Monday, December 31, 2012

Gaming Plans for 2013

I've got a pretty full plate when it comes to gaming stuff in 2013...

All that in addition to running my weekly ADD Greyhawk campaign and occasional wargame/boardgame days, plus being the organizer of the Garden State Gaming Society meetup and the OSR Google+ group (everybody's welcome!). Still, that'll clear the decks of all my major project obligations, and allow me to move on to smaller, but hopefully more frequent, offerings. See you all in 2013!

Update: Looks like GenCon is no longer on the table. Pity-- I was really looking forward to it. Ah, well. there's always 2014.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Am I Just Lucky?

I ask because I have never been in a game with That Guy. Apparently, many other people have, and given that I've never encountered That Guy at conventions or campaigns in over 35 years of playing RPGs, I have to ask if it's just me.

We've all heard the stories about That Guy. He's the killer DM who revels in TPKs and devising entire dungeons whose sole purpose is to obliterate the player characters with no real hope of either escape or-- perish the thought-- success.

He's the player who tells the other player characters that he's an elf fighter-thief, when he's really an assassin, and will slay the other party members when they're at their weakest to take all the treasure (and, incidentally, end the campaign in the process).

He's the person who will have forgotten his wallet when the pizza arrives, but brings a 6 oz. bag of popcorn when it's his turn to pony up to bring food for the game. Oh, and can you give him a ride to the game?

He's the guy who, if a woman player shows up, immediately starts either a) being completely obsequious in a transparent attempt to win a fleeting smile from her, or b) being completely rude and obnoxious, making it very clear that he thinks that RPGs are a "man's game" and that any female who deigns to participate is fair game for being hit on in the way most certain to make everyone else at the table uncomfortable.

He's the guy who has done a statistical analysis of all the weapons in the rulebook, and has figured out that if one is using a glaive guisarme, that has the best damage-to-g.p. cost ratio of any weapon in the book, as long  as the DM is using weapon vs. armor class. And if the DM isn't, he'll insist that that rule be used, because otherwise "it wouldn't be fair, because I chose this weapon specifically because the rules say it should be better against splinted mail."

He plays a female character, and acts in completely slutty ways and engages in outrageous behavior that no actual female would ever even consider, even if she was a crack whore in desperate need of her next fix.

He insists on arcane and incredibly complex treasure allocation rules, based not on the use that any individual character can put a given magic item to, but rather who has X number of items, and who is now "due" to have an item, and woe betide the person who trades an item of unequal x.p. value!

Any time the DM says "well, because you're attacking the ogre, nobody else can, because you're blocking the doorway", he argues for a full 30 minutes that what he really meant to say was that he draws the ogre into the room, so that all the other party members can also attack in the same round. Because, it wouldn't be fair if his character was the only one that could get hit.

He insists on playing a ninja, even though it's a game set in an analogue of Medieval Europe. Every time. Every... frigging... time.

He insists on playing a drow ranger wielding two weapons, even through the campaign has nothing to do with the Underdark and drow would be completely out of place in the setting. Every... frigging... time.

But you know... I never played with That Guy. Not once, in 35 years. Everybody else seemed to keep playing with That Guy, so it came to be a given that That Guy was playing everywhere, and was infecting every game, but I managed to escape unscathed.

And then people started to write games whose rules were designed to thwart That Guy. We started having formulae with "challenge levels" and so forth, so that every dungeon and every encounter therein was perfectly mathematically balanced according to the rules. We had rules that required that the exact location of each character in every encounter was tracked within five feet, lest someone think they were somewhere and the DM think they were 10' away, and "DM fiat" be required to resolve the issue.

I must be blessed. Because I never played in a game with That Guy, and I never felt the need to have rules to counteract his diabolical effects. But in all seriousness, am I really that unique? Have I just managed to wander the paths and byways of RPGs for years and years without encountering the legendary RPG Troll? I'm beginning to think That Guy is a myth.

RIP Gerry Anderson

Well, perhaps there's our third. Gerry Anderson, creator of the "Supermarionation" film-making technique using marionettes and other puppeteering skills, died today at the age of 89. Many might remember such shows as the Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Supercar, and Firebird XL5. But he was also known for his live action work with shows such as Space: 1999, UFO, and films such as Journey to the Far Side of the Sun. While I wouldn't go so far as to say he revolutionized science fiction, but his shows were a staple of my television watching while I was growing up. He certainly left his mark with memorable contributions, and one could always tell a Gerry Anderson production by the style and look that marked his work. He will definitely be missed.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

God Jul!


Merry Christmas, Glad Yule, and best wishes from the Greyhawk Grognard to you and your family.

Monday, December 24, 2012

RIP Jack Klugman

I knew him best growing up from The Odd Couple, but I personally think his greatest performance wasn't a comedy, but in The Twilight Zone episode, "A Game of Pool." Also, IMHO, the best performance by the legendary Jonathan Winters. Deadpan drama.

Here is the entire episode, in three parts. RIP, Mr. Klugman.






The Spirit of Sci-Fi Christmas Past

Gotta say, they had a thing in the 1950's for robots and Christmas trees...




But the Santa Claus/alien thing is kinda cute...




Friday, December 21, 2012

The Plan

Step 1: Successful Kickstarter of Players Manual
Step 2: ???
Step 3: PROFIT!!!

Now that the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Players Manual has been successfully funded (thanks again to all who backed it!), I thought it would be a good idea to give a little insight into where I think things are going, business-wise, and what I'm looking at for a business model and so forth.

It should come as no surprise that BRW Games, LLC, the company I started to publish my gaming stuff, is not my primary source of income, nor do I expect it to be in the near future. It's a hobby, something that I do in my spare time (in and around my everyday job, my family, my religion, and other things). I confess I like the creative aspects like planning and writing considerably more than I do the tedious business aspects like promotion, accounting, etc., but that doesn't mean it can't be approached in a somewhat organized manner.

