Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Random Island Generation Charts, Part I

While working on my Middle Isles campaign, I had a bunch of islands that aren't described aside from being on the map. Not all island are well-travelled, and to that end, I wanted to make a system describing what would be found there. Here's the basic chart I made when the players set foot on an unknown island (tomorrow, I'll post my Unusual Island Characteristics Table)!

When visiting a new island, roll on the tables below to discern the basic characteristics for that island. Then garnish and serve!

Primary Settlement
1-25 No civilization
26-40 Small Village (pop. 20-80)
41-60 Large Village (pop. 81-200)
61-70 Small Town (pop. 201-1000
71-80 Large Town (pop. 1001-2500)
81-89 City (pop. 2501-10000+)
88-91 Keep/Stronghold (pop. varies)
92-96 Monastery/Temple (1-33% Good, 34-66% Neutral, 67-00% Evil)
97-00 Ruined Town or Stronghold

1-54 Human
55-65 Elf
66 Other/Exotic
67-82 Dwarf
83-88 Gnome
87-89 Halfling
90-93 Lesser Orc
94-97 Greater Orc
98-00 Other/Minor Race (Troll, Ogre, Goblin, etc.)

1-10 5% of Population
11-45 10% of Population
46-65 15% of Population
66-80 20% of Population
81-93 25% of Population
94-98 30% of Population
99-00 Warrior Society: Virtually All Of-Age Citizens Are Warriors (add +20 to roll for Army Quality below)

Army/Defense Quality
1-10 Poor
11-33 Mediocre
34-70 Average
71-85 Good
86-93 Excellent
94-98 Superb
99-00 Peerless

Trade Goods/Production
(Small Villages, Large Villages, and Small Towns roll once on this table; Large Towns and Cities roll twice to determine trade output)

01 Armor, Leather
02 Armor, Bronze
03 Armor, Iron/Other
04 Shields
05 Swords, Bronze
06 Swords, Iron
07 Bows and Arrows
08 Exotic Weaponry
09 Axes
10 Beer
11 Wine, Poor Vintage
12 Wine, Average Vintage
13 Wine, Quality Vintage
14 Liquor
15 Canvas
16 Stone, Common
17 Stone, Decortative
18 Softwood
19 Gems, Semi-Precious
20 Hardwood
21 Incense
22 Jugs and Vessels, Clay
23 Bricks
24 Jugs and Vessels, Fine Ceramic
25 Wagons
26 Cotton
27 Carts
28 Furs, Common
29 Furs, Exotic
30 Amber
31 Parchment and Vellum
32 Leather
33 Coral
34 Wool, Average
35 Gems, Precious
36 Tin
37 Copper
38 Silver
39 Gold
40 Lead
41 Wool, Fine
42 Herbs
43 Spice, Common
44 Salt
45 Animal, Exotic
46 Nickel
47 Zinc
48 Steel Products
49 Chalk
50 Electrum
51 Trained Birds of Prey
52 Exotic Mount
53 Livestock, Swine
54 Polearms
55 Ships
56 Jewelery
57 Linen
58 Rugs and Tapestries
59 Cosmetics
60 Perfumes
61 Lamp Oil
62 Incense
63 Cheese
64 Fruit, Citrus
65 Fruit, Melons
66 Silk
67 Barley
68 Pitch
69 Glassware
70 Artwork and Sculpture
71 Rice
72 Bronze
73 Brass
74 Dyes
75 Spice, Exotic
76 Pack Animals
77 Fruit, Other
78 Olives
79 Fine Woodworking
80 Blessed/Charmed Items
81 Rye
82 Scribed Works
83 Slaves
84 Ivory
85 Oats
86 Livestock, Sheep
87 Livestock, Fowl
88 Livestock, Goats
89 Horses
90 Olive Oil
91 Wheat
92 Preserves, Meat
93 Preserves, Fish
94 Preserves, Vegetables
95 Preserves, Fruit
96 Chariots
97 Vegetables, Greens
98 Beans
99 Vegetables, Other
00 Livestock, Cows

My Two Cents On The OSR

Look, there’s been a lot of talk lately (especially over at theRPGsite) about the Old School Renaissance (OSR), and how people either don’t get what it’s all about, or dislike some portion of it, or are turned off by some attitudes.

Forget your idea of what TARGA is or isn’t, forget the idea of a Old School Pope, and forget anyone who tells you are or aren’t Old School. It’s about supporting and enjoying (did we forget the enjoying part?) classical games and their near cousins. There is no monolithic entity deciding what is and isn’t old school. If you want to get involved, want to see what’s quality, submit an idea for an article or an article to Fight On! Post your crazy homebrew rules. Make charts. Slap a bunch of 2e stuff together with your Rules Cyclopedia. Gut the crap out of 3.5 and return to something simpler. Play Hackmaster, Castles & Crusades, or Microlite74. Dig out your old Red Box copy of D&D, or the Little Black Books of Traveller. Put an idea together for an (Semi-)Organized Play program with you and a few "penpal" groups out there. Make modules for AD&D 1e, or run those put out by other. Make a hex map and post it online. Run games, run games, run games.

Bottom line, that any sort of Old School Renaissance is what you make of it. It shouldn’t be a bunch of people bragging about how they’re Old Schoolier Than Thou because they played Kriegspiel with Kaiser Wilhelm himself. It can be about reminiscing, it can be about analyzing, and it can be about creation and play. Again, there is no monolith. There are dozens of little communities that interact on occasion. If something catches your eye and it turns out a community is helpful or inspiring to you (as Fight On! was for me), then by all means, participate. If not, don’t. There isn't an all-or-nothing movement here you have to swallow whole.

Guys (and gals), the opportunities are there. Opportunities to have your classic games supported, opportunities to support them yourself, opportunities to run games for people starving for classic D&D, Traveller, Tunnels & Trolls, or whatever. Opportunities to have your work published in magazines like Fight On! and Knockspell. Opportunities to have something you made bring enjoyment to someone else’s gaming table. And yeah, there are jerks out there—is there any single game or genre or fan following in this hobby that doesn’t? Snark is snark, whether it’s someone defending Exalted at RPGnet, or some dude whose claim to fame is an article in Dragon #24. You’re going to have that. Being old-school doesn’t make you infallible, and it doesn’t make you a nice person. Just like anything else in life, if you think it’s worth it, ignore the creeps and focus on the fun.

And if at any point it becomes not fun or not fulfilling for you, let it go. Life’s too short to get worked up over a game too much, right? I understand people like to argue, but if I can get all John Lennon here for a minute, imagine if we spent the time we do arguing on making gaming material instead? I don't know about you, but I know I'm guilty on that last count. Little less talk, lot more action.

Use what works, trash what doesn’t. I don't care about making points, I don't care about proving anything, and I don't care any of the other peripheral crap that impedes the DIY ethic or people writing new material for me to play with. No more discussion on it--let's get to creating stuff.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

You Don't Have The Industry Without The Hobby

There’s often a lot of talk about the RPG “industry” or “hobby”. I tend to use the term “hobby” more, since most of the smaller-press publishers and endeavors I interact with don’t do it full-time, any more than I do with this blog.

Of course, there are people who make a living from doing this—companies like Paizo, Palladium, Mongoose, and others still have staff that do this full time, not to mention a pool of freelancers that depend on writing opportunities to pay the bills.

Yesterday’s awesome interaction with Margaret Weis Productions really got me thinking about how the line is blurred between the hobby and the industry. The professional and the fan in RPGs are often closely tied together, and depending on the situation, the professional in one case may be a fan in another.

There are thousands—THOUSANDS—of RPG systems listed at RPGNow. There are dozens upon dozens upon dozens of games available, some for free, some for $39.99. Assuming that art, mechanics, and writing tastes will vary, what can one game do to give it a boost over another?

Really, as we’ve seen with the early editions of D&D, if all the gaming companies in all the world closed up shop tomorrow (St. Cuthbert forbid), there are plenty of RPG survivalists with enough gaming material stocked up to play merrily for the rest of their lives. So what can RPG companies offer?

Well, it isn't just releasing a new RPG from an ivory tower, that's for sure. The RPG company today has to strike a personal chord of support, interaction, and empathy with fans. If they’ve got the talent and the shiny new books, that isn’t enough. You need to make people’s opinions feel like they count. That doesn’t mean adding plasma rifles to your next Bronze Age supplement, but listening and responding to feedback online (even if to just explain your differing position) helps immensely.

