Thursday, December 31, 2009

RPG Blog 2's Year-End Thoughts

Well, here we are, the last day of 2009. I won’t go into my resolutions for the year to come, and I’ve already mentioned my Picks of 2009, so I thought I’d just end things with a few thoughts.

It was an uneven year for a lot of us. A poor economy, personal hardships all around, the continued struggles of several gaming companies, and the loss of absolute giants in our hobby (RIP, Professor Arneson) were all low points. On the other hand, 3.x fans saw Pathfinder make a triumphant debut, more and more old-school/neoclassical gaming goodies were given unto us, and gaming survives—even thrives, now and then, here and there.

This was not a year of miraculous recovery for our hobby, but it was a year where I saw gamers I knew and respected writing their tails off, actually producing material for others to use. There’s a sandbox/DIY/self-publishing trend that’s still going up, up, up, and that’s phenomenal.

For some us, it was another year removed from the game we used to play, the game that we supported and held a central place in our gaming landscape. But in losing that game, we found it anew. It’s no one’s game to take away or define for us. It is for us to define, and to create for, and to shape.

For all of you who got past the crud this year, rolled a d30, laughed off a Total Party Kill, made up a stupid monster, threatened your dice with "execution", died in Traveller CharGen, landed a critical hit at precisely the right time, self-published something, ran a game at a convention, played a Fighter for the 898th straight time, spilled Mountain Dew on a character sheet, wrote something, took the time to give feedback, or decided your killer robot just didn’t have quite enough lasers, I salute you. May you keep the fires going in 2010.

And if you’ve written something or want to write something and haven’t shared it yet, please consider doing so. Write because you want to, and share without trepidation. Your monster, your advice, your class, or your setting just might be the puzzle piece someone else needs for their gaming.

Please be my guest in joining me here for what should be an awesome 2010…more reviews, more special bargains, more commentary, more gaming material…and yes, More Lasers!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Monoculture and Race-As-Class

In the comments of yesterday’s article on Gnomes, Zzarchov mentioned “mono-cultures”, and how he never liked them. I agree with him—as much as I dislike the practice of divvying Gnomes/Elves/Dwarves into countless sub-species (High Elves, Wood Elves, Sea Elves, Dark Elves, Blood Elves, etc.)—I am guilty of this myself at times, to include my current campaign world of Irrin. Why? Because it’s a quick identifier, a way to say “these aren’t those kind of Elves, they’re these kind of Elves”. It’s a crutch, but if it works, hey, great (and if your campaign is anything like mine, if you pulled out all the crutches, you wouldn’t have much left!).

This is where I think the practice of Race-as-Class (your Race working as an effective definer/limiter of ability, ala Dwarves, Elves, etc., in Basic D&D) possibly clash with fighting monoculture. You’re effectively limiting the definition of that race via Race-as-Class. There are many good reasons to do this—to set demi-human characters apart as something fey and alien, and to line up the expectations of that race with common fantasy literary sources—but it also puts an expectation that only a single type of representative of that race will be seen while adventuring. For some games, that might work to perfection. For me, it’s always been one of the things I’ve struggled with when it comes to Race-as-Class, which is why I generally prefer a more open-ended approach from later editions. I want that variety—I want the full representation and possibilities of Elves, Dwarves, etc. The drawback to no limitations, of course, is that these races tend to be played as pointy-eared or stout humans with merely different stat bonuses.

For me, I think the best way through this is Favored Classes or simply playing the stat bonuses as they are—a bonus or hindrance for playing a certain type of class, but few in the way of absolute limiters. The races have different abilities, but all societies will have their warriors, their healers, their sages. It’s about interpreting what those are for each race and culture. For myself, I favor the wide-open approach of many cultures within a demi-human race for my campaigns. I know others feel differently, and I’d love to hear some examples of each working well (or not) in your campaign.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On Gnomes

Yes, I am a Gnome-Lover, which is for gamers the Love That Dare Not Speak Its Gname. People always think of Elves or Drow as the most hated of characters, but I think you'll find that many people revile Gnomes just as much.

When it was announced Gnomes were not to be one of the "original" races of D&D 4e, the gnome-haters came out in droves. "Good riddance!" and "Worthless" were the cries of the day.

I freely admit to you that Gnomes have a difficult path in fantasy gaming. Not the stout, proud warriors that are Dwarves, or the cute, mischievous Hobbits-turned-Vietnamese Boat People that are Halflings, Gnomes have long held more than a single identity.

The problem with many races outside of Mankind is that we wish to assign them a basic identity, while reserving the "Sooooo Adapatable!" moniker for Humans (a little bit of home cooking, perhaps?). In fantasy gaming Gnomes were originally a more magical race, by turns subterranean and sylvan. They later morphed into the fast-talking crazy inventors of Dragonlance and other settings. By the time of D&D 3.5, their favored class turned from Illusionist to Bard. In my current RPG of choice, Castles & Crusades, they're back to being largely portrayed as wilderness-dwelling Illusionists.

