Monday, September 27, 2010

Remote Group Chargen

Our (somewhat new) group in my neck of the woods is starting a new Pathfinder campaign this Friday, and we aren't doing our normal "group character generation for the first session" routine.  Instead, we're doing

I wouldn't have tried this when I ran Rolemaster, but Pathfinder is close enough to the game most of us played at least a bit in the last 10 years that it hasn't been a problem thus far.  There's been a lot of texting back and forth, and we've got some long email chains going.  Miraculously, I think we even have our party:

-Human Bard (Archivist variant from the Advanced Player's Guide--that's me)
-Human Monk
-Half-Elf Summoner
-Gnome Rogue
-Human Cleric
-Human Oracle

It's a case of group chargen without being face-to-face.  It feels like everyone is really excited and involved so far.  Ideas are being bounced off, we're trying to get an idea for everyone's niches, and I was able to get some good feedback for my backstory.  I'm definitely excited to be actually playing instead of GMing again, and everyone seems pretty content with the system being used. 

I think we've also been helped by the online resources available.  The Pathfinder Online Reference Document and Wiki have been excellent tools, and I know I'm not the only one using them. It's also nice to have the Paizo message boards for questions that might arise.  Again, Paizo's fan-friendliness is a definite asset in deciding to use Pathfinder.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Fantasy Sandbox in Detail Part XVII

Part XVI

This is the seventeenth in a series detailing the 34 steps I recommended for making a Fantasy Sandbox Campaign. Today's post will cover part of the following step.
Pick the starting population locale and draw a full page map of the settlement. This is the "Home Base"
From Step VIII
0403 Mikva (castle, town) Human
This is a small castle town of 800 humans with several dozen Dwarves and Halflings. The castle itself sits on a bluff overlooking the bay. It is the seat of the current Baron of Piall, Argus Gervon. A several trading vessels stop here every week to pick up ingots from Southpoint. Before the fall monsoon season dozens of traders put in at Mikva to attend the Piall Fair. Here the island’s grain, and more importantly wool is traded for goods and supplies needed for the next year.

Currently the King’s Sheriff Tomar Revan is staying at the one of the wealthiest merchants in Mikva; the Honorable Orlon Beras. The Sheriff is currently using offices at the Mikva Trading Hall to conduct his investigation and any other Royal business. There is considerable tension between Baron Argus and the Sheriff.

For this post I will go step by step about how I create a town map. Roughly these are the steps I do for hand maps as well.

First I start with a blank hex map. I use .28 inch hexes at 40 feet per hex. This gives enough coverage to draw towns and villages. For cities I go a larger page size.

I start by turning the Coast layer and drawing in the coast line. At this level rivers are considered coasts as well. Streams, if any are drawn as lines on a separate layer. I try to make the coast line a complete shape that can be filled with white. The coast layer is above the hex layer.

Next I toggle on the water layer and put down a page size rectangle of 20% gray. I copy the coast I drew and copy it to a ground layer beneath the Hex layer. I fill it with white. You may want to look at River Secrets and adding a glow effect for shallow water.

Next I add in vegetations by drawing areas and filling them in with various terrain fills. I also added some cliff and steep contours. Finally put in cropland. By now you should be getting a sense of how the physical layout will turn out. All this on the vegetation layer and below the hex layer.

Next I add walls which are a major constraints on how a town is developed. For Mikva I choose to go with an early version of Chepstow Castle. I added wooden palisades. The reasoning is that Mikva isn't wealthy enough to build town walls but does wish to control access to the market. Hence a wooden palisade. All this goes on the Wall layer which is above the Hex layer.

Now all this is beginning to enough to suggest a network of road. I do this in two stage. First I just focus on the major roads. Later after I place the buildings I will work on minor roads. All of these are lines and filled shapes at 40% gray. The road layer lies above the hex layer.

I then take the population and divide it by 5 to a rough idea of how many building I will need. This comes from assuming there is an average of 5 people per household. This works out to 160 or so. Because Mikva is still developing as a town I decided that is about half are individual buildings. Most mud and whattle huts. I don't keep an exact count as long as I get close. What I care about is that it looks dense and big enough for the population.

All this goes on the building layer above the hex layer. Next I finished up the paths by looking at the placement of the buildings. I leave the keying of the map for later after I complete the next several steps of detailing the town.

