Sunday, January 31, 2010

Welcome Motor City Gamewerks!

I was pleased to see that RPG author and friend to this site Jason Marker has his blog, Motor City Gamewerks, up and running. Jason did some great work on the Robotech RPG, and has since moved on to working on Rogue Trader for Fantasy Flight Games. Combine this with his near-legendary GMing skills and the fact he's always a great guy to talk to, and I'm expecting big things out of his blog.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Whoops--S2E2 Of RPG Circus!

I can't believe this, but in all of this week's excitement, I forgot to post a link to our most recent RPG Circus episode! In last week's Season 2, Episode 2, we wrapped up a shorter-than-usual cast with 3 topics:

-What Do You Bring To A Gaming Session?

-Keeping A GM's Binder

-Gaming Etiquette

We'll be recording again this weekend--everyone's favorite bi-weekly RPG podcast is just too much fun not to!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Discussion: End of the Star Wars License

Well, it looks like after a good run, Wizards of the Coast will not be renewing the Star Wars license with Lucasfilm. Both the minis and RPG lines will go away, with the license officially ending this May.

The license has been interesting for WotC at times, with limits imposed on print production of RPG lines, and rare supplements appearing for thousands of dollars on Amazon (yes, really). And that's going to be this week's Friday Discussion at RPG Blog 2:

What would you like to see for Star Wars and tabletop roleplaying? Is there a company you'd like to see come down with the license, or did your involvement with the line stop from West End Games' did?

Have a great weekend, and I look forward to reading your thoughts below!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

On RPG Awards, the ENnies, and Fans

I saw the press release yesterday on some changes to the ENnies. I'm very pleased that PR Coordinator Tony Law is stepping up his role in the ENnies. I think his diligence and integrity will go a long way towards growing the awards in terms of reputation, and can't wait until next year, when he assumes the role as Business Manager. Among the items discussed in this podcast were the aforementioned personnel moves, a stricter publisher deadline, and a charge for electronic submissions.

-The strict publisher deadline is a welcome change. The judges work too hard to be slammed with "special exceptions" at the tail-end of their evaluation period. Special exceptions smack of favoritism in the first place, and anything that cuts down on that should be welcomed.

-Now, I'm not thrilled with the $5-10 fee for submissions. I understand the arguments for it, but if companies have to donate to be "considered", I think there should be more disclosure. Yes, the awards are expensive. Of course, there is an auction as well to raise money for this event. How much does hosting the ENnies and the awards cost? How much of a shortfall is there from what is made in auction proceeds or from sponsors? A "community" event should be clear and open to the community it is a part of. I think openness can only help, not hinder, donation and participation. Open the books, and let us see that these charges are warranted.

(In the interests of full disclosure before continuing, for those that do not know, I was an ENnies judge for one year. I was re-elected, but resigned before completing my second term. There's enough stuff out there online on it that you can rehash it if you wish, but right now I'm not going to).

Now currently, on the RPG Awards front, there are 3 "main" endeavors: the ENnies, the Origins Awards, and the Indie RPG Awards. (There's also the Diana Jones Award, which is esoteric, secretive, and apparently random enough to be useless to the average gamer). The Indie RPG Awards are somewhat excluding by their nature--nothing wrong with that, it's just a design thing. The Origins Awards used to be more organized, but in recent years have been somewhat poorly organized, with some people unaware of where the awards ceremony was even taking place. By default, almost, the ENnies have become the preeminent awards ceremony. That's not to say that many talented, wonderful people haven't put a lot of hard work into making this the most enjoyable event possible.

I remain convinced that we can do better. I understand the need for the judges, but think that there should be a "6th judge", as it were--the fan vote. Now, the fans already get to pick and vote from the finalists, but the point remains that in a group of 5 people, it doesn't take much personal bias to have a finalist list that misses many of the popular choices. While I think eventually I'd like to figure out a way to make both the nomination and voting process purely fan-based, I think letting "Fan Voting" in the nominations as, say, 1/6th of the vote, would be a great start. But why stop there? It may be too late for this year, but what sort of award do you want in 2011?

I understand that there's the viewpoint that the fans get their say when they elect the judges. That may be true, but whenever you go to a representative democracy, 5 people virtually huddled together for months on end, there's a lot that can go on. I know from experience that you can end up with "well, Company X didn't get nominated, and Company Y was nominated 4 times. Company X is such a good supporter, can we switch them out?" Somewhere along the way, the voter's intent can be lost or hidden.

Making the process as direct, open, and purely democratic as possible can only enhance the award's prestige and reputation. No more dealing with fees to be entered, no more 6 copies of books to an organization and judges overloaded with reading and gaming assignments. No more guessing what goes on behind closed doors. We can do better, and I hope the ENnies does so.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Zack's Dozen: Winter Update!

Last year, I started doing Zack's Dozen on the sidebar, which is a way for me to share some products, old, new, and upcoming, that are getting my attention just now. It doesn't mean those are the only things I'm focused on, but it does represent some cool products or projects that have me interested.

Let's hear it one more time for our previous dozen, in no particular order, as always! Just because they're not in the current Dozen doesn't mean we'll be seeing them again:

1) Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies

2) Gamescience Dice

3) On Her Majesty's Arcane Service

4) Gaming Paper

5) Castle Keeper's Guide

6) Chronica Feudalis

7) Open d6

8) Lake Geneva Castle & Campaign

9) Pathfinder RPG

10) Fight On!

11) Eclipse Phase

12) Hellfrost


We have a few games and products that have held on to a spot in the Dozen--good for them! The rest are new entries (again, in no particular order of ranking):

1) Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits!

2) Dresden Files RPG

3) Hexographer

4) Agon RPG

5) Trailblazer

6) Rolemaster Express

7) The d66 Product Line

8) The Dungeon Alphabet

9) Stonehell Dungeon

10) Basic Roleplaying

11) Castle of the Mad Archmage

12) Fight On!

I hope you'll take the time to at least browse this list--my gaming tastes are pretty eclectic, so hopefully there's something for everyone on there! Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Adding A Mythic Greek Touch To Your Campaign

We forget that it was not so long ago that anyone daring to call themselves a learned gentleman would have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of Homer and Thucydides, of Plato and Herodotus. In short, Classical Greece and all its treasures were a mandatory part of higher learning.

More than this, though, they were something familiar to us—the struggles of mortals against capricious gods, tales of endless adventure, paragons of virtue and vice, cowardice and heroism. The mythology of a Greece that perhaps never really was has captivated us, and has influenced our poetry, our literature, and yes, our fantasy.

In my Middle Isles campaign I’m working on, I’ve been pushing to add a bit of mythical Greece to the mix (I mentioned Mythic Greece in yesterday’s post). The great thing about trying to adapt the “feel” of a Greece of myth and legend, rather than a Classical Greece proper, is that I can get a little loose with the themes, while still giving the game that overall feel. And it’s a great feeling—the dawn of modern thought, a time when the gods seemed nearer and the veil between worlds a bit more diaphanous, where single heroes could alternately raise and humble city-states, and getting to play with icons that remain a part of the world’s fantastic traditon to the present day.

