Monday, May 30, 2011

More FLGS Hilarity Ensues

For a variety of reasons, I was unable to run the biweekly Greyhawk game this week, and one of my stalwart players stepped in and ran what was, by all accounts, a splendid one-off game. However, there were renewed complaints against our FLGS that have led to the decision to play at the home of one of our players (who has a really spiffy game room set up) and, on those days he is unavailable, at my own home.

I personally regard this as a great pity, because I like the idea of playing at the local store. I want to support my FLGS. But godsdamnit they're not making it very easy.

First, there was the issue of playing space. The store has two rooms for gaming; one big and one small. The small room is also the selling room-- it's where they keep the stuff on the walls to sell to folks. We were bounced between the big room (which was loud to the point of unusability, because of the high ceilings and tile floor) and the small room (which was much better, but cramped and still loud in its own way). It's not like this is a random thing-- you know we're going to be there every other Friday. But either way, the space is bad in its own way.

Second, there's the issue of special events. We've set up several wargame and boardgame days, which (I like to think) bring in folk who wouldn't be in the store, and possibly buying stuff. However, the last one was scheduled six weeks in advance, and yet they still scheduled a WH40K tournament on the same day, so we couldn't use the terrain tables. And they didn't have our event on the website, despite three separate attempts to get them to do so. Hell, they didn't even have it on the whiteboard in the entry to the store. So when our wargame and boardgame day happened, we were stuck in the small room, and when the regular roleplaying groups game in, they were squeezed in with us. Made us feel real special.

Third, there's ordering product. I have gone out of my way to order things from these people. I have told them when things have been shipped to distributors, which distributors they're shipped to, and have been assured, "we can order from those people." And yet, weeks and months later, nothing. "They've never heard of that. I can't find it on their computer system." Really? I place an order the week that Fields of Battle from Troll Lord Games is shipped to its distributors, and here it is more than a year later and you can't even find the effing thing?

And that's only the tip of the iceberg of the stuff I've tried to order from these people and failed. They say they can, and they end up shrugging their shoulders six months later when I inquire about my order. And given the short print runs of the stuff I'm inclined to order, I end up missing out. I still buy a lot of stuff there-- paint, flocking, board games, dice-- but I could spend a lot more there. I want to spend a lot more there. They claim they can't even order 15mm historical miniatures. Can't order them? Are you kidding? I worked in a game store in Boston for a while. They're just too lazy to do it, because they think it won't have as big a mark-up as WH40K.

I want to patronize my FLGS. I want to order product through them, and not via the internet. I want to play games there, and not at someone's house, because I know when people see games being played at a store the impression is that it's a lively place and it inherently increases sales.

And now, the latest indignity is that the FLGS was apparently an oven. No air conditioning. And to top it all off, a loud oven. To the point that a majority of the comments on the page for the event were complaining about the heat and the noise. Well, no more for me, thank you very much.

If you want to have a game store that caters to gamers, for the love of the gods make it a place where you can play games. Don't go cheap on your oil bill in the winter and cheap on the air conditioning bill in the summer. Don't hold off putting in carpeting or other things to dampen noise. Listen to the people actually bringing in traffic, and don't forget when they're holding an event, or make things hard for them when they do. Don't jerk people around when they make an order; if you can't or won't get what they ordered, say so right off the bat, rather than making them wait for months and miss the opportunity to actually buy it elsewhere.

Treat your customers like the people who spend all the money to keep your store afloat. Just because we don't all buy WH40K figures or Pokemon cards, we still do, or want to, spend a boatload of money on other things. Treat us with some respect. If you don't we'll move on. Like I and my group are about to do.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Soft Cell and the Drow

It's funny how some things can just get inexorably linked in your mind. The 1981 song "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell (a band whom, as far as I know, never had any other song even close to being a hit) will forever be linked in my mind with the drow.

The reason is that, way back in the heady days of 1981, when MTV actually played music videos, this song ended up being the #3 pop hit of the year. Thus, it saw a lot of play on MTV, and as a 15 year old, I was watching a lot of MTV. During the summer months (and weekends during the school year) I'd regularly stay up painting miniatures and playing wargames, and MTV would always be on in the background.

