Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Meanwhile, in Kothas...

Click to see the original in all its glory on Wondermark.

Loot! vs. the FLGS

Scott Thorne over at ICv2 is concerned that the RPG deal-of-the-day site Loot! is going to harm retailers.

What will concern us is if Army Builder (or any other product) shows up regularly on the Loot website as that will permanently devalue the price of the software (or any other product) in the mind of the consumer and if customers sign up for email delivery of the daily Loot! item., thus putting it right in their inbox, rather than them having to visit the website.

I can't help but think he's looking at the wrong place. As far as I can tell, Loot! only does their deals on a one-time basis, and in the months I've been receiving their notices (their blog is also listed in my blogroll over at the left, by the way) I can't remember a deal that has been repeated.

Sure, Scott's store might lose one or two sales from the (retail price $39.95) Army Builder being offered for $19.95 for 24 hours on Loot! But I really think they're going to lose a lot more business from it being offered over at Amazon.com 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for $26.92.

Loot! gives some great deals, often on some obscure stuff that appeals to niche markets. They're not the problem that FLGS's are facing. It's the fact that FLGS's charge bust-out retail for their products. I understand the margins and everything, and I don't pretend to have a solution, but I really think fretting about a very minor competitor like Loot! is missing the real threat to brick-and-mortar stores.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Answering all the Questions in Mega-Dungeons

Over at Grognardia, James asked a question about the preferred format for mega-dungeons. Naturally, this is a topic close to my heart, as my own Castle of the Mad Archmage reflects. However, someone made specific reference to my own humble effort in the genre, and although I did answer in the comments, it seemed like a good enough topic to warrant its own discussion over here.

Rach's reflections made this point, mentioning CotMA in particular:
"Step three: it has to make sense. There can be areas of total funhouse if it seems suitable, but let me tell you why, after initially falling in love with Castle of the Mad Archmage, I quickly found myself frustrated by it: what are these human berserkers doing in a previously sealed complex, full of hostiles, a great many stories underground? "
I've got to say, I think that misses the entire point of something like Castle of the Mad Archmage.

At the risk of sounding trite, it's up to you as game master to decide what those berserkers are doing there. Maybe they were sent to that room in CotMA by Odin when there wasn't enough room on the mead benches in Valhalla. Maybe they're cursed, not realizing just how much time has passed. Maybe they know exactly what they're doing, and are gearing up for an all-out assault on the level that never quite materializes. Maybe they're Zagyg's personal guard, kept entertained here until they're needed elsewhere. Maybe it's a combination of all of the above, or something else entirely. Any of those possibilities would take the encounter into a completely different direction, and could serve as the hook for an entire adventure (or more than one) in the dungeons.

As far as the other hostiles on the level go, maybe they know just how tough it would be to take out 50 berserkers, and give them a wide berth. Maybe they've struck a bargain with them. Maybe they don't even know the berserkers are there. If so, why? Figure it out; you're the GM!

The whole point of a mega-dungeon module like Castle of the Mad Archmage is that it is replete with gray areas like that. If I had put in every motivation for every NPC, and a justification for every trap, treasure, monster, etc. the whole thing would collapse under its own weight. It would literally be impossible for any single GM-- myself included-- to internalize enough of that information to the point of being able to run the dungeon without having to endlessly consult the written page. By providing just enough information, and placing a plethora of tantalizing "hooks" like the Mead Hall in there, I allow you to breathe life into the dungeon and turn it into a very very different place than it is when I run it.

And that's what I want to happen. Make it your own! Don't see an explanation? That's on purpose! It's room for you to explore and expand off the cuff if you want, or with a little planning and forethought it you work better that way. Castle of the Mad Archmage is the framework only. You need to fill in the details, by design.

And I should add that some of the best explanations for such things come from the players themselves. While they engage in agonized speculation about what those berserkers are doing down there, don't be afraid to take a good idea they float and run with it. Or turn it on its head, based on their own speculation and expectations. You're not cheating, you're improvising, just like the module demands.

And I certainly don't mean to bash Rachel in this; I think she's a product of her time, 18 years old and come to D&D right at the advent of the 3.5 era. She's used to modules that lay everything out in exacting detail for her, with its adventure arcs and so forth. I hope that if she realizes that she's ready to perform without that sort of net, she'll excel. And that's what CotMA is designed to exemplify.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Spell Books as Treasure

I've never understood why spell books aren't part of the regular treasure tables. I mean, you can find a Manual of Puissant Skill at Arms, but the spell book of a 4th level illusionist is a non-starter? Pfft. Here's a sneak preview from the next update of the Adventures Dark and Deep Game Masters Toolkit...