As I said, if you’re looking to add a bit of mythic Greece to your game, you don’t have to learn ancient Greek to do it, or even throw the Gygax out with the bathwater. Here are a few items to consider to make your setting a bit more “Greek” to you:

-Technology: Forget the printing press, and forget deep-sea voyages. Ship travel is harrowing, and largely coastal in nature, or relatively short jaunts across open water. Bronze, “the beautiful metal”, is key, being used for weaponry and armor. Iron is cheaper, easier to mass-produce, and will change many things, but where bronze rules, metal is expensive. Spears and leather armor represent the most many warriors will have. A set of full bronze armor will be worth a prince’s ransom. Shields will often only have a coating of metal.

-Monsters: You don’t have to throw out the orc and goblin, but you can augment it with some pretty awesome classical monsters. The Gorgon, Manticore, Harpy, Siren, Ogres, Satyrs, Hydra, and many other fantasy creatures have easily-researched Greek origins. What is commonplace to us should not be so commonplace. These are creatures of legend. They aren’t going down easy.
-Heroes: As much fun as it to start out as a conscript-turned-hero, don’t be shy about giving a touch of the divine to your character. Perhaps he was the son of a river nymph, or a descendant of Ares. Perhaps Athena hates him for the offense his father once gave during an improper sacrifice. Give your players an impressive pedigree, but make the mountains they need to climb all the harder for it.

-Gods: Many games have the gods as moralistic, or easily-defined deific archetypes. No, you want petty, squabbling, gods, deities that mankind can see the greatest and worst of their attributes And while deific interaction isn’t a daily occurrence, not doing proper homage to the gods or ending up on the wrong side of a war can definitely see their interference. And they aren’t below showing up in the mortal realm from time to time.

-Quests: You don’t need to cut out the dungeon crawling, but imagine a labyrinth housing a horrifying Minotaur, who has devoured any human who has set foot in his lair. Or attempting to outwit the guardian of Hades. Or being given a series of impossible tasks by a cruel tyrant that no mere human could hope to complete. Or being cast from strange shore from strange shore because you angered a god. Bring the classical themes of adventure back into your campaign!


There are many wonderful books on Mythic or Classical Greece; I’ve used more than a few of them in giving my Middle Isles campaign I’m working on a bit of a Greek feel. Here are only a few recommendations, but there are tons of great resources out there. Greek religion and life were far from as simple or as easily-defined as we often make them out to be, but I’m not above using a condensed, popular account to have a good time. Are you?

RPG Books:

Mythic Greece, Iron Crown Enterprises

Mazes & Minotaurs

GURPS Greece, Steve Jackson Games

Non-Gaming Books:

Bullfinch’s Mythology—The defining book on mythology.

Websites:

Encyclopedia Mythica

Greek Mythology

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rolemaster Reviews: Robin Hood, Vikings, and Mythic Greece

Iron Crown used to publish some wonderful campaign settings/supplements, both for use with their Rolemaster line and for use as a generic supplement (not mention Fantasy HERO and MERP, mind). This Camapign Classics line remains a very well-regarded part of Rolemaster's legacy. I recommend that if you find copies of some of the titles below, you snap them up, as they stand next to many of the GURPS sourcebooks as excellent supplements:

Robin Hood: A nice fleshing out of Norman England, from after the Battle of Hastings to the rule of King John. As you may expect from the title, the legendary Robin HoThere's some good advice and rules for running an outlaw campaign, and some adventures to round the product out. Really, the rules are the worst part of this product--the source material shines, especially if you love history like I do. At this time, you'll need to find an old print copy, as Iron Crown does not currently offer this title as a pdf.

Vikings: This books was made in two versions: one for Rolemaster, and one for HERO. store. I love the thought of Viking campaigns, but this book wasn't as good as other Viking supplements, such as the one from the RuneQuest line. This is probably the "weak sister" of the three books presented here. Again, good historical content, but I don't know that we ever used the rules portions. Like Robin Hood, this book does not appear to currently be available as a pdf from Iron Crown's site.

Mythic Greece: As with Vikings, two versions of this book (one HERO, one Rolemaster) were printed. This is not really a historical guide, but instead details a Greece passed down to us from myth and legend. I remember using the Hero and Demigod rules to great effect, for playing divinely favored, iconic heroes. The monsters, the cultures presented, and the emphasis on deific interference really help flavor this product for a heroic, fictional Greek campaign of legend. This is one of my favorite books of the lines, and really helped me in planning a campaign involving deities and epic quests that didn't just feel either impossible or a total cakewalk.

Happily, Mythic Greece is available from Iron Crown's online store.


Other supplements in this vein that I did not personally get a chance to check into include Mythic Egypt, Arabian Nights, and Pirates. Pirates seems to get a lot of love for its ship design and combat, though I cannot attest to it personally.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Free Issue of Kobold Quarterly!

I just got word of a great freebie! Kobold Quarterly is giving away pdf copies of Kobold Quarterly #10! Kobold Quarterly definitely scratches the itch if you're looking for a regularly-produced periodical for newer iterations and spinoffs of D&D.

Whether you're a 3.5 fan, someone who's moved over to Pathfinder, or a 4e adherent, I think you'll find KQ a welcome return to the days of great RPG periodicals.

Helping Haiti: Word Has Spread

I saw today that word of the OneBookShelf (RPGNow & DTRPG) effort to help Haiti has made it to Joystiq, which is a pretty hefty, well-known videogaming blog. I'm pleased to see that this effort is spreading beyond just the regular tabletop RPG community channels!

At the time that I post this, it looks like this effort has raised over $117,000 for Haiti! Wow!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Play Recap: Session 7

Last night's game was one of those as a GM where I feel like I got run down by a car--I'm not sure where it came from, or entirely sure what just happened. Players can do that to you. Let's hit this in bullet point:

-We were down a couple of players again, but the fearsome foursome decided to carry on. After last week's near-miss with a T-Rex, they managed to make their way (after some well-needed rest and encounter with some harmless pilgrims) to the city of Morsten, The City of the Tower. Lots of 'em, really. The largest towers were all painted a different color to denote, they later learned, one of the various paths of magery in this town (Obsidian was necromancy, Ruby was Fire/Offense, Argent was generalist, and so on).

-When they arrived to town, they learned that all the mages of the council, save one, had disappeared over the past few nights. Anyone who was in the room with one of the disappearing mages was found dead the next morning, a look of total fear on their face. Norgus, a Ruby Mage, was the only left. Well, Friar Charles and the priest Nalgin smelled some sort of malevolent force at work. They offered to help the mage, and in return, if he lived through the night, Norgus offered them one item each from his stash.

-They put Nalgin inside the one modest, tiny church in town (Morsten isn't big on religion), built a room (with the help of many, many laborers) enclosed by waterskins filled with holy water, built a small bed of the same skins, moved the altar inside that room, flooded the floor with holy water, ensured there were holy symbols carved and displayed everywhere, and waited. At midnight, a roiling black cloud of smoke formed and tried to access the room, but was driven off by all the trappings.

It was so above and beyond, I had to give it to them. The mage survived, and Nalgin and Charles ended up with some loot (a Lion's Head shield and a Cloak of Resistance, respectively).

-Basically, Morsten was in a crappy place, because anyone from Morsten carried an arcane mark that a semi-competent necromancer from Darrakis, City of Necromancers, could sniff out in a minute. To get around this, they often used outside labor for snooping. Guess who they wanted to snoop around Darrakis and find out what the heck was going on?