All this means is that we do not agree on what Gnomes should be; they are too small and wizened to be the graceful poster children for the forest that Wood Elves are. And so, left in limbo, Gnomes were endlessly divided; Rock Gnomes, Forest Gnomes, Tinker Gnomes, Deep Gnomes, Sky Gnomes, and several others to boot. Each highlights a different portion of what we want gnomes to be. Personally, I have a race of gnomes in the East of my setting that love trickery, (bad) humor, inventions, explosions, and discovery. In the West, a sylvan race of Gnomes barely survived a technological catastrophe, and became a Luddite society. A "lost tribe" in the High North lives underground and serves dragon overlords by mining and earth magic. I don't know if any will meet or not in my current campaign, but it will be a blast if they do.

I think, in order to really get the most use out of gnomes, they need to be played not unlike we play humankind--with infinite varieties in the gene pool, and interesting, clashing cultures. I am not saying make the cultures humanlike--that seems boring--but emphasize the cultural and philosophical differences between the different types of Gnomes. We have no problems doing this with Elves or Humans--why should Gnomes be different?

Like Elves or Humans, you're going to find something to hate in Gnomes. But there should also be something you like. Their niche is that they can fill whatever niche you choose--there's a treatment of it out there, or you can make your own. Don't lightly consign a race with this much potential to the dustbin.

Monday, December 28, 2009


Well, after your comments and emails, I believe I'm going to keep the blog single-author right now, though I am looking at a couple of ways to spice up content. In 2010 I also want to do more special discounts and offers for readers, though I'm still working on how to do that.

Somewhat to that end, one thing that gets me at time with the Old-School Revival/Resurgence/Renaissance is how at times games other than D&D get a relatively low amount of attention. I understand this; D&D is the lingua franca, the common meeting place for our hobby. But that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of older systems that had bright spots, that truly formulated and defined RPG play for a lot of people. For every GORE or ZeFRS, there's a load of classic gaming that doesn't get the attention it should in a perfect world without time constraints.

For the New Year, one of the things I'm working on is a regular feature of articles on one of the older, more influential games out there. I've narrowed it down to a couple of candidates, but won't be announcing anything specific until the New Year. I wanted something still in print in some form, and with a long legacy in the hobby. I would say Tunnels & Trolls, but that's been covered by better men than I. So stay tuned to see what we'll see in 2010.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

An Act-Fast RPG Freebie

UPDATE: Looks like it's all gone as far as a freebie goes. But for $3.75, still a good deal!


1) Go To This Thread:

2) Go To Post #199.

3) Obtain Code From Aforementioned Post.

4) Hope There Are Still A Few Charges Left On It (there were when I did it -Z.).

5) Redeem Here.

And may your luck be an open-ended roll.....

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Reader Feedback Time!

Lately, I’ve been looking at the way I’m doing things here at RPG Blog 2, and have been thinking about expanding the scope of the site, either by hosted material, bringing other bloggers on board to run it as sort of a combined online magazine site, having a dedicated RPG news section, or a mixture of any/all of these ideas.

Of course, my technical skills are pretty minimal, so you have to keep that in mind. But I’d love to hear anything you’d like to see on here, as well as anything you’d like to see more of! As always, thank you so much for reading!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Wishes From RPG Publishers

With Christmas just a couple of days away, I thought it would be nice to ask some of the gaming companies out there if they had any sentiments for this holiday season. Here’s what they had to say:

Wizards of the Coast—We would like announce a new edition of Christmas. It’s the same as old Christmas, except you are limited to three gifts at any one time, Santa is now something called a Dragonborn, and the elves in his workshop can now teleport.

The Old School Renaissance—We would like Santa depicted as he was in 1857. Any references to Rudolph, Frosty, or the Little Drummer Boy are patently ridiculous, and have no place in the holiday.

Palladium Books—We’re blessed this holiday season, so you can keep it simple when getting a gift for us. Anything incorporating a chainsaw, several weapons-grade lasers, a rocket launcher, and a cybernetic plug-in should be fine.

Iron Crown Enterprises—We apologize for those of you who downloaded our 2008 Holiday Gift Quality Determination Chart. We know some of you are still working on the equations, and we apologize it has taken this long. However, several department heads at MIT have assured us they are close to a breakthrough.

White Wolf—Santa is a lie. All of Creation is a lie. The dark, edgy truth is that Santa is a meth addict and his reindeer are but the physical manifestation of his angst. Also, the carols shall be written in my blood. I have sent out a card. Some would name it holiday. In it you shall find 13,000 words of edgy fiction.

Outlaw Press—We know there has been some discussion about us using the work of others without permissions, and allegations of stealing art. We just want you to know the reason we’re standing here with your Christmas tree about to go up the chimney is that there’s a light that doesn’t light on one side. We’ll take it up to our workshop, and bring it back here. Honest.

RPGnet---[Sell Me On] Christmas. Hey, so what does everyone think of Christmas? Would it be good if I wanted a holiday with presents, a tree, and goodwill towards men? Or should I just use Wushu?

