Friday, April 30, 2010
-A review of Warhammer Fantasy 3rd Edition
-A look at terrain usage in RPGs
-A discussion of static vs. open-ended/exploding dice mechanics
Plus, news and reader commentary! Thanks for listening, and game on!
How Closely Do You Follow The Rules As Written? In general, do you find yourself houseruling heavily? Do you tend to let such houserules be emergent from play, or clearly codified at the start? As a player, how important are playing the with Rules As Written to you?
Have a great weekend, and I look forward to reading your opinions on this one!
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Rifts is the sort of game where I’ve found a breakneck, gonzo pace enhances play. You hand-wave or simplify whatever gets in the way, don’t worry about, and liberally allow for the player’s brilliance to deliver panic or additional explosions to the enemy, thus shortening combat.
It’s when you show up to a convention, expecting the kitchen-sink madness of Rifts you’ve always heard of, only to find that you’re arguing for 30 minutes over Mega-Damage that things get dull. Stick to the basics, toss out the rest, and emphasize utility. What do they do, what are the reactions to what they do, and what happens as a result. Oh, and why it is Awesome, and Probably Involves Plasma Weaponry.
The pacing in that case is contributing to “Refrigerator Logic”. That is, your players don’t have time during the game to question why the Rogue Scholar is riding a Triceratops—that’s saved for when they go and grab a soda out of the fridge after the game.
As a Game Master, pacing is one of the hardest things to nail down. Too slow, and the game founders. Too fast, and it can seem disjointed and shallow to players. Transitioning between games such as Call of Cthulhu, where going too quickly can stunt investigation and discovery, and Rifts or several Savage Worlds settings, where “Let The Bodies Hit The Floor” should be considered a dainty waltz, can be doubly hard.
I’ve never found a secret to it, except to react to the verbal and physical cues of the players, and to consider what sort of game folks are after (expectations). That comes back to communication, but then again, most things in RPGs do.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Sure, there's lots of various human cultures, too, but those are generally presented as cultures, not whole new races. You see this with Dwarves as well, but not, I think, to the extent as with Elves.
So what is it that makes us have these multiple races for Elves? Where did the split begin? Sure, Prof. Tolkien had various branches of Elves, but not with that sort of presentation. Are they really that popular? I'd always though that a pretty good backlash against Elves was still going on, but that could just be personal experience.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
-The enigmatic Levi Kornelsen has released a Zero Edition of The Cog Wars.
-RPG author Jason Richards has been doing a regular series of character write-ups, called Complete Characters. Tremendous stuff--if you aren't a regular visitor to Jason's site, why not start now?
That's just a little RPG goodness to get your week started right!
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Well, mine don't. It would depend, of course, on how the master sculptor carved them before Gristlegrim brings them to life with the Pygmalion spell. See attached picture for Thorn, the female dwarf hero of my new T & T novel, Rose of Stormgaard, currently being serialized at erbzine.com.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
This Friday’s Topic is (and may heaven forgive me):
Do female dwarves have beards?
You have been warned. Answer, below, if you dare. Points for showing your reasoning.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
So it stands to reason that over the years, I have gone through no small amount of suffering attempting to run a non-canon Forgotten Realms campaign.
Look, the 1st edition Forgotten Realms was fantastic. I’m not really down with later editions or the 4e aberration (aka “Oh Shit! Dragonbornz Is Here!”), but the first edition of the setting really nailed an epic, massive, GM-friendly world with plenty of puttering about to be done.
Sadly, due perhaps to years of popular paperbacks and the innate tendencies of any fandom, Forgotten Realms seems to inspire a particularly virulent strain of canon fiend. I’m talking about the player that interrupts you five times during your initial (and, as it will turn out, final) campaign exposition to inform you the denizens of Silverymoon actually would never do that, or ally with those dwarves, or visit that inn. I actually had one guy cite a book and chapter as to why I was depicting the area around Waterdeep improperly (no mention was given to the fact he was playing a Rune Mage in Rolemaster in the Realms, but I guess that didn't violate any unspoken rules).
I’ve tried being upfront, explaining that everything I do won’t match the exhaustive detailed compiled by hundreds of Realms products. They seem to nod eagerly, ready to forget about this month’s novel and actually do some damn, you know, gaming, in the setting. Yet the first session invariably turns to grief, as they become enraged at my misrepresentation of the true history of Myth Drannor. We aren't talking about me giving Elminster a jetpack here, folks. We are talking about minutiae.
It probably all comes down to what we want out of things; I want a cool setting I can use as an outline or framework for a campaign, they want to use those years accumulating knowledge about a pretend place in a social setting. Or, to be more charitable, they want the EXACT SETTING from their novels. We are at cross-purposes.
Of course, even my beloved Greyhawk has its zealots, but for my money, they cannot compete in numbers or fanaticism to the Realms fans. Which is why if I ever try to run in the Realms again, I’ll have to try it with people who have never even heard of Waterdeep, Bob Salvatore, or a certain emo drow.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
-Welcome back, Erik. So, I imagine it’s been a whirlwind year around Paizo since Pathfinder’s been released! What sort of reaction are you getting right now not only to Pathfinder, but to the Pathfinder Society?