Spell Book

As game master, you may wish to keep the discovery of long-forgotten spell books to intentional placement. However, it is not outside the realm of possibility that such valuable works would be discovered in the treasure hordes of certain creatures. First, the type of book should be determined, and then the size.

Die roll (d%)Book type
99Mixed (roll twice again, re-rolling duplicates and 99-00)

Die roll (d12)Book sizeBase X.P. Value

Each spell book will contain 3d6+1 spells, up to the maximum capacity of its type (see the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Guide for details on how many spells a spell book can contain). Once the number of spells has been determined, roll for each spell level. Then roll randomly to determine which spell for that level is contained in the book. Keep rolling until the book is filled. For mixed books, roll 1d3 to determine which type of spell happens to be next in the book.

Spell LevelIllusionistMageSavantX.P. Value

Finally, roll to see what sort of protection or trap, if any, the spell book has. Note that fake spell books always have at least one sort of protection, as they are designed to entice would-be thieves into opening them and thus bringing about their own doom; re-roll any roll under 61.

Die roll (d%)Protection/trap
51-60Lock (no key available).
61-70Lock w/poison needle trap.
71-73Explosive runes on first page.
74-78Permanent blank book cantrip has been cast on the book.
79-812d4 bookworms hidden in binding.
82-84Book is itself intelligent (treat as intelligent weapon in all respects).
85-88Anyone other than the author who opens the book is cursed.
89-92Pages are treated with contact poison. For every page flipped through, there is a 1% cumulative chance that enough poison will be absorbed through the fingertips to kill, unless precautions are taken (gloves, stylus used to flip pages, etc.).
93-94When opened when the temperature is above 80° F, glue used in the binding gives off an invisible hallucinogenic gas; all within 10’ must make a saving throw vs. poison or each believes himself to be a 20th level Archmage and will become violent if anyone either contradicts him or attempts to take the book from him. The effect will last 2d12 hours, but could occur again the next time the book is opened in the proper temperature.
95-96Blades spring out of the cover when the book is opened. Make a dexterity check or take 1d6 h.p. of damage. If the first check fails, make a second; if that fails, a finger has been sliced off.
97Book is possessed by a demon. Prolonged contact with it will result in the owner of the book himself becoming possessed.
98-00The first time the book is opened, a blinding flash of light will blind anyone looking at it within 10’ unless they make a successful saving throw vs. paralyzation.

Full experience points for spell books should only be awarded to members of that class who can use the spells within. Others should only receive 10% of the full X.P. value.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Types of Magic

Every once in a while I see references to house rules that emphasize the various "types" of magic. Those types are the parenthetical notes in the Players Handbook in the spell description sections; alteration, enchantment/charm, etc. They don't really have any in-game effect (well, not until Unearthed Arcana was released, and even then it was half-hearted), and are seemingly included for flavor.

One natural inclination, however, is to think about breaking out magic-users (or, in Adventures Dark and Deep parlance, mages) according to specialty. Thus, we could have rules for conjurers, abjurers, necromancers, etc. Seems like a nice and neat system at first glance, and even Gygax stated that he was considering such a system for his never-completed Second Edition.
Yes, I did intend to have schools of magic based on the types of spells as you note above. The m-u would begin with one specialization, but at various points along the level progression ladder he could opt to add a new field or intensify his capacity in the original one. This was meant to make m-us interesting beyond the point where they could use 9th level spells, any diversion from specialization delaying the advanced spell level possession but adding new lower level spells of a new school.

Hence my own interest, vis-a-vis Adventures Dark and Deep.

The problem comes from the spells themselves. Here's the breakdown of mage spells by type. These numbers are for the spells as they appear in Adventures Dark and Deep, so there are a few differences from this and the spells that appear in the 1E PH and UA, but the overall numbers should be close.

alteration 40%
evocation 21%
enchantment/charm 9%
illusion/phantasm 5%
necromantic 2%
divination 5%
abjuration 8%
conjuration/summoning 10%

The problem is clear. Specialist alterers are going to have a huge advantage over, say, diviners, since an overwhelming plurality of mage spells (across all levels) are alteration-type spells. Necromancers are hardly given any advantage at all, since only 5 mage spells are classified as "necromantic", and we don't even see the first one-- feign death-- until the 3rd level of spells.

