Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Interview With Frog God Games, Part 2

Yesterday was the first part of our interview with Frog God Games, the new publishers of Swords & Wizardry (and Pathfinder products, to boot). Today, in Part 2, we cover a bit about writing for 4th edition D&D, a bit more on Swords & Wizardry, support for Pathfinder, and plans for the future. Thanks again to Bill Webb, Greg Vaughan, and Matt Finch for all participating!

Going back to Necromancer Games for a minute, because I think folks (including myself) are curious: A lot of people were expecting to see some more releases from Necromancer in support of D&D 4th Edition. What happened there, and why the change in supported systems?

(Bill) I could not write 4e. I assume it’s a fine game, but its not the same game that I play. Frankly its rules confused me and made me want to play and MMO or Warhammer Fantasy Battle. The legal issues w/ 4e were uncomfortable; but I don’t really understand any of that stuff; Clark does. Suffice to say I will not produce 4e, and Clark is on an indefinite hiatus from the game.

(Greg) There was originally talk of me converting Tsar to 4e. While I respect 4e as a game, I simply did not believe it was viable to still be able to capture the heart and intent of what I had written in that framework. I know that sounds weird, but I have written 4e and I have written 3.5 and Pathfinder. I wouldn’t have been able to pull off a translation that did it justice. That said, translating backward through editions is certainly a possibility…

Call it the OSR, Old School Renaissance, DIY Grognards, Neoclassical Gaming, etc.—there’s a big community out there, providing a pretty wide range of homegrown support for classic and classically-inspired editions and iterations of the game. Where do you see Frog God fitting into that?

(Bill) Well, I am one of those guys, just not a big poster on the message boards themselves. I play S&W because my old white box set is falling apart and I wanted to teach my kids to play the same game I learned (my 8 year old is a formidable gamer). I have hosted a Wilderlands campaign since 1978 (maybe 1977—brain is failing me. I never really bought into the “upgrades”. I have played 2/2.5/3/3.5/Pathfinder, and they rock; they are still “the game”, but I like a simpler open format that is OD&D, and I have always come back to it. I was actually awarded the “Golden Grognard” award at the ENnies one year, so “these are my people,” as my wife is fond of saying. (Yes, I know that for the S&W players, the ENnies aren’t exactly the hallmark of old school, but hey, it’s a nice award).

Most importantly, let us know what you want us to do and what we are doing that makes you happy, sad or mad. My email is public knowledge, and I am the guy who takes complaints. I can be found at bill@talesofthefroggod.com or at necromancergames@yahoo.com. I NEVER mind folks giving us feedback; good or bad. That is my job (and why I get $5/hour and why everyone else gets $4—not kidding by much either). We are keeping our forums at http://necromancergames.yuku.com/ , but that may change in time. Matt’s S&W forums will stay open too at http://www.swordsandwizardry.com/forum/ .

(Greg) Wait, we get paid hourly?

If it helps people to understand what I’m targeting, I want to be the Judges Guild of 2010. By bringing higher production quality to the market, we hope to attract more people to the game. By letting Matt write, and not produce and edit, we hope to get more of his (brilliant) stuff out there.

We want to widen the audience, bring more folks back to the game, and produce cool stuff to help that happen. Pathfinder is a great game too—and lots of folks play that. We also want to support that audience and keep people rolling dice instead of clicking mouse buttons. We like to produce fan-written material, and most importantly, modules. I think the term module has been lost to the game in many cases. A module is something that is “modular” and fits in where a DM wants it to fit in. we don’t want to “tie you in” to canon like FR did. I want the community to take or leave our stuff in whole or pieces and make it work for the way/setting in which they play.

That’s part of the reason I never “cashed in” on a Necromancer World setting like about 100 other publishers did. You have your setting, I want to make stuff for you to use in YOUR setting. JG was different for me; I wanted to do that so I could use it. That and the fact that Wilderlands is about as cool a product as I have ever seen.

Frog God will make books to support tabletop roleplaying games, period. I sincerely hope that all the DIY guys will keep doing the same. I also hope that I can help some of these guys get to press. I have to say, there are market realities. Artists, cartographers and printers don’t work for free—so some folks will like or hate prices as they see fit.

(Matt) Okay, let’s use loaded terms like “OSR” and see if we can make Tim Kask mad again. I’m sooooooooooo not touching that one with a ten foot pole. Does FGG “fit in” with the current model of the traditional OSR publishers? No. Clearly. FGG uses a “sales model” that’s quite different and based on how to work in a larger market. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I think it’s neutral. I don’t think marketing models affect gaming one way or the other – it’s the quality of what’s produced.

Bottom line: This will bring more players to the table, and more modules to the table, whether the company itself fits the normal profile or not.

Your company is supporting two OGL games in Swords & Wizardry and Pathfinder that are quite different. How does your philosophy or strategy change (if at all) when writing for one vs. the other?

(Bill) First off, those modules are going to appear for both systems, but the different games mean that the conversion process, whether it’s from PF to S&W or from an S&W module to a PF one, is not a matter of cutting and pasting – the games are very different in the way they are played, and that means a lot of in-depth conversion to align a converted module to match the rules it’s intended for. Chuck and Greg play Pathfinder, Matt and I play S&W. Robert, Rick etc. play 3.5. None of us plays 4.0. We all support both games as a venue for folks to play the game as it was intended. Pathfinder is very complex and rules heavy—some folks love that. S&W is very freeform, and some folks love that. Personally, I have experimented with higher complexity (I ran a game using Balboa Games systems for 2 years), but I keep returning to simple d20/d6 rules. I like being a player in Pathfinder Games but I don’t know how Greg DMs it—its very confusing to this old frog.

My production philosophy is “high quality rules all.” That means content, art and maps. Some folks may not like that, but I will only produce what I consider to be professional looking, quality content stuff. No filler. That is a personal issue for me.

Obviously, not everyone has the same aesthetics. Some people like non-gridded maps like the one in Supplement 2. Some of us prefer the blue maps from B1. I happen to like darker colors (easier to see while gaming) and a more Judges Guild style. I’m willing to spend money to get that style done well.

Most of our profit goes into the next set of art and maps and printing. I guess we will make a bunch on our final book, when that day comes.

Our game philosophy is “old school,” and when I say that I don’t mean with all the theory and brouhaha that’s become attached to that phrase. At Necro, we called it 1e feel. Matt always says it best—“Imagine the Hell out of it” is the motto.

(Matt) Yep. Imagine the Hell out of everything.

(Greg) As a writer of adventures all the way back to 1e (yeah, I know, not 0e, but that was even before my time), I have found that many of the adventure concepts translate extremely well across the systems. In my opinion, 4e was the first D&D system to break with that in that the adventures by necessity began to take very different forms in format and play style. My first published adventure in Dungeon was a 3.5 update of an Expert rules adventure I had written for the Isle of Dread. I understand that the rules are significantly different and can be invasive, but the story still stands and works, which is what I think and adventure is all about: the shared story of its participants painted on the primer of the writer.

Let’s talk Pathfinder-specific for a minute. What products will you be looking at doing in support of Pathfinder?

(Bill) Everything (probably) except rulebooks will be done in both formats—to be clear, NOT dual statted; but as separate books. Slumbering Tsar may or may not be done for S&W because its huge (500k words) and I am not sure Matt and I will have time to convert it soon.

What else is in the pipeline for Frog God Games?

