really didn't know where to go with the idea; I didn't want to do a poll; so I think I'm going to roll some dice. Percentiles. The higher seed gets to add the difference between the two seeds x5 to his score. So if a #7 and #10 seed play, the #7 seed gets to add 15 (a difference of 3 times 5) to his score. The percentiles will be open-ended on a roll of 98-00, meaning that team can roll again. Highest score advances. Clearly, this is the best and most scientific way to finally figure out what's the best RPG of all time.

I'll be updating the bracket each round! And please don't take the seedings too seriously. In a lot of cases, there isn't much of a difference between a 5 and a 12 (though there might be just a hint between a 1 and 16). Place your bets, or give us your pick to win it all!

Edit: Here's a bracket (Excel) courtesy of reader Olman! Make your picks! Feel free to email it to me so you can have braggin' rights when you pick the winner! And feel free to link on blogs or forums--the more folks we have following this, the more fun it should be! Note: Some copies may show the 14th seed in the Flumph bracket as Synnibar. It should be SenZar--Synnibar is in the Grue bracket, as we all know. I've updated it).

Rust Monster Region

1 Rules Cyclopedia D&D
16 F.A.T.A.L.

8 Basic Fantasy RPG
9 Spirit of the Century

5 In Harm's Way
12 MegaTraveller

4 Warhammer Fantasy 2e
13 Lords of Creation

6 Basic Roleplaying
11 StarCluster2

3 Amber
14 Torg

7 Star Wars d6
10 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

2 Pathfinder
15 Wushu

Black Pudding Region

1 D&D 4th Edition
16 Spawn of Fashan

8 Werewolf: The Forsaken
9 Castles & Crusades

5 Hackmaster
12 Rifts

4 GURPS 4e
13 Cyberpunk 2020

6 Thousand Suns

3 True20
14 AD&D 2e

7 Roma Imperious
10 Houses of the Blooded

2 Call of Cthulhu
15 Empire of Satanis

Grue Region

1 D&D 3.5
16 Nobilis

8 Risus
9 Lacuna Part I

5 Shadowrun
12 Microlite74

4 Two-Fisted Tales
13 Truth & Justice

6 Swords & Wizardry
11 Palladium Fantasy

3 RuneQuest
14 World of Synnibar

7 Spycraft 2.0
10 Epic Role Playing

2 Savage Worlds
15 Exalted 2e

Flumph Region

1 Classic Traveller
16 Cyborg Commando

8 Encounter Critical
9 Star Wars Saga Edition

5 AD&D 1e
12 Tunnels & Trolls

4 Mongoose Traveller
13 Maid RPG

6 Burning Wheel
11 Squirrel Attack!

3 Aces and Eights
14 SenZar

7 7th Sea
10 Vampire: The Requiem

2 Labyrinth Lord
15 Wraethuthu

Gaming In 1991: Top RPGs

One of the things I enjoy most in the 1991 RPG history and encyclopedia Heroic Worlds (see here for my original article) are the top game recommendations author Lawrence Schick gave for a wide selection of RPG genres. Here are a few of the lists from that book--take a look and see if you think his picks have stood up over time. There are definitely some, well, interesting picks:

Top 5 Comic-Book Superheroes Systems:
1. Champions
2. DC Heroes
3. Marvel Super Heroes
4. GURPS Wild Cards
5. Superheroes

Top 5 Espionage Systems
1. James Bond 007
2. Top Secret/S.I.
3. Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes
4. Danger International
5. GURPS: The Prisoner

Top Arthurian Fantasy
1. Pendragon

Top Sword & Sorcery Fantasy
1. AD&D 2e
2. RuneQuest
3. Ars Magica
4. Dungeons & Dragons
5. Stormbringer
6. Middle-earth Role Playing
7. Warhammer Fantasy
8. Fantasy HERO
9. Harnmaster
10. Talislanta

Top Ten Fantasy Worlds
1. Glorantha
2. Middle-earth
3. Tekumel
4. Forgotten Realms
5. Harn
6. Known World/Hollow World
7. Talislanta
8. The Old World (Warhammer)
9. The Hyborian World
10. Greyhawk

Top Ten Fantasy Cities
1. Lankhmar
2. Sanctuary
3. Waterdeep
4. Minas Tirith
5. Middenheim
6. Pavis
7. Carse
8. City of Greyhawk
9. Free City of Haven
10. City-State of the Invincible Overlord

Top Horror System
1. Call of Cthulhu

Top Five Humor Systems
1. Paranoia
2. Toon
3. Ghostbusters
4. Bullwinkle and Rocky
5. Teenagers from Outer Space

(One top Horror system and 5 top Humor ones? Really?)

