Sunday, July 31, 2011

Awesome Gen Con Map

Just a quick Sunday note: if you haven't seen it, Mad Brew Labs has put out a really neat interactive map for the Gen Con Indy Exhibitor Hall.

Just a few more days!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Adventurer Conqueror King: Interview With Tavis Allison

Today, we’re interviewed Tavis Allison, part of the group behind Autarch and the upcoming Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS). ACKS has blown away its first Kickstarter goal and is hard to work on the second.

ACKS is to be designed for “playing the kind of campaign that took Conan from being a freebooter to brooding on a throne”. If that intrigues you, we’ve caught up with one of the designers, Tavis Allison, to discuss ACKS in greater detail:

So, Adventurer Conqueror King—snazzy title! Where did it come from?

TA: Greg and I threw out some names sporadically, and then Alex stepped in with a “a general survey of general categories of RPG names” that included Acronyms, Single Words, Compound Words, Two Word Phrases, Two Words with Alliteration and Ampersand, Two Words with Ampersand, Word Plus Colon, Word with Number, Short Phrases, Long Phrases, and Weird Places. He listed existing RPG names in each category, then generated new ones, of which Adventurer Conqueror System was the clear winner.

I believe it’s this conceptual rigor that explains why Alex is the one that runs the multi-million dollar media empire, whereas it’s Greg and I that get paid to write for The Escapist. (No one gets paid to write for Adventurer Conqueror King, we’re just glad that using Kickstarter means we don’t lose money up front like my previous publishing venture Behemoth3 did.)

I have a clever thing I say about the name:

I wanted commas, but was told it made it sound like a firm of lawyers. Stabbem, Lootem, and Flee. Let's not even get into the effort necessary to prevent people from abbreviating it "ACK" like Bill the Cat expelling a hairball. Names are really hard - if every kid in the world had to have a totally unique name there'd be a lot of really tough scrappers out there a la "A Boy Named Sue".

Unfortunately when I did some research for this interview this turned out to be too clever to be true, see the Autarch blog for more info (

What’s the premise behind your game?

TA: Because I’m the laziest member of our development team, I looked up the email from Alex in which he told me how the concept had crystallized from our previous inchoate discussions:

Greg and I just had an interesting discussion. We started with the sense that DCC was onto something. In DCC, Goodman looked at what the original purpose of D&D was, and strove to create a new version of D&D that better accomplished its original purpose. From his point of view, the point of D&D was to simulate pulp adventure stories like Fafhrd, Conan, Clark Ashton Smith, and so on. And DCC does admirably in doing that. A session of DCC seems like it would feel like a pulp story.

We decided to apply the same thought process, but keep in mind that D&D had evolved from Chainmail, and that D&D player characters represent essentially fetal Chainmail characters. i.e. Chainmail offers “Hero” and “Superhero”. In D&D you start off as a character who can become a “Hero” or “Superhero” over time.

So what if one conceived the point of D&D as not to simulate the short pulp adventure stories, but rather to represent a microcosm of a character living in a wargame, or to simulate the career of a hero who rises from humble adventurer to king, the classic barbarian-turned-king tale, with the idea being that 1) our game will play well at every level (dungeon-crawling to wilderness-wandering to dominion-ruling), 2) there will be integrated rules for mass combat and dominion ruling, 3) the level curve will not be so long that you have no expectation of ever getting to the end game, 4) the game doesn’t *end* when you reach name level, but instead transforms into a new game. This is in a sense the nearly mythical suggestion of what D&D could have become if it hadn’t gotten caught up in Epic levels and Immortal sets and so on. Greg called it “integrating The Sims and SimCity”.

Note that “adventurer to king” is right there at the beginning; we went to a lot of naming effort just to stick “conqueror” in there.

Your design group seems to have an affinity for the ancient world. Do you think that’s something that’s somewhat of a forgotten influence in classical D&D?

TA: Yes, I think that if you look at the sources of inspiration for the original game, there are as many classical monsters like minotaurs and cockatrices as there are European ones like trolls and kobolds or Tolkien ones like balrogs and hobbits. And when I see the unfettered imagination of guys like Bruce Bickford who totally remind me of an alternate-universe Gygax or Arneson, it’s really clear that one thing they all had in common was Ray Harryhausen’s vision of an ancient world full of animated skeletons and golems.

The other factor here is that Alex is a history buff and Ryan was an art history major. Lots of the Arabian Nights and Alexander the Great feel comes from their expertise. When I say things like “realistic armor” or “non-European cultures” they go to town trading reference images and historical analogues. The result things that blow me away because they’re grounded in what people did in the real world and are much more visually surprising than the kind of mashed-up generic fantasy I got when I’d write art orders for Wizards of the Coast.

What are your design influences from the various editions of D&D?

TA: We’re building on two long-term campaigns: my White Sandbox, which started with OD&D, and Alex’s Auran Empire, which started with Basic/Expert D&D. We both added a bunch of house rules, of course, and drew from a lot of the same sources: Judges’ Guild, Jaquay’s Caverns of Thracia, Arneson’s First Fantasy Campaign, and all the things that people in the old-school renaissance were into.

So the backbone of ACKS is Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy. Before he left to go work for Alex and play in his game, Greg and I had been part of two long-running 3E campaigns and a couple of 4E playtest groups, so those were part of the mix as well. From 3E we got some ideas about how to allow for character specialization, and a lot of our experience about what it was like to play a character from zero to hero. From 4E we got the idea of tiers of play, and the work I did on mundane items for Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium got me thinking about how to make buying worldly things something you’d want to do at all levels, not just when equipping a new PC.

I also think that seeing new editions helps you know what you do and don’t want to do when you go back to the drawing board. I think that many of the goals 4E set for itself, like being the Hoyle’s rules for tournament play, were the same things Gygax wanted to do with AD&D and that I appreciated in 3E; it wasn’t until 4E really achieved those goals that I recognized that I didn’t like where that trend was headed.