By computer or by hand you will have a map showing the home base of the players.

Of course many of you are wondering what the heck is going on and why this post is here. Well I was wandering around and since some folks have been having trouble distinguishing Bat in the Attic from The RPG Blog 2 I thought it would be just as well that I drop it off here.

Thanks to Zach for agreeing to this. He and I don't collaborate often but it is always fun when we do. (Thanks again for having me on the podcast). So I hope you, everybody else, and especially Jim enjoy our little prank.

That it for part XVII next is Part XVIII where we go into further detail about the town of Mikva and return back to the Attic.

(Thanks, Rob! -Zachary)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Just A Thought...

How much campaign and session time would be saved or more productive if Game Masters stood up during rules arguments and said, "Hey, this is how it's going to be, we'll review the rule between sessions, now move on".  That's such a small thing and a simple piece of advice, but it seems we often let our games devolve into 10 minutes of page-turning here, or 15 minutes of arguing over the meaning of rule 1.2.3 there.

A Game Master is there to adjudicate or referee as needed.  That's what we should be doing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Character Concept: Lieutenant Jon Percivale

I'm working on a character for an upcoming Pathfinder game.  The idea is centered around a skill-monkey Bard with the optional Archivist variant from the Pathfinder Advanced Player's Guide (less prancing, more research).

This is a pretty tortured guy, who, before he went down the path of the pen and scroll, was party to a horrible atrocity of war.  I wanted to explain the fact that this guy is a nice guy, but he's got some serious demons in his past.  I also wanted to explain some of his (only adequate) martial proficiencies, so it didn't seem so odd.  Here's the first draft I sent to the Game Master, hopefully with lots of good hooks for him:

Jon Percivale? Yeah, I served with him. Oh, not so much as an equal; my father was a failing tanner, his was an upper-class, well-to-do miller. When the problems with the succession hit Carse, I joined the Guardsmen as a simple trooper, and was grateful of the chance. Through his father, Percivale gained a commission as a Lieutenant, like so many other educated, second sons of wealthy families.

Being a member of the Guard wasn’t bad; we kept order on the roads outside the city, and what few rebels forces we encountered generally fled before us. When the Captain caught the bloody flux, Percivale took over the company. With him was the Color Sergeant, Jurrin Welche.

We hated Welche. He had transferred in to the unit for reasons unknown, and was a black-hearted, sadistic soul. He’d whip you if you so much as coughed near his tent. All the lads despised the sight of him, but he outranked us all, save Percivale. At least Percivale was kind and understanding, with an eye towards the welfare of his soldiers. He was also an inspirational leader, ready with the right speech to cheer up us soldiers or spur us on when it was needed.

By then, I was a corporal, and right proud of it. But the troubles of the Succession had spread, and our unit was called to battle. Titan’s Field wasn’t the largest battle of the war, but it was enough for me. We were ordered into a desperate charge, and…well, you don’t forget something like that. Men and horses died together in gouts of blood. The world seemed to go mad, and all I remember is hacking at whoever was in my way, desperate to escape through a crimson field of vision. We lost half of our men before it was all over, and many more would die of wounds along the trail. We numbered less than two dozen on the road back to Carse, bloody and broken.

Percivale took it the hardest, I think. He was our commander, and under his watch, we had been slaughtered. He rode in a daze, not responding to any.

Then there was The Bridge. A band of supporters of the Pretender, scarlet armbands still in place on some, poorly armored, perhaps only 3 or 4 weapons in the entire group. But there were others—old men and women, younger maids, and a few men on crutches, ex-soldiers who would fight no more.

They only wished to flee, of course. We didn’t know then that the battle had reversed course, and the Pretender lay dead upon the field, the rebellion crushed.

But that didn’t matter to Color Sergeant Welche. He rode to the front, and demanded of Percivale that he attack the refugee column. I began to ride to his side, but with an inarticulate howl of rage, Percivale drew his sword. That was all it took, for the troops did the rest. In a few minutes, dozens of refugees—traitors, they would say—lay dead upon the ground. I saw no one escape, except a young boy, no more than 10. He cowered under The Bridge, hidden, but as I rode down the slope, his eye caught mine. I never said a word, nor do I know what became of him. It is the only thing, I think, that may keep me from eternal damnation. Lieutenant Percivale was standing over a slain soldier, still screaming. I’ve heard creatures in the night, evil creatures most fat, comfortable townsmen will nervously call myth, but I’ve never heard anything so full of pure hatred and madness as that sound.