The "big picture" is that I want to get the ADD rules published and out of the way so I can get to work on new and more creative stuff. I've got a mess of adventure modules I'd like to publish, and a setting (Erseta) that I think has a lot of potential.

First, I want to finish up ADD. If I know the Players Manual is on schedule to go out the door by March of 2013, that lets me have the Kickstarter for the Game Masters Toolkit in March. Assuming that is also on the same schedule, I can have it out the door by June and do the Bestiary Kickstarter in June. And that means that I can have the Bestiary out in  Q3 of 2013, which is something I'd very much like to do.

I've been working on these rules for more than two years now. I'm ready for the project to be complete, because I can't do the adventures and other fun stuff until the rules are done. And that will also mean the Kickstartering will be done for a good long while. (Yay!) Frankly, I only want to do Kickstarters for big huge things that I can't fund myself, and the Bestiary will be the last one of those for quite some time.

Once the rules are done and out, I can focus on writing adventures and setting type material. Some of it will be free stuff that I put out here (like the Gazetteers for the Lands Beyond the Flanaess that I still want to get to, plus one or two Greyhawk-specific projects that I've been wanting to do for years), and others will be sold on RPGNow.com and its sister sites.

That brings up a point about the business model. Everything is done on a shoestring, and everything is as self-sustaining as possible. By using print on demand, I'm able to significantly lower my up-front costs, which in turn makes everything possible. It is true that RPGNow takes a cut of my sales, but for my situation the cost is worth not having to deal with the hassles and costs of shipping, warehousing, and up-front printing. I figure my time not spent going to the post office (figuring my hourly rate from my day job), plus the money not spent on storage space for stock, is worth the minor chunk that RPGNow takes from each sale. Plus it's pretty much profit from day one; I don't need to worry about selling X books to recoup the cost of a print run.

What sort of other stuff do I have in mind? Well, there are a lot of little adventure ideas that I'd like to commit to paper. Some of the stuff will be spinoffs from Castle of the Mad Archmage (publishing in the first half of 2013 by Black Blade Publishing), some will be completely stand-alone adventures that can be plugged in just about any campaign, some might be specific to Erseta. They'll need a few pieces of art, but nothing near like the art the rulebooks need, and I can fund that with the profits from the books and such. The whole thing then becomes self-perpetuating, and all is right with the world. No more Kickstarters unless something huge rears its head.

I do have at least two other games on the drawing board, in various states of completion; Adventures Great and Glorious (a combination of "domain management", mass combat, and political intrigue that can be played separately or in connection with ADD) has not been forgotten, and Sail the Solar Winds (a space opera RPG) is still knocking at the back of my mind. But new games are way down on the list. Like 2015 or later. I just want to relax and write some fun stuff that shows off the rules I've already got.

Kickstarter Analysis: ADD Players Manual

As promised, I thought I'd go through some of the details of how the Kickstater campaign for the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Players Manual went. This can be compared to the campaign for the first book, A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore, for which I did a similar analysis after it's Kickstarter campaign concluded.

I decided to do some things very deliberately differently for the Players Manual. First and foremost, I decided that I'd let the project stand or fall on its own. There were not going to be any stretch goals, no synergies with other projects, etc. I wanted this to be about the book itself, because this was going to be my first real opportunity to gauge interest in the game system from a commercial standpoint.

Too, there were differences in the way the funding was handled. For Forgotten Lore, the reward levels for the books were higher ($30 for the softcover and $60 for the hardcover) and the overall goal was lower ($2,500). The goal could be lower because there was to be less art in that book. So, in essence, I needed a relatively few hard-core supporters to meet the goal. And, sure enough, the goal was met and surpassed, coming in at $7,459 with a total of 244 backers.

For the Players Manual, the situation was different. Because there was going to be a lot more art in this book (mainly because it's much longer, page-wise), the goal had to be that much higher; in this case $6,500. However, because I now had a much better idea of the process and the costs involved (thanks to the experience from the first book), I knew I could offer the books themselves for less; still $30 for the softcover, but the hardcover could be had for only $40. That's much more in line with the cost of other, similar game books, and I think it showed. Almost five times as many people selected the hardcover option over the softcover, whereas for Forgotten Lore, twice as many people chose the softcover.

And that showed, too. Despite the fact that there were fewer overall backers, since so many more people opted for the hardcover over the softcover, the second Kickstarter actually made more money (236 backers, $8,601 raised).

Also, because there were no gimmicks involved, the fundraising showed a much more steady rate of increase:


As expected, there's a big jump at the beginning, a relatively long period of minimum growth, and then another boost at the end as the campaign comes to a finish. This is helped by the fact that Kickstarter itself sends out reminders to people, plus I had a number of wonderful folks pumping the book on their blogs and elsewhere.

I should also point out that as of this writing, only $180 in pledges remain to be collected (because the credit card that was used when the pledge was made was refused at the end of the Kickstarter). From what I understand, that's a pretty good number; there are tales of other campaigns that suffer enormous shrinkage when it comes time to collect. Kickstarter keeps sending out reminders for two weeks, so hopefully that number will get even better.

All in all, this Kickstarter didn't have nearly the frantic feel that the first one did. I had much longer to go before it made goal, but it did so without my having to resort to loads of stretch goals. I feel good about the fact that the book was able to stand up on its own, and look forward to the next campaign for the Game Masters Toolkit.

Now, the Bestiary, I probably will feel frantic about, because it's so huge, but I'll worry about that bridge when I come to it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's the End of the World as We Know It



Hey, I guess that it's pretty much obligatory to do a Mayan Apocalypse post, right?

For me, growing up as a child of the 70's, the end of the world was ubiquitous. Especially as a gamer and a sci-fi fan. 