For whatever reason, I happen to vividly remember painting a selection of Ral Partha 25mm elves as drow (I was very keen on drow as villains back then in those pre-Drizzt days) and this song must have been playing while I was doing so. For whatever reason, when I hear this song on the radio, I invariably think of painting those Ral Partha figures with their black faces and white hair.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

MGM Developing 10-Episode 'Vikings' Series

Well, anyone who's been reading this blog for any length of time, or who knows me personally, should know that this would catch my eye. I loved The Tudors, and I love the Norse. I'm looking forward to it already! From the Hollywood Reporter:
The Irish-Canadian co-production marks the studio’s first original TV programming after emerging from bankruptcy last year.

MGM is teaming with Camelot and The Tudors duo Michael Hirst and Morgan O’Sullivan on a 10-episode drama series, Vikings.

The project, which MGM will distribute in the U.S. and abroad, will revolve around the Scandinavian warriors. The series is the brainchild of Hirst, who co-created Starz’s Camelot and created Showtime’s The Tudors.

Hirst will likely be the predominant writer on the series, which will follow the Vikings’ exploits from the late 8th to mid-11th century and revolve around Viking hero Ragnar Lodbrok.

Hirst will executive produce with O’Sullivan and producers/managers Sherry Marsh and Alan Gasmer. Production is scheduled to start next year at O’Sullivan’s new studio facility in Ireland.

Vikings will be an Irish-Canadian co-production with MGM financing the cost outside of Canada and Ireland.

The project marks the first original TV program after MGM’s emergence from bankruptcy last year.

Monday, May 23, 2011

In Solidarity With our Aussie Bretheren

I don't play the games produced by Games Workshop, so I don't have a dog in this race. However, it does seem like GW is severely jerking around their Australian customers and fans by some ham-fisted moves in the last couple of weeks. Specifically, they're trying to forbid non-Australian retailers from selling GW product to Australian customers, which is something the Australians were doing to try to get around the near-double prices GW is charging them for miniatures and such.

Apparently the prices in Australia are way out of whack even if you factor in currency exchange rates and the like, and they've even fired an employee and banned people from their FaceBook page for asking questions about the situation.

This does seem pretty awful (which, from what I know about GW, is par for the course), and James over at Warp Signal has drafted a letter to GW, which others can send in or use as a basis for their own letters to express their thoughts on this latest GW situation.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

ebay been very very good to me...

Woot! I just scored two of the old Ral Partha Ogre figures on ebay; a MK III and a MK V, for about what they would have cost new from Warehouse 23, if they were still available. The mighty armies of the North American Combine just keep getting mightier!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thoughts on the Afterlife

What with all the silliness about the Rapture seemingly over and done with (all but the inevitable "I made a slight miscalculation" announcement from Harold Camping), as well as a family matter that has brought the subject to all our minds today, I thought it might be interesting to explore some of the implications concerning the afterlife in the 1E (and ADD) rules.

First, the basics. There are nine Outer Planes, each attuned to one of the nine ethical/moral alignments. We are told explicitly that manes, lemures, and larvae are the souls of the chaotic evil, lawful evil, and neutral evil dead, respectively. These creatures are used as raw materials for the creation of devils, demons, etc. While there are no analogous creatures given for the good or neutral souls of the dead (based on Gygax's theory that the monster books should be filled with things for the player characters to overcome, and overcoming devas and the like wasn't consistent with the way he saw the game), Adventures Dark and Deep will have them; animae for the souls of the lawful good who go to the Seven Heavens, etc. Creatures with souls (humans, halflings, dwarves, gnomes, and half-elves) remain in their afterlife forever (well, as "forever" as anything gets in a game where monsters roam certain afterlives looking for victims to slay and devour), while those with spirits (elves, orcs, etc.) will be reincarnated after some indeterminate time in their afterlife.

So the Outer Planes are the afterlife, and at least some of the inhabitants thereof are the souls of formal mortals who journeyed to the appropriate plane after their death. However, there are some interesting anomalies with this interpretation.

Presumably the souls/spirits of the dead would have to travel on the Astral Plane to reach their intended final destination. If this is so, it would stand to reason that the Astral would be positively crowded with the souls of ordinary schmoes journeying to their various afterlives. But the encounter tables for the Astral plane in the DMG are silent on the question. You have a 1% chance of meeting a demon prince, but no chance whatsoever of meeting a soul of the recently departed. The only explanation is that the dead somehow travel from the Material to the Outer Planes in some other fashion.