(Bill) Right now about 40 books, with more on the way. Most books will be short (24-32 pages). Our website details what is for sale now or soon. The most exciting are the Complete Rulebook and the Slumbering Tsar hardcover (really 14 modules in a huge book). We will be producing a few other DM utilities for use in both systems, but our real focus will be on One Night Stands and Saturday Night Specials. This is where I am looking for 12k word submissions for writers. I’ll have a guy handle the Pathfinder stats. It’s a great way to have folks get published and for a broad audience to get their work. Share cool stuff around as much as possible is the goal. Matt and I will also be writing for this line. What these are is (from our site):

“Remember when the world was a sandbox and you just inserted modules into your campaign whenever and wherever you wanted to? Remember when companies like Judges Guild and TSR produced short stand alone modules, not tied to any setting or campaign? Remember when the cost 5 bucks (ok we can’t do print books for 5 bucks anymore, but we can do that for the pdfs)? Remember when you directed the action independent of what the “world” rules said was there? We do, and in response we decided to fill the gap with our One Night Stands and Saturday Night Specials series.

These modules are designed to be played over the course of 1-2 nights. Each is a sandbox style short adventure (One Night Stands) or a short dungeon crawl (Saturday Night Specials). Frog God Games knows that in this day and age, sometimes a DM just needs a short trek to take his players on, or to fill those regular gaps and interludes in his campaign. Sometimes its just fun to enter a dungeon and kill things for a night! Old school feel is the trademark of these product lines. Look for easy deaths and tough puzzles. Frog God Games is not made for rookie players.

These series are designed as stand alone modules and are typically between 24 and 32 pages. We have designed just one piece of cover art for each series in order to keep the price point low (though the cover art is rockin’, and the interiors and maps are all of usual Frog God Games quality!). All of these books will be released in both Pathfinder and Swords and Wizardry format.”

We will also be doing some sandboxy min-campaigns, and a very cool temple based series called Splinters of Faith—10 modules with adventures revolving around different aligned religions and temples. Very deadly and very fun.

This really is what is currently written, and art is in process. Lots more as soon as I figure out what we are doing next.

(Greg) I don’t know; Bill passed Creative Director duties on to me and Matt so he could run the company, and I haven’t been allowed to get up from my keyboard to look around since.

Monday, August 30, 2010

No More Dragon Warriors?

Courtesy of theRPGsite, it sounds like the Dragon Warriors RPG has reached the end of the line. Apparently, the company holding the rights to Dragon Warriors wanted an increase in royalties somewhere in line of 1250%. Needless to say, Magnum Opus Press has announced that In From The Cold will be the last DW supplement from them.

Sad news, but if Dragon Warriors could survive as long of a hiatus as it had before, I'm sure it can survive this one. Sorry to all the Dragon Warriors fans out there, and to the folks and fans of Magnum Opus Press. It's an ugly side of our hobby to see.

Interview With Frog God Games, Part 1

Today and tomorrow, we'll be featuring a Q&A with Frog God Games, the new publishers of Swords & Wizardry (and they of the late most recent online hobby dust-up). I asked them about their associations with Necromancer Games, their plans for Swords & Wizardry, their attitude towards the OSR, and much more.

Editor/Developer Bill Webb, Writer Greg Vaughan, and S&W creator Matt Finch took turns answering my questions. Enjoy, and we'll be back with Part 2 tomorrow.

First off, thank you for agreeing to this Q&A. Frog God is a spinoff of Necromancer Games, right? Why the change in names, and what’s the history there?

(Bill) FGG was created to separate my interests in Necromancer Games (owned jointly with Clark). Greg Vaughan and I started the company in May. Clark and I talked, and since he no longer has the time to devote to this, we agreed that I should start a new corporation to ensure intellectual property and finances were separate. No hostility or anything, it was for purely legal reasons. Since he was Orcus, and I have always been “froggie”, the name made sense.

(Greg) Bill told me I wasn’t cool enough to get into Necromancer. Just kidding. Actually, FGG came as a total surprise to me, one of Bill’s sudden bouts of genius. He and I and Paizo and everyone have been talking for years about how to get the Slumbering Tsar mega-adventure into publication. I wrote it six years ago for Necromancer, but it was slated to release right when the 4e crash occurred. It sat for years waiting a way to reach press, and then Bill had the idea to start FGG and release it as a serial. With the proceeds from it, it enabled us to look at more options for publication of some other unreleased materials and even new materials. And that’s how we got to where we are today with S&W.

What do you think Frog God Games will “bring to the table” in terms of product? Where are your strengths as a publishing concern? What can you “do” for products such as Swords & Wizardry, which is already available in another edition?

(Bill) Old school feel modules. We specialize in adventures. We do them well. I was the creative director at Necro; so if folks liked Necro they should like us. We may do other stuff like DM utilities (see Mother of All Encounter Tables by Necro etc.), but we do modules as a preference; just like Necro did. Our strengths are that we are, and continue to be guys who have always listened to our audience, involved fans in writing projects, and helped people publish their own “magnum opus”.

From the Pathfinder perspective, the objective remains very similar to what we were doing with Necro Games. It’s to provide solid adventures and resources with an old-school feel.

From the Swords & Wizardry perspective, it’s obviously different. Swords & Wizardry is already about as old-school as you can possibly get. It’s a project that has been built up over the last couple of years by a large and creative base of writers and artists at the various messageboards dedicated to preserving the rules, the feel, and the playing-style of out-of-print D&D editions.

What we bring to the table for Swords & Wizardry is a larger slate of products, not a change in the way they are being done. We help pull together the authors, the layout art, the illustrations, and all the various resources Matt needs, and that means he has more time to write and to oversee the titles we’re producing for S&W.

The other big benefit we bring to Swords & Wizardry is a larger market, and the benefit we bring to that larger market is Swords & Wizardry. It’s probably not news to any of the old-schoolers out there that the old school message boards, in particular, can be scary places for newcomers who aren’t completely familiar with the older material. There are a lot of people out there interested in playing 0e who don’t frequent the old school message boards and can’t afford an expensive boxed set that’s now a collector’s item. Swords & Wizardry will get people playing 0e. In fact, it’s a good introduction to 1e as well. There’s going to be a lot of overlap across a lot of games, but S&W is a very strong focal point to get that moving.

In terms of our internal structure, we also have a stable of artists that have stuck by me personally for many years. Rick Sardinha is perhaps the finest cover artist in the industry. His awards (including several GenCon best of Shows) are numerous. His maps rock too. Rowena Aitken is nothing short of spectacular.

(Greg) Adventures, adventures, adventures, and some stuff to help DMs with their adventures. We’re not looking at devising new rules systems here, we just want people to be able to make the most out of the ones they have whether that be S&W or Pathfinder.

(Matt) From my standpoint, Frog God is going to make it a lot easier for me to keep doing what I do, which is to write. Swords & Wizardry has always depended on volunteers to fill in the gaps where I can’t do something at top level; Verhaden and Jim Kramer have stepped in to help with layout, Marv Brieg helped adapt my highly-supplement-based 0e game into a WhiteBox version, many artists have contributed phenomenal art to the rulebooks, the modules, and Knockspell Magazine. But there are difficulties in organizing volunteers – not everyone has free time available right when it’s needed, and also I’m not very good at getting out there and asking for help, to tell the truth – I hate asking for favors, even when there’s a whole messageboard full of people offering to help. It’s just a thing about me. Maybe it’s the anxiety/bipolar disorder, I don’t know. But I find that difficult. The team at Frog God makes it easier for me to hand off the more difficult parts of a project to people who are good at handling those parts. I am definitely not saying anything negative about the volunteers, here – it’s the volunteers who built this game – but in order to pull it forward into a larger size/scale, which is what we’ve always wanted to achieve, it helps to have a team “on tap,” if that makes sense.

Projects from the player base, whether they are one-person productions or a collaborative effort like the monster book, are still, ultimately, the guts of S&W. When people on the boards want me to help organize that sort of collaboration, I am all for it. Working with FGG is more like a new layer that creates an underpinning for the activity – this material is targeted at bringing new players into the fold, and for those players who aren’t into internet messageboards, it gives them support resources that are easier to find. Because Bill has the high profile that will raise the visibility of S&W. Hopefully there’s a feedback loop that benefits the messageboards, the fan community, and even any DIY gamers out there who happen to hate the internet. It’s a broadening of scope on all fronts.