Ron Edwards—You’re all cowards. Christmas should be about gore and sex. Now buy my latest product.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

XP For Exploration

So, our current Castles & Crusades campaign is all about exploration, right? Well, exploration and survival. The player's characters are the survivors of a shipwrecked expedition to this long-forgotten land in the West. So far, they've had a jolly time and managed to explore (or run roughshod) over several of the interesting locales in our sandbox.

But I definitely think I'm going to be giving Gaming Buddha Jeff Rients' idea for Experience Points for exploring and visiting locations a try. I love this. The idea is to reward better reward exploration. For a campaign such as mine, set in sort of a "New World" framing, I really think this may help bring greater attention on the exploration aspect (without wiping out the dungeon crawling, of course).

I mean, the Pools of Portation, The Castle of the Mad ArchMage (thanks, Joseph!), Drakarym, the City of Scales, the Trade-Town of the Sparrow, the Hintercore Forest, Brial, City of Martyrs, the Halls of the Footfalls...these places were meant to be sought after and explored! Of course, it means nothing if I don't provide clues based on player actions in-game.

(He also briefly talks about Rolemaster & MERP....BUT THAT IS ANOTHER STORY....)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Play Recap: Session 5

When last we left our party, they were on the edge of the Fallow Forest, a blighted area of woods that has caused an immense deal of trouble for the shipwrights and loggers.

The blighted area felt unnatural, with the grass and plants turning to a foul slime when touched or trod upon. It made for slow, disgusting going. Antigus, the party's druid, sensed no links with animal life--until, two bears apparently infected/maddened with the blight attacked the party. The party dispatched them with relative ease (except Friar Charles kicked one in the face, and it responded by tearing him up), and soon disovered evidence that someone else had been in the area.

They snuck up on a large party of armed men and workers, apparently being directed by two wizard-looking fellows in dark robes. The workers were burying (without directly touching) two large rocks in the ground. The Nalgin (the cleric) sensed the rocks as pure evil (think Time Bandits). The party was pretty sure this is what was causing the blight.

Oh, and when our resident thief Llewellyn snuck up closer to observe, he noticed a pen holding a half-dozen undead. Lovely!

Vas, the Wild Mage of the group, wanted to try to bluff the people putting the stone in the ground. Didn't work, and the mage ordered his minions to kill him.

Antigus saw that the group was outnumbered about 14 to 6 (not counting zombies), and probably saved the group's bacon by casting Entangle, causing (healthy) plants to shoot out of the group and hold a majority of the enemy in place. However, the enemy still had 3 archers hiding behind wagons, who were doing some grievous damage early on. Vas cast light on the face of one of the horses pulling the wagons, and this spooked them. Even without cover, the archers did some nasty damage, with Vas getting dropped and Friar Charles using himself as a human shield until he could get him out of harm's way.

Elsewhere, Nalgin was up to his old tasks of throwing the fantasy equivalent of Molotov cocktails at baddies. Pretty effective when they have no choice but to stand and burn! He eventually was dropped by an enemy warrior, but survived. Leyton again proved his worth with a bow, pulling off some incredible cross-battlefield shots to put the hurt one of the mages quickly.

The mage had also barked an order to a solider that wasn't entangled to open the pen holding the zombies. Too bad for him Llewellyn, our thief, was there to backstab the living snot out of him.
Actually, Llewellyn has become quite adept at becoming our guy who always seems to get in the killing shot. You know when other people have done like 60 points of damage and the guy's still standing, then some comes along, does 3 points of damage and the guy drops? That's Llewellyn.

After the mage was destroyed, the few remaining opponents fled into the woods.

Well, how to get rid of these rocks? Friar Charles and the cleric Nalgin decided to try a blessing ceremony of sorts. Whatever malevolence was in the rocks resisted, and in the end, the rocks were destroyed! The blight began to recede as soon this happened.

At last, the group counted up their loot. A small ruby amulet had been found that seemed to radiate some minor magics. Leyton found an adept's spellbook, which he tucked away (in violation of the compact in place for sharing treasure! Let's see if it comes back to bite him). A goodly number of silver, gold, and one or two platinum coins were found, all with twin death's-heads stamped on them.

Perhaps the best discovery were the scrolls and letters (I actually rolled up paper for the scrolls, so they'd have to open them to find out what they were. Vas opened one that was warded by Explosive Runes, dropping him to negative HP for the 2nd time in the session. They found coded (and promptly magically deciphered) letters that seemed to indicate whoever was behind this had plans against not only Sidon, but Morsten, the City of the Tower (Mage Central). There was also some mention of places or things called the Witches' Stone and the Pools of Portation, and also about discovering access to something belonging to the Mad ArchMage (not the first time his name has popped up in their travels. Seriously, if they ever compare all their notes, they might see some running threads, eventually).

Apparently, the group the party had defeated had some friends. The party tried to rest in the woods that night on their way back to Sidon, but the baying of hounds and angry voices woke them up. An exhausting, on-edge struggle to flee through the forest took place. The group barely outran their pursuers, cleared the forest, and made it to a fortified farmstead, where they collapsed and slept until the next afternoon.

The next morning, their host noticed the insignia on the armor Friar Charles had obtained from one of the slain villians. The farmer paled, and excused himself. Upon further querying, and with evident fear in his voice, he asked if Charles was from Darrakis.