Psychopomps are beings who guide souls from the mortal world to the afterlife. Sometimes they are themselves gods or goddesses, such as the Norse Odin, Greek Charon, Roman Mercurius, etc. or other beings such as the Valkyries, and various angels in Judaism and Christianity. In some cases they chose, and in all cases helped to transport, the souls of the dead to the afterlife, which was often a journey in and of itself.

The Monster Manual has at least one creature that functions as a psychopomp; the night hag. Interestingly, the night hag is said to only take those who are of the most selfish evil alignment; neutral evil. This is significant because it would make sense for the night hags, as enemies and haters of good, to seize the souls of good folk and bring them down to Hades to enslave them against their will. However, they don't seem to be able to do this. This speaks to the notion that the means of the death of the individual is unimportant to its final destination. What matters is their moral/ethical alignment.

The Deities & Demigods book provides, perhaps, the answer, where it says:
Although time is meaningless to the soul or spirit, the long journey to the proper plane can take 3-30 days of tie relative to those in the Prime Material Plane. ... The road through the Astral Plane to their destination is clearly marked for the dead, but it is not free of peril. Some monsters roam the ethereal and astral planes at will, which is why burial chambers often include weapons, treasure, and even bodyguards to protect the soul on its journey.

Given the fact that travelers in the Astral plane do not encounter the dead, it seems that these "roads of the dead", while they exist within it, are not normally accessible from it, except for certain monsters who are able to penetrate them and imperil their travelers. Could various psychopomps help guide the souls/spirits of the dead along these roads? It would seem at least possible, and the nature of these roads is left to be explored. Could they vary in nature according to the plane of destination? The specific religion of the spirit/soul? Are they in fact the same for all, but the perception of the journey along the road differs from individual to individual based on their preconceptions learned during their lifetime?

Another interesting conundrum is brought about by the existence and nature of the undead. Of the various intelligent sort of undead-- vampires, specters, ghosts, etc.-- it must be asked; where is the soul of this person? Is it the undead creature itself? It is explicitly stated as such in regards to ghosts, but specters are said to dwell half in the material plane and half in the negative energy plane. Other undead are also said to have such a connection.

Could they possibly be the souls of persons who got lost upon the road? Rather than making the journey to their intended afterlife, perhaps those undead creatures with overt connections to the Negative Material Plane simply never made it to one of the Outer Planes, finding instead the negative plane, and thus being cursed to undead status thereby.

The status of the soul of the material undead is another matter. For ghouls, wights, and ghasts, it could be argued that they are simply animal-like, with their souls having departed their mortal remains, which are left as animate, but soul-less, husks. Zombies and skeletons are simple animated objects that happen to have dead bodies as their physical components. But what of vampires, wights, mummies, and the like? One interesting bit in the entry for the vampire in the Monster Manual states:
Like all undead, vampires exist in two planes at once - in this case the material and negative material.
Wait... "In this case"? What other cases could there be? The Monster Manual says mummies are linked to the positive material plane, but that was later said to be a typo. So what are these other cases where undead are trapped between two planes? And on what other plane do they exist? I think it's all starting to come together; perhaps those undead not said explicitly to have a connection to the Negative material plane have, instead, a link to whatever plane their soul was destined for.

Did it perhaps stumble on the road, rather than getting lost? Could they, perhaps, be the afore-mentioned monsters that can assail the unwary dead as they walk the well-marked path to the afterlife? Could be. Could be.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wizards of the Coast Acknowledges 4E is Aimed at Min-Maxing Twinks

Okay, for all you out there who think "edition wars" are a waste of time, and that we should all live in harmony with one another, and "it's all the same game, you're just playing it differently", and anyone who thinks 4E isn't a colossal shift in direction away from role-playing and into the realm of a face-to-face MMORPG where all you need to do is keep hitting the attack macro button using your special daily or per-encounter power I say bite me.