Let’s talk some more about the “Complete Edition” of Swords & Wizardry, which is what you are working on publishing. What’s in it—rather, what makes it a “Complete Edition”?

(Matt) The heart of the Complete Rules is the inclusion of the full set of 0e character classes (with one exception – the illusionist from the Strategic Review isn’t in there). To emphasize the “make the game your own” side of things, we added two more alternative ways to order the melee round; one of these is the Holmes Blue Book system, and the other is based on, but isn’t identical to, the optional system included in Supplement 3 of 0e. There are a few other additions from the later supplements; ability scores have slightly more effect for high scores than they do in the Core Rules – basically as in Supplement 1.

It should be emphasized – this is not intended to supersede the Core Rules. It’s an alternative or a resource, depending on how you want to use it. Swords & Wizardry now has what I think are the three main iterations of 0e. There is the WhiteBox, published by Brave Halfling, which covers the game when it’s played with the extremely low power levels – hit dice are all d6, spells go up to level 6 only, monsters inflict a standard 1d6 damage (except ogres and a couple of other exceptions). The Core Rules are the middle ground, representing the step upward to the Supplement 1 power levels where there are variable hit dice, variable damage, and higher spell levels. The Complete Rules represent the game as played not only with the Supplement 1 power levels, but with several character classes.

Each of these three approaches to 0e has a very distinct and characteristic feel. Of the three of them, the Complete Rules may actually represent the greatest shock to players who are expecting 1e out of this, because so much is familiar on the surface, but there are weird, wonky undercurrents below that surface appearance.

Are you still working with Clark Peterson (from Necromancer Games) in any capacity on your new projects? I know he had earlier raised some concerns about the legality of one of the retro-clones titles (OSRIC). Obviously you wouldn’t be supporting a product (Swords & Wizardry) you felt was illegal; is this just a difference of opinion?

(Bill) Nope—Clark is not involved not on anything FGG. I have no opinion on the legality of any other OSR system, but I had S&W vetted through my lawyer, and he agreed that it was compliant. That is one reason we will not have an illusionist (from Strategic Review) in our rulebook.

(Greg) I still want to meet Clark, but Bill tells me I have to become a fourth order frogzletyte before I can. I’m still just a junior tadpole (sigh).

OK, I have to ask, otherwise someone will bring it up: there was a bit of a flap the other day about the quote on the “About Us” part of the website that seemed to be read, well, dismissive of DIY efforts on lulu.com and places of that sort. Bad copy?

(Bill) I am a “not so careful guy” when it comes to this stuff. I think I write better adventures than I do ad copy, yes. That’s why Clark always did the web postings and I did creative. Oh, and I took the quote off. But anyone who lived through d20 knew what I meant I think. I am a straight talker and not what one could term…well, PC.

The quote (may it rest in peace) was not related in any way to DIY folks—the target was a couple of larger guys who I think make junk and charge a bundle for it. I personally, and FGG and Necro before it, have and always will support DIY publishers.

It’s worth mentioning that I’m one of the fanboy buyers from Brave Halfling, NOD, Fight On! and some others who are well known publishers in the old school.

From the very beginning of this, Matt and I have been kicking around different ways to support the various old school conventions and also the guys who run out-of-print games at the bigger modern conventions. We’re definitely making a commitment to sponsor NTRPGCon already, since it’s in driving distance of Matt’s house, and he can bring stuff there. GaryCon is a bit more difficult to get to, so that’s definitely one of the areas where we’re accepting suggestions.

About the flap over my comment: I am the first to admit I am wrong and make amends. I pissed a few folks off because they did not understand the context of what I was saying, and I apologize. That being said, it’s over now and if they still are mad, so be it. Our products will speak for themselves.

Stay tuned tomorrow as we tackle D&D 4e, support for Pathfinder, future plans for Frog God, and more!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Free Public Beta: Synapse RPG

Greg Christopher is looking for some feedback on the free Public Beta of his Synapse RPG. If you want to check it out and possibly provide some constructive criticism on his hard work, it could be a fun project. Here's a brief quote from a post he made:

The game is a completely open-ended universal system with strong emphasis on character depth and personality. The primary elements of a character are seven mental attributes, including the namesake Synapse. In addition to these, your character chooses from 21 talents to customize precisely what their brain is good (and bad) at. This brain is then placed in a physical body. Build a race using a point-buy system from nearly a hundred biological characteristics; ranging from mandibles to turtle shells to wings to echolocation. This is followed by a similar system for culture where you define the society from which your character springs. Build any culture from Ancient Egypt to the Galactic Empire. Your character is the given life experiences using another point-buy system, where you make choices about your education, siblings, parentage, and more. All of these systems feed into a personality model to build a unique personality from 22 different motivation values. You define what exactly drives your character in their daily life. Choose from six morality models that go far beyond good and evil. On top of this, you build a network of NPCs which your character has met over the years. These NPCs integrate you into the social fabric of the game world, providing resources, contacts, allies, and more. Finally, choose from a long list of skills for any setting you need and buy your starting equipment (or property, if you are rich enough). As you can see, this game generates characters of stunning complexity.

It's an interesting tact, breaking out mental facilities as Synapse needs to do, and definitely sounds like something different. Check it out and let him know what you think.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

On RPG Message Boards

RPGnet: The occasional good thread pops up at RPGNet, but I hate sifting through the Exalted threads and pages of stuff that I just don’t care about. Big Purple's still a good resource at times, but the signal/noise ratio isn’t great.

The RPG Site: I still love the Mos Eisley of RPG forums, especially because of some of the friendships I’ve made there, but honestly, the quality of conversation there lately has not been great overall. Maybe it’ll pick up soon—it seems to go in peaks and troughs.

The RPG Haven: I enjoy visiting The Haven and enjoy some truly great discussion there, but I still don’t think the board has hit critical mass in terms of membership. It’s a smaller, quieter board, which is nice, but sometimes I wish there were a few more folks over there.

Citizens of the Imperium: Honestly, I haven’t been getting that much out of that site lately, and consequently haven't visited in a while. I still love Traveller, but few discussions over there I feel like putting my two cents in over.

I lurk like crazy at the ODD74 board, Story Games, and several others, but really don’t have the time to post that often. I check out ENWorld infrequently, but it seems like the same 3 conversations are running in perpetual syndication.

Do you hang out on any RPG message boards? Do you hang out on more or fewer than you did a few years ago? Any you would recommend for an eclectic mix of gaming discussion that I just can’t live without?

Friday, August 27, 2010

RPG Stack Exchange

Now that it’s out of private beta and into public, I’d encourage you to go over and check out the Role Playing Games Q&A site on Stack Exchange. Now open for your questions and answers, Stack Exchange uses a firm reputation system and peer review system while being a place for you to ask all your gaming-related questions.

No, I don’t know how useful it’ll be yet, but I figure that’s what we’ll find out together.

Now THAT'S A Map!

From the Too Cool Not To Share Immediately Department:

A Giant Hex Map of Europe, c. 1200

On a related note, isn't it time to check out Hexographer?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On Production Values

Yesterday’s little flap over the whole Frog God Games business got me thinking a bit about production values, specifically how I’ve regarded them over the years.

Keep in mind I come partially from a Palladium heritage in the hobby. That means books laid out by hand, not a lot of color, and black-and-white illustrations. Yeah, I loved the art from Ramon Perez, but I think we can agree that at least the interiors of Palladium products were not a layout artist’s dream.

From there, I jumped into a ton of different games. Some had nearly no art (Traveller), some had tons of it (D&D), and some had art, but I didn’t like it (MERP and Rolemaster, aside from Pete Fenlon’s still-peerless cartography). Looking back, here’s my one-sentence summation:

I didn’t need what I thought I needed in a RPG product.