As to who or what Darrakis is, the party will find out more when we resume play after the New Year. They have the information somewhere--it'll just be a matter of finding it.

Great session, and as usual, I've probably left out a lot, but I had a blast yet again. I can only hope the group feels the same way!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Best & Worst of Gaming 2009, Part IV

We're back with a few final thoughts on some of the best & worst of gaming from 2009.

Best Trend

Gold: Do-It-Yourself. There has been an explosion of the "DIY" mindset online, which means we are seeing more cool dungeons, games, ideas, and supplements than ever before.

Basically, more people are producing more awesome things. And that's great. It's also nice when those things are Creative Commons or Open Source, to allow someone to riff off of them further.

Worst Trend

Gold: Losing more people who were friends and a part of the legacy of this hobby. RIP Dave Arneson, Jerry Mapes, and all the other folks we're missing from this past year.

Silver: $99 RPGs with 30 specialty dice, cards, and special pieces I need to play. OK, Warhammer 3e, it isn't totally your fault, but that's not what I want in the hobby. Give me inexpensive books, OGL pdfs, and accessible games.

Best Free Product

Gold: Castle of the Mad Archmage. Joseph Bloch has given us multiple installments of a worthy successor to the never-finished Castle Zagyg/Greyhawk. While they aren't canon, they are evocative, and and a great boon to those of us who were left wanting more.

Silver: Swords & Wizardry Quick Start. If you regularly read this blog, you've probably heard of this product. If not, I can tell you this self-contained beauty is one of the best ways to jump back in to classic-style gaming.

Trend I Hope To See In 2010

Gold: More Boxed Sets! I know there are several on the horizon. To a greater extent, start giving me everything I need to play in one product, two at most.

Product Of The Year

Gold: Pathfinder. Even as my tastes slide towards less complex games, Pathfinder looks to have successfully become the continuation of the 3e/3.5 legacy. It has a claim as a continuing lingua franca for the hobby. From their open beta to their massive Gen Con debut, it's hard to think of a product that had a better year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Technical Difficulties

Apologies, but we’re in the middle of moving (right before Christmas, can you beat that?), and we’re still troubleshooting the internet with our service provider. That means limited internet access, and no access at all to my primary email account. So my apologies, but we’ll be back on track as soon as possible.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Best & Worst of Gaming 2009, Part III

We'll continue our look back at the best & worst of 2009 today with 3 more categories.

Best Gaming Supplement

Gold: Fight On! Magazine. I could tell you how I anxiously await the new issue of Fight On! every quarter, and I'd mean it. But as a gamer and a writer, Fight On! and the community surrounding it have helped push me to do more writing and creating on my own, which is what's really invaluable to me. Not everything published in Fight On! is perfect; it's a sometimes-sloppy, unwieldly, hugely enthusiastic hodgepodge of gaming material. That just adds to the charm.

Silver: Kobold Quarterly. Wolfgang Baur's mag has weathered the entire 3e/4e split nicely, and has been a fantastic periodical in its own right. The letters sections, the interviews, the GM tips--it all adds up to what a gaming mag should be.

Best Gaming Accessory

Gold: Disposable Heroes, Precis Intermedia. Seriously, the options for PIG's customizable paper minis line keep growing, which is great for those like me who just don't have the time for painting pewter minis right now.

Silver: Hexographer, Inkwell Ideas. Hexographer cut down on my mapping work so much, it's ridiculous. It allows me to create beautiful overland hexmaps with as much speed and detail as HexMapper. (I also reviewed this product in Fight On! #7, for those curious).

Best Production Values

Gold: Pathfinder RPG, Paizo Publishing. Not only can it stop a small-caliber bullet, it looks good doing it. For such a massive tome, the overall production quality is truly fantastic.

Silver: Mouse Guard, Archaia Studios Press. The physical attractiveness of this product is excellent, considering it is geared towards being able to be played with youngsters. Should have guessed when Luke Crane's crew got together, you'd end up with a good-looking book.

Stay tuned for Part IV!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Best & Worst of Gaming 2009, Part II

We continue today with our rundown of the best and worst of the RPG hobby in 2009.

Best Public Relations

Gold: Any Publisher Who Participated in Free RPG Day. What a great event this is! While there's always room for improvement, publisher who choose or are able to participate in this event really do a lot to get their products seen on a local level. It'd be great to see more small-press publishers do something for Free RPG Day online (hat tip: Mark of Dice Monkey).

Silver: Palladium's X-Mas Grab Bags. Whatever else Palladium may stir up during the year, each holiday season the staff at Palladium goes the extra mile to stuff as much product as they can inside their X-Mas Grab Bags. It's not unusual for people to find products in their grab bag worth 3 or 4 times what they paid for grab bag itself. What cements their place is how hard they try to fill special fan requests; ask for something out-of-print, weird or obscure, and they'll try to find a way to make it happen. And that's how you turn general fans into true fanatics.

Worst Public Relations

Gold: Outlaw Press. A last-minute entry, Outlaw Press blew away the field with their alleged plagiarism, theft, and complete disregard of intellectual property. Here's a summary of the "case" thus far. There aren't words.