Top Five Science Fantasy Systems
1. Shadowrun
2. Torg
3. SkyRealms of Jorune
4. Space: 1889
5. Hawkmoon

Top Five Science Fiction: Space Adventure System
1. Traveller (MegaTraveller)
2. Star Wars
3. 2300 AD
4. GURPS Space
5. Space Master

Top Mystery/Crime System
1. Gangbusters

Top Three Universal Systems
2. HERO System
3. Basic RolePlaying

There are plenty of more rankings for a number of other genres and sub-genres, but those are some of the lists that stuck out. And yeah, there were some I didn't know, either.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reference: What DnD Alphanumberic Module Codes Meant

There's a cool little feature in the book Heroic Worlds that lists what all the old alphanumeric codes/designators for Dungeons & Dragons modules stood for. I thought it might be handy to reproduce a similiar list here. In case you ever wondered what the "B", "I", or "DA" stood for, here's a list for just that:

A: Aerie of the Slave Lords series
B: Basic series
C: Competition series (for tournaments)
CA: City Adventure series (Lankhmar)
CB: Conan the Barbarian
CM: Companion series
D: Drow series
DA: Dave Arneson's Blackmoor series
DDA: Dungeons & Dragons Adventure series
DL: Dragonlance series
DLA: Dragonlance Adventure series
DLC: Dragonlance Classics series
DLE: Dragonlance Epic series
DLR: Dragonlance Reference series
DMGR: Dungeon Master's Reference Guide series
DQ: DragonQuest series
EX: Expansion series
FR: Forgotten Realms series
FRA: Forgotten Realms Adventure series
FRC: Forgotten Realms Companion series
FRE: Forgotten Realms Epic series
FROA: Forgotten Realms Oriental Adventures series
G: Giants series
GAZ: Gazetteer series
GDQ: Giants/Drow/Queen of the Demonweb Pits compilation
H: For characters of High Level
I: For characters of Intermediate Level
IM: Immortals series
L: Lendore Isles series
LC: Living City series
LNA: Lankhmar/Nehwon Adventures series
M: Marker and Master series
MV: Magic Viewer (only one module of this series was ever actually produced)
N: For characters of Novice Level
OA: Oriental Adventures series
OP: Outer Planes series
PC: Player Character series
PHBR: Player's Handbook Reference series
Q: Queen of the Demonweb Pits
R/RPGA: RPGA series
REF: Reference/Referee (includes Character Records sheets, DM's screen, and the like)
RS: Red Sonja series
S: Special series
SJA: Spelljammer Adventure series
SJR: Spelljamer Reference series
ST: Designator for the rare Up the Garden Path module (it includes a Steam Train)
T: Temple of Elemental Evil series
TM: Trail Map series
U: Underwater series
UK: United Kingdom series
WG: World of Greyhawk series
WGA: World of Greyhawk Adventures series
WGR: World of Greyhawk Reference series
X: Expert rules series

EDIT: Mad Brew added some more!

DS: Dark Sun
DSQ: Dark Sun Quest
DSR: Dark Sun Reference
DSS: Dark Sun Supplement
DSE: Dark Sun Epic
DSM: Dark Sun Module
RA: Ravenloft Adventure
RM: Ravenloft Module
RQ: Ravenloft Quest
RR: Ravenloft Reference
RS: Ravenloft Supplement (just 1 produced)

MC: Monstrous Compendium
ALQ: Al-Qadim Quest
FMA: Forgotten Realms' Maztica Adventure
FMQ: Forgotten Realms' Maztica Quest (only 1)

Gaming In 1991: Heroic Worlds

At my local library today, I was fortunate enough to find a copy of Lawrence Schick's Heroic Worlds (Prometheus Books, 1991), which strives to be a "history and guide to role playing games".

