Wednesday, February 29, 2012

RIP Davy Jones

Apropos of nothing whatsoever to do with gaming, but growing up as a kid in the 1970's, reruns of the Monkees were a staple part of life, and part of my age group's shared cultural experience as surely as Bugs Bunny and Star Trek.

Davy Jones, the British representative of the Monkees, died today at age 66 of a heart attack. He was quite an entertainer in a variety of venues; stage, television, and of course music. His was one of the voices of my formative years, and I'll forever regret never having seen him in concert.

Goodbye, Mr. Jones.

Some new movie trailers

So a few new trailers have hit for films that I'm getting more and more excited about.

First off we have Disney's John Carter hitting theaters on March 9.

Then we've got Marvel's The Avengers on screens everywhere on May 4.

I'm more enthusiastic about the Avengers movie than I am about John Carter, but they both definitely look good. Then there's G.I. Joe: Retaliation on June 29, which I'm also looking forward to as I found the first to be enjoyable (hey, I wasn't exactly expecting Casablanca):

There are a lot of other genre movies coming out this year, of course. Some I'm really looking forward to (The Hobbit, Dark Knight Rises), some not so much (Amazing Spider Man, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter), but all in all it's shaping up to be a pretty good year for movies.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dreamation 2012: Part 3 (Organized Play)

For my final thoughts inspired by this year's Dreamation convention, I wanted to pay a little attention to the way that companies view and deal with the people who play their games. This was a subject that was talked about at some length in the seminars run by Scott Douglas, both in the specific realm of organized play and the more general realm of companies growing their revenue streams.

Scott, having been head of the RPGA for quite some time, naturally has some great insights into that aspect of the hobby/industry. He stressed the point that having an organized play structure in place is exceedingly helpful for companies not only to market their own games, but to grow the market by bringing in fresh players.

Note, however, that just having that infrastructure isn't enough. You have to know what to do with it. One of the things I found most striking at this convention was the comparison between how the RPGA was represented and how the Pathfinder Society was.

I found the difference between the two quite illuminating. While both Pathfinder Society and Living Forgotten Realms were well-represented in the schedule, I found the Pathfinder Society to do an overall better job of representing the flag. They had colorful posters with good art around the gaming hall that not only advertised their own group, and Pathfinder in general, but specific adventures as well. The RPGA had a white oversized printout that they shared with another, local-but-aspiring-to-more group called NAGA.

The Pathfinder Society GMs were easy to spot; they all wore shirts that clearly identified who they were and what they were playing. The RPGA GMs, not so much. I don't have a dog in the Pathfinder-4E race, but my own impression was that the Pathfinder Society folks were better organized, better supported from their home base, and more enthusiastic than their RPGA counterparts.

How does this translate into sales, or growth in players? Well, hard numbers are difficult to come by, but according to the latest survey of retail stores by Purple Pawn, Pathfinder is far outstripping 4E in terms of sales. That's in line with other industry estimates that have been coming out over the last year or two. I certainly won't say that it all has to do with the way they are handling their organized play arms, but it certainly couldn't be hurting that the Pathfinder Society seems more energetic, confident, and supported, and Pathfinder is doing better in retail stores.

There is one thing of which I am not certain, since I'm not a Pathfinder player myself (although I am on record as saying I think Paizo is doing everything right in terms of how to run a game company viz-a-viz their fan base) is how Pathfinder compares in in-store play as opposed to conventions. Do they have anything comparable to the WotC Lair Assault program? I'd be curious as to what other people's experiences with organized play, either with RPGA, Pathfinder Society, C&C Society, etc. has been. Do your observations square with mine, or have you had a very different experience?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Dreamation 2012: Part 2 (Raid on Frederikshavn)

At this year's Dreamation 2012 convention (click here for my overview after-action report) I got to run the Ogre Miniatures scenario I'd been working on for the last few months for the first time "officially". It turned out pretty darned good (unlike my photography using my Blackberry; apologies for some of the fuzzy pictures). As usual, click to embiggen the pictures.