Silver: Joe Goodman. I respect Joseph Goodman, but this was a poor PR year for him. First was his self-loving 4e business analysis that came off as his self-proclamation as RPG Jesus, then there was a lesson in How Not To Respond To A Poor Review. Mr. Goodman, get back to the basics and learn how to interact with gaming fans.

Bronze: WotC's PDFGate. Wizards of the Coast should be thanking their lucky stars for Goodman and Outlaw press, which saved them from the Gold in this category. Pulling all of their pdfs without notice? Crappy. A half-assed, insulting spin job afterwards? Even crappier. This is still the event that severed the last reason for utility or esteem many gamers of older editions had for Wizards of the Coast.

Best Gaming Website

Gold: Obsidian Portal. Obsidian Portal continues to add new features for their campaign-hosting website, and between maps, wikis, forums, and more, it's never been easier to stow your campaign online. Obsidian Portal also gets bonus points for really listening to customer feedback, and remaining active in the gaming community.

Stay tuned for Part III tomorrow, where we cover the best in a whole range of categories!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Best & Worst of Gaming 2009, Part I

As promised, here is Part I of my year-end review my favorite (and a few least favorite) things from the past year in the RPG hobby.

Best Gaming Company

Gold: Paizo Publishing. Regular contests for fans, opportunities to right, excellent customer support when I had an issue, accessible company staff, and a well-managed release of a new standard in OGL gaming. If Paizo makes mistakes, they don't make many.

Silver: Wolfgang Baur's Open Design. Wolfgang Baur's endeavor has expanded this year, churning out so many quality products it's hard to know where to begin. Like Paizo, their fan relations are top-rate.

Best Gaming Company, Small Press Division

Gold: Gamescience. Back with a fancy new booth at Gen Con this year and the viral videos of Col. Louis Zocchi, Gamescience has seen a resurgence in interest across the blogosphere. The perfect dice company to match the Old School Revival.

Best Sci-Fi Product

Gold: Eclipse Phase. I don't usually do Transhuman sci-fi, but Eclipse Phase mixes it with horror and a bit of investigative conspiracy and comes up with a nice shot in the arm for the sci-fi RPG genre. Oh, and did I mention it was published under a Creative Commons license? Total bonus points there.

Best Fantasy Product

Gold: Dungeon Alphabet. If you took someone who knew absolutely nothing about traditional dungeon design for RPGs and handed them this book, you would have a steely-eyed master architect on your hands in no time flat. There's been a lot of good stuff to come out of the Old School resurgence this year; Dungeon Alphabet may be the most purely useful.

Best Adventure

Gold: Death Frost Doom. Jim Raggi manages to do something different with this adventure, and that's successfully bring the nightmarish, unsettling aspects of weird tales to adventuring. Horror is hard to do in an adventure, let alone slowly building horror, but it's nailed here. This is a product that successfully jolts players out of their comfort zone without resorting to being a pure meat grinder, something I've grown to increasingly appreciate over the years.

Stay tuned tomorrow, as we look at the Best & Worst of RPG Public Relations, and reveal the Best Gaming Website!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

RPG Circus: Best & Worst in Gaming '09

Episode 13 of the RPG Circus Podcast (our last show of 2009) is out, and instead of our traditional 3-ring discussion format, we go over the Best & Worst (mainly Best) in Gaming for this past year. Take a listen, and see if your choices made it!

For those of you who absolutely loathe podcasts, fear not: I'll be doing several articles running down my 2009 choices this week.

PS for listeners: Yes, I forgot to mention WotC's PDFGate....

Thursday, December 10, 2009

4e And The Changing Language of D&D

I often see updates from my gaming pals on Twitter or Facebook talking about “Strikers”, “Controllers”, “shift square”, “healing surges”, and so on in regards to D&D 4th Edition. I, as someone with minimal 4e experience who early on decided it wasn’t for him, often can’t make heads or tails of what they’re talking about, especially when it’s in regards to monster design and the like. It makes a bit harder to casually follow their game plans and recaps, even though I usually muddle through.

This reminds me a bit of the differences in British English, American English, Australian English, and so on. The dialects share a common heritage, but separation in the form of time and geography have rendered differences in each, so that slang in one dialect may be incomprehensible to another. Though they may share some of the same words, each dialect has its own internal references that may be hard for outsiders to comprehend. To an extent, it’s happened with every edition, though my not playing 4e much is likely the cause of my disconnect here.

With D&D 4e, though most things are understandable to fans of previous editions (hit points, etc.), there’s a bit of static in there that I find interesting. Casual and slang references to 4e can often go right over my head. I’m used to being able to speak in either sort of a generic Old School Vernacular—the nature of those systems generally means that you can understand the underpinnings of the systems without much trouble, be it OSRIC, Castles & Crusades, or Swords & Wizardry. There are fewer specialized terms and abilties, fewer concepts to grasp, and that’s probably half of it right there. D20/3.5/Pathfinder is its own language cluster, largely interchangeable thanks to the unifying aspects of the Open Gaming License. Both seem a bit closer to the gaming lingua franca I employ.

