Wednesday, June 30, 2010

JMS's signature contribution to media

If you were writing an article, and had to let folks know who J. Michael Straczynski is with but a single phrase, what would you pick? 

Babylon 5, you might be thinking? No. The New Twilight Zone? Captain Power? His Canne-competing film Changeling? No, no, and no again. If you're writing an article about him, apparently the thing to mention out of his entire body of work is Murder She Wrote.

I kid you not.

DexCon Schedule Now Up!

Better late than never!

The good folks at Dexposure have posted the schedule of events for the upcoming Dexcon 13 convention in Morristown, NJ July 7-11. Here's the juicy bits...

I will be running Castle of the Mad Archmage (AD&D 1E) twice:

R0210 Thursday 8 PM - Midnight
R0243 Friday 2 PM - 6 PM

I will also be running the classic module Tomb of Horrors (AD&D 1E):

R0264 Friday 8 PM - Midnight
R0319 Saturday 8 PM - Midnight

Also, the "Invasion of the Grognards" will commence! In addition to the above, the following bits of old-school goodness await your pleasure:

R0198 Thursday 1 PM - 5 PM: "Ruins of Glantri" (Basic D&D)
D1025 Thursday 5 PM - 6 PM: "What is the Old School Revival?" (Panel Discussion)
R0214 Thursday 8 PM - Midnight: "A League of their Own" (Marvel Super Heroes)
R0246 Friday2 PM - 6 PM: "Ruins of Glantri" (Basic D&D)
R0307 Saturday 2 PM - 6 PM: "Ruins of Glantri" (Basic D&D)
R0308 Saturday 2 PM - 6 PM: "Stonehell" (Labyrinth Lord)
R0320 Saturday 8 PM - Midnight: "Ruins of Glantri" (Basic D&D)
R0322 Saturday 8 PM - Midnight: "Dar Janix: City of Towers" (Labyrinth Lord)

Unfortunately, the Gamma World and Star Frontiers games don't seem to have materialized, but considering this is a "latest and greatest games" convention (one of the proud sponsors of a huge Indy Games effort), I think 7 pre-1985 games is pretty good.

Please, if you're in the area and would like to do a little old schoolery, stop on by! The convention does accept pre-registrations for games.

EDIT (7/4/10): Found a few more sessions of games on the schedule that I missed the first time through.

Monday, June 21, 2010


A consortium of several different gaming and media companies has put together a new quarterly multi-platform gaming magazine called d-∞, which promises to cover a broad array of gaming systems, including D&D 4E, Pathfinder/D&D 3.5, Labyrinth Lord, Mutant Future, and other independent games.

I confess I like broadly appealing magazines of this type on a number of levels. Even if I don't personally use all of the articles directly, this sort of thing does give me a chance to keep a finger on the pulse of games I don't necessarily play myself, and promotes the sort of cross-fertilization that I think is an important part of gaming in general (and the OSR in particular). I'm naturally thrilled to see games like Labyrinth Lord and Mutant Future mentioned by name (and in fact, the free promotional issue has an article specifically geared towards LL/MF, featuring six new spells dealing with the creation of new creatures). This all-inclusive editorial policy reminds me of the early days of The Dragon and White Dwarf, before they were turned into house organs almost solely for the promotion of their respective publishers' material.

The preview "Issue 0" was apparently given out as a Free RPG Day promotion, but you can download the 16 page pdf from DriveThruRPG. It's most definitely worth a look, and I'm looking forward to see how the content fleshes out in future issues.

(Hat tip to Purple Pawn)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Taking Inventory

I recently did something of a reshuffle of some of my gaming materials, finally getting all my 1E rulebooks in one place. That led me to count just how many of each I've got...
  • Monster Manual (2 old cover)
  • Players Handbook (4 old cover, 3 new cover)
  • Dungeon Masters Guide (2 old cover, 2 new cover)
  • Deities & Demigods (3, all with Cthulhu and Melnibonean mythoi)
  • Fiend Folio (2)
  • Monster Manual II (2)
  • Oriental Adventures (1)
  • Unearthed Arcana (3)
  • Greyhawk Adventures (2)
  • Dungeoneer's Survival Guide (2)
  • Wilderness Survival Guide (2)
  • Manual of the Planes (1)
  • Dungeon Master's Screen (2)
That, of course, isn't counting all the modules, boxed sets, 3rd party rules and supplements, etc. Those Grimtooth's Traps books still hold a place near and dear to my evil little heart. :-)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Combat in Adventures Dark and Deep

For your weekend reading pleasure, I present a draft extract from my Adventures Dark and Deep Players Guide. This is the chapter on combat, in some ways the easiest, but in others one of the hardest, chapters to write. I made a deliberate attempt to streamline the old 1E combat system; things that used to be described in paragraphs of hard-to-do math (like firing missile weapons into melee) are now handled through (hopefully) easy-to-read tables.

