Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thoughts On The Cleric

For a while now, I’ve had sort of a vague dissatisfaction with the Cleric as it exists in most D&D iterations and spinoffs. I’m not sure if it’s because as it usually ends up being played as my idea of a Paladin, or if I don’t like the whole “healer” moniker, which I think tends to rather obscure other features of the class. I think it’s a valid type of clergy, but I’m not sure it’s the type I want representing as Cleric.

With Castles & Crusades, I’ve become enamored of the Friar (described here and here--thanks Rusty Battleaxe!), which seems to fall more in line with my idea of what I’d like from a cleric. I’m going to allow both Friar (slightly rewritten) and Cleric in my upcoming campaign, and see how that goes. But I like the aspects of defender of the faith, chronicler, loremaster in a dark age, etc., more than the healing. Part of me would almost like to see that ability in the hands of an arcane class, an herbalist, or limit it for the Cleric. I guess in the end, it doesn’t match my thoughts for clergy in the pseudo-medieval part of my imagination. I think of Friar Tuck, Brother Cadfael, or Saint Patrick before I think of your standard Priest of Tyr.

We’ll see. Ultimately, it’s something I’m still chewing on, and probably will be for a while. It's not that I think the Cleric as written doesn't have a place in the game--it's just I don't want it to be the only option for clergy.

For those of you who do something a bit different, how do you address clergy (and the cleric class) in your games?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Exclusive Interview: That Guy

He has been a part of nearly every gaming group at some point. His name recognition in the RPG hobby may eclipse even that of Gygax. He is, of course, “That Guy”.

“That Guy” has been ruining gaming groups with a huge array of specialized talents and tricks since 1974. It is estimated he has destroyed more D&D campaigns than puberty and having children combined. We are pleased to have him sit down with us for a special exclusive interview. That Guy, welcome.

TG: Thanks. Just in case this interview is actually some sort of ambush, I have to inform you, I am proficient in the seven martial arts, and was thrown out of Special Forces due to professional jealousy.

RPGB2: I’ll have to keep that in mind. Mr. That Guy, what would you say your RPG system of expertise is?

TG: All of them, of course.

RPGB2: I see. And how do you normally demonstrate this expertise as a player?

TG: By yelling at the GM that he is doing it all wrong.

RPGB2: How do you view the other players?

TG: Well, to be fair, only roughly half are idiots. Another quarter simply need my continual interruptions and advice to play their characters properly.

RPGB2: And the remaining quarter?

TG: If they are ladies, they obviously find me attractive. You may label any remaining males as idiots, communists, fascists, Jesus Freaks, heathens, "sheeple", or all of the above.

RPGB2: Let us address the ladies who “obviously” find you attractive. What attentions do you lavish upon them?

TG: Uncomfortable touching, arm or back rubbing, or standing within a personal space area so small it would make an overly cordial Indian uncomfortable.

RPGB2: Ah. And does this stop you from screaming at them when they do something you perceive as wrong in play?

TG: (blank stare) No.

RPGB2: To date, Mr. That Guy, what has been your longest duration as a player with any one gaming group?

TG: A Rifts game in 1997. 4 sessions.

RPGB2: Your second longest?

TG: A Living Realms module at Gen Con last year. 4 hours.

RPGB2: Have you ever chipped in for pizza?

TG: No.

RPGB2: What about when you’re the one who suggested pizza?

TG: No.

RPGB2: What about when you’re really the only one eating the pizza, because you threw a fit when they wouldn’t get your favorite toppings?

TG: No.

RPGB2: When people complain about you, what are they?

TG: Bigots.

RPGB2: Because of….?

TG: Either my ancestry or my medical condition…

RPGB2: Both of which are…

TG: Self-diagnosed.

RPGB2: Thank you. Mr. That Guy, let me pose a question to you. Your campaign group has decided to play a classic fantasy game, one set in Professor Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. Your compatriots are playing a haughty Elven Ranger, a star-crossed Human Fighter, and a plucky, yet ultimately doomed Hobbit Thief. You will play…

TG: A ninja in a trenchcoat.

RPGB2: And when you attempt to kill the entire party in the first hour of the first session, what is your rationale?

TG: It is what my character would have done.

RPGB2: Is there any game in which a ninja in a trenchcoat would not be a good character choice?

TG: No.

RPGB2: Ars Magica?

TG: No.

RPGB2: Bunnies & Burrows?

TG: (angry glare) NO.

RPGB2: I, ah, see. Perhaps we’d better move along.

TG: Yes, we should. I have to get to the dojo.

RPGB2: You train at a dojo?

TG: I have made my own dojo. In my room. It is there I train myself.

RPGB2: Well, thank you for your patience. One more question: when you’re in someone’s home for a game, do you feel any need to be respectful of their dwelling?

TG: Hey, I’m there to game, not to make friends.

RPGB2: Well, I think that sums it up nicely. Mr. That Guy, thank you for coming along. I notice you decided to sit down and get your dice out expectantly. My campaign group will be here in 20 minutes, the police in 10. Please remove yourself from the premises.

TG: Bigot.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Kitchen Sink Contest: Behold The Slagon!

The DM's Sketchpad recently posted up my Mutant Future stats for the Slagon, that dreaded half-slug, half-dragon, that I mentioned as part of last week's Kitchen Sink post.

By way of an example, here's an excerpt:


This strange hybrid between a slug and a dragon slowly oozes across the landscape, leaving a burning, sticky residue on the ground (1d6 burn damage for every round exposed to this residue—it eats through clothes and leather in a single round). Its scaly, greenish skin provides strong protection right up to the eyestalks. Salt causes 4d6 damage per round to the Slagon, as it penetrates the scaly skin and causes it to bubble, crack, and melt. They grow up to 20' in length, and up to 20' high (counting eyestalks).

No. Encountered: 1d2 (1d2)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 45' (15')
Armor Class: 3
Hit Dice: 9
Attacks: 3 (bite, trample, fire breath)
Damage: 1d10, 1d20, 4d6
Save: L5
Morale: 10 (4 if threatened with salt)
Hoard: XV

Mutations: Shriek

Here's my challenge to you, friends: post up your terrifying hybrid-animal mutant in the comments below, and possibly win a $10 Gift Certificate to RPGNow. Stat it up in Mutant Future, Encounter Critical, Rifts, or any other system, kitchen sink or otherwise. Alternately, you can enter by drawing your depiction of dread Slagon described above! I'll announce the winner (by merit of relative awesomeness, freakishness, and kitchen-sink factor) this weekend! Spread the word, and may the freakiest creature win!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Weekend Updates: Small Press Week And A Thank You

Just two quick hits before I engage in the most delightful of Sunday rituals, the Cleaning of the House:

-We've had a good publisher response to Small Press Week. If you're a small press publisher and would like to have your product reviewed by one of our excellent stable of bloggers between Oct 19-23, drop me a line at mail.rpgblog(at)

-We've also had a nice response from a few great companies for our upcoming Thank You To My Readers. It'll be announced soon, but I think you'll be pretty happy with the deals we've lined up.