Please understand, this isn’t a slam on 4e; the edition wars are largely over, the armistice long since signed (or so we hope). Every edition is a different than the ones that precede it. But if I was looking for additional proof the game has strayed further from how I think of D&D, I would look at the language barrier, I suppose.

What will be interesting to see is how the game’s language changes when the next edition hits in the next 2-3 years or so.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fight On #7 Released!

I would be so very remiss if I did not announce the release of Issue 7 of Fight On! Magazine, just in time for the holidays! In fact, if you're looking for something for that gamer on your list, whether they love OD&D, AD&D, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry Castles & Crusades, any one of a dozen other classic-style RPGs, or just inspired, fun gaming ideas, you could do a lot worse than to pick up a few issues of Fight On! for their stocking.

Link here. Oh, and if you enter HUMBUG at checkout you save 10%. Here's the basics:

Deep under the misty mountains, the proudest and toughest keep Fighting On! Join us in those days of blood and plunder by picking up a copy of issue 7, dedicated to M.A.R. Barker and featuring EIGHT adventures, tables, settings, reviews, encounters, monsters, spells, magic items, new classes, non-canonical expansions to Empire of the Petal Throne, and much, much more! With art and articles by Akrasia, Mark Allen, Lee Barber, Baz Blatt, Calithena, Jeff Dee, Krista Donnelly, Allan Grohe, Zach Houghton, Gabor Lux, James Maliszewski, Peter Mullen, Stefan Poag, Alex Schroeder, Anthony Stiller, and more, this is one of the most beautiful issues we've produced. Take your game to the next level and buy it today!

Table of Contents
Legend of the Dullahan (Matthew Riedel)……………….3
Creepies & Crawlies (Zach Houghton & Douglas Cox).....7
Temple of the Sea Demon (Gabor Lux)…………………9
Knightly Orders (Robert “Treebore” Miller)…………....14
The Shaman (James Maliszewski)………………………16
Thrazar (Steve Zieser)………………………………….19
The Devil’s in the Details: Pé Chói (Baz Blatt)…………20
Former Gnomish Caves (Alex Schröder)……………….25A
Part of the Tsuru’úm (Baz Blatt)……………………..26
Barony of Northmarch (Coffee)…………………….….27
Rad Expanse of the Broken Moon (Brian Isikoff)……...28
Song of Tranquility (Jerry Stratton)………………….…29
Tables for Fables (Age of Fable)……………………….35
Maze Master’s Miscellany (Beaudry, Random, & Rients).36
Grognard’s Grimoire (Ragnorakk & Mistretta)…………37
Beware the Lord of Eyes (Allan T. “Grodog” Grohe)….38
The Forgotten Entity (Geoffrey McKinney)…………....44
Mooning Ixtandraz (Peter Schmidt Jensen)…………….45
Wandering Harlot Table (Adam Thornton)………….…46
From Tekumel’s Underground (Aaron Somerville)……..48
The Search for Lord Chúrisan (Krista Donnelly)……….52
Taking it with you (Lawson Reilly)……………………..61
The Duchy of Briz (Akrasia)…………………….……...63
Darkness Beneath: The Fane of Salicia (Lee Barber)…....66
The Four M’s (Calithena)………………………………77
Critical Misfortune (Clovis Cithog)……………………..78
One Charge Left (Lee Barber)………………………….79
One Time at D&D Camp… (Harnish & Robbins)……..80
Finding Players (James Edward Raggi IV)………….…...82
Merlyn’s Mystical Mirror (various)……………………...85
Artifacts, Adjuncts, & Oddments (Green & Calithena)....88

Front cover by Peter Mullen. Back cover by Brad Johnson. Fight On! and Erol Otus logos by Jeff Rients. M.A.R. Barker photograph by Giovanna Fregni. Interior art and cartography by Mark Allen ( 3,5,29,33,37,38,42,44,48,49,56,57,60,62), Matthew Riedel (4,7), Black Blade Publishing ( 5,37), Dei Games (, 6), Anthony Stiller (7,40,41,42,43), Lee Barber ( 8 (logo),66,68,71,72,73,74,75,77,79), Kelvin Green ( 8,88), Otherworld Miniatures ( 9), Gabor Lux (10,11,12,13), Bill Hooks (14,15,36), Tita’s House of Games ( 15), Steve Zieser (19), Kesher (23,51,59), Alex Schröder (25,43,54,58,84), Baz Blatt (26), Coffee (27), Brian Isikoff (28), Jerry Stratton (; 30,31,32,33), Age of Fable (35), Martin “Istarlömé” Gillette (40), Peter Jensen (45,88), Jeff Dee (50), Talzhemir (51), Mikko Torvinen (64), Akrasia (65), Robert S. Conley (66), Ben Robbins (80), James Forest & Larry Whitsel (81), Stefan Poag (84), M.A.R. Barker (85), Joe Wetzel (86), and Eric Bergeron & Rob Kuntz (87).