To me, important production values aren’t in artwork or color splashes, it’s in a solid, legible readout, and easily-referenced rules. Yeah, I like my cartography to be evocative and engaging, but that can just as easily be someone’s hand-drawn rough map as anything.

I don’t want to say production values don’t matter, but how I define what’s acceptable in them has certainly shifted over the years. Give me rules, make them easy to read and find, throw in a treasure/world/dungeon map, and I’m on my way.

If I had to make a Big 4 ranking of important attributes in a product, it’d probably go like this:

1) Enthusiasm: Does this book get me excited about playing the hell out of your product?
2) Rules: How about the rules? Do they work for what I want to do?
3) Clarity: Can I find stuff? Do I understand it? Is the product easy to read/access/utilize?
4) Cost: Is this going to break my measly allotment for gaming stuff? Do I have to buy a bunch of other stuff to use it?

I think art contributes to #1, Enthusiasm, for a lot of people. I know it has for me, too, at times, though I think good writing and outside influences trump it easily any day. But this is 2010. You can’t go online without tripping over 150 pages of art and photography to use in your game. I think that’s one of the reasons art in a RPG product is just not that important to me anymore. It’s not that it doesn’t matter at all, it’s just somewhere well lower on the list. All other things being equal, I am not going to pay $40 for a product that does the same thing as a $10 product, just because it’s got non clip-art illustrations or a professionally-illustrated cover. I certainly don’t begrudge those who do, though. It’s not my wallet.

I suspect I’m pretty far off the mark when it comes to all this, and that’s fine. I think we all know by now my site is not exactly a fount for what’s cutting-edge. It’s a pretty eclectic jumble around here, which suits me well enough. I guess it’s easy to forget we aren’t always the target audience for a product. I know I do at times, and probably will again.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New S&W Publisher To Audience: Your Work Sucks

EDIT: So, it looks like Bill Webb showed up in the comments at Chgowiz's blog and attempted to set things straight/explain/what-have-you. Thanks to him for taking the time to do so. I'll let you read it as well, to see where he's coming from. I imagine this isn't the last we've heard of Frog God or this new edition. -ZH

A hat tip to Chgowiz and Bite The Bulette on this one.

So, Swords & Wizardry gets a new edition, by the folks at Frog God Games. All well and good. Swords & Wizardry, at least for me, is one of the most enjoyable products to surface from the resurgence of interest in classic-style RPGs, simulacra, and retro-clone rules.

So what do the new Frog God folks (and spinoff of Necromancer Games) give us, by way of an introduction to their company?

“We are not the guys who are going to offer bargain basement junk for a quick buck. We won't sell you hand drawn maps and clip art laid out by amateurs and posted up on Lulu.com as a cheap book that you look at and discard”.

Eh? So you want to slag on pretty much half of the 400 people interested in your product? Because, by trashing those “amateurs”, that’s what you did. It reads as a hit against every fan magazine, every bare-bones supplement, and every weekend and late night spent creating something to celebrate and contribute to play in our hobby.

The Do It Yourself (DIY) ethic is a core part of not just this corner of the hobby, it’s been a boon to those of us who wanted to create something for the games we loved, but weren’t quite sure how. We saw our peers do it, and said, “hey, maybe I can take a crack at something like that, too!” Many products—good products, that I have used the hell out of for gaming—were from lulu.com, and I can spot more than a few hand-drawn maps and bits of clip art.

High production values are fine. Creating something from the heart to share at cost (or even at a loss), is a much more personal, engaging, and earnest transaction, to my mind.

Hey, it’s the internet. We all say dumb stuff. I get about one to two angry emails a week because I am a) an insensitive turd, apparently, and b) write something much more offensive than it sounded in my head, and I’m no James Raggi or RPG Pundit. So I know how these things can come out. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to call you on it.

I’ve got nothing but good wishes and respect for Matt Finch and Swords & Wizardry. I just hope Frog God doesn’t forget how that product started, and the manner in which we as a community choose to support it. Yes, you can have a high-value neo-classical gaming product that’s a work of love (LotFP's Boxed Set, anyone?). But you don’t have to piss on anyone to do it.

The Houghton Institute For Gamers Who Won’t Shut Up About Their Character

Hello, I’m Zachary Houghton, and I'm the founder of the Houghton Institute For Gamers Who Won’t Shut Up About Their Character.

Does this sound like you? You go down to your local gaming store, purchase nothing, and spend all day at the counter. When people approach to attempt to buy some or ask a question of the proprietor, you begin telling them, unsolicited, about your Dungeons & Dragons character.

Or perhaps you’re at a gaming convention, in the middle of a completely different game, and you begin talking about your half-elf wizard with a Bag of Holding who rides a dire boar into battle. In the midst of a Vampire RPG.

Perhaps it’s even crept into your love life. Are romantic trysts with that special lady being interrupted because you want to relate the restaurant you’ve taken her to the Blue Gryffon Tavern in Faerun that your character burnt down once?

If any of these sound like you, you need to face the truth. You might have Let Me Tell You About My Character Disorder, or LMTYAMCD. Doctors estimate 12% of gamers total, and over 60% of gamers frequenting local gaming stores, have this affliction.

Some non-experts will suggest you have emotional or social problems. They might even say “it isn’t your fault” or, “you have nothing to be ashamed of”. Here at the Houghton Institute For Gamers Who Won't Shut Up About Their Character, we’ll cut through all of that, tell you exactly what your problem is, and get you back to a normal, healthy, social, gaming, and love life before you know it.

Our special 3-step therapy (proven 98.6% effective by independent studies) consists of 3 main steps.

-Informing You No One Wants To Hear About Your Character

-Asking You To Shut The Hell Up About Your Character

-Bludgeoning You With A Custom-Made Lead Pipe Until You Shut The Hell Up About Your Character

Occasionally, the last step may be repeated as needed. We won’t give up on you, even if you won’t give up on believing that somewhere, someone actually gives a crap about your Dragonborn Warlord.

Our caring, dedicated staff will also ensure some of your gateway habits are also attended to, including: smelling of Cheet-Os and cat urine, excess katana ownership, and spending more than 300 days a year in a gaming store while purchasing less than $20 worth of product. We’ll use the same therapeutic methods as needed.

If you, a loved one, or frequent customer to your store can’t seem to stop telling total, disinterested strangers about their quest for Level 20, or if they frequently interrupt daily activities with anecdotes about an imaginary wizard they knew, call us today, at 1-877-4-NO-TELL. We’ll send you one of our informative packets today, and we will get you the help you need. Together.

The Houghton Institute™
We Give A Crap.
Just Not About Your Character.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Legacy of Traveller

Think, for a minute, about the legacy of Traveller. Here we have a game that was one of the first few sci-fi/space RPGs released, in 1977, and it is still at the top of its RPG genre. Sure, there have been new editions, but unlike other game lines that have been updated, its original form and function is still largely followed, rules-wise. Mongoose Traveller, the latest iteration, is closer to Classic Traveller than any other version of the game, and many feel it’s close enough to be regarded as a sibling with some clean-up and tweaks. Meanwhile, Classic Traveller itself is still one of the best-supported games online, second perhaps only to all editions of D&D.

How many game lines can say they’ve stayed remarkably close to the mark over the years, especially for multiple decades? Certainly Mongoose RuneQuest veers from the original, as does the latest iteration of Dungeons & Dragons (as have the various, sometimes sorry, editions of Gamma World). Tunnels & Trolls can make this boast as well, but it’s a short list after that, especially if we only look at sci-fi and space games.

Do we have other space/sci-fi RPGs? Of course! It’s not a knock against Traveller that there are so many other space and sci-fi games out there; rather, it’s about the richness of the genre, and just how many possibilities there are therein.