The basic scenario is thus: the Combine is staging a raid on the PanEuropean spaceport at Frederikshavn, Denmark. The Combine has sent a single MK-IIIB Ogre across the floor of the North Sea, timed to emerge at the same time a fast attack force of GEVs arrives at the facility. The defenders get a regular trickle of reinforcements, and must hold off the attackers until their strength is sufficient to destroy the invaders. The attackers are targeting an experimental space plane on the gantry, as well as various fuel depots and administrative buildings scattered across the battlefield. Each target objective is given a point value; only the objectives count for points, not destroyed units.

Starting positions. The PanEuropeans took a pair of mobile howitzers to support their infantry and Ogre MK-III. The attacking Combine forces (right, in the photo above) took as many light GEVs as I had, and a couple of regular GEVs on their extreme left flank (bottom of photo). Their Ogre (a MK-IIIB) went up the right flank.

The defending units focus almost entirely on the huge wall of light GEVs attacking up the center (top of the picture above). 

The PanEuropean Ogre makes short work of the light GEVs, but not before they take first blood and destroy one of the scenario objectives; a PanEuropean fuel depot. The attacker was reminded of one of the game's key tactical concepts; disperse your units to avoid spillover fire. Two missiles from the defender's Ogre took out 5 attacking units.

The small force of regular GEVs completely flanks a few defending infantry and makes a dash towards a fuel depot and the space plane gantry beyond.

The attacking Ogre, having taken out one of the defending mobile howitzers, approaches the space plane with few defending units in between.

The defending Ogre races to intercept the attackers; you can see the three attacking GEVs in green are closing in on the space plane.

The defender got lucky and had some well-timed reinforcements appear in just the right area of the board. He managed to take out both of the Ogre's main batteries by incredibly gutsy 1:2 attacks, aided by excellent die rolls.

In the end, though, the attacking Ogre had a clear field. You can also see his GEVs at the top of the photo laying fire into the space plane. 10 structure points were required to take out any objective.

And that's all she wrote. A decisive victory for the Combine attackers. I believe the defender made a critical error by concentrating too much on the force of GEVs and ignoring the Ogre coming up the side of the board. Even so, the players seemed to have a good time, I know I had a lot of fun seeing the game play out, and I think the scenario works very well now that it's been polished. I'll be running this again at the next convention (DexCon, in July, same place; Morristown, NJ), and have an idea for another scenario I might put together for it as well.

A pdf of the scenario is now available over in the "Free Resources" section off to the right.

Note to Steve Jackson Games: Please get these figures and the rules back into production! Several people, seeing what we were playing, either said they wish they had known it was being played, or that they would like to play, but can't because it's OOP. There is absolutely demand out there for this excellent game. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dreamation 2012: Part 1 (Overview)

Well, the Dreamation 2012 convention is history now, and I had an absolute blast. More than previous conventions, this one has elicited a lot of thoughts in my mind, so I'll be splitting things up into several manageable chunks. This post will be an overview of the whole thing.

First and foremost, I have to heap enormous praise on Vinny and the rest of the Dexposure staff for a thoroughly enjoyable and exquisitely well-run convention. I only experienced one glitch myself (being double-booked to run Afrika Korps and Castle of the Mad Archmage at the same time, which ended up being a non-issue in the end), but everyone I talked with echoed the sentiment that it was terrifically well managed. It's a fan-run convention which had about a thousand attendees, and it went nearly flawlessly. My only complaint is that the Dealers Room is somewhat limited (although there were dealers there with items both new and used, plus costuming stuff, a steampunk accessory vendor, foam swords, dungeon walls, and of course the ubiquitous t-shirts), but from what I understand game companies are somewhat scaled back in convention attendance nowadays, so Dexposure can't be faulted.

Yes, people still play old Avalon Hill
classics like Panzerblitz at cons

There were several smaller publishers represented, though, including Stronghold Games (I picked up a copy of the kick-ass Core Worlds game whilst at the con), Smirk and Dagger Games, and several others. The convention itself features RPGs (featuring Indie Press Revolution games, but including RPGA, NAGA, Pathfinder Society, and many more), board games, miniatures, LARPs, video games, and an Anime movie room. I got to watch an episode or two of my first (and one of the only) anime shows I'd ever seen; Starblazers (aka Space Cruiser Yamato). The con must get points for sheer diversity.