As I write this we've blazed through two (huge!) print runs of the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook, and there's no end in sight as far as demand is concerned. We're at this sort of scary point where the audience for the game is MUCH larger than we had dare hoped when we were putting it together, and at this point I have little idea just how large it might actually get. And so far the response has been very, very positive. In the end we produced this game because we wanted to continue to publish and run the style of adventures Paizo has been creating for almost a decade now, and the response from most gamers has been very similar. This is the game we love, but now we love it even more! Given all of the teeth-gnashing, sleepless nights, and work-related insanity that went into this project, the positive response has been very gratifying.
Pathfinder Society keeps growing and growing. I've had a chance to play a bit, which really gets me back to my old con-going days and has been a ton of fun. In fact, right now I should probably be writing a Pathfinder Society adventure I foolishly agreed to write months ago. Now it's late, and I've locked myself in my office until I finish. It's called "Requiem for the Red Raven," and it's the very first high-level (12th) Pathfinder Society event ever released. I'm quite excited about it (if I could just finish it!).
-The Pathfinder RPG pdf is priced at $9.99. Have you seen a pretty positive reaction in regards to online pdf sales, and has there been any pushback from brick-and-mortar stores?
Reaction from the gamer community has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, just a few hours ago I read a post on EN World that said, basically, "I'm playing a different game, I'm not in the market for Pathfinder, but who can pass up a $10 PDF?" There are a LOT of people like that out there, and a lot of them have gone on to really like the system and pick up the $50 hardcover book.
We got some push-back from retailers on the pricing issue, but then we also got push-back (more, actually) for the free Alpha and Beta playtest documents, which proved to be a huge driver of sales of the final book. Retailers in our business are very uneasy about PDFs and other electronic formats because there isn't yet a great way for them to safely deliver that content to their own customers in their stores. A lot of them feel like a PDF sold by a publisher is a print sale lost at the retail store. I fundamentally disagree with that. I think our low-cost Core Rules PDF has generated a tremendous number of brick-and-mortar hard copy sales, often to people who would have laughed had you told them six months ago that they'd be buying a $50 hardcover Pathfinder book. The audience for this game continues to grow, and introductory-priced PDFs of the core rules are a big part of the reason why. More players in general means a better customer network, which should translate into more (and easier) retail sales. The hobby stores that have stocked the Pathfinder Core Rulebook have done very, very well with the book.
-Have you personally playtested any of the new classes in the Advanced Player’s Guide? Can you tell us what to expect from any of the new classes, or give us a couple of hints?
I'm running a barbarian in our office playtest campaign, so I've tested some of the new rage powers from the Advanced Player's Guide, but I have not yet personally played any of the new classes. I have, on the other hand, been the GM for just about all of them, and our game has a summoner in it at the moment that I've seen quite a lot of. I'm really pleased with the oracle, cavalier, and inquisitor classes in particular, as they allow me to pull off character concepts unsupported by the core rules. In fact, the NPCs in the final encounter of my late Pathfinder Society adventure REALLY ought to be inquisitors, but the book won't be out until a few months after my scenario, so I can't use them. Hmm. Perhaps I should figure out a way to be even more late with my text so this won't be a problem....
I think players should expect a lot of really exciting new stuff in the Advanced Player's Guide. Not just from the new classes like the alchemist, cavalier, inquisitor, oracle, summoner, or witch, but also from the traditional 11 classes, all of which are getting cool new options and exciting alternate powers. Many of these are in the form of "packages" that modify the existing classes to better match a character concept. Our lead designer, Jason Bulmahn, was listing off the final barbarian concepts to me this morning and I kept thinking, yep, yep, ok, cool, yeah, sweet! Each one of them was a legitimately cool concept a player might want to pull off with his barbarian, but which isn't quite supported by the rules as written. For example, my barbarian, Ostog the Unslain, doesn't like to wear armor, opting for the "traditional" bare chest and loincloth approach. I'm pleased to say there's an option for that type of barbarian in the book, and I can't wait to officially add some of the related powers to my guy.
-Let’s talk about Kingmaker for a minute. This is definitely not a railroad module series, but a “sandbox”, general-exploration product that still has some story hooks, right? Was this product at all a response or influenced by the recent resurgence online of appreciation for classic and “old-school”-style gaming?
You're right about the sandbox nature of Kingmaker. Counting the Adventure Paths we did in Dungeon, Kingmaker is the NINTH Adventure Path we've produced to date. We try to do something a little different with each path, and we'd been itching to do a sandbox AP for years. Kingmaker finally provided the opportunity. The "old school" vibe is just a happy coincidence. James Jacobs and I have been providing "first edition style" content since about 2003 or so in the magazines, so it's more a case of a lot of Old School bloggers having the same inspiration (AD&D, in the main) we have than us taking any specific cues from the old schoolers online. We're old schoolers ourselves, so it's unsurprising to me that our interests would align closely with theirs. The fact that a lot of folks are picking up Kingmaker to run with OSRIC or Swords & Wizardry or what have you is a happy surprise. I think it's great!