-Leyton negotiated as part of their fee to study with one of the orders of magic in Morsten. He was able to ask a question of each order. He finally decided on Argent robes, which are the most laid-back, generalist school of study. This is a really good accomplishment for him, I think, as it's been something he's been after since the start of the game.

-The group had earlier intercepted a letter from Darrakian troops seeming to indicate something was going on at the Pools of Portation. The Pools are famous for their teleportative ability; you step in one pool, and you end up in another one. The only problem is, the water from the Pools loses this ability if taken out of the clearing they are in. Guess what the group wanted to check out?

-The end result of this was a mess. The group (without Leyton, who had to meditate 3 days to learn a new spell) decided to head out to the Pools of Portation whilst they waited for Leyton to complete his traning. In Norgus' office, he gave them an invaluable, but limited, teleportation stone (the Pools were over 60 miles away) and 2 guardsmen not from Morsten. They also insisted on a mage, so he sent the Ruby apprentice Linius as well.

-The group teleported into a mess of Darrakians. The put some to sleep the first round, but they were ready for them, as the Darrakian mage in the opposition sensed the arcane signature of Linius. One fireball later, half the group was dead, and teleported back to Norgus' offices some 30 seconds after they left.

-After they healed, angrily, some of the group wished for Norgus to accompany them. While they were arguing, and right after Norgus had demanded Vas leave for insolence, Friar Charles activated the stone, sending Norgus, Vas, and everyone else right back to the fight! It was a massacre, with only Charles and Norgus standing a round later. They teleported back to Norgus' office, leaving the corpse the apprentice mage Linius.

-Norgus was furious, livid. These fools had cost him an apprentice, shown incredible insolence, used the teleportation stone without his permission, and worst of all, had left proof that a Ruby robe from Morsten was involved against Darrakis! The characters' attitude didn't help. He coldly informed them that in the morning they would return to the Pools, and fix this wrong. He forbade them from leaving the tower until then. He probably would have had the fools killed or imprisoned, save that they had just saved his bacon the day before.

-The entire time Leyton had been meditating in the tower, unaware of this carnage. He was displeased when Norgus had him disturbed, meaning he would have to start his spell-learning process all over! Norgus bluntly informed him his friends had caused a great deal of havoc and dishonor, and they were to return to the Pools in the morning and eradicate any proof Morsten had been involved.

Holy cow! It was a session of highs and lows. On one hand, the players hit some good personal accomplishments. While in Morsten, Vas was contacted by a mysterious organization known as the Unaffiliated, who promised to help him control his power (but at what cost?). Nalgin and Charles got some new items, and Leyton is on the verge of learning more spells. On the other hand, having little intel and no plan in a move against the forces at the Pools of Portation has brought the party to the edge of doom. Will they head back there to apparent death? Or will they try to just kill the freakin' mage and take over Morsten? Your guess is as good of mine. With all the teleporting the Pools of Portation offer, however, that could be a fun fight...

In two weeks, we'll find out what happens.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Discussion: Gamer Band Survey Results

Earlier this week, we asked gamers about their favorite rock band (with a pretty liberal definition of “rock”, mind). There were 3 questions on the survey: What’s your favorite rock band, do you use music during a RPG session or in planning for one, and does music play a large part in your gaming?

We ended up at the time of my writing this with 129 responses. Because of the limited nature of the “free” service I used (SurveyMonkey), the survery was cut off after the first 100 responses. Nice. Well, let’s press ahead with what we do have:

Question 1: Your Favorite Rock Band.

There was no, and I mean, no consensus on this. Only a few bands even had multiple responses. Amongst those, here’s the breakdown:

-Rush, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Metallica all tied with 4% of the vote each.

-AC/DC, Blind Guardian, Jethro Tull, and Led Zeppelin all tied with 3% of the vote each.

-The Clash, The Who, Tool, Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, Clutch, The Ramones, and yes, Blue Oyster Cult all tied with 2% of the vote each.

I would wager as gamers, this tells us two things: James Raggi hates us to a man, and we have some classic (less polite term: old fart) music tastes.


Question 2: Do You Use Music During A RPG Session Or In Planning For One?

-39% of respondents answered Yes, with 61% answering No. That’s a big indicator that perhaps music at the tabletop isn’t as widely used as perhaps I had thought.


Question 3: Does Music Play A Large Part In Your Gaming?

-30.3% answered Yes, 20.2% answered No, and 49.5% answered Only Occasionally. As unscientific as this is (and believe me, it couldn’t get much less scientific), it would seem music inspires more than it is directly used in play.


So, for today’s Friday Discussion, I thought we could discuss music in general for RPGs—if we find it distracting, the best use of music we’ve seen in a campaign, if the results here surprise you. Comment away below! Aside from that, have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

2010 One Page Dungeon Contest

For those of you were a part of the 2009 One-Page Dungeon Contest (and there were a lot of us!), there's some good news afoot. It looks like there's going to be a 2010 contest as well, though I don't have any more information at this point. I guess I'll give it another shot this year--my entry for 2010 can't possibly be as poorly regarded as it was last year (ahem), so there's nowhere to go but up.

(While you're waiting, don't forget the currently ongoing Cyberpunk and Design A Dungeon Room contests!)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Small Press And Helping Haiti

By now, many of you have seen RPGNow's wonderful efforts to help Haiti, either by $5 or $10 matching donations or by purchasing a $20 effort that comes with a coupon worth dozens upon dozens upon dozens of pdf titles (Fred Hicks had a list earlier today, but more titles may have been added since then). I'm trying to find the money right now to hook up that bundle, as I can't think of a better cause combined with gaming goodness. In the mean time, I've made a smaller donation, and I hope those of you who can afford it do, too. Gamers may be mocked as being big guys and gals (pizza and Mountain Dew doesn't help the physique much), but I've always found we have big hearts as well. The money collected will go right to Doctors Without Borders, for those of you wondering.

If there's one downside to this, it's that many wonderful, big-hearted small press publishers have donated product, and I've seen the sentiment among some folks that there's just too much material and they probably won't look at some of it.

There are a lot of small press publishers--many probably complete unknowns to you or I--who have donated their work to this effort. I'm asking, please respect that and take the time to at least give each product a look, even if it's just skimming. You never know when you'll find that next game or supplement that sparks the fire for you.

And a message to the publishers, large and small, who did donate--I will remember this. Thank you for donating the results of your hard work to a worthy, noble cause.

Opinions Wanted: My Gen Con Events

Don’t look now, but folks have already started registering events for this year’s Gen Con Indy. I’ll be running a sequel to Smash n’ Grab At Kobold Caverns my Microlite74 game of a year ago. More Mayhem At Kobold Caverns should be just as fun, with 6-8 players in a classic gaming bash to see who can grab the most loot and make it out alive from the kobold’s lair. I had a blast running this game last year, and am excited to do it again this year.

The only other event that I have written in stone at this time is the 2010 GM’s Jam. Here’s the descriptor:

“Dead-end plots, lengthy combat, obnoxious gamers—no matter the system, we Game Masters have a lot of the same issues. In this give-and-take forum, we discuss common GM issues, problems, and even how to handle “that guy”. Experienced GMs from a variety of backgrounds help lead an open, frank discussion. Part support group, part idea mill, all awesome! You’re guaranteed to leave with some new ideas for how to make your Game Mastery even better!”