Despite being (now) 17 years out-of-date, this book is absolutely engrossing.

Not only does Mr. Schick attempt to list and briefly describe every RPG product known to man, but he also gives recommendations for the top games of various genres. The 250-system Game Index is impressive, but perhaps most enjoyable for me were the essays. Herein, we have Tom Moldvay pimping Lords of Creation, Erick Wujcik discussing good game design, Ken St. Andre talking about whatever the hell he felt like, and plenty more famous game designers holding forth on a wide variety of topics. The introductory history of gaming is enjoyable to read, as well. Included in the back is a timeline that charts major developments in RPGs--I think I may be tempted to cut this out of the book before returning it.

I'd like to do some articles this week covering the various facets of this book, which I find hugely entertaining (only occasionally due to the outdated assumptions made therein). So be sure to tune in for the rest of the week, as we take a snapshot look at gaming as it was seen in the year 1991. If you think about it, the outlook and business models for the hobby then were very much different--no Vampire, no d20 SRD, no MMORPGs to contend with, no pdf publishing, and no internet community.

If you want to see just how different the assumptions were back then, consider this quote from the book:

"Role-playing games are the games of our generation, just as Monopoly was for the last generation". --Greg Stafford

Yep. Anyhow, if you'd like excerpts from any of the product blurbs/reviews contained herein, let me know and I'll try to respond as I can.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Interview With Pathfinder Lead Designer Jason Bulmahn

In what's turning out to be a series of interviews with Paizo employees involved in the creation of the Pathfinder RPG, I was able to get Lead Designer for Pathfinder, Jason Bulmahn, to answer a few questions. Read on, as he tackles the origins of the Pathfinder RPG, a peek at the Pathfinder Bestiary, design philosophies, changes from 3.5, keeping up enthusiasm until August, life at Paizo after the magazines licenses were pulled, and more!

-How did you end up at Paizo?

I started out as an architect, working as a volunteer for the RPGA at the start of the Living Greyhawk campaign. Over a couple of years I moved up to become one of the campaign coordinators. In 2004 I applied for a job with Wizards, but came in second. At the same time, Matt Sernett left Paizo to work for Wizards, leaving a vacancy. I was good friends with Erik Mona at the time, since he had hired me on to work on the Living Greyhawk campaign. He had since moved over to Paizo and was looking to fill Matt's position. As I was available and really pretty excited to get into the industry full time, I was a natural fit. I started working at Paizo three weeks later.

-What was the atmosphere like around the Paizo offices after Wizards of the Coast pulled the Dungeon and Dragon magazine licenses?

As you might expect, it was a real uncertain time for us. The future suddenly became very uncertain. We all knew that we had a job with Paizo, we just did not know what we were going to be doing. There were a lot of meetings to discuss the future of Paizo, and naturally we went with the system that we knew, and came up with the idea for the Pathfinder Adventure Path.

-How did the idea/pitch to do the Pathfinder RPG come about?

We were told about the upcoming 4th edition at GenCon 2007. At that time, we were pretty enthusiastic really and we were looking forward to digging into the new rules system. On the side, I started musing about doing a bit of pdf publishing, giving those who wanted to stick with 3.5 some rules support. My first documents were just some simple rules patches to cover up some of the problems with the 3.5 system. As time went by, it became clear to us that we were not going to see the rules early. With publishing schedules being what they are, by the end of 2007, we were running out of time. Authors for our first Adventure Path using the new system needed to start writing soon. At that time we had a big meeting to discuss the future. We really did not know what was going on with 4E at that time, so I pitched my side project as a possible replacement. The Pathfinder RPG started out that day, and I have been working on it full time ever since.

-What would you identify as your core design philosophies as lead designer on Pathfinder?