(Publishers, it isn't too late. If you want to offer a special, limited-time discount or freebie to readers of this site, hit me up at that same email address).

Saturday, September 26, 2009

New Stuff For Palladium Fantasy: Mysteries of Magic

Since this is the first book actually for Palladium Fantasy we've seen in some time, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Mysteries of Magic: Book One has shipped. May it be the first of many for us long-suffering PFRPG (no, not Pathfinder, in this instance) fans.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Discussion: What Are Your Favorite RPG Maps?

Every Friday here at RPG Blog 2, we engage in some friendly discussion. Nothing too serious, nothing too heavy, just gamers talking about the hobby they love.

This week’s topic is all about one of my favorite parts of the hobby: Gaming Maps! World maps, encounter maps, area maps—maps have a unique ability to draw us into a situation or setting, and feed a love of arcane places and adventure.

This Week’s Question: What are your favorite RPG maps? The Darlene map for Greyhawk? Something for Forgotten Realms? Perhaps (as I would vote) Pete Fenlon’s maps for MERP?

Have a great weekend, and here’s hoping you find your way to some good gaming! Fight On!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Zack's Mailbag: Fall Edition

Well, I’ve been procrastinating and procrastinating, but it is finally time for another edition of Zack’s Mailbag. I’ve had some interesting emails courtesy of this site—some ask questions, some compliment, some like to insult. But hey, variety is the spice of life, right? Last names withheld, though I tried to get locations when I could. Let’s hear from some of the best emails from readers!

Dear Zachary,

What is your actual opinion of Palladium’s Megaversal System?

Derek, Columbia, Missouri

Hi Derek,

You actually sent this question back during Palladium week as part of a larger email, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to it until now. Hopefully, you’re still interested in my response.

Basically, I realize the Megaversal System has some issues, and most of the material written for games like Rifts isn’t balanced as it is presented. That said, the Megaversal System was one of my first systems—a native tongue, as it were. Some folks would think that is enough to have me waking up with screaming fits in the middle of the night, but that isn’t the case. I look to the GM as the balancer of any system through play. Plus, I’m to the point where I’ve houseruled (like every game I play) most of the stuff I didn’t care for. That said, I would love to write a Rifts Light some day, and clean up a lot of the excess and confusion that “supplement sprawl has created”. But it probably isn’t to be.

If you look at the Megaversal System as it existed in the 1st Edition of Palladium Fantasy, you see a somewhat simpler, less cluttered game, one that reads not unlike someone’s really interesting AD&D houserules. That’s actually probably my favorite iteration of the system. If you’re looking for something a bit different in terms of classical gaming, in fact, I recommend finding a copy.

I just wanted to tell you your blog is one of the only RPG ones I read—it is usually very entertaining!

Samuel (Location Unknown)

Hi Samuel,

Basically, I’ve lowered my personal expectations to where I hope “usually very entertaining” appears somewhere on my tombstone. Thanks for the compliment, and I hope you find some other RPG blogs that amuse you—no doubt they’re out there.

I’m tired of your sad rants against Wizard of the Coast. The fact is, they have more fans than your crappy website will ever have. Get a life, and find another gamer bogeyman.

(Name & location sadly withheld)

Hi Anonymous,

I never rant against a single Wizard. My rantings take place against the plural form, and are generally quite cheerful.

Really, I thought I’ve been pretty mellow. My basic feeling is that Wizards of the Coast is a company too badly ruled by poor public relations and corporate lawyers to be appealing to me as a consumer, even if I did like their game. No, I make no secret that I don’t play 4e, but some folks are doing some cool things with it, and I appreciate that. I personally feel those folks deserve better corporate overlords.

Tell you what: give me a gaming legacy with 35 years of history behind it and brand name appeal to run, and we’ll see who has more fans then. Probably still WotC, because I’m sorta limited on bandwidth here.

Hey Zack,

What do you think is the best old school system for running a quick demo? I would like to do one this semester.

All the Best,

Christian, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Hi Christian,

At Gen Con, I ran Microlite74, and it was extremely easy to prep and use. There’s also the Swords & Wizardry Quick Start, which I reviewed in the latest issues of Fight On! #6 (summary: Huzzah!). You could ask 12 different people and get 12 different responses (or blank looks, if those 12 happen to be non-gamers). Since you happened to ask me, I’d recommend one of those two. Best of luck, and please email back to tell me how it goes!


I am doing a survey and would like to know your response to this question—if you could keep one edition of D&D which one would it be? Thanks—I wanted to ask you because I am a big fan of the blog.

Tomas, Strasbourg, France

Hi Tomas,

Thanks for reading!

Like if I had to throw away all my other D&D books? Probably the Rules Cyclopedia—that was my start to D&D, and I’m comfortable with it. But I also appreciate a lot of what’s in 3e and 1st Edition AD&D. I could probably do the easiest houseruling with the Rules Cyclopedia, since that’s what I’m most familiar with. By the time I was done houseruling, it’d probably look a lot like a RC/AD&D hybrid, with some d20 conventions thrown in. I know, I’m not a purist.

What game do I get my girlfriend for Christmas? She’s only RPed a couple of times, but really liked it. She enjoys the roleplaying aspects of gaming, and gets frustrated with too many rules (we were playing GURPS at the time, and she was getting annoyed). I want something attractive, with good fantasy art that she can pick up easily. Can you help?

Rich L. (Location Unknown)

Hi Rich,

Well, if you were playing GURPS, I’m sure you already thought of GURPS Lite. If you’re looking further afield, there are many fantasy games that match that description.

The new Song of Ice and Fire RPG from Green Ronin is visually striking, and uses a pretty easy d6-based system. I enjoy Pathfinder, but it may be a bit too heavy for her to digest alone unless she has a d20-based background (the same with D&D 3.5).

The fact is, there are many very good, very simple systems, but art is a very subjective thing. She may dislike one of the options presented. For example, West End Games’ d6 system is not only simple to learn, but is also now open, but I don’t know how she’d feel about the art. Same thing about Castles & Crusades—some people love Peter Bradley’s stuff, some people despise it. You could also try a game like Savage Worlds, which has several alt-fantasy settings available and is very easy to understand. My real advice?—you know her, I don’t. Choose something that’s visually striking, and don’t underestimate her on the learning curve. If it’s interesting to her, I bet she’ll take the time to learn—and of course, playing with you and friends is the best way to do that!

That does it for this edition of my mailbag! Keep those emails and comments coming!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Zack's 10 Easy Steps To Kitchen Sink Gaming

Wanting to play some no-holds-barred kitchen sink gaming, but aren’t sure where to start? Your worries are over! Simply start with any setting—Greyhawk, Eberron, Imperial Rome, The Roaring Twenties—and follow the simple steps below. And behold—Instant Kitchen Sink!