For lo! I am vindicated in my labeling of 4E as nothing more than a skirmish miniatures game, and the very words of Wizards of the Coast serve to indict their so-called 4E D&D as just that.
Wizards of the Coast has announced the September launch of its new highly tactical Dungeons & Dragons Lair Assault Organized Play program. The new D&D Lair Assault in-store play program features “convention-style play that challenges players on two levels, character building and tactical knowledge. The program will offer reusable, modifiable challenges, creating a different play experience every time. The first D&D Lair Assault challenge, Forge of the Dawn Titan, will run from September 1st through November at participating hobby game stores, with future challenges following a similar format.

The D&D Lair Assault program is designed for players looking for more complex, strategic, and highly tactical challenges. The D&D Lair Assault program is tailored to groups of players who enjoy solving tactical puzzles, optimizing characters, and using rules to their advantage. Each D&D Lair Assault challenge features complex encounters prepared in advance by the Dungeon Master. Players are then pitted against their DM in an attempt to solve highly customized and creative challenges.

Adventuring groups will often attempt a challenge several times before solving it, and will be successful only when a balance of skill and luck is achieved. The quickly changing game elements force players to reevaluate their strategies as they navigate treacherous terrain and hazards. Challenges feature an extremely difficult “super” encounter in which players must build an adventuring party to take on a perilous and highly tactical challenge. D&D Fortune Cards are featured as part of the play experience, providing a critical edge for success through special in-game effects the players can use or trade to aid them in their game.
Notice something in there? "Character building". Not "character development". And there will be "tactical puzzles" (as in "how do I get my figure 7 squares away from the creature in the pool, and still stay within 9 squares of the leader on the ledge in order to use my super-duper daily power on him?") rather than actual puzzles and problem-solving. This takes things yet another step removed from telling the DM what you're character is going to do, and he makes a judgement call as to the result, with perhaps a d6 or d20 rolled in there off the cuff. There's nothing *to* do other than move figures on a battleboard and decide which of your amazing powers to use this round. And you get to try to "attempt a challenge several times before solving it". Wow! Just like respawning in Warcraft! What an INCREDIBLE coincidence!

Oh-- and did you notice what *else* they snuck in there? "D&D Fortune Cards are featured as part of the play experience, providing a critical edge for success through special in-game effects..." I love it when I'm right! Get your twitter buffs ready, boys and girls, we're gonna spend an entire evening on one battle!

This is *not* Dungeons & Dragons, my friends! This is a skirmish game! I would have absolutely no problem with 4E if it was presented as such and given a name to match! None! It's actually a pretty decent skirmish game. My ire stems from WotC attempting to trade on the D&D name and pass off this current thing as a logical progression in the line of role-playing games that has preceded it. It is not, and to do so strikes me as disingenuous at best, and a cynical attempt to cash in on gamers who believe that "new = better".

Doubtless the 4E apologists will swarm over this post, vaingloriously making two inane arguments:

Inane Argument the First: "People min-maxed before 4E, so it's not fair to blame it on the current edition of the game." Of course they did. But the rules as written were designed to encourage DM-inspired and DM-limited creativity. There were not rules for "role playing" but there was a huge amount of attention given to stuff that happened in the game other than combat. In 4E, everything is focused on combat, and the new Organized Play Program is just the logical result of that focus.

Inane Argument the Second: "Not everybody who plays 4E min-maxes, so it's not fair to blame it on the current edition of the game." Of course they don't. But again, the rules as written encourage the DM and the players to pay more attention to combat encounters than any other sort of activity. It's inevitable that the game as played will betray that same focus. Example: My bi-weekly Greyhawk game shares space with a 4E game, and we can hear what they're doing (and, presumably, they hear what we're doing). Over the course of 3 or 4 hours, an entire party of 8 people had a combat with a bear.

A bear. 3 hours.

Let me state at the outset that I do not intend to either engage in or suffer discussions of the merits of either of those arguments in the comments. If you want to do so on your own blog, knock yourself out, but if I think that's what you're doing, your impassioned reply will go down the crapper. Caveat scriptor.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Play With Yourself in November!

Or, as it is more mundanely referred to, Solo Tabletop Gaming Appreciation Month.