I know I was able to meet a couple of readers at Gen Con last year (hi!), and I’m asking for your input. I’ll be liveblogging again, which means I have limited time with which to organize and run events. I’ve had a couple of ideas, but am only likely going to be able to do one of them (I expect I’ll also be at some blogger meet n’ greets and the like, and my group will be rocking the Tower of Gygax again, so don’t worry there). That’s where I need your help. Which of the 4 ideas do you like best? Second-best? RPG Blog 2 Lurkers who will be at Gen Con, now’s your chance to speak up!


Battle Royale

20 positions, 1 table. (I would need a co-DM). One haunted mansion of a mad architect to be looted. Award for Most Kills, Most Loot, Worst Death, and Being Alive At The Finish. Pre-gen characters. Probably using Swords & Wizardry, Microlite74, or something close to it. Traps, traps, traps, slime, oozes, squatting orcs, and probably a vampire lord or two. Time: 3-4 hours, likely Saturday night after the hall closes.


Old-School Tourney

I’d need a little help on this one. Ideally, I’d like 4 sessions of 4 players to try the same module. The groups would then be scored on Survival, Treasure, Goals, and Completion, with the winning group getting…well, something. I’d need a couple of GMs to run sessions, though. It’d be cool if someone wrote a module, then released it after Gen Con. Perhaps the most labor-intensive of my ideas.


Rifts For The Novice

Wanted to play Rifts but thought it just seemed too damn goofy for words? Just give me 90 minutes, and you can say you played Rifts! Cyborgs, mages, plasma weaponry, impossible monsters, and giant robots await! This rapid-action, fast-moving game gets you a feel for Rifts in under 2 hours! Perfect for the time-strapped gamer. Pre-gen characters provided. 4-6 players.


What’s Free In RPGs

Rob Lang should be doing this, but since I don’t think he can jump across the pond for Gen Con, I thought about creating a handout with some of the best free RPGs of the past few years, along discussion on how to get into the play, discussion, and creation of free RPGs out there. Ideally, I’d like to get someone on the panel versed in OGL and/or Creative Commons.


That’s it for now. I’m interested in your opinion on what you’d like to see me run. And if you have an idea I don’t have listed here, let’s hear it, too!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Survey: The Favorite Rock Band of RPGers

With the help of friend sites Stargazer's World and Mad Brew Labs, we're doing a short survey to see what the most popular rock band among gamers is. I personally feel Led Zeppelin, Rush, and Jethro Tull will be well-represented, but I have a feeling I may be in for a surprise!

Anyhow, please take a minute to fill out the short, 3-question survey here, and pass along the word if so inclined. No, there's no room for multiple entries on there; pick a band at gunpoint and stick with it. I'll put up some results on Friday!

(Direct Survey Link: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/8Q78PB6)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Review: And A 10-Foot Pole

Today, I'm reviewing an Iron Crown product that can truly lay claim to being system-generic. The book ...and A 10-Foot Pole remains one of my favorite RPG supplements, regardless of the RPG system I'm utilizing.

10-Foot Pole is an equipment supplement, purporting to be "the ultimate equipment sourcebook". In just under 190 pages, 10-Foot Pole presents prices and equipment lists for over a dozen historical eras. (For reference, the eras listed are as follows: Stone Age, Copper Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age/Age of Empire, The Middle Ages, Renaissance, Age of Reason, Industrial Revolution, Steam Age, Electric Age, Atomic Age, and the Information Age).

In terms of currency, 10-Foot Pole switches from the gold piece standard to U.S. dollar ($) for the Age of Steam onward. For the GM still wanting to use the GP standard, it would have been nice for some clear conversion standards, especially considering the influx of steampunk influence into the RPG hobby.

After a brief section on an economics system, the book dedicates a chapter for each of the eras. Each era has an 1-2 page introduction on the historical trade and economic factors of the era, which helps a bit in explaining prices.

What follows the introduction is a very impressive price listing of not everything under the sun, but not far from it, either. For example, if I'm in a Bronze Age setting and I need an Adze, I'd better be ready to shell out 25 copper pieces. I'll also know it weighs about 2 pounds, is widely available, and will take about a day to make. This is the sort of information present on any entry. I really appreciate the details such as notes, craft times, and measurements, which all help a GM fake like he knows what he's talking about.

It's not just tools or weapons that are covered, either. Daily items, food, travel arrangements, lodging, clothing, outdoor survival, alchemical materials, scholarly materials, livestock, and many more categories all have considerable entries. The scope of this book is very impressive.

Of course, an entire historical era is pretty vague, and depending on economic or trade conditions, prices can change. But 10-Foot Pole is a great starting spot. It's very easy as a GM to mess up on pricing and either gouge players or be inconsistent with pricing. It's also easy to get caught on the spot by a player request and not know even where to start with pricing. This book can alleviate this issue.

If I were to add anything else to 10-Foot Pole, it would be a few more illustrations for the less common items. The notes do a good job with some description where needed, but a few more illustrations wouldn't hurt.

Despite this, I can wholeheartedly recommend ...and a 10-Foot Pole to any GM looking for a equipment supplement that can come with them as they go from system to system. For $25 (or less) for the print version, this is a good bargain when you consider it won't become obsolete just because want to try a new set of rules.



Because at some point, they will want bagpipes.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dark Matter Releases Audhum Setting

Some long-awaited news from the good folks at Dark Matter Studios this week:

January 14, 2010 (Bozeman, MT) – Dark Matter Studios, producer of the well-received fantasy rpg Epic Role Playing, has released its latest offering, Audhüm, The Southern Reach of Vanier. Audhüm throws players into a cold and unforgiving bronze age world, a place for heroes of ferocity, mettle and ambition. Audhüm is completely compatible with Dark Matter Studios ENnie Award nominated Epic RPG system (Best Rules, 2008).

This original fantasy setting allows players and GM’s the opportunity to take the chariot reins of a harsh, adolescent milieu. Audhüm is a land that has just entered the Bronze Age, whose races are founding the first great civilizations. Heroes in single combat decide the fate of city-states. The gods speak to their anointed. Written language is less than 300 years old. This is the dawn of history. There are no elder cultures that possessed powerful technology or lore. The are no ancient organized civilizations at all, just tribes and city states who have only recently discovered the most powerful invention since fire: complex social organization.

"We’re very excited to share Audhüm with fans of Epic, as well as gamers who might be just getting to know us," commented Chris Organ, one of the two principal designers, along with Kent Davis. “Our goal with it was to provide an Epic-style deep setting, but move away from a medieval feel toward something more primal - think of a love child between Hellenistic Greeks and the Vikings of the frozen north. Loyalty is not to a country, but to one’s city-state. There is no formal code of laws - that idea is just being invented. The spear and shield are judge and jury on the frozen plains of the Cold South.”


Audhüm, The Southern Reach of Vanier
is a powerful supplement to the Epic RPG Game Manual, but gamers will have no problem getting it up and running with the five dollar Epic RPG Quick Start Guide or porting the setting to their own homebrew systems. Diverse cultures and races, plus over fifty organizations and professions promise a fierce, satisfying and complete experience for all manner of groups, whether their interest is high politics, low butchery or a little bit of both. There’s also supplemental rules designed specifically for the setting, as well as a bestiary with a tantalizing selection of new monsters and animals.

