Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Upcoming NJ Convention News

A couple of quick updates for those who are local enough to take part in the New Jersey convention scene.

Metatopia, the convention specifically for game designers to present works-in-progress for playtesting (as well as tons of excellent seminars for game designers/producers and those who aspire to be) has moved its date to November 2-4. Pre-registration for the convention is now open; if you want to see what some of the best up-and-coming independent game outfits have in the pipeline, or want to become an up-and-comer yourself, this is an indispensable opportunity.

I should also point out that the same people are running the First Exposure Game Hall at this year's upcoming GenCon, which is organized along the same lines.

Double Exposure is also doing their 2013 Super Saver Combo deal right now. If you want to attend both Dreamation in February and DexCon in July, you can sign up for both for ludicrously low prices. I'm a regular attendee at both conventions (which cover RPGs, miniatures, board games, computer games, video games, and LARPs), and I can't recommend them enough. If you can go, you should go, and this deal is really too good to pass up.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore Now Available!

I am pleased to announce that the pdf version of Adventures Dark and Deep™: A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore is now available in the BRW Games online store!

A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore is designed to bring you much of the new rules and components from Adventures Dark and Deep as a rules supplement, suitable for use with AD&D, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, and similar old-school games.

Adventures Dark and Deep is an attempt to explore what AD&D might have looked like if Gary Gygax had been allowed to stay on and keep developing it. Based entirely on his public statements (both in Dragon Magazine in the early and mid-1980's, various online fora over the years, and elsewhere), Adventures Dark and Deep™ brings new character classes such as the bard, jester, mystic, savant, and mountebank, as well as hundreds of new spells for their use. There is a new alternate combat system that is more streamlined and easier to manage. There are new monsters, magic items, and rules for various things that adventurers encounter constantly such as landslides, weather, pits, and the like.

The book is 135 pages, comes in watermarked pdf format, and features art by the incomparable Brian "Glad" Thomas. The pdf costs $10.

Hard copy versions of A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore will be available soon. The full three-book stand-alone version of the Adventures Dark and Deep rules will be released either in late 2012 or early 2013.

You can buy the book --> HERE <--

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Banners on the Cheap

Last month I was approached by a company called Banners on the Cheap. Seems they wanted to get the word out about their products to a new audience; gamers. They offered to give me a banner of my choice in return for a review (with the understanding that it will be an honest review), so here 'tis.

Originally, they offered to do a map of some sort for me. Several other bloggers have taken them up on that offer, and their results look pretty good, but I decided to do something a little bit different; I went for a battlemat.

In my own case, since I'm working on painting up a mess of late Medieval/Renaissance ships (1/2400 scale from Figurehead, but more about them in another post), I thought having a nice blue hex field to sail them on would be just the thing to test out the services offered.

Turns out that the hardest part of the whole process was setting up my .pdf file of the hexes, but that's only because of my own incompetence in the area of graphics. I went for 4' by 6', which is the size of the wargaming tables at Dexcon and Dreamation, and conveniently was within the budget the kind folks at Banners on the Cheap allowed me.

I've got to say, I'm very pleased with the results. The material itself isn't quite as nice as that offered by Chessex, but it does seem very sturdy and likely to stand up to hundreds of games. Where the Chessex mats are soft and sort of "floppy", the Banners on the Cheap mat is a little more crinkly, but not so much that it looks like it will crease (the slight bubbles you might see in the first image are just due to my not taking the time to smooth the thing out after I unrolled it onto the floor). The image itself was fairly crisp, certainly good enough for my purposes, and there was very little bleed. The process of uploading the image and choosing the size, etc. was incredibly simple and took all of about 5 minutes to accomplish.

But I've got to say the coolest thing about Banners on the Cheap (and their affiliates Signs on the Cheap and Magnets on the Cheap) is both the price and the ability to customize the final product. My 4'x6' battlemat, with shipping included, would have cost me under $40. Compare that to Chessex, whose "megamat" is half the size and comes in the colors they offer and nothing more. Their "mondomat" is slightly larger, but comes in at three times the price, and is still not customizable.

Imagine being able to whip up a customized hex map for a miniatures game, with all the terrain and everything already printed on the map itself. Considering the cost of terrain, $40 sounds like a steal, especially if you're going to be playing the same game more than once! (Ogre comes to mind as a prime candidate, as does Battletech, Malifaux, or Heroclix.)The same can be said for dungeon battlemats; you can literally put anything you want on the thing and have it printed out in whatever size you want.

If you're looking for a place to do some custom battlemats as I did, or large wilderness, campaign, or even dungeon maps as others have, I heartily endorse Banners/Signs on the Cheap. I will be using them again.


Roll a d6

I actually found this a while ago, but I heard the original song on the radio yesterday, and all I could think of was this version...

Monday, July 23, 2012

Rules vs. Imagination

Commenter kensan-oni made the following comment in response to my previous post on x.p. budgets. I thought it was an important enough point that I wanted to make my own response to him as a post unto itself.
I think one of the things that should be noted is that while I agree with you on a level, the "Encounter to be Avoided" is something that doesn't work if you stay by rules as written, ever since 2nd edition. The movement speeds are codified, the halfling's hide in plain sight ability negated, and a lot of monsters are just plain faster than PC's. Since Move Silently has been a real proficiency and the default sneaking ability, you just can't sneak past that Giant anymore. Oh, you can turn away, and maybe, if you have horses or a teleport, get away, but the Giant moves faster than you do, and typically has attacks with great reach. 
The only thing that lets the party not be detected by monsters is DM Fiat. Which is something which you may do, but players will know that it's because you choose not to notice them that they got away with sneaking or moving past a unbalanced encounter. 
Running away has been something that has not worked for decades now, under the AD&D system. While I *like* the idea of an encounter one shouldn't fight, actually getting out of an encounter if you accidentally stumble upon it is just not likely. 
I realize it's a playstyle issue, but by the mechanics, I've given up trying to run away or sneak a whole party by something long ago. 
While I can pull off what you are searching for with other systems, or 1E, I can't so that with any version of D&D post Proficiencies.
First off, I take issue with the idea that "avoiding the encounter" begins and ends with "sneaking past" something.