No, it’s a homage to the long-lasting design, appeal, and premise of Traveller that after all these years, it’s still setting a standard for that part of the hobby. Games come and go; Traveller endures.

101 Space/Sci-Fi Role Playing Games (With Links!)

Fresh off my list of 101 Fantasy Games That Aren't D&D or Pathfinder, here's my list of 101 Space & Sci-Fi RPGs! Again, these are in no particular order, representing a huge swing of sci-fi sub-genres, so apologies to anyone I missed--I assure you, no slight meant! Have fun, and may you find something old or new that you can get into!

1) Classic Traveller
2) Star Frontiers
3) d6 Space
4) Paranoia
5) Alternity
7) Eclipse Phase
8) Nebuleon
9) HardNova 2
10) Thousand Suns
11) StarCluster 3
12) Mongoose Traveller
13) Rogue Trader
14) Dark Heresy
15) Serenity
16) Bounty Head Bebop
17) In Harm's Way: StarCluster
18) Shatterzone
19) Deathwatch
20) StarSIEGE: Event Horizon
21) Blue Planet
22) Tales from the Floating Vagabond
23) Transhuman Space
24) Hellas
25) Fading Suns
26) Traveller: The New Era
27) Starblazer Adventures
28) BASH! Sci-Fi
29) Diaspora
30) StarCluster 2
30) Gamma World (multiple editions)
32) 2300 AD
33) Encounter Critical
34) Rifts
35) Metamorphosis Alpha
36) Cold Space
37) Robotech
38) Starfaring
39) The Morrow Project
40) Burning Empires
41) FTL: 2448
42) CthulhuTech
43) Battlelords of the 23rd Century
44) Cyberpunk 2020
45) d20 Future
46) Dr. Who: Adventures In Time & Space
47) Battlestar Galactica
48) Space Opera
49) Stargate SG-1
50) MARS
51) MechWarrior
52) @ctiv8
53) Armageddon: 2089
54) Jovian Chronicles
55) MegaTraveller
56) astate
57) Septimus
58) Sufficiently Advanced
59) FTL Now
60) Alpha Omega
61) Corporation
62) Ephemeris
63) GURPS Traveller
64) Metabarons
65) Atomic Highway
66) Star Wars (WEG)
67) Star Wars Saga Edition
68) Squirrels in Space
69) Darwin's World
70) FarScape
71) EABA Fires of Heaven
72) Sweet Chariot
73) Halycon
74) EarthAD 2
75) Lightspeed
76) Star Thugs
77) Ringworld
78) Star O.R.E.
79) X-Plorers
80) Mutant Chronicles
81) Space and Steel
82) Forgotten Futures
83) Chaos Earth
84) Spaceship Zero
85) DUNE: Chronicles of the Imperium
86) Universe
87) Trinity
88) Star Hero
89) Three Sixteen
90) Prime Directive
91) Star Trek (several editions)
92) Babylon 5
93) Remember Tomorrow
94) Space: 1889
95) Mekton Z
96) Starships & Spacemen
97) Mutant Future
98) Spacemaster
99) Ex Machina
100) Mecha
101) Traveller 4th Edition

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Trouble With Mass Combat Systems

I have read a lot of mass combat rules in RPGs, and very few seem to hit the right balance. For d20, I tried titles from AEG’s War to Green Ronin’s The Black Company to Eden’s Fields of Blood, and nothing seemed to really work that well (for the record, I finally ended up using the homebrew system from Farland World [which has since passed into 4e] , which did the job at least adequately).

For Rolemaster, I ended up creating my own system (after a poor experience with War Law), imperfect and now-buried in a stack of notes somewhere. Honestly, I got frustrated and abstracted a lot of combat, which I think was a downer for those of my players looking to flex some of their new found authority on the battlefield.

What I want in a combat system is what I think a lot of gamers want:

-Quick to learn, easy to remember.
-Related to the same base mechanics, at least nominally, as the rest of the game.
-Scale for company-size to full army-size combat with little issue.
-Allowing for a moderate level of complexity without either too little or too much abstraction.
-Allow the players to influence the outcome of a battle through their actions.

Not a lot of systems for games hit all the check marks on that list. A lot of times, Mass Combat rules seem thrown in as an afterthought, if indeed thrown in at all.

Epic Role Playing is one of the few systems I credit with getting their Mass Combat rules at a place where I liked them out of the box, but by and large, getting Mass Combat rules right seems to be an obscure art. Sooner or later in my games, players are going to want that stronghold, are going to want/need an army, and there’s going to be a battle, be it a company of mercenaries or the Ducal Armies. It’d be nice if more RPGs did a better job providing the means to that end.

Is this an issue for anyone else? I’d love to hear other viewpoints and thoughts on the topic.

TSR1-INSIDIOUS: Interview With Creator Devon Hibbs

It's been an interesting stretch for Die Cast Games. Not long after their TSR1-INSIDIOUS module was released, there was a firestorm regarding their use of the term "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" on the front of their book. It definitely made the rounds through the old-school RPG community, but lost in all this perhaps was the view from the publisher himself.

Today, we're going to try to rectify that a bit, with our interview with Devon Hibbs of Die Cast Games, creator of the aforementioned module TSR1-INSIDIOUS. We asked him not only about the contreversy, but about the content of the module itself, his working with (classic TSR alum) artist Jeff Easley on the product, and their future publishing plans. Devon, thanks for taking the time to do this in what I'm sure is a very busy time:

Briefly, describe INSIDIOUS for the readers. What sort of module is this? What sort of challenges will players face?

DH: TSR1-INSIDIOUS is a low level adventure written using rules for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game system. It has some town and wilderness adventuring as well as some good old fashioned dungeon crawling through the ruins of a manor. The PC's will need o accomplish two things: 1)Find and defeat the evil forces 2)Do whatever it takes to prevent this from happening again. Some have compared the feel of the module to TSR's U2-The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh.

From the back cover:

"The once peaceful town of Sheridan Springs is in dire trouble. Several townsfolk are missing. Strange creatures have been seen moving in the woods around town. At night, sounds that chill the soul can be heard coming from the town cemetery and the ruins north of town. Some even say the dead are restless and walk again.

The town sheriff has sent an urgent request for aid. Will your young and inexperienced group of adventurers heed the call? Fame and reward await those that can identify and defeat the evil menacing the town of Sheridan Springs."

We tried to give it a familiar look and feel by having a removable cover with the maps printed in blue on the inside. The adventure works well with beginner DM's as well as experiences ones. When play-tested as-is it ran about 3-1/2 to 4 hours. This is perfect for completing an adventure in one gaming session or maybe two short sessions. There is plenty of room to expand the town or add a couple of road/wilderness encounters if needed.

We also wanted it to be fast and easy for the Dungeon Master to set up. To that end we included extra information and stats that normally require constantly consulting screens and core rule books. Every creature has its THACO and Experience Points right there. If it has any special attacks or defenses they will also be briefly explained. Spells and magic items are similarly explained. There are also 8 pregenerated characters that can also be used as NPC's if needed. We are calling these "READY-TO-ROLL" adventures. So far we have heard nothing but good things about this concept.

You were able to get (TSR alum) Jeff Easley to do the artwork for this product. How did that come about, and what was it like working with him?

DH: My brother and I have known Mr. Easley for several years now. He has always been one of our favorite D&D/fantasy artists. We collect original published D&D artwork and have purchased several pieces from Jeff over the years. After explaining our goal of producing old-school D&D adventures he agreed to do all the artwork for the module. My first intention was just to let Jeff read the first draft of the module and draw whatever he wanted. He did the cover artwork this way (and we love it) but he was busy with several other projects at the time so I was kind of thrust into the role of "Art Director". I went through the module and came up with a list of illos and approximate sizes then emailed it to Jeff. A few weeks later I got a package in the mail with all the artwork. Working with Jeff was great and a learning experience as well. We hope to have him do more for us in the future.