Audhüm is robustly supported on the Epic website and forums, and Dark Matter has provided its standard
free four-color map and utility PDFs available for download on its website.

About Epic RPG
. Offering a system that is flexible and realistic, Epic RPG still retains enough opportunities for death-defying heroism to satisfy the wildest imagination. Highlights include classless character design that integrates characters into their society through culturally defined professions; elegant and choice-filled combat; unique magic with disciplines such as the arcane science of metaphysics and the body magic called shen; a flexible skill system based on talent that allows players to customize their character's growth with skills, specialties, masteries, and grandmasteries; and a fantasy setting abundant with disparate races, astounding civilizations, and captivating geographies. Available in both softcover ($18) and downloadable PDF format ($10), Audhüm, The Southern Reach of Vanier is available for purchase immediately from the Epic Role Playing store and at selected retailers.

More info here! As I've mentioned here before, Epic is one of my favorite RPGs of the last decade, and some Bronze Age-esque adventure sounds pretty good just now.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Discussion: What's Your Favorite Magic System?

Every Friday, a large portion of the blogosphere decides to shutter the windows and put the “Closed Weekends” sign up a bit early. We here at RPG Blog 2, however, subscribe to no such notions, and strive forward with a little something we like to call Friday Discussion. Nothing too heavy, nothing too serious, just gamers talking about the hobby they love.

This week’s question is one that’s been rattling around my brain as I did some houseruling the past few days:

What is your favorite RPG magic system, and why? Do you love the familiarity of the Vancian magic of old D&D? Or do you prefer the open building components of a game like Ars Magica? Or is loosey-goosey freeform more your style? Perhaps you just want Power Points/Spell Points/Mana, and a long spell list.

Whatever your answer, have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thoughts On Obsidian Portal

I've had a couple of people now ask me what I think of Obsidian Portal. Until yesterday's post, it had been a while since I had gone over OP, so now's as good as time as any to share a few of my thoughts on it:

-I think one of the most unsung aspects of Obsidian Portal is the possibility for inspiration and ideas from other campaigns. 4ers, there are over 4900 campaigns running D&D 4e. 3ers, 2200. Even disregarding the abortive attempts and dead ends, there are a plethora of campaigns to draw inspiration from. I love seeing how many various systems are represented there.

-If you're a hardcore worldbuilder or have a really expansive campaign, you might find the $5/month for a premium account totally worth it. You get 10x more upload space, unlimited campaigns, the ability to make your campaign private, and a few more goodies besides. The free version isn't bad to try it out, though--and for some, it'll be the perfect size.

-Your pages are edited using a mixture of html and Textile. Textile is easy to learn, and I use this site for quick formatting.

-As one commenter pointed out, it'd be nice to have automatic "back" buttons on the wiki as a timesaver. Add it to the wishlist, I guess.

-I'm a person who makes a lot of files for his campaign, so a dedicated "Files" page would be another good wishlist add.

-It's really easy to get carried away adding new Wiki pages. I like to keep a setting simple and easily accessible, but I am very quick to add another descriptive wiki entry about something in the last wiki entry. I then have to describe that in another wiki entry, and so on...

-Obsidian Portal has a very high hiatus/abandon rate on campaigns. I think it's easy to have this massive idea in your head, but to quickly get discouraged at the scope you're trying to convey. My advice is to start with the sort of information you'd consider strictly necessary for new players. Then, slowly expand to what you'd put in a 32-page player's guide. Branch out from there. I need to take my own advice.

-I really think the key to Obsidian Portal's future success lies in the sort of community they are able to foster. It's one thing to gather a lot of campaigners and worldbuilders together, but let's face it, as good as OP is at what it does, there are other options out there if people don't feel at home. Have people come for the worldbuilding, but stay for the camaraderie and inspiration.

-The last point is more of a general comment which also applies to Obsidian Portal: if you're apprehensive about putting your homebrew world out there because you think it's silly or unoriginal, don't be! There's nothing new under the sun, but you might present in an intriguing new way, or cause someone to revisit an old standard. Write for your friends and players, write for fun, and write for yourself. If someone else digs the end result, that's just icing on the cake.



Yes, please.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Presenting The Middle Isles

It's nowhere near ready yet, but I've been working on a new campaign setting over at Obsidian Portal. The Middle Isles are my experiment of what happens when you cross a bit of Le Guin with Gygax (scary mix, I know). As you can see, I'm still in the early stages of porting over my notes, it's very raw, but it also shows a little of what you can accomplish with Obsidian Portal. I've been concentrating the last couple of days on religions, which I already had a goodly amount of notes for.

Eventually there will be maps, timelines, and illos galore, but for now, the framework is still being built. If you're on OP, feel free to favorite it and watch as I build it up. I anticipate being in Irrin for a good while yet, so I'll have plenty of time to get the Middle Isles just how I want them.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Critical Hit Tables--Not Just For Rolemaster

Perhaps you've been reading about Rolemaster and really like the idea of critical hit charts and the bloody, hilarious chaos they cause, but aren't sure you want to commit to a new system. Well, there's a way around that.

The book that governs all these wonderful critical for Rolemaster is called Arms Law, and true to the legacy of Rolemaster, is modular in nature. That means Arms Law can be easily adapted with a number of systems. At the time that the last edition of Arms Law was published, it contained rules for converting the system to AD&D. With that, it is easy enough to translate it to any several similiar classical games.

However, if you're playing something other than AD&D, you can still use Arms Law with a number of other systems. This free download by Iron Crown details Arms Law conversions for a number of other systems, to include:

-D&D 3rd Edition
-GURPS
-Legend of the Five Rings
-World of Darkness (including Werewolf)

The AD&D notes are also included in the free download. What's more, there are conversions for using Arms Law with such systems as Castles & Crusades and ICE's own High Adventure Role Playing (HARP). Older editions also had conversions for the HERO System, but I can't locate it at the moment.

For about $16 for a print copy or $8 for a pdf, you can have all the heartache and crunchy, painful, thrilling goodness that comes with Rolemaster's critical hit charts without having to leave the comfort of your own game.

My advice? If it sounds like fun, try it. There's a reason Rolemaster's critical hits are alternately revered and cursed in the RPG community.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Upcoming RPG Blog 2 Special Events

I’m planning another big contest around the end of the month, and I’m going to try to load it up with as many various publishers prize packages as I can. It’ll probably revolve around emailing me your contact info, along with proof that you subscribe or have read that day’s entry. I’d also like to look at offering another round of special discounts to RPG Blog II readers, preferably around the heart of tax return time.

With both the contests and the discounts, the reasons are twofold. The first is to say thank you for reading and being a positive part of the hobby. The second is to encourage interest, participation in, and play of as many different quality RPGs as possible. That’s something I try to promote here, and I hope that comes through.

The last idea is something I had kicking around for this spring, if I can get enough sites and blogs to go along (sadly, the RPG Bloggers Network has been somewhat quiet and stagnant as of late). That’d be Try A New RPG Week, where we all pledge to play or run a RPG they haven’t tried before. Pretty simple, but fun, if people actually go for it.