Domain management seems like it’s going to be big in your game. Do you see that as part of a character’s evolution or tiered game play?

TA: It’s something that we definitely thought should be there, as part of fulfilling the promise of the original fantasy roleplaying game. It’s not necessarily part of every character’s evolution; the rules are there if you want them, but you could choose to remain a band of wanderers if that suits your group. It’s tiered only in that a character usually needs to be wealthy and powerful to control a domain, but that’s not mandated and you could do some really interesting stuff with characters taking over a deserted stronghold at low levels and having to find other ways to deal with threats than handling it themselves.

Can you tell us a bit about ACKS' default setting?

TA: The Auran Empire is Alex’s campaign world, and is the implied setting for the game. It’s loosely defined enough that neither he nor I had any problem saying that my White Sandbox campaign region was one of the wildernesses to the north, and that the area he’d developed in play was those civilized kingdoms to the south we never dealt with.

Here are some of the assumptions of the Auran Empire, lazily reposted from here: (

Built for Gaming: A fantasy RPG setting needs a reason for wandering heroes to travel into the wilderness, fight monsters, and take their treasure. Thus towns and castles must exert control only over a local area, with outlying regions infested by robbers and monsters. Empires must have collapsed and lands grown depopulated in order to provide a source of ancient ruins and treasure, and an ancient war or wild magic must have created terrible monsters that, in the declining age, can no longer easily be held in check. The Auran Empire setting was defined with these needs in mind.

Genre: The setting is adventure fantasy, not high fantasy. Adventurers seek fame, power, and loot. Nobles live in luxury while slaves toil in misery. Human cities teem with vice and villainy. Virgins are sacrificed to chthonic cults. The characters may be adventurers like Conan, or willing heroes like Aragorn, but they are not reluctant heroes like Frodo.

Era: The era is historically akin to the age of Late Antiquity circa 350AD as the Roman Empire slipped into the Dark Ages. Opulent long-standing empires are shattering in a tidal wave of violence. It is not the Middle Ages and the tropes of the Middle Ages (knights in shining armor, chivalric orders, and so on) are not strongly present.

Here’s the big question, though: what certainly have a lot of iterations and cousins of classical D&D out there. Why would someone want to scope out ACKS? What are you going to in your game that’s going to make it great for play?

TA: In the first-ever roleplaying game system, Gygax and Arneson end by asking “why let us do any more of your imagining for you?” I think that we might have hit on one of the few good answers: making the economic framework of play internally consistent. That sounds boring as hell – which is why you’d have us do it for you – but no previous system has really done it well, and I think it’s a necessary grounding for flights of fantasy. In the afterschool D&D class I teach for kids age 8-11, I see firsthand what happens when you have lots of treasures worth a king’s ransom without any sense of what that means to ordinary people in the imagined world. Using ACKS’ framework doesn’t mean I can’t place a gem worth a million gold pieces in my dungeon, it just means that I know something about how many assassins the person who used to own that gem can afford to hire.

People nowadays talk about ‘fixing the math’, and Greg and I have done enough new-school design to appreciate where they’re coming from. But that discussion mostly focuses on combat, and our experience has been that the classical framework for combat can be really robust and interesting. Fixing the math of the economy is more exciting to me because it doesn’t make any presumptions, other than that you will seek to grow in wealth and power. When all the different ways you can do that are interwoven, decisions about what you and your group want to pursue arise organically from the concrete things you do to get gold pieces and spend them on the things that matter to you.

How’s your Kickstarter project going? Any future plans to use that sort of format further?

TA: Oh hell yes. Kickstarter is so many times better than being a publisher in 2004 that I don’t know where to start. Being able to take pre-orders for things before printing any of them? Offering lots of different things people might want, from goods to experiences to just being part of something exciting, and see which ones strike a chord? Working with the people who’ll be using your system to make sure it meets their needs, fits into their experience of play, and isn’t full of crap? And then you can go and sell direct and into stores just like you did back when, except it’s now all proven and paid for.

Those are good reasons to use Kickstarter as a publisher, but I’m genuinely amazed by the response we’ve gotten from fans. We just set a second bonus goal – if we raise twice the money we originally asked for, we’ll give everyone another set of free stuff that we developed for our continuous four-day demo of the game at Gen Con – and it seems quite likely that we’ll hit that target. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that people are excited by what we’re doing, since these things are coded into the genome of the original RPG and create an itch that’s rarely scratched.

Any plans for the game to have any sort of permissive license or OGL-type permissions?

TA: Yes, we gratefully use the Open Game License to work with the material others have developed and contribute our own work to the community in turn. We added a compatibility license that lets you declare that your new thing is part of the same conversation as ACKS, and also cite the sections of your new work that are inspired by ours. Giving credit in this way is made difficult by provisions of the OGL, so we designed our add-on license to let you play with our toys and say you’re doing so without our permission.

We’ve been gratified that, because he felt “the unified economic system inside ACKS is a really inspired piece of work”, one of our backers has already decided to use this license and make the system he’d been developing in parallel, Hill Cantons: Borderlands, compatible with ours. I’m really excited by this: as a gamer, it’s awesome to have two different takes on a subject that are designed to work well with one another instead of repeating the same ground or offering contradictory solutions to the same problem.

What’s next for you guys?

TA: First up is fulfilling the Kickstarter promise: taking the core system, and the Domains of War mass-combat supplement that was the first bonus goal, polishing them in response to backer input, and doing illustration, layout, and printing.

After that, we’ve got a bunch of other stuff ready to go or in the pipeline. A character compendium with stuff like making new classes. Campaign gazetteers for the Auran Empire and the White Sandbox. Sample lairs and treasures, and online tools for generating more. Adventures that work on all levels: you could use our Keep as a base to explore dungeons, or a place to restock your caravans, or a stronghold to defend against an army.

So, if folks want to learn more about Adventurer Conqueror King, where can they go (hint: this is where you do your publicity blurb and all that fun stuff!)?