First, there were the games. As I've spoken of before, SPI had a whole line of "future history games" that essentially played out aspects of World War III, mostly featuring a Warsaw Pact invasion of Europe. I had World War III, Invasion: America, NATO, The Next War, Revolt in the East, China War, Fifth Corps, Fulda Gap, Hof Gap, Red Star/White Star, and many more besides. We played through the Soviet invasion of western Europe countless times, from when I was 10 or so onwards. It certainly made an impression. 

My favorite rule came in the Designer's Notes for one game, on the subject of strategic nuclear weapons. I'm paraphrasing, but the upshot of it was, "If you wish to include the effects of strategic nuclear weapons in your game, just soak the map in lighter fluid and apply a match."

Remember, this was the 1970's. Before Reagan and Gorbachev, right in the midst of the ignominious defeat in Viet Nam and the Iran Hostage Crisis. The Cold War wasn't so cold, and a Soviet Invasion seemed like a real possibility, despite détente. America was weak and overt Communist aggression seemed a very real possibility, and we didn't need The Day After or Red Dawn to tell us that would be The End of the World as We Know It. 

Then there were the movies. Nuclear war wasn't the only subject, but to see it portrayed by Hollywood, the World as We Know It didn't have much longer. There was biological warfare in The Omega Man and The Andromeda Strain; ecological collapse, famine and corporate corruption in Soylent Green; ecological collapse in Silent Running; out-of-control corporations ruling the world in Rollerball; nuclear war in Damnation Alley; economic collapse and nuclear war in Mad Max; economic collapse and biological warfare in The Ultimate Warrior; authoritarianism, slavery, nuclear war and retro-evolution in the Planet of the Apes movies (all but the first came out in the 70's, so I'm counting 'em as valid for this post); societal collapse and descent into savagery in Zardoz; the threat of nuclear annihilation at the hands of a superintelligent computer in Colossus: The Forbin Project; a generally dystopian authoritarian world in TXH-1138; societal collapse, authoritarian governments with mind-control therapies, and widespread ultraviolence in A Clockwork Orange; and ecological collapse, nuclear war, and age discrimination (although that wasn't a term back then) gone wild in Logan's Run. And of course authoritarian governments promoting blood sports in both Rollerball and Death Race 2000. 

Thank goodness Star Wars came along with it story about a genocidal tyrannical government that rules the galaxy, run by a sociopathic cyborg who crushes people's throats with his bare hands, just to lighten the mood. It almost makes one wistful for the gun-totin', human-killin' robots of Westworld.

Still, we made it out of the 70's, and though the specifics of the doom and gloom differ, it's still with us, and probably will be forever. It's the End of the World as We Know it, and I feel fine.

We Did It!



First and foremost, thank you to all who backed the Players Manual project. We came in at $8,600, which is 132% of the goal. Thanks to you, we're going to have a beautiful book!

The next step is to get the artists set to working. The emails to them will go out today or tomorrow, giving them their individual assignments. Their work should be back to me by February, or possibly sooner.

And one piece of even better news; the editor has already gotten back to me with her notes and revisions for the manuscript! Seems that some people had a lot of faith that the Kickstarter campaign would meet its goal. So that potentially lengthy phase of the project is already done. I just need to incorporate her notes into the "live" version of the document.

So we're in an even better place than I expected to be today. Artists will get their marching orders by the weekend, and the markup is done and just needs to be incorporated into the manuscript. Once the art comes back, final layout and production can commence. I'll keep you all posted as there's news to report.

Either today or in a day or three, I'll be posting a more comprehensive self-analysis of this Kickstarter campaign, similar to the one I did for A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore. There were some interesting differences based on deliberate decisions, and I think it's worth going into in more detail.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Convention Question

Looking ahead to my 2013 convention schedule, it looks like I might-- just might-- be able to hit a non-local convention this year, in addition to Dreamation, NJcon, Dexcon, and Metatopia (and possibly NEPACon, too). The question is, which one?

GenCon: The big, obvious choice. But I'm not sure how much there would be for someone like me who doesn't play 4E or Pathfinder. I know there's the OSR Booth in the dealers' room (anyone know how to get hold of those guys), but is there anything else for me?

North Texas RPG Con: Lots of OSR goodness to be found here, but I wonder if it's a little too small to warrant schlepping halfway across the country for?

GaryCon: Another obvious choice, but also another small one. It's also coming up quickly, so I'd need to commit soon.

Any advice on choosing from folks who've been at one or more of these cons recently, or other conventions I've missed? I didn't include Origins purposefully; I'm a little more focused on RPGs at the moment than wargames (for obvious reasons). Thanks in advance!

Of course, I could just go to Shore Leave this year. Haven't been there in years, and it would do my old Trekker's heart good to see it again, and that's something the family would want to come for, too.

Where "Flying Buffalo" Got Its Name

Over at ICV2 there's a nice little article about old-time game company Flying Buffalo, along with a brief interview with founder/owner Rick Loomis, wherein the mystery of where the name of the company came from. Fascinating trip down memory lane; I was deeply into play-by-mail games in the 1980's, and naturally played a lot of FB games. Nuclear War/Nuclear Escallation remains a favorite of mine as well, and Tunnels & Trolls is, of course, one of the longest-lived games around. Enjoy!

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What would Dungeons & Dragons have looked like if Gary Gygax had been allowed to keep developing it? Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Last Day for Adventures Dark and Deep!

Well, here we are, with about 24 hours to go before the end of the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual Kickstarter! We're at 120% of the funding goal, and I'm seeing the usual last-minute rush to sign up.

Thanks to everyone who has already pledged to the project, and to everyone else, remember this is your last chance to get your name immortalized in the book as one of the two-hundred-plus people who made the project possible!