Gods, I'm such a child sometimes. :-)

Why is November Solo Tabletop Gaming Appreciation Month, you may ask? Beats the hell out of me, but it is 11-11, and such mystic numbers often play upon the brains of us mere mortals.
In all seriousness, it's a pretty neat idea; pick something big or something new and commit to playing it some six months hence. I've chosen the SPI game Invasion America for my own project. It was the very first wargame I ever actually bought (my mother brought my friend Tom and I into New York City to the Compleat Strategist, and he picked up SPI's World War 3-- ah, the heady dreams of such 11-year-olds as we back in the mid-70's). It's a pretty massive game that should take quite a bit of time to complete, and I'll try to put together a comprehensive game report as it goes on.

Someone remind me as we approach Halloween, okay?

Greyhawk Session 18

Last Friday's session was another straight-out dungeon crawl, once the party had recovered from the wounds inflicted by the troglodytes in the previous session. Present were Ehrendar Dawngreeter, elf mountebank; Mongo, half-orc fighter and devotee of Pholtus; Liberus Faxen, human savant; Theric, human paladin of Pholtus (and his henchman Salvomar, the human fighter); and Ardo, human cleric of Pelor.

After resting, and once the paladin had donated a hefty sum to the local temple of Pholtus, the party decided to return once more to the Castle of the Mad Archmage.There was an interesting new twist, however. On this particular occasion, a beggar dressed in mis-matched clothing was at the drawbridge, mumbling to himself "It's my day, it's my day, it's my day..." over and over. Most of the party decided to place a g.p. or p.p. into his begging bowl, but Liberus did not, realizing (through use of his scholarly skills) that one of the things that was special about that particular day was that it was special to Ralishaz "the unlooked-for", God of misfortune. Most of the party didn't think much of it, and went into the ruins.

Now realizing they could reach active and interesting areas without the need to pay the dwarves a toll, they descended to the second landing of the central staircase and set to work exploring. Picking up where they had left off, they explored a number of passages, finding first a room they had previously discovered, where a particularly well-organized group of orcs (the "bloody axe" tribe) forced them to retreat whence they came (albeit with no casualties on either side), and then into an octagonal chamber with a life-sized statue of an ogre (sans one arm).

Eventually, however, the twisting passages led the party to a chamber, in which was a spectral form, dressed in robes. The paladin, who had opened the door, felt a wave of fear wash over him but managed to resist it thanks to his steadfast code. When the figure started to read from an equally-spectral scroll, however, the cleric attempted to turn it, but was himself overcome with fear and took off into the maze of corridors at full speed. The paladin then attempted to turn the creature, but failed. The party closed the door, and, seeing that the undead creature was not pursuing them, set off to find the fear-inspired cleric.

Luck led them to the self-same corridor the cleric had taken. They realized this when the henchman, Salvomar, fell into a covered pit trap, luckily landing on top of the cleric rather than impaling himself on the spikes at the bottom. Soon enough the pair were brought back up to the passage and healing was given. A side-passage, obviously some sort of bypass around the pit trap, but though the presence of a secret door was detected by the elf, a full half hour was spent in a fruitless search for the mechanism to activate it.

After a little more exploration without much of note, the party decided to double-back, figuring that one of the corridors on their map would link up with the far side of the pit trap. In the resulting search, the party managed to find the home of a tribe of gorics, "sprites of the stones" as they called themselves. The party immediately turned back, figured out how the map could be reconciled, and then made off to a passage they had not previously explored.

At the end thereof, unfortunately, was a huge troll in the midst of what was some sort of ruined barracks. The party took quite a bit of punishment at the hands (and mouth) of the troll, with the paladin being brought low (and eventually returned to consciousness thanks to the savant). The troll itself was finally brought down with a massive blow by the half-orc, and the remains burned.

Unfortunately, the store was closing early that evening (a fact of which I was unaware until the owner came through saying "closing in ten minutes!") so we hustled through the searching of the room, giving the party a huge bag of coins of mixed types, but mostly copper and silver. The party made back for the city of Greyhawk (the beggar having left at some point during the proceedings) and was safely back at the Cock and Bottle.

Friday, May 13, 2011


For those who don't know, Kickstarter is what's known as a "crowd-funding" website. It allows individuals looking for funding for various projects to get together with interested investors. What usually happens is that the fund-seeker gives several different "levels" of support as options, each with its own particular reward. A reward for a relatively low donation might be getting your name listed as a supporter, while a higher donation might get you a free copy of the game, and a very high donation might get a monster named after you. It's not just for games, of course, but it's most definitely used to fund games; RPGs as well as boardgames.