Avoiding the encounter is just that-- seeing a danger and then moving around it or not encountering it in the first place. This is why thieves are there, sneaking and hiding in front of the party. Or why magic-users have spells like clairaudience, clairvoyance, and wizard eye, and magic items like crystal balls. Or rings (or spells) of invisibility. You don't have to sneak past the trolls if you just back away quietly before they know you're there.

If your group is just going around busting in every door they see, then perhaps you have a point (but even so, see below). But if so, then they're doing it wrong from an old school POV. It's all about taking stuff, not necessarily killing monsters.

But that doesn't even address the issue of dealing with encounters in a non-combat way.

What ever happened to *talking* your way past an encounter? Trying to convince the ogres that you're really envoys of the necromancer, here to inspect their guards?

What ever happened to distracting enemies? If you really, absolutely, must get past something, then perhaps you should consider luring them out of where they are. That's why there are spells like ventriloquism and dancing lights. Draw out the ogres (or even just some of them) and deal with the rest.

What ever happened to running away? You say that some monsters are faster, by the book, than characters. Well, maybe those characters who are weighted down with loot might just have to drop that bag of coins to speed themselves up. Or maybe you could use caltrops, or oil, or illusions, or spells like wall of fog, ice, or iron... If you think running away is only about speeds written in the Monster Manual, you're just not using your imagination.

And therein, I think, lies the real crux of the issue. When someone says "the rules don't let me do X", I say either:

  1. the rules aren't a straightjacket; use your imagination, or 
  2. use your imagination; the rules aren't a straightjacket.

RPG rules should allow and encourage creative thinking by the players (and the DM). Kensan-oni's comment exemplifies why I don't like the all-encompassing approach of 4E (or, for that matter, 3.x). He says it's a play style issue, but then in the same sentence complains that the rules don't let you do something.

Let me challenge you thus; my play style says I can do things the rules don't explicitly say I can. It says that if the rules throw up a roadblock, I can use my imagination to try to overcome that roadblock. Will I succeed? Who knows? But I'm going to try.

That's the sort of culture I want rules to encourage. DnD Next started off strong in that score, but seems to have backed off lately as they move to appease the 4E players. I hope that trend doesn't continue.

On X.P. Budgets

The following quote caught my eye from today's Legends and Lore by Mike Mearls, talking about monster design in DnD Next:
When it comes to combat, the math that our system uses assumes an adventuring day that lasts a number of rounds and involves a total experience point value for monsters based on the party’s level. Higher-level parties fight more and face tougher creatures. 
The adventure design guidelines give an XP budget for an entire day, a range of XP values for easy, average, and tough fights, and a suggested maximum XP value for a single monster. In other words, you have a daily budget you can spend, guidelines for how much of that budget to spend on a given fight, and a limit of how much XP you can spend on a single monster. As with everything that focuses on the DM, this is all advice to use as you see fit.
Except for that last sentence, everything here looks exactly like it did in 4th edition, which is one of the many reasons I really didn't care for 4th edition. The question becomes, just how significant is that last sentence?

Old school gamers would say that it's entirely superfluous. Nobody needs to be told that the DM can ignore something that happens to be in a rulebook (even-- especially-- the Dungeon Masters Guide). That's the argument some make in favor of 4th edition; so what if it has x.p. budgets for encounters? The DM can just leave that part out.

The flip side of the coin, of course, are the many non-old school gamers who take exactly an opposite view. One of the great things about 4th edition, they say, is its finely wrought mathematical balance. By ignoring rules that enforce that balance, you're turning it into a different game, and that's not fair to the players who come into it expecting to play the game as it was written.

For myself, naturally I fall on the side of the old school in this debate. As DM, decisions as to how difficult to make an encounter are entirely mine, and nothing is going to change that just because there's a formula for balancing encounters in the book. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of old school play is that some encounters aren't there to be overcome-- they're there to be avoided. 

It will be interesting to see just how far the "just because it's in the book doesn't mean it must be used at the table" attitude is translated into the next iteration of the DnD Next playtest rules, and of course the final rule set. But they seem to be moving the pendulum back in the direction of 4th edition, which will most certainly turn me off if it goes too far. It's one thing to take a stab at a new game if it is compatible with my style of play; it's quite another to have to bend and twist it to do so. In that case, there's no reason to leave what I've got now*.

* Please note: I don't want the comments to turn into a dozen variations on "I don't see any reason to leave what I've got now anyway". Please keep comments on the topic of x.p. budgets. Offenders will be deleted without warning. Well, other than this warning, of course. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Made for Play: Board Games & Modern Industry

Here's a fascinating documentary about how board games are manufactured.

Review: The Dark Knight Rises (Caution: Spoilers)

Preface: No discussion of The Dark Knight Rises is possible without addressing the horrific mass murder that took place in Aurora, CO on opening night. It should go without saying that my thoughts and sympathies are with the victims and their families, and that while the shooter is obviously mentally ill, there can be no possible justification for such an act. We don't yet know why he did what he did, or why he picked this particular film. That said, life must go on, and we cannot allow ourselves as individuals or as a society to be paralyzed into inaction by the actions of a single sick individual. Don't let the horror of what happened in Colorado keep you from seeing this or any other film. Don't let him win.