Be there to answer questions. Maybe you can’t get to every one, but there’s nothing more frustrating than feeling like there’s no support for a product you just blew $30 on. Even small press companies can ensure they have points of contact prominently listed.

Support doesn’t need to be in the shape of new supplements. Palladium fans have been waiting for some sourcebooks for more than a decade, but they know every Holiday season brings a X-Mas Grab Bag, each one complete with a personal touch from the Palladium staff. Sincerity, and taking a moment to add a hint of personal recognition and consideration can make up for a world of difference.

Gamers like sales, like promotions, like special offers. Maybe that means doing a host of YouTube videos about the RPG. Maybe it means writing some bonus downloads, or running a contest. Maybe it means giving fans an outlet to share their creations. Heck, maybe even a “recommend a friend program”. But if you aren’t excited about promoting and utilizing your game, how is the customer supposed to be? You don’t have to be a shill—just be honest and helpful. People respect that a lot more than acting like your ruleset is infallible and your game perfect for everything. Heck, if you prefer a low-key approach, let the product "sell itself", so to speak, but be there for support.

Fact is, you don’t need a dedicated forum with hundreds of members to build a community around your game. You can do it by having Alerts set up and following conversation about your game across gaming message boards and blogs. If you follow the gamers, they’ll follow you.

I’m not saying anything particularly revolutionary here, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth saying. Fans want to have a relationship with a publisher, they want to feel valued, and they want to feel like they belong. There are too many gaming companies out there for them to feel like they “need” to put up with shoddy behavior.

You can talk industry, you can talk hobby, but if you aren’t talking community, then chances are you need some language lessons. Now I’m not a publisher, but I am a fan. And as fans, we know what we want.

Monday, March 29, 2010

MWP Listens, Slashes Price On Cortex!

Wow. Talk about results! Margaret Weis Productions just dropped the pdf price on the Cortex RPG System from $21.99 to $9.99! Here’s the comment from Christi on the post just addressing this:

We’re listening. We appreciate this blog and the comments associated with it. As a company, Margaret Weis Productions, knows we have to be responsive to you – the people that support, use, and buy the games we create. We want to hear from you and create an environment where you feel comfortable letting us know when we hit it out of the park as well as when we should change up batters. PDF pricing is both challenging and evolving based on today’s media. It’s true – we are primarily a print publisher, but we also want to be accessible and are paying closer attention to electronic publishing as a whole. And guess what? You’re right. It’s definitely time to lower the price on the PDF of our CORTEX RPG SYSTEM. As of today, right now, the PDF is officially priced at $9.99 ... in great part due to this blog. To those out there that purchased CORTEX through RPGNow/DriveThruRPG at the higher price within the last 90 days, we're taking care of you. As a company, Margaret Weis Productions wants to thank you for continuing to provide us with input and feedback. We hope you continue to do so through great blogs like this one, our own website -- and by staying in touch with us both on Facebook and Twitter. Keep talking to us - we welcome it!

Now that’s a fast reaction! Thanks to MWP for listening, thanks to the readers for your constructive comments, and I hope this gets plenty of pdf gamers to check out this game. You want to create fans, that’s the way to do it.

Cortex System RPG and PDF Pricing

This weekend, I was encouraged by a friend to again check out the Cortex RPG System, by Margaret Weis Productions. It didn't really do much for me the first time, but I have to say, the second read's been much better. Games like Serenity and BSG aren't really up my alley (both used the Cortex system), but seeing it presented by itself, it's different somehow. Cortex sort of reads like Savage Worlds' less-gimmicky cousin, if that makes sense. I like step-dice mechanics, and I also like that Cortex keeps a more traditional damage system.

Now, I obtained my pdf of the Cortex rules through RPGNow's Gamers Helping Haiti Bundle (thanks to MWP for their generosity!). However, looking on RPGNow, I see the Cortex pdf rules are priced at $21.99!

OK, so never mind for a minute that that is about what the product costs at Amazon. I said the game bears some resemblance to Savage Worlds, yes? The pdf of Savage Worlds, ringing in at 160 pages, costs $9.99, the same as a print copy. If I'm on the fence between these two products, how is that even a contest? Another system that bears some similarities is Eden Studios' Unisystem, which doesn't have a generic ruleset product that I'm aware of, but does have the Witchcraft RPG for free. (Of course, they have the 256-page All Flesh Must Be Eaten RPG for $21, so who knows).

Pathfinder, $10, 576 pages.

Atomic Highway, $11.95, 131 pages.

Thousand Suns, $9.99, 272 pages.

In Harm's Way, $10.00, 125 pages.

The genreDiversion 3e Manual, $7.95, 126 pages.

Open Core System, $9.95, 200 pages.

Rolemaster Express, $5.00, 90 pages.

I don't pretend to know all the costs that go into making a RPG pdf like Cortex any more than I do what goes into making a Honda Civic. But I do know what I'll pay for it--what my personal marketplace in my head will bear, so to speak. And if it's over around $10-12 for a pdf (unless we're talking about something really special here) , I'm pretty quickly going the other way.

There are just too many "good" RPGs and RPG systems out there for people to invest too much into one system. You've got to do something--be it a special promotion, insane fan support, insane fans evangelizing, have a kickass blog everyone follows (clearly, this one is not it), a cult following, a special program or guarantee--if you want to jump ahead. Some publishers let their product sell itself, and I respect that. But products that people see as too expensive don't sell themselves as easily, I don't think.

I do need to point out here that I am reliably informed the print version of Cortex comes with a code for a free pdf of the same. Well done, there.

Cortex seems like a good system that I'm really just getting into, and again, Margaret Weis Productions deserves a big "thank you!" for participating in the Gamers Helping Haiti effort. I checked out the material at Signal Fire Studios, which has some cool ideas for Cortex. And I finally registered at their fan forums after lurking a bit, and it seems like a nice, constructive place (though it may not be for me after this article). But man, that pdf pricing will get me every time. Give us a gateway product that won't break the bank. Apparent cheapskate, over and out.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kids Need To Game

My good bloggin' buddy Dane of War is looking for some help with a pretty nifty cause. Here's an excerpt:

As a teacher for many years, I have been able to use RPGs and wargames to not only assist me in teaching the English language, but to sharpen math skills, teamwork and abstract thinking. As such, it was a natural progression for me to seek out and to obtain permission to "take over" a section of the school library as a gamers corner. Our students do not even have to belong to a school club - they can simply loan out the materials like they would any other book. This is a first here, and something that I am very excited about.

But I need help.

My school, like many other of our public schools, operates with very little government funding for anything outside of the most necessary items, so there is simply no money available to purchase gaming books or boardgames.

While I personally have donated quite a few books, games and related items, one person isn't really capable of providing the sheer amount needed for a school library.

That's why I decided to start Kids Need To Game (KNTG) - and that's why I need your help.

To learn more donate games and dice to this effort, click here to find out more about how you can help with Kids Need To Game.

Best/Worst RPGs and Supplements, 2010 Edition

If you're bored and have nothing to do, you may consider heading over to theRPGsite ("The Mos Eisley of RPG Message Boards Since 2006") and check out the voting now going on for best/worst RPGs and RPG supplements. I'm not sure how it'll end up, but I doubt it'll look much like ENWorld or RPGnet's lists would.

Top 10 RPGs of theRPGsite

Bottom 10 RPGs of theRPGsite

Top 10 RPG Supplements of theRPGsite

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Discussion: Currency In Your Games

After a busy week, we come to Friday, when a goodly portion of the blogosphere decides to pack it in. But here at RPG Blog 2, we keep the fires burning into the weekend with something called Friday Discussion. Nothing too heavy, nothing too serious, just gamers talking about the hobby they love.

Today’s question is burning a hole in my pocket:

What currency system do you use in your game? The normal 100 coppers=10 silver=1 gold piece? Or do you go for something more exotic? Perhaps you only use something like Resource or Wealth levels?

A couple of campaigns ago, I did the 100 coppers=1 silver=1 gold exchange rate, but with a basic twist: TradeCoin, coinage minted in the north of the land, was worth approximately twice as much as SouthCoin, due to southern coins being debased somewhat. Players had to check whether the coin in question was TradeCoin or SouthCoin, as it definitely made a difference during haggling—and not agreeing to a deal in a certain kind of currency could see you shortchanged! It was a quick way to add some diversity to the coinage system without worrying too much about math and memorization.