The key is that, unless the project reaches its stated goal, the money you pledge is safe. So if it's looking for $10,000 and only raises $1,500, you get your money back. Pretty spiffy.

Purple Pawn has taken it upon themselves to do an interview with a bunch of different game designers who used Kickstarter to fund their games. They asked questions of both people who were successful in making their goal, and those who were not:

For those of us in the RPG hobby who might be looking for funding for a gaming project (and remember it doesn't have to be the whole project; you could easily do a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for, say, artwork or the cost of printing) this is an invaluable insight into the way Kickstarter does, and doesn't work.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Thousand Worlds

One of the standard tropes of 1950's/60's science fiction was the Imperial future. That was embodied in Issac Asimov's Foundation books (as well as many others such as Dune), and was pretty much the standard for many years. In the distant future, the galaxy is ruled by an all-spanning Galactic Empire, where the periphery may be more or less in contact with the center of power, but where the heavy hand of the Empire (or Federation, or whatever it happens to be called) is always there in the background. Gamers will recognize this as the default-type setting in Traveler, as well as PBM games such as Beyond the Stellar Empire. The influence on Star Wars and Star Trek should be obvious. More recently, Thousand Suns uses this as the default type of setting as well.

However, there is another "standard" type of science fiction setting that I would like to tout as an alternative, and in my opinion a better type of setting for gaming purposes. This is the "thousand worlds" setting.

In the Thousand Worlds type setting, there is no central authority in the galaxy. Mankind has spread to the stars, alright, but human culture is much more diffuse and provincial. A government that spans a half-dozen star systems would be considered a major imperial power. Most polities are single systems, or even single worlds or moons within systems, and the laws between worlds vary enormously. In many, Earth is either not mentioned at all or is conveniently removed from the situation. Technology tends to be rather low, compared to what we are familiar with today, with FTL travel and occasionally nods to such things as fusion power being the exception. Aliens are usually few and far between, and when they are present, they are usually human in all but name and skin color.

This is the type of setting of such books as David Drake's "Hammer's Slammers" series. The major powers are but a single world in size, albeit engaged in aggressive colonization efforts that tend to rub up against each other, thus providing an excuse for the military conflict that the series showcases. The technology is familiar to anyone who follows the activities of DARPA with any sort of regularity; hovertanks, energy weapons, and so forth. They're just about the definitive example of military sci-fi, and rightly so.

I should also point out that Hammer's Slammers has been the subject not only of a hex-and-counter wargame back in the 1980's, but there are also currently published rules for miniatures battles based on the books and the technology described therein. The latter are a bit pricey for me just at the moment, but I do hope to get a copy someday. 

Christopher Rowley's "Vang" novels also portray such a future. Each world is an island unto itself (although they do share certain conventions, such as a protocol to deal with anyone who happens to stumble across a Vang artifact). The various books in the series deal with what happens to different worlds when they do stumble across such artifacts (which are, in fact, Vang survivors of an ancient war in which the Vang were nearly obliterated) across the span of thousands of years. But since each world has its own culture, political system, and so forth, each deals with the threat in its own way.

The Vang, by the way, are some of the best villains ever created. Not only do they enter a body (through any and all orifices) and control the mind, but they actually control the metabolism to the point of altering its physical form, growing new sensory apparatus (that look like flowers) where the eyes used to be, chitinous exoskeletons, etc. They don't just control you. You are nothing more than raw biological material. The Borg could learn a thing or two in callousness from the Vang.

Finally, I would cite George R.R. Martin's "Thousand Worlds" stories (whence, of course, I took the name for this post), which include not only his excellent "Haviland Tuf" stories, but a number of other excellent examples as well, including what is possibly the best science fiction short story ever written; "Sandkings". Again, each world is its own government, often with very different cultures and mores than their neighbors. Sometimes they war, often they trade, usually they collide in some way or other. You go from one star system to another, and you might find the rights to your salvaged derelict space ship have changed dramatically. The vast Federal Empire is but a distant memory, and the various colony planets of humanity have gone their own way, and Earth itself is under a self-imposed quarantine, guardian of some of the last technologies of the Earth Imperials, so there's more than a little of the Lost Golden Age aspect to this particular setting as well. I can only hope that once the Game of Thrones series ends, Mr. Martin will return to this setting, and in particular the Haviland Tuf stories.