Adopt A Soldier With Kobold Quarterly

While there are many wonderful charities and causes to support during this Season of Giving, I wanted to take today to highlight one of the coolest gaming-related ones in my book. Kobold Quarterly's Adopt-A-Soldier program already allows participants to sponsor a soldier with a gift subscription (print & pdf) to KQ.

Now Kobold Quarterly is running an Adopt-A-Soldier Holiday Contest, which will allows participants to win some pretty awesome stuff just for doing something nice for our servicemen & women. It's win/win, and a great idea--kudos to KQ for doing it. The military is one of the biggest bastions of gamers, and it's wonderful to see them supported. We veterans sincerely appreciate the thought!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Let It Out: The Best & Worst Of 2009

Me and the lads at RPG Circus are going to be recording our "Best and Worst of Gaming 2009" episode this week. We'll be covering our selections in such categories as Best New Game, Best/Worst Trend in Gaming, Best/Worst Public Relations Moments, Best Free Product, Best Gaming Companies, and lots more along those lines. While we're waiting to record, I'd love to hear your favorite (and least favorite) moments and selections from 2009. If you have something exceedingly droll or pithy, we'll see about using it in our show!

So what would your 2009 picks look like?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Play Recap: Session 4

You know those sessions where everything seems chaotic, and there's as much out-of-character discussion/off topic as in-character/on topic?

That was Session 4 of our Far West Castles & Crusades campaign this past Friday night at Saltire Games.

Our group was meeting a week later than usual because of the (U.S.) Thanksgiving break. I honestly think that was half the reason for the lack of focus, but it was also just getting to hang out again and BS with people that love many of the things you love.

Unfocused or no, it was a great time. Gaming groups need those now and then, and as long as everyone is having fun, I think it's great. Topics covered included a large dose of Napoleonic history, reflections on the hard luck of Poland and Belgium, British movie characters, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, identification of child predator vans, Margaret Thatcher's funeral planning, making fun of Twilight, no one biting on Warhammer Fantasy 3e, Lunch Money, Blazing Saddles (repeatedly), and yes, a few things not related to our campaign.

When last we left our heroes, they had regrouped in the city of Sidon. There was much debate on whether to strike out towards one of the cities further west (such as Morsten, the City of the Towers), head back into the still-unexplored portions of the Troublesome Tunnels, or follow up on rumors that the Shipwright's Forest was being afflicted by a strange blight.

There were also a few items to be identified, including Leyton's Ring of Luck (limited), and an axe Antigus found which has powers that may be yet to be unlocked. The group also got around to drawing up a group charter. The Laughing Frog was their expedition ship before it foundered off the coast, so, it appears they are now the Company of the Laughing Frog! Antigus spent time drawing frogs, and made an order on future item distribution.

Well, any time you have a party in town for more than 5 minutes, you're going to have some nuttiness. Without going too deeply into it, a goodly portion of time was spent laughing at the naming of the Bear Pit (a nasty shoreside dive complete with a bear-baiting pit), possibly lumping it in with Police Academy's Blue Oyster Bar (it wasn't). At the Inn of Sargent Street, meanwhile, Leyton tried out his Ring of Luck on some friendly gambling (net gain for all uses: 8 silver), and Llewellyn continued to drink cheap swill--that is, until Vas got drunk and had a wild magic "surge" at the wrong time, causing dirt to appear a rain down on everything in the bar.

Vas paid restitution, and the Inn at Sargent Street no longer welcomes Vas & Friends.

The party learned that there was to be a meeting between the Admirality Board (ruling body for Sidon), and the owners of the shipyards and other concerned parties regarding the blight in the forest. They discovered it was invite only, but Nalgan (our dwarven priest) and his assistant/batsman/whipping boy/man o' the people Friar Charles managed to finagle some credentials from Brother Diego at the small local church.

The group made it in to the meeting, and Nalgan prepared to present his case to those assembled to allow this group to go deal with the blight in the forest (and gain some renown and further assistance). Nalgan didn't quite make his Charisma roll, so I said, "your speech is going to have to really do the trick".

"Check," says he.

Nalgan's player is a refugee of amazingly worthy Hackmaster, which means he was Born to Hack. But here he absolutely knocked it out of the park with an inspirational speech somehow tying in logging rights, patriotism, and...well, it was beautiful. What topped it off is that the rest of the group spontaneously began humming Battle Hymn of the Republic, crescendoing at the triumphant final phrases of his speech. Oh, it was effort.

Mad, mad XP for that.

The next morning, off the party heads, to the northwest portion of the forest (their mapping efforts are doing pretty good, too, I should add). Antigus used his druid skills to befriend a brown bear (named Julia, apparently) that wandered across their camp while they still travelled through the verdant portions of the forest. At the end of the second day, they came to the edge of the blighted area. It was almost like a direct line running through the forest. On one side, healthy, green plants and grasses. On the other, the plants seemed rotted, bark sloughed wetly off the side of trees, and a sickly-sweet rotting odor permeated the entire area. With night quickly approaching, the group pulled back about 100 yards to set up camp, and would explore the infected area in the morning. The forest was quiet, with the few animals Antigus sensed seeming panicked or nervous.