This problem, could, of course, be solved by simply adding more spells to balance out the various types. But this would actually be an enormous undertaking. The total number of first-level spells alone would balloon from 40 to a minimum of 144! And of course if the total number of mage spells are increased so dramatically, it hardly seems fair not to do the same for clerics and druids and the like. So from a purely practical standpoint, that doesn't seem like a solution.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fun With Hexographer

Late last year I discovered Hexographer, which is an excellent and quite versatile program for creating maps suitable for use with RPGs, wargames, etc. (both fantasy and sci-fi). That, and the equally excellent Dungeonographer now adorn my laptop, and I'll be getting the non-free version of Joe's Coat of Arms Design Studio to continue my Greyhawk coats of arms. Lately I've been playing with Hexographer in particular, now that I'm rolling out a new campaign setting, called Erseta. Here's a small portion of what I've come up with, not following the instructions on creating Darlene-lookalike maps, but taking those instructions as my inspiration for my own:

Click to embiggen, and players in my current campaign feel free to do so. You won't be spoiling anything. The whole thing isn't complete, obviously, but this will give you a little idea of the neat sort of effects the program can do. And I'm just dabbling, still; it's really capable of a whole range of other styles and effects. I heartily encourage those interested in cartography to check it and its companion program out; I can see uses for this in wargames and miniatures gaming as well as straight-out RPGs, both to create scenario maps and campaign maps.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

City State Warfare

The wargaming antecedents of the modern RPG industry are well known. Indeed, the gaming industry, as such, was dominated by the companies SPI and Avalon Hill through the mid-1980's, before the TSR Dungeons & Dragons juggernaut overwhelmed them and TSR actually absorbed SPI. Indeed, both Avalon Hill and SPI took stabs at entering the RPG market, albeit not very daring maneuvers as they waited until that market was well-established before trying their hand in it. As a matter of fact, Gary Gygax shopped the early manuscript of D&D to Avalon Hill and was rebuffed (in fairness, neither he nor anyone could have imagined just how right the game was for that particular point in history, but that's a subject for another post).

It's a fact that many if not most of the early adopters of D&D, and even many of the AD&D "first generation" players were wargamers. I certainly was, and the progression from moving cardboard armored divisions around a hex-covered map to designing dungeons and playing half-elven magic-user/thieves was a direct one.

Nowhere is the overlap between hex-and-counter wargaming and role-playing (at least, as that overlap existed back in the late 1970's and early 1980's) clearer than in the several direct crossover products that brought the two sub-genres together.

Fans of the Dragonlance setting may recall that TSR put out a full-blown strategic wargame for the setting in DL11 "Dragons of Glory" (1985), and there was of course the (in)famous Greyhawk Wars game published in 1991, but first there was City State Warfare by Judges Guild, written by Marc Summerlott.

It was, in essence, a tactical hex-and-counter wargame set in the City-State campaign, to be used to adjudicate large-scale battles therein without recourse to miniatures wargaming (which was in itself represented by products such as Sword & Spells, which was a supplement to the LBB's and, of course, Battlesystem). In addition to the various counters representing dwarf bowmen, high level warrior characters, cataphracts, etc., there are two very generic maps representing a hill position and an open field with some woods thrown on for variety. There is, of course, a counter given for a triceratops (if you look at the quite striking box cover, you'll see why; I would like to think the cover of the original Battlesystem box was an homage to that image).

There are eight historical scenarios presented (in which one, naturally, doesn't make use of the dwarf archers). However, for those interested in the Judges Guild campaign setting, there are three different scenarios presented which are set in the campaign, involving either the Invincible Overlord or the World "Emporer" [sic-- this typo is made more than once, including on the back cover advertising blurb!], as well as tables of organization for the armies of both powers.

There's also a very interesting reference to the "Decatur Fantasy Campaign World" as the setting for one battle scenario, but that's something I've never actually heard of. Google is of no help-- anyone have any info on this?