I find this sort of setting somewhat more useful for gaming purposes than the Imperial setting, simply because of the diversity that is implicit within it. While it is certainly possible to derive wonder and conflict in any sort of setting, even the most locked-down Galactic Empire, the Thousand Worlds type setting seems to be implicitly built on such diversity and conflict. I personally also like the lower levels of technology that such settings usually employ; the people there could be anyone from our contemporary world, with FTL drive. In such settings, even thousands of years into the future, it's still guns and wheels, and I kinda like that for a game setting.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Lost Golden Age

One of the other themes inherent in the game is the idea that the past was a golden age, and those in the present are aware of it, and seek to either regain it or obtain its treasures for their own use. This is one of the reasons that treasure-stuffed dungeons abound; they are remnants of a spectacular past when the construction of such things, and the hording of such wealth, was possible. The creation of mighty magical artifacts, and the striding of the very gods themselves upon the earth was not unknown in days of yore. Today, however, the best that man can hope to accomplish is to discover the resting place of those mighty artifacts, and the relics of those holy men who worked true miracles.

This is a theme that resonates with our own history, as many cultures in Medieval and later times viewed ancient Greece and Rome as just such a lost Golden Age. In a time when simple sanitation was nearly non-existent, the idea of a civilization advanced enough to create aqueducts sufficient to see to the needs of cities of hundreds of thousands of people, or the creation of enormous stone monuments or roads that endured for a millennium after their builders were dead, was a powerful attractor.

In a fantasy campaign, this can be handled in a variety of different ways. Political leaders seek to recapture the lands and powers of their predecessors. This is a theme that looms large in Medieval and Renaissance history, when emperors such as Charles the Great sought to be “the next Roman Emperor”, not to mention the Popes seeking to fulfill that very same role, and the establishment of the “Holy Roman Empire” which, entered as it was in Germany and only occasionally in possession of the city of Rome itself within its territories, demonstrated the pull of the ancients even in circumstances that differed greatly from the historical model.

The idea of recapturing lost knowledge and technology of the ancients is also a powerful theme upon which the game master can draw. As mentioned above, the creation of the more powerful magical items is an art that is more properly left to ancient times, and the creation of artifacts and relics doubly so. Still, the hunt for the secrets of such manufacture can be an inspiring theme for a campaign, whether driven by an individual or an entire organization dedicated to such scholarly pursuits with real-world implications.

It is possible to take this even further and postulate that the ancient world was one in which technology as we know it today was known and put into everyday use. Indeed, advanced weapons, robots, computers, and even spaceships would be seen as merely another sort of magic by the inhabitants of a world where the art of technology is the stuff of legend. This need not lead the campaign into the realm of the post-Apocalyptic, which is in and of itself a different genre of role-playing game, but if the ancient world is placed sufficiently back in the distant past, beyond history and legend and into myth, the discovery of a rare artifact from that dimly-remembered time will seem even more magical.

(This is an expanded section of the Adventures Dark and Deep Game Masters Toolkit, which will be included in playtest version 1.1, hopefully to be released soon.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

2011 Summer Movie Roundup

Well, as most of you have probably heard, this weekend launches the first of many summer genre films. There are a lot of them hitting the screen this year, and I thought it would be helpful (to myself, if nothing else) to get 'em all listed in one place.

May 6: Thor. The film adaptation of the Marvel Comics superhero (and that is an important distinction; it is *not* a film about the figure from Norse mythology, except in a form several times removed from the original source material). It looks neato-torpedo, and Anthony Hopkins as Odin is a great choice.

May 20: Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides. They're still making these? Apparently so, and I'm sure Johnny Depp will be the high point as usual (and perhaps the only one).

June 6: X-Men. First Class: I really liked the first X-Men movie, but they declined severely after that one. I've not heard much about this, other than it's a prequel to the original, and it's of course another Marvel title. I'll probably give it a miss unless there's a lot of good buzz.