That night on 2nd watch, Leyton, standing vigil by a spot on the edge of the blight, was nearly run down by something black, snarling, and scaly. It shot by him and into the middle of the camp, snapping and hissing at everything in reach. Looking like a quadruped dragon breed, it was the size of the tiger, and moved like one to boot. It managed to get its slavering jaws around Julia, which was soon the end of the Druid's bear friend.

A couple of players were able to supercharge some damage rolls (Leyton with an arrow and Vas with a magic missile) to really hurt the nasty beast, and I couldn't roll worth snot. Nalgan the cleric threw some flasks of oil and managed to set the beast en fuego using flame from the campfire, which continued to hurt it. Friar Charles dropped his mace, and wanted to try to punch the beast, which was hilarious. The way he said it made him sound like a hardboiled 7o's detective--he just needed a snub-nosed .38 to complete the picture . Antigus missed several times early, but mortally wounded the beast at last. After it fell, Llwellyn connected on a coup-de-grace to finish it off. That's where we stopped for the night, with the group getting ready to head into the diseased portion of the forest.

It turns out nearly everyone in the party leveled after this session. No more 1 Hit Point characters! Luck was definitely on their side, as the odds of progressing to Level 2 on one HP are not sparkling.

I was really proud of the group stepping up on the roleplaying this week. For me, it doesn't have to happen to have a good game, but it is a sign people are getting into things. I can't say enough good things about this group, and how much fun they are to run for.

We will have our last session of 2009 on December 18, and will resume after the New Year!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Discussion: The Next D&D Setting

Today's Friday Discussion takes up back to D&D, and I figured I'd lob a softball after a tough week.

Well, with Blackmoor being pulled back to WotC and Dark Sun on its way, what does everyone think will be the next announced setting after Dark Sun (I don't know either, just that it won't be Blackmoor)? What would you like it to be (or like it not to be)?

A cookie for displaying your incredible powers of logic! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

HinterWelt's Happy Holidays Sale

Fear not if you missed out on Black Friday or Cyber Monday--HinterWelt Enterprises has got you covered for the gamer on your list (even if that gamer is you!). The Happy Holidays Sale offers 20% off all their in-print titles across the board.

I've mentioned Squirrel Attack! here before, but HinterWelt has done some other really cool books as well. For sci-fi that is character-centered but not necessarily human-centered (humans are pretty much cockroaches in this instance), check out Nebuleon Revised. For the single-best True20 setting out there, try Roma Imperious (also available in Iridium flavor). An alternate Roman timeline where the Empire doesn't crumble in the 4th and 5th centuries, Roma Imperious was nominated for Best Setting when I was an ENnies judge--and as I recall, is one of the few products all the judges were pretty high on. Oh, and a free pdf is included with the print copy.

One of the great things about HinterWelt's books is how easy they make it to swap out the system by keeping it compartmentalized from the setting.

The sale apparently runs through January 2, 2010, so grab something while the getting's good!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Native Art and Legacy

This may seem slightly non-sequitur at first, but I stumbled upon this website called “Listening To Our Ancestors”. It’s basically an overview of Native American relics and items from the Pacific Northwest. It really made me think about the intricacy and craftsmanship that can be found among civilizations we might dismiss or all lump together. It’s made me really want to highlight in my campaign the legacy of some of the indigenous peoples of my world. Do me a favor and look through the collection—I think you might find it inspiring for your own campaign. Then again, I find inspiration in some pretty weird places at times.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Anchors of Fantasy

Mr. Raymond Feist is not the world's most original writer, but his books continually top bestseller lists. Forgotten Realms novels regularly feature predictable characters doing predictable things, but still manage to have a hefty market penetration. What do they have in common?

I believe both offer anchors to the reader. In Feist’s case, many of his cultures or nations are thinly-disguised real-life cultures or old fantasy stereotypes. Feist does not spend much time, if any, detailing anything new in fantasy; he gives the reader something familiar as a point reference, tells any truly new cultural descriptors to get the hell out of the way, and writes his story. No one’s saying it’s the most creative literature ever, but it’s also been read by about 7 million more people than anything I’ve ever written.

In the Forgotten Realms, you do have some real-world analogues, but Realms novelists have the benefit of writing about a world defined (and that has defined) multiple standard fantasy tropes in the world’s most popular roleplaying game. Again, Realms authors don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time out—though to be fair, at times they do come up with an original idea or two.

These anchors are common in fantasy today, whether it be tabletop gaming or a fantasy novel. Predictability and easy definition are sometimes loathed by those seeking more exotic fantasy, but there is a reason that the most popular fantasy works retain a mainstream definition and point of reference. It keeps the entry barrier down, and allows people to more easily immerse themselves in a game or a novel.

I have seen games and books (some written by good friends) that completely overdo the entire anchor concept. They are too staid, too predictable, too similar to the mundane world to be effective escapist fare. On the other hand, I have seen truly esoteric or eclectic fantasy efforts (Tékumel, anyone?) which remain niche at best. It’s not that you can’t create less familiar fantasy that has an easy entry point, it’s just apparently a harder task for many.

If you want true accessibility for your work, think first in vanilla, then add your sprinkles and toppings.