I’m curious how everyone else treats coinage in their home campaigns! Have a great weekend, and Fight On!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Presenting: The Gamer

(With profuse apologies to Mr. Poe)

The Gamer

Once inside a game store dreary, while I pondered, obese and bleary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of Greyhawk lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my game store door.
" 'Tis some bill collector," I muttered, "tapping at my game store door;
Only this, and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying game line wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow
From the bank surcease of debt load, debt load for this poor game store
For the small and creaky business that people called eyesore
In the red since two thousand four.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each unsold comics t-shirt
Thrilled me---as I looked at the silkscreen of the old Fantastic Four;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
" 'Tis some collector wanting payment at my game shop door,
Some bill collector wanting payment at my game shop door.
This it is, and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is, I was working, and definitely my bills not shirking,
And so faintly you came a-lurking, lurking at my game shop door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you." Here I opened wide the door;--
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing
Doubting, if the collector would take a post-date check as he had done before;
But the silence was unbroken, and fiddled I with odd game token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered words,
“Game Store?” This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the words,
"Game Store!" Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the gamestore turning, White Castle in my stomach burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping, something louder than before,
"Surely," said I, "surely, that is something in the game room office.
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore.
Then I can relax to BSG, discs three and four,
Check out some Cylons, nothing more."

I opened door, despite the clutter, when, with many a tic and stutter,
In there stepped a Gamer, like in the blessed days of yore.
Not the least notice gave he; not a hello or hi had waved he;
But grabbed a Werewolf book and sat down upon the floor.
Threw his dirty backpack down, right upon my game shop floor,
Belched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony-clad lad, beguiling my sad face now into smiling,
By the money and mom’s debit cards I hoped he bore,
"Though we have no discounts," I said, "thou art not Forsaken,
But a discerning gaming maven, wandering into this fair store.
Will you be buying that book you read upon my game shop’s floor?"
Quoth the Gamer, "Nevermore."

Much I winced to hear this put so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning, little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Had purchased White Wolf in the entire year before,
And no man or beast would reply to that query within my store,
With anything but "Nevermore."

But the Gamer, sitting blankly on that tile surface, spoke only
That one word, as if brain damage was his case du jour,
Nothing further then he uttered; not a Monty Python quote he muttered;
Till I scarcely more than shuddered, "Other gamers left before;
On the hour he will leave me, my cash box as empty as before,"
Quoth the Gamer, "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what he utters is just from want of something more,
Caught from some unhappy gamemaster, whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster, till his campaign became no more,---
Marking now his dead Elf Ranger that died by a tricky rogue Gas Spore
Will be Resurrected “Nevermore."

But the thought of sales still beguiling my sad soul now into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a shelf of D&D 4th Edition beside him on the floor;
Then, although my heart sinking, I betook myself to linking
To DDI, that online aide available for only $19.94--
Discovering what this Gamer wanted from my humble gaming store
To stop his blurting "Nevermore."

Thus I sat engaged in guessing, my doughy hopeful face expressing
To the Gamer, whose fiery stench now burned into my nostril's core;
Of RPGA I sat recounting, recalling all the post-game accounting
As I raked in sales of all books marked “Core”,
All twenty-seven books marked “Core”,
Dragonborn, and Handbook 4.

Then, methought, the air grew fouler, as though from too much Boston Chowder
Dealt by ghosts of gamers whose flatulent presence lingered from the years before.
"Sir," I cried, "Wizards of the Coast has sent me---oh how they have sent me--
Sent me game books---game books and an accessory different from the days of yore!
Play, O Play this new edition, and forget the combat that we knew before!"
Quoth the Gamer, "Nevermore!"

"Gamer!" said I, "what of Traveller? We have d20, if you’d rather
Whether you want Dogs in the Vineyard, or some hippie crap in back of store,
Out of stock?; Yet we can get it, catalog price—we’ve barely met it
In this retail space so lightly vaunted—now tell me, I implore:
Is there a game you’ll buy?--tell me--tell me I implore!"
Quoth the Gamer, "Nevermore."

"Gamer!" said I, "think of Evil!—You could play a Realms assassin, Charisma feeble
By the GWAR music that binds us--by that band we all adore--
Tell this man with sorrow laden, is there a setting you would play in?,
Dark Sun, Earthdawn, or Planescape (though Spelljammer came before)---
Choose a rare and radiant setting, that we stock in my game store?
Quoth the Gamer, "Nevermore."

"Be that word our sign of parting, Gamer Fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting--
"Get thee out of Oak Park Strip Mall and to another Gaming Store!
Leave no soda cans as a token of purchase requests unspoken!
Leave my owner’s heart unbroken! – move your carcass from my game shop floor!
Take thy backpack, and shoplift no Warhammer as you leave my bloody store!
Quoth the Gamer, "Nevermore."

And the Gamer, never buying, still is sitting, while the store lies dying
On the tile that once held shelves of supplements galore;
And his eyes have all the seeming that soon he will be screaming.
Telling me how he had a Drow that had scimitars galore;
And my bills from my creditors grow, stacking high upon on the floor
And I know he’ll purchase---Nevermore!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Making Your Setting More Accessible

Usually when I do a primer for a new homebrew campaign, I give out a brief description, not unlike you’d find in a travel guide or history book. Yet lately I’ve been rethinking this approach—or perhaps more properly, of adding to it with some short fictional excerpts.

I like little excerpts that casually suggest a larger picture through names and events that are sort of casually mentioned in the course of the text. It doesn’t make them the center of the focal point, it doesn’t demand that you know about them, but it gives the idea of depth. Think of the aliens in the background of the Mos Eisley Cantina—many movies made aliens the forefront or focal point of their picture, but in Star Wars, they’re just sort of skulking in the back. It gives the idea of a much deeper and more diverse galaxy without taking away from the story at hand.

I’ll be the first one to admit that this isn’t a strong suite of mine, but really, how many players are going to read through textbook-like material to get the gist of a setting? I want my settings to be deep, but almost immediately accessible. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with writing about the Roman Empire-esque Hegemony of Aerris by giving population, culture, and political facts, but I worry that all too often that blends together. Instead, for the Hegemony of Aerris, I’m going to start with something like this:

The Hegemony of Aerris

History records that the city-state of Vekkon would not bow to the wishes of the Hegemony of Aerris. Despite being officially a Friend and Ally of Aerris, Vekkon would not join the Hegemony.

The Hegemon’s envoys were not be deterred. They had many gifts for the Hierarch of Vekkon. They gave fine wines, bushels of wheat, rings of gold—all representative of the great wealth the Hegemony commanded. The Hierarch did not change his mind.

The envoys then sent a crew to build a fine road for the Hierarch, showing the wisdom and talent of engineering that the Hegemony commanded. The Hierarch did not change his mind.

The envoys then displayed hundreds of books, the crème of knowledge from the cities of the Hegemony and well beyond. The spoke glowingly of the reason, civilization, philosophy, and medicine at the command of the Hegemony of Aerris. The Hierarch did not change his mind.

The Hegemon’s envoys left.

Six months later, a massive army showed up from the Hegemon to besiege the city-state of Vekkon.

At that very instant, the Hierarch changed his mind, and all know Vekkon now prospers as a member of the enlightened humanity that is the Hegemony of Aerris. Long live the Hegemon!

Or this one, for Skeldenland, a loose jumble of murderous, irreverent raiders. Here, I not only give a short background for the Skelds, but also a bit for the mysterious isle of Peln, where the Seers deliver the pronouncements of the gods:


King Otha of Skeldenland envied the Isle of Peln, where he believed the Seers of Peln held knowledge that could make him king of all kings. So the Skelds loaded up 100 ships with only the best of the Skeldish warriors. They made the long journey to Peln—so skillful were the ship-masters of Skeldenland that only 1 boat was lost.

The Seers of Peln saw of his approach, and sent a vision to proud Otha, saying, “Beware your doom, Otha, for no ship launched in anger may touch the shores of Peln. Journey here, and defy the rule of the gods.”

Otha laughed contemptuously at this, because he had little use for gods. Within days, Otha had his ship within sight of Peln. But as soon as his ship touched the Pelnian shore, the sea itself rose up and devoured King Otha’s fleet. Only two slaves survived, chosen to spread the story to all those who would defy that which the gods decreed.

After this, the Skelds were much diminished for a generation, and caused little trouble until the rise of Orreth One-Thumb.

I think that in telling a brief story or fictional account of the territory described, there’s a much better chance it’s going to stick in someone’s head. If I can work these into each primer entry without getting too ornate or long-winded, I think it will help convey the basic points of the setting much better.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

D&D Rules Variants: The Perrin Conventions

Before he created RuneQuest, legendary RPG designer Steve Perrin designed The Perrin Conventions, a set of modifications to 70s-era D&D. I've reprinted them (hat tip: T. Foster) below for your perusal and enjoyment. How well do you think they've held up?