1) Playing in a fantasy game? Add sci-fi. Playing in a sci-fi game? Add fantasy. All others: add both.

2) Choose an indigenous life form. Give them some manner of natural laser, force beam, plasma burst, or heat ray. Other types of ray (gamma, death) will also suffice. Repeat as desired.

3) Choose two or more indigenous life forms, and combine them into some sort of wretched mutation. Repeat as desired. (Example: dragons and slugs give us the dread Slagon, a scaly monstrosity which hates salt and leaves a fiery residue as it oozes across the landscape).

4) Add a Mutations Table. Use it.

5) If you have guns, give at least some of them mystic, sword-of-legend type abilities. If you have swords of legend, give them pseudo-scientific, gun-like abilities (example: Excalibur, but Excalibur generates a mini-gravitational field to rend and tear opponents. Or something).

6) If there are gods in the setting (and this being kitchen sink, there should be!), they should have statistics for combat, if not be members of an adventuring party outright.

7) Choose 7 different historical eras, books, movies, cartoons, RPGs, your choice. Choose a character from each of those, and drop it (or a similar character with the serial numbers filed off) into your setting.

8) Somehow, somewhere, people are ruled or enslaved by apes.

9) Even if the entire world has been devastated and isolated by the plague, Kung-Fu never dies out, and will be known by robot and man alike.

10) More Lasers! (pay careful attention here. This never fails).

11) Take it to Eleven.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Announcing Small Press Week!

If I have one overriding belief in gaming, it’s that lizard-like races shouldn’t have bosoms.

If I have two overriding beliefs in gaming, the second is that the pdf and online revolution has given us a number of small companies every bit as talented and amazing as the larger publishers. There are many, many, many unsung excellent companies making games and supplements that are just begging to be discovered. And for every one we cover, there are a dozen we don’t get to.

Well, that’s why I’ve suggested to my fellow RPG Bloggers to make October 19-23 Small Press Week. It's going to be a week focusing on reviews, interviews, and articles about the best in small press gaming. New school, old school, avant-garde, or mainstream--whatever folks want to cover.

For some bloggers, it’ll be business as usual. But I’m hoping this serves to highlight and show off any number of small press games, and ultimately gets more folks playing. Gaming isn't a two or three-horse race; there's more great games out there than we'll ever have time to play.

If you have a small press game or product you’d like reviewed or covered, drop me a line at mail.rpgblog(at) I already have several I’m working on for that time, but we should have a goodly list of other bloggers participating that we can coordinate with (bloggers, if interested, let me know, if you haven't already!). Get ready to celebrate the Little Guy in Gaming!

Monday, September 21, 2009

The OSR, Round 2

There’s been a lot of discussion regarding the resurgence in classical gaming, and whether or not we’re simply retreading every old product to come out in support of the rule sets.

I find no problem with covering familiar ground—but it’s also fun to see people explore other avenues, other inspirations, and other games from those eras. For every D&D, there’s also a 1st Edition Palladium Fantasy, a RuneQuest, a Chivalry & Sorcery, a Pendragon. There are people turned on by a resurgence of boxed sets, or characters more defined by their players and some loose stats references than hard-coded into the rules.

That’s why I’m excited to see a 2nd round of old school or neoclassic-influenced titles being kicked about. Games that aren’t strictly retro-clones, that pay attention more to the overall feel of those games, and how to accomplish that feel in presentation and system. Some quality folks have been kicking these things around. Already we have X-Plorers. Bill Corrie of HinterWelt has been discussing Chevalier, an RPG set within the Matter of France that has me very interested. Brett M. Bernstein of Precis Intermedia has been chewing over a simplified ruleset that is like a tighter Iron Gauntlets--a "Red Box" sort of game.

Pay attention. Yeah, maybe these games will offend the purists out there. Maybe there will be a good audience for them, maybe there won’t. But exploring these other avenues, while keeping that feeling going, is one of the best effects the Old School Revival may have in the long run.

Help Me Plan Your Thank-You Gift

At the start of this year, I had two goals for my site’s stats: to have over 500 Feedburner subscribers and average 500 views a day for the year.

With just over 3 months left in the calendar year, I can safely predict both of those marks will be completely shattered by year’s end.

But honestly, none of that would matter one bit if it wasn’t for people really taking the time to read and comment here. And, since both of those goals are in sight, I want to do something special for the subscribers, readers, and visitors of RPG Blog 2 (and, by extension, the wonderful folks of the RPG Bloggers Network).

So, here’s my question: What would you like as a thank-you gift? I can try to get you a product discount code, some sort of exclusive product release—can you think of anything else, realistically? But I want to be able to offer the readers and subscribers here something special, and if it highlights something new or awesome in gaming, so much the better. I’d love to do like five days straight of awesome discounts or giveaways, but that's likely too much for my poor reach.

If you have any ideas, please, share them below or drop me a line at mail.rpgblog(at)!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Episode 7 of RPG Circus Now Available!

We're back with another episode of the RPG Circus podcast, and there's plenty for you here!

In Episode 7, we cover:

-My review of Hexographer
-Gaming with significant others
-An interview with Micah from Obsidian Portal

Plus, lots of flame-worthy news, and some listener commentary!

Download it here
, and start your gaming week off right!

Pic of My Gen Con Game

I missed this earlier from RPG Diehard, but he did post a pic of our Microlite74 game at Gen Con. I can't say enough what a great group that was:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

DragonStrike Video

DragonStrike was a TSR board game that was intended to serve as an introduction to Dungeons & Dragons. It came with a somewhat surreal 30-minute video that was to act as a tutorial.

Some familiar names to long-time D&D fans can be seen in the opening credits, but I'll let you watch for yourself (though it is 33 minutes long):

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Discussion: Best Unheralded System?

Every Friday, the RPG blogosphere decides to take its ball and go home. But here at RPG Blog 2, we remain on the playing field, even its by ourselves running around making airplane and machine gun noises.

The reason we stick around is because we like to engage in a little Friday Discussion with the readers--nothing too serious, nothing too heavy--just some gamers killing time until the weekend talking about the hobby they love.

This Week's Question: What is the best unsung or unheralded RPG system out there? We're looking for something that seems to fly under the radar of a majority of gamers (so no saying 4e, Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, etc.). Why should people take the time to check it out? Remember, we're looking for specific systems used, not an overall RPG.

I'll look forward to hearing about your diamonds in the rough! Have a great weekend, and Fight On!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Zack's Weird Boxed Set Dream

In a sign I have been spending way too much time on all this lately, I had a pretty clear dream last night that I had a company that produced an introductory-style boxed set. I think it was some sort of licensed property, because there were bunch of people wearing matching t-shirts in the background. It was a white box with blue markings on the front, and in my hand, I held a fancy laminated card that had a list of things in the box.