CAUTION: Spoiler-heavy review below. Bear in mind that I saw this film directly after watching the first two films in the series, so my impressions were filtered through a more direct comparison with the others than some film goers might have.

Shortest possible version: The Dark Knight Rises was a good film, and a very good Batman film, but it was hardly the best.

This is a very large film, one might even go so far as to say ponderous. Eight years after Harvey Dent's death in The Dark Knight, he has been lionized by the citizens of Gotham and the Batman has been made a scapegoat for Dent's crimes. Bruce Wayne is a recluse, shutting himself off from the world as he wallows in self-pity due to the death of the woman he loved at the hands of the Joker.

Right off the bat, I didn't like that tone. Bruce Wayne has dealt with pain and loss before-- it's the entire motivation behind his assumption of the Batman persona. It seemed very incongruous. Most of the other characters were right on-target.

The plot revolves around Bane, a terrorist mercenary, attempting to complete the work that Ra's Al Ghul failed to do in the first film; destroy Gotham to restore balance. In a very complex plot, Bruce Wayne's fortune is destroyed after the Gotham Stock Exchange is attacked, Roland Daggett's construction company is used to (literally) undermine Gotham city, and an experimental fusion reactor built by Wayne Enterprises gets turned into a nuclear weapon.

In and amongst all this, Selina Kyle/Catwoman (although never called by that name, as far as I remember) alternately hurts and helps Bruce Wayne and Batman, eventually betraying him to Bane, who breaks his back in a one-on-one fight and consigns him to a prison in Uzbekistan where the only escape is to climb out.

Eventually, Bane seizes the city of Gotham not to hold it for ransom but to turn it into an anarchist paradise. Almost all of Gotham's police are trapped underground, and Bane has control of a nuclear weapon that will vaporize the city if anyone tries to flee or if the outside world tries to interfere. Eventually, of course, Bruce Wayne escapes from the prison, and Batman returns to Gotham and stops Bane.

While this film was visually stunning, and the acting was excellent, I found it to be oddly disjointed. While the director seemed to be going for "big", he ends up with "sprawling" instead, and there were a number of plot holes that ultimately distract from the whole:

  • Why did Bane take the time to fly Wayne to Uzbekistan from Gotham, right when his plot was coming to fruition?
  • How did 3,000 police officers stay trapped underground for five months without a single one escaping? (And how, after all that time, when they finally emerge, are they all clean shaven, their uniforms clean and in fine shape?)
  • How did Gotham become completely (and conveniently) isolated on an island? What happened to the "eastern overland routes" that were explicitly mentioned in The Dark Knight when the Joker was setting up his trap on the ferries?
  • How did it take five months for the Army to think to send in soldiers with the relief supplies that were being trucked into Gotham? And then when they do arrive, they are pretty well hapless?
And, while it's not a plot hole, I found the fight scenes between Bane and Batman to be... meh. Just back-and-forth roundhouse punches with no real feeling.

Don't take this to mean that I thought the film was terrible-- I don't. Bane was a good villain (although I found the mask an unnecessary contrivance that ultimately added nothing to the plot or character; in the comic books it's part of the delivery system of the Venom that gives him his strength) who effectively coveys a sense of menace, and the scenes where Alfred is trying to convince Wayne to come back to the world were top-notch. They did an admirable job of attempting to tie together the first and third films both thematically and through the story and characters, and there were some excellent plot twists and surprises (although some of them were just groaners-- Robin? Really?).

Some of the foreshadowing-- such as the final scene in the bistro in Italy-- were a bit heavy-handed and could be seen a mile away, but others were done very well.

On the whole, I would place this film between Batman Forever and Batman Begins on my rankings of all the Batman films. I think it's the weakest of the three most recent Batman films, but that still puts it in the top half of all Batman films.

EDIT: Added some pics of costumed fans from the midnight showing at the AMC Rockaway theater, where I saw Dark Knight Rises. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

90 Minutes Left to Support Starfire Command!

There's a terrific looking new space battle miniatures game just wrapping up its Kickstarter called Starfire Command.

The models look great, not too expensive, and the game itself is looking very promising indeed.

If you're into space battle games, I'd urge you to take a look at it, but hurry, man! It's only got an hour and a half left.


Ranking the Batman Films

With the impending release of The Dark Knight Rises tomorrow (I've already got my ticket to see the whole Dark Knight trilogy, starting at 6 PM today, culminating with DKR at midnight tonight), I thought it would be appropriate to throw up my own ranking of the various big screen incarnations of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego.

I will go on record as saying that one does not cast for Batman. One casts for Bruce Wayne. You could put almost anyone into the costume, especially since half the time it's a stunt double anyway. But the scenes where he doesn't have his mask, where it's the pained and vulnerable Bruce Wayne on the screen, is where an actor in the role really gets a chance to prove his mettle (or lack thereof).

So here, from least favorite to most favorite, are my rankings of the films. How do you rank them? Let me know in the comments.

Batman and Robin. I like George Clooney and I like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but this movie was terrible. The campy tone, the crappy dialogue, the costumes, the absolutely terrible batmobile, and the overabundance of villains (and heroes) made this mish-mash just painful to watch. Mr. Freeze singing the Cold Miser song? Poison Ivy imitating Mae West? A totally mindless Bane? Spare me. Joel Schumacher said he didn't want to make a film about guys in tights with capes, and it shows in every frame.