Alarum & Excursions: Many thanks to Steve Henderson. Clint Bigglestone, Nioolai Shapero, Jerry Jacks, Michael McNeil, Owen and Hilda Hannifen, Dave Harqrave, Dan Pierson, and the many contributors tomay your characters have close shaves and your dungeons be hairy.


In a melee round, (which takes up 10 seconds), each character can perform one or more of the functions below, unless he is busy bleeding his life away and is no longer interested. The functions below are listed in the order to be followed, even if some of them can be thought to be simultaneous. For those wishing to subdivide movement into seconds, the approximate seconds within the round during which the action may occur
are shown in italics after the description of the action.

Anyone attempting to use missile or spell when meleed cannot use them, and will strike last in that melee round (see the desription of combat for the usual strike order) if he manages (via a dexterity roll) to get a hand weapon free. Otherwise, he will have no strike at all for that round, and must take the punishment if his armor fails.


(1). Monster Motivation. The DM determines what his monster will do in the coming round. No melee time (MT) spent

(2). Declaration of Intent. Players declare their character(s)'s intentions for the coming round, including specific target and the nature of missile or spell. Target can be ''first one to come through the door," "the last one in line," etc. Once declared, the character may follow through or abort, but not change his target or objective. But alternate targets can be chosen as a contingency plan. No melee time (MT) spent

(3). Preparation. The undertaking of something to be completed by the next round or of the end of the current one. Involves complicated procedures such as finding a special item in a full pack, changing dissimilar weapons, pouring oil in front of the character to make a barricade, etc. It should be an activity which will last the whole turn. A DM can vary the speed of completion because of various characteristics. MT: 10 seconds base.

(4). Missile Fire from Prepared Weapons. This refers to crossbows, guns, bows, wands, spells, etc., which already have been aimed. Missile weapons can be fire at this time only if the same target was fired at previously or if the character has prepared (see 3. above) opportunity fire for a specific area, such as a doorway or corner. MT: 2nd second

(5). Movement Up To 30'. If characters meet within this space, missile fire or spells at one of them after this phase may hit the other, unless their sizes are disparate. MT: 2nd-5th second.

(6). "At Hand" Missile Fire. At-hand missile weapons which were not already aimed may be fired at an obvious target. The intention to fire at an obvious target must have been declared during the Declaration of Intent. MT: 6th second.

(7). Movement Up To 30'. More movement available for those not already engaged in melee. MT: 6th-9th seconds

(8). Melee Resolution. Fought out for all who came next to an enemy after the first movement (see 5.). Those who came next to an enemy during the second movement (see 7.) do not have time to strike a blow for this turn, must take any fire from at-hand missiles (see 6.), but prevent even a prepared missile (see 4.) from being used on them next turn. MT: 4th-9th seconds.

(9.) Spells and New Missile Fire. This can be done by unengaged characters who have not moved more than one 30' movement phase. MT: 7th-10th seconds.

(10). Bookkeeplng. Take this time to add points regenerated, subtract spell points, updating the cheracter for the next round.


MOVEMENT - from the basic ''armored man moves 60 feet." The phases of a character who can move 120' (12") can be done as two movement phases of 60' (6") each. The derivations and possibilities are obvious.

PREPARATION TIME - time required for complex tasks can be based on a dexterity roll. For every 10% of a roll better than the needed dexterity, a character completes the task one second earlier. Example: a character with a dexterity of 12 rolls a 23. He needed 60, bettering the roll be 37%, or three increments of 10%. His task could be done within 7 seconds instead of 10, leaving him free to meet an attack. If he was spreading
oil of Slipperiness in front of himself and an enemy came next to him on the second move phase, that's one enemy down. The dexterity roll would not work on anything which takes a set period of time, like gathering energies for a spell. If the character had rolled an 83, that would put him 2 increments of 10% over what he needed The task goes 2 seconds into the next round.

MISSILE FIRE - a wand or stave takes a certain time to be ready for another burst, so only one charga could be expended a melee round. Missile weapons have other limits, which follow.

Heavy Crossbow: one shot per two melee rounds, always to be fired in the same missile phase the first one was, unless purposefully delayed. Cannot move.

Longbow, Composite Bow, Light Crossbow: two shots per melee round. First either at Prepared or Ready phase (assuming either applies), and then at the New Missile Fire phase. If moving, forsake one shot for every 30' or fraction thereof moved.

Short Bow, Modern Guns: three shots per melee round if Prepared for the first one and there is no movement. Lose one shot per round for every 30' or fraction thereof moved. Thus a user of such a weapon could fire a Prepared shot, then run 60' in that round. The same applies to the user of a wand or staff or a Prepared spell or device.

Early Gunpowder Gun: one shot per three to six melee rounds, depending on just how ancient the piece is. No movement allowed by firer in a round in which the piece fires.

DEXTERITY - the term "dexterity roll" appears throughout these conventions. The ability to do many things, especially combat and magic, as well as complex actions such as changing weapons, turning and firing, opening a box and jumping back, closing a door quickly, etc., depends on a combination of dexterity and experience. Success in the percentile dice roll depends on the following: the basic dexterity roll is a simple roll
of 5% per point of dexterity, A dexterity of 3 always has a 15% chance of succeeding; a dexterity of 18 always has a 10% chance (91-00) of muffing it.


The type of armor worn can decrease the effectiveness of dexterity. For plate, subtract 2 from the dexterity bonus; for mail, subtract 1 from the dexterity bonus; for bare skin, add 1 to the dexterity bonus. This could be offset by experience.


(1). First strike in any sltuation, whether melee combat, spell casting, or whatever depends on who has the highest dexterity. This does not apply to surprise situations, unless it is mutual surprise. Hasted or sped conditions do count. Haste doubles dexterity in this connection. (Wayne Shaw Option: once the first strike dexterity is determined, all haste bonuses, etc., are figured, roll 2D6 for each character and add the result to the dexterity. This will give a little variety to just who gets to strike first.) (Further Modification: a character with a long weapon or a long reach and a dexterity of at least half of his opponent's will have first strike.

(2). When a character takes more than 10% damage, and each time he takes damage thereafter, the percentage of hit points he has left shall be found and precentile dice rolled. If the percentage or less is not rolled, the character is knocked back(if less than 50% down) or knocked down (if 50% or more damaged). If not knocked down, roll again to see if the character is knocked back.

Knocked Back: a character must make his dexterity roll in order to get in a blow if he has the lesser dexterity and therefore must strike after being hit, or retain his place of first strike on the next round if he has the higher dexterity.

Knocked Down: a character gets no strike on that turn (if he has the lesser dexterity) and must make his percentage to get a strike on the next turn. If he does get a strike, it will be the last one of the turn. If left alone, he can regain his feet on making a percentage roll, but if pressed he will stay down, defending himself as best he can, continuing to get in the last shot.

Remember: a character must make his percentage every time he takes damage, after the initial 10% damage is taken.

(3). One-to-one combat cannot be broken off unless an opponent has been knocked back or down, or the higher dexterity fighter makes a dexterity roll. If the higher dexterity fighter makes his roll, the lower dexterity fighter may pursue, getting first shot, if he makes his own dexterity roll.

(4). A combined strength, dexterity, end level score of 30 is necessary to allow a character the use of two weapons in melee combat (and strength and dexterity must each at least be 11). Anyone useing two weapons without the necessary total will add the difference betwean the necessary total and his total to the number needed to hit his opponent. A dexterity roll must be achieved to use the second weapon in any melee round.

(5). When using two weapons, the first weapon strikes according to the wielder's dexterity, and the second weapon as if his dexterity were halved. EXAMPLE: a character with a dexterity of 16 is fighting someone with dexterity 12. The 16-man will get his first weapon in first, then the 12-man will strike with his, and then the 16-man will get in with his second weapon as if his dexterity were 8.

(6). A two-weapon man may up his armor class by one by using one weapon as a shield in man-to-man combat. Despite any pluses on the waapon, it acts as a simple shield. Of course, if used as a shield, the second weapon cannot be used to strike.

- Steve Perrin
Oakland, California
November, 1977

Monday, March 22, 2010

Has Mongoose Publishing Turned It Around?

Just like in any other hobby or endeavor, if you get a reputation for delivering a less-than-quality product, that can stick with a company for a long time. If we look at Mongoose Publishing--one of the few relatively large, multi-line RPG publishers remaining--I am reminded of that fact.