TA: You have cleverly worn me out before I got to the hucksterism! Our web site is You’ll always find a link to our latest Kickstarter in the right margin, but I’ll save you the trouble: And if you’re at Gen Con, you can visit us in the exhibit hall where we’ll be at the Old School Renaissance booth, #1541.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Happy Birthday, Gary!

Today, Gary Gygax would have been 73 years old.

I hope you have some great gaming tonight or this week in the tradition of a man who helped give us this hobby. If you're so inclined, check out the Gygax Memorial Fund and make a donation, so that Gary's memorial statue may be erected in Lake Geneva. If you're going to be at Gen Con, you can also stop by the OSR booth (#1541) and donate.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Lure of the Dungeon

Today's article is a response to a question from reader Shawn, who asked the following:

...this section got my interest "dungeon/underground/location-based adventuring." Maybe because I did not come into the hobby through D&D, dungeon crawls have never had any real appeal to me. The average description of them just sound boring to me and very repetitive. I would like to see a blog from you on the appeal of dungeon crawls, if you're interested.

Of course! Great topic! I'll be honest, I like a mix of both dungeon-based and overland/city-based adventuring. Probably if all my games did was muck about in dungeons, we'd all get pretty bored pretty quickly.

I think when some people think of dungeon crawls, they think of open/bash down the door, fight orcs, and grab loot as all there is to it. In one case, yes, dungeons can just be obstacle courses set up for your player characters to navigate; games such as X-Crawl excel at this line of thinking. But although a dungeon can be simply a maze or series of obstacles, to have it stop there is to really sell it short.

A dungeon is not just a place where each level exists independently of each other. The Lizardmen on Level 2 will allow you safe passage...for a price. Meanwhile, the gnomes who are conducting excavations on Level 3 just want to be left alone, but they've been harassed by a family of rust monsters, which have been forced out of their lair by the Lizardmen. The Hobgoblin in the secret passage in Level 4 hate everyone, but they want the Evil Blood God Cult down on Level 7 gone, just like everyone. Just like a hamlet or village is full of the interlocking parts, rivalries, trade, and opportunities that make it come to life, should should a dungeon be as well.

If your dungeon isn't functioning as a living, breathing, interactive place, then you might be missing out on the part that really brings it to life.

In addition to that, there's a reason we're fascinated about stories such as the trapped Chilean miners. The interior of the earth, even in a fantasy world, is one of the last great unknowns, and holds a vast potential for fear. It's associated with tombs, fey folk, and even the supernatural underworld itself. It runs the gamut from Orpheus to the Mole People. It's the idea of dying somewhere with thousands of tons of earth pressing over you, away from the eyes of man and god alike. When your band is traipsing through the wilderness and they enter a dungeon, they're on the frontier of the frontier.

Really, dungeons can be as exciting and as unique a location as you want to make them. In fact, if your dungeon is safe, unremoved from the world, or predictable, it's no wonder you have little appetite for them.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Field Guide to Gen Con Attendees

As promised, following up on my last article, here’s my list of types of attendees you just might run into at Gen Con. To be fair, a good number of Gen Con attendees are pretty run-of-the-mill con-goers. Yet some types stick out like a sore thumb….

The Shill
If you are within a 20’ radius of this individual’s booth, there is no escape. Want to demo his RPG? Oh, you don’t have time? Well, perhaps you’ll have time when he informs you he’s taken your grandmother hostage. You will play his demo. You will sit through the 30-minute infomercial on Why His RPG Does Things No Other RPG Does. He will shove the book in your face until, blackened and bloody, you relent and purchase his game. He will be there next year, to sell you the accessory book he wrote for it. Better buy it. For Grandma’s sake.

The Booth Babe
Yes, she is dressed like a slave-girl. No, she doesn’t like comics or RPGs. Yes, you can take her picture; that’s what she’s there for. No, you cannot touch her personal assets. She’s making $100/day for this “modeling opportunity”. That is not enough for her to be your girlfriend, even in your fantasies.

The Bacteria Colony
A lot of gamers start to get the funk about them late on Day 2; this fellow rolled into town with a legion of flies circling his mass already. He coughs loudly and forcefully, not caring to cover his mouth, producing phlegm that may be capable of basic sentience. If he were alive in the Middle Ages, he would be sent over siege walls in a catapult to bring his special manner of plague to a city’s defenders.

The Cosplay Kid
This specimen is either a 12 year-old girl, or a 17 year-old guy with a 12 year-old girlfriend. They are dressed in the manner of some anime series you have never heard of, nor would care to. They may have suppanted LARPers as the most irrirating Gen Con attendees. Roving groups of these kids plague the convention center, stopping every 15 feet to take photos of another group while flashing the “peace” sign and assuming what I imagine is supposed to be an iconic pose. As long you told them it was Japanese, they would think the Bataan Death March is cool. Which it might have been, were the victims cosplayers instead of the American military.

The 40 Year-Old Pokémon Ace
This man loves Yu-Gi-Oh, or Pokémon, or whatever other anime franchise card game is currently on the market. All well and good. Yet you will observe him being uber-competitive, potentially trash-talking and shouting down his 9 year-old opponent. He is literally a man among children, and he loves every moment of it. The younger his opponent, the more arrogant and cocksure he becomes of victory. Yeah, you’re a badass, alright. Do you also play Pee Wee Football and gloat after scoring a touchdown?

The Creep In The Costume
Our gaming circle has never fully recovered from an encounter with a guy dressed somewhat like Max Rebo from the Mos Eisley Cantina. We were attempting to get to the Tower of Gygax, when he lumbered forth to ask us if we wanted to play a game. We declined. He insisted. We fled, thinking we were safe. As we came to the top of the escalator—and I swear this is true—there he was again! How he got in front of us I don’t know, but he asked us again to play in a game. We’re still trying to figure out how he did it. Yes, one of his ilk will try to solicit you for a game (or something else) or attempt to hand you something. Get your running shoes on.