The rules for combat take up only 7 pages and are relatively straightforward, covering movement, facing (itself a holdover from the miniatures wargaming roots of hex-and-counter wargames), morale, stacking, line of sight, and of course combat. What is of particular interest is the inclusion of three and a half pages dedicated to "mustering an army". Here we have for troop maintenance costs, effectiveness of advertising for recruits, types of soldiers who respond, and so forth. Fans of 0E might want to grab a copy of the rules if nothing else, especially those interested in the now-current "Domain Game", because it gives some neat insights into what the state of the art was in this regard back in 1982 (doubly interesting is the fact that these rules were obviously written not with AD&D in mind, but with the LBBs, since it concerns itself with only three alignments.

The rules also have a page of tables dedicated to one of the questions that particularly vexes those who try to come up with mass combat rules for RPGs; what to do with PCs who aren't in command of the whole army?
"Often, the player-characters involved in a role-playing campaign are not in command of the entire army. It should also be noted that the number and type of counters present in this game are insufficient to represent an entire feudal or fantasy army. Future game releases will represent these additional troops and followers with counters of their own [ed. note: if only!]. The following charts should be consulted by the campaign Judge prior to each battle in which a player-character becomes involved if the player-character is not the leader of the fielded unit."
What follows are charts to determine why the battle is happening in the first place, what the PC's unit's orders are, what (if anything) he is supposed to be defending or capturing, etc. Wonderful stuff.

As I recall, I didn't make much use of City State Warfare when it came out, mostly because I had access to what I considered at the time to be "better" wargames to do the same thing; the SPI Prestags series of games (Viking, Legion, etc.). But I did play it once or twice, and it was a good enough game for its purpose, with one glaring omission. No rules for magic. Wizards and priests are just another unit that can make a missile attack. Still, it's a great little window into the thinking of the day, and a definite link between hex-and-counter wargames and D&D.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Nikolas Lloyd on the evolution of D&D

Who is Nikolas Lloyd, you may ask? Only the purveyor of a series of outstanding videos on YouTube concerning armor and weapons (among many other things). And he runs a most excellent website that deals with all manner of eclectic things, from archaeology to evolutionary theory to swing dancing. I found him thanks to one of the comments in my recent post on swords, and damned if he doesn't have a series of videos that explain his views on some of the various editions of Dungeons and Dragons.

Some of the things he says in these videos will piss off a lot of my readers, I'm sure, but rest assured I don't agree with everything he says (well, I do agree with everything he says about 4th edition). He seems to not realize that most of his objections to Holmes Basic were solved in 1E, doesn't seem to know that there was a 2E, and mentions 3.x but only in the context of how annoying it was that his own game product couldn't be translated easily from that to 4E (which he crucifies). He is a big RuneQuest fan, however.

But they're hilarious (and, in many cases, spot-on) regardless of whether you agree with everything he says, and thus do I present them here. I may not agree with his views on the value of archetypical character classes, but I'll die to defend his right to be wrong.

Do look up his channel on YouTube and check out his many and varied expositions on various weapons and armor from the perspective of a reconstructionist archaeologist, and you'll probably find at least some of his other offerings either funny or informative or both.

Want an Inexpensive Buy-In to C&C?

Troll Lord Games has you covered.

I'm not sure how long this will last, but Troll Lord Games is offering a special combo special of the Castles and Crusades Players Handbook and Monsters & Treasure book for $25 $20.

Yes, $20. And I checked with Steve at Troll Lord Games and yes, that's for the hard cover version of both books. Plus an adventure if you order today.

Sweet merciful crap! If you've got the slightest curiosity about Castles and Crusades, now's the time to jump on this. Even if you don't plan on playing the game, there's at least something in there you can probably import into your regular AD&D, LL, S&W, etc. game. This is an excellent deal.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Thoughts on Swords

"I whip out my trusty type XII-A sword and chop off the orc's head!" - nobody, in any game, ever, and for good reason

The question came up over at the Adventures Dark and Deep forums, as to whether I would be making the selection of swords available in the game more historically accurate (that is, reflecting more modern scholarship from the last 40 years that was unavailable to Gygax when he first designed the game), in the same way that I did with armor types/classes.