I am pleased to say that I managed a Hat Trick in gaming this time around; I played or ran RPGs, miniatures, and board games. For the July convention (DexCon) put on by the same group of excellent folks, I am strongly considering a LARP (a follow-up to one based on Game of Thrones that was played at this con, but in which I did not participate), so more on that when the time is coming. She Who Must Be Obeyed might even play!

I ran my Ogre Miniatures scenario, Raid on Frederikshavn, and it was a great success. A full post will be forthcoming with a turn-by-turn report. Both players said they had a lot of fun, I know I had a blast running it, and more than a few people stopped by and commented on how good it was to see Ogre Miniatures being played.

Labyrinth Lord using the awesome
Legendary Terrain
I also ran a session of the Castle of the Mad Archmage, using the Adventures Dark and Deep™ rules. We had a full table, the players wandered through the pleasures of the Conjuring Room as well as a corner of the Labyrinth, and a good time was had by all. They even managed to slay a black dragon down in the depths, although one of the party's thieves was sacrificed in the process (something about using a lightning bolt scroll in a room that was only 40' across...).

After that, I had all day Saturday to actually play games, rather than running them. It was a welcome treat that the schedule allowed me. I played in a game of Labyrinth Lord that featured an impressive dungeon crafted from Legendary Terrain pieces. It was a hoot to actually play rather than run D&D. The adventure itself was somewhat combat-oriented, which is to be expected given the fact that it was designed to showcase the terrain pieces, but I had a great time.

More Labyrinth Lord on the 12' table
I also got to play Red Dragon Inn, where I came in 4th out of 8. Not my best showing ever, but the table was lively and fun, and I got to see some familiar faces from when I ran the game in previous conventions.

I also participated in several seminars run by Scott Douglas, former head of the RPGA and a veritable font of knowledge when it comes to all things TSR related in the 1990's. Scott is an absolutely terrific guy, and if you are fortunate enough to see him at a convention, take the time to strike up a conversation. I guarantee you'll learn things about TSR, D&D, and the RPGA that you had no idea of. We discussed not only the course that D&D took, but also kicked around some ideas as to how WotC might be best served in the future. Again, a wonderful time.

Best line overheard from some random game at the next table over:

"She's not a girl anymore. She's just girl-shaped. She's all full of demon."

Looking for Medieval Naval Rules

Once more I turn to you, dear readers, to help me find something.

I'm looking for a game that covers naval battles in the Medieval and/or Renaissance period. I'm going to be using miniatures to play it, but something that's counter-based would be fine and easily adaptable. Nothing abstract or card-based, though.

The problem is that the big players in the field of pre-modern naval combat skip over the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Avalon Hill's Trireme game covers the ancient period up to the 4th century, and Wooden Ships and Iron Men covers the 17th and 18th centuries. But for the Medieval and Renaissance periods? Nothing that I've been able to find. Companies make figures for the ships of the period, but no rules to actually use them.

Is everyone using homebrew rules? Am I missing some elephant in the room? Any help would be appreciated.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Adventures in Odyssey on RPGs

I collect 80's "Satanic Panic" pamphlets and books, but I never heard of this gem from 1990 (two parts, and well worth listening through both for the sheer hilarity):

Ohhhhh man. I've been playing the wrong game all this time!

Descriptions of both parts can be found on the Adventures in Odyssey wiki here and here. ::rolls eyes::

Hat tip to Pharyngula, with apologies to the other Odyssey

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Off to Dreamation!

Posting will be light to non-existent for the next few days, as I'm off to the Dreamation convention in Morristown, NJ. Hope to see some of you there!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Anyone Know this Book?