That was nearly a decade ago. We came home to Carse not heroes exactly, but respected for our part in crushing the Pretender’s Rebellion. Jon Percivale left the city not long after. A few years ago, while doing a stint as a caravan guard in Torm, I saw him, as a scholar, looking genial, pleasant, and well-kept, carrying a massive tome through the street towards an unknown destination.

I don’t know what gods you pray to, mister, but it was no coincidence that he froze in the street, turned, and looked right at me. He seemed to know me at once, and such a look of combined rage, sadness, and regret came over his features that I shuddered.

Apparently, Jon Percivale became a scholar. I learned while in the city that he was a peaceful, friendly man, who often plied his alchemical craft and a few petty cantrips he’d learned for the benefit of the less fortunate of the city. He was a regular dinner guest at the table of the Lord Mayor, and was often brightly talking about some great work he was writing. The people in that city seemed to genuinely like him, and were sad he had announced he was leaving for the north—more research to be done, he said.

A man can survive just about anything. But the scars never go away. And you can paint a black soul white for as long as you can manage, but it doesn’t change the fact of damnation, doesn’t it?

It always goes back to that Bridge, for me, that blood-covered Bridge. And in the nightmares that always come, Lieutenant Jon Percivale screams forever.

Monday, September 20, 2010

When I Imagine D&D... (And What It Felt Like)

I know I'm several days late on this meme, but my first thought of D&D is always this:

That was my first real intro to D&D, and I still regard as the great single-volume RPG rules compilation ever published.  And I will (rubber) knife fight you over it.

Nowadays, the term "D&D" brings a couple of other games to mind, as well:

D&D's gone beyond one company or edition. We're way past that now, I think. It's an interchangable terms not just for AD&D 1e or D&D 4e, but for Pathfinder, Swords & Wizardry, Castles & Crusades, or other spinoffs, retro-clones, and cousins.  Each of these is Dungeons & Dragons to someone!

What did my games feel like back in the day?  Some of you may not get this, but it was a lot like this:

I'm betting many of your games, did, too, whether you know it or not.  A somewhat unwieldy, comfortable, intermittently brilliant, familiar, not-too-balanced, cobbling of rules.  It's here, for those that want a closer look.

(EDIT: Had some image link issues.  Whoops--should be fixed).

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Deepest Part of the Ocean

Check out these creatures from some of the deeper depths of the ocean.  I definitely think some of these would make the grade as worthy of the Monster Manual.

Happy Friday, and I hope to be back up to full speed next week!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pathfinder 3rd-Party Support?

OK, looking at Pathfinder, are there any 3rd-party supplements I should definitely check out in anticipation of an upcoming PFRPG game? Now’s your chance for maximum pimpage of you know of something cool. I’m already all over Legendary Blades (Purple Duck) and the amazingly useful SORD Pf. I’m also peeking at IPG’s line of stuff. What else?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Guest Poster: YouTube: The D&D Monster Man

I am currently under the weather on top of everything I have to do, but hang in there: YouTube's got this one.

It's the D&D Monster Man!

How many Monster Manual baddies could you impersonate (even poorly) off the top of your head?

And yes, these are theguys behind the epic John Madden, Dungeon Master.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Autumn Gaming

With the main of convention season over, things are shifting down a bit in the RPG blogosphere. The big summer releases have largely passed, and PAX, Origins, and Gen Con are in the books. The official start of fall is right around the corner, and I couldn't be happier.

In a lot of ways, this is a good time of year if you’re looking for something a bit off the beaten path. Gaming groups that took the summer off are reforming, and in areas where there are colleges and universities, the gamer demographic is solidly back in town. In the next couple of months, the weather will turn cooler, and some folks will turn back towards the great indoors. People have had time to read those Gen Con purchases, and might be ready to run a game of something new they picked up.

Make no mistake about it, fall is a great time for gaming. If your game world is coming up to autumn, it can be time for various harvest festivals, or time to let conscript soldiers return home in time to help with that harvest?  Want to mess with an enemy land?  Snatch those crops, just as they're being harvested, or hit the enemy when they're weakened by furlough.  Mind your own forces, though: they need to eat, too, and their homeland has fields as well.

Higher up, in the mountains, winter and freezing weather will settle in early.  If you've got a far distance to go, I hope your party already started out.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Red Box Report

I heard from one of my old Air Force buddies today, one who's loving life in a cozy assignment in Florida just now.  This guy's a long-time Rolemaster and D&D 3.5 player, and was part of one of the most campaigns I ever ran.  Our gaming tastes are a lot alike, from Rolemaster/MERP to the joy that is Traveller, and I respect his opinions on RPGs deeply.

Anyhow, the conversation turned towards the new D&D Essentials boxed set, and I asked him if he'd played it yet.  He said he had--apparently, one of the guys in his shop down there is a big Wizards of the Coast fan, and rounded everyone up for a quick one-shot.

To my surprise, he said it wasn't too bad.  He said 4e still wasn't his cup of tea, but he appreciated and respected how WotC was going about trying to get gamers in with the new line.  It was a pretty straightforward introduction to some of the tenets that mark 4th Edition D&D, and of course he appreciated the retro cover.

Perhaps the comment that struck me the most is how he wished WotC had taken this approach from the get-go with 4e.  Like me, he found the original Keep on the Shadowfell a poorly-designed module and intro to the game.  A couple of years later, and here we are.

I haven't read or heard anything about Essentials that makes me want to give it a shot, but I too appreciate the sentiment behind it, at least for the Boxed Set. It sounds like some other folks are taking notice as well.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sci-Fi Saturday: Tractor Beams, Klingons, and Wrasslin'

Whether it's the upcoming revision of Thousand Suns, or the goodness of StarCluster 3, I've got sci-fi, and a bit of science, on the brain today.  Here are three awesome articles for your enjoyment:

Scientists Create Actual Tractor Beam: Ok, so it can't be used in the void of space.  But it's still progress, darn it.

Klingon Space Opera:  No, no, not "Space Opera".  Space. Opera.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy-Themed Wrestlers: Paging Jeff Rients: are any of these guys in your Cinder campaign?  If not, why not?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Guest Post: Don’t Be A Dick

Michael Wolf of Stargazer's World was kind enough to do a guest post today.  Here it is!

As some of you probably know “Don’t Be A Dick” is also known as Wheaton’s Law. And even though it was meant as a rule for people playing games online, it’s still valid at the gaming table - perhaps even more so.

The problem usually arises at character creation. While everyone creates a more or less good-aligned character willing to work with the group, there’s always that guy who just has to be the evil-aligned loner type that backstabs you the moment you least expect this. In most cases this ruins the game for everyone.

“But I am just playing my character” is usually the response you get, when you confront that guy after the session. And of course he’s true, but does playing one’s character be detrimental to everyone else’s enjoyment of the game? I don’t think so.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely believe playing an evil character in a group of goody two-shoes can work, if done right. But most people think evil means you have to backstab your party members, kill any NPC on sight, poison the wells and salt the fields. But evil is not stupid. Playing a truly evil character is much more complex than that.

So if you really want to play an evil character, think more about his motivations and how he can achieve those within the group. Don’t try to make everyone else’s life miserable. Even an evil guy sometimes needs the help of others to achieve his goal. But being a dick, especially to your fellow player characters, is not the way to go. If you can’t pull of your character without alienating your group, don’t play it. Trust me, it’s not worth it.

By the way, being a dick is not something evil characters have a monopoly on. Even worse are players who think being lawful-good allows them to behave almost in the same way. Beheading your fellow group member because you suspect him of being an evil-doer is not the right way to make friends...

What I am trying to say is that you should always try to create characters that can work within a team. Of course everyone is allowed to have his own agenda, but try to avoid choosing a goal that doesn’t work within a group. Roleplaying games are social games and everyone around the game table has a better time if you just try not to be a dick!

P.S.: At Gen Con when Zachary ran Shadow, Sword & Spell for us, I experienced one of the rare occasions where someone managed to pull off to play a total dick without ruining the game for everyone. Heck, I think he even made it more enjoyable for the rest of us. But I think this worked a) because it was a one-shot game and b) he was a pretty good roleplayer. Don’t try this at home kids, we’re professionals. ;)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thoughts On An Upcoming Pathfinder Campaign

I know we likely have a Pathfinder campaign coming up for my gaming group sometime in the future, and for me, it’s a mixed bag. Don’t get me wrong; I respect Paizo, and am pretty darn pleased with how Pathfinder turned out. But I also wonder how deep or complex our campaign is going to be?

I’m definitely not a rules lawyer; in fact, I basically consider them the scourge of good gaming. Pathfinder builds on Dungeons & Dragons 3.x, which was a fairly moderately rules-intense game, supporting a level of system mastery. However, I’m not interested in waiting all day to look up rules, or waiting while someone proves that page xx actually says what they’re saying it says. I also don’t want to spend all day calculating whether or not bonuses stack.

It’s an age-old struggle for me, as I’ve stated before—the comfort of rules support versus the speed and ease of rules-light play. It’s one of the reasons I can love Rolemaster and Risus well and equally, because each gives me something I want.

There’s an easy, understandable game in Pathfinder; otherwise I wouldn’t be looking forward to playing it. You can say it with any system, but ultimately it comes down to the GM and the group, and how much book-digging and arguing over rules they want to do in play. For us, I hope it comes down to very little. Honestly, I think with so many years of d20 under our collective belts, it shouldn’t be a difficult goal.

Ultimately, my goal is to get the Game Master for our Pathfinder campaign to use Rolemaster’s Arms Law as a critical hit system with Pathfinder. If we’re going to have a decent amount of rules, let’s make sure and get some really good bits in there.  Actually, if anyone knows of a good optional critical hit system for use with Pathfinder, let me know.  But it better stack up well against Arms Law.  And none of this "roll to confirm" crap.  We don't do instant replay.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Types of Supplements We Like Most

Looking through my pdf collection, it occurs to me that while I enjoy RPGs that are self-contained and don’t need a ton of splats to be playable or feel complete, I definitely went through a stage of picking up a lot of supplements during the height of the d20 craze. Most of those books are now gone, and my supplements for systems such as Castles & Crusades and Pathfinder are few indeed. It takes a lot more to make it on my shelf these days, apparently.
I think that the types of supplements I’ve enjoyed most are collections of magical items. The Encyclopedia Magica, for example, was a tremendous amount of fun, because I could flip to a random page and find something like a Rope of Ladder Enhancement. Perhaps only a small percent of those items ever saw the light of day in one of my campaigns, but the Encyclopedia Magica still ranks up there as one of my favorite supplements.

Equipment guides also seems to find their way to my shelf. Iron Crown’s …And A 10-Foot Pole is still the best equipment supplement I’ve ever used, but the 3.5e Arms & Equipment Guide found its way to my shelf early on. So did Palladium’s weapon books. I don’t know why, but long lists of weapons, trade goods, daily necessities and the like have always held a bit of a fascination for me.

Bestiaries? Not so much. I had the requisite Monster Manual, of course, but I’ve never needed a lot of baddies. I usually end up repurposing the ones in the main monster book, or creating/generating my own terrible creations. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a lovely mix of terrible beasties, but I don’t seem to support it with the wallet, either.

Other items like campaign settings (love the map, enjoy perusing the settings, but sort of have my own thing going on, unless it’s some tremendous like Hellfrost), new classes/feats/races (if it’s too exotic it probably won’t get used; if it’s another kind of elf, I don’t care), and spellbooks (I don’t play a lot of magic users, and new spells usually need to be at least nominally checked out before being allowed) have seen spot purchasing here and there.

Really, a format now largely lacking that I miss are the old Rolemaster Companions. They might have a few new races, a couple new classes, new spell lists, skills, etc., etc., all in one tome. The closest thing to this I’ve seen recently is the Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide, but you also want to be sure with this sort of product that you aren’t superseding or causing tons of rules updates in the original core product.

Of course, there are also GURPS supplements such as Age of Napoleon or Scarlet Pimpernel, I don’t use the GURPS system, but their sourcebooks are golden nonetheless.

So what about you? What sorts of supplements have you favored over the years?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Risk and Reward In Gaming

There's been an awful lot written regarding Game Mastering advice over the years, and some of it is very, very involved, and goes quite in depth.  I think at times we can miss some of the simpler, more direct tools for helping to promote good GMing, and we get too bogged down in the abstract and the complex.

One of the things I was thinking about was in regards to Risk and Reward in gaming.  Looking back at my earlier days of GMing, I used to run the super-easy, "Monty Haul"-type games.  No shame in it; I'm sure a lot of us did.  I threw out rune weapons left and right, even when I wasn't playing Rifts.  Base kobold raiders were sources of uncountable fortunes in gems and gold.  Even the lowliest mold or slime usually had a few invaluable tomes to give up.  It was like the players were in a card game with a $10 million jackpot, only the card game was 52-Card Pickup.

When the pendulum swung the other way, it swung hard.  Suddenly, everything was grim n' gritty.  I was a Killer DM.  A character couldn't take a leak without saving vs. death.  Every seemingly innocuous roadside inn was trapped, and every proffered dish poison.  Fortunately, I got called on this junk early, and it was a short phase. 

It took me an embarrassingly long time to understand that most players want appropriate challenges.  They don't mind the tough stuff, so long as there's an appropriate pay-off.  As Jeff Rients once said, "give the players the sun and make them fight for the moon".  You want to kill swamp rats all day for 1 tin piece each?  That's great, but all you're going to have is a bunch of dead rats and an empty stomach (unless...).  Oh, you want to be king?  Well, that's great, but the Royal Seal was lost in the Mountains of the Moon three centuries past, and the current Pretender on the throne is a bloodthirsty immortal necromancer, and there's the small problem of his army of stone giants...

So we get to balancing risk and reward.  This doesn't mean you have to give up the loot every time they kill something big.  Rewards can also be social, emotional, political, or spiritual; material rewards are just a small part of the whole.  That hill giant didn't have much loot, but damn if you aren't the hero of the entire barony now.  Sure, you lost 3 henchmen and an eye to slay him, but look at you now!

One of the big things to balancing risk and reward is to really sell it to the players.  They need to know the stakes, or at least the immediate consequences.  It can be as simple as "if I don't kill X right now, X kills me instead", but it can also be more involved as "if I don't become King of the Skelds by winning Lady Y's hand, my competition will have me beheaded as a traitor to the crown".  This risk should always be communicated.  Without risk, there is no heroism, no bravery, and not much in the way of a memorable tale. 

On the flip side, if everything is a risk, then it sort of loses its importance, doesn't it?  When you have to congratulate yourself for not fumbling and killing yourself while shoveling a dung heap, true risk tends to recede, because at that point everything is risky.

Now, there are some people who want Monty Haul campaigns, or want to make every 5-foot jump an Olympian test.  For those looking to find that happy medium, just remember your risk and reward.  A simple thing, apparently obvious, but one that hits people hard.

Monday, September 6, 2010

(Question) Hey Old-Schoolers...

It's Labor Day, not a lot going on, but I have a question for you. Going a bit tangentially off of Raggi's post here, what makes you pick one retro-clone, classical RPG, or old school "cousin" vs. another? For example, what made you choose Swords & Wizardry vs. Labyrinth Lord vs. Dark Dungeons? For your table, what gives the edge to OSRIC, Castles & Crusades, Basic Fantasy, LotFP RPG, Hackmaster 4e, or any one of countless other games in the nebulous "old-school" crowd? Is it just the version or edition they're closest to, or does something more factor in? We certainly have enough to pick from now!

Comment below!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Homeschooling & Gaming

I just wanted to thank those of you for the feedback via comments and email yesterday when I was talking about gaming with my homeschooled daughter. It's really cool to learn that there are other, homeschooling gaming families out there. One of the big things when you decide to homeschool your kids, it's a big decision, and it's so great to learn that there are others in the hobby that have taken the same step.

I think this might be a topic to expand on in future posts, if there's enough interest, but for today, I'm enjoying a little getaway with the wife before it's back to reality tomorrow. (And yes, the IndyCar race was amazingly awesome, reinforcing my belief I need to do a racing RPG).

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Gaming With My Oldest Daughter

This weekend not only sees me going to an IndyCar race in Kentucky (which means I might be scarce around here), but I’m also going to try some for-kids RPGing with my six year-old daughter (I’ll be using NewbieDM’s rpgKids system, which looks like it’ll be a great fit for her age group). As a parent and gamer, I’m excited—my oldest daughter has a wonderful imagination and is a great storyteller, but since my daughter is also currently homeschooled, I’m using this as sort of a trial balloon to see what sort of academic applications it might have. Obviously, writing, math, and art could all figure prominently. It’ll be interesting to see where her likes and dislikes are of gaming.