It's certainly something that I have given (and continue to give) a lot of thought to. In the original AD&D, there are essentially six types of swords available:
  • Bastard (10 lbs, speed 6, 2-8/2-16 damage, 4 1/2' long, 4+' required, pretty neutral across all armor types, but when used one-handed acts like a long sword)
  • Broad (7 1/2 lbs, speed 5, 2-8/2-7 damage, 3 1/2' long, 4' required, poor against armor, better against unarmored)
  • Long (6 lbs, speed 5, 1-8/1-12 damage, 3 1/2' long, 3' required, neutral against most armor, but poor against the heaviest and good against unarmored opponents)
  • Short (3 1/2 lbs, speed 3, 1-6/1-8 damage, 2' long, 1' required, poor against heavy armor, good against unarmored opponents)
  • Two-handed (25 lbs, speed 10, 1-10/3-18 damage, 6' long, 6' required, good against everything)
  • Scimitar (4 lbs, speed 4, 1-8/1-8 damage, 3' long, 2' required, poor against armor, better against unarmored opponents)
These general notes tell us a few things. The swords that are the heaviest do the most damage, but this isn't a straight progression; there are exceptions that buck the trend. Lighter swords are quicker. Short swords and scimitars are made for stabbing rather than slicing, because they don't need all that much room to use side-by-side (which puzzles me in the example of the scimitar, which a lifetime of Sinbad movies tells me is used in broad cutting strokes). None of the swords listed is specifically good against a heavily armored opponent.

History presents us with quite a few more than six choices, when it comes to swords. In fact, historians have at least 22 basic types (many with various sub-types) that are measured along what is called the Wheeler/Oakeshott typology (depending on how old the sword is; Oakeshott picks up after the Viking era). The typology concerns itself with a few things that would have a real effect in game terms:
  • Blade length
  • Is the blade tip pointed or round (that indicates it's made to slash or stab)
  • Does the blade itself taper, or is it straight (some swords were made specifically to puncture armor; a blade that is tapered all the way from the hilt to the tip is their hallmark)
  • How long is the hilt (that indicates whether it's used with one, two, or sometimes two hands)
  • Blade width (that points towards weight, which in turn influences weapon speed)
One of the problems, of course, is that the terminology isn't universally consistent. One place says that "broad swords" came into use in the 16th century and all have basket hilts. Another source places them in the 13th century with cross-hilts.

My instincts tell me that a revamping of sword types is called for. After all, if "banded mail" can be done away with and replaced with a more historically accurate nomenclature, then so too can the "bastard sword". On the other hand, this isn't trying to be a 100% accurate depiction of Late Medieval Europe, and I certainly don't want to change the "feel" of the original too much as I make alterations to it in various places.

So where do you stand? Accuracy or ease of play? Verisimilitude or the 40-year-old traditions of the game?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The ADD of ADD

Some of my fellow bloggers tend to speak of "Gamer ADD", referring to the practice of having a number of different projects in the hopper and tending to jump from one to another with both abandon and rapidity. I'm no different, and every once in a while I find it helps me to focus if I list out just what it is that I'm working on.
  • Adventures Dark and Deep
  • Adventures Great and Glorious
  • Glitterdark mega-dungeon
  • Erseta Fantasy Setting
  • Ogre Miniatures
  • 15mm historical/fantasy wargaming using Field of Glory
Adventures Dark and Deep is coming along nicely. Versions of all three rulebooks are complete and available for public consumption during the open playtest, and all are in a constant state of refinement as more and more feedback comes in. The only one that still needs major work is the Bestiary; I'm working on the last third of the planned creatures right now. No, you didn't miss the announcement of the next version of the Bestiary; only the first third are currently available. The rest will all come at once.

Adventures Great and Glorious is in an early draft stage, and not ready for prime time. If it works out the way I envision, it will take things in a whole new direction, in terms of giving a framework for power politics very different from what we've seen in products such as Birthright.

Well, technically Glitterdark is a part of my Erseta campaign, but it's such a massive project (20 levels so far, many of which have sub-levels) that I count it as a project unto itself. Lots of maps done, lots more to do, much more writing to be done. Erseta is being done piecemeal, as I find myself in need of stuff for my home campaign. I'm working through a gazetteer, and doing maps using the most excellent Hexographer program, but it's an enormous undertaking.

Ogre Miniatures is a standard game among the group. Most of my figures are painted, but they all want detailing, and I've got some more that still need assembly and painting. I've got more than enough to play with, though, so now it's just a question of finding time and coming up with neat-o torpedo scenarios and accompanying props and scenery.