Pummeling, grappling, and overbearing take up but a single page, and according to my test combats, they seem to work pretty well (and they use regular "to hit" dice; no more annoying percentiles just because you're punching someone). You won't find the "to hit" tables here, but they'll be along the same lines as those found in the old 1E DMG (although I'm toying with some ideas to make them easier to work with, too).

The whole thing runs to 8 pages, and at least to me it's a lot easier to follow than the 1E explanation, and also includes optional rules for critical hits and fumbles. There are ten basic actions you can take in combat, some of which must begin or end either in melee or not. It's all spelled out, hopefully in a way that makes sense to someone other than the author. I've run a bunch of test combats using the rules, and they seem to flow pretty well, but they would, considering I wrote them. I'd welcome any constructive input you might have. Do the rules seem clear? That's my primary stylistic goal. Do they work? That's my primary design goal (obviously). Enjoy!

Download the chapter ---> HERE <---

Thursday, June 17, 2010

RPG Business Models

Rjstreet over at Purple Pawn has a great article analyzing Games Workshop's financial performance. That got me thinking about the nature of the business model of the role-playing game industry. Games Workshop has a model that presupposes that their customers will continue to buy new WH40K figures, on the assumption that new figures (and, by extension, new armies) allow the game to be played in new ways, preventing the game from becoming stale.

RPGs seem to have a related sort of business model, but not quite to the same extent. Where WH40K has new armies and unit types to add to diversity and new options for game play, RPGs must rely on either rules expansions or pre-written adventures to keep their customers coming back and forking over that credit card.

But I would argue that the situation from the RPG side is much more precarious than that of the miniature game company. Once the "core rules" have been purchased, regardless of the game system, the customer is no longer beholden on the company to provide expansion material. Unlike their WH40K-playing cousins, who are hard-pressed to make their own models and cast their own molds, RPGers can write their own expansion material if they so choose. They don't need to buy the latest Monster Manual if they don't really want to; they can write their own stats for Lolth or the mimic. The experience towards the end of D&D 3E, with a gazillion and three "splat books", most of which are still to be found in bargain boxes in game stores across the country, demonstrates just how replacable such things are. Adventure modules are even more problematic; most RPG rules are written specifically to allow (and in many cases help) the game master to write his own adventures.

I'm inclined to think that there is no commodity that the RPG publisher could come out with that the customers would have more of an incentive to buy on a regular basis, other than the rules themselves and the occasional major rules supplement. Something that would increase the options for play, but that are of such a nature that they would be superior to do-it-yourself. WotC has tried with their own lines of miniature figures, and tilting the rules of D&D 4E to almost requiring figures, but they didn't overcome the problem that many gamers already had boxes and boxes of figures, and the newer ones didn't really add anything, other than having 4E on the box. Their battlemats are closer to what GW is able to do, but even there, Photoshop seems to be digging into their profits more than piracy ever could, since gamers are able to create their own gorgeous customized mats for pennies.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Real Waters of Mars

MSNBC has an interesting article talking about three different studies on Martian water, what it might have looked like when Mars had a hydrological cycle, and what might have happened to it (newest/best theory at the moment; a lack of magnetic fields allowed the solar wind to blow away the Martian atmosphere, leading to cooling and the water being collected as ice at the poles). What really tugged at my gamer's heart, though, was this terrific map of what Mars would have looked like, based on its topography, with an enormous ocean covering much of the northern hemisphere. I can definitely see that as a game map!

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Week Unplugged

Well, damn! That was certainly annoying.

We lost our Internet service last Wednesday evening, and have been wrestling with Verizon on getting it fixed ever since. Finally they sent a service tech out to the house, and he was able to get the router working again. (Although it seems to me that a competent person on the phone days ago could have done the same thing; there was no problem with our hardware.)

The upshot is, apologies for my unexpected absence. The upside is that I used the time to get a lot of work done on Adventures Dark and Deep, so I hope to have some news on that front soon. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Another Name Change (last one, I promise!)

I confess I've never been happy with Emprise! as the name for my "Gygaxian Second Edition" project. It's fine as it goes, but there are several problems with it. First off, most people aren't familiar with the word itself. Sometimes that can be used as a teaching moment, but that's not the goal when you're trying to market a product. It also doesn't help that, in conjunction with that point, people don't know how to pronounce it. On a more "meta" level, though, it doesn't really evoke the name of the original, which is something I'd like to do with the name, as it is after all on one level an homage to the 1st Edition game that I love so much.