-Will the Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide be released at Gen Con Indy this year? What can we expect from that?
The GameMastery Guide is actually at the printer right now and will likely release in June, so well before Gen Con Indy. We're planning to have the Advanced Player's Guide as our big Gen Con release this year. If all goes according to plan, we'll have both books at the convention.
The GameMastery Guide expands upon the GM information in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook to present the nuts and bolts of how to actually run a campaign, from dealing with difficult players to building cities to mapping dungeons to generating random encounters to pacing the narrative to handing out treasure and more. I'm particularly keen on the 100-or-so pregenerated NPC stat blocks, which will save everyone a lot of time. I don't need to bother prepping a city guard or cutpurse stat block ever again, which is a huge relief. The stats are also keyed to dozens of encounter charts spaced throughout the book, which keeps everything nice and easy.
Dozens of RPG industry luminaries contributed their best GM advice to this tome. You couldn't ask for a better guide to the art of GMing.
-Do you think the utilization of the Open Gaming License for Pathfinder gives the game a potentially longer life?
Absolutely. Right now more than 50 companies are producing Pathfinder-compatible products using the Pathfinder Compatibility License and the OGL. I have every reason to believe that Pathfinder products will be written, published, and played essentially forever. Which is great. We could not have created the Pathfinder RPG without the generous Open Game License, so it's neat to "pay it forward" by releasing ALL of Paizo's rules material as Open Content. I strongly believe that open system development like this is the way of the future.
-Have there been any specific products or product types that you’re hearing from Paizo fans that they’d really like to see produced?
Well, everyone's been asking for Pathfinder novels for years, which we'll be doing later this year. The first one is Winter Witch, by Elaine Cunningham, and the second is Prince of Wolves, by Dave Gross. We hope to have copies of both books for sale at Gen Con, but they formally release in September and October.
Nowadays everyone seems to want us to do a sleek "Beginner" set that would also double as a trimmed down version of the game that would appeal to folks looking for a looser, less rules-oriented game. So we should probably try to find a way to do that.
-“Power creep” (subsequent RPG supplements with higher power levels than the original RPG) seems to be a problem with a lot of RPGs. Is that something Paizo looks at in regards to its new releases?
It's definitely something that we are taking a serious look at and trying to prevent when possible. I'm not particularly worried about it, though, mostly because Paizo is not primarily in the business of selling rules. Our bread and butter is the Pathfinder Adventure Path, and we also produce a large number of very popular Pathfinder Modules and campaign setting material. The Pathfinder RPG line itself is planned to include 3-4 products a year. For the first year that meant the Core Rulebook, the Bestiary, and the GM Screen. Not a lot of rules bloat or power creep there. This year we're talking about the GameMastery Guide (more charts, advice, and play aids than new rules), Bestiary 2, and the Advanced Player's Guide. That's one book designed to give more "stuff" to players, which is where the bloat and power creep usually comes into play. It will happen, despite our best efforts to curtail it, but I am hopeful that the impact will be very small and that our limited output will prevent serious systemic problems from coming up.
-Does the Paizo staff ever play any other RPGs around the office, or is it all-Pathfinder, all the time?
We play all kinds of things, from collectible card games and board games over lunch to James Jacobs's Call of Cthulhu campaign to 4th edition D&D. I'm currently in a 1st edition AD&D game with some buddies from Wizards of the Coast, and I know our lead designer Jason Bulmahn is in the middle of a Battlelords of the 23rd Century game. There's a campaign running at Paizo almost every weeknight, as well as on most weekends. Most of those games are Pathfinder in one form or another, but we're gamers and we all have a soft spot for a half-dozen other game systems.
-OK, it’s been a good 8 months since Pathfinder’s release. What’s your personal favorite class to play out of all the ones available in Pathfinder?
Barbarian. I'm loving Ostog the Unslain. In the horrific event that he is one day slain, I'm really excited to play a monk, because I'd love to take advantage of some of the cool new combat maneuvers and I'm dying to see if I can make a viable character out of a guy who primarily uses his fists and whatever improvised weapons are within reach.
-Here’s the killer question—out of everyone working at Paizo, who’s the best Game Master? Answer if you dare!
I've played with James Jacobs and Jason Bulmahn behind the GM screen, and both are an absolute treat. But I'd be lying if I didn't say that our publisher is the finest Game Master in the building. If you can ever get him to run a game!
-Thanks again, Erik!
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Let’s say, though, you open-ended your attack roll multiple times, and ended up with a 310 to their 40, or some 270 above their level, normally you’d still be capped at 150, meaning 120 of that roll would go to waste. Under the optional rule, though, that 120 can be used for a second attack. If the remainder above 150 is also a hit, you get to roll that critical on the chart as well.