Batman (1966). Although this was the Batman I grew up with as a kid (thanks to the television show that accompanied the movie), once my eyes were opened up to other takes on the character, this one swiftly slid into the bottom tier. Sure, Caesar Romero is a terrific Joker, and Frank Gorshin a terrific Riddler, and Burgis Meredith a terrific Penguin. And all of the Catwomen are... terrific. But that can't make up for the comparison with the later films.

Batman Returns. While I think Michael Keaton is one of the best Bruce Waynes ever cast (see below), I didn't much care for either Danny Devito's Penguin or Michelle Pfeifer's Catwoman (heresy, I know). The fact that the Penguin in the first few seasons of Batman the Animated Series was based on the physical design of this Penguin is something that I wish hadn't been done, but there it is. I suppose it beats a Penguin with a British accent. I was somewhat disappointed that the production design was so obviously the same as that seen in the previous film, with little or no memorable additions, that it felt more like a sequel than most sequels do.

Batman Forever. While I hated Jim Carrey's Riddler, I loved Tommy Lee Jones's Two-Face. I thought Val Kilmer was a decent enough Bruce Wayne, and he had a sort of snobbery that was refreshing to see in the character (especially evident in the scene where Carrey's Edward Nygma tries to pressure him to agree to back his project). I'm not too much of  a fan of the bright colors that this film made up of, though. And while the addition of Robin was predictable, it was also unnecessary, making the film feel more crowded than it needed to be.

Batman Begins. The first of the newest Batman series was ground-breaking. It took a much more serious, practical approach to the character and his world. Gone were the fantastic science-fictiony elements, replaced with military hardware and rigorous training that we actually got to see. Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne was genuinely haunted, seeking to lash out at a world that had hurt him so terribly, and he played that character excellently. Michael Caine's Alfred was equally terrific; a sympathetic and solid surrogate father for Bruce Wayne.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. I'm so glad this was released (ever so briefly) in theaters, because it gives me a chance to talk about Kevin Conroy's take on the character. Here, because of the special circumstances surrounding animation, one actually does cast for Batman, because all of the actual acting is done solely through the talents of the actor's voice. and boy, does Conroy nail it. He can switch in an instant from the dark, gravelly, brooding Batman to the cheerful, almost dopey Bruce Wayne. Mark Hamill's Joker is rightly praised both for this film and the various television series that featured him, but Conroy is a superb bit of casting that kept the whole thing together. He is the voice of Batman.

Batman (1989). While it's easy to compare Michael Keaton's Batman to the others that have come since, it must be remembered that when this film came out, the only Batman audiences had ever seen was Adam West (or the various cartoon incarnations, such as Superfriends from the 1970's or the Batman/Superman Hour from the 1960's). At the time, knowing that Tim Burton was going for a darker, more serious tone than anyone had ever really seen from the character in film or television, people thought the casting of Michael Keaton (who at the time was mostly known for his comedic roles such as Night Shift) was a huge mistake. But as soon as the audience saw him hold the mugger off the edge of a rooftop and utter the line "I'm Batman", all doubts were erased. He played Bruce Wayne with a tinge of humor, but there was always a huge pathos in the background, which I found perfectly spot-on. And of course Jack Nicholson's Joker was over the top and absolutely terrific. Even the Prince soundtrack was wonderful (not to mention the Danny Elfman score). In my own mind, it's only a hair's breadth that separates this film from #1, which is...

The Dark Knight. Having established the character so very well with Batman Begins, Christian Bale stayed the course and delivered another outstanding performance as Gotham's millionaire playboy. The film is bigger, broader, and in almost all respects better than its predecessor. Of course it is one again the Joker that steals the show-- in this case by the late Heath Ledger, who won an Oscar posthumously for his performance. But even his Joker is grounded in reality; no esoteric chemicals to cause the famous grin here; his is literally carved into his face, and his trademark white face and green hair are affectations done simply to creep out his victims (and possibly to cause them to under-estimate him). If this film has a weak spot, it's the introduction of Harvey Dent/Two Face. The very end, where Batman takes the rap for Harvey's crimes, seemed a bit contrived, but not enough to knock the film out of its perch as #1. (My original review when it came out is here.)

Tomorrow I should have a review of The Dark Knight Rises up (if I wake up, that is-- I'm going to be in the theater 'til 3 AM tonight!).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cities of Greyhawk

I've been working on a top-secret project lately (in and around all my not-so-secret projects), and have been doing some research on the various cities of the Flanaess in the World of Greyhawk. Some of it was fairly straightforward, but I noticed something extraordinary as I got into the data.

In CY 576 (the era described by both the original folio and "gold box" set), the wonderful Darlene map indicated which of the settlements were capitals, cities, and towns (distinguishing between walled towns and those which were unwalled). These map symbols tell us where the cities are. The text tells us the definition of a "city" in this context; cities have 10,000 or more inhabitants (usually humans; demi-humans and humanoids are usually not counted in the straight population totals, but are broken out separately).

When applied to the original map, we get a fairly small number of cities overall, especially when combined with the text in the Guide book, which informs us that not all national capitals have 10,000 people, and thus not all qualify as cities. By my count I make it 62 true cities. If that sounds like a lot, there are several times that many other settlements marked on the map!

There is a slight qualifier here; some of the symbols as originally printed in that 1980 map are exceedingly difficult to tell apart. Cities have two concentric and very fine circles with the space between the lines marked off in an alternating pattern. Towns don't have the markings between the rings. Sometimes you need a magnifying glass to tell them apart.