Now, that's not to say that everything Mongoose ever did was crap; far from it! But, let's face it, Mongoose had its share of missteps. There was an edition of the Conan RPG that needed as much errata as Traveller 4th edition. There was the first edition of Mongoose RuneQuest, which managed to be disliked by old RuneQuest fans and garner mixed reviews at best from prospective new ones. You had a line of d20 product of varying quality (actually, what publishing involved in d20 in the last decade didn't?). There were some binding issues, and editing always seemed to be a shortcoming for Mongoose products, no matter how interesting they might otherwise have seemed.

Now, it sounds like I'm just slagging the beejeezus out of Mongoose Publishing, but that's not the case. In fact, I've been greatly surprised and pleased at the quality of content coming out of Mongoose recently. It started a while back with Dragon Warriors (via their Flaming Cobra line) and Traveller, two venerated RPGs named that I know had people praying "don't mess this up, please don't mess this up". Well, by all accounts, they didn't. Dragon Warriors has met with a warm critical reception, and Traveller is doing very well by all accounts. I even hear good things about the latest Earthdawn, which is done between Mongoose and Redbrick Ltd.

The most recent entry on the playing field for Mongoose is Mongoose RuneQuest II. I got to browse this last week, and let me tell you, Mongoose has really stepped it up here. They cleaned out a lot of the confusing rules, simplified skills and magic, and really made this a tight game again. I'm hearing positive feedback not only from long-time RQ fans, but from the newer ones as well!

If you're going to have properties like RuneQuest and Traveller, to my mind you have to hit it out of the park, period. There's no better way to alienate fans and incur nerdrage than to slap a beloved legacy name on an inferior or sub-par product. It looks like Mongoose is producing right now at a level worthy of those honorable RPG legacies.

That's not to say there still isn't some work to go in the editing department, but by and large, I think Mongoose is looking much better than ever before. Have they turned it around? I think they're on the right track, yes. Time will tell if the momentum and quality continue, but for now, cheers, Mongoose. You done good.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Peace Through World Creation

It's been a rough couple of days in the online gaming community, with some hot heads getting the best of people, and some nasty back-and-forths going on both publicly and privately. I've had my fill of that, so I tend to turtle up and concentrate on other world building.

I might be running Traveller next, but that doesn't mean I'm still not working on my Middle Isles campaign. I find working on it over at Obsidian Portal sort of helps tune out the nastiness, and lets me reconnect with the creative side of the hobby. Plus, it's nice having a project to work on at my leisure, with no sort of definitive deadline.

Speaking of creative stuff, for the next ish of Fight On! I'm working on a town layout, suitable for drop-in to an existing campaign. If you'd like to see anything particular on that account, let me know!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fight On! #8 Now Available!

For those of you inclined towards a nice bit of classical gaming, DIY attitude, and eclectic little bits of gamer goodness, may I present Fight On! #8, now available in pdf and print.

This isssue has plenty of reviews, new spells, rules for XP for exploration, an interview with Erol Otus, dungeon templates, new magic items, a desert "sandbox" mini-campaign, adventures, and my Village of Pindle, a drop in wilderness settlement using the One-Page Dungeon template.

If you want to see a table of contents, you can still go here, but I want to make sure I'm not just emphasizing names here, but the content--because it's pretty damn great.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

On Unexpected Hobbies Outside of Gaming

Sometimes I wonder if my hobbies really do somehow complement each other.

On one hand, I am a huge fan of RPGs. For me, I not only enjoy playing them, but there are few things better than flipping through and randomly reading old articles in Dragon Magazine or old fan publications. I love the legacy of the hobby, the living legacies (Lou Zocchi, Frank Mentzer, Erol Otus), but also the new breed (Clash Bowley [yes, Clash, compared to some, you’re new], Chad Underkoffler, and all the DIY people exploding with creativity this past year). I treasure every minute of walking the floor at Gen Con each year, thinking of all the community and history that's there.

I even enjoy the parts outsiders might consider silly, such as getting excited at Gen Con Indy every year when I see the first gamer walking around downtown (we know our own).

On the other hand, I am also a huge fan of IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500. For me, I enjoy not only visiting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but there are few things better than listening to The Most Knowledgeable & Interesting Man Ever, Donald Davidson, recount minutiae every May on the “The Talk Of Gasoline Alley” and remembering old races and trivia. I love the legacy of the 500, the living legacies (the Andretti family, A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones), but also the new breed (Sarah Fisher, Tomas Scheckter, and the awesomely-named Will Power). I treasure every moment I get to spend at the Speedway, thinking of all the community and history that's there.

I even enjoy the parts outsiders might consider silly, such as getting excited to hear Jim Nabors belt out “Back Home Again In Indiana” before the race every year.

Both are considered relatively niche compared to a larger hobby (tabletop RPGs to MMOs, IndyCar to soap opera—er, NASCAR).

One of these days, I’m going to create an RPG to go along with a version of the boardgame Formula De modified for Indy. It’d be fun to play out some of the controversies, debacles, and great rivalries in RPG form. Am I perhaps the only person on earth for which these two hobbies converge? All too likely. But give me 3-4 players, and we’re off!

I’m an Indianapolis native, and two of my most favorite events in the world reside in the city I returned to after 8 years away. Am I lucky? I would say so, yes.

What about you? Do you have any hobbies people might not expect from the traditional idea of a gamer?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My Short Story: Cave of the Shenandoah

When Fight On! announced its "Weird Enclaves and Black Pits" fiction anthology, I thought I'd try my hand at a short story--a sort of turn-of-the-century-style creepy/weird tale. That's a hard tone to get it in writing, and by all accounts, I apparently whiffed on it pretty good. In other words, you won't be seeing it in the Weird Enclaves and Black Pits anthology. You know what, though? To hell with it--I had fun writing it.

But, for those 3 of you who can't have enough amateur Civil War-based weird fantasy/horror fiction, I present to you "Cave of the Shenandoah", for your free downloading pleasure. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Traveller Product Ideas

The following products are ones I’d love to see for Mongoose Traveller. (Yes, I know my tastes are probably weird and off-base, but I like what I like and want what I want. At least I’m not suggesting any products that involve Boom Guns with plasma bayonets, or a planet full of intelligent, cybernetics-enhanced T-Rexes, right? As a Rifts player, that’s a miracle in and of itself):

Uncommon Valor: Sacrifice In Space

This product takes the ideas of trading survival (and thereby success) for a nasty injury from such Flying Mice titles as In Harm’s Way. The airlock malfunctioned, endangering the whole crew. Does Petty Officer Smith improbably get it closed in time before you Jump? Yes, but at what cost?

The idea is that you either auto-succeed or get a magnificent bonus to your death-defying risk, but that in the best tradition of Admiral Nelson or Winfield Scott Hancock, that victory comes with a very personal price. I see d66 charts you roll on for your injury for Army, Navy, Marines, and Scouts. Perhaps you come away with a slight limp (-1 DEX). Or perhaps your extended recovery leaves you weak (-1 STR). Maybe you’ll need a prosthetic hand, but what’s that to a Hero of the Fleet? Besides, that facial scar makes you look dashing.

Mongoose Traveller already has an optional “death or glory” type rule for their Event tables during character generation, but this would be for more in-play.

Theoretical Size/Price: 16 pages, $1-2. This would be a pretty small pdf.

Imperial Navy Handbook

We already saw something like this with Martin J. Dougherty’s Grand Fleet (only more complex), but I’m imagining a cheap, easy-to-follow 32-page pdf here, along with some uniform ideas, rank illustrations, basic fleet structure, and so on. If you were a new recruit to the Imperial Navy, this would have everything you need. I’m thinking like a 32-page pdf here, directed towards novices and those who want easily-digestible bits about one of the services. A player decides to play a Naval character, simply hand them this. It would be cool to have the same thing for the Scouts, Marines, etc., at some point down the road.

Theoretical Size/Price: 32 pages, $3.50. Just because I like saying “three fiddy”.

Ship’s Locker

Another grab n’ go title, this book would list common equipment (with relevant values and stats, where applicable) for some of the most commonly-used ship variants. Want to know what your Free Trader will likely have in its ship’s locker—how many weapons, vacc suits, what sort of other supplies? What about a mercenary cruiser, safari ship, or lab vessel? Don’t spend hours in Central Supply Catalog outfitting your ships while forgetting the basics—simply find your ship’s type, pick whether it’s Resources Level is Poor, Moderate, or High—and record what’s onboard.