I remember the following (I didn’t read them, but someone was marking them off as they went):

1d20 (red)
1d20 (blue)
3d6 (red)
3d6 (blue)
5 Player Cards
24-page Referee (yes, Referee) guide
3 sheets paper minis and map
4-page Beginner’s Adventure
16-page Veteran’s Adventure (yes, Veteran’s)
1 Box

No idea on where the page counts came from, or why there was no color for the d10s.

Then, we were giving them away as some promotion with a catalog. We were on a radio show as we went through a mall announcing it.

I sort of feel like the guy who wrote the poem “Kubla Khan”. I just wish I knew what system it was.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The OSR In the RPGNow Top 100

RPGNow's list of the Top 100 best-selling products (not all-time total, but on average over time) is positively flowing with OSR (and OSR cousin) goodness! Let's take a look as of today (note: these rankings are subject to change without notice; by the time you read this, they very well may have):

#86: Tainted Lands

#77: Death Frost Doom

#67: Castles & Crusades Player's Handbook

#3: Labyrinth Lord Revised

Congrats, folks! Way to share the love! I'm sure more will be joining that list soon. I have to think if Fight On! were on there, it'd be somewhere near the top.

There's also Barbarians of Lemuria sitting at #58--very cool to see.

Fred Hicks on Reviews and Reading

"Please review my stuff without playing it. If I didn't write it well enough to get you excited to play, I've failed, and you should say so".

-Fred Hicks

Obviously, this trickles down a bit from yesterday's post. I believe the Evil Hat Man to be right; I think there's a lot to be said for a game that gets you excited to play in its reading. This can be through the author's own enthusiasm for the game, through an excellent presentation of rules (you can be excited that you get it), or through great and/or suitable accompanying art.

But mostly I find that if an author can't convey a sense of interest in excitement in their own RPG product, they're going to have a much harder time selling me on it. It's a problem I think a lot of late D&D 3.5 splatbooks suffered from, actually.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Publishers: How Not To Respond To A Review

Link here.

Look for Mr. Goodman's comments at the bottom.


Contrast this with how the Evil Hat guys handled Pundit's review of Spirit of the Century.

On Darkness

One night this past weekend, I ventured outside this weekend into a narrow strip of woods near our place. (I was actually looking for a misplaced toddler bike, but no matter). On a night with no visible moon, I was struck by how very, very dark it was, even so close to civilization. Imagine then, how dark the woods would be with a sky that wasn’t dimly illuminated by the light pollution from some car dealer and a small Indiana downtown a mile distant.

I notice this when I go camping as well—out in the woods, with no moon, it is dark. Really, really dark. Storming, even darker. Now, some people are blessed with excellent night vision, but how do you think you would do if you dropped in a campsite in the middle of the woods with a sword and were attacked by goblins?

We did night exercises in Korea. Your eyes get tired. You begin to make humanoid figures out of shapes in the distance that aren’t really there. Movement blurs.

Most RPGs give some penalty for fighting in the dark, but I sometimes wonder if it’s sufficient. Those demi-human races with night vision are in good shape, but what about us sorry humans? I wonder if as Game Masters we adequately convey how frustrating and challenging not only fighting and other tasks would be on a dark night?

It seems to me, as a player and as a Game Master, I tend to treat the darkness in my head as sort of a manageable inconvenience, a sort of dimming background effect that doesn't really hamper as much as perhaps it should. This may be because it might be hard to represent on a minis mat the sort of uncertainty and difficulty darkness can bring, or perhaps it's because I want to imagine the scene in my head.

This is something I'll have to ponder for my group's next nighttime encounter.

I never did find the toddler bike until the next morning. I had passed right by it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Urgent: Bad News At Palladium Books

You heard the sad news here first: we’ve got exclusive reports that both Jason Marker and (allegedly, according to multiple sources) Wayne Smith are out at Palladium Books. The news hasn’t gone totally public yet (though Marker mentions his on his Facebook), but this is a troubling blow for Palladium fans, as two of the biggest contributors at the long-time RPG publisher may now be out. I don’t want to speak for what this may mean for Palladium, but clearly, it doesn’t look good.

Jason Marker has been featured on our site before, and we wish him the best going forward. RPG companies looking for a strong writer with experience would be well-served to take notice of his potential availability.

UPDATE: I do want to emphasize RPG Blog 2 is a big fan of Palladium Books, and the legacy of such games as Palladium Fantasy and TMNT. There is a certain amount of publicity that comes in any hobby. Whatever the situation is at Palladium (and I understand we'll hear something from Palladium soon), let's hope it is only, as some have speculated, temporary. I'll update as we hear more.

UPDATE #2: This post by Kevin Siembieda does confirm the layoffs, but hopes it will be "temporarily, for 6-8 weeks". Sounds like Jason Marker is moving on, but they're hoping to have Wayne Smith back after the temporary layoff. Let's hope for the best for them both!

Presenting: My Sandbox Campaign Hexmap

I finished up my master hexmap for our sandbox campaign this weekend. It's for my reference and your enjoyment, as the players are just going to have to discover it piece-by-piece (again, players, stay out, or face ruining your fun). I just want to say what a dream it was using Hexographer for this. It would have taken me much, much, much longer using another mapping program, and I find myself with a classic-looking hexmap in a fraction of the time.

In the best spirit of Gary and his love for hidden names and anagrams, I've taken the liberty of spreading a few RPG blogger and gamer references through the map (there are lots more in our hex encounters, so don't feel slighted!). Can you find some of them?

(Click to Enlarge)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

One Bad Egg Expires

Even though I'm not a D&D 4e player, I was sad to see One Bad Egg turn off the lights this week. They did a number of products (such as their Shroud line) which I felt were potentially inspirational for GMs of other fantasy RPGs and systems as well.

It's a shame their sales weren't where they wanted or needed (edit: I should add that is not their only given reason for closing up shop), but I guess that's the lay of the land. The support model for 4e D&D is different than it is for OSRIC or 3.5/OGL, and that's just how it's going to be.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

More D&D Intellivision Style: Treasure of Tarmin

I found another old Intellivision D&D clip on YouTube. This one is Treasure of Tarmin (aka Minotaur), which put many an otherwise excitable youth to sleep c. 1982.

WARNING: Almost nothing happens during this dungeon crawl:

The sad thing is, I think we've all had sessions that have been all too close to that. At least the box art was a winner:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Discussion: How Do You Store Or Carry Your Dice?

It’s been a good, productive week here at RPG Blog 2, and we don’t take Fridays off. We do, however, ask for readers to participate in a little informal Friday Discussion! Nothing too serious, nothing too intense, just some gamers talking about their hobby before the weekend kicks off.

This Week’s Question: How Do You Store/Carry Your Dice? Whether you’ve discovered the beautiful precision of Gamescience, the intricate designs of Q-Workshop, the metallic wonders of Crystal Caste, or stick faithfully with Koplow or Chessex, what do you use to port your dice around? Some custom-made leather dice bag? The infamous Crown Royal bag? A chainmail design, perhaps? Or is good old cloth good enough for your dice?