This discontent has been simmering in the back of my mind for many weeks now, as I left the problem to be solved at a later date. A solution sprang to mind yesterday, however, and it strikes me as so good on so many levels that I'm going to commit to it (barring any legal problems, but I've done the requisite checks myself and not come up with anything so far). My Gygaxian 2nd Edition is now and forever to be called...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Verbobonc Wilderness Map

I'm on a roll! The portion to the north of the Velverdyva is the southernmost portion of the Kingdom of Furyondy. I thought it made more sense to put a lot of farmland there, since it's supposed to be the breadbasket of the kingdom. That "low road" eventually meanders down to Nulb and a certain village near a certain moathouse...

This map should fit in to the west of the first, shifted down 1/2 large hex. More to come, but I'll figure out a better way to present them, rather than one map per post.

UPDATE: As requested, here is a copy of the blank hex map I'm using to make the maps. I started with a standard sheet of hex paper, and then drew the large hexes in by hand. Feel free to use it as you see fit. Click to embiggen, and then right-click to save to your hard drive.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Getting Ready to Play - Greyhawk Wilderness Map

I'm getting ready to restart the ol' Greyhawk campaign over the summer, and part of doing so means I'll be shifting the action from where it left off, in and around the Rift Canyon and Tenh, and moving it down to Greyhawk itself, so the party can not only explore the Castle of the Mad Archmage itself, but also the Kron Hills, Gnarley Forest, Wild Coast, and the cities of Greyhawk, Dyvers, Verbobonc, and Hardby.

So, what's the first thing I do when I'm getting ready to play? Why, I make maps of course. (I'm not a fan of the "domain of Greyhawk" maps that have appeared in the City boxed set, FtA, and elsewhere.) In this case I am particularly heartbroken, as I had, over the course of years of moves and so forth, gotten rid of an entire series of wilderness maps I had made in college, 5 miles per hex, stretching from Perrenland to Sunndi, and covering most of Keoland into the bargain. Ah, the unlimited time of youth, when you could actually spend the time it takes to do something like that!

Well, it's nothing so grandiose, but if you look at the map above, you'll see what I've started. (The small hexes are 5 miles across, making the large ones 30, the same scale as the poster maps, with roads, trails, farmland, etc. as marked; it's probably not done yet, as I'll keep adding little things here and there, but you get the idea.) I'll probably expand out at least as far south as the Pomarj, and west to cover Verbobonc.

It's been an interesting exercise, since there are a lot of (sometimes contradictory) sources, some of which I don't particularly care for. It's also the case that the campaign is set pre-Wars (and there's probably no Wars coming, at least the way they were described in Greyhawk Wars and From the Ashes), so a lot of the later material from TSR and WotC needs to be sifted through and the stuff that depends on the Wars excised.

I'm naturally focusing on the 1980 boxed set, and the Gord the Rogue books, but I'm not throwing out everything from the City of Greyhawk boxed set (that awful map, to be sure), and as I said there are some things in the post-FtA material that is not only useful but downright good. Mostly the stuff that didn't come about as a result of the Wars.

For the City of Greyhawk, surely a tentpole of such a campaign in and of itself (that'll be two!), I'll be relying on Grendelwulf's excellent ongoing researches, and will be using my own maps for the task, although I'm giving serious thought to taking another pass at them, on graph paper.

Anyway, I thought you all might find this of interest, and if there's any call for it, I'll be happy to post more of my wilderness maps as I do them and scan 'em in.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

System Shock Survival

One of the rules I regularly ignore in AD&D is the notion of "system shock survival". This is a rule that states, essentially, when one's physical system undergoes a drastic shock (such as when the character is polymorphed, turned to stone and back again, etc.), one must make a roll in order to survive the transformation. The number you have to roll is based on your constitution score (CON 3 = 35% survival, CON 18 = 99% survival, with 70% being about the median).

I really hate this rule because it seems to me to be a sort of "anti saving throw". Unlike level draining undead, which I see as one element in the DM's arsenal to force the players into making logistical choices with real consequences (and which can be countered either by thoughtful tactics or the spell restoration), the system shock survival roll seems to me to be a second chance for the DM to kill off a character. I'm not sure it's a necessary thing,

It also, I should add, turns something like the polymorph other spell, already a pretty potent bit of magic, into a turn-you-into-a-guinea-pig-in-between-two-chances-to-die sandwich. Think about it; if the base chance for an average (CON=10) character is 70%, you need to make two such rolls (70% x 70% = 49%) in order to survive the experience. That's ever so slightly less than 50%. Yikes!