It’s a fun rule, and allows for grievous hits to do both a D-level and an A-level critical, for example. Even if you miss on one critical hit roll, you still have another waiting in the wings. The highest attack roll I ever saw using this method in a Rolemaster game ended up doing 3 separate criticals!
It wouldn’t come up often in D&D and its cousin (unless you’re using a d30 rule), but if you did cap damage at 15-20 above someone’s Armor Class, would it work to allow any remainder on the roll to be used as another potential attack? If it beats the AC, it can also be used to roll damage as well.
I think this rule works much better in games such as HARP or Rolemaster, though. I just don’t seeing it happening as often in games without open-ended attack roles. Games with open-ended rolls play to the sense of variety and uncertainty, and this rule definitely fits in with that mindset.
Monday, April 19, 2010
After not seeing much on the Amber front the past few years, it sounds like Rite Publishing is getting something going. Here's an excerpt from their press release:
Rite Publishing has reached an agreement with Diceless by Design to publish a product “Powered by Erick Wujcik’s Diceless Role-Playing”. Fans of Erick Wujcik’s work (Amber Diceless Role-Playing, Shadow Knight ADRPG, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) will finally get to enjoy a new experience and setting for this system.
Over the years, there has been tremendous interest in Erick Wujcik’s Diceless Role-Playing, and Rite Publishing is ecstatic to help finally bring it to fruition. This will be Rite Publishing's eighth Patronage Project, where customers purchase a patronage, which, if the criteria are met, becomes a design project where customers get to interact directly with the authors, artists, and cartographers.
Up till now, Rite Publishing has focused on publishing games for Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved and the Pathfinder Role-Playing Game. So Diceless Role-Playing is a departure for the Ohio-based company.
“Well, that’s what happens when fans go into publishing,” grins publisher Steve Russell and continues, “We’re fueled by a love for the game and an enthusiasm for stuff that doesn’t see much coverage elsewhere.”
“We are extremely proud that we’ve reached this agreement – not least because we know what a boon it will be for fans of Erick Wujcik’s Diceless Role-Playing, “says Steve Russell.
The project will use the rules that fans of Erick Wujcik’s Diceless Role-Playing already know. But with a new, non-generic setting, new powers, a different cosmology, and an all-new cast of significant characters, it will be unlike anything ever published. But above and beyond everything, it will still have the belief that the GM is an arbiter, unfettered by dice and with a strong focus on the story and the immersive experience, which only Diceless Role-Playing affords.
This is a patrongage project, so I'm really interested to see how many Amber fans pony up on this. Best of luck to them!
The funny thing of it is, that Rolemaster campaign had the worst campaign creation session ever. I did a very explanatory, step-by-step guide, and allotting skill points and the like still took hours. We didn't finish until the wee hours of the morning, and one girl who hated any sort of math probably wanted to shoot me. But even with all the rough parts, the lethality, and everything, that's probably still the most popular campaign I've run. They went crazy for critical hits. The liked the point-buy nature of skills, and how any class could buy anything (but at what cost?). They loved the idea that nothing, no matter how improbable, was totally impossible, thanks to the open-ended nature of the dice mechanic.
Of course, Rolemaster Classic is a bit more toned down and byzantine than the Rolemaster FRP/SS hybird we used, which is what I'd be using to run it again. But I'll likely still strip out some of the maneuvering rolls, temporary stat totals, and a few other bits. My players just want the critical hit charts, the spell and skill system, and the open-ended percentile rolls. In my opinion, those are the best things Rolemaster has going for it, and why some of my friends still want to return to it.
One of the great things about Rolemaster is that you can pretty much use what you want out of it. It's durable and modular, as befits its history--as I've said before, you take the portion you want. If I do end up running it with that group (I've been doing an online game of RM with some old friends as well, but that's for later discussion), I'll make sure I publish my mods for Rolemaster. Like Traveller character generation, I consider taking or doling out a critical hit from Rolemaster Arms Law a rite of passage in the hobby.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
However, no one has ever invoked the below scene in-game. For which I am immensely grateful:
Saturday, April 17, 2010
-Gaming Supplements That Inspire
-Making Modules Your Own
-All About Alignment
Plus, news and listener commentary! Good gaming to you!
Friday, April 16, 2010
Anyhow, take a peek at the current entrants below. Anything you’ll want to snag for certain? I missed out on most of Free RPG Day last year with family stuff, but my FLGS owner picked me up a copy of the Pathfinder Bonus Bestiary, which was very cool of him indeed.
• Alderac Entertainment Group
Silver (5 per box), L5R 4th Edition RPG Quickstart & Adventure
• Amarillo Design Bureau
Store Sample (1 per box), Prime Directive Quickstart
• Blue Panther
Store Sample (1 per box), Unique Color Knockdown Dice Tower
• Chessex Manufacturing
Bronze (4 per box), Commemorative Dice w/ store name
• Columbia Games
Store Sample (1 per box), Harn Quickstart & Adventure
• Exile Game Studios
Bronze (3 per box), Hollow Earth Expedition Quickstart & Adv.