Links to dice bag/storage pics welcomed! Have a great weekend, and roll on our random chart below to see what late night movie you’ll catch that you watch much longer than you likely should:

Roll 2d6 (+1 if past 2:00 am):

2: Gremlins 2: The New Batch
3: Bloodsport
4: American Ninja IV
5: Today You Die
6: Meatballs III: Summer Job
7: Porky’s II: The Next Day
8: Beat Street
9: Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation
10: Half Past Dead
11: Killer Clowns From Outer Space
12: Carnosaur
13: Carnosaur 2

All levity aside for a moment, 8 years later, we still remember the innocent men, women, and children who lost their lives to a senseless, terrible act of terror. Those of us who lost friends that day know more than ever how precious life, beauty, family, friendship and joy are, and we honor their memory by celebrating those things every day.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Kellri's Old School Tinder Box

It isn't often I'm at a loss for words, but...


By the way, did you know Robert Conley (27) is the most intelligent guy in gaming and he likes Demi-human level limits (4)?

Or that Hasbro (20) ruined Tekumel (16) with Gygax-isms (9)?

Filling In The Sandbox

Well, thanks to the very possibly magical program Hexographer, my master map for my upcoming sandbox campaign is near-complete, lacking only labels.

After filling in the mountains, hills, rivers, woods, marshes, and settlements of the sandbox, it was time to think about throwing some landmarks and potential encounters out to the various hexes. Some were dependent on some feature nearby; others were random, or based on a fun idea I had. My idea of populating a sandbox probably stems from my allegiance to the venerable Kitchen Sink Coalition: there’s a place for every piece of Awesome you imagine. Here’s a random assortment of what I created (players of this upcoming campaign, tread no further, lest the fun of discovery and exploration be dampened):

Boneblade’s Bog—Named for the near-legendary Giant Troll Boneblade, who is known for his bloodthirsty, cruel ways (and obvious choice of weaponry—he makes some sort of weapon out of every single victim’s remains).

Warping Den—Upon entering this rocky labyrinth of stone formations, one is immediately struck by a sense of wrongness. Gravity, distance, and time all seem to function differently here. The affect is incredibly disorienting, and can cause short-term confusion, panic, and/or vertigo.

TradeTown of the Sparrow— This clearing has a few poor tents and shelters year-round (mostly old women, children, and injured warriors), but for two weeks in Midsummer, it becomes a bustling trade destination for various native peoples, friendly (and not-so-friendly races), and many others. It is a dangerous place, full of drinking, brawling, duels, and treachery, but it is also one of the only places in the wild to get any sort of supplies.

Crypt of Carcinus—The tomb of the great Mannish general. Carcinus unsuccessfully rebelled against his liege and was sealed alive in the tomb he had built for himself along with all his bodyguards, retainers, and possessions.

Ruined Red Tower—The Red Tower was the property of the great mage Alcindus. He made the mistake of challenging the Mad Arch Mage to a wizard’s duel. His tower and the dungeons below survived him, though the tower itself is badly dilapidated.

Ancient Hulk—This gigantic ship washed up on shore ages ago, and has been sitting, slowly rotting, ever since. From whence it came is unknown. It has become the dwelling for several Giant Crabs.

The Fount of the Old One—A geyser that shoots out hot, hot water daily. It has been claimed by a group of mad cultists, who stake their victims over it and wait for the geyser to boil them.

Tinsmith’s Table—A large flat rock in the middle of the grassland. It is said that leaving a weapon here overnight may grant it magical powers (2% chance of random magic power). An inscription to this effect was scraped into a nearby stone marker by an unknown individual. The area is also home to several basilisks.

Faerie Circle—These strange furrows in the ground mark it as a Territory of Faerie. Whether it is a causeway into or from the aether, strange happenings occur to those who tarry too long or disturb these markings.

Sheerwall Caves—Countless cave openings speckle the side of this sheer cliff wall. They are inaccessible to all but those willing to make a series of life-threatening climbs.

Troublesome Tunnels—Thought to originally have been dug by ratling bandits, human outlaws have taken these winding passages over. They lead not only under the city, but in and out of the surrounding countryside.

Feylanterns—In this quiet grassland, phantom lights appears a few hundred yards away. They disappear when individuals approach, only to reappear a few hundred yards away in some other direction.

Fallow Forest—Some strange blight has infected part of this woodland. The plants and trees affected still grow, but are a sickly yellow. Their leaves, vegetative manner and bark slough off easily.

Lexo’s Port (Ruins)—This once-bustling town has lain dead for many years, ever since the Crimson Doom came. Now it sits, a ghost town, one that holds true danger for any brave enough to explore its empty, time-eaten streets.

Pools of Portation—This cluster of several dozen shallow pools has an interesting effect: when jumping in one, you will instantly be teleported to another nearby pool. The water does not seem to carry this quality outside of the area, though imbibing it can have delayed, disjointing effects.

Castle Imperious—Villagers at the foot of the mountain still whisper about the evil of the castle. How the lord of the castle ruled over them for longer than any mortal lifespan, until eventually he locked himself in the castle, never to reappear. How those who ventured up to the castle after nightfall never came back. And of the hideous laughter that is still carried to the village on moonlit nights…

Seasworn Caves—These caves are partially flooded with each tide. They honeycomb the rocky shore, and were known to be used by smugglers once upon a time.

Lost City of the Sky People—This strange smooth, metal edifice is known by local oral traditions as the Fallen Star. This twisted, inexplicable structure has been here since before the landing of Elechor II. Many claim it is haunted.

Granite Guardians—These three foreboding statues mark the boundaries of the Kingdom of the Stone-Men. At least 40 feet tall, they appear to have some manner of glinting jewel in each eye socket.

I ended up with roughly 100 such descriptors—system-neutral, but descriptive enough for me to build on. It took less time than I thought, and it’ll be nice to have so much of the preparation done upfront. This is definitely more front-heavy on the work than my last campaign, but I know it will pay off when the exploration starts.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Two-Fisted Tales Discount

Just a quick blurb telling you about a great deal on one of my favorite games: through the end of September, Precis Intermedia is offering a $10 discount on their excellent Pulp RPG Two-Fisted Tales. This ENnie-nominated gem features a modular, scalable, easy system (Schticks are one of the best mechanics I've found for getting the feel for '30s and '40s pulp heroes), and a great understanding for what the genre means. But perhaps the highest praise I can give it is I can think of no better system with which to run both a Venture Brothers campaign or a more serious, deadly-action one. It really is the class of pulp RPGs.

To get your $10 off a print copy, just follow this link to for the discount code. (For more on Two-Fisted Tales, you can check out the thread it's contained in). I can't give a much higher recommendation than I give this game, so do yourself a favor and check it out.

Falling For Fall

Here in the U.S., post-Labor Day is generally considered the start of the fall season (even if our official calendar disagrees!). Some trees already have turning leaves, the mornings become a bit crisper, and favorite fall ingredients and dishes (apples, pumpkins, etc.) begin to be harvested in earnest.