What do you think makes for a good adventure design?

DH: I have always liked adventures that combine a little intrigue with some good old-fashioned dungeon crawling. An adventure shouldn't feel so linear that the players feel like they are just characters in a story. If thought out well an adventure will keep the characters moving along without hints or direction from the DM. I also prefer modules that can be played in one or two gaming sessions, especially when the PC's are still at a low level.

There's been a bit of a flap regarding your use of "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" on the product. Did that response catch you off guard, and do you plan do anything about it in future editions/products?

DH: Actually the module had been for sale about a month before I heard anything negative about the use of "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" on the cover. It really was only a few people complaining on one forum but it stirred up a lot of interest in the module. Before the "controversy" I had sold almost 200 copies of the 250 I had printed. This was by posting on several D&D collector/player sites and by having a booth at the GenCon gaming convention. After the complaints hit I sold the last 50 modules in just a couple of days. Any publicity is good publicity it seems. I think we are so small that WotC wouldn't even bother with a "Cease and Desist" letter even if we hadn't planned on changing the cover a bit.

How do you see the pool of gamers for old-school products growing? Is there anything the community or hobby could be doing that it isn't doing now, or anything that could be done better?

DH: We have seen a trend in the last decade or so, especially since we collect D&D and watch ebay all the time. People who used to play D&D back in the 70's, 80's, and even the early 90's, are getting to the age where they have settled down and have a bit of spare income. They remember the fun they had playing the old 1st/2nd Edition D&D and AD&D games. They hit ebay looking to buy the D&D titles they had in their youth and discover there is so much more out there. Some just buy to collect but many more are starting to play as well. I don't think we will be converting many 3rd or 4th Edition players to 1st Edition, but you never know.

What's next for Die Cast Games?

DH: Right now I am working on a few changes to make the second printing of TSR1 less of a legal target ("Advanced Dwarves Nymphs and Dinosaurs" anyone?). The PDF version is already available but the final printed version will be different from that. I am also working on writing the most "realistic" cavern adventure possible. No stroll through a wimpy corridor-like cave here : ) I used to do a bit of "caving" in my youth, and every time I see a cavern in an adventure I laugh to myself at how unreal they are.

Our plans are to release 3 or 4 products in a year. We are more of a quality over quantity bunch.

--Thanks, Devon! Best of luck going forward, and thank you for taking the time to answer the questions! -ZH

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Season 2 Episode 15 Of RPG Circus Now Available!

While I'm thinking of it, if you need some audio accompaniment for that Sunday chore time/nap time/lazy time (or the commute to work tomorrow), check out Season 2 Episode 15 of the RPG Circus podcast. In this show, we take some time to recap Gen Con, then feature an interview Jeff & Mark did with Michael Wolf of Stargazer's World! Enjoy!

PDF Survey Results Revealed!

Thanks to those of you who clicked/voted on the poll I put up last week. We received 278 votes on the following question:

How Much Value Does A RPG Publisher Adding A Free PDF With A Print Purchase Add For You?

Bearing in mind that you're naturally going to have more pdf adherents online, I still found the results interesting:

143 respondents, or 51%, voted for A Lot.

74 respondents, or 26%, voted for Some.

20 respondents, or 7%, voted for Not Much.

20 respondents, or 7%, voted for Negligible.

8 respondents, or 2%, voted for I Don't Use PDFs.

13 respondents, or 4%, voted for I Only Use PDFs.

Results aside, I sincerely hope we see more companies jump on board ideas such as Bits and Mortar. It will help me in supporting both small press companies and my worthy local gaming store, while getting a better bang for my buck in the process.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

101 Fantasy Games That Aren’t Pathfinder or D&D (With Links)

Recently, we’ve had a bit of discussion on the site about how there doesn’t always seem to be a lot of coverage of games other than D&D, its clones/cousins, or Pathfinder in the RPG blogging community. I think it depends where you look, and while a list of 101 fantasy RPGs (many of which are still supported!) I named mostly off the top of my head (I know we could add plenty more) isn’t really coverage, it was sort of fun to do. So, Happy Saturday, and enjoy clicking away and possibly just finding something you like or haven’t seen before. Rules-heavy, rules-light, indie, established, old, new, and in-between, here they are, in no particular order:

1) Pendragon
2) Barbarians of Lemuria
3) Chronica Feudalis
4) Rolemaster Classic (& FRP)
5) Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies
6) Shadow, Sword, & Spell
7) Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits!
8) Dominion Rules
9) Tunnels & Trolls
10) The Prince’s Kingdom
11) Mongoose RuneQuest
12) Epic Role Playing
13) Palladium Fantasy Role Playing
14) Jaws of the Six Serpents
15) All For One: Règime Diabolique
16) Burning Wheel
17) HârnMaster
18) Questers of the Middle Realms
19) Warrior, Rogue, & Mage
20) Lejendary Adventure
21) Mouse Guard
22) A+ Fantasy
23) Anima: Beyond Fantasy
24) Chivalry & Sorcery
25) Warhammer Fantasy 3rd Edition
26) Eldritch
27) A Song of Ice And Fire (Green Ronin)
28) 7th Sea
29) Maelstrom
30) Wayfarers
31) Hackmaster: Basic
32) MERP
33) Empire of the Petal Throne
34) RuneQuest II
35) Earthdawn
36) The Shadow of Yesterday
37) Artesia
38) Dungeonslayers
39) Arduin
40) Conspiracy of Shadows
41) WEGS Old Skool
42) Roma Imperious
43) The Fantasy Trip
44) Amber
45) HARP
46) GURPS Fantasy
47) Legend of the Five Rings
48) HeroQuest
49) Eldritch Ass Kicking
50) Forward…to Adventure!
51) Grimm
52) Talislanta
53) Iron Gauntlets
54) Advanced Fighting Fantasy
55) Rune Stryders
56) Deliria
57) Reign
58) BASH! Fantasy Edition
59) Swords of the Middle Kingdom
60) Ars Magica
61) Tales of Gaea
62) The Dying Earth
63) Dragon Warriors
64) Sengoku (also Diceless)
65) ZeFRS
66) Fantasy Craft
67) Aeternal Legends
68) Zenobia
69) 54-Fantasy
70) The Riddle of Steel
71) The Deryni Adventure Game (FUDGE)
72) AGON
73) d6 Fantasy
74) Dragon Age
75) Stormbringer
76) Savage Worlds (Fantasy Companion)
77) Adventures In Oz
78) Battleaxe
79) Book of Jalan
80) Dragonlance: Fifth Age (SAGA)
81) A Game of Thrones Roleplaying (Tri-Stat)
82) Broadsword
83) Faery’s Tale Deluxe
84) Donjon
85) Cadwallon
86) Seven Leagues
87) Runeslayers
88) Atlantis: The Second Age
89) Dangerous Journeys
90) Dungeon Squad
91) Fantasy Imperium
92) Arrowflight
93) Houses of the Blooded
94) Legendary Tales
95) Swordbearer
96) DragonQuest
97) Fantasy Sagas RPG
98) Eoris Essence
99) Fantasy HERO
100) OpenQuest
101) SenZar

This list in no way suggests there’s anything wrong with Pathfinder or any edition of D&D—I enjoy both myself! But if one of those isn’t scratching your itch, always remember there’s plenty more out there to see.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I Need Some Unique Action Point Counters

OK, readers, I need some help. I’m working on a campaign with a game that uses Action Points. You know, award them to players for various things, and in return they can spend them in the course of play for bonuses and the like.

This isn’t the first time I’ve used Action Points. Before, I’ve used glass beads, skull-shaped beads, paper counters, poker chips, and even candy (bad idea) as Action Points to physically hand out to players. This time, I’d really like to try something new and distinct for an Action Point counter. I don’t really have any specifications, except that I want it to be unique, cool, and easy to fit in a dicebag. I’d probably need about a pool of 50-60 of them, and it’s for a sword-and-sorcery fantasy game, if that helps.