June 17: Green Lantern. I was never a big fan of DC Comic's Green Lantern until I saw the animated series Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. I like what I've seen about this film so far, and I'm very much looking forward to it. Plus the studio just plunked down an additional $9 million for more special effects. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

June 24: Cars 2. I am pretty much committed to seeing anything from Pixar these days, since I've got a 10 year old. But the original Cars was quite excellent, and the trailer for Cars 2 looks entertaining. I just hope it doesn't turn into a 90 minute version of the Tow-mater shorts they show on Disney.

July 1: Transformers: Dark of the Moon. I am a HUGE fan of the original Transformers animated series, and the first (animated) film. I saw the first (live action/CGI) movie, and it was... okay. Maybe I'm just getting old, but it was too fast, too loud, and I had trouble telling one robot from another, especially when they were fighting. I didn't see the last movie, and I probably won't see this one, either.

July 15: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II. I've never read any of the HP books. I liked the first movie when it came out, but left in the middle of the second one. However, my wife convinced me to give the films another look-see, and since we have them all on DVD (10 year old, remember?), I watched them all, and while I don't love them, I don't hate them. Some parts I actually enjoy quite a bit. I'll probably end up seeing this one way or the other, so why not in a theater?

July 22: Captain America, the First Avenger. This just looks awesome. Three Marvel Comics movies in one summer? Bring it on. And Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull? Awww yeah. They are certainly lining up that Avengers movie to be something spectacular; Captain America, Thor, Iron Man...

July 29: Cowboys and Aliens. I'm not sure this will really qualify as a "blockbuster", but I saw the trailer earlier this year (in front of "The Last Airbender", maybe?) and it looked great.

August 5: Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I am conflicted about this. On the one hand, I am a tremendous fan of the original Apes films and television show. On the other hand, the remake of "Planet of the Apes" was first-class crap, and I am greatly afeared for this remake of "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes". But the trailer looks good, so I might put this into the "cautiously hopeful" category.

August 19: Conan the Barbarian. While the special effects for this certainly seem like they're going to blow away those of the Schwarzenegger Conan flick, I am greatly disappointed that it seems like we're going to get yet another lout-in-a-loincloth instead of the fiercely intelligent but deadly figure who embodies the dichotomy between civilization and barbarism that so infused the original REH stories.

And I should also point out that it looks like the sequel to The Wicker Man, entitled The Wicker Tree, has found an American distributor and could be on screens by Samhain. Woot! (And no, not the Nicholas Cage piece of garbage, but the original with Christopher Lee.)

Demographics and the Coming Gaming Bonanza

Back in the late 1970's and 1980's, I had all the time in the world for gaming.

Many's the night I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning painting miniatures, reading modules and rulebooks, solo playing wargames, and the like. On weekends, we would often have marathon AD&D games that would last 'till dawn, and *then* start a game of Avalon Hill's Civilization or Titan. I had time to play monster games like SPI's War in Europe. Really play them all the way through. And Napoleonics miniatures, and all the rest.

Alas, those days are behind me. Now that I've got a house, and a wife, and a kid, and a job... Not only don't I have the time to pour into gaming in general, but finding those vast chunks of consecutive time is an almost laughable prospect. Even my conventioneering is a part-time affair; I almost always go to cons that are within driving distance of my house. I believe that I'm not alone in my demographically-induced gaming semi-hibernation.

But all that will change in 20 years or so. Once I and the rest of my demographic cohort begin to hit retirement age, all of a sudden I'm going to have again all those oodles of time I had back in high school and college, and money to boot. There will be time again for marathon games, and painting hordes of miniatures. Time to play wargames galore, and writing RPG modules and wargame scenario books. I'll have the house paid off and the kid safely out of college. I will have...

"Time enough at last!"

Monday, May 2, 2011

Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual v 1.1 Now Available

The next iteration of the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual is now available!

Version 1.1, which incorporates many dozens of errata, improvements, clarifications, and additions, is the first revised version to be presented since the inauguration of the open playtest earlier this year.

A complete enumeration of the changes would be impossible, but highlights include:
  • The Assassin, an optional class
  • Firearms, an optional system
  • Jester spells
  • Formatting changes throughout (especially tables!)
  • Cleaning up of spells; some new, some updated
  • Updates to the new character classes
  • Mage school specialization
And much more!

Please visit --> here <-- to get the link to the new version of the Players Manual. As usual, I humbly request that commentary be done on the Adventures Dark and Deep forums.