Play Recap: Session 6

Friday night was our first campaign of the New Year and our Far West Castles & Crusades Campaign. Two players weren't able to make it, but the game always goes on!

Here's a rundown of last time if you weren't following along or need a refresher, but basically, the party defeated the evil of the Fallow Forest, and ran back to the city of Sidon to claim their prize. They had discovered that agents of Darrakis, a city ruled by evil necromancers, were attempting to perhaps not only subvert the nearby mage-city of Morsten, but the entire region.

Woodsmen had already brought word of the the revitalization of the woods ahead of the party, and so they ended up with a hero's welcome back in Sidon. The Grand Admiral himself invited them to dinner, and they ended up with a nice bonus in gold coin.

The group presented the documents incriminating Darrakis, and it was decided that Morsten--despite its chilly relations with Sidon--had to be warned. To that end, they were asked (for pay, of course) to deliver a letter to Morsten, and to explain what they had seen to the Mage's Council there.

Given good horses (a reward unto itself), the party set off on their way. What follow was a hilarious night of really, really high encounter rolls:

-Just as they were setting up camp and had tied up their horses for the evening, a group of 12 mounted Darrakian riders came upon them. Vas (our Wild Mage) made the mistake of telling them they were headed for Morsten. The riders made the mistake of attacking the party. Nalgin's use of Sound Burst knocked down multiple riders off the bat, and even the 6 reinforcement riders I had bursting out of the forest were no match. They got a couple of licks in (Nalgin went to negative hit points, and had to be healed), but it was over quickly. The group got enough daggers, swords, and loot to start a small arms trade, and again I was impressed at just how quickly they routed a superior force.

Friar Charles again tried to cast light on a horse's face to spook it, but it just so happens that the horse he tried it on (yes, I rolled for all this) was one of the horses who he had done it to in the last Darrakian party. The horse made his save, and what followed was Friar Charles attempting to kill this horse before it could spread the word to other horses. Goofy as hell, but fun, and Charles now has a horse for a mortal enemy (don't feel so bad for his player--he did supercharge a damage roll with a d30 and punched someone all the way through the face). The horse renamed himself NightMare, and I am pleased to report he got away. I hope I find a way to work him in again.

-Friar Charles was on his watch after this fight when another encounter roll produced a giant constrictor snake. With the party not able to pry the snake off Charles, Nalgin used the last of his Sound Burst spells, injuring Charles but loosening the snake's grip.

-Lastly, as Leyton stood watch (Leyton's character found an incredibly addictive herb to help control his rages, by the way--great idea on the part of the player, and something that should be fun to play out), he rolled a 72 on my encounter tables, followed by a 00.

I pounded on the table to make the water on the table shake, ala Jurassic Park.

In my entire GM's book, there is one--ONE!--entry for a Tyrannosaurus Rex showing up.

It showed up.

As soon as they saw its head appear over the tree line, the party fled, and lived. Friar Charles, who miserably failed 3 Dexterity checks, ended up slapping his horse on the rear as he lie on the ground tangled in a stirrup. He got away, but will be incredibly worse for the wear.

Everyone again did a great job--extra XP all around. We are not the most focused or serious group, but it isn't that sort of campaign. I think back to how 18 year-old me would have been riled up at some of the things that go on, versus how much fun it all seems now.

We play again on the 22nd!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Language Tree For My Setting

Here's a language tree I whipped up in Paint for a future campaign setting I've been working on (click to enlarge):




Professor Tolkien I'm not, but I've always been interesting in languages in an RPG. Why is there a "Common" tongue? Where does it come from? I created this chart to help flesh out my own answers, and hopefully for player entertainment as well.

I plan to do one for the Trollish, Orcish, and Ogrish tongues soon.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Season 2 Episode 1 of RPG Circus Now Available!

We were fortunate to have Points of Light and Majestic Wilderlands author Rob Conley join us for a great interview this past episode on RPG Circus. Also in this episode, we talk about RPGs that aren't RPGs, and look at some extreme Cthulhu props. Please join us for this first RPG Circus podcast of the New Year!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday Discussion: Your RPG Plans This Year

Thanks for reading this week as we started our Rolemaster coverage. We'll be back next week with overviews of the individual editions of Rolemaster.

For now, it's time for some Friday Discussion. Regular readers know it's our little tradition here at RPG Blog 2--nothing too heavy, nothing too serious, just gamers talking about the hobby they love.

Here's this Friday's question: What games do you plan to run in 2010? Are you keeping the same campaign or system, or are one of the many boxed sets we're anticipating this year going to tempt you away? Is there a game sitting out there that you're finally planning to break down and try?

I'm curious to see what your RPG plans are, even if they remain the same from last year. Leave your thoughts below, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Rolemaster Tales

One of the best things about Rolemaster is the stories that are made thanks to it's unpredictable, open-ended percentile system. Basically, if you roll a 96-100, you keep rolling, which can cause some insanely high attack scores if you're fortunate. Even if you score mid-range on your attack roll, you still might get to roll for a critical hit. Roll high enough, and you can stun, maim, or kill an opponent--generally in gruesome and descriptive fashion.

Basically, in Rolemaster, you can be a 1st-level stableboy with minimal training, be fighting with a pigsticker, facing an advanced-level dark knight, and you still know there's a chance. Not a big chance, mind, but a chance nonetheless. And every once in a great while, the stableboy wins. Not often, but enough to keep hope alive.

As a result, Rolemaster rarely suffers from the "laugh while taking a battleaxe to the gut" phenomenon that afflicts many games. Combat is an unpredictable thing, not something where you reasonably estimate you can get hit 8 times with a longsword before dying. Entering combat on your terms, and knowing when to avoid combat, becomes paramount. Fighting becomes something more than routine; it becomes an uncertain, harrowing prospect, where any battle could be your last. And that's how I like it.

Any Rolemaster player that played any iteration of the game for any amount of time will have some insane stories for you, stories where improbable twists of fate led to the defeat of much bigger and powerful bad guys. Of course, the downside to this is many players know what it's like to be cut down by a lucky, lone orc.

I've mentioned these elsewhere before, but here are two of my favorite examples from a Rolemaster campaign of a few years ago:


One of my favorite Rolemaster moments had to be when Stump the Dwarf Fighter in our party saved our ass from an Unnatural 66 encounter roll.

Our GM at the time was a total ass, and didn't particularly care for the way we were going. When we rolled a 66 on an encounter roll (which generally signifies something weird and unsettling happening in RM), it was perfect timing for him to drop some Elder Giant Demon on us.

I was playing a Sage, and was generally considered useless in combat at the time, though that soon changed...more on that in a moment.

So this 15' tall red-horned monstrosity is sitting in our way. Now, not one of us was over 7th level at the time. But you know what they say about Rolemaster combat....there's always a chance.

Was there ever!

Stump was belligerent. Very belligerent. Attack first, ask questions later. Usually, he has the chops to pull it off, but he knew that if he got close to this thing and whatever giant-ass sword and flaming whip it was holding, he was done for.

So after getting initiative, he announced he was throwing his battleaxe. Penalties and all that, but he kissed his percentile dice and sent them a'rollin'. He open-ended with like a 98, which meant he rolled again.

He open-ended again.

He open-ended again, barely.