The True Believer
This is what happens when a Shill does not have a booth. He loves his chosen RPG to a fault. Whether it is Pathfinder, or D&D 4e, or some indie game you’ve never heard of, being a fan is not enough for this guy. He wants you to be a fan. He will offer, unsolicited, lengthy analysis of how awesome his game is. If need be, he has examples of where your game sucks in this regard. You suspect that if you asked, he would in fact have a Power Point presentation on his laptop covering these same items. The best advice I can give you is to tell him a serial killer or notorious sexual offender was known to enjoy his game of choice and run as he chokes on his outrage.

The Blocker
This is a relatively benign entity; however, he or she does have a distressing knack for holding up your progress. They block crowded hallways, stopping in the middle of everyone to readjust everything in their overloaded backpack. If there is a flow of traffic, they will be in front of you, stopping to muse upon subjects forever unknown. If you visit a vendor booth, they will be directly in front of the thing you want to look at. You cannot hope to influence this individual to move; you must simply be patient, and wait for the Human Traffic Cone to decide it is time once more to ponderously take their leave.

The Guy With A Sword
Granted, at Gen Con this includes about 20% of the on-floor populace at any given time, but this guy really, seriously, has a sword (probably a katana or a replica of a sword from Highlander) out, seemingly in defiance of the entire “secure your dangerous crap” rules Gen Con has. He may even take several practice cuts in the air, narrowly missing the ear of a nearby gentleman in a Linux t-shirt. You know that if you ask this fellow, he will be happy to explain how his studies and rigorous training in his parents’ basement have brought him to the pinnacle of mastery with this fine blade. For it is an extension of him, and….oh, hi, Mr. Security Guard. No, sir, but I am fully trained in the mighty arts of the mystic….I see. Very well. But only because I do not wish to wield in anger this day. Now, about the swords used in the filming of Excalibur

The Copy Whore
This individual writes a column, runs a blog, or has contributed to a podcast in some form in the past 5 years. They feel this entitles them to review copies from each and every booth out there. They are not shy about this fact, and are understandably peeved when they are told no. Don’t you understand that their tens of readers would more than make up for the $59.95 price of that book? So what if you only brought 12 advance copies? Mark me well, vendor, my readers shall hear of this outrage!

(Seeing a well-known RPG writer and sometime-columnist do this a few years ago was a nasty surprise. It’s ok to ask once; don’t ask like it’s a slap in the face when they say no. You aren’t any more entitled than anyone else).

The Rules Lawyer
That’s right, they aren’t just at your table. The Rules Lawyers love Gen Con. When they aren’t trying to argue how damage bonuses should work for 3 out of 4 allotted hours of a RPG session that you paid good money for, they are likely engaging booth personnel, telling them how their system is flawed and how he arrived at a most powerful build. They will also apparate at your game, critiquing your character as wildly un-optimized or “illegal”.

The Biographer
As I mentioned yesterday, people will want to Tell You About Their Character, but none do it so well or for so long a time as this fellow. Hearken, fellow con-goer, as I tell for you the tale of Raven Stormshadow, half-drow bard of Waterdeep. Strong and wise was he, as he totally had a Belt of Giant’s Strength, and a Diadem of The Sage. I shall tell you of the time when he lost his favored weapon, Wyvernsbane, a +4 Halberd, and of the great quest he went on to get it back….

Behind every Biographer is a gamer who just “knows” that a novel about their favorite character’s adventures would be a raging success.

If you’re nice, they might even let you read the first chapter. (BLANK) killed their (BLANK) when they were younger, would be my guess.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My Gen Con Advice To You

With Gen Con almost here and my press badge secure once again, I thought it’d be a good time to put out my annual Gen Con Advice List. If you’re headed to Gamer Mecca for the first time or fourteenth time, here’s a list of things to aim for and to remember:

Wear That Stupid T-Shirt (Once).
You know the one I’m talking about. Perhaps it’s one that has a little too much innuendo for the office (“Rogues Do It From Behind”), or is so incredibly nerdy it would be considered out of place at a Math Club vs. A/V Society Monty Python Trivia Challenge. Gen Con is perhaps the greatest chance you will have to wear that shirt in a social setting.

Don’t Overbook.
The biggest issue I think people have at their first Gen Con is scheduling 20 out of 24 hours of their day in events. Honestly, you’ll find yourself rushing from place to place, or late, or simply burnt out if you do this. Make a list of all the events you want, and sign up for your top 3 or 4. Buy some generic tickets, so if you do have time, you can show right up and get in the game. If you’re busy with one of the hundred other unexpected opportunities Gen Con offers, well, you aren’t out much.

Give Yourself Time For Demos.
This ties into the advice to not overbook. Wander the dealer hall; you’ll find many of the coolest opportunities you have don’t cost event tickets at all. Many booths are happy to run demos or answer your questions. Are the best in life really free? At least at Gen Con, sometimes they are.

Courtesy, Courtesy, Courtesy.
Don’t be That Guy, ok? If you’ve been talking to a vendor for the past 20 minutes and there’s a line of impatient people behind you trying to get the guy’s business, be cognizant that there are tens of thousands of other potential customers this guy needs to have the opportunity to interact with. You can always come back later when it isn’t as slammed. On a similar note, the guy last year wearing the shirt with the picture of Jesus doing something obscene on the front probably didn’t give a crap how anyone else felt, but some things just aren’t cool in a convention with plenty of kids and folks with differing sensibilities running about.

Lines May Spell Your Doom.
At some point, you will be in a line. Perhaps to check out at a booth, perhaps for food. I have had some great discussions with total strangers (the massive line when Pathfinder was released comes to mind), but there is also about an 80% chance someone is going to Tell You About Their Character. I have also noticed that people who like to Tell You About Their Character prefer classes with names and concepts like “Bladedancer”, “Shadoweaver”, “Swordweaver”, “Shadowdancer”, or even “Swordsinger”. Be warned.