Field of Glory... yeah... I've really got to sit down some weekend and knock out a few dozen stands. I've probably got more than a thousand unpainted figures, mostly Ral Parthas and Old Glory 15s, plus a bunch that kind readers have been sending me. (The offer stands, by the way-- if anyone has any 15mm figures that they know they will never in a million years use, I will gladly take them off your hands, and they WILL get painted and played, eventually.) Right now, I've got 4 stands of 3 figures each painted. They mock me, sitting on the shelf, all alone...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Raid on Frederikshavn

Combine intelligence has determined that the PanEuropean Space Authority is about to launch an experimental new space plane from their facility at Frederikshavn, Denmark. A fast strike force of GEVs has been sent across the North Sea, with coordinated support from a MK III sent along the sea floor, to destroy the spacecraft on the launch pad. Can the PanEuropean garrison hold off the attackers long enough for reinforcements to arrive?

I've been struck with inspiration for a scenario to run the next time or two I do Ogre Miniatures both with the regular group and at a convention. I was inspired by the discovery of a model kit that was just so evocative and in exactly the right scale that it screamed "use this for Ogre somehow!"

The kit itself is a Glencoe model kit in 1:288 scale (the Ogre Miniatures are said to be 1:300, but they work fine alongside 1:285 figures), the "Three Stage Ferry Rocket", modeled on a design presented by Werner Von Braun in the 1950's in his series of articles in Collier's magazine and on television to popularize the possibilities of space travel. I saw the box and the scale, and became inspired.

Here is the model kit, assembled but not painted (the gantry is not shown), with two MK-III Ogres alongside to give it some scale. It comes on a hexagonal launching platform. I must admit this is the first time I've tried to put together a model kit since I was 12. I'm not 100% satisfied with the results, but it will certainly do the job and should look quite striking once it's put on the gaming table.

Here we have it painted (again, no gantry), and before the decals were applied. I went with a "modern" black and white color scheme to go for a Space Shuttle or Apollo/Saturn V look. The windows on the space plane itself are in the same periwinkle blue that decorate the windshields of my GEVs.

Here's the finished piece, with the gantry (which I decided to paint orange, to evoke a sort of Apollo feel to the thing) and the decals applied. I'm still debating trying to put a PanEuropean Corinthian helmet symbol on either the booster or the space plane itself.

And here's the finished piece with a MK-III and a Combine heavy tank down near the launch base for scale.

The scenario itself will consist of a force of Combine GEVs (regular GEVs, light-GEVs, or GEV-PCs with accompanying infantry) and a MK-III Ogre emerging from the surf near the PanEuropean spaceport at Frederikshavn, Denmark (I toyed with making it Peenemünde, but thought that would be too cute by half).

The spaceport will be protected by a relatively weak garrison, heavy on infantry, with a regular schedule of reinforcements showing up on each turn (the exact nature of which are unknown to either player, maybe random). The Combine player will get victory points for both destroying the space plane on the launch pad and getting his own forces out of the raid intact. The PanEuropean player will get victory points for protecting the space plane and inflicting Combine casualties.

Look for this at the next convention I do (probably Dreamation in February), and I'll post a report of how things go when I playtest it for the local gaming group. Color me excited!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Adventures Dark and Deep Review

Chris over at Classic RPG Realms has done me the kindness of writing up a review of the current state of Adventures Dark and Deep, currently in open playtest and going through an ongoing process of iterative corrections, expansions, and clarifications. Modesty almost prevents me from mentioning it, as his is a very positive review, but that word "almost" covers a lot of ground. ;-)

The check's in the mail, Chris.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Book Review: Den of Thieves

In the interest of full disclosure, the author of the forthcoming novel, Den of Thieves, David Chandler, emailed me about a month ago asking if I would read his work. He's a member of the Red Box Campaign in NYC, and was involved in some various gaming projects. He "hoped I'd mention it on my blog", but other than that, there was no expectation of any sort of advertising in exchange.

I've got to say, I really enjoyed this book. I tore through it as I rarely do with any books nowadays, and that's about the best endorsement I can give.

The roots of this book in both Fritz Lieber's Lankhmar, and E. Gary Gygax's Greyhawk are obvious. It's set in a Free City in the midst of a (thusfar) fairly generic fantasy kingdom, with a thief from the slums getting involved in both the affairs of the local thieves' guild and a heist that ends up embroiling him in some fairly high-powered sorcery and affairs of state. I won't give away more of the plot than that, but there were some nice plot twists, the setting (the city) was fairly engaging, and the characters were well developed.