Theoretical Size/Price: 32-48 pages, maybe a bit less depending on how extensive the descriptions are and how many different types of ships are represented. $2-3 or so?

Scout Survey Series

Basically, each entry in this series details a world, gives you the world basics, complete with world hexmap, trade, government, and population information, a brief Who’s Who and planet history, and a solid collection of adventure hooks. The idea is they can be dropped right in to a game or campaign and give your characters plenty to do. There have books done like this in the past (such as the Planetary Survey line with SJ Games), and I thought they were really interesting and useful.

Theoretical Size/Price: 16 pages each, let’s say for a buck each.

Of course, if I could write worth a toss, I’d do it myself. But for now, I’ll hope someone more talented comes along with the same ideas and intentions as I have.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Septimus News and WEG Update

The news continues to be poor for West End Games fans.

I saw yesterday that Bill Coffin, ex-Palladium author and writer of the long-delayed Septimus RPG, stated that WEG's Eric Gibson had simply stopped returning his emails. It sounds like if there's a future for Septimus, it might be in fiction, not RPGs.

"I had been warned that I might get burned doing business with Eric. He's a very nice guy and his heart is really in the right place. But it doesn't look like this project was ever on very steady ground. I just feel bad for anybody who ever wanted the game. You guys have been jerked around so badly on this.

I need to check my Septimus contract once more and see what I can still do with it. I think I might have just signed over the RPG rights, in which case, I'll get on developing this as a novel series, which had been my original intent".

--Bill Coffin

Eric Gibson's rebuttal to all this?

"I'm must admit that at times a stress reaction for me is to disconnect, but this is not the case right now. I don't have the TIME to communicate as much as people would like me to. Moreover, it is a simple matter of priorities. As much as people might be angered, hurt or suprised in me saying so, virtually every other activity in my life has priority over WEG at this point in time. It's not a stress reaction. At least not directly. I'm not angry, stressed (with regards to WEG), or any such negative emotional state. I am -- nothing. I'm wholly apathetic to the publishing field in general. It simply a matter or identifying what things in my life can contribute to some kind of positive future for myself and my family, and it is high time I realized that WEG is not able to do that for me".

--Eric Gibson

Ya think? Look, you gotta put family first, but don't jerk everyone else along because of it. Take a deuce or get off the pot.

I think it's time that we few remaining d6 fans give up on seeing anything substantial from West End Games (if indeed we have not already), either in terms of support for an open system initiative or any sort of new gaming material. Given the track record of Mr. Gibson, I'm not sure why anyone would believe anything will ever come of any of this, no matter how good his intentions. As of now, it sounds like his intentions are to engage in pure publishing apathy, so perhaps that's one plan that will be seen through.

How frustrating.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Finding A Starship

I was looking for a ship to pass as the 600 d-ton science vessel I'm creating for our upcoming Mongoose Traveller game, and I was simply not having any luck. Either I didn't like the layout, or it didn't meet the requirements of a science vessel.

Should have known, of course, that the Wayback Machine would come through. I found a lab ship variant of the Orca from an old site for a (now-defunct?) Zaon RPG, (warning: slow load) and I think it just might work. I still need to make a few adjustments, and I still have a little time to switch in case I find anything better out there.

(It looks like here the designer of the original ship plans is claiming copyright on the plans. I guess I'll need to PM him, though since it's for non-commercial use, it should be fine).

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Discussion: Spousal Attitudes Towards Gaming

Yesterday, my wife had a tonsillectomy. Of course, she did great, because she’s about 10 times tougher than I’ll ever be. She’s awesome, and I’m tremendously, unbelievably lucky to have her.

She’s not a tabletop gamer, but she puts up with more of my nonsense and gamer talk than she probably should. She’s been supportive and flexible in me running my biweekly campaign, even if it isn’t something she herself enjoys.

With that in mind, today’s Friday Discussion is all about the spouses (or partners, girlfriends, or significant others, take your pick):

What Is Your Spouse’s Attitude Towards Gaming? Tolerance? Enjoyment? Thinly Veiled Disgust? A Sort of Resigned Support?

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Rebel Yell

Wow. I first saw this on Chris Pramas' Facebook. The Museum of the Confederacy (a really cool place to visit for history buffs, by the way) has recordings from Confederate vets in the 1920s and 30s trying to emulate the "Rebel Yell". From these, they've recreated the sounds of the Yell as it may have seemed from a mass of angry Rebel soliders. It doesn't sound like what I thought it would sound like, but when you get hundreds or even thousands of people screaming at the same time, you see why that would scare the crap out of the Yankees.

If I ever get to run my Civil War Spies campaign, I need to get that on the soundtrack.

(Sorry to get your hopes up, Billy Idol fans).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

For Those Of You Playing Along At Home

The question’s been raised as to precisely which books I’ll be using for our upcoming Traveller campaign. The following are what’s being counted on as of now.

Traveller Core Rulebook OR Pocket Rulebook (Mongoose Publishing): The material in both is really the same. It’s matter of if you want to trade a smaller-sized book for bigger print. I like the Pocket Rulebook, tiny font and all, because it’s a) a bit handier of a size to port about, b) it reminds me more of the Classic Traveller Little Black Books (LBBs), and c) you can find it online for about $20 cheaper, if not more.

Book 2: High Guard (Mongoose Publishing): Since we’re running an Imperial Navy campaign, the careers in this book will be very handy and help diversify character generation a bit.

And that’s it, for now. I’m probably using some charts from the most-excellent Jon Brazer Enterprises, and eventually look at Spica Publishing’s Career Books. Traveller is in many respects the biggest stellar sandbox ever created, but it’s also important when running first-timers through it that you don’t bite off more than they can chew. A few links to the background of the Third Imperium and some recent history of the area of (non-canon) space we’ll be adventuring in should be enough for now.

Of course, I wouldn’t enjoy or run Mongoose Traveller if they hadn’t come so close to the mark of Classic Traveller. They kept it close in design and spirit, while cleaning some things up, adding some new rules without making things too complex (such as the Connections rules), and generally did a pretty nice job keeping the legacy of Traveller intact. Plus, although Mongoose is often faulted for their editing, the original Traveller book was pretty good (except for some issues with multiplication signs, though I hear several supplements had some issues in places). It’s accessible, it’s easily available, and it’s close enough to Classic Traveller where I can use ideas from modern and classic supplements if I so choose. I also like the fact that Mongoose plans on keeping the system the same for their ten-year run of the license. Planned (systemic) obsolescence is no fun if you want support for a game.

I was resistant as anyone to change in Traveller when Mongoose announced the license, but they’ve done well here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My Traveller Character Generation Rules

To my mind, there are few purer joys in gaming than creating Traveller characters.

Below is my draft for my Traveller character generation rules for our upcoming Imperial Navy campaign. I think doing it this way should create some very competent, interconnected characters:

1) Each character will start with an array of numbers to put into your characteristics. Your standard array is 5,7,7,7,8,9, plus 2 points to put into a characteristic or characteristics of choice (note an average human characteristic is 6-8). Determine characteristic modifiers.

2) Choose a homeworld.

3) Record background skills. Remember, all skills start at Rank 0. If you select a skill again, it becomes Rank 1, and so on.

4) You're starting off as an 18 year-old. Since we're running a Imperial Navy-only campaign, character generation will differ a little here. For your first term, you may either a) directly enlist in the Navy (no need to roll), b) attempt to get into the Naval college, or c) try for another career field. The first option gets you going right away, but there's no chance of commission. Naval college can boost you up to a commission quickly, but if you flunk out, you're back to being a drifter for a bit. Trying for one 4-year term in something else before joining the Navy can give you some great experience, but can delay your chance for advancement. If you're going with option c) and want to make it random, declare for the draft! You'll end up in a random military-related career field for a term.

Every character will get at least one, no more than four terms in the Navy. Naval college graduates are treated as having "Crewman" path (getting the service skills from that path) before they move on to their chosen career field. Remember, if you don't like how something turned out, you get one auto-success and one reroll during chargen!

5) If this is your first time in your career, record your basic training skills. You get all skills listed under Service Skills at Level 0.

6) Choose a specialty. Choose one (and only one) of the Skills and Training tables for this career and roll. Roll on Survival to see if you make it to another term. For our purposes, if you don't make this roll, that's where your current development ends, and will be where you start the game. Good thing you have that free auto-success and reroll!