When it comes to my RPG design philosophies, I am always trying to strike a balance between ease of play and realism. I believe that a shared fantasy game needs to work of certain baseline ideas about what the world is and what can be expected. That said, this is a game we are talking about which means that at times, the rules might need to be streamlined to make for simple and fun play. When it comes to Pathfinder, I had a few additional goals as well. It had to be compatible with the 3.5 rules set. For us, there is no point in updating the rules if all of your old material suddenly becomes obsolete. At the same time, I wanted to make sure that we added some new options to explore. There have been a mountain of prestige classes and feats for 3.5, so I wanted to breath some life back into the mechanics by opening up some new avenues of exploration, such as bloodlines, rage powers, and rogue talents. Finally, I wanted to bring the rules set up to an even footing with current 3.5 products. Over the past four years, a number of the core classes have fallen seriously behind the curve or exposed as having pretty terrible flaws. I really wanted to make sure that we corrected some of those issues, as best we could, while still maintaining compatibility.

-What's a "normal" day at the office for you like?

Well, things are a bit in flux right now, but when I was still running the playtest, my day would start out at about 9:30 with two to three hours of combing through the playtest messageboards. I would try to read all the posts from the previous 24 hours, making notes where needed about things that should be addressed and posting comments where necessary to keep the discussion moving. My afternoons are generally filled with meetings about my current progress, chat with the rest of the team about various rules issues, and time spent working on the rules documents. Of course, I would occasionally get distracted by a cool movie trailer, discussion about Lost, or the infrequent nerf war.

-What are some of the innovations/changes in Pathfinder you're most proud of?

Two of the rules that bothered me the most with the 3.5 rules set were the rules for turning undead and the complicated system for grappling/bull rushing/tripping, etc. These were among my first changes when the rules were coming together and I am still very pleased by the result. Turn undead has been renamed as Channel Energy and it allows you to deal damage to undead or to heal living creatures within a burst. This is much simpler to adjudicate at the table. Grapple, Bull Rush, and the rest have all been placed into one unified system for resolving combat maneuvers. Making one of these work now only requires a single d20 roll and you really do not need to check the rules at all in most cases, once you are familiar with them. I have found that these two changes alone tends to speed up combat quite a bit.

-In your opinion, which classes have changed the most significantly from 3.5 to Pathfinder?

As the final rules have come together, there have been a lot of changes. The paladin and the monk are very different than their 3.5 counterparts, but not so much that you would not recognize them. These classes suffered heavily at higher levels from a lack of options and I have worked hard to correct that. Most of the other classes are pretty similar, but with some added abilities. Barbarians get a suite of fun rage powers, rogues can select from a wide variety of rogue talents, sorcerers now belong to one of ten different bloodlines, and wizards get arcane schools which function like domains. All of these changes give us plenty of room to explore new rules ideas in the future as well, which is a big plus.

-Pathfinder will be released at Gen Con Indy in August. How do you and the rest of your team plan to keep up fan enthusiasm and interest between now and then?

The first look at the system is in June, with the Free RPG Day product, the Pathfinder Bonus Bestiary, which looks at some monsters that have been converted to the new rules. This is followed up by my Pathfinder Module "Crypt of the Everflame" which is designed to be an intro game for the new rules. Between now and then, we are also going to be giving a host of sneak peaks at the new rules through our blog on Paizo.com. These blogs will focus on the changes to the 3.5 rules as well as changes between the Beta Playtest version and the final rules.

-How much GM advice will Pathfinder include? Do you plan to have a GM's-only section?

The second half of the book is mostly for GMs. There is a chapter on being the GM which contains quite a bit of advice and info on how to run a successful game. We have some plans in the future to expand this information, but the core rulebook will certainly give you the basics.

-ECLs and Challenge Ratings were one of the most frustrating aspects of 3.5 D&D for a large number of players. Are there plans to simplify these for easier usage in Pathfinder?

ECLs are being handled differently, as you will find out in the Bestiary, but these rules are still coming together, so I don't want to give away too much just yet. The CR system in Pathfinder is a bit simpler to use now. Instead of having to do complex math to get an encounter to the correct EL, now you can deal with it solely from the XP side of the equation, using the monster's XP value to work out the appropriate challenge for an encounter. It is simple to use and allows for quite bit more variety. At the end of a game, you simple add up the XP total for all the monsters, traps, and story awards and divide the total by the number of players. No more charts and no more calculating XP based on each character's level individually.

-If you could see any setting out there (aside from Golarion) converted to Pathfinder, which would it be?