Any ideas or suggestions you have or more than welcome!

WotC To Produce Random Booster Packs of Actual RPG Books

Renton, WA--In a move long expected by industry insiders, gaming company Wizards of the Coast today announced they would be selling random booster packs of Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game books starting this fall.

Wizards, who recently announced that their upcoming Gamma World RPG will have randomized booster packs, decided to double down on their randomization strategy by ceasing standard distribution of rules and sourcebooks for the Dungeons & Dragons line, and instead will be packaging 2-3 rulebooks in an opaque sealed black wrapped with the simple D&D logo on it. A UPC code and price tag ($49.95) are to be the only other markings on the exterior wrapper.

"You might get a Player's Handbook and Monster Manual, you might get three copies of the Eberron Player's Guide--we want every pack of random RPG books to be a mystery," enthused Rand Gregoire, Wizards' Vice-President Of Continual Accessories.

"The thing to remember is that it's all optional--except for the stuff that's 'core'. Which is everything. But it's optional. Except when it isn't".

Above: Random contents of a sample WotC RPG Booster Pack

Gregoire added that books such as the Player's Handbook Races: Dragonborn would be rated as "Common" and in more packs; larger books such as the Dungeon Master's Guide would be marked as "Rare", and the Draconomicon 1 & 2 would be "Ultra-Rare".

"Hey, maybe you'll have a game with Player's Handbook 3, the Player's Strategy Guide, and Hammerfast. You'll never know what you get--we envision players gathering to play, then breaking open their booster packs to see what they have. Three copies of Underdark? Hope you like drow!" Gregoire exclaimed.

Some current fans aren't so sure it's a good idea.

"I love Wizards of the Coast, but I heard they're going to throw in a bunch of old Call of Cthulhu d20 and Wheel of Time RPG copies," said Jonas Gavalt, owner of the Smashing Knight Game Store of Saginaw, Michigan.

"I think if they're going to do it, it should at least be the same ruleset".

However, the plan's supporters far drown out the naysayers.

"Who cares what a bunch of antiquated dinosaurs think?" huffed Ray De Santos, RPGA-certified Dungeon Master and founder of WotCUberAlles.com. "This is the 21st century, baby. Deal with it. If you think about it, it gives the game an old-school vibe--I remember the original D&D had all sorts of random charts and crap, and even something called rolling for stats. This is no different".

If the RPG Booster Packs are successful, Gregoire projected that WotC might expand the practice to their dice packs.

"You might get some d6s, some d8s, some d12, who knows? You might even find an ultra-rare d20. The point is, within a dozen packs, and assuming you pool you resources with friends, you'll have just about everything you'll need to play".


Disclaimer: This isn't a specific dig at 4e or Gamma World. I just read about the booster packs that will be a part of Gamma World, and started wondering what would happen if a company did the same thing with their books. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Epic Game: Can It Still Be Run?

For a while now, I’ve been working on a big campaign. Like really, amazingly, tremendously big. I’m doing a lot of front-loading work on it—it isn’t a total “sandbox” game, but it’s been a pleasure working on handouts, dynasties, and more to give this world much more depth than it would appear at first glance. My goal is to give the players a short primer, and have the world naturally reveal itself through gameplay. We aren’t talking about players having to memorize stacks of dates and names; I’ve learned that lesson before. This is about the feel of depth, and a living world opening up to the players.

There a couple times as a GM, if you’re lucky, where you hit upon something you know would kill. It isn’t so much you want to tell a specific story (as GM, that isn't my job), but you want to put x and y and z in the player’s hands and see them take off with it. You want to see where it ends up as much as they do. And you know—you just know—that if you ran it, and folks were on board, it’d blow what you’ve done before clear out of the water.

I’ve done this sort of game before, actually within the past 2 years. We had a Rolemaster campaign that was epic, and I mean epic. World-spanning conflicts, characters really making the Hero’s Journey, and a massive, desperate conflict the PCs were key parts of, from humble beginnings to the end. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty great. However, that group met every week, with strong attendance. It felt an awful lot like one last huzzah for the sorts of games you’d run in college or the military. Our current group (by design) is more attendance-casual—we’re definitely in majority an older, more settled group, with families and additional obligations.

I absolutely love the gaming group I have right now. They’re enthusiastic, smart, entertaining, and good folks to know. But we have a lax attendance policy, which might be excellent for a West Marches campaign, but won’t fly for the type of game I’m thinking of. It’d be a tighter, more focused game, one that hopefully really grabs the players and won’t let go. It would rely a lot on continuity and continual engagement—in other words, the sort of game a lot of us find we don’t have as much time for anymore.

One option is to just run something else when our attendance dips below, say 80%. But for a gaming group meeting every 2 weeks, that can kill continuity if you miss 2-3 sessions in a row.

There might be a way to figure it out with our current situation, or I might have to accept that you can’t run all styles of games with all groups. It’s waited this long, it can wait a bit longer. I’m still thinking it out, and still need to get some feedback from some of the guys. I might just run it (if I can find time) for a smaller group, or it might bow to other projects. But I hope, eventually, it gets its moment in the sun (or fluorescent lighting in the back of the FLGS). It’s a problem I know other Game Masters struggle with as well as their life circumstances change. But I know it can be done.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bits of News: Diaspora, Oz, and The Tome

I have a couple things I want to cover today, so we'll knock them out one-by-one here:

-According to Fred Hicks on Twitter, Evil Hat Productions will be publishing an softcover version of Diaspora for VSCA, likely in September. Very exciting to see that game flourish as it has!

-Regular RPG Blog 2 reader and Oz fan F. Douglas Wall currently has a sale on his RPG Adventures In Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond The Yellow Brick Road. Through this Saturday, August 21st (Princess Ozma's birthday, I am reliably told), the price on the book drops from $14.99 to $9.99. I've been rereading some of the Oz series lately, and they're tremendous fun.

-The Tome, the new wiki for new resources for Shadow, Sword, & Spell, is up and open for business. I'll be sending a few more of my creations along presently. It's a bit bare right now, but it won't be for long, I'm sure.

Organizing And Cleaning Up The RPG Collection

I've been working on cleaning up my RPG collection, and it's not always easy. Our games usually end at midnight, which mean I have the terrible habit of stuffing papers away into whatever books or folders are handy as I try to get ready to head home from the local gaming store.

So, once or twice a year, I like to clean out my bookshelves, which become a sort of placeholder area for all the half-finished maps and campaign notes I have during the year. Books get out of order, and at times I need to scour other bookshelves in the house to see precisely where my copy of Keep on the Borderlands or Lacuna ended up.

The reason I like to clean up my RPG bookshelves are that I like to make sure I haven't lost anything, like to rediscover session notes I thought were lost, and I like to have a clean reference space for my game and campaign writing. Here's a few of the bullet points I have this year as I clean things up:

-Pack away stuff I'm not using. A rule I started this year is that if I haven't cracked open the book in the past year, it's probably just taking up room right now. I have a nice, secure plastic tub to store these books away in.

-Use some folders. I have long had an accordion file for character sheets for the various systems I use. I've begun doing the same by game/system for my notes as well, and am making a conscious effort to file things away as soon as I get home from gaming

-Space for miniatures. I'm working on clearing an entire shelf where I can organize my paper minis and terrain. Right now, I have this all sort of bunched together in a bag, and I'd like to change that.

-Off To Half-Price Books With Ye. A number of games haven't been touched in the better part of a decade, and I doubt they ever will. I have some old Heroes Unlimited titles that fit this bill perfectly. I guess I'll see what I can get for them at the nearest discount bookstore chain.