6a) If you did not succeed on your Survival roll, proceed to roll on the Mishap table. You will remain in the service, but may have some career-altering event in your past. If you made your Survival roll, disregard this step. If you had another career field before the Navy, you may roll on that career's mustering out table.

7) Roll for Events. Some players will want to take every opportunity they can to gain the highest military honours possible during character creation. As a result it is possible for players to go for glory whenever they are presented with a chance for a reward. A character may add up to 3 to the difficulty of the skill roll, making it much more likely to be injured. However, when it comes to receiving an award the modifier is added to the Effect instead.

7a) After your Events, you may optionally make a Connection with another player. For example, if you were injured in a fight against pirates, perhaps you say that Player X's character dragged yours to safety. Each player may do this once during Chargen. If a Connection is made, one additional skill roll is allowed to each player involved. No player may be involved in more than 2 Connections.

8) Roll for advancement, to see if you were promoted. Alternately, you may attempt to see if you gained commission. If commissioned, you immediately become a rank of O-1 (Sublieutenant). Note any bonuses that advancement or promotion grants.

9) After you first Naval term, you may roll to see if you qualify for one of the other Naval career paths: Engineering, Pilot, Gunnery, Command, Support, Small Craft Pilot, High Command, Naval Intelligence and Naval Research. If you fail, you may spend another term as a crewman, studying up and waiting for your big break. Note that you can also automatically join a career field if you meet the minimum number of terms required! Make sure to add 4 years to your age for each term served. If you are 34 or older, roll for Aging modifiers.

10) Each character will receive two free skill ranks to place where they wish. They may use the two ranks to buy one skill they do not have, or may increase any skills by one per rank.

11) Once everyone is done with the characters, the group takes turns selecting skills from the campaign pack. Every selects a listed appropriate skill until there are none left. The skills for your campaign are: Pilot (any) 1, Gunner (any) 1, Engineer (any) 1, Mechanic 1, Sensors 1, Medic 1, Comms 1, Astrogation 1. This represents the vital skills and minimum required training for a viable starship campaign.

12) Don't worry about equipment--weapons, armor, and other equipment are stored in the ship's locker, to be assigned as mission dictates. You don't have much personal space onboard, but you can write down a few personal effects and 1-2 tools of the trade, as needed. Yes, you get a Mulligan Stone (worth one free dice reroll for you or another, non-Referee player). You really, really want to save it in this game.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Enter Traveller

I can count on one hand the number of Total Party Kills I've had as a Game Master over the years. Friday night, I almost added one to that number.

I won't go into all the gory details, save it to say the group rolled two of the worst watch encounters back-to-back I have ever seen. The first, a vampire, they managed to mist and drive off (thanks to some quick thinking from the Friar and company). The second, however, was a Behir, and it overwhelmed the group entirely. I ran both right out of the book, and there was a small window to flee, but Friar Charles and the sorcerer Vas both went down permanently. The dwarven cleric Nalgin was rescued by Antigus the Druid, who escaped along with the (new party member) Valrayan the Ranger thanks to their (eventually) displaying the better part of valor.

I felt bad, but that's how the dice roll. It was just a matter of luck running out--no more Mulligan stones, no more d30 supercharge rolls. Just eating it, in a big way. But if there isn't the spectre of catastrophe, you don't have any suspense. I still think I'll be second-guessing a few things for a while, but to overuse a phrase, it is what it is.

Our group had already been discussing playing some different games before this all happened, and this was a pretty good to suspend the Castles & Crusades game for now. We all talked, and we were mostly all ready to try something other than high fantasy for a bit. So, next time, one of the guys will be running a one-off Deadlands session (I get to play for a change!), and the session after that, we do group character generation for Mongoose Traveller.

I'd also like to run Thousand Suns or the new In Harm's Way: StarCluster (which I'm still digesting) eventually, but almost no one in our group has played Traveller before--it's a gamer rite of passage. There's also some demand for Rolemaster, but I'm waiting on some things before I run it again, and the idea was to get away from fantasy for a little bit. I also still have my alt-history/pulp Two-Fisted Tales game under prep/research, and I think we'll get to it. I think the group agrees--there's just too many great games out there to be married to one game into perpetuity.

The basic idea is that all the players will be Imperial Navy, stationed on a science vessel that was part of a small fleet "showing the flag" in a little-traveled backwater full of warlords and hostile aliens. A surprise rebellion destroyed the entire fleet, save this one science vessel, which had to remain behind at a remote starport for vital repairs. Now, an entire sector of hostile space separates them from home.

One 600-ton science vessel vs. an entire hostile sector? A mismatch, I know. It doesn't seem fair to the sector...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Rob Conley's Awesome Map

For the Middle Isles campaign that I've been working intermittently on, Rob Conley was awesome enough to take my crappy map here:

And turn it into something like this:

Needless to say, I am ecstatic--the res is much higher on the pdf he sent. The campaign itself has a lot of work left to do, but the map is perfect. Rob does wonderful work, but I guess we already knew that.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Discussion: Your Favorite RPG Cover Art

Another week, another opportunity for a Friday Discussion here at RPG Blog 2! Nothing too serious, nothing too heavy, just gamers talking about the hobby they love.

Today’s question is an artsy one, with bonus points for providing links to your example:

What’s your favorite RPG cover art piece?

I'll look forward to the responses as we enjoy some awesome RPG cover art! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

2 Years Ago Today...

"I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore"

-Gen. 22:17

The ideas and campaigns you spawned are still going strong. Miss ya, Gary.

Special Offer On In Harm's Way: StarCluster!

If you're a fan of Flying Mice LLC, caught our interview yesterday with Clash Bowley, or are just looking for a great sci-fi RPG, you'll want to check out this offer for RPG Blog 2 readers:

Right now, you can pick up Flying Mice's newest space RPG, In Harm's Way: StarCluster for 15% off through Precis Intermedia's online store! Simply enter in code ZBJG4HY8L8 at checkout, and enjoy! This offer will be good through the end of this month!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Interview With A Flying Mouse: Clash Bowley

Today, we're featuring a Q&A from one of my favorite RPG publishers/authors. Clash Bowley is the man behind Flying Mice LLC, publishers of such awesome titles as In Her Majesty's Arcane Service, In Harm's Way, Cold Space, Blood Games, and the just-released In Harm's Way: StarCluster. Flying Mice is responsible for a truly large, wonderful, eclectic mix of games, and I'm thrilled Clash let me interview him. Now, onto the Q&A, where we talk publishing, sci-fi, and much more:

Your company is well-known for making sci-fi and historical RPGs. Could you make the products you make now if this were 1995 instead of 2010?

Probably not. There was no infrastructure or market for selling pdfs over the net, and no POD houses to print and distribute ofver the net. RPGNow was started in 2001, and I released StarCluster 1E early in 2002 - IIRC, the same week that Hard Nova was released, but certainly about the same time. Basically as soon as the infrastructure was there, I was working on it.

Let's talk about your newest projects: In Harm's Way: StarCluster, and StarCluster 3rd Edition. First, what's the pitch for In Harm's Way: StarCluster?

Pitch? I am teh suck at pitches. It's a Military SF toolbox, set in a Cluster of your own making. Everything's got dials and switches to customize it exactly the way you want. It's also inter-operable with StarCluster 2E. You can use the CharGen from SC2E for civilian stuff, or you can play in the SC2E Cluster, or you can use the Military chargen in IHW:SC to create characters for play in the Cluster after they leave the service, or any other combination you want. IHW:SC covers infantry, armored vehicles, aerospace vehicles, space-based vehicles, and special operations, so you know it' has to be totally unfocused. It has three different Task Resolution sub-systems to choose from, and two different space combat systems. It's all over the place. A mess. This will probably freak out advocates for tightly focused games... :D

With products like IHW: SC or StarCluster 3e, do you try for a certain "sweet spot" with your sci-fi? Do you think it appeals more to fans of genre of sci-fi than another?

The SF in StarCluster is classic SF - it comes from the literary SF of Cherryh, Niven, Pournelle, Brin, and Anderson, not movie or TV SF. It's firm SF, in that the science is important. and the technologies have evolved from specific scientific breakthroughs. It's not Hard SF - we decided that the laws of physics have evolved in the next thousand and a half years to encompass these breakthroughs. it's not soft SF - science is important and underlies everything. Given the breakthroughs we postulate, things could evolve in this direction. On the other hand, I do my best to take the science out of the GMs' and players' face. It's all built into the system, not hanging out there naked and flapping in the wind. You don't have to know any of this to take the game and run with it.

So, StarCluster is seeing a third edition. How long has this been in the works, and why the change?