I have, and always will be, a huge fan of Greyhawk. Although it can never be, I would love to see some Greyhawk Pathfinder RPG products. I think that the rules we have set up would be a really good fit for the world as a whole. I think the clerics of Iuz would finally be happy with their choice of domains...

-Golarion is the implied setting for Pathfinder. How did the development of Golarion come about, and what were the design goals for it?

Golarion has been a huge group effort by everybody working at Paizo. It started out with a number of meetings where we came with ideas for the types of countries that we wanted to see in the world. Shortly thereafter, the Pathfinder Adventure Path team starting working on Varisia, fleshing it out into a vibrant and exciting place to play. At this point, the world beyond was represented by little more than a sketchy map and a host of notes about each kingdom. The Pathfinder Modules (called the Gamemastery modules at that time) started hoping around the world, exploring some of these new kingdoms, but in a very limited fashion. The world itself did not truly solidify until Erik Mona and I began work on the Pathfinder Gazetteer. We really wanted a world that host just about any type of fantasy game. If you wanted a game set in a frosty kingdom ruled by a wicked queen, look to Irrisen, if you wanted to fight for freedom against dark forces, look to Lastwall, if you wanted a desert adventure with pyramids, check out Osirion. We wanted to make sure that our world had room to play, and would be suitable to a host of different play styles and adventure types. The Gazetteer was our first shot at this. This product took at look at the two primary continents of our world, Avistan and Garund, and spent about a page exploring each one in depth. Erik and I split the nations up in two to work on this book, but we had very frequent meetings to hash out the details and get the various kingdoms to connect. In the end, just about everyone had a hand in it, with each one of us picking a pet nation to watch over.

-What was your favorite d20 or OGL sourcebook, and why? What made it such a good product?

I really enjoyed the Vault of Larin Karr, by Necromancer Games. This adventure was a really solid "sandbox style" game where you could wander this immense valley and work to make it a better place. Outside of adventures, I really was inspired by Monte's Book of Experimental Might. These rules, along with a lot of Monte's other work, showed me what you could do with the rules, while still maintaining the same feel and pace of the system.

-For someone who is just getting into gaming or has no 3.5e or 4e D&D experience, what would be your pitch to them for trying out Pathfinder?

I would advise them to check out our rules and see where their imagination takes them. Pathfinder is a game that allows you to play the game that you want to play.

-Aside from the Paizo message boards, are there any other forums or sites you regularly check for entertainment or to get a feel for what gamers are saying?

I tend to check out a number of gaming blogs (such as this one) as well as a number of gaming message boards, such as ENworld and Gaming Report. I also get a fair amount of feedback through my own personal blog and a near constant stream of emails.

-Talk about the Bestiary for a moment, if you would. What can prospective buyers expect from this book? Is there a monster or monster you're most excited about featuring?

The Bestiary takes a lot of the 3.5 monsters, adds in a dash of Open Content monsters, and updates all of them to the Pathfinder rules. We have used the same philosophy here that we have with our core rulebook, to make things a bit easier to use and to breath some life back into some stale concepts. So while some monsters from the 3.5 rules did not make the cut (sorry Tojinida), other classics have found a home in our Bestiary (hello Cyclops). This book will be over 300 pages of monster goodness, fully updated and compatible with the new rules system. Personally, I can't wait until folks take a look at some of the old classics. I have always been a big fan of cool skeletons... that is all I am saying.

-All the dragons (chromatic, metallic) we need are going to be in the Pathfinder Bestiary, right?

Yes, yes they are. All the giants too.

-EXTRA CREDIT: Whether you know it or not, you have a pretty sizable Hoosier (for the uninitiated: someone from Indiana) fan base. Do you have anything pleasant to say about our fair state and its denizens? :)

Funny enough... I am a Hoosier. I was born in Ft Wayne and most of my relatives still live there. I used to spend a few weeks each summer with them on a lake. Those were good times. Although I only lived there for a few years, I still look forward to my return trip every August.

Thanks very much for the interview, Jason (and nice job on the extra credit)! Again, best of luck, and we'll continue to follow all the developments up to the release of the final version of the game!
For those folks that have enjoyed these interviews with the folks from Paizo, please feel free to continue to send in comments and emails--and if you have a request for whom we should try to get at Paizo for a next interview, let me know!