Now along comes the From the Ashes boxed set (CY 585). It had a map that was mostly the same as the original, but the settlement markers were both larger and more homogenized. No longer was a distinction made on the map between a walled town, an unwalled town, and a city. If the population (or presence of walls) wasn't in the text, you were on your own.

Given the upheavals in the setting between 576 and 585, one would expect to see some population fluctuations among the cities, and indeed we do. Rauxes sheds nearly 19,000 people, Greyhawk and most of the other free cities gain, and two settlements are wiped from the rolls of cities altogether and reduced to the status of towns; Admundfort and Lo Relatarma. All perfectly consistent within the confines of the setting.

The big issue comes in after the publication of FtA. The unpublished manuscript of Ivid the Undying, which was later released as a free pdf by both TSR and WotC, engages in an incredible amount of "city bloat". Almost a dozen settlements that were clearly towns in the original Darlene map are given populations appropriate to cities. Was this sloppy editing? The result of not realizing towns and cities were distinguished on the original maps? Whatever the cause, suddenly the population centers of the "ravaged lands" of Aerdy were booming to many times their original size.

I have only done a spot-check of other, similar products from the era such as The Marklands and Iuz the Evil, and see a similar trend. Many places that were clearly towns before are now listed as having city-sized populations.

This trend was continued and exacerbated in the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, which took the setting to CY 591. To take but one example, Nyrond, which in 576 was listed as having but two actual cities, is now said to be home to ten places with ten thousand or more souls. (And it's not because the borders shifted!)

I have to wonder whether this was a deliberate design choice on the part of folks like Carl Sargent, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Roger Moore, and Erik Mona. I can't imagine it was ignorance or slipshod work on their part. Are smaller settlements just not considered game-worthy? Was it an attempt to try to justify the large populations for the lands as a whole? I don't have a definitive reason, but would love to hear if anyone has one (or some other theories).

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Funniest D&D Story I've Ever Heard

This is R.A. Salvatore telling his "Wubba Wubba" story. Apparently this is famous throughout D&D-dom, but I hadn't heard it before today.

I'm still laughing.

Friday, July 13, 2012

RuneQuest 6th Edition Now Available for Pre-Order

I never got into RuneQuest. Sure, I owned some of the books, but for us in high school it was all AD&D all the time when it came to fantasy, and that was all she wrote. Still, I know that RuneQuest and Glorantha hold a special place in many OSR gamers' hearts, so I thought many of you might be interested in this news from The Design Mechanism:
RuneQuest 6th edition is now available for pre-order. All direct orders are handled through our partner, Moon Design Publications. Physical copies will ship from our distributors around the 20th-27th July. Please allow up to 28 days for delivery. PDF orders are available for immediate download.
In addition, the Mongoose RuneQuest material will be made available in pdf format through the RuneQuest Archives (handled through DriveThruRPG.com), some of which are only $1 a piece. And all, supposedly, are going to be compatible with the new rules (although I confess I'm not enough of a RuneQuest afficinado to grasp the nuances, and RuneQuest has had a rather convoluted publishing history).

I've gotta say this seems like a good time to be a RuneQuest fan!

Saying Exactly the Right Things

A quick follow-up to yesterday's news regarding online gaming from WotC and Paizo. Here's Lisa Stevens, Paizo CEO, on their strategy:
Just to make things 100% clear, we don't care what VTT tool people end up using. If you like Roll20.net or d20Pro or Fantasy Grounds or Nferno or whatever, then that is fine and dandy with us. Keep using them and playing games. We just wanted to give folks another option here on Paizo Game Space. We aren't in competition with the other VTTs. We aren't going to be trying to outcompete and steal their customers away. People can play with whatever VTT strikes their fancy. We will make ours the way it makes the most sense for us, and if folks don't like that and like some other VTT better, then awesome.
I know that sounds like crazy talk, to not want to crush your enemies and hear the lamentations of the women, but we are crazy like that here at Paizo. In the end, we just want people to be able to play more regularly. If that is here, then great. If it is somewhere else, that is cool too.
Man, but that's a terrific attitude.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Some Virtual Gaming News from Wizards and Paizo

WotC's VTT
Here's a two-fer on a subject that a lot of gamers are following closely; virtual gaming.

First, from Wizards of the Coast, comes the announcement that they're shutting down the Beta test of their Virtual Table Top:
"I wanted to inform you all about an important decision that Wizards has made regarding the D&D Virtual Table and Virtual Table Beta. While we appreciate the enthusiasm and participation in the Beta phase, we were unable to generate enough support for the tool to launch a full version to the public. Effective July 30, 2012 the D&D Virtual Table Beta will be coming to an end and the VT will be closed.

Over the next three weeks, we encourage you to wrap up your existing campaigns and make sure to gather contact information from your online group members so that you can stay in touch if you like. We realize that because all data generated in the tool is in a proprietary format usable only by the Virtual Table, it is not possible to export your campaigns for use in another tool. You can, however, take screenshots of any notes, maps or adventures that you would like to hang on to or use in your home games.

We would like to thank everyone who participated in the VT Beta and look forward to continuing to support D&D game play through our D&D Insider digital tools and D&D Next."
Paizo's PGS
Certainly a bummer for those who like to (or must) do their gaming online with some sort of automated play aid. The most curious thing is the timing of the announcement, because it comes just two days after Paizo announced that they are coming out with their own online Paizo Game Space at Paizocon:
Paizo Game Space is amazing software that lets you play with the people you know... anywhere in the world. All you need is the internet.