Autumn is also a great time in-game. Here are a few things to think about as far as incorporating fall into your RPG sessions, and what it brings to your campaign.

Fall Is Party Time

Fall is a time of hard work, as anyone with even a moderately rural background should be able to tell you, but there its also a time of innumerable harvest festivals, dances, and fairs. In my own state of Indiana, it remains the most popular time of year for many of our small towns and villages to hold their Apple Popcorn/Apple Harvest/Harvest Apple/Apple Pumpkin/Pumpkin/Apple Festivals. Characters could very likely run into a lot of towns with an expanded population as folks from the nearby countryside, peddlers, and performers gather for these events.

Fall Is Wrap Time

In autumn, campaigning armies are not yet in their winter quarters, and are likely maneuvering for one more decisive blow before the winter.

Besieging armies will be trying whatever they can to get strongholds and cities to capitulate—winters are hard on besieging armies. There will also be extensive foraging/raiding missions on the surrounding countryside—both to deny the enemy and succor their own forces. Cold and hunger are two of the worst enemies an army can have. Characters could easily be on either side of the siege, and it isn’t hard to see the adventure, diplomacy, and combat possibilities therein.

Fall Is Time to Prepare

Just as animals store up a food supply before the first snows, humans and demihumans will prepare to face a long, harsh winter. The cheerful, idyllic harvest scenes we picture can belie a harsh reality. Storms, wet weather, early frost, invasion, taxes, and the whims of fate can all spell the difference between a successful, thriving harvest and one that won’t see a community through the winter.

It may sound dull, but agriculture is the backbone of many nations and armies (see U.S. Civil War, Shenandoah). People and have died to protect a harvest, and to ensure it is safely delivered. Characters may just learn that firsthand.

Fall Is Different Weather

If your adventuring party has been traipsing through a temperate climate thus far, autumn may be their first indication that outdoor adventuring isn’t all warm nights under clear skies. A nip in the air, chilly overnight temperatures, and early frosts can be indicators to characters that they had better either find winter quarters (wintering in a city can lead to all sorts of adventuring possibilities in and of itself), or properly prepare their equipment. In fact, if you’re looking at introducing a greater level of resource management into your game, fall can be your “training wheels” session before the full severity of winter hits.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Interview With Goblinoid Games' Daniel Proctor

With Goblinoid Games (make of the retro-clone Labyrinth Lord and the excellent Mutant Future) giving their website a face lift and getting ready to send Labyrinth Lord Revised into distribution channels, I thought it would be a good time to have their own Daniel Proctor answer a few questions. Dan, thank you:

1) What is Labyrinth Lord Revised going to have that plain ol' Labyrinth Lord didn't? Anything being taken out?

DP: The main thing Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition has that the old version didn't is all new and original art by Steve Zieser. When I first wrote Labyrinth Lord, the whole “retro thing” was still pretty new. OSRIC had been out less than a year. I wasn't sure how well LL would be received, and had almost zero budget, so I relied a lot on public domain art and commercial stock art. I think most people like the look of the old version just fine, but I was limited in my presentation and never really was able to give LL its own look or feel. I followed a different path than other retro games in that I knew from the start I'd want to get it into game stores, so I didn't want to rely on free art from the community. I'd much rather pay for the art, and finally sales have gone up enough to fund it.

Other than that, I've just fixed errata and a few editing issues with the help of the Goblinoid Games forum community over the last couple of years.

2) Can you talk about the move of Labyrinth Lord to stores? What's the process been like for you? When or how can folks see you on the shelf at their local gaming store?

DP: Sure thing, it's been a journey! This is actually my second attempt at getting into distribution. I held a distribution drive sale in the spring of 2008 in which I sold a small number of limited edition LL hard covers to fund my first print run. That went well and I signed up with the consolidator Key20. It was actually going better than I expected for a few months; I sold half the print run in a short time, but then the economy tanked and Key20 went out of business.

At the time I was overseas so I had half the print run to store somewhere until I could get back to the US. Once I got back I managed to sell most of the remaining print run direct from my website, so I recovered the funds from the original distribution drive and am ready for another go.

So in other words, it's been a frustrating but educational process. I'm now going to be working with a different company for distribution, and I feel good about things as we go into 2010. The book should start showing up in game stores in November, but people may see it sooner in some places because I'm also building a program to deal direct with retailers.

3) What does Labyrinth Lord Revised mean for your pdfs? Will there still be a free version?

DP: There is a free PDF version without art and it's up right now also. I took this approach because it's important to me to have the game free for everyone, but I also have to recoup operation costs.

4) According to your website, the Advanced Edition Companion is coming out for LL in late Fall 2009. What sort of options will this book add to LL? How long has it been in planning?

DP: The idea for this book has actually been a kernel in my mind since I was writing Labyrinth Lord back in 2007. Most people played first edition in a way that was essentially like the old Moldvay classic game but using all the extra monsters, magic items, classes and races. So Advanced Edition Companion takes those 1e options and reinterprets them to fit right into the standard Labyrinth Lord rules and options. Essentially you get the benefit of all the advanced options without the compatibility hiccups. You can keep playing the classic race/classes if you want, right alongside a half-orc assassin.

5) What about Mutant Future? How's been the response to that from a commercial standpoint compared to Labyrinth Lord? Anything new coming down the pipe for MF, or do you see it as a mainly complete product (just awaiting user tinkering)?

DP: Labyrinth Lord is a bigger seller, no doubt about that. Still, the response has been great and I think many people are using the free PDF as a source of extra options for their LL games. The game style of Mutant Future has always had a smaller audience if you look at the games it draws inspiration from. I think this is partly because the genre of all-out radioactive apocalypse wackiness appeals to some people more than others.

I definitely see Mutant Future as a complete product (but then so is Labyrinth Lord). There is of course a lot of room for expansion and tweaking. My main focus for Mutant Future will be to get modules out over the coming year. I hope to see more publishers like Skirmisher Publishing expand on Mutant Future, and I'd love to see someone create an expansion of more options for a Mutants & Mazes mash up.

6) This may be hard for you to gauge, but what seems to be the breakdown of Labyrinth Lord and Mutant Future players/purchasers demographically? Is it a lot of older gamers buying it for compatibility and ease of use, or is it a mix of older and newer gamers?

DP: I have no hard data but my gut feeling over the last few years is that we have a mix. In the beginning I think it was mainly people who were familiar with older editions. There is a crowd who wants to preserve their older books and save them from the ravages of spilled soda and greasy potato chip fingers. Labyrinth Lord is great for that because it's in print and you can abuse it all you want. There is another crowd that seems to be growing which is not familiar with anything earlier than D&D 3.0, but the flavor of older editions appeals to them and the ease of play beckons. Labyrinth Lord is a great game to just sit down and play without as much wrestling with stat blocks. There are people who like that sort of system complexity and there are people who can go both ways, but in general I think many people who come back to this style of game miss the feeling of playing that you lose if you spend too large a percentage of your limited game time crunching numbers.