• Fantasy Flight Games
Gold (10 per box), Warhammer 40K Roleplay: Deathwatch Adventure
• Goodman Games
Silver (5 per box), Age of Cthulu Adventure
• Guild of Blades Publishing
Store Sample (3 per box), Heroes Forever Quickstart & Adventure
• Paizo Publishing
Gold (10 per box), Pathfinder Module: Master of the Fallen Fortress
Gold (10 per box), unique dice
• Skirmisher Publishing
Bronze (3 per box), TBA
• Troll Lord Games
Silver (5 per box), Castles & Crusades Quickstart and Adventure
• White Wolf Publishing
Gold (10 per box), Exalted 2nd Edition Quickstart & Adventure
• Wizards of the Coast
Platinum (15 per box), Dark Sun 4th Edition D&D Adventure
For retailers, it looks like each kit costs $60, and includes between 1 and 15 of an item, depending on how much that company is participating. I already have the C&C Quickstart, but I sure wouldn’t mind getting the Paizo and Q-Workshop freebies especially. I can think of a couple folks in my gaming circle who wouldn’t mind checking out Prime Directive or the Goodman Games Adventure. Of course, I hope all of the contributors get some new fans and customers as a result. Here’s hoping we see a few more publishers sign up! It would be cool to see the Swords & Wizardry Quickstart in there, wouldn’t it? Guess I can dream…
Thursday, April 15, 2010
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 reroll for you or another, non-Referee player). You really, really want to save it in this game.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Like many groups of the time, however, we didn’t just use one product. Our D&D was a mishmash of the Cyclopedia, a boxed set (sans lid) that held parts of about 3 different D&D boxed sets, someone’s battered AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, a ton of house rules, ideas from D&D cousins, and “special exceptions” for player accomplishment.
That’s what’s interesting to me now. On one hand, I see little snippets of the game peeking out at me from the classes and tables of Hackmaster 4e, but we used many of the basic Cyclopedia rules—the basics of which I can see in Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry. There are classes from the AD&D 1e Player’s Handbook, and some homebrew classes that don’t still exist anywhere I know of. There were level limits for demi-humans, but I’m sure they were pretty high. Vancian Magic co-existed with someone’s homebrewed Mana Mage, which predictably used Mana Points to cast spells. Heck, I even think we used armor from Palladium Fantasy, though that’s fuzzy now.
And that’s perhaps the greater point. I don’t know that I could, as an exercise, recreate that game. The rules were not a hard-and-fast thing, and changed as different supplements and trends came into vogue. Parts of it evolved over time, and may never have existed except as a gentlemen’s agreement between players. Part of me thinks it’d be fun to cut-n’-paste, and to try to recreate what I can of it. But I don’t know if what seemed awesome gospel and common-sense to 13 year-old Zack would seem like that to his players now.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
So, for my next campaign, I decided to give kobolds a bit more flavor.
Hive Mind: Every kobold infestation is actually a hive-mind colony. There are Queens, Workers, and Drones/Builders. The further from the Queen kobolds range, the more erratic and uncoordinated their movements. This means that the closer you get to the colony's heart in a dungeon, the better kobolds fight.
Kobolds Build: The aforementioned Builders do just that. Kobolds not only build traps to protect their colony, the also build bizarre contraptions that apparently serve no purpose except to inconvenience adventurers. A kobold infestation needs only a few months to totally change the design and look of entire dungeon levels.
Beware The Queen: As stupid and weak as individual kobolds often seem, their Queens are supposedly exceedingly intelligent, with some scholars attributing mind-control powers to them. To reach a Queen's Nest is difficult enough--to defeat one is a feat of legend.
Adventurers Are Yummy: Yes, kobolds eat adventurers. More often, however, incapacitated adventurers are brought to the Nests, where they are eaten--alive--by Kobold Hatchlings.
So that's it for now. I'm also thinking I want the kobolds to have some sort of iconic weapon, but I'm just not sure what right now. Barbed spears are nasty--maybe only 1d6 damage, but another 1d4 or 1d6 when you have to yank it out.
Monday, April 12, 2010
10 Best RPG Supplements
1) Keep on the Borderlands, TSR
2) World of Greyhawk, TSR
3) Classic Traveller Supplements Reprint 1-13, Far Future Enterprises
4) ...and a 10-Foot Pole, Iron Crown Enterprises
5) Cities, Midkemia Press
6) Kellri's amazing old school supplements
7) Silk Road, Expeditious Retreat Press
8) Greyhawk Gazetteer, Wizards of the Coast
9) Castle of the Mad Archmage, Joseph Bloch/Greyhawk Grognard
T10) Baalgor Wastelands/Adventures on the High Seas/Northern Hinterlands, Palladium Books (Palladium Fantasy)
Of course, you could make arguments for so many different supplements making this cut. What would be on your list? What wouldn't be from the list above?