Bring A Water Bottle.
I’ve forgotten to hydrate once or twice, and until you do it, you really don’t notice the difference. Look, you’re going to put a lot of crap in your body during Gen Con, no matter what I say here. You might as well dilute it with some water.

Bring Snacks.
One year, I had almost zero budget for Gen Con, so I just brought a giant carton of Slim Jims and a bag of dried pineapple chunks. There have been cities caught in year-long sieges that ate better than I did that week. Listen, you don’t want to pay through the nose for stuff around the convention center. Buy some trail mix, buy some marginally healthy stuff, buy some apples, for heaven’s sake, and throw it in your bag.

Prepare To Feel In Shape.
I am a Midwesterner who enjoys his food, and could charitably be described as “husky” or “portly”. Yet when I go to Gen Con, I am a veritable Olympian. For four days each August, I feel like I could reasonably beat 90% of my peers in a footrace. Further, I also suspect 87% of my peers would die if subjected to that same footrace. Hey, this is your chance to feel good about that sexy bod of yours. Enjoy it.

Be A Smart Shopper.
Unless you’re aiming for something exclusive you absolutely, positively HAVE to have on Day 1, take your time shopping. Dice, minis, and even out-of-print or used RPGs have several different vendors throughout the hall. There’s nothing worse than buying something for $20 on Day 1 and seeing the same thing elsewhere a day or two later for $5 or $10. I like to wander on Day 1, make a potential shopping list, and then go back when I’ve had time to look around a bit more.

Say Yes To Hygiene.
We will assume none of the readers are that guy who smells like a chicken processing plant bathed in Axe body spray by the closing stages of Day 2. Even so, if you want to avoid the post-convention crud, make sure to wash your hands plenty, and possibly consider bringing a small bottle of hand sanitizer. Additionally, if you’re a sweaty type, bring a couple squares of wet wipes. It can really help refresh you when you’re feeling scummy. Look at the attendees of Gen Con, and just think how many rare diseases and skin conditions are probably shared between one of the least healthy gatherings of people outside of a Wisconsin Cheese Festival.

Travel Light.
You will never need as much as you think you will need at Gen Con Indy. Leave it in your trunk or hotel room. That bag starts to get mighty heavy around lunchtime, especially if you add any purchases to the pile.

Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone.
No, I don’t mean necessarily do an Avatar LARP, attend a private hentai viewing, or force yourself to do karaoke night at a local pub. Some horrors are best left locked away, after all. But there are dozens upon dozens of RPGs and games that will be new to you at Gen Con. Look at something a little less traditional, or something that might seem silly or novel. If it doesn’t do anything for you, you’re out 15 minutes of your time. But if it does, then maybe you’ve hit upon one of those hidden little gems that make Gen Con what it is.

Coming shortly, we’ll take a look at some of the types of attendees you’ll run into at Gen Con.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Using A Tablet For RPG PDFs?

For some time now, I’ve been considering getting a tablet for my gaming. My pdfs are legion, and more and more I find them really handy to have for reference at the actual gaming table (though I still like having a hard copy or printout of the RPG as well).

I know we have to have a decent amount of tablet users out there. Any recommendations on things to look for? The two big ones I’ve looked at are the iPad (not being flash-ready sort of took the wind out of that one for me) and the Samsung Galaxy line, which a couple folks have mentioned in my preliminary research. I’d like something that’s got a long battery life, is easy to operate and read, and will hold a metric ton of pdfs. Oh, and if it doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg, that’s nice, too.

So, bring on those recommendations, or let me know if you use a tablet for gaming. How’s it working out for you? Any pitfalls I should know of?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

RuneQuest VI Is A Go!

From The Rune Under Water, one of my favorite gaming blogs, here's a bit of exciting Saturday news:

We are delighted to announce our agreement with Issaries Inc, allowing The Design Mechanism to produce a new edition of RuneQuest and supporting supplements. You can read the full Press Release by clicking on the link to the right.
The way all this will work is as follows:
  • The Design Mechanism will be producing the sixth published edition of RQ for an early 2012 release.
  • We will be publishing the core rules and all future supplements in partnership with Moon Design. This allows us to call upon their resources for a wide range of things that would be too costly for us to develop singly.
  • Working with Moon we also have access to Glorantha, meaning that RuneQuest material for both Second and Third Age Glorantha will be not just possible, but a reality.
Work on the 6th edition of the rules has begun but the hard work will be between September and December as we prepare for the release. More information on the actual release date will be given nearer the time.

It sounds like 3rd Age Glorantha will be supported once more, which is great news for fans of that setting. Additionally, I like that it sounds as if there will be a mechanism in place for third-party RQVI products. What will be interesting is to see how compatible Mongoose's RQII/Legend system will be with this new endeavor.

Check out links here and here for more. Honestly, what a crazy few years it's been for RuneQuest! There's more iterations, interest, and support out there now than there's been in some time, it seems.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A New Sandbox

With my Rifts campaign under control and looking forward to platooning that with playing in a Castles and Crusades game, I’ve been messing around with Hexographer once again, this time looking to create a new sandbox for the next Castles and Crusades game I run.

While I’m messing around with the geography, I’m taking a lot of enjoyment from rereading Rob Conley’s Wilderlands work, including some of the notes he’s had on his setting. Of course, there’s also the West Marches, which I love to hear about, and Rythlondar, which has been a truly enjoyable read. Influenced not only by those settings, but by some thoughts I’ve had kicking around in my head for a while, I want this new sandbox to have several specific features and themes:

-Few civilized settlements (Check; outside of a single Kingdom mid-sized city, there only exist a few villages, each precariously clinging to life in the wilds).

-Split adventuring between overland/wilderness adventure and dungeon/underground/location-based adventuring (To be determined; I think there are plenty of opportunities for both, but we’ll see how the players feel).