7) OK, someone comes along, and is totally perplexed by the entire idea of a bunch of guys playing and celebrating a late-70s/early-80s role playing game. What's your pitch to them as to what these classic and neoclassic games offer a gamer or game master?

DP: The key thing here is to pick up Labyrinth Lord and judge it on its own terms. Don't worry about the hype surrounding different editions and what they are supposed to mean as far as “evolution” or “advancement” of game design goes. I think if you can approach Labyrinth Lord in this context it is a great way to start. The game offers simple but not simplistic rules, fast combat resolution, and an entirely different style of play. I'd describe it as “traditional fantasy.” I think the most productive view is to see Labyrinth Lord and similar games as entirely different games from more recent editions. They offer a different game experience. I'm not saying a better experience, that's up to personal preference, but there is no reason a game like Labyrinth Lord couldn't be another enjoyable game at the table right alongside a group's other 3rd or 4th edition sessions. This isn't an either/or situation, and I think if people see it that way they're missing out on some great gaming no matter which edition they lean toward.

Monday, September 7, 2009

John Madden: Dungeon Master

In praise of September, the beginning of football, and greater cultural understanding, I am proud to show John Madden: Dungeon Master:

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Where I'm At In My GMing

Stuart of Robertson Games had a really nice article last week where he discussed the differences in approach that different versions of D&D take. I don't think I'm alone in extrapolating some of those differences over to evaluating my Game Mastery style, as GMs also have different expectations and goals according to how they frame their games, just as systems do.

Looking through the glasses of preparation for my upcoming Castles & Crusades sandbox campaign, I've assigned a values of 1 and 10 to each pair, and then I'll gauge where I'm at along that axis:

Comprehensive Rules (1) vs. Minimalist Rules (10): With the choice of Castles & Crusades and my generally rules-light style of running, I'd say I'm definitely running towards a 7 or 8 on this one. My games aren't freeform, but neither do I have a comprehensive list of modifiers for every possible scenario. A more minimalist approach generally means a stronger, more centralized GM presence, one more in line with adjudication than enforcement. I'd say that describes where I'm at pretty well just now.

I do believe in the fun and relative randomness of charts--but I'm not sure where that drops in on here.

High Power Fantasy (1) vs. Low Power Fantasy (10): I am middle of the road on this one. My games have some more high fantasy elements (airships, a suspension of reality in certain cultural and historical developments), and I'm not adverse to throwing in the kitchen sink at times (something I think skews towards the high-power stuff). But my campaigns generally feature more humans than any other race, and there is a certain of amount of grim reality in traipsing through a deadly, unexplored wilderness. While it isn't Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, neither is it Conan of Cimmeria. I think I fall neatly into the bell curve here.

Narrative Mechanics (1) vs. Simulation Mechanics (10): I don't generally find these as helpful guideposts, so I'll skip this. That doesn't mean you have to.

Strategic Chargen vs. Simple Chargen (10): I give the option of a more customizable character, but I think this character generation session will feature a lot of charts from those brave or foolish enough to tempt the fates. It may not be incredibly simple, but there's not going to be build-planning for 6-7 levels down the road. In my experience C&C really isn't the game for that. I'm at around a solid 8 here, I think.

Tactical Encounter (1) vs. Strategic Adventure (10): I don't believe the two here are mutually exclusive. I definitely have a love of strategic adventure, and a sandbox campaign can definitely push resource management hard. However, I also encourage and reward players for taking advantage of terrain, obstacles, and tactical positioning during combat (running away is also a valued skill--I'm a Kenny Rogers fan in this regard). But to me, without the journey, what meaning holds the encounter? 5 or a 6, I guess.

Combat Balance (1) vs. Adventure Balance (10): I want all my players to have some good spotlight time if they want it (some don't, they just want to hang out and roll dice, which is cool, too). For some, that means hacking orcs or turning undead. For others, it means carousing in town or delivering epic speeches. I don't expertly tailor every combat encounter around set character abilities. Because encounters are less important than overall adventuring, and I recognize and emphasize the niches beyond encounters, I'm saying an 8 here.

Balanced Encounters (1) vs. Balanced Adventures (10): The world does not change for the players. There's a red dragon in the swamp, and orcs in the pass. If you come back 3 levels later, unless you did something to affect it, there's still a red dragon in the swamp and orcs in the pass. It's up to the players to scout, assess, engage or disengage, and find the path of least (or greatest resistance. 9, and see here for more.

Wargame Combat (1) vs. Abstracted Combat (10): I use minis, but as a general reference tool, not as a hard-and-fast representation. 4.

GM as Player (1) vs. GM as Referee (10): L'etat c'est moi. 9.5.

Fantastic Characters (1) vs. Common Characters (10): 7. I think most characters in fantasy RPGs have some element of the fantastic in them, merit of them being an adventurer, a dwarf, a halfling, etc. But I also believe strongly in the Hero's Journey, and making that journey challenging. I want my characters to be able to rise from being a hastily-conscripted tailor's apprentice to a legendary master of a stronghold. Again, the journey is part of the fun!

Established Setting (1) vs. DIY Setting (10): 9. I love Greyhawk, but our setting for this campaign is pure Do-It-Yourself. I do still borrow liberally from a number of sources (history, literature, old game settings, magazines, message boards, etc.), as does every DIY GM who isn't a damned liar.

Resource Optimization (1) vs. Creative Problem Solving (10): I have no issue with either--using a resource you have or coming up with a clever solution if you don't are both great part of the game. Down the middle, again.

I think that I've definitely changed my GMing style from even a few years ago. In 2003 or 2004, you'd find me much less rules-minimal, much more strategic in character generation, and a little bit more involved in canon. I think some of that has to do with not having the prep time, time to "master" complex, new systems, or the desire to micro-manage towards the holy grail of some would-be fictional masterpiece. But a lot of it is just growing personally as a Game Master, and finding a method of play that challenges my players, makes our games unpredictable to I as well as they, and draws on the legacy of a hobby that set fire to so many imaginations for a reason.

EDIT: I should add this is sort of a snapshot for where you are as a GM for your current campaign. Obviously, these can change from campaign to campaign, depending on what you're trying for.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

RPG Circus Episode 6 Is Released!

Because of the Labor Day Weekend, RPG Circus Episode 6 is available a bit early this time around! In this episode, we tackle:

-What You Want Out Of A Gaming Company
-An Interview With Swords & Wizardry Quick Start author and blogger Michael Shorten (Chgowiz, who along with his family we have in our prayers right now)
-Online RPG Resources (I can see this become a multi-parter)

Plus, plenty of news and other laser-rocket commentary! We love to hear from listeners, so please, keep those comments coming!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday Discussion: Your Favorite d20/OGL Product

Well, we come to the Friday before Labor Day, where most blogs have packed it in, put on their fishing vest, and gone out to enjoy the Holiday of the Masses by renting a pontoon boat from some poor jerk who has to work the whole weekend.