Well, StarCluster has been showing its age. I've learned a *lot* about making systems in the last six years, and after making IHW:SC, I want to revisit the civilian side of the Cluster. I've known I was going to do a third edition for about a year and a half, but since it will be based on what I came up with for IHW:SC, that was the first priority. Then it's a matter of transferring the civilian chargen to the IHW:SC setup, then adding in the civilian equipment and technology, and finally filling in the cracks. When I released IHW:SC, I put StarCluster 2E out for free download. This will encourage me to get to work on 3E.

What will be the big differences between SC 2e and SC 3e?

The old Cluster setting is gone, along with the old aliens. It's being replaced by generators. You will be able to choose among several different task resolution systems instead of being stuck with percentile. I will probably have different Task Resolution options in 3E than in IHW:SC - maybe StarRisk, StarKarma, and StarStory. Don't quote me on that, though! I may totally change my mind by the time I release it. They all need more testing to iron out the wrinkles, and something else may leap to the forefront before I'm happy with these three. I will be writing 3E to complement IHW:SC, so expect seeing the civilian focus running throughout. I think the only thing they will have in common will be the Cluster and Alien generators, yet they will be transparently interoperable.

I know you may not feel comfortable with releasing sales figures, but what is your most popular game to date? What do you think the attraction to that game is?

It's a tie between StarCluster and Cold Space as far as core games go, but the StarCluster line is a bigger revenue producer than the Cold Space line - the In Harm's Way line is very close to passing Cold Space. Commonwealth Space just died out there after so much work. I'm very happy with it otherwise - it's actually my favorite in the Cold Space line - but the market didn't take to it. As for why StarCluster sold so well, I don't know. I really write for myself, not for the market - as evidenced by Commonwealth Space and Book of Jalan, I guess!

Let's talk about negative reviews for a minute. How hard is it to shake them off?

Negative reviews don't bother me at all. If they are well written, they can really help me. When I released StarCluster 1E, it got utterly, completely trashed in a review, I think it got a 1 out of 10, but I learned a heck of a lot from that review, and began improving the game immediately. Other negative reviews helped me saleswise because the reviewer had a non-traditional perspective, and poked at the trad aspects of the game. Sales went up. If the review is badly written, it's no more than some clown saying "This game sucks!" on the internet. Water off a duck's back.

What's your view of the traditional 3-tier model for publishers?

Up from underneath. :D

Gamers are sooo conservative! they know what they like and like what they know. The traditional way gamers fins games is by going to the FLGS and finding something new, and that's the way it's done, Bunkie! I know - I'm a gamer myself. I was always an early adopter of technology, online before there was an internet, back in BBS days. I had a Trash-80 with 4k of ram and two single sided, single density floppies, and a 100 BPS acoustic coupler modem that was the envy of everyone I knew, then got a C-64 before I went into the Amiga world for many years. At one time I had 5 Amigas, all accelerated, with a NeXT pizza box and a Digital Alpha in my house. Yet I never once looked online for gaming stuff until 2001. It never even occurred to me. Now everything I do is only available online or through a few direct sale stores. You can do OK with this. I've been doing fine for quite a while, and no one knows about Flying Mice outside a few folks on the RPG Site and people who read your blog. I keep getting emails and PMs from folks who say "Why have I never heard of your games before?" in spite of being all over the web since the turn of the century.

Online before, we've discussed the difference between Story and Play. I thought you've done a good job of explaining this. For our readers, would you care to rehash this once more?

For the life of me, I can't remember what I said, Zachary, so I'll bore in at it from what may be a totally different direction. Story is a word which carries a lot of baggage. It has an established meaning, which is a narrative of something that happened, either fictional or non-fictional. It is a stringing together of events through related people, places, or things. In the context of RPGs, story happens naturally. It's a recounting of what happened after the fact. Traditional gaming can produce awesome stories, so long as there is mutual trust between the GM and the players. I don't personally play for story at all, though the story that is produced can be beautiful and even elegant. It jsut doesn't matter to me whether when we look back on a campaign or a session we see narrative gold or pure dross. I care about the joy of play.

Play is *very* different fron story, It is immediate - happening now. There are multiple viewpoints, and multiple protagonists. There are social interactions, rules questions, dice rattling, chances taken, gambits succeeding and failing. it's really not much like a story at all. Games which purport to modify the story or narrative better are actually doing something else entirely. If you look at the actual play stories from trad and "Narrative" play, there really is no difference in the quality of the stories produced. They're mostly about sharing the authority for what happens in various ways, and the value of these games - and there is value in these games - does not lie in producing a better story, but in increasing player ownership of what is happening during play. The value of these games is in producing a different play experience, a kind some people really like, not a better story.

Which publisher out there right now do you think are doing interesting work in gaming?

VSCA, the guys who wrote Diaspora. It's an awesome game, and very interesting in its approach. Hinterwelt, Bill Corrie and company. They are working a totally new vein with the Squirrel Attack series, Precis Intermedia's games just go from strength to strength. Cubilcle 7 are doing awesome things - Qin and StarBlazer Adventures were very cool. Levi Kornelsen with Amagi Games is doing excellent work - very different in both execution and in what exactly it is he is trying to accomplish. Tim Kirk of Silverlion is very creative while staying tradiitional at the same time. I just wish he'd write faster! Rich Parkinson of Timeless Games has quietly been making excellent games for a long time, with no attention. And Marco Chacon of JAGS is just flat out brilliant--and all his games are totally free to DL. There are more, but that will serve for now!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Lost Gem: Everstone: Blood Legacy

Today I want to discuss a game many gamers may have never heard of. It was produced during the d20 boom, and quickly dropped into near-obscurity. It was one of the best iterations of the d20 rules I have seen to this day.

Everstone: Blood Legacy was a not-quite-kitchen-sink d20 fantasy world, complete with plenty of rune technology and powerful weaponry. It retained a slight Iron Kingdoms-meets-Eberron vibe, but for that pulpy, fantasypunk feeling, I think it did it better than Eberron ever did.

The rules to Everstone largely revolved around the BESM d20 ruleset, but moved it more in line with standard d20. There was a basic, unified level progression. You customized your character with specific class abilities using Character Points, awarded at each level. Some class abilities had ranks, meaning you received extra bonuses the more times you invested in a specific talent. So, it was possible to create a very different class variant as you chose what class abilities were important to you. Hit dice were racial, which always made sense to me—why should a gnome barbarian have more hit points than a half-orc rogue? The system always struck me as potentially being able to handle Rifts—no mean task for d20 without a lot of work, normally!

Sure, the game had some typos, wasn’t supremely organized, and wasn’t totally polished, but few first efforts are. More importantly, it had a good system, great ideas, and a fun setting. I actually interviewed Jason Moon once on my old site, and got into the game quite a bit before getting a bit burnt out on d20-based products for a while. With a flooded market, and wanting to try new things, I lost track of it for a while. It happens.

So what happened to this game?

Well, from what I can gather, the author, the aforementioned Jason Moon, was unfortunately a victim of the Guardians of Order fiasco. I don’t know what else went on in the man’s life, but whatever it was, he hasn’t been heard from in any known gaming communities for a few years now. I’ve tried to track him down, but so far without success. I’ve been looking for The Shroud, which supposedly had some playtest copies circulating, but to no avail (if anyone knows where I can find a copy, I’d be supremely grateful). All is not lost, however.

The book is available on Amazon for only a few dollars used, and I most highly recommend picking it up if you want a d20 variant that’s highly playable right out of the gate. The Lannith Companion, detailing the world of Everstone, is still available at RPGNow. There is talk of someone working on an SRD for Everstone’s open game content. You can find the Everstone Companion as a pdf on the new Everstone Group (the old one was taken over by spammers). And there’s always the Wayback Machine, which allows us to check out some of the source material and downloads at the now-defunct Iron Golem Games.

Everstone: Blood Legacy isn’t Dead, it just turns out it's Mostly Dead. There have been a few folks who have stumbled upon it fairly recently, as well. I don’t know if it’ll ever be anything more than that, but I know I’m glad I rediscovered it. Lost gems are like that. For every game that’s still supported, there’s plenty that are simply gone. Their publishers or authors had an idea, went for it, and for whatever reason, pulled up stakes and disappeared. It’s almost like an archaeology study—it’s the same feeling I get when I see all those here-today gone-tomorrow RPGs advertised in old Dragon Magazine.

If you’re reading this, Jason Moon, thanks for Everstone. I hope you make your way back to it someday.