-A spot for future expansion. As my RPG core rules purchasing slow down and turns to picking up accessories for the games I want to run/play, I need a spot for the Hirst molds, larger minis terrain, and plastic minis I'd like to pick up sometime in the future.

One thing that strikes me as I do this is how much smaller my physical RPG collection is from 3-4 years ago. A number of RPGs I own only via pdf now, and the number of games actually on my shelf is much smaller as I've come to the realization I have more games than I'll ever be able to play. My RPG collecting has become more deliberate, more measured, as reality and three kids dictate, and I've been left with a smaller, meaner, collection. But that collection has been refined through the fire, so to speak, and what's left is Grade-A gamer goodness.

I'm curious, do you ever do any "spring" or "fall" cleaning to your RPG collection?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We’re Pretty Lucky

Yesterday, as I was cleaning up my RPG collection (more on that tomorrow) I was thinking about all the different kinds of D&D I have on my shelf. I’ve got my old D&D Rules Cyclopedia sitting next to a copy of Swords & Wizardry. My old 3.5 D&D core books (and the couple of supplements I've kept from that edition) sit next to the Pathfinder core rulebook. Every single one of those product is support with print and pdf products, if I want them. I know my friends that enjoy 4e can say the same. Kobold Quarterly, Knockspell, Fight On!—the quality support doesn’t end. And that’s not counting newer favorites, such as the awesome Chronica Feudalis: Blue Knight Edition, Warrior, Rogue, & Mage, and Shadow, Sword & Spell. I don’t need to look far for support or a game to play.

And to top it all off, a bag of Gamescience dice sits next to it all, infused with the implied precision-edge blessing of Louis Zocchi himself, ready to be broken out on the table at a moment's notice.

Yep, it’s a pretty awesome time to be a gamer, regardless of your edition of choice.

Are GM Screens Outdated?

I had an interesting discussion with James Maliszewski and some other folks over at the new Shadow, Sword & Spell Yahoo! Group. The discussion (in part) was over the use of GM Screens, and whether they were still largely used.

I know for many players who reject the traditional model of a powerful Game Master, the GM screen probably seem like an Iron Curtain, some vestige hearkening back to player oppression or somesuch. Certainly I think they are less prevalent in groups with an emphasis on shared narrative control and the like.

Me? I’m a pretty traditional GM, as are most of the guys who take turns running in my group. I don’t always need a GM screen, especially for lighter games, but in general I like to have one when I’m running. It helps hide my maps, my notes, communications to/from other players, as well as work as a staging area. The front side can also work as an information space for the rest of the group.

I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with choosing to use or not use a GM’s screen, but I think they’re still utilized by a majority of gaming groups. I think we sometimes get a skewed version of what the rest of the hobby is doing from being online, but I don’t know. Do you still use one? Am I, along with my Gygax-autographed Castles & Crusades screen (so the players know Gary Approves, of course) a relic?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Serious Risus

I love the humorous, rules-light Risus RPG by S. John Ross, but I must confess, until this past weekend, I'd never seen Serious Risus, a Risus supplement by Lars Erik Larsen. As the name suggests, Serious Risus is intended to assist in utilizing Risus with more "serious" settings.

That seems like a bit of an oxymoron to me, but then again, Risus is deceptively flexible. Risus fans can check it out and see if it adds anything to their game.

Setting And Enforcing Campaign Limitations

Good morning! First, if you haven't voted in the poll to the right of the page there, please take a minute to do so. As I said, think of it as helping me either win or lose a drinking bet.

Today I want to discuss a bit about limiting campaigns. One of the topics that came up in our GM's Jam this year at Gen Con was a group playing in Dark Sun had a character who wanted to play a character who was all Lawful Good giggles and sunshine. If you know anything about Dark Sun--well, let's put it in pictorial terms for those unfamiliar with the setting--

Do you see why that might not work? And I think we've all known that person who wants to play a ninja every time, be the setting Midnight, Greyhawk, or Robotech.

In any case, if a player is wanting to play something that flat-out doesn't exist in a campaign world, it can cause a number of issues, including throwing off the feel the GM is trying to set for the campaign, making the player in question feel useless or undervalued, and potentially be a distraction from the main offerings a specific campaign setting offers.

When you see this pop up, there are a few potential reasons it's likely happened:

1) The Game Master did not adequately express the boundaries of character creation in relation to the features and limitations of the world,

2) The player in question was given the expected limitations, but disregarded or did not understand them,


3) The Game Master allowed an exception for a character concept that turned out to be problematic.

I myself have been guilty of #3 in the past, as one of my most shamefaced moment as a Game Master came when I absentmindedly assented to a player's request to be a half-elf in a world that quite firmly had no half-elves. Add in the general distrust and revulsion elves were privy to from humans in that world, and you have an incident I am still teased about to this day.

If your player insists on wanting to play a pixie fairy in Dark Sun, or a satanic biker in the Forgotten Realms (actually, that might work), it's probably a given they either don't know much about the setting or expect the setting to bend to accommodate said characters. If you aren't dearly attached to the setting at hand, you might consider choosing another setting that will let them play something they want and have it fit a bit better. Or, you might just tell them it won't work, and they need to come up with something more in line with whatever it is you're running. Most issues like this can be resolved during a group character generation, when peer review and brainstorming can help decide and define the tone for the campaign to come.

Really, as a Game Master, here's what you need to do in this situation:

1) Look to yourself first; make sure you explained what the setting's all about before character generation. If you didn't, do so next time, and before you go any further, explain it to the group now. If you allowed the problematic exception, you need to own up to it, before anything.

2) Examine your campaign setting. Are you stuck on Greyhawk, or were you just running it because it was handy? Is there really no room for this character in the setting? Would it ruin what you and the other players are trying to do, be it dark fantasy, sword-and-sorcery, or light pulp? Is there room to tweak things? If not, you need to go to the individual in question and help sort it out.

3) Take positive control. Don't waste their time having them roll and run a character that won't fit the game. I think we all know it'll be a bad end sooner or later, in that case. Explain why the character idea with the setting won't work, and suggest alternatives.

4) Be The GM: If they still aren't willing to work with you and the campaign, then you need to be the Game Master you signed on to be. Talk it over with the group, if that's your style, but handle the situation. Maybe they need to sit this one out, or maybe the group will find something else. One thing's for sure: ignoring it will just make the gaming unsatisfying all around in the long run.

Like so many things, this issue can be resolved 9 times out of 10 with proper communication before the game, but whether it pops up then or later, it's up to you as the Game Master to see things put right.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fortified Manor: A New Free PDF

The brains at the excellent lythia.com have created a new free pdf of a fortified manor, suitable for most fantasy campaigns. Within are floor plans, player and GM maps, and adventure hooks. As usual from lythia.com, you're getting professional-grade stuff for free. Download it and give it a look, and check out some of their other stuff while you're at it.

Gen Con 2010 GM's Jam Video Available!

Jeff at our podcast RPG Circus has finally defeated the goblins that plagued his efforts, and the Gen Con 2010 GM's Jam video is up! Well done, Jeff! He had to splice it together from two different sources, so I'm amazed we have any video at all. You can check it out here--the video/sound quality undergoes a shift at about the one hour mark, so be warned. Jeff vows he'll return next year with better equipment, but I'm just happy we have anything.

The panel consisted of myself, Phil Vecchione of Gnome Stew, Josh Dalcher from Stupid Ranger, Jeff Uurtamo of the Bone Scroll and RPG Circus, and Mark Meredith of Dice Monkey and RPG Circus. Spotted at various intervals are bloggers and good folk like Odyssey from How To Start A Revolution In 21 Days Or Less (she totally scooped me on recommending the West Marches for sandboxing!), Trollsmyth, Micah from Obsidian Portal, and of course, Michael Wolf of Stargazer's World (who was on camera duty for the last 30 minutes of the video).

Enjoy, and thanks again to all those who participated! It was a very full room this year!