(Yes, I worked at an amusement park where I grew up, and had to work every Labor Day Weekend. Boo).

In any case, here at RPG Blog 2, we’re working just a liiitle bit longer to bring you some Friday discussion. Nothing serious, nothing deep, just some good gaming discussion and a chance to air your opinions.

This Week’s Question: From The Thousands To Choose From, What Is Your Favorite Product to Come Out of d20 and/or the Open Gaming License?

Yes, please do feel free to tell us why you hold it in such high esteem.

I'm guessing there's a lot of variety on this one. Have a wonderful, gaming-filled, Labor Day Weekend!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

If Gamers Were American Founding Fathers

A few months ago, I wrote a an article entitled “If Gamers Were Civil War Generals”. Clearly, the history nerd in me has not subsided, so I now bring you:

If Gamers Were American Founding Fathers

See if you can find anyone in your group (or yourself!) below:

The John Adams--This guy is self-admittedly “obnoxious and disliked”, but he comes up with tons of source material and does lots of cool stuff for your games. That’s about the only reason you've probably kept him around.

The Sam Adams--This guy is all rah-rah for you to run some new campaign and does a great job selling it, but once it actually happens, he’s either a total stiff at the table or fails to show up.

The Ben Franklin--The gamer we all wish we could be. Creative, inspired, and experienced. Always seems to have the best quote of the game, and some crazy invention for an in-game challenge.

The George Washington--This guy gets his butt handed to him weekly. You think he’s run through a dozen level 1 characters in as many sessions. But at the end of the campaign, you realize he’s the only one who made it to every single session, and got to the endgame by sheer persistence.

The Benedict Arnold--This guy was fantastic, and an asset to your game. You’re not sure what happened—maybe someone in the group swiped his Monster Manual—but you wake up one day to find him slagging on your group at your gaming store, in email, and on Facebook. Sad thing is, he’s a great gamer, but you hear he never really found another campaign.

The Horatio Gates—This guy is supposedly an expert, the master of hundreds of RPGs, an adept GM and player with hours upon hours under his belt. He decides to honor you with his presence. The funny thing is, you can’t think of a single session he’s run (except maybe that one he co-DM’d) that went well at all.

The Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion—This guy always plays a rogue. Or thief. Or ninja. Basically, anything that can hide and then pop out and whack bad guys. He won’t stay in town, and isn’t much socially. But he’s probably half the reason your group is still alive.

The John Dickinson—This guy really, really didn’t want to swap editions or change games. When it came to a vote and he was on the losing end, he felt so strongly about it he left the group.

The Ethan Allen—You are not sure about his guy. You’re pretty sure he has weapons buried somewhere under his lawn, and his anti-government tirades are epic. Also, you’re fairly certain he has some manner of criminal record. Yet here is, inexplicably gaming with your group. Come to think of it, who actually invited him?

The Von Steuben—This is one no-nonsense Game Master. He sometimes doesn’t even seem to speak English (“chits?” “referee?”). He doesn’t take any crap, and if you don’t know how to fight, it isn’t for a lack of instruction on his part. You guys go through the gauntlet, but you know you’ve earned everything you get.

The Thomas Jefferson—Eloquent, great backstories for his characters, really plays them up well, but also wants to change characters every 3 weeks.

The Lafayette—Who does this punk kid think he is anyways? Coming in here, taking Horatio’s spot, and….hey! He brought cookies! And he’ll play the cleric! Welcome, kid!

(I shared this with a friend, a fellow history buff, and he replied: “Is Wizards of the Coast George III? A generally benevolent monarch stricken with unfortunate bouts of insanity?” I simply replied WotC wasn’t a gamer).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Preponderance of Encumbrance

You know, I’m sitting here, and I can’t think of a single game—ever—where I’ve used the encumbrance rules as written. Either we simplify, we hand-wave it, or we use common sense. From the Rules Cyclopedia and Palladium Fantasy of when I started gaming to the Castles & Crusades, Rolemaster, and HARP of today, it just one of those parts of the buffalo we don’t use.

Now, that’s not to say I let characters get away with anything; if you have 5 longswords, 2 full backpacks, a rubber tree plant, a spare chain shirt, and 50 feet of rope strapped to your back, and you are of middling strength, you’re not going to be winning any races (or moving that much at all, potentially). We still do generally practice resource management—just not down to the decimal.

So, this is my question to you: am I in the minority here? Do you pay a lot of attention to encumbrance? Why or why not? If so, what does it bring to your game? I’m curious to hear other thoughts on this.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Thoughts On Pushing The Envelope

Yes, D&D was and is about chainmail bikinis, scenes of indescribable gore, and forbidden, dark necrotic wizardry.

But it’s also about groups of all ages coming together to play. It’s about being able to share your hobby with your kids, and being able to pass on a legacy.

Personally, I don’t care for the too-saccharine taste of AD&D 2e. I like things to be a bit gray, perhaps slightly purple. But that’s a far cry from having NC-17 or X-rated material in my games, damaging that common meeting ground with youth and friends, and , all so I can ostensibly show how I’m bucking “Victorian societal values” or rebelling against…well, something. If that’s all D&D is, I think we’re missing a big piece of the pie.

There’s no reason it can’t be both, and it shouldn’t have to align with one or the other. Just as I’m glad there are people like Jim Raggi pushing the envelope (and if you haven’t checked out Death Frost Doom yet, I’d encourage you to do so!), I’m also pleased that there are products out there that won’t offend, that can be used with a wider audience. Just as there's room for the freaky stuff, there's room for that bane of true "indie" artists, the Middle Ground.

In other words, the naked succubus in the Monster Manual isn't quite as forbidden or fun if she's on every page.

People don’t like the term “big tent”, thinking it implies some sort of mediocrity. But there has to be room for all styles. There always has been. And from the moment someone deviated from the rules as published for Original D&D, the game has been branching out in near-infinite directions.

After all, we’re supposed to make the game our own, aren’t we?

Underrated D&D Modules

People have discussed both the best and worst D&D modules of all time. For many, the Drow series, the Giants series, and Keep on the Borderlands, etc., are generally considered to be some of the best D&D modules of all time. On the other side, Castle Greyhawk, Gargoyle, Die Vecna Die! and The Forest Oracle are widely panned.

I’m looking for your thoughts on some of the most underrated D&D modules. You can cite ones that are either usually poorly regarded and/or largely ignored.

I’ll throw out one for starters—B9: Castle Caldwell and Beyond. You don’t hear much about this 1985 module, but it contains 5 adventures that cover a variety of challenging situations. In one, you have to clear out a castle for its new owner; in another, you start behind enemy lines, needing to recover your equipment and escape. There’s a princess rescue, and two above-average, short dungeon crawls to round things out. All in all, this is a varied, entertaining module that should be worth your time to track down.