He rolled a 78, which didn't open-end, but which put his total attack roll at well over 400.

Time for the critical hit roll--it was a 90-something.

Bottom line, the axe plants itself deep in the damned thing's forehead. It dissipates, banished from the mortal plane for 100 years.

***

My second Rolemaster story has to do with my Sage. Now, I was not much use in a fight--not a pure spell caster, crappy to hit with my crappy rapier. I did have a shortbow, which I had diligently been putting some (oh-so-expensive) ranks into. But whereas other people had Kill Numbers into the dozens, I had none. And here I am at 7th level!

Well, the city our party lived in was seized by this group of vampires. They mind-enslaved the town guards, and sent groups to attack us all at our places of residences. My house was a scholar's retreat, full of maps, treatises, manuscripts, scrolls, and everything else you'd expect.

They set the thing on fire. I arrived too late from my travels to do anything but watch it burn.

8 guards and our group's resident traitor, a cavalier, slowly advanced on me.

The roof, the roof, the roof was on fire.

All my books, my manuscripts, my writings, gone.

My scholar went bats***.

In-game, I had just discovered an herb that granted haste-like abilities when ingested properly. Addictive as hell.

I downed the stuff like candy, screamed, and took out my shortbow.

I literally could not miss that night. I killed 4 guards in 4 rounds. The 5th round, with the line-of-sight cleared, I took out the commanding cavalier, with a critical that sent him spinning backward 20 feet, his heart burst by a dead-on arrow.

My allies showed in time to finish off the rest. I think, by then, there were 1 or 2 alive, maybe one more on the ground.

You don't mess with a man's library.

***

Any of our Rolemaster players out there, past or present, please feel free to contribute your own events in the comments!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pendragon's New Publisher

Potentially exciting news for one of the most highly-regard RPGs of all time, from designer Greg Stafford, quoted below:

My faithful and loyal friends,

Please share in my joy and exaltation.
The dreams and prayers of chivalry world wide have been heard.
The heavens themselves have split open.

Pendragon has a new publisher!!!

All praise Stewart Wieck!
Nocturnal is the name of the new publisher that has just finished acquisition of all rights to KAP that WW had.
This is Stewart's latest company, who has left WW and, as far as I am concerned, taken the best thing they had. Cheesy
I am in on the planning at this stage.
I have no clue what else he is doing and, today, I do not care. Smiley
There are absolutely NO CONCRETE PLANS at this time, so please don't ask. When I know more, I will announce it here.

Meantime, thank you to all for your support and patience.

and HOORAY!

Pendragon is one of those games I always wished I had been able to play and run more. Perhaps this new edition will see just that.

The Lost Art of Running Away

A couple of sessions ago, as my players sensibly fled from a tomb guarded by animated whirling bits of sharp metal and stone, I idly chewed on my pen and thought that the art of fleeing has been largely lost in RPGs.

It seems to me that players today seem much less likely to admit there’s something they can’t beat. While I applaud this attitude in a sense, I think there’s lesser utility of skills and abilities to avoid combat, or to even frame things outside of melee encounter—aspects of RPGs which I really appreciate. I’m sure part of the thinking has to be, “what sort of sick bastard would put (or allow the generation of) an encounter that we, the Precious Snowflake Players, cannot vanquish in accordance with our current level”?

On one hand, I can’t blame them. My 2nd-Worst GM Ever had us fleeing from everything, but that’s because it seemed like we never faced anything that wasn’t a Godling, Vampire Lord, High-Level Demon, or Invincible Pet NPC. That gets tiresome after a while, because we all know that we want to hit stuff with our swords, staves, and spells. And most people don’t see what’s heroic in running away from a fight you think you can’t win. If this were the Alamo, I’d agree with you. But if you’re playing in a sandbox/exploration/dungeon crawl, the goal isn’t to bravely die on the 4th level of a dungeon fighting bugbears who will eat your corpse as soon as you drop. It’s to survive, become more powerful, and get out with what loot you can while avoiding any more potentially lethal situations than are strictly necessary.

Look, the world does not adjust levels to suit you. The entire point of adventuring is that there’s crap out there that can’t be beaten, at least not easily. That’s why they call it “Adventuring”, and not “Encounter-Appropriate Jaunt That Adjusts To My Level Of Ability”. You do your homework, scout things out, and pray to St. Cuthbert with your running shoes on, just in case.

I think, in a way, running to fight another day is important. One of the most exciting parts of the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy for me was the party fleeing from the Nazgul. Now, what makes exciting literature does not always make exciting gameplay, but I think the uncertainty of running, the possibility of returning down the road to re-face your fears, and the idea can be a heroic thing, if not strictly a part of the Hero’s Journey itself.

In the end, it probably depends on what sort of game you’re playing. If you’re playing a game with lots of charts for treasure and/or dungeon exploration, running away will likely seem more an intrinsic part of game play. If you’re playing a game largely centered around only what you can do in melee, it will seem like a denial of why you’re there in the first place. But if you’re finding yourself back in a game based on something at least 25-30 years old in gaming, you’d better be ready to run like hell at some point.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Historical Background: Iron Crown Enterprises

One of the things I want to do before we get into the nitty-gritty of the various editions and presentations of Rolemaster is explain a little bit about the history of the company. This way, you can sort of see the roots of Iron Crown, and perhaps how they got to where they are today.

Iron Crown Enterprises (or I.C.E., or ICE) was originally formed back in 1980, when a group of RPGers who were recent graduates from the University of Virginia. The company is named after one of the relics/items of Middle-Earth (the setting the group's founders used for their home campaign).

The Rolemaster line began with the product Arms Law, which was not a true RPG unto itself, but a combat supplement for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. This product replaced the relatively simple and relatively undetailed AD&D combat system with a series of tables and critical hits. When resolving combat, players would look at a table to determine lethality and effect. Spell Law, another add-on supplement, organized spells into various lists. The basic ideas for Rolemaster were largely set with these two products, though Rolemaster as a game still not exist as of yet.

The first "complete" edition of Rolemaster was published as a boxed set in 1982. 1982 also saw Iron Crown land one of the biggest fantasy-related licenses possible--that of Middle-Earth itself!

Pete Fenlon, one of the founders of ICE, was a amazing cartographer, and his maps of Middle-Earth are still considered to be without peer. They were featured in a Middle-Earth sourcebook of 1982, but the biggest Middle-Earth release would come in 1984. That's when MERP, or Middle-Earth Role Playing was released.



MERP was a system that was largely "cut down" or simplified from Rolemaster itself. It also tried to market itself as sort of a generic 3rd-party supplement as well, and anecdotal evidence does seem to suggest that is how many people used the MERP line.

There was a time when I.C.E.'s MERP was the 2nd-best selling RPG on the market, bowing only to the 800-lb. gorilla of Dungeons & Dragons. It was a worldwide hit. MERP supplements would be made into the mid-90s, detailing both the well and lesser-known regions of Middle-Earth.

As MERP was rolling along, Rolemaster was doing pretty well, too. A 2nd edition of the game premiered in 1984. The first of the Companion series, with new rules and options for the game, debuted in 1986. Many other Companion books would follow, adding option after option to an already "crunchy" game.