Back in high school, I read a book about the American Revolution, whose thesis was that the British officer corps was inclined to "throw" the war because many of them were Freemasons who in some cases shared lodges with their American counterparts, and actually agreed with the Enlightenment ideals espoused by the rebels and encouraged by international Freemasonry, even if they couldn't say so in public. Despite the premise, it wasn't an hysterical conspiracy theory book, but an honest-to-goodness historical analysis. I remember getting it through the History Book Club back in the first half of the 1980's, but that's about all I can recall.

I know it's a long shot, but does anyone happen to know the title of that book?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dreamation Index of Events Now Posted!

The master index of events has now been posted for Dreamation, one hell of a gaming convention next weekend in Morristown, NJ. They run the gamut of everything from RPGs to miniatures to board games to video games to LARPs. I'm running the following:
  • Ogre Miniatures: Raid on Frederikshavn: Thursday 8 PM - 12 PM
  • The Joy of Older Games (Seminar): Friday 1 PM - 2 PM
  • Adventures Dark and Deep: Castle of the Mad Archmage: Friday 2 PM - 6 PM
  • Afrika Korps: Friday 2 PM - 6 PM (He's here, he's there, he's running two games simultaneously in two different rooms! Anybody got a blink scroll?)
  • Ogre Miniatures: Raid on Frederikshavn: Friday 8 PM - 12 PM

Other old-school goodness includes:
  • D&D First edition (Sunday morning)
  • AD&D 2nd edition (6 games at various times)
  • AD&D 2nd edition Oriental Adventures (Saturday in the redeye shift)
  • Labyrinth Lord (Saturday afternoon)
  • Panzerblitz (Thursday night and Saturday morning)

This is always a great time, and I heartily encourage everyone who can, to swing by.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Erseta Campaign #13

Glad to finally be back in the ruins of the dwarven city of Glitterdark, the party decided to explore in a direction they had hitherto avoided. This led them pretty directly into a very large chamber with a number of goblins. While the majority of the goblins were forming ranks, two of them were turning a pair of ballistas to face the intruders. Curiously, the ballistas were facing north originally, protecting a northern passage which had also been barricaded.

While the player characters proceeded to make short work of the 8 or so goblins in the ballista chamber, they also noted that a larger group of goblins was quickly assembling in an adjacent and even larger chamber with some sort of lower gallery accessible by a ramp. Many more goblins-- numbering in the dozens-- and at least several wolves were marshaling, and horns were being sounded, perhaps signalling that more goblins (or something else!) were being called to arms.

Both sides issued demands to the other to surrender, but neither was likely to acquiesce. While oil was prepared and the ballistas were rotated to fire into the mass of goblins, the party started to hear sounds of answering horns coming from the southern passage they had themselves come from. Sensing that they were about to be cut off, they decided to retreat, setting the oil aflame and firing flaming ballista bolts as they set fire to the engines just before setting them off (so the goblins would not have use of them later). The goblins answered with a volley of spears which caught the illusionist and the bard, but the party retreated to the gatehouse facing outside on the mountainside. The goblins, it seemed, had no stomach for following the intruders outside of the dwarven city, or perhaps hadn't been able to follow them at all in their headlong flight.

The gnome thief was sent back inside to determine what was going on in the passages. He only got as far as the large circular chamber with the magical gate leading to the town of Ritterheim (and presumably other places as well), where he could see a large number of goblins bustling to and fro in the passages beyond. Clearly, the party had stirred up the hornets' nest.

Wanting to give the goblins some time to lessen their activity, the party decided to journey to the nearby smithy of Klegg Ironbeard, who had previously provided them with the key used to activate the magical portal back to Ritterheim. He was still there, madly pounding away at something on his anvil, and as finally coaxed into answering a few questions. He's one of my favorite NPCs to do, a very haunted person driven mad by guilt (or so the assumption goes; he has a tendency to be rather non-committal in some of his answers). They got a little more information, picked up some of his works bearing his maker's mark, and returned to Glitterdark.

A brief debate ensued as to whether they should re-enter the city, or simply go into the room of magical gates and use their key to return to Ritterheim. Again the gnome thief was sent in to reconnoiter, and, having determined that the frenzied activity of before had calmed down somewhat, the party entered the gate and returned to the city, there to possibly track down the magical lantern that would activate the magical gate that led back to Glitterdark.

Another good, solid session I thought. A large tactical situation to be dealt with, followed by some stealthy recon and role-play with a key NPC. And of course the group makes the game fun in and of itself.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Games I Love: Diplomacy

One of our standard go-to games when I was in high school was Avalon Hill's Diplomacy. This is a game that has very deep roots in both the wargaming and RPG community, as one of the few ways back in the 1960's and 1970's that gamers had to communicate with one another en masse was in the context of newsletters centered around the game.

One of the unique things about Diplomacy is the ease with which it can be played by mail (or email, nowadays). That's not to say it's not a terrific (if somewhat long) game to play across a tabletop, but PBM Diplomacy was a staple for many gamers back in the hoary mists of antiquity. In fact, Gary Gygax was a contributor to several such diplomacy 'zines, and some of the earliest non-TSR D&D articles (or mentions) are to be found in such places, such as his Expedition to the Black Reservoir (published in El Conquistator in 1975) and Len Lakofka's own Diplomacy 'zine Liaisons Dangereuses, which lasted from 1969 to 1977.

The game portrays the power politics in Europe at the start of the 20th century. Seven powers-- England, France, Italy, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Turkey-- are vying for dominance. Players have armies and fleets, and write down movement orders, which are then revealed simultaneously. Combat occurs if units from different nations attempt to occupy the same territory, in a very simple system. Basically, if you have more units supporting your move, you get to occupy the territory. Units are only destroyed if they can't retreat or if a country doesn't have enough supply territories to support them all.

Where Diplomacy really shines, though, is in the behind-the-scenes negotiation between the players. If you promise to move your fleet out of Marsailles, I'll give you the supply center in Portugal, so we can stop Turkey from moving his fleet into the central Mediterranean... etc. etc. etc. The joy comes from making complicated deals like that and then back-stabbing your would-be ally in order to grab all the supply centers for yourself.

It's a remarkably well-balanced game (although some claim that the two "Wicked Witches", England and Turkey, do better than others such as Italy or Austria-Hungary) and the mechanics are so easy that they can be taught in 5 minutes. I've heard complaints that it's too long a game (4+ hours), but that can be alleviated by simply clamping down on the amount of time players can spend on diplomacy between turns. And besides, when you have a game like this that not only encourages, but requires, players to interact with one another, the day becomes less about the game itself and more about the time you're spending with friends.

And that's one of the reasons it's one of the games I love.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Magical Magpies

Several attempts have been made to produce a runecaster class, or rune-carver, or something similar. Most have fallen short, to my estimation, because of something inherent in the traditional (A)D&D magical system. That is, magic-users are not differentiated by the means used to produce their spells. Where differentiation exists (in sub-classes such as the illusionist and, in the case of Adventures Dark and Deep™, the savant), it is in the emphasis of the outcome of the spells that are cast.

Pro tip: If you ever see a non-RPG book that talks about a
"blank rune", throw it in the trash. There ain't no
such thing.

For instance, magic-users in AD&D have spells such as explosive runes, clerics have glyph of warding, etc. Some spells require gestures, others incantations, others material components, and most a combination of the three. Magic in the (A)D&D world is not divided by method, but by result. Thus, a magic-user can use runes in one spell, swallow a live carp for another, and rely on words alone for another.

Because of this, one must be very careful when attempting to come up with new sub-classes of spell-casters. My own Necromancer class fits, if I may say, very well with the current system because it doesn't presuppose a brand new system of magic, but merely comes up with a new class whose uniqueness is defined by the spells to which they have access. The same with the witch sub-class; it's a sub-class of cleric, but it doesn't try to create a new system of magic to obtain its effects; it finds its uniqueness in the spells that the class is allowed.

It could certainly be a valid approach to simply fold those new spells into the existing classes, and define sub-types of spell-casters not by class delineations but simply by limiting their spell lists (in the case of magic-users, this is easily done by simply not making certain spells available due to in-campaign limitations, in the case of clerics, it is done by tailoring the spell lists of priests of different deities or faiths).