It's a virtual tabletop. Now VTTs aren't new. I'm gonna say "VTT" a lot because "virtual tabletop" is kind of a mouthful.

Virtual tabletops aren't new. There have been literally dozens of them before this. Some of them we like. Some of them we like a lot.

But none of them is exactly what we think a virtual tabletop should be.

We've talked to a lot of people and they all say the same thing:

We love playing on a VTT. We can keep our group together after people move away.

We love playing on a VTT. As Cosmo told me the other day, it lets him game in his underwear without all the catcalling and wolf whistles.

People love playing on a VTT. But they're kind of annoying!

You have to find the software. And download it. Install it. Will it run on a Mac? That's a big one for us at Paizo.

And then you get the fun part. IP addresses and firewalls and port forwarding and all that. Even network administrators don't want to deal with that stuff. That's work! We're here for fun.

So today, Paizo is reinventing the virtual tabletop.

Paizo Game Space runs right in your web browser. There's no software to install! None. Not even a plug-in.

If you can get to paizo.com, you and your friends can play on Paizo Game Space.
(The full text of the script used in the announcement is at the above link, message #22.)

Reading through the whole thing, the PGS definitely sounds like a good thing for thems as uses such fancy thingamabobs.

As far as the timing of the two announcements go, while I can't help but think that the WotC announcement is related to the winding-down of 4th edition, the timing is truly unfortunate. It makes it look like they couldn't hack it, and Paizo is stepping in once again to take over where WotC dropped the ball.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tesla Coil of the Mountain King

Long-time readers of this blog may remember that a couple of years ago I attempted to make a point about putting individual stamps on megadungeons through different interpretations of music, using Edvard Grieg's Hall of the Mountain King as my example.

While I would encourage everyone to read (or re-read, as the case may be) that original post, because I think the point still stands, I happened across the following and thought I'd share it because it's just too effing cool not to. Had I seen this back then, I certainly would have included it.

"They all get played differently by those who run them. But they all start with the same music. And that's the point. Publish the same music, and get a million different songs. Such is the beauty of the megadungeon"

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

First Exposure Playtest Hall at GenCon

I just got an announcement with this pretty neato news from the folks who put on Dexcon, Dreamation, and Metatopia here in NJ. If you're going to be at GenCon this year, it's definitely worth looking into. Plus you get to try out brand-new games before they're even published!
Double Exposure, Inc. is pleased to announce a new area of Gen Con 2012 - the First Exposure Playtest Hall.

Double Exposure will be using their unique formula of reversing the focus of the games - allocating eager players to the requests of the Designers and Publishers!

Dozens of Designers and Publishers will present their prototypes for playtesting at the FEPH, and Gen Con attendees will be able to get FREE tickets to try out new concepts with the genres and mechanics they are interested in.

The FEPH will be running throughout Gen Con, from 9AM Thursday to 2PM Sunday. Role Playing and Story Games will be put into four-hour slots beginning at 9AM, 2PM and 8PM (10AM on Sunday). Board Games, Card Games and Wargames will be put into two-hour slots following the same schedule.

Designers and Publishers: This is your opportunity to officially tap into the giant pool of players at Gen Con - put your games on the tables and Double Exposure will find you the people you want to playtest with - give us your needs and we'll fill them!

Players: Help to shape the next generation of games - fill out a short questionnaire about yourself and your interests, and Double Exposure will match you up with a new game that you can assist in the development of. Designers and Publishers will even put your name into the playtest credits when they release their game!

Join us for the debut of the First Exposure Playtest Hall, to be located in Sagamore 6 & 7 at Gen Con 2012.

For more information, send email to: firstexposure@dexposure.com.

The PanEuropean Huscarl

I stumbled across this really cool Ogre-themed video today. Basically, a Huscarl is the PanEuropean variant of the Ogre MK-V.

Making Revetments

As you can see from the pictures from my recent Ogre miniatures game at Dexcon, I took it upon myself to make some revetments for the scenario. A revetment is basically a U-shaped fortification designed to shield whatever happens to be inside-- tanks, troops, what have you (in Ogre, a revetment adds 2 to the defensive strength of the unit inside). I needed a bunch for Operation Shockhammer, and was dreading the prospect because I have next to no artistic ability. I made these specifically for Ogre miniatures, but they will work fine for Micro Armour if I ever decide to give in to my darker nature and take the plunge (but WW2 or WW3? That is the question...).

My concept was to make it look like a sloped pile of dirt that had slabs of sheet metal slapped on for added strength. I hied myself down to the local hardware store to see what I might be able to press into service for materials. Once I managed to make one of the folks there understand (sort of) what I was looking for, I found that large plastic zip-ties would be perfect for the metal sheeting. They're exactly the right size, and the ridges on the line look like corrugated metal. Since I was making 20 revetments, I cut up 60 one-inch pieces of zip tie (one for each side). I didn't worry too much about making them exactly straight or exactly the same size; it's supposed to look like a rush job.
I then took some Crayola air-drying modeling clay and proceeded to make the embankments. It took a couple of tries to figure out I didn't really need all that much clay per revetment. 
I rolled out a 3-inch "snake" of clay and made sure I had a vehicle handy to make sure I was getting the length right. Don't be afraid to break off a piece of the end and redo it if it looks like the line will be too long. It should be just long enough to cover the front and sides. 
Then just bend the clay around the model and press down on the ends (giving them a slight slope).

Next, while the clay was still pliable (it takes about 48 hours to really set) I pressed the plastic pieces of zip tie into it. I had hoped that the clay would simply cling to the plastic as it dried; unfortunately, that didn't work out. Once the clay dried, I found I needed to glue the plastic bits into their assigned spaces. Not a tragedy. One thing, though; because you're dealing with slightly irregular bits of plastic, each needs to be glued into place in exactly the spot you had originally pressed it into. Don't break them all off and try to glue them in willy-nilly, because it won't work!

I did all my work on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper. Not because the clay had to go into the oven, but just to make moving them around easier while they were still soft. I figured the wax paper would make them easier to pick up once they had dried, and it seemed to work.
Once they were dry, I gave them all a couple of coats of flat brown spray paint. I might do another coat, because the clay seems to soak up the paint, and I'll definitely be touching up the plastic bits (maybe add a little rust here and there). But on the whole, they seemed to turn out exactly as I had envisioned.
And here's a close-up of them on the table at Dexcon, with a few sample units inside. Quick and dirty (the whole thing probably took two hours total, not including the time needed to let them dry), but effective enough.

Monday, July 9, 2012

After Action Report: Operation Shockhammer

One of my main events at this year's Dexcon convention was an Ogre Miniatures scenario I devised called Operation Shockhammer. Four Ogres (plus a few token screening units) are tasked with assaulting a very well-fortified defensive position; lots of walls, revetments, and favorable terrain. (The attackers get 1 MK-V, 3 MK-III's, 4 GEVs, 4 LGEVs, 3 HVY, and 1 SHVY; the defenders get 2 Fencers, 150 points of infantry and 150 points of vehicles, plus 20 revetments and 36" of walls.)

The purpose of the scenario is to test a classic static defense against a powerful point attack force. If the attackers are able to take out the defenders piecemeal, they'll win handily. If the defenders are able to sucker the attackers into a fortified kill-zone, they should prevail.

The defenders opted to put their Fencers in the middle, piling up armor behind the walls and concentrating their infantry in the woods. They also had several heavy weapons squads mounted on GEV-PCs, to act as a rapid strike force.

 The attackers concentrated themselves on the right flank. This forced the defenders to rush all of their strength from the opposite side of the board into the attackers' path.
Unfortunately for the defenders, they had bunched up their GEV-PCs too closely, and half their rapid strike force was destroyed by spillover fire.
The defending Fencers and howitzers pounded the attacking MK-IIIs. Unfortunately, the MK-V remained relatively unscathed even at the end of the battle.
Even a desperate last-minute ramming attempt by one of the Fencers couldn't stem the tide. As time ran out, it was pretty clear that the attackers would be the winner. The game was called in their favor.
I think what did in the defenders were two tactical mistakes. First, they rushed towards the attackers, rather than trying to draw the attackers in to their well-fortified positions. Almost none of the revetments were utilized; it was like throwing away 60 points. Secondly, they didn't take advantage of the Fencer's chief asset; they closed to attack with their guns rather than simply lurking out of range and pounding the attackers with missiles. Had they done those two things, I think the battle might have gone very differently.

All in all, I think the scenario worked pretty well, and everyone seemed to have a good time playing, which is the most important thing!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Dexcon 2012 Report

Vinny-- the man behind the
con. A terrific guy and someone
who really knows how to
put a fun convention together.
This weekend I attended the always-fabulous Dexcon gaming convention in Morristown, NJ. I was scheduled to run two AD&D 1st edition games, 2 sessions of Ogre Miniatures, and one of The Awful Green Things From Outer Space. Alas, the games that were scheduled to run on Thursday and Sunday didn't end up happening due to lack of attendance. Given that the very beginning and end of any convention is fraught with poor attendance, I'm not too hurt.

Thursday I ended up winning a Robo Rally game played in "The Arena", which is a huge miniatures field intended for mega-scale games. We played on the floor with a variety of model robots, and had a grand ol' time. I also won Core Worlds, which I've reviewed here previously, and can't emphasize enough just how great a game it is. If you like deck-building games, this is a perfect example of the genre. I'm frankly not a fan of the genre, and I absolutely adore this game.

My AD&D 1E game happened Friday, with many familiar faces from previous RPGs I've run, and everyone seemed to have a good time. The party ended up falling for the various distractions, and only tumbled to the real goal with a half hour to go. They managed to alert the entire group of bad-guys, and had two choices of tactics. The one would have locked out the villains and given the party a win, the other would have gotten them pasted. They chose the latter. Still, I think the adventure stood up well.

Friday night I played a historical minis game from the Wars of the Roses using the Poleaxed 2 rules. I ended up losing, but it was close-fought; if I had inflicted one more point of damage on the enemy, I could have forced a tie. But I didn't. I lost. I take comfort in the knowledge that the Lancasterians lost the battle historically. But it is a cold, cold, comfort.

Ogre Miniatures happened Saturday night. This was a very experimental scenario, basically pitting a vast static defense against a very strong small but powerful attacker. It ended up being very close up to the end-- the way I know that is that each side thought the other was vastly overpowered. A full after-action report replete with pictures will be forthcoming. EDIT: Here 'tis.

Here are some pics from the con. There were about 2,000 people in attendance, and I can't recommend this convention enough. It's a blast.

Warhammer in the Arena. This game went about 20 feet long. Absolutely amazing.
Getting ready for Monsterpocalypse
My Lancastrians about to be pasted in the Wars of the Roses.
Damn you Lord Percy!
A setup for DC Heroclix. I thought it was amazing. I could almost see Zan and Jana.

Another Heroclix setup. But look at it carefully. The
awesomeness is expressed with study as to what exactly it is supposed to be.
Thanks to everyone-- especially the volunteers and staff-- who made Dexcon the vastly fun experience it was this year!

RIP Ernest Borgnine

Another milestone; Ernest Borgnine, a staple of movies and television for decades, died today at the age of 95. If you grew up in the 1970's, you watched reruns of McHale's Navy on television and know exactly who he is. If you were into sci-fi, you saw him in The Black Hole and the Airwolf TV series.

He kept on working until the very end, doing voice work as Mermaid Man in the Spongebob Squarepants cartoons (with his McHale's Navy co-star Tim Conway as sidekick Barnacle Boy). He was also in classic films like The Dirty Dozen, From Here to Eternity, Marty, All's Quiet on the Western Front, and The Poseidon Adventure.

Friday, July 6, 2012

I Roll a Natural 20, Get a Critical Hit on eBay

A week or so ago, I got an alert in my email that one of the items I've been on the prowl for on eBay had come up for sale; FGU's "Bireme and Galley", which is a set of naval rules for use with ancient and medieval ships, as an adjunct to their Chivalry and Sorcery game. So I clicked on the link and took a peek, and discovered a list of RPGs as long as my arm, with a "buy it now" price of $150.

Now, immediately this raised some alarm bells for me, because there were no pictures of the books themselves, no indication as to their condition, and although the seller had been on eBay for 2 years, had only a single feedback in all that time. And that as a buyer. So more red flags.

But then my gaze lingered hungrily over the list of promised treasures. The entire set of C&S books, including the much-coveted "Saurians". Empire of the Petal Throne and Legions of the Petal Throne, the wargame to do large-scale battles. Adventures in Fantasy, Dave Arneson's RPG post-D&D, which I had heard of but never seen. Bushido. A ton of Fantasy Trip stuff. Arm's Law, Claw Law, and a ton more ICE stuff. Palladium's The Mechanoid Invasion (all three books). Space Opera. Other Suns. GDW's Dark Conspiracy game, and most of the supplements. TSR's Star Probe and Star Empires. And tons more.

But it was a "buy it now" auction, and I knew at least a few hundred fellow collectors had to have gotten the same eBay email as I did, so the clock was ticking, so I would probably lose the opportunity if I waited to ask the seller about the condition of the items.

I took the chance, and rolled the dice. I figured that if it was a hoax, I'd be protected by either eBay or PayPal, and if the stuff was in terrible condition, I might be able to salvage something out of it.

So today while I was at Dexcon I got a text from my wife saying that two large boxes arrived, but they were "poorly wrapped".

Uh-oh, I think. I'm doomed. I blew it.

But then I got home. The boxes really were in terrible shape, entire edges ripped open revealing the contents of the box, one had the post office blue and white "arrived in damaged condition" tape resealing one of the edges. Double uh-oh. Anything placed in the box in the wrong direction would have slipped out along the way. I opened the first box.

Gold. Pure old-time RPG gold. Everything in great condition. Sure, the things that had originally come in boxes were missing the boxes. A few things were punched for 3-hole binders (but I'm going to have to do some research on those; they might have come that way). I'm sure a few maps are missing here and there, but more were included than I had dared hope.

I started taking stuff out of the boxes, and it was all the same. In GREAT shape, and a trip back in time to the early 80's and mid-late 70's. Tons of stuff I used to own, had heard of but never seen, and had never before heard of. Mostly RPGs but a few wargamey things and miniatures rules that were naturals for an RPG collector of the era to have acquired. Things I've been pining for for years, like Saurians, Bireme and Galley, Star Probe, and Star Empires. And it just kept coming out of the box, stacks and layers of it. Behold...

Ebay been veryvery good to me. :-)

EDIT: Here's the list as it appeared on eBay. I still haven't cross-referenced everything, but it seems to be a complete list.

Warhammer 40,000 rogue trader.
Warhammer fantasy
Warhammer campaign the enemy within, shadows over Bogenhafen
hIgh fantasy, rules
adventures in high fantasy and Fortress Ellendar
Earthdawn (FASA)
legions of the petal throne.
Empire of the petal throne.
Sword's path glory book 1, book 2.
The reptiliads (RAFM co.)
Tunnels and trolls. Fifth edition.
Sword Lords (archive)
wizards and warfare (Leicester wargames)
adventures in fantasy.
archworld (fantasy games Unlimited)
middle Earth role-playing (ICE).
Thieve's Guild 1-10, Haven, Secrets oif the LAbyrinth, Within the Tyrant's Demesne
call of Cthulhu
Dragonsquest books1-3 (SPI) .
Adventure one the Palace of Ontoncle
adventure two the blade of allectus
Cities: the game Master's guide - Stephen Abrams and John Everson.
Midkenmia press: The city of carse,  outland cities
thieve's world.
    The spirit stones.
    Dark assassin
catacombs of the bear cult.
Chivalry and sorcery (FGU)
    Saurians (FGU)
    sourcebook 2.
    swords and sorcerers.
    bireme and galley.
    the Dragon Lord.
    Rapier and dagger.
Bushido (FGU) book 1 and 2 small and full-size.
    Valley of the mists.
The land of the rising Sun (FGU)
Powers and perils (Avalon Hill) books 1 through 5+ tables was character record plus adventure record.
    Power of the dead.
    Perilous lands     .
    Encounter, combat, and magic screens.
The Lord of creation (Avalon Hill) rule book, book of foes.
the fantasy trip (meta-gaming)
    Wizard(Spells only)
    advanced melee.
    advanced Wizard.
    in the labyrinth
    The Fantasy Master's Codex
    Fantasy Master's Screen
    the forest Lords of