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Saturday, April 10, 2010
As a GM, you may not immediately know how to deal with such a wild shake-up to your setting. If you’re a fan of random determination as a starting point, a basic method you can try is rolling a d6 on each inhabited hex of your map to see what the results of massive destruction have yielded.
(Roll 1d6 on the table below)
1 Population Eradicated: Any settlements in the area have been destroyed or uprooted. Not a living soul remains.
2 Facing Starvation: Either by poor harvest or ruined earth, a famine has hit this area. Those who remain slowly starve, or will flee (if able) for greener pastures.
3 Population reduced by 80%: Most of the former populace of the area have died or been driven away. The few that remain are a shadow of whatever prior civilization or settlement existed here. Any infrastructure or settlements are in ruins.
4 Population Reduced by 50%: Any settlements remaining are heavily damaged, have suffered large population losses, and are likely unstable at best.
5 Population Reduced by 10%: Things could be worse. 1 out of every 10 souls has fled or perished, but the infrastructure largely remains intact.
6 Business As Usual: This area was spared the destruction of its neighbors. It may be poised to be a leader or power in this new world.
You want to have fun, use this simple method on a map of Greyhawk to see what happens. Of course, you could also expand the chart to your liking, if you’d like to get a bit more gruesome with the details. When I tried it, Dyvers made it through with flying colors. The city of Greyhawk was wiped out. And of course, doing this will create entirely new powers. If your campaign world has become dry and you’re not sure where to start, this may be a good way to shake things up.
Friday, April 9, 2010
Today’s questions pertain to one of those topics that really seem to fire people up: Alignment. Do you use alignment for characters in your game? If so, what system or method do you use? If not, why not?
I’m interested to hear how everyone treats alignment in their campaigns. Have a great weekend!
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Let’s look at approaching a dungeon through the personalities of two ancient Greek heroes, Achilles and Odysseus. There’s a good reason why these two are seen as the antithesis of one another in The Iliad.
Being an Achilles won’t work, if you want to survive many old school creations. Achilles represents battle fury, untempered passion, one who came to his doom drawn by emotion into another fight. Achilles is guided by these emotions, which always seemed to dictate when he would and would not fight.
In an old-school dungeon, you don’t pick your battles by emotion.
You want to be an Odysseus. The legendary king of Ithaca was nowhere near the warrior the other famed participants of the Trojan War were, but he was a clever bastard. You want to talk about fighting an enemy on your terms? This is the guy behind the Trojan Horse. He took everything the gods could throw at him, and made it home. Every challenge he had, he approached with forethought, wit, and cunning (and not a bit of deceit, I suppose, one of the reasons the Romans didn’t care much for him). He blinded a friggin’ Giant Cyclops, for crying out loud, and you can bet that wasn’t a stand-up fight.
Sometimes, the gods send you into unfair situations. You don’t survive the whims and petty fancies of the gods by bellowing rage and charging in to certain, defiant doom. You survive by assessing each challenge, working on a solution, knowing when to retreat, avoiding combat where practicable, and ensuring any combat that does happen happens on your terms.
There’s no glory in dying to a kobold spike trap on the 2nd level of a dungeon because you only knew how to press forward. Getting the loot and getting out with minimal bloodshed is how heroes are made—heroes that live and get to go home.
So the next time you want to try your hand at some classic-style dungeon crawling, ask yourself if your approach lines up as an Achilles or an Odysseus. Dice are still dice, fate is still fate, but ask yourself: which of those two would be more likely to survive the Tomb of Horrors?
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
After a lot of research I ended up settling on a system called Swords and Wizardry. As a set of rules it draws heavily on OD&D but includes things like an ascending AC scale rather than THACO. I pulled what I liked from Swords and Wizardry and then grabbed a few things from OD&D as well. The end result was much like what I described in my email to the party. A sort of OD&D roller-coaster with all the twists and turns of old school gaming but minus the freedom and danger.
During the game I used the television behind me to display a slideshow of old artwork from the history of D&D. My players all started D&D with 4e like I did. This game was really about taking a look back and appreciating the roots of Dungeons and Dragons.
I wonder what he meant by "minus the freedom and danger". Are the lack of those things supposed to be selling points? Of course, there was also:
I hope that as my players picked up their dice and got in their cars to drive home they had similar thoughts about the gamers that came before. People starting campaigns with characters that only had 2 hit points. Characters getting hit and losing levels. Magic items breaking and armor deteriorating. Maybe seeing for just a night what it was like back then, will give them a greater appreciation of the game they're playing now.
Or, you know, a greater appreciation for the game they played then. Either way, I hope they had a good time, and it's cool for Swords & Wizardry to get a shout-out like that.
Here's the link to read more.
This is one of those things where one person’s moral code may see no issue with it, but someone else’s moral code screams that it’s wrong. You hear a lot of arguments on either side (many of them very persuasive), but for me it comes down as a point of respect. I know too many RPG publishers, writers, and FLGS owners to feel personally comfortable doing it, or to support it as a Game Master. (It gets really weird when you see someone with a pirated copy of something a friend wrote). I don’t think they’d like me doing it, so I don’t. It’s a personal stance on the issue.