Like many RPG companies of the late 80s/early 90s, ICE attempted to diversify with multiple product lines. During this time, solo adventuring books (including a Narnia line!), minis games, game distribution (Hero Games), and a series of "mythic" campaign sourcebooks were all produced in addition to Rolemaster & MERP titles. The CyberSpace and SpaceMaster RPG lines also date from this time.

After a rough spot financially in the early 90s, ICE seemed to have righted the ship. Many of the aforementioned products were not commercial hits, so ICE re-focused on the Big Two, Rolemaster and MERP. The early 90s saw a new explosion of MERP product, including a better-focused 2nd edition. However, it would soon become apparent MERP sales were not up to par with where they had been historically.

Rolemaster 2nd edition was still clipping along, too. However, a big change for Rolemaster would be seen with the release of Rolemaster Standard System (RMSS). This was a more complex, rules-heavy "3rd edition" of the Rolemaster rules. It was also the start of a division between fans favoring this newest edition, and the ones preferring the releases of the 9 years prior.

Like many companies, ICE was absolutely decimated by the Collectible Card Game (CCG) boom and subsequent crash. At roughly the same time as the crash, ICE announced there would be no more major MERP releases; the line just simply wasn't what it once was.

That left Rolemaster, which in 1999 saw a 4th edition in Rolemaster Fantasy Roleplaying (RMFRP). However, this edition change saw few actual mechanical changes, and was largely seen as unneeded by many Rolemaster aficionados. The new edition failed to revive the company's now-lagging fortunes.



In 1999, the company went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Tolkien Enterprises recovered the Middle-Earth license. A year later, it was announced the company was going into Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

For twenty years, Iron Crown Enterprises and their games had been a landmark company in gaming. Now, it looked like that was all over. But it wasn't.

What follows was a bit of a mess. Rights, revenue, stock, and other assets went all over the place. Eventually, an entity was formed called Phoenix, Inc. (later Mjolnir, Inc.), which licensed the majority of remaining Iron Crown IPs and assets from Aurigas Aldebaron LLC. They began to do business as Iron Crown Enterprises. One of the founders (and former CEO) of the company, Bruce Neidlinger, was brought back on as CEO.

The New Iron Crown continued support for the most recent edition of Rolemaster, and brought back the old Rolemaster setting of Shadow World. High Adventure Role Playing, or HARP, was created as a rules-lighter percentile-based alternative to Rolemaster, to much critical acclaim.

With a large contingent of Iron Crown's fan base preferring the old Rolemaster 2nd edition rules, they brought back the 2nd-edition rules as Rolemaster Classic, reorganized and cleaned up. An inexpensive introduction to Rolemaster Classic, Rolemaster Express, has also met with generally positive reviews. While celebrated by many fans, this also shows one of the biggest challenges facing Iron Crown--multiple game lines and editions, but only finite resources for support. Rolemaster FRP is still out there as well, after all. As well-received as their products from the time of HARP onward have been, one wonders if there will ever be any unification under a single Rolemaster banner. It is important to note that Iron Crown has successfully brought many of their out-of-print products they hold the rights to pdf format, thus ensuring some form of access for fans of those games.



Going forward, one of the things that will be interesting to watch is how licensed agreements (such as that of The Guild Companion taking over HARP Sci-Fi) progress. However it goes, Iron Crown is a legacy company, one with a history dating back to the latter formulative days of the hobby. It has been at the top of the industry, and also seen its depths. But it's still here, and inspires a dedicated fan base to provide a whole host of fan-driven material.

Iron Crown and their game lines have some truly talented alumni, including Monte Cook, Tim Dugger, Matt Forbeck, Heike Kubasch, Aaron Alston, (now-Mayfair Games CEO) Pete Fenlon, and others. Their games have influenced RPG design up into the 3rd edition of D&D and beyond. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the formation of the original Iron Crown. Let's see what the future holds! As always, questions/comments are very welcome indeed!


(For more extensive detail on the history of Iron Crown Enterprises, you should check out either their company page or Shannon Applecline's great article on the same subject. My thanks to both for aiding my own recollections on the topic. Thank you as well to the always-helpful ICE Webring).

(Edit: Thanks to reader TJones for some clarifications. Aurigas Aldebaron LLC owns the IP, licensing it to Mjolnir, Inc.).

Monday, January 4, 2010

Presenting....Our 2010 Special Project

OK, so I promised that with the New Year I'd be announcing a certain "old-school" game I'd be doing some special articles on this year. Old-school, but still in production. Misunderstood, maligned, but with a place in the development and legacy of gaming. A RPG almost never discussed in our current blogosphere. A game with imaginary, unseen turtles. Did I say too much?


No? Here's a visual hint:





Need another? No peeking, now!:






OK, you'll get it this time:





That's right, Rolemaster. Mainly Rolemaster 2nd Edition (surviving nowadays in new form as Rolemaster Classic). Rolemaster of the open-ended critical hits. Rolemaster of the hilarious fumble charts. Rolemaster of the reputation for a ridiculously complex ruleset. Rolemaster, where even a pissant stableboy can sometimes--just sometimes, every once in a great while--get lucky and kill an evil knight with a sharp stick.

Actually, I think you'll find as we go through this that there's a simple concept and ruleset at the heart of Rolemaster, and once you figure out what's what and what products go with what and the history of the game (all of which we'll be covering, along with special Iron Crown interviews, coupons, in-depth articles, and more--my readers get taken care of), well, you might give it another look. Even if you don't, it should be a fun ride along the way.

Obviously, this isn't the only thing we'll be doing at RPG Blog 2 in 2010. But I do hope you'll join me over the next 12 months for an in-depth look at a game that deserves another look.



Oh, yes. This is going to be fun.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Greatest Living RPG Designer?

There was an interesting topic the other day on Mos Eisley asking who is the best living game (presumably RPG) designer.

That's a tough one. I would probably say someone, change my mind 500 times, and accidentally leave out/forget someone brilliant.

Some of the interesting names brought up in that discussion, listed here only as food for thought:

-Greg Stafford
-clash bowley
-Jonathan Tweet
-S. John Ross
-Zeb Cook
-Kevin Siembieda
-Monte Cook
-Luke Crane

Of course, I had to add one that was an egregious oversight: Marc W. Miller.

This is the sort of thing that could be debated all day and night, with no clear resolution.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Limited-Time Offer: Free Disposable Heroes Set!

This offer is only good through Midnight EST, but for those of you who are about today, check this out, courtesy of Precis Intermedia:

What a special do I have for you on this new day of the new year. And it's absolutely FREE: Disposable Heroes: Anime Statix 1. That's 31 different anime figures. Like all Statix sets, it includes not just one set of the figures in three different formats (a-frame, tri-fold, and counter), but armies of them -- 202 pages in all; print the figures you want in the format you want. Just add it to your cart and enter coupon code GPGK4JEUYR at checkout to receive this product for free. Expires at Midnight tonight (Eastern Time).

Some companies know how to take care of gamers, don't they?

Design A Dungeon Room Contest

If you're looking to start writing with the New Year, or want a project to do, check out the Design A Dungeon Room Contest over at Robertson Games. This is a fine idea with which to kick off 2010!

Stuart's also looking for judges and prizes (publishers!), so there are multiple ways to get involved.

Isn't the start of a new blogging year fun?

Needfest!

That's right, baby. We're ringing in the New Year Greyhawk-style: