Friday, December 31, 2010

Huge News Out Of Iron Crown/Rolemaster

This is big enough that I'm going to re-post the email I was sent last evening in its entirety. Bottom line, a lot of things are about to change for Iron Crown and their game lines:

Iron Crown Fans:

First, an apology – For too long, resources have been woefully short to fully meet product and service quality as promised to you, our faithful and patient customers. It’s not that our licensee, Mjolnir LLC, run by Bruce and Heike, didn’t have the best of intentions – they did. But they were beset by difficult market conditions in the gaming industry which I’m sure you are all aware of, and combined with the lack of resources, Mjolnir were unable to fully meet your needs. While it is not our place to manage this situation and we are limited in doing so under the license agreement with Mjolnir, we did provide extreme flexibility in terms of foregoing a substantial amount of royalties which provided cash support for Mjolnir LLC to correct this situation, to no avail.

When Aurigas Aldebaron LLC first acquired Iron Crown Enterprises from bankruptcy, it was with the sole intention of supporting a product loved by many, a contender to rival D&D in the 1980’s, a game company known for its exciting criticals and its “true to art” creation of the first Middle Earth -based role playing games. Sure, I hoped to make a little money on it, but really I just wanted, like all role players at one time or another, to write/work/own a game company. I figured it would eventually provide the perfect outlet for retirement from my day job.

We have worked with Mjolnir since that time, and though there were ups and downs, we appreciate the contribution they made to the further development of ICE products.

It is time, however, for a new chapter to begin.

As such, I am pleased to announce some changes at Iron Crown Enterprises. Firstly, Aurigas Aldebaron and its representatives will manage the website and forums. In addition, we plan to manage more actively the sales and marketing of our products, as well as more closely oversee execution of product development and quality, and product deliverability by our licensees. Yes, all products will still be licensed out to creative organizations and as such, we will still only have limited control over the development of the systems and settings (and that’s a good thing to as we are not game creation and development professionals). But the terms of our agreement with our licensees will ensure better performance, and we think that with the freelancing methods’ fully variable cost structure to be employed by Guild Companion, we solve a critical problem plaguing our business – lack of resources – and instead increase the amount of resources brought to bear on the whole of product creation, production and delivery.

You will find that the ICE website will continue to be a central hub for all things Iron Crown. You will find links on the ICE website directing you to our licensee sites and to where you can purchase ICE items in PDF or print-on-demand physical copies. ICE will no longer operate its own store. You will be able to find announcements and product advertisements for all ICE products on the central ICE website.

We also expect there will be some growing pains and we will make some mistakes along the way – please forgive us and we hope we will get things corrected quickly. At the same time, since this is a new way of operating, we look forward to your suggestions.

As you can see, a lot of things are changing, but many things will stay the same. You shouldn't expect a complete overhaul of the website, or major changes to the forum rules, but we do hope you eventually see some big improvements in product releases, product quality and deliverability.

In fact, we really view this as the next generation of game company management. We are attempting to cut out the middlemen, or as many of the layers as possible in getting the creative aspect of the game to the people that play it. We want to eliminate central management and distribution as much as possible. If ICE can support game developers through some marketing and web-support, these developers can do what they do best, manage their own small expenses and sell via pdf and print-on-demand, eliminating upfront and fixed costs, which lowers risk and allows for more game product creation. It also ensures that if people work on a product, they get paid from the source upon a sale.

We are also pleased to announce that Guild Companion Publications will be the licensee for our HARP, Rolemaster, Spacemaster and Cyberspace game systems, and, as they do now, be the licensee of the Shadow World background This includes the re-involvement of Terry Amthor, the creator of Shadow World, so we expect big things! . In addition, they will take over management of Cyradon setting as well.

ICEVerse as a project is expected to continue, which means RM and HARP fans will have access to a virtual table top program, and hopefully into full-fledged computer games.

We are currently in discussions on Bladestorm and the Silent Death game system license Combat Express, However nothing is finalized and we are looking for interest on this license by other parties.

We are in discussion with third parties with some of our properties and are currently seeking interested parties to manage the pirates-based Run out the Guns! and Guild Companion will be looking for help on the Cyberspace systems as well.

We plan to hold an online Q&A session in the near future and will advise you on the details of this in the near future.

That’s all for now. Thanks in advance for your continued patience and support.

The Aurigas Aldebaron Team

Wow. It sounds like this might be a tough transition for those with orders pending with the previous ICE Store. But if the Guild Companion is now involved more in ICE, I'm encouraged. Best of luck in the New Year with Rolemaster, HARP and Iron Crown's other endeavors.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Adamant's $1 Sale Returns!

You don't want to miss out on this one, gang. Adamant Entertainment has brought back their $1 sale--that's right, all their pdfs are only $1! That includes their hit ICONS, as well as titles such as Mars and their Pathfinder supplements.  Of course, there's more, but half the fun with a sale like this is in the looking.

You'd better hurry though. The offer only lasts through the end of the year, and that's coming fast.  Catch it before 2011 arrives!

Monday, December 27, 2010

What The New Year Will Bring

-As it stands right now, I am not going to Gen Con Indy. My badge isn't an issue, and I can access to block lodging prices, but summer is always tight for us, and I don't know if I can break away for that long. If I go, it might be for just the weekend. It'll be weird if that's the case.

-I think it's very likely we'll be seeing one additional contributor to RPG Blog II in the New Year! I don't want to say anything yet, but it's someone well-respected and active in the blogging/podcasting community.

-I'll be working hard to figure out a way to get my gaming on a more regular schedule. Right now, like a lot of people, the gaming sessions just aren't happening as they should, and I am partly to blame. We'll see if I can't work something out to fix that.

-Next up, we'll be doing some reviews on BASH!, as well as a few more new products. I think you'll like the coverage of this product a lot--I know I've enjoyed going over it!

-Oh, and we're looking forward to a full third season of the RPG Circus Podcast. Cheers!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

From RPG Blog 2 and the entire Houghton family, have the merriest of Christmases, and a truly blessed holiday season. May you spend it in love, the hope of redemption and new beginnings, goodwill toward your fellow men, and a more perfect world to come.

And there were, in the fields, shepherds, guarding their flock by night; when lo! the angel of the Lord appeared to them, and they were very afraid. But the angel said to them: "Fear not! For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born a savior, which is Jesus Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you - you shall find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger."

And suddenly the skies were filled with heavenly angels, singing: "Glory to God in the highest! And on earth: peace, goodwill towards men".

-Luke 2:8-14

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Frustrating Season

For many of us, this time of year is a time of hope, of renewal, and of goodwill towards our fellow men. Unfortunately, when it comes to our gaming group, it's very much a season of frustration.

This past Friday was another example of mass cancellations/withdrawals in regards to our Pathfinder camapaign. It's now been over a month since we actually ran a game. My own part in this is not proud; real life came up, and I confess I was a cancellation in the past. I wasn't happy about it, though, and I was hoping to get to play this Friday. It didn't happen, and I doubt we'll meet over the holidays, which means I have to look towards January before our gaming group meets back up.

It isn't my first time being part of an unstable gaming group; life comes up, and that's how it is. This campaign, however, isn't the sort that can be addressed by a West Marches-style sandboxer, or a number of one-shot side quests. It has a more unified running theme, and I fear we're just killing it.

Our Game Master has really undertaken a lot of work with this campaign, and I feel bad for him, plain and simple. I've been in that chair, and it's not a fun feeling to see something you worked so hard on apparently discarded.

This past weekend, I took time off of my normal scouring of the gaming boards to think about things. I didn't update here, I didn't read more of BASH! Ultimate Edition (even though I really wanted to), and just thought about gaming. I came to the conclusion I've still got the fire for it, but I need to figure out some way to better balance it with my work, life, and family. Call it a New Year's resolution. It's the sort of thing that isn't fixed by cookie-cutter advice; I need to weigh things and figure out where it all comes into play. I need to talk to my GM, and see what he's feeling. We'll see where it all goes, but I hope we find a better way to go forward.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

RPGNow To Offer POD?

As reported by Stargazer's World, RPGNow/DriveThruRPG will soon begin offering Print-On-Demand services as a complement to their current pdf sales.

If Michael's example in his article stands up, it sounds like shipping might be reasonable. If that's the case, the make-or-break for me will be a) customer service, an area that's been hit-and-miss for their biggest rival in this field (, and b) print quality.

I really think those items, along with effective shipping, are going to drive how successful this is. Otherwise, I think we'll see a definite boon to small-press publishers, many of who will be able to push their print products a bit more easily from the largest RPG pdf store out there. It's a pain to take a pdf to places like Kinko's or Staples, where often they will refuse to print a book for some fear of copyright violation or somesuch. allows you to upload files for printing, but as alluded to before, it's hit and miss as far as what you get with them. We'll see how this works out.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mailbag: Alternatives To Rifts

Hey, kids, we have mail today! Actually, this letter is from a couple of weeks ago, but I just heard back from the reader to ensure it was ok to use.

Hi Zach,

I just wanted to tell you that you are doing a great job with the website. I am a regular reader, and appreciate the scope of your coverage (not just D&D or a certain edition of something).

I had a question I was hoping you could field for me. For a crazy post-apocalypse game, do you still recommend Rifts (you’re one of the few bloggers who actually discusses that game these days!), or is there something better for that style of game? I’d really like to try it out, but am not sold on the Rifts rules.

Thanks again, and don’t stop the blogging!

Wayne Rossiter
Trenton, NJ

First off, thank you again for your letter, Wayne, and thanks for allowing me to use it on the website.

Post-apocalyptic games run the gamut, from kitchen-sink gaming such as Rifts to less fantastic-style games such as Twilight 2000. If you’re looking for that kitchen-sink game in the vein of Rifts, well, Rifts itself is still in print and still supported by Palladium Books. Now, a lot of people feel Palladium’s rules (the Megaversal System) hasn’t aged well. I get that, and if you’re looking for Rifts without the rules of Rifts, let me suggest a couple different courses of action:

-Look at keeping the setting and basic idea of Rifts, but gut the system and replace it with your own. A lot of the Rifts Main Book is fluff, so it should be easy to port those ideas into another system. The problem with many systems when it comes to Rifts is that it simply doesn’t scale properly. I would look at a system like Mini Six, which I believe has a simple, effective way to handle scale between large and small opponents.

-Keep the Megaversal System, but make a couple tweaks to make it run a bit smoother. Standardize attacks per round and start skill percentages/increments (say 30% +5%/level). Use roll-over dice for skill checks—I’ve found a lot of people find it more intuitive than the capped roll-under method. But realize that at its heart, no matter what you do to the system, it isn’t going to be balanced. Any balance in Rifts comes from the GM’s seat, not from the rules as written. You’re going to have a guy in power armor next to a rogue scientist with a missile launcher next to a glorified hobo. It’s your job to work it all in. The Justice League isn’t all equal (right, Booster Gold?), and Rifts damn sure isn’t, either. But everyone’s got a role to play.

-Find a game that does the madness of Rifts fairly well. Many people find Atomic Highway a great alternative. There’s also Jared Sorenson’s OctaNe (no, that’s not a typo), which is a little lighter and less traditional in structure, but gets generally good reviews. TORG has a small but dedicated fanbase, and at one point was probably Rifts' biggest competitor within the genre. Honestly the campaign I played that was closest in feel to Rifts without being Rifts was TORG.

Here's a few other options: The Morrow Project is highly esteemed, but is nowhere near Rifts in tone or attitude. Of course, Gamma World remains the most high-profile alternative; if you aren’t a fan of the newest WotC iteration, consider kindred games such as Mutant Future. And, of course, there’s always Encounter Critical, the game that never was. Bottom line, if the Megaverse isn't doing it for you, there's a multiverse of options out there.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Chance For A Critical

I'm currently reviewing several books from the BASH! line of RPGs, which has an interesting core mechanic. You roll 2d6,multiply by the relevant attribute (usually between 1-5), and that's your result. Where it gets interesting is that if you get doubles on the 2d6 rolls (two 2s, two 3s, two 5s, etc.), you roll another dice. If it matches, the first two, you roll again, and continue to do so until it doesn't match. So, on one hand, you might end up with a roll of (4+3)x3, or you might end up with (5+5+5+5)x3. It's a huge big range that keeps seriously high rolls rare, but not unduly so. I can see why they picked it for simple, supers-oriented gaming.

Your day shall come, friend.
It did get me thinking about critical hits and a high range of results. I've touched on this before, but I love games like Rolemaster where rolls are open-ended, and allow for extreme highs and extreme lows. I really appreciate systems where there's at least a chance that you can do a one-shot kill. I've touched on this before, but being able to laugh off 6 battle-axes in the chest is not my idea of heroism; there's no risk.  I'm not going to say I like games where every shot is a kill, but I like my lethality, and I like the idea that on those rare occasions, even the little guy gets his shot in. Yeah, the day normally belongs to Spider-Man and Captain America, but Frog-Man gets his shot, too. Make criticals and high-end hits too rare, or not enough to seriously damage your standard hero, and I think some danger and sense of risk (or hope, depending on your side) goes missing.

I do think it's possible to have systems err too much on the side of criticals; tripping and being impaled by a sharp rock does happen, but if it's a persistent fear in your games, that's probably a little much.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Adventures Dark & Deep Playtest Now Open

The gentleman and scholar Joseph Bloch (he of Greyhawk Grognard and the Castle of the Mad Archmage greatness) has announced the open playtest of his game Adventures Dark & Deep.  In essence, Joseph is re-imagining what AD&D 2nd Edition may have looked like had Gary Gygax remained at the helm.  If you're willing to do some actual playtesting and help Joseph out, stop by and have a look.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Landmark Date

Today marks my birthday, but much more importantly, it marks the date of the first time I ever played Traveller! Now that's an anniversary worth celebrating!


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Summon Awesome Modern City Map (Please?)

I'm looking for a modern city map, suitable for a superhero campaign arc I'm toying around with. I'd like something I can freely reproduce for the players; my idea is a city of 1-3 million people, near some water, nicely generic; a mix of Indy, Chicago, and Gotham, as it were. I'd like it to reproduce well in black and white or grayscale.  I want it to give a "big city" feel, but still manageable from a GMing perspective.

I've not been able to find anything that works on Google Maps yet, and the City Map Generator hasn't quite given me what I'm looking for yet. I was pointed to this Vanguard City map over at Midnight's Lair, which is close, but I want something that looks a bit more busy and populous.

So, please, keep your eyes open, and drop me a comment or email if you find something you think might work.  Thanks!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

One More Special Award

Yesterday marked my annual RPG Blog 2 RPG Awards, and while there were many fine games represented, there could only be a handful of winners. That’s where inadequacies of my chosen system come into play—some games are amazing, but don’t fit precisely into any of those bog-standard categories.

That’s where Shadow, Sword, & Spell comes into play. SS&S won an Honorable Mention for Best Game, but for me, it was more than that. It’s one of those rare RPG products that got me out of a creative funk I was in. It’s easy in this hobby to get in a funk, and not so easy to get out. With a simple design, an understanding of the lure of the Sword & Sorcery genre, and a game that seemed to be designed to really work with my thought process, SS&S was the right game in the right place at the right time. I know “Most Inspirational” wasn’t on my award list yesterday, but it should have been, for Shadow, Sword & Spell.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The 2010 RPG Blog 2 RPG Awards!

It's time for my picks for the best in gaming for 2010!  It's been an up-and-down year in gaming, but there's been plenty of great RPG product to choose from.  Below are my choices in each category:

Best Supplement: Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots To Inspire Game Masters, Engine Publishing

Eureka is an absolutely inspired GM's toolbox, with adventure and plot ideas to fit any setting or genre. A lot of thought also went into making it extremely easy to use and reference, which is worthy of a huge thumbs-up.

Best Adventure: Tower of the Stargazer, Lamentations of the Flame Princess

James Raggi absolutely stuffed this adventure full of deadly puzzles, traps, and classic location-based adventuring. In true Raggi style, though, you can bet its properly evocative and creepy as hell. Art by the amazing Peter Mullen tops it all off.

Best Setting: All For One: RĂ©gime Diabolique, Triple Ace Games

Triple Aces Games is simply beating the stuffing out of any other company when it comes to releasing vibrant and interesting settings. All For One crosses swashbuckling with supernatural horror, and does it so that the two blend seamlessly.

Best System: Mini Six, Anti Paladin Games

A bit of a late pick-up for me, but Mini Six managed to keep their d6 system compatible with earlier iterations while streamlining and presenting a great genre-generic ruleset.   Plus, it gave me faith and hope in d6 again after what's been a rough, rough road.  I feel like this may have been my most useful pickup of the entire year.

Best Game: StarCluster 3, Flying Mice Games

I went back and forth on this category multiple, multiple times, because ICONS and (especially!) Shadow, Sword & Spell were truly amazing entries, and each gets a massively respectful Honorable Mention. But StarCluster 3 really feels like a complete magnum opus for Clash Bowley and Flying Mice. With multiple resolution systems, a toolbox feel, and simply massive in scope and scale, it made it past the truly difficult competition.

Best Writing: ICONS, Adamant Entertainment

ICONS is 128 pages, but it feels much shorter. Clear, informative, and easy to pick up--that's part of the charm of ICONS, which manages to feel concise while presenting plenty of superhero tweaks and options. This game manages to cut to the heart about what superheroes and superhero gaming are all about.

Best Gaming Accessory: Disposable Heroes, Precis Intermedia

Perhaps a bit of a cheat since they've been around for a few years now, but Precis Intermedia's line of customizable paper minis continues to become more useful. This year, they added the ability to customize your selection and have them printed and shipped to you! The ease of use for paper minis continues to grow, as does Precis Intermedia's available selection. I can't wait to see what improvements and additions they make for 2011.  A strong honorable mention to both Kobold Quarterly Magazine, who has seen their quality continue to improve as their brand spreads, and Obsidian Portal, who continues to help me stay at least somewhat organized.

Best Gaming Company: Paizo Publishing

Honestly, Kobold Quarterly is right there with them, but since I won one of their contests this year, I didn't feel quite right about picking them. They know they're awesome, though, and don't need me to tell them. Our winner Paizo, of course, has kept excellent customer service, open playtests, and fan outreach a constant.

Best Gaming Blog: Stargazer's World

Michael Wolf and company have managed to take on new contributors without seeing any dip in their already-awesome quality. It also would have been easy to pick the most excellent Gnome Stew, but in a lot of ways Michael's done more with less. Plus, I'm pretty sure we were all surprised that he didn't win an ENnie, so hopefully this will help in ever-so-slightly compensating for it.

Best Trend: Boxed Sets!

One of things I hoped to see more of this year was the return of the functional boxed set.  From LotFP to Gamma World, this has come true with a passion. Let's hope it continues in 2011.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Last Day For Adamant Entertainment's $1 Sale!

Remember, today is the last day to get any of Adamant Entertainment's PDFs for only $1. Supers fans, I especially recommend picking up ICONS and the ICONS Character Folio for this low price while you can.

Big Day Tomorrow...

..Because tomorrow marks my end-of-year RPG Blog 2 RPG Awards!  The excitement is in the air!  In any case, stay tuned tomorrow for the best of 2010 in gaming, through the eyes of Yours Truly!

In the meantime, I'd love to hear your own selections for your own end-of-year awards!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

When Is It OK To Railroad?

EDIT: Apologies, this should have posted earlier in the day! Looks like the blogging software decided to take a break on me.

Our gaming group apparently went wayyyyy off course last session. My bard is probably at least partially to blame, but the Game Master felt like any cause for adventuring together, and any sort of focus, had been lost. He warned us we could either have some of the group reroll characters to fit in with things, or he could get us back together, but he’d have to railroad it. We voted for the latter.

He did it in the form of more campaign exposition through email; our characters were kidnapped, accused of a crime (quite mysteriously), and sent to a penal colony far in the southern wastes. I thought the email was a good choice. It gives us time to let it sink in and consider our new surroundings, and ensures that what happens at our table doesn't devolve into the GM telling a story for 2 hours setting things up.

We’ve all been in campaigns were a heavy-handed plot was shoved down our throats, without warning, grace, or benefit. And I’m as anti-railroad as anyone. But I do think that for the GM that doesn’t feel like there are any other options, using the method our GM used isn’t bad. Here’s what I think he did right:

-He warned us ahead of time, and clearly defined the intended consequence of the action.

-He framed it as further plot exposition, setting us up for additional adventures, instead of taking up time at the table where our characters had no input in what was actively happening to us.

-He did it in a finite, defined manner, with a beginning and an end, after which, we had free will of action in a new scenario of the campaign.

For me, I think in most cases, even if you’re railroading, you can at least give the illusion of choice, and possibly the players will never know. And if you don’t want to be sneaky about it, be upfront—just don’t sit at the table and weave this elaborate tapestry, dictating the One True Way, dismissing all other courses of action, while the players are sitting there bored out of their skulls. There may be some shouting about that, and it’s not something I’m fond of doing, but I’m not going to say I’ve never, ever done it. At times, for the good of the game, all roads have led to Rome, so to speak. It isn’t good policy, but sometimes it needs to be done. I think that especially in less-seasoned groups, you’re going to see this more, and of course GMs all have their own techniques to get issues resolved. Railroading is a dangerous tool to use because we gamers react so negatively to the merest suggestion of it, but used properly, it can get things moving again. Just make sure you don’t stay on the train after you’ve arrived at your destination.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sport-Based RPGs

It was with no small amount of interest I read Clash Bowley’s description of the baseball RPG he’s working on. Baseball + Role Playing Games might seem like a strange mix, but when you consider some of the indie RPGs we’ve seen in the past few years and their subject matter, baseball seems downright normal. Clash’s games sound like it will allow you to simulate games, seasons, and more, as well as roleplay your character in the clubhouse and around the team. Sure, this may end up being a niche, niche RPG if it happens, but I think it sounds like a lot of fun.

I’ve mentioned on here a few times that I’d love to make a racing (especially IZOD IndyCar)RPG, complete with racing rules, driver stats, on and off-track fights, etc. There seem to be precious few sports RPGs on the market, but when you think of modern athletes as our gladiators, it makes a bit more sense. Sports are such a huge battery of emotional energy for so many people, I think it’d be possible to create a campaign that would really speak to people.

I realize this goes against the grain of us RPG geeks as pasty nerds who never went outside, but I know there’s sports fans out there. Could a hockey RPG work? If Clash can do one for baseball, what about football (American or otherwise)?