-Distance between adventuring points (Check; I’ve spaced everything enough between prime destinations that getting there should be part of the adventure in and of itself. No walking 5 miles across grassland next to a city to find the Mount of Doom, but at the same time, I don’t want weeks of travel time between objectives. With a gaming group with fluid attendance, that’s not a good thing).

-Manageable overall distance, yet room for expansion (Check, I think. I’m looking at an area about 200 miles long by 150 miles wide. That might seem big or small to some people, depending on if you’re used to Forgotten Realms or Thunder Rift, but it’s considerably smaller than many of the other settings I’ve brewed).

-Easily accessible setting (Check, I think. This sort of goes with the bullet point above. My goal is to present locations, geography, settings, religion, calendar, and history of this area in a short, 16-page primer. It also needs to be enough of a common fantasy ground so that a new players shouldn’t feel a need to read that primer if they don’t want. Basically, I want just enough of a hook to get things going without burdening them with thousands of square miles of geography, ages of intricate history, and everything else. I can always just build outward when/if they want more.

-An Adventurer’s Guild that helps find work and integrate new PCs into the game (Check; I’m still refining this so it isn’t completely hokey, but Michael Curtis’ excellent Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope is a great inspiration. Hopefully, the Adventurer’s Guild will also give me some cover for when players miss sessions).

There are some more marks I wanted to hit, but hopefully I’ll have a something finished for it soon, and I can just show you what I mean.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Adding To The Legend

Chgowiz has a great write-up today about a Total Party Kill (two, actually) that happened to his group. It sounds like the characters who had survived the first portion of combat had a chance to flee, and did not, preferring to take their chances in combat. The result? Bye-bye party.

I want to focus on that Troll Mage Chgowiz had out there as the party’s adversary. TPKs suck, but some good can still come out of them. Imagine the rumors that start to fly about that troll, for example, rumors that turn into tales that grow with each telling.

“Two bands of adventurers went into the Troll’s bog….and were never heard from again!”

“I heard he froze an entire party solid!”

One of the things about running a world where adventuring parties can make their mark is that the baddies can grow with them. Adventures get slaughtered, and a legend is born.

Seriously, what better way for a group to make their reputation than to take down an enemy which has hitherto seemed invincible? It’s yet another case of the reward and sense of accomplishment being linked to the heightened sense of danger and risk.

Play it up. Have well-meaning nobles put a massive bounty on the Troll’s Head. Have bards scare the wee’uns with tales of Crooknose the Troll Mage, who eats adventurers and bad children whole. Caravan guards won’t travel that way, and merchants are beside themselves as a result.

You start with an adversary. You just might end up with a bona fide Legend.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Gen Con Shopping List: Accessories

I’m trying to put together my shopping list for this year’s Gen Con Indy. I have a book I know I want to grab at Palladium’s booth, a couple things I’m hoping they have at the Troll Lord Games booth, and there’s also the inevitable, joyful stop at the Gamescience booth. I’m also curious to see how the OSR booth shakes out.

Even with my (always) limited budget, there are a few things I’m on the lookout for. I’d like some tokens or minis I don’t have paint or print out, for example, that are relatively cheap to pick up. I really like my Disposable Heroes (though I need more bases), but I’m always on the lookout for something else.

There’s also Hirst Arts and Alea Tools. As always, I’ll look at Hirst’s plaster molds and dream about what I could build with them, but will inevitably not buy them, citing it as a) too much work, b) too expensive, or c) both. I know I need to grab some more of Alea’s insanely useful magnetic stackable markers, which are useful for pretty much anything and everything.

What about it? Anything you expect to see at Gen Con I should watch? I’m pretty much set on gaming supplements except for what I mentioned above; what I’m all about this year is gaming accessories.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The ENnies: I Am Out Of Touch (And That’s OK)

Wow. The thing about cutting wayyyy back on your gaming budget and not messing around as much with games you’ll never play anyway is that you have less of an idea about what the New Hotness is.

I imagine there are many gamers who know precisely what’s going on with all the ENnie Awards nominees this year, but I really don’t. As in, not even 20% of them. Of course, a big part of the ENnies is getting the word out on products the judges feel are excellent, so maybe that’s ok.

Honestly, unless something can be ported to the games I’m likely to run or is system-generic, the reality is I’m probably not going to look at it. Again, I don’t doubt the excellence of many of these products, just the usefulness of this to me personally. Let’s look at it, category by category:

Best Adventure
I have not read any of these items, though I heard good things about Paizo’s entry from one of my Pathfinder buddies.

Best Aid/Accessory
I’ve heard of the Dungeon Tiles set and Vornheim, but didn’t check out either. I actually have checked out the Hero Lab, Gaming Paper, and Eclipse Phase entries. Out of those, I really liked the utility of Gaming Paper Adventure Maps.

Best Cover Art
The only one I really can recall from this list is Eoris Essence, since there was so much hype leading up to the release. Honestly, this category doesn’t matter much to me as it used to.

Best Art, Interior
0-fer, with the exception of the Pathfinder entry.

Best Blog
Now this is a category I can follow! I usually check out all these blogs, except Critical Hits (although I do check in on Chatty DM’s portion of that site regularly). Thistle Games is newer to me, but at least I’ve heard of it. I still believe Gnome Stew is the best blog out there for Game Masters.

Best Cartography
Another wash, except for Gaming Paper.

Best Electronic Book

Best Free Product
OK, here we go! BattleTech, Old School Hack, and Paizo—I’ve checked all those out. I thought all three were pretty cool in their own way.

Best Game
I have actually played Icons, which I liked. I’ve read parts of Dresden, but have only played a short demo.

Best Miniatures Product
Negatory, except for the Honorable Mention. However, I am immensely skeptical of any list not including the products of Fat Dragon Games (assuming they entered). I’m in the market for some cheap, good-looking pre-made minis products at Gen Con, though!

Best Monster/Adversary

Best New Game
Icons and Dresden, again. Stars Without Number was excellent, and a fun campaign. A Taste For Murder is a great name for an Agatha Christie novel, though!