Of course, I understand there’s a perceived gray area. What if you own the print version book and download the pdf—isn’t that just saving you time on scanning it in yourself? What if you own the book and you download the pdf to share with your group—is that like photocopying for personal use or passing the book around? These are questions that I admit to not having clear-cut answers for.
Personally, I think in-print and out-of-print products are a bit different. Taking from a company or publisher trying to make a livelihood vs. a company that’s been shut down for 20 years, with no new product, is a big difference-maker to me.
Look, if you’re a RPG publisher, you’re going to get pirated. I don’t know if it’ll result in sales or not; most publishers I’ve spoken with don’t seem to see a bump from it. Some seem to care more than others, especially pdf-only endeavors.
So, my question is, have you to deal with the issue of RPG piracy in your gaming circle or campaign? Publishers, please feel free to chime in, as well.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Here’s a clear caveat: I am not really a White Wolf fan. Neither am I an ill-wisher, they just don’t make a lot that interests me. For a long time, their games were too angsty, and then they were just dull. Modern/urban horror was never a big draw for me, and much of the “edgy” fiction rounding out each product reminded me of those kids in high school who wore all black and smoked clove cigarettes outside the gym (not that there is anything wrong with any of those activities by themselves or in tandem, but they don’t seem to produce superior verse, if you follow my meaning). Werewolf was ok, but not much else scratched that itch.
Do not get me started on Exalted, which….ok, let’s just not get started on Exalted, yeah?
I’ve read Ryan Dancey’s opinion on it all, and I’ve seen the threads at Big Purple detailing the apparent demise of White Wolf, and if you think about it, it is striking. Of course, White Wolf’s decline is only compared to where they were. This is a company that owned the 90’s. Even if they go Print-On-Demand and pdf only, there are likely still many more active players of White Wolf games than of all the small-press games reviewed here combined.
I think White Wolf is one of those companies that a certain subset of people want to see fail; they never could get past the whole Storyteller “Roleplaying, not ROLLplaying” stuff and the existence of Mark ReinDOTHagen. So if they’re perceived as not as strong as they were, people are going to jump all over that.
Really, what we have this point is less titles being put out and a widespread perception that the company’s market share/player base has dwindled. We aren't insiders, so that's what we have to go on.
Well, a lot of companies aren’t as strong as they were. The 4th Edition of D&D hasn’t seemed to have made the splash of 3e (though, as a side point, the guy at the FLGS last week said the D&D Encounters program is going very strong). Of course, those of us online tend to have a slightly skewed version of the gaming landscape, anyway. (A novice wandering into RPGnet, for example, would think that Exalted was the most popular RPG, far above any other one).
White Wolf is now part of a company making video games. If they can find a reduced publishing model to work with that, great. If not, well, they’re hardly alone on the list of gaming companies that have fallen by the wayside. The impact to me is probably a somewhat decreased likelihood of getting drunk again at Gen Con and stumbling into the middle of a Vampire LARP. The impact to their fans would depend on what sort of production schedule was allotted to White Wolf’s remaining employees.
If nothing else, it would be nice to see more of what a writer/editor like Jess Hartley could do with some of the other games that are out there.
Monday, April 5, 2010
As much as I like the easy-entry product like the Rolemaster Express book for Rolemaster Classic, I really think a book that included all of Rolemaster Character Law, Arms Law, and Creatures & Monsters in one book--not the trilogy it is now. Figure out a way to smash down Spell Law to where it will fit. Add in a full Herbs & Poisons list, as that always seems to be a big hit with the players. Don't tell me it can't be done--D&D Rules Cyclopedia effectively compiled 4 boxed sets, plus new material, plus a setting overview, in 304 pages. Pathfinder is over 570 pages. I have to think the above Rolemaster product would be somewhere in the middle of those two, but hardly unfeasible.
Rolemaster's strength is in its charts and tables, and the abbreviated ones in the Express version of the game do not do it justice. I think the Express approach is great for a low-cost introduction to the system, but more and more, I'm growing to appreciate RPGs that give you everything needed in one compiled product.
I'm sure there are other games out here that would benefit from this approach, but Rolemaster is the first to come to mind. Thoughts, or other candidates for this treatment?
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Friday, April 2, 2010
In order to fund the trip to Gen Con, as of today I’m putting a donations sidebar on RPG Blog 2. I hope this doesn’t turn you off, but basically any money contributed will go right to funding 4 days of exhaustive Gen Con coverage.
Look, times are tough all over and I totally get it, but if you’d like to help out with our Gen Con coverage, you can do so by making a Paypal donation to the family account at email@example.com. You can also click on the donation button on the right side column of this site.