I would tend to agree with Joethelawyer's assessment that the primary character, who was supposed to be a sort of guttersnipe thief, would have such a talent for speaking and a vocabulary to match, but that didn't distract me from enjoying the depictions of the Free City of Ness and its inhabitants. It's not a fairy tale by any stretch-- the characters are (with one notable exception) flawed and human enough to realize it. But I rather liked that aspect; the fact that the characters weren't cookie-cutter heroes left room for some interesting twists and turns.

I would heartily recommend this book to anyone looking for a light fantasy read, and I'm very much looking forward to the rest of the books in the Ancient Blades trilogy.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Looking for Trucks

Quick question-- does anyone out there know of any 1:285 (or close) truck figures? I'm just looking for ordinary, military-style trucks. Nothing science fictiony, nothing fancy. The sort of truck you'd see in a WW2 movie.

I know GHQ sells a variety of different trucks in the scale, but $2 each seems a bit on the pricey side. (I'm looking at their Lancia Heavy Truck as a model, for comparison's sake.)

Any assistance would be appreciated.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sculptor for Gygax Memorial Named

Courtesy of Wired (and don't neglect the Gygax Memorial Fund link in the upper-left corner of this blog):

Hello from Gen Con, in Indianapolis, the gaming convention where I’ve been hanging this week. I’ve spent some time with the Gygax family and following their effort to raise money here on behalf of the Gygax Memorial Fund, which aims to raise serious dough for a monument. This just in:

“The Gygax Memorial Fund is thrilled to announce that Stefan Pokorny has volunteered to sculpt the memorial in Lake Geneva. Stefan is well known to gamers as the founder and chief sculptor of Dwarven Forge, and also a classically trained sculptor whose bronzes and busts can be seen in the New York Public Library and fine art galleries.”

Folks at the Gygax Memorial said that: “As a lifelong fan of Gary’s, helping to create this memorial is a dream come true for Stefan, and the Gygax Memorial has always wanted to the sculptor be a gamer who looked forward to spending time with Gary at Gen Con each year. The stories Gail, Luke, and Stefan shared over dinner last night were a testimonial to how much Gary’s memory means to people and the way that the vision of his memorial is bringing people together.”

Luke is Gygax’s son. Gail is Gary’s wife.

Glad that things are moving forward. Long live Gary!

Of all the problems to have...

...I suppose I'm lucky to have the one I do.

I hear a lot about people having to deal with problem players, disruptive players, parties that don't get along and are constantly trying to not only kill one another in-game, but who don't seem to get along as people, either.

I've got the opposite problem, it seems.

Our group met again tonight, for the second session of the new Erseta campaign, and we easily spent 80% of the time chatting, joking, trading anecdotes, swapping movie and television news, and so forth. Unfortunately the end result is that very little actual gaming got done. This was also a problem in the first session, but not quite so marked as it was tonight.

So the problem is, essentially, that we get along too well. I am enormously fortunate that the group of essentially random people found through meetup.com instantly coalesced into a group of folks who are immediately at ease with one another, seem to get along great, and share many of the same interests, backgrounds, etc. outside of gaming. But the end result is that we find it difficult sometimes to actually get to the game itself.

It's not like it was a total loss, game-wise; they resolved some loose threads from the previous session and traveled another leg on the journey towards finding the lost dwarven city of Glitterdark, met a pretty significant NPC along the way, and got some information about their goal and the route they will most likely need to take. But honestly we could have gotten a lot more gaming in had we been more focused.

I am certainly not without my share of blame; as GM it ultimately falls to me to keep the game moving, but halting all the fun conversation seems almost rude with this particular group, because we're having such fun just hanging out with one another.

Next time I'm going to go out of my way to keep the group more focused on the game. I was wondering, though, if anyone else has had this sort of problem. It's not bad, per se, except for those who might get frustrated because they want to throw dice rather than swap stories, but it's not like I can say that the evening isn't fun, because it's tons of fun.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Factions rather than Characters

One of the more unique things about Adventures Great and Glorious will be that each player assumes the role of a powerful faction within a kingdom, rather than a single character. Certainly, each faction will have its powerful figures, and leaders as well, but the idea is that the player controls not only that leader but the various other characters, minions, etc. that make up the faction.

This is, admittedly, a risk on one level. Will players used to RPGs, who are used to focusing on a single character, find it enjoyable to broaden their horizon and focus on an entire group of characters? Will they be satisfied with issuing orders that affect dozens or hundreds of men, rather than acting out the actions of a single heroic (or in some cases villainous) character? It's bread and butter to those of us who enjoy wargames, but I can't help but wonder how those who know little but RPGs will react. Feedback from the playtests, once they begin, will be of immense help, I'm sure.