Best Podcast
I really don’t have time to listen to podcasts much right now, but my normal podcasts aren’t really represented here (except for Atomic Array now and again).

Best Production Values
Dresden, again. I heard L5R was purty, though.

Best RPG Related Product
Batting .000 here.

Best Rules
Icons and Dresden once more. Enjoyed Icons. From what I read of Dresden it might be a little heavier than I like, but I’d have to check out some more actual play.

Best Setting
Pathfinder’s Inner Sea World Guide is the only one I’ve checked out. Personally, I think Greyhawk should win every year, even though the line is for now cast aside.

Best Supplement
Pathfinder comes through again!

Best Website
We at last come to a category where I am generally familiar with all the sites listed. Kudos to each of them—I would hate to have to pick from this category!

Best Writing
Gatecrashing and Dresden.

Product of the Year
Pathfinder and Dresden. Outside of that….

The judges of the ENnies definitely get a ton of free gaming books, which is a nice compensation for their time, but it’s still a heck of a responsibility to read and decide on so many products. Cheers to them for their efforts—I’m just not sure how relevant it is to me. I don’t have the time, money, or interest to try umpteen new systems right now. The stuff I do like is by and large not represented. I might not exactly be on the cutting edge of the hobby anymore, but I’m finding more and more I don’t mind.

My favorite things from the past couple years? Joe Bloch’s Castle of the Mad Archmage, which was free. Ditto with much of the classical D&D advice I’ve ported to my Castles & Crusades rules and overall philosophy. Jared Sorensen’s Parsely Games, which cost me 99 cents apiece. Stuff Clash Bowley writes. Gnome Stew’s (Engine Publishing) Eureka, which wasn’t nominated. Stars Without Number, which did get an Honorable Mention at least.

It doesn't mean the ENnie choices are bad; we've just gone in different directions, which means they've lost some relevance to my gaming.

Friday Discussion: Are You Better Off Now?

Today, we’re bringing back Friday Discussion. The blogosphere pretty much shuts down on Fridays, which is why back in the day I started doing Friday Discussions on this site—nothing too serious, nothing too deep, just gamers chatting about gaming.

Today’s question is possibly a little more introspective than some of the questions I’ve posed here:

Is your gaming better today than it was 10 years ago? 5 years ago?

I’m not just talking about time to game, I’m talking about happiness with your gaming options, your current game selection, discussion of the hobby, etc. Are things better or worse, and why?

I’m really looking forward to your responses on this, and I hope we can revisit and discuss this next week after we hear from the readers. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

About Yesterday's Mess...

It’s easy to get discouraged or upset when you’re a blogger. At some point, this stuff can become personal, just like we tend to make routinely make other things in this hobby perhaps more personal than they should be. But in blogging, sort of like in publishing a RPG supplement, you’re putting some of yourself out there, and that’s exactly why we do take it personally at times.

When I see something like the deal with Destination Unknown yesterday, it reminds me of the times in the past I’ve poured the lighter fluid on some internet nastiness. I’m not proud of it, and you wonder how often the result ends up being someone who just says “to hell with the whole mess”, and walks away. I mean, I don’t mind the little digs and snark here and there—Lord knows I supply enough of my own, but I think we go too far too often.

I'm happy Christian's decided not to walk away. But others probably have.

OK, enough hand-wringing. Let's just agree to generally Be Excellent To Each Other and move on, yeah?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Obama Faces Stiff Opposition Over Edition War Troop Increase

Faced with pressing defense obligations already in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, President Obama received harsh bipartisan criticism over his commitment last week to send 10,000 additional U.S. troops into the more volatile parts of the internet to quell the flames of the ongoing Edition War over Dungeons & Dragons.

The Obama Administration’s move is widely seen as reacting to breaking news last week that Mr. Wendell Gurfor, aka HinjoMazazaki11, of Napa, California, posted an identical thread on a dozen different internet message boards claiming “3e is a dinosaur game”, as well as “Pathfinder is for old farts who can’t cope with progress in gaming”.

Within minutes of the posting, the internet exploded with references to “fatbeards”, “kewl powerz”, and a 3,000-post debate on Why The Hell Gnomes And Barbarians Aren’t In The Player’s Handbook Anymore. 14 U.S. Marines and 5 forum moderators were injured before order was restored.

“My fellow Americans, it is time to act,” declared Obama in a special televised address from the Oval Office. “The America I know doesn’t push 1 square at a time, and we don’t use expeditious retreat in the face of big challenges. So long as our flag flies, the game will remain the same”.

In a response to the speech, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), lauded President Obama’s move, but stressed the importance of traditional values.

“I am pleased to see the President’s commitment to safeguarding the gaming hobby, but am concerned that we ensure we still adhere to the values which make America great. Here, we make our own way, roll our own stats and hit points as-is, and know that with a 10-foot pole, nothing is truly out of reach,” responded Rubio in an address immediately following the President’s.

The first of the troops, a regiment from Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division, is expected to depart by early August, to shore up positions in and around ENWorld, RPGnet, and the so-called “black hole” of the Edition War, Twitter. They will be among the first troops to be equipped with both improved body armor and lengthy dissertations explaining why Race As Class Isn’t That Big Of A Deal.

Additionally, the United States Air Force plans to increase its bombing runs over key parts of the Internet. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Gustav Caine says the USAF has decided to veer away from the “nuclear option” in favor of the more powerful “Borgstrom option”, which delivers up to 50,000 kilotons of incomprehensible, impenetrable gibberish to neutralize and obfuscate even the most detailed rules debates.

Supporters of the plan say the timing is perfect, especially with the news that gaming company Wizards of the Coast will be posting a new blog entry on their site in regards to just how incredibly close in gameplay, philosophy, and overall design D&D 4th Edition is to every previous edition of D&D, especially the early “White Box” edition of D&D.