If you'd like to see what AD&D might have looked like if Gary Gygax had been allowed to continue developing it, rather than leaving TSR in 1985, be sure to check out Adventures Dark and Deep. It's the result of years of research, an 18 month open playtest, and soon to be an attractive illustrated book for your gaming table!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/623939691/adventures-dark-and-deep-players-manual/

Monday, December 17, 2012

New DnD Next Playtest Packet Available

This one takes us through level 20, and includes a new adventure and monsters to support higher level play.

Download --> HERE <--

Enjoy!

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What would Dungeons & Dragons have looked like if Gary Gygax had been allowed to keep developing it? Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!

Sneak Peek of Gygax Magazine Number 1

So what should grace my inbox this morning but a sneak peek of the contents of the upcoming first issue of Gygax Magazine, news of which leaked out not too long ago. I've gotta say I'm really, really looking forward to this, and not only do I like the fact that they've got a diverse selection of games covered, but there are more than a few names in there that should be very familiar to us. Best of luck, guys, and can't wait for the issue to come out! If you haven't done so already, I'd urge you to go to their website and get on the mailing list. Looks like good stuff ahead!

Posted with permission:

Thank you for signing up for updates about Gygax Magazine. It's just a few weeks before our first issue is out, and we wanted to give you a sneak peek of what's in store. Here's the contents of issue number one — we hope you're looking forward to reading it as much as we're looking forward to getting it out!
The Cosmology of Role Playing Games by James Carpio
Still Playing After All These Years by Tim Kask
Leomund's Secure Shelter by Len Lakofka
The Ecology of the Banshee by Ronald Corn
Bridging Generations by Luke Gygax
The Gygax Family Storyteller by Ernie Gygax
Keeping Magic Magical by Dennis Sustare
Gaming With a Virtual Tabletop by Nevin P. Jones
DMing for Your Toddler by Cory Doctorow
Great Power for ICONS by Steve Kenson
Gaming Through the Generations by Ethan Gilsdorf
Between the Dungeons by Ernie Gygax
Talents Off the Front Line by Dennis Detwiller
Adaption Decay by Michael Tresca
Gnatdamp: A Sanctuary in the Swamp adventure by Michael Curtis
The Kobold's Cavern - a special section edited by Wofgang Baur of Kobold Press:
---A Magical Miscellany for AGE by Randall Hurlburt
---Scaling Pathfinder Combat Feats by Marc Radle
---An AGE of Great Inventions by Rodrigo García Carmona
Comic - Marvin the Mage by Jim Wampler
Comic - What's New with Phil & Dixie by Phil Foglio
Comic - The Order of the Stick by Rich Burlew

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What would Dungeons & Dragons have looked like if Gary Gygax had been allowed to keep developing it? Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality! 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I got to see the newest release in Peter Jackson's Middle Earth franchise; The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I saw it with some folks from my Adventures Dark and Deep campaign, and we saw the plain-Jane version. No 3D, no 48 fps. Just a regular movie.

I have to say I went into this having read a number of bad reviews and was expecting to be disappointed. I came out having really enjoyed it. It's not a perfect movie, but few are, and I thought it compared very favorably with the Lord of the Rings films, all of which I love. I'm also a fan of Tolkien's written works, and have read both The Hobbit and LotR many, many times, so I'm aware of the variances between the books and the films. (For what it's worth, I'm a fan of the Rankin-Bass animated films, but not the Ralph Bakshi film; I'm not a fan of rotoscope.)

I didn't see the pacing problems that many reviewers complained of, especially in the first half to two-thirds of the movie. I thought it moved along well, didn't find the dwarves' feast at Bag End to be overly long, and it didn't feel at all bloated to me. The music was good, recalling many of the themes from LotR as appropriate, but it never seemed to get in the way. And there were several songs sung in-character which really helped establish a more "fun" tone. I did not find the addition of the Necromancer of Dol Guldur to be overly intrusive (but see below) and actually fits in well with the rest of the film, especially if it's seen in the context of setting up the LotR films.

The trolls were great (nice to see them finally not portrayed as utterly mindless), and I thoroughly enjoyed Goblintown, and thought the visual juxtaposition between it and both Moria and Eriador (the lost kingdom of the dwarves which Thorin and company are attempting to reclaim from the dragon Smaug) was excellent. Where the dwarvish cities feature stone arches, staircases, and flying buttresses that seem that they have and will last for ages, Goblintown has rickety wooden scaffolding.

The scenes with the Great Goblin were very good, too, I thought. Humorous, but not overly so. The Gollum scenes were a highlight; if anything Peter Jackson's team has gotten better at their motion-capture CGI technology, and the scene was written perfectly and quite suspensefully. I noted that Gollum's eyes in certain light reflected as large pale orbs without any pupils, and that was both really creepy and effective. I half expected to hear Brother Theodore's voice when he first spoke.

As I say, it's not a perfect movie, and purists are sure to howl at some of the changes. There's a new sub-plot where an orc chieftain, Azog the Defiler, has a grudge against Thorin and his family (Azog was a very minor character in the larger Tolkien corpus, but never appears in the book version of The Hobbit), and we see a string of fight scenes between Azog's forces and the dwarves. After a while, they became somewhat predictable. And maybe I'm just not getting the chronology, but looping in the attempt to reconquer Moria just didn't make sense to me. Plus it doesn't seem to have any real purpose other than to give an excuse to include a couple more fight scenes. The sweepy-flying camera angles were a bit distracting and annoying, as were the very-fast-choppy cuts in the fight scenes.

And Radigast the Brown, with bird crap trailing in his hair and down his face, I could have done without completely. I am naturally predisposed towards Sylvester McCoy as a Dr. Who fan, but honestly he was goofy for the sake of being goofy and the character didn't really add anything to the story. Any stray woodsman could have conveyed the story of the Necromancer (or, hell, for that matter Bjorn, whom we will presumably see in the next film).

The biggest problem I had was that a good third of the dwarves didn't look very dwarf-like. One expects dwarves to have exaggerated features and prominent beards. Most did, but others just looked like short humans, Thorin unfortunately included. It was distracting.

On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and don't think it dragged at all. I didn't find most of the additions annoying (with the exception of Radigast), but some were obviously for the sake of adding more action (Azog). I would definitely see it again, and am looking forward to taking my daughter (age 11). I reserve judgement as to how it ranks compared to the LotR films until I see the other two in the series, as context is vital. But this is a great fun film. See it and judge it on its own merits, and you'll probably be pleased.

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What would Dungeons & Dragons have looked like if Gary Gygax had been allowed to keep developing it? Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Question on Alignment

One of the players in my home campaign, who is also doing some editing/proofreading work on the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, came up with a conceptual question regarding alignment which I thought might be of interest.

Given a system where evil is defined as the belief that the powerful should be in charge, and good is defined as the belief that the strong and wealthy should help the weak and the poor, what happens in a situation where a powerful person is in charge, and wants to help the weak and the poor? Isn't that a contradiction?

It's certainly a fair question, and a distinction that many people have trouble with. In the example given, the question is not whether or not the considerate man is strong. It is whether he is put in charge because he is powerful.

In an evil society, the powerful are in charge because they are powerful, and for no other reason. They achieve their position of authority on the basis of their power. In a lawful evil society, that power is defined and mechanisms are in place so that everyone knows his place in the hierarchy. In that sense "power" can also encompass the power to "game the system" (Hell is full of lawyers after all...). In a chaotic evil society, the power of any given individual is more directly expressed and measured, so that one is dominated by another on the sheer basis of brute force (and this can apply to groups as well as individuals).

In the good society, on the other hand, power is not necessarily eschewed, but can still be pursued. The object of that power, however, is quite different. In a good society, power is the means to the end of helping the weak; the more powerful one is, the better one is able to protect those who need protecting. The richer one is, the more one is able to aid the poor. And so forth. The lawful good society will do so collectively, and have institutions dedicated to the defense of the weak and the aid of the poor. A chaotic good society will no less value the welfare of the weaker and poorer, but will leave it to the conscious and means of the individual to decide how best to express those desires.

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Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Favorite Class: The Mountebank

I don't often get to play Adventures Dark and Deep. I run it on a (mostly) weekly basis, but opportunities for me to actually play on the other side of the screen are few, mostly because I'm so busy acting as the GM in my game.

That said, when I do play, my favorite class is the mountebank. Even going back to Gary Gygax's original article in Dragon #65, this immediately stood out to me as sounding like something I wanted to play:
This sub-class of thief specializes in deception, sleight of hand, persuasion, and a bit of illusion. These factors, together with speed, are what the mountebank relies upon. However, disguise and theatrics also provide valuable tools of the trade to this class, so that one might never know one has been had by this class.
In Adventures Dark and Deep, the mountebank is the quintessential con-man. He can use disguises (like the assassin), but many of his powers take the form of "performance and prestidigitation" and "verbal patter". The former gives him sleight-of-hand abilities, juggling, and so forth. The latter lets him attempt to distract intelligent creatures, confuse them, get them to trust him, etc. At higher levels, mountebanks also get some spell-casting ability as well.

I also included the ability to attempt to create potions. This came from Gygax's short story "The House in the Tree", where Hop, owner of the Inn of the Brothers One and Score and a mountebank by inference (although he calls himself "Hop the Savant" as something of an honorific to attest to his honest wares), takes Gord into the forest in search of mushrooms to use in the brewing of potions and patent medicines, some of which actually work! Of course, nothing is certain, and in the game such attempts could end up producing snake oil, poison, or even a potion of delusion (which may explain where they come from...).

The advantages of such a character in an urban environment are obvious. In a dungeon-type game, the mountebank can be no less effective, but in a way that is different from a fighter or a mage. The mountebank would be the one to parley with the orc guards, to attempt to persuade them that the PCs are invited guests of the chieftain. He would attempt to distract the troll with a tall tale about having met its cousin under a bridge several years ago, or try to undermine the pit fiend's trust in his malebranche minions. If weapons are being thrown at the party, the mountebank can try to use his ability as a juggler to try to intercept the missiles, and can himself hurl more weapons at an enemy faster than most other classes are allowed.

All in all, this is a great class, and in my experience a well balanced one. It's not a combat powerhouse by any stretch, but it's a class that rewards sharp, on-the-spot improvisational thinking, and that's exactly the sort of game I love to play, and GM.

The mountebank is just one of the new character classes in my Adventures Dark and Deep game, currently with one week to go for the Players Manual Kickstarter. We're almost at the funding goal, and need just a little bit of a boost to make it over the goal. If this sounds like something that you'd like to play, consider becoming a backer while there's still time!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Speculation on Star Trek Into Darkness

Over at Ain't It Cool News, Mr. Beaks gives us a teaser of the teaser of the new Star Trek film, and the L.A. Times proclaims that the villain's identity is still a mystery. I don't think so, not at all.

Bear in mind that the identity of the villain was slipped inadvertently some months ago; Gary Mitchell. Karl Urban (who plays McCoy in the new films) stated (speaking of Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the villain) “he’s a great addition, and I think his Gary Mitchell is going to be exemplary.” The Internet then exploded with speculation that Urban's remark was a deliberate misdirection, planted by the ever-secretive J.J. Abrams to throw fans off the trail.

For those who aren't familiar with classic Trek canon, Gary Mitchell was the navigator of the Enterprise in the episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before". An old friend of Kirk's from their Starfleet Academy days, he gains psionic powers of telekinesis and telepathy that appear to grow in strength at a geometric rate. Eventually Kirk is forced to kill his old friend to save himself and the ship.

Now, compare that with the official synopsis of Star Trek Into Darkness:
After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.
That certainly sounds like a good description of a Gary Mitchell with godlike psionic powers to me.

My thought is thus; Gary Mitchell, rather than having gotten his powers accidentally by contact with some deep-space phenomenon, is the result of some sort of experiment conducted by Starfleet (perhaps even Section 31). As his powers grow, they lose control over him, to the point where he destroys most of the fleet, ravages cities, and Kirk et al must deal with him once and for all.

All just speculation, of course, but it does fit, I think. We'll know in May!

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Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!

A Millennium of Posts

Back on May 15, 2008, I launched this blog with no real plan or aspirations. Now, four and a half years and exactly one thousand posts later, it's really grown beyond anything I had a right to expect.

Over the years, and over the course of a thousand posts, this blog has not only birthed an entire megadungeon (the Castle of the Mad Archmage) but an offhand post about a couple of old Dragon Magazine articles spawned an entire game system as well (Adventures Dark and Deep). It's presented insights into adventures that only came about as a result of dissecting them here; insights that would probably never have occurred to me otherwise. It's given me the opportunity to map the entirety of the western Flanaess. It's seen the end of 3rd Edition and now the coming of 5th Edition. And, of course, it's allowed me to make many, many friends, both online and face-to-face.

So thanks to everyone for your help and support these past four and a half years!

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Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

I Go Pro

It's something that every DM has dreamed of at one point or another; getting paid to run role-playing games. There were even a few schemes back in the 80's and 90's to set up such things; "Professional Game Master Guilds" and so forth, where one would presumably have a level of assurance that the game master would be well enough above average to justify the expense. Needless to say, such things never got off the ground.

So imagine my surprise when I was contacted by a game store, which was looking to pay someone to run an old-school game for a client of theirs. It turns out that a local businessman wanted to play in an old-school game similar to the ones he played growing up, but had no idea where to find someone to run it. So he contacted the store, which in turn contacted me. Last Friday, I ran the game for the gentleman and some of the people who work in his office, which ended up being about an hour and a half away.

The game itself was pretty standard fare for me; I brought along Castle of the Mad Archmage and a bunch of pre-gen characters, and set to. The organizer and one other person had played before (in the distant past), but the other four people had never played a game in their lives; apparently the office regularly has extra-curricular activities like this (they even play paintball at a field about 10 minutes from my house!). One person from the store came along to make sure everything went okay, and he ended up rounding out the party, as one of the attendees ended up calling out sick.

One thing I found was that this was one of the most focused games I had played in a long while. There was very little cross-table chit-chat, and they got a remarkable amount of exploring and fighting done in that time. It only took a short while for everyone to really get in the swing of things; even the people who had never played before were as engaged as anyone I've seen, offering good and practical suggestions to get through puzzles and traps, and holding their own in combat. It was really neat to see how people react to the game from completely fresh perspectives.

On the whole, it was a great time. The players seemed to really enjoy themselves, and it was an extraordinary honor to be called to do something like this as a paying gig. I don't expect it to happen too often (or perhaps even ever again), but it was especially neat to have as an experience. Oh, and apparently I have "issues". Something to do with certain particularly twisted parts of the Castle... I took it as a compliment. ;-)

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Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

An Absolutely Disgusting, Bigoted Game Gets Funded on Kickstarter

It is rare that I have a topic that is completely appropriate to post not only to my gaming blog, Greyhawk Grognard, but also to my blog that deals with issues relating to my Heathen faith, GOPagan. However, my attention has been drawn to just such a thing by an article in the Boston Globe (h/t to The Wild Hunt blog).

Let me preface this by saying I abhor Political Correctness. It's nothing but an excuse for professional offense-junkies to try to silence the free speech rights of those with whom they disagree by invoking a non-existent "right not to be offended". This is not that. This jackass has a right to make this game, and retailers have a right to sell it. Just as I have a right to weigh in on that question of whether or not, when one has a right, one necessarily should exercise that right, and whether there exists a line on such things that should or should not be crossed.

The game in question is Salem. It was successfully Kickstarted on November 1, with 553 insensitive assholes pledging $33,812 towards it. The premise?

See who can kill the most witches in Salem.

Modern-day witches and Pagans don't think it's at all funny that people were killed in all sorts of horrible ways just for being accused of being what they are today. It's not cute, it's not an historical footnote, and it's not something that begs to be made into a fucking game.

"You're insulting my faith by mocking it" is one thing, and utter nonsense. All beliefs should be open to critique, questioning, and even ridicule. "You're making a game out of slaughtering people who are like me" is quite another thing entirely.

Hey, I've got an idea. Let's make a new railroad game. Each player is the commandant of a Nazi death camp. The one who can ship the most cattle cars full of Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals to their camp, while still making the trains run on time, wins. Mazel tov!

Or another. This one's a resource allocation game. You have a limited number of negro slaves on your antebellum plantation. You need to allocate them between the cotton fields, the house, and in the slave huts making babies to increase your "labor supply". The player who earns the most money, either by selling cotton, selling slaves to others, or (in an exciting side-game) having your slaves run cockfights, wins. "Uppity nigger" cards can be negated by "If it's a whippin' you're a-wantin'..." cards. Hilarity ensues.

One more. A racing game. You're in Texas, and each player has a gay man chained to the back of your pickup truck. The one who can make it around the track first, without his faggot falling off the end of the chain, wins. Careful-- take a curve too fast and you'll lose 'em before they die. Game over.

Am I overstating the case? I don't think I am. It's a concept that's offensive on its face, the same way that nobody would think to make a game about the Holocaust, black slavery, or the murder of James Byrd, Jr.

For centuries, Christians engaged in witch-hunts, in which tens of thousands of accused witches were burned, hanged, stoned, and otherwise put to death. This is no "burning times" fantasy. It really happened. And for those who, in the modern day, identify themselves as witches, Pagans, and Heathens, it remains an open wound, even if most of those who were accused were guilty of nothing more than being widows and spinsters with property that was coveted by their accusers and judges. The fact that most of those murdered were killed not because they actually were witches, but because they were merely accused of being so, does not lessen the horror of their deaths, or their relevance in the modern day. People today are being slaughtered-- literally-- because they're accused of being witches.

It gets even better-- as a Kickstarter exclusive, you get little plastic nooses to use as player tokens, and a cardstock 3D gallows to adorn your game board. (I'm not making this up.) How jolly! The Zyklon-B replica canisters, real cowhide bull-whips, and 6' length of chain will make dandy props for your game as well.

I don't know how this vile game concept ever got approved by the Kickstarter staff, I don't know how it ever found 553 people to commit money to it, and I don't know how such a game could ever be published, when it essentially makes light of the concept of murdering a group of people who are roughly equal in size to the number of Sunni Muslims in the United States.

Joshua Balvin, head of Rock Paper Scissors Games, should be ashamed of himself. He is an insensitive jerk who obviously doesn't give a crap about making light of the murder of people because of their beliefs, and anyone who buys this game should also be entirely ashamed of themselves.

WARNING: The comments on this post will be monitored very closely, and not only will offensive comments be deleted, but the author of said comments will be banned. Caveat scriptor.

Google+ OSR Community

For those who don't know, on Thursday Google+ unveiled a new feature; Communities.

Basically, a G+ Community is a place where folks can post things for all the different members to see and comment on. Naturally, in the land rush that followed, I wanted to do my part, and I present to you: the Google+ OSR Community.

As of right now, we have 220 members, but everyone is invited, and while I'm still sorting out all the ins and outs of the features, we already have a number of interesting conversations. Feel free to join and spread the word.

And for those not yet on G+, I highly recommend it. It has a number of advantages over a certain other social networking site, not the least of which is a certain lack of commerciality which I find enjoyable.

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Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Game News Roundup

Today seems to be a busy day in the gaming industry.

Slitherine has finally put up a pre-order page for the hard copy version of their Field of Glory miniatures rules version 2.0. FoG was very successful when it launched, owing in no small part to the outstanding design of the books themselves. When it was announced that the 2nd version of the rules would be available in electronic format only, it put off a lot of fans of the game, including myself. Fortunately, though, they reversed themselves, and now we Luddites can see the goodness for ourselves.

FASA has decided to fold their ludicrously overpriced Kickstarter for their 1879 game. After a week and a half, they had only raised $2,354 of their $325,000 (!) goal. I'm convinced that much of the problem stems from the sheer sprawl of it all. Not only was it going to be a new RPG in a new setting (a sort of Victorian-era steampunk on an alien world thing), but also a set of miniatures combat rules with full lines of figures and army books, plus a mobile app for the iPad to play an electronic version of the minis game. I think they'll do slightly better if they break it up into digestible chunks.

Mongoose Publishing has released their State of the Mongoose 2012 report. I love how they're so open about the inner workings of the company. Highlights include; fewer, but better, products; switching from full-time writers to freelancers; markets are "miserable" for RPGs and miniatures; apparently selling "a couple of hundred" copies of a new release is doing well, and even WotC (albeit not specifically named-- it could have been Paizo) couldn't make that modest goal with their latest offering; plus mentions of all the lines they produce. Very interesting stuff, and highly recommended.

Goblinworks has updated their Pathfinder Online Kickstarter to include a bunch of what they're calling "reward enhancements". Offerings include miniatures, battlemat books, and a hard copy of a "superdungeon". I'm a bit confused as to why such tabletop gaming items would be offered as part of the MMO Kickstarter (and even weirder, with the Pathfinder Online logo, rather than the regular Pathfinder logo), but stranger things have happened. Some are quite displeased with this approach.

Well, there 'tis. Enjoy!

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Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!

Why Are The Standard Races... Standard?

One of the things that has been commonplace within fantasy RPGs since their inception is the roster of "standard" fantasy races available as player character choices. Aside from humans, we have elves and dwarves, and often (but not as often as the others) gnomes and halflings. And of course half-orcs, which are much more D&D-specific and are not nearly as ubiquitous across different game systems.

Now, there are certainly exceptions to this rule. Skyrealms of Jorune famously (one might even say infamously) presented a fantasy world that was almost completely alien. Tekumel, too, veered consciously away from the "classic" milieu mold. Runequest has its ducks. There are many other such examples (and when done to consciously differentiate themselves from the standard, fall into the "our monsters are different" trope).

The inclusion of halflings aside, and despite Gygax's protestations to the contrary, I firmly believe that the reason so many fantasy RPGs present elves and dwarves the way they do are the works of Tolkien. Nowhere in the vaunted swords & sorcery literature that makes up the bulk of Appendix N do we find characters of that ilk. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser never stole a pouch of gems from an elf, Conan never did battle with a sturdy dwarven warrior, and both are conspicuously absent from the Dying Earth and Mars. The Lord of the Rings seems to stand out, in fact, among the works listed in Appendix N, as something of a different type from its fellows.

Indeed, Tolkien's elves and dwarves do more than make an impression by their presence; their very nature harkens back to his work directly, which itself takes its inspiration from Norse and Anglo-Saxon mythology. The elves of Victorian myth were diminutive fairies only half in our material world. Dwarves were good for little more than hording gold and perhaps clever craft-work. Tolkien hearkened back to pre-Christian mythology and envisioned multiple, physical, races living alongside humans. And that basic model, more than the specifics of the races themselves, are the long shadow that is cast across most RPGs today.

It's very possible that other authors had created works that similarly featured many races of creatures living side-by-side with men prior to Tolkien. But it was Tolkien, transmitted through Gygax, who influenced the RPGs of today. Plus, the humans-elves-dwarves-(halflings) formula was repeated endlessly in fantasy literature after the Lord of the Rings caught on, much to the chagrin of those who preferred human-centric swords & sorcery fiction. So if a particular RPG author was influenced by, say, the Shannara books, he was still indirectly influenced by Tolkien.

That said, it brings up another question. If those are the "standard" fantasy races of today, why do we not see any sort of similarly "standard" science fiction races? Precisely because there was no single work whose influence was so ubiquitous. There's Star Trek, and Vulcans and Klingons (or their analogues) are probably the closest thing we have to such, but the Kzinti of Lary Niven's Known Space novels are also pretty widespread (and themselves can harken back to Flash Gordon's Lion-Men). Without the sort of singular lingua franca with which all or almost all science fiction fans were conversant, in the way that all or almost all fantasy fans were conversant (or at least familiar) with Tolkien, science fiction never produced "standard" races in that way.

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Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

It's Teach Your Kids to Game Week!

What with James M. bragging about his daughter wanting a displacer beast t-shirt (I am envious only because my own daughter's geekdom tends towards Big Bang Theory and Twilight movies; I think she's a bit embarrassed that her old man might have beaten her to the punch on gaming geekdom and thus avoids it), and DriveThruRPG having a huge sale on kid-friendly RPGs, it must be "Teach Your Kids to Game" week! Yup, must be; even Wired has a story about it.

Some of it's my own fault, of course. My daughter sees me going off to play D&D every week, and off to conventions a couple of times a year. I did bring her to a mini-con run by a college friend of mine every year on Memorial Day weekend, and she had a blast playing real games like Carcasonne and Ticket to Ride. So I think her aversion to gaming with her parents is the fact that it involves her parents. She being 11 and all.

Still, I'm going to make the effort and see if I can't coax her and perhaps my wife into a game or two this week. Not necessarily an RPG, although that'd be the pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow, but at least some board games more advanced than Gobblet (which is not a slight on Gobblet at all; it's a terrific take on tic tac toe).

I'm thinking maybe Dungeon!, or Robo Rally, or Red Dragon Inn. Will report on the success or failure of Teach the Grognard's Kid to Game Day!

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Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Game of Thrones Season 3

I still haven't read any of the books, but I absolutely love the television show. Here's a sneak peak into the production of Season 3, which premiers on march 31 (and hey-- that's only a few months away!):



The locations they find for this show are really amazing. I love the fact that the actors have an appreciation for that aspect of the production, which I think goes a long way to making the show feel real, rather than the endless parade of shows in the 1980's that all looked like they took place in southern California because, well, they all were shot in southern California. Can't wait!

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Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Three Cool Things About the Adventures Dark and Deep Kickstarter

As of right now, the Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Players Manual Kickstarter is 68% funded. Woot! But we still need to get over the finish line, and I thought I'd share three cool and awesome things about the game to help convince those of you who might be on the fence.
  1. This ain't vaporware. The book itself is already written, and all three books have had an 18 month long open playtest. Erik Tenkar has had a series of posts about Kickstarter campaigns that, for whatever reason, are way behind schedule or never materialize at all. That won't happen here; the book is already 100% written, and has gone through a year and a half long open playtest. The rules rock. The Kickstarter is just for art and editing. (Plus, I already got one KS project out on time, so I've got a track record of getting things out the door.)
  2. It uses weapon speed in a way that makes sense. You know how in AD&D 1st edition the initiative rules were a mass of confusion, especially when it came to weapon speed? No more. You roll a die, add your weapon speed and dexterity adjustment, and that's when you go. Simple, effective, and there's finally an actual difference between a short sword and a fauchard. 
  3. It brings in those cool character classes we read about in Dragon magazine in the mid 1980's. Remember the mountebank, savant, bard, jester, and the mystic that Gary Gygax talked about in those "Here's what 2nd edition is going to look like" articles? Yup, they're in there. Plus tons of spells to go with them. If you grew up playing AD&D in the 80's, you were probably waiting for this game, just like I was. Well, here it is.
So please, if you haven't taken the plunge, pledge the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Players Manual Kickstarter today. Let's push it over the finish line, and make a great set of rules beautiful. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Gaming Shelves

Never one to let a good bandwagon go by unjumped-upon, here's what I look at every day as I sit at my computer. Not my complete gaming collection by a long shot, but that's where my eyes light when I sit at the desk waiting for inspiration:


And here are some close-ups of the individual shelves. You'll notice that in front of most of them there is a happy clutter of miniatures, dice, paint, and the like. First, there are my D&D and AD&D rulebooks (plus my Dragonbone taking a prominent spot):


Greyhawk adventure modules and supplements:


Assorted miscellany, including the AD&D Coloring Book slid in along the top:


Lots of Hackmaster, Castles & Crusades, Labyrinth Lord, and Swords & Wizardy:


Star Trek of various flavors, plus some other goodies (never did play Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though!):


Not a lot of spine titles here, but that's because this shelf is mostly old stuff from the 1970's and 1980's. This is where you'll find Thieves World, Sword's Path Glory, Space Opera, and Haven, amongst others:


Chivalry and Sorcery (still one of my favorite games to read for inspiration), Dark Conspiracy, Shadowrun, etc.:


Hero System, White Wolf stuff:


Ah, Dangerous Journeys. One of my favorites.


And, lastly, this shelf is immediately to my right; my collection of books about games-- Gygax, Tony Bath, and Donald Featherstone, among others. Some of these might not be too familiar to you if you're not into miniatures (and even then; some of them are older than I am):


So there it is. Not sure what this says about where I get my inspiration, but there it is. Hope you enjoyed it!

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Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!