This is a big step for my daughter, gaming-wise. A lot of our gaming before this has been sort of free-form, choose-your-own-adventure style storytelling. An important thing to remember, I think, is that kids love to make decisions—it gives them a sense of responsibility, of ownership, and of being “grown-up”. There’s certainly plenty of that to be had in gaming.

I'll definitely let everyone know how it goes! Have a great weekend!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Minis Users: What About Classic Toy Soldiers?

To get some appropriate armies for my setting I’m working on for an upcoming campaign, I’m thinking of checking out Classic Toy Soldiers, a website that sells 25mm plastic soldiers, from fantasy to historical armies to the modern day.

Here are a couple of sets that caught my eye as far as populating my armies quickly:

Ancient Armies (Check out the Britons and the Hittites!)

Medieval (Vikings and Saxons and Saracens, oh my!)

For games like Colonial Gothic, there are also some pretty awesome sets:

Washington’s troops & Redcoats (I have no idea why there are Confederate soldiers included)

The pricing seems reasonable--has anyone had any experiences with them? What do you think?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

RPG Circus Season 2 Episode 16 Now Available!

This was a fun podcast episode, with a great guest. This week, we discussed:

-All sorts of stuff, in an interview with our special guest writer/editor/hobby superwoman Jess Hartley;

-A review and discussion of the new sword-and-sorcery
Shadow, Sword, & Spell RPG, from Rogue Games

-GM Screens: Benevolent Game Master’s Aid, or Instrument Oppressive Fascism? (OK, perhaps we didn’t couch it in those terms, but you get the idea).

Download it now, and give yourself gaming sustenance in the days to come.

Random Generation: Interview With Chaotic Shiny's Hannah Lipsky

Readers of this site know I'm absolutely crazy about random generation, tables, and charts in role playing games--I love 'em, and think they're tremendous fun. Today, I have an interview with Hannah Lipsky of Chaotic Shiny Productions, someone who knows as much about random generation programs for RPGs as anyone out there. Hannah is here to talk about her awesome new Kingdom Builder II program pack, her other available generators, Chaotic Shiny's other projects, and a bit about being a small-press gaming company.

Best of all, as a thank-you to RPG Blog 2 readers, the first twenty people to use the code "RPGB2ROCKS" at the Chaotic Shiny store this month receive 25% off any purchase! Act fast, because those twenty uses will go quick! How awesome is that? Now, on to the interview!

Chaotic Shiny has one of the largest collections of RPG generator tools I've seen. How did you get involved in writing these sorts of programs?

I started freeform play-by-post roleplaying way back on AvidGamers. I noticed that a lot of sites there had similar names, so I made a couple site name generators as a joke. Not long after, I realized I was playing a lot of similar characters, so I made a character generator as a way to help stretch my creativity.

A while later, I was running a tri-stat dX game and having a lot of trouble coming up with taverns on the fly. The tavern generator was the first really detailed generator I made, and the first one specifically for use in tabletop RPGs.

After that I made a generator whenever I thought I'd need something original on the fly during a game, and then I started making generators off other people's suggestions, or just because I had a cool idea.

What can you tell us about your upcoming generator, Kingdom Builder II?

It combines some of the existing generators on Chaotic Shiny, like the Law and Fashion gens, with some totally new generators. The Events gen comes up with things like "A new species of minotaur has been sighted near a southern forest, and there have been severe thunderstorms. A popular scion may be involved." The Conspirator gen gives you interesting people to build hooks from. And of course there's the visual Flag gen, which makes pictures of flags - you can even use your own image as the charge.

It's based on suggestions about the original Kingdom Builder pack, which is my most popular product to date. You can use the two together to create a fully fleshed-out kingdom brimming with plot hooks, or use any of the generators on their own whenever you need them.

How often do random charts, generators, and tables factor into your own games?

I used to use my generators during my games all the time. Recently I've been trying to run with just a notebook and pencil, no laptop in sight. It's a bit of a relief to run with just what's on the table in front of me, but it does mean that if I want to use my generators, I have to plan ahead.

You've also been working on some things with Chaotic Shiny Productions, both some generators and books like Martial Flavor, a 4e sourcebook regarding martial cultures. What are you currently working on?