However, public opinion is seen as breaking severely against the move. The plan’s detractors state that the Edition War has died down, with fewer internet messageboard bannings and flameouts over the first half of 2011 versus any comparable period dating back to 2008. Still others argue this isn’t a fight the U.S. should be waging in the first place.

“Clearly, the priorities of America are misplaced. We need our tax dollars to go towards education, drum circles, and subsidizing purchases of my 14-page, $19.95 game about mutant vegetables out to sexually violate one another. Trust me, it’s [expletive] hot and totally rocks out,” said Damian Woodscrow, indie game designer and founder of Indie Game Designers Against (Edition) War, or IGDA(E)W.

For those troops already on the ground, the Edition War rages on, with no end seemingly in sight.

“I’ve seen [expletive] I can’t unsee, man,” said PFC James Morad, of Alexandria, VA. “I saw one of my friends have his 5,000-word message board argument deconstructed using a Mike Mearls Livejournal post. Have you ever tried to follow one of those as it applies to game design? I just….”

Morad broke off with a shudder, giving inarticulate definition to what so many soldiers already here so keenly feel.

It appears soon, they’ll be joined by their brethren in this great fight that simply shows no end in sight.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: Masks Is A GM's Dream

I've previously reviewed Engine Publishing's Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots, so when I was asked if I would review the latest and greatest from the gents at Gnome Stew, I was definitely on board with doing so.

If Eureka was Engine Publishing's rookie entry in the field of GM's aid supplements, Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs is where they show what they've learned. It would be a disservice to simply call this a big book of Non-Player Characters. Masks is a system-neutral, well-organized treasury of memorable, easy-to-use NPCs that will add to any Game Master's arsenal.

First things first, though: my review copy was a pdf, and came in at 338 total pages in a 17MB file. The entire product is bookmarked, as any commercial RPG product probably should be these days. It's a nice cover, with some good, evocative art by Christopher Reach.

Too many GM products simply aren't well-organized; again, the creators of Masks show they understand the importance of accessing information quickly by category. After a short foreword by Wolfgang Baur and some general GMing advice, we get right into how to use this book. And that's really a strength of Engine products over their first two books; if this were just a thrown-together list of NPCs, that's one thing. Instead, each entry is classified by genre, and whether they are potential villains, allies, or neutral parties for the campaign.

The NPC entries are split into thirds between fantasy, science fiction, and modern types. Each NPC entry has a title, a brief descriptor and quote to give you an overall idea of the character, and then goes into the finer details. Appearance, Roleplaying Tips, Personality, Motivation, and Traits are all listed. I really like how the entries give you so much to go on in as few words as possible. The editors should be proud, because they really excelled in doing as much as they could in a reasonable amount of space.

Masks also give you advice on "re-skinning" these characters to fit in any genre, as well as a cool look behind the scenes at some "keywords" used in making the NPCs. It's the sort of tool that really extends the potential usability and inspiration this work can bring.

One of the built-in features of Masks that might be overlooked at first glance is the running ribbon of different potential NPC names running from start to finish. If you're stumped for a name, you can basically jump to a random page and put your finger on a good name to use. It's a small thing, but very handy nonetheless.

As far as layout goes, I again want to reiterate it seems that everything has gone into making this book as easy to use as possible. The design is well-organized, with a good table of contents, index, and a nifty appendix in the back linking certain NPCs into usable organizations such as "Bandit Group" or "Noble With Retainers". The art seems to be always fitting, but never in the way or overdone. Not every NPC is illustrated, but you wouldn't expect it, with 1,000 of them to be done.

In summation, Masks is a great second outing from Engine Publishing and the lads at Gnome Stew. The preorder price is $39.95 for hardcover/pdf or $19.95 for pdf. The hardcover will only be available through Engine Publishing and at Gen Con; game stores will see a softcover edition through distribution. Either way, I believe Game Masters will be well-served in picking this up. Engine Publishing is quickly showing they know just how to compile and publish great resources for GMs. Masks is a great book that's already seeing use at my table, and I'm sure it's got a good chance to be just as useful at yours.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Character Creation: Too Much Time?

Our first Rifts session went really well on Saturday. We had two new players, and both of them jumped right in and did a fine job. The group was of wildly varying power levels, but everyone found a niche or behavior and did well with it. A robot, three suits of power armor, a hovercycle, and a half-squad of bandits all met their demise.

One note of concern had to be character creation. Now, I am all about character creation. I love group chargen, and feel everything goes better when you make characters as a group. I print out handouts, easy-to-follow instructions, and try to make it as painless as possible. Now, some of it was of course due to have a mixed group of people and some staggered arrivals, but I think the character creation process still took too long, and one of the new players commented afterwards on the same issue. I think it had the potential to turn them off gaming before we even started.

I've done everything I can to speed up character creation and still do it by at least the ghost of the Palladium rules; I'm thinking that the next step would be to do templates, letting characters just add in stats and related and secondary skills. I suppose I could do that, but front-loading more work on the GM.

It's going to be something for me to chew on, but more and more, I appreciate being able to jump right in and game, ala Castles & Crusades. On the other hand, Rolemaster and Rifts/Palladium Fantasy are much more involved character creation, but have also given us some of our greatest games. I'm probably going to revisit this several times, but I think spending a couple of hours creating characters vs. jumping right in is getting less and less desirable. At the same time, you want to ensure that especially veteran gamers still feel like they have plenty of "tweak" options available. The nice thing is I think most of the group's on the same page with this one, so depending on what our next campaign is, we'll see what we come up with.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Get Well Soon Post

I just wanted to take a quick moment this morning to wish Alex Marciniszyn a quick recovery from his illness. Palladium's Senior Editor was mentioned in yesterday's Palladium Weekly Update as suffering from Polychromasia, which is a pretty nasty blood condition. Alex is usually more behind-the-scenes type at Palladium, but he's been involved with them since the beginning. In any case, cheers, Alex, we hope you're feeling better soon.