You can ask my wife: I come back from Gen Con a shattered, battered, exhausted wreck, but a happy one, because I love, love, LOVE covering the best gaming event of the year. So if you’ve enjoyed the Gen Con coverage or other features in the past, please consider putting a coin in the hat to help me eat something during Gen Con that isn’t Slim Jims, and to help pay for parking, gas, wireless internet in the convention center, and all the other stuff this isn’t free.
OK, I’m done with that. I feel dirty now. How about some cool news? RPG Blog 2 has 1,000 Feedburner subscribers in its sights this year! If we make it, I’ll be doing another special giveaway to our subscribers and readers. In the mean time, it’s about time for another reader thank-you sale or special, so if you have suggestions, now’s the time to do it. I’ll do what I can to work with publishers to make it happen!
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Here's part two of my Random Island Generation Charts for my in-development Middle Isles Campaign--this one a percentiles chart on Unusual Island Characteristics:
Interesting/Unusual Island Characteristics
01 Very Poor Soil
02 Very Rich Soil
03 Exceedingly Rare Tree or Plant
04 Exceedingly Rare Animal/Livestock
05 Ancient Stone Head Statues
06 Temple Ruins
07 Extensive Subterranean Pathways
08 Sheer Cliffs Riddled With Caves
09 An Allegedly Haunted Mass Grave
10 Mass Ship Graveyard Just Off The Coast
11 Aggressive Hunter Race Lurks Underground
12 The Dead Rise At Night
13 Old Mine
14 A Recent Battlefield
15 Vampire Colony
16 Famed Holy Shrine
17 Famed Unholy Shrine
18 Plague Outbreak (Populace)
19 Plague Outbreak (Livestock)
20 An Imprisoned Legendary Creature
21 Restless Shades
22 A Lake of Spirits
23 Minor Oracle
24 Cannibal Cult
25 Uncommonly Wet
26 Uncommonly Dry
27 Uncommonly Windy
28 Frequent Landslides
29 Giant Fungus Colonies
30 Moderately Accurate Soothsayer/Prophet
31 Narcotic Plants
32 Alchemical Bonanza of Natural Ingredients
33 Watchers In The Woods
34 Giant’s Lair
35 A Famed Repository of Knowledge
36 Single Adolescent Dragon, Good/Neutral
37 Single Adolsecent Dragon, Evil
38 Chapterhouse of a Knightly Order
39 Single Mature Dragon, Good/Neutral
40 Single Mature Dragon, Evil
41 Magic is Heightened
42 Mysterious Cave Paintings
43 A Hidden Library of Scrolls
44 Magic is Forbidden
45 Magic Works Poorly
46 Deserted Village
47 Ruined Fortress
48 Buried Pirate/Raider Treasure (Mainly The Copper/Silver Kind)
49 Fire Swamp
50 Arcane Petroglyphs (Rock Engravings)
51 Geoglyph (Ground Drawing), Can Be Seen From Air
52 Plagued By Earthquakes
53 Lycanthropy Epidemic
54 Volcanic Activity
55 Extensive Catacombs
56 Ruined Castle
57 A Hero’s Tomb
58 Shipwreck Of A Famous Vessel
59 Ghost Ship Drops Anchor Every Full Moon
60 Ruined Tower
61 Giant Stone Cairn
62 Subterranean Labyrinth
63 Dying Civilization
64 Ancient Challenge Left By A Deity
65 Killer Reefs Just Off The Coast
66 Isle Fades In And Out Of Dimensional Existence
67 Reclusive Alleged Necromancer
68 Reclusive Philosopher
69 Reclusive Retired Hero
70 Buried Pirate/Raider Treasure (Mainly The Gold Kind)
71 Dragon Colony, Evil
72 Dragon Colony, Good/Neutral
73 Ancient Clockwork Machine, Inoperative
74 (Apparently) Dormant Volcano
75 Less-Than-Dormant Volcano
76 Some Manner of Talking Animal
77 Aggressive Nature Spirits
78 Domain of One Claiming Divine Paternity
79 Sulfurous Water
80 Bandit Hideout
81 Pirate Hideout
82 Raider Camp
83 Accursed Woods
84 Accursed Mountain
85 Private Domain of a Madman
86 Sweet Water
87 Raider Supply Cache
88 Runaway Slaves
89 Leper Colony
90 An Excess of Quicksand
91 Forgotten/Lost Technology
92 Perfect, Natural Harbor
93 Deadly Harbor
94 Unusual Metal Deposits
95 Refugee or Exiled Nobility
96 Lair of Unmentionable Evil
97 Cave Passage To The Underworld
98 Hidden Portal To An Elemental Plane
99 Contains A Monolith To An Ancient Cosmic Evil
00 A Vast Hidden Mithril Treasure Stash
This important historical record, carefully preserved until it was sent to me last week by a Lake Geneva donor who wished to remain anonymous, sheds important light on Gygax’s thought process during the design of Original D&D.
Sadly, the rest of the journal--with the exception of this single page--appears to be lost to antiquity at this point. Still, I’m pleased I am able to offer you this rare look into our hobby’s fine heritage.
Without further ado, the Gygax Diary:
(click to enlarge)