The next book we have coming out is Arcane Flavor, the sequel to Martial Flavor. It has five unique cultures that each put their own twist on magic - from the half-fey city of Cailleath to the shadows where the Ternion stalk their prey, and the ringing peaks of Valok where evil bards reign supreme.

I'm very happy with the cool stuff I've come up with for the book, and the art by Rachel is absolutely gorgeous. She takes my artistic direction of, "I dunno, tall buildings and fire and stuff - and try to have fewer women this time; people complained" and comes up with digital paintings that are exactly what I envisioned, only better.

As a small press company, how do you compete with larger concerns that can perhaps afford more helping hands, art direction, or have more resources?

I don't. I do this because I love it. If I can break even or even make a profit, that's awesome. I certainly can't pay myself a living wage doing this, but that's why it's not my day job. Not to say I'm not serious about the business side of things - I am. But I know I'm not going to be the next Paizo, and I'm okay with that.

What's been the biggest lesson you've learned on the publishing side of things so far?

Never announce deadlines. Real life comes up, both for me and other people, and there's nothing worse than having to nag a friend who's already stressed out just so you can make a deadline you ignorantly set six months ago. Now I have general times when I shoot for releases, but I never make a specific date public. That way, when my internet goes down for a week or I'm invited on a spur of the moment camping trip, I don't need to apologize to my fans.

What sort of continuing impact do you see the digital revolution having on smaller gaming publishers, and, indeed, RPG publishers as a whole?

I wouldn't be able to publish at all if it weren't for the online market. It's made it possible for small press to exist, by drastically cutting down costs and making it easier to get the word out. As for larger publishers, that really depends on how they react to it. I think there's a lot of cool things that can happen if big publishers go with the new technology instead of trying to resist it.

What can we look for for the rest of this year and going into 2011?

I'm going to keep coming out with free generators on Chaotic Shiny, of course. I aim for two a month, though real life has been getting in the way a lot more frequently now that I have a full time job.

There will be more generator packs from Chaotic Shiny Productions, though I'm not sure yet what the next one will be. I'll be coming out with Arcane Cultures, taking the cultures from Arcane Flavor and releasing them in a (most likely) systemless form.

I'll keep coming out with cool free stuff like Tavern Tables, the Damager and 10 Fantasy Coins. Free products let me play around with new ideas without the pressure of making something that will sell, so they're a lot of fun to work on.

I'm working on some cool collaborative projects with some other people, though I can't say too much about them yet. Suffice to say that they are very shiny indeed.

Again, thanks to Hannah Lipsky for a great Q&A and a great special for the readers. Remember, the code for 25% off at the Chaotic Shiny store is "RPGB2ROCKS"! Hannah rocks, too--make sure to let her know!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Greatest Action Sequence Ever

Well, this would sum up what my players usually do in a single round.

God bless India.


The Hard Sell

We went to the Indiana State Fair a few weeks back, and while in the Commercial Building (roofing companies, cookware, and gimmicky products as far as the eye can see), my wife was accosted by quite possibly the pushiest mattress salesman in existence. Fortunately, my daughter ran away (bless her heart), and my wife had an excuse to flee.

This guy pushed all the wrong buttons. He was overbearing, didn’t give you space to breathe, and didn’t seem as concerned with what you wanted as with what he was selling. I disliked him almost instantly, and wouldn’t have bought a mattress from him if the alternative was purchasing a urine-soaked cot from an affable hobo.

I started to think about how this sort of “hard sell” online can turn me off of a RPG product almost as instantly. It’s great to love your product or be a super fan of a product, but when you’re recommending it blindly, regardless of what I really want, how am I supposed to trust you?

Similarly, if you’re a publisher, there’s a time to be proud of your product, and a time to listen to what I want (yes, you can do both). Listening before talking up your product can help you highlight what I’m after, and possibly save us both some time if it turns out not to be what I want.

And if your product isn’t for me and I politely communicate that fact, don’t turn into a jackass. If you’re polite and pleasant, I just may have a friend or friends that the product will work for.

It’s no coincidence that many of the RPG publishers whose work I enjoy and admire don’t come off as hucksters, spin-men, or shills. You want a sale, give me room to breathe, time to ask questions, and keep an ear open for what I’m looking for.