In the case of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (and Adventures Dark and Deep™), that's not the design decision that was made, but it's certainly a valid way to go. It's one of the chief reasons, I believe, that subclasses like the chronomancer, rune-caster, and so forth don't really ring true. What's needed is not a new type of magic, but a unique emphasis on results.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In Defense of Gender-Based Ability Limits

Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

So there's been a bit of a brou-ha-ha over at the WotC website, because they included gender-based ability limits in one of their online polls, asking whether or not it should be kept. Well, the Politically Correct excrement hit the atmospheric agitator, and then Wizards was forced to backtrack and say that it was all a joke, they never would THINK of including gender limits on ability scores because it's obvious that anyone who would dosuchathingisamisogynisticbastardwhoprobablywantstokockwomynonthehead

Ahem. I have a slightly different take on the subject.

Aside from the fact that I find Political Correctness stupid and insipid, taking a look at the actual rules for gender limits in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (as opposed to blindly flailing about, protesting something of which one is wholly ignorant) yields some interesting results.

Page 15 of the Players Handbook gives us the horrible, horrible gender limits in Character Race Table III: Ability Score Minimums and Maximums. The first thing that jumps out at me as I look at the list is that humans are conspicuously absent. [Edit: It is mentioned in relation to exceptional strength for fighters.] What!?!? You mean this isn't some sort of attempt by the Patriarchy to imply a disparity (or superiority, which is NOT the same thing) between men and women? Well, no. It only applies to dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-elves, and halflings. Heck, even half-orcs have identical maximums for males and females down the line.

Looking at the ability scores themselves that are affected, we see... strength. That's right, all of the five other ability scores have exactly the same maximums for males and females. Dwarven and half-elven women have a maximum strength of 17. Elves 16. Gnomes 15. Halflings 14 (and male halflings can only have a 17 strength).

That's it. That's what all the hooplah over the last 30+ years on this subject has been about. Not that the rules imply that women are somehow inferior/weaker/whatever compared to men, but that the strongest female elf isn't quite as strong as the strongest man. And just how "quite as" is that? Well, the exact percentage depends on how you roll ability scores in the first place. But to take 3d6 (because it's easy), that means that there's a 0.46% chance that you'll have a character with an 18 strength. That's one person out of 200 with an 18 strength. We're talking the rarefied upper atmosphere, here. There's a 1.85% chance that it'll be 17, and 4.63% that it'll be 16. And just assuming that there's a 50-50 split among character genders (a more than generous split), that means there's a 0.23% chance that you will have to lower an 18 strength, a .83% chance you'll have to lower a 17 strength, and a 2.32% chance you'll have to lower a 16 strength. Get the picture? The odds that this will even ever come up are miniscule!

So I have no sympathy for those who say that gender-based ability limits are somehow unfair, or misogynistic, or whatever. First, they don't even apply to non-fighter humans. Second, they only apply to strength, (in which, in the real world, the strongest men really are stronger than the strongest women). Third, the odds of it actually applying are incredibly small. Fourth, IT'S ONLY A GAME, PEOPLE! Stop trying to turn it into some sort of Politically Correct statement of principals! Yeesh.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

D&D With Mike Mornard

My own posting is going to be very light for the next week or so, as (real-world) work is severely kicking my keester (yay, SOX audit season!). But I did want to point out this excellent series of posts over at Blog of Holding, asking venerable Lake Geneva alumnus Mike Mornard about his early experiences with the game as Gary and they played it. Well worth reading for students of D&D history. Enjoy!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Coming this Summer- Adventures Dark and Deep™: A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore

Now the news can be told! As announced on the Jennisodes podcast...

I am pleased to be able to announce that the summer of 2012 will see the release of Adventures Dark and Deep™: A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore, published by BRW Games and available exclusively through

This book will not be a stand-alone game, but will be a rules supplement intended for use with AD&D, OSRIC, S&W, and any similarly-compatible games. It will feature much of the new material that will be included in the stand-alone game, including the bard, jester, mystic, savant, and mountebank classes, scores of new spells suitable for use therewith, an alternative combat system, new monsters, and much more. The rules have been in an open playtest for more than a year to help make them as solid and playable as humanly possible. A large number of people have requested the ADD material be released in the form of a supplement as well as a stand-alone game, and their wishes have been heard.

Adventures Dark and Deep™: A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore will give dungeon masters around the world the opportunity to try out the new material in their own games. The material is completely modular, allowing dungeon masters to incorporate any options they see fit. Use the bard, don't use the combat, just take the spells and roll them into your already-existing cleric and magic-user spell lists; the choice is yours.

The book, which will be approximately 150 pages, will be available in hardcover, softcover, and pdf versions. A Kickstarter campaign will be launched this spring to raise money for first-class artwork by one of the great artists of the OSR and professional editing; more news on that when the campaign is launched.

Adventures Dark and Deep™ is an attempt to explore what the game might have looked like if its creator had been allowed to keep developing it rather than leaving TSR in 1985. It will be released as a stand-alone game in 2013.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Go Patriots!

It may not be the most popular sentiment here in New Jersey, but GO PATS!

Combat as War vs. Combat as Sport

I've got to say, this post over at ENWorld is quite insightful. The upshot of it is that there are two distinct schools of thought as to what constitutes combat as it should be in D&D. It's long, but well worth reading the whole original post and the ensuing thread. Here's the idea in a nutshell:

The "Combat as War" faction (which would include most of the OSR) revels in unbalanced combats. They want to eke out every possible advantage, even to the point of so subverting and sabotaging the enemy that they don't even get to the point that combat even happens. They're toast before swords get drawn.

The "Combat as Sport" faction (which would include most 4E fans) loves evenly balanced, long drawn-out fights. Even to the point where one side or the other will fight sub-optimally ("Here, you dropped your sword!") in order to even things up and make it "sporting".

Personally, I vastly prefer the combat-as-war approach, but every once in a while things turn out fairly evenly matched even when each side is trying to stack the deck in their own favor. THOSE are the epic fights that everyone remembers. Not the ones that are completely mismatched because the goblins fell into the camouflaged pit traps, not the ones that were mathematically preordained to be 50-50 chances because the rules required it, but the ones that were unexpectedly close, where despite everything the whole affair hinged on a single roll or a decision to fire the lightning bolt to the right or the left, not because the rules dictated it, but because it just worked out that way.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

On Magic

So you want to learn the secrets of magic from me, eh, boy? Well, then. Imagine you are an ant living in the courtyard of a castle. And you have a horn that, when you blow it with all of your might, so hard that it sucks the life out of you, you might, just might, attract the attention of one of the men moving about the courtyard. You keep blowing the horn, and one of those men might be amused enough to drop a crumb of food in front of you. More likely, he'll just smile and keep walking, or ignore you altogether. If another ant is trying to take your crumb, he might be amused enough to reach out with a finger and flick the other one away, or crush you both with his thumb. Or, far more likely, you'll just get stepped on without the man even noticing, because although you were standing there out in the open, blowing your horn with all of your breath, he never heard it or saw you in the first place. 

And you want me to hand you a horn and teach you to blow it? Are you mad? Go back to your fields, boy. Go back to your fields.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Natural Campaign Areas in Greyhawk

One of the great things about the World of Greyhawk is that it isn't just one setting. It's multiple settings, all of which are adjacent to, overlap with, and/or interact with the others. Over the many years I've been using the setting, five stand out to me either as regions that I have used myself, or seem to cry out for treatment unto themselves, because they work so well as self-contained sub-regions of the whole.

Region 1 is the Sheldomar Valley. The natural boundaries that surround it render it relatively isolated and thus perfect for a self-contained campaign. On three sides there are mountains, and water on the fourth. It features a single dominant political entity (the Kingdom of Keoland), which is itself surrounded by independent and, in many cases, resentful states. On its very fringes, the mountains hold many secrets (the Against the Giants series was set in the Crystalmist/Jotens/Hellfurnaces range, of course, and there's the spaceship from Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, not to mention the Valley of the Mage itself as a destination for adventure).