That's not to say that there won't be the chance to combine the two styles, of course. Nothing says that a game that uses both Adventures Great and Glorious and Adventures Dark and Deep can't mix the two styles. One's primary character from the ADD game can certainly be high in the councils of, or even the leader of, an AGG faction. As events in the campaign dictate, and the player decides what is most appropriate, that single character could go on quests and have adventures while at the same time the same player is issuing orders to his armies and courtiers.

Which in and of itself brings up a question; what happens to factions with such "absentee masters"? If the leader of the Shadow Tongue crime family is always off grubbing away in some dungeon or other, it would make sense that his absence would have a detrimental effect on the faction. Or, perhaps, it would have an effect on his leadership of said family...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Show Me Your Dice

Never let it be said that I don't love me a good bandwagon! Tim at Gothridge Manor had a spiffy idea; post pictures of our dice collections, be they large or small. Here is my humble entry (click to embiggen):

I know, there's a few non-dice things in there, but they live in my dice bag, so I figured it was fair. In the lower left is a Deck of Many Things from Dragon magazine way back when. The ones atop the smaller leather bag in the upper-left are my current set; pure pewter and they make a SWEET noise when rolled on a wooden table. The rest are the usual assortment, from various games, manufacturers, and eras. More than my share of GameScience dice in there, and right in front you can see two of the remaining dice from my first ever Holmes boxed set.

The tall black thing in the corner, being worshiped by the other dice like a Monolith by australopithecus, is a Dragonbone. Yes, it still works. Yes, I bring it to every game (it's exceedingly useful when the party gets separated and I need to roll dice for someone off in another room where bringing a regular set of dice would be inconvenient). No, you can't have it, but I might let you hold it briefly.

The bag itself is actually worth mentioning, too; it was a bit of RPGA swag from the mid-1980's. It's got a tear in the back that's fixed with duct tape, but damned if it doesn't still do the job of hauling my dice all over the place as needed.

Fantasy Flight Games Gets Rights to "Star Wars" Gaming

Fantasy Flight Games has acquired the rights to produce all manner of games set in the Star Wars universe, including RPGs. While no details about an RPG were forthcoming in the announcement, they did announce an X-Wing Miniatures game that sounds like I might just have to go in deep on it, and a cooperative card game that doesn't really sound like my cup of tea, but which will doubtless do very well.

Hat tip to ICV2.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Synergy 30 of Years Past

On this day in 1981, MTV made its official debut on American cable television. Thirty years later, it's notoriously difficult to actually find any music videos on MTV itself, which has followed the money and moved on to reality TV shows. But thirty years ago, MTV was the biggest thing to hit amongst the teenage population. Its audience was much more male than female, although there were certainly exceptions, and it evolved along various ever-fragmenting lines as different shows attempted to draw in new audiences and expand into new ones.

Any of that sound familiar?

I personally think that the advent of MTV was a cultural phenomenon that cannot be repeated any more than the bursting of RPGs onto the scene, and that MTV was just as much a function of the whole "growing up in the early and mid 1980's" experience as was Dungeons and Dragons. The two peaked at precisely the same time, and both hit people of my generation precisely in our most formative years. There was inescapably an enormous overlap, and mutual influence over the two huge movements in teenage culture. We had videos (most of them in the heavy metal genre, a sub-phenomenon in and of itself that others in the OSR blogosphere have discussed) taking advantage of the medieval and fantasy imagery of D&D; everything from Men Without Hats' Safety Dance to Dio's Holy Diver. And this ad was played on MTV so much I wouldn't be surprised if they had to send over multiple copies of the worn-out tape:

I've mentioned before how ubiquitous MTV was in my own youth, to the point that certain songs are forever indelibly linked in my brain with painting certain miniatures. MTV was quite literally the soundtrack of the adolescence of millions of D&D players, myself included. For all those who say that the OSR has more to do with nostalgia than game mechanics, I would point out that if such were the case, we'd be playing CD's of the Bangles, ZZ Top, Madness, Human League, and Run-DMC in the background of our games.

I leave you with the now-famous first-ever video played on MTV, which ended up not being nearly as prophetic as those executives and VJ's might have hoped, 30 years past.

And I still have a crush on Martha Quinn.