Region 2 is the central Flanaess. This, of course, is where Gary Gygax rooted his own campaign, and it shows. It has a great variety of terrains, from woods to plains to desert to marsh, plus the Rift Canyon. It is thematically centered around the city of Greyhawk itself, with Iuz (circa 576, remember, with Iuz only recently freed from the ruins of Castle Greyhawk and still "Old Iuz of fearbabe-talk") as a distant but still relevant enemy to be invoked. The whole revolves around the Nyr Dyv, and the tensions originally described in the World of Greyhawk folio set are really a great environment for an adventure. There's the city of Greyhawk, Castle Greyhawk, White Plume Mountain, and the Village of Hommlet/Temple of Elemental Evil. Again, not an accident.

Region 3 is South Province and the Iron League. This has intrigued me ever since the "State of the Flanaess" articles penned by Gygax and Kuntz back in the early 1980's in Dragon Magazine, which portrayed the slow and deliberate march to war between the two powers (with the added bonus of the rivalry between South Province and Medegia, itself complicated by the looming presence of the Overking in Rauxes). This would make a great place for a military-themed campaign, or even a stand-alone miniatures campaign.

Region 4 is the Aerdi Sea, and again it's doubtless no coincidence that this region was originally Len Lakofka's Lendore Isle campaign. The tension between the Spindrift Islanders and the Lords of the Isles, against once again the forces of the Great Kingdom (itself split between Medegia and the Sea Barons) would make a terrific place for a long-term nautical themed campaign.

And, finally, if you want Vikings, look no further than region 5, the Thillronian Penninsula. Put together five competing barbarian nations, and several struggling outposts of civilization under their onslaught (said civilized kingdoms very well defined, such as the Pale and Tenh), and you've got the makings of a terrific campaign.

This isn't to say, of course, that one couldn't start up a campaign anywhere in the Flanaess; one of its strengths that has stood the test of time is its versatility. But it's also a testament to both its origins as a patchwork of several campaigns of its own as well as the guiding hand of its overall original designer that it works so well on several levels.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Now I've got to get the premium cable channels again...

When they're done right, the glossy looking historical (or, in some cases, fantasy) drama series are really great things to behold. Rome was absolutely terrific, and it was a shame that it was so expensive to produce that it only made it to two seasons. The way they managed to insinuate Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus into the affairs of the mighty, but also kept them well-grounded in their own mundane world, was a model for how such things could be handled in an RPG.

I loved The Tudors as well, and it's really colored my notions of how a campaign focused more on what is sometimes called "domain level play" could go; lots of intrigue and politicking, and caring deeply and passionately about things that ordinary folks (or, ordinary adventurers) don't normally give a fig about; dynastic succession, wars of religion, and international politics.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand and its prequel Spartacus: Gods of the Arena attempted to regain the mantle of Rome, but it really fell flat. It tried hard, but it almost seemed... vulgar... compared to Rome, and the fact that such comparisons are inevitable was probably unfortunate for it, but it seems to have hit a niche, and the series is still going strong with Spartacus: Vengeance. I might be tempted to give it another try.

Last year two new series in the same started off and I was instantly hooked on both. Game of Thrones is, of course, based on George R.R. Martin's enormous (and enormously successful) fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Borgias is a more historical drama concerning itself with the papacy of Rodrigo Borgia (aka Pope Alexander VI) and his family, including the lovely and infamous Lucretia Borgia. Both series had successful first seasons and were picked up, and the premier of the second season of each is within sight.

First off, beginning on April 1 is Season Two of Game of Thrones on HBO:

Next, starting on April 8 we have Season Two of The Borgias on Showtime, staring Jeremy Irons:


I'm very much looking forward to both of these, and I'm finding that not having read A Song of Ice and Fire didn't hurt my enjoyment of the series at all, and might actually be contributing to it, as I'm not making comparisons to the books and complaining that this or that got changed. I'm also finding that plot twists came as genuine surprises (Ned Stark, anyone?) and it's a lot of fun not knowing what's about to happen. All in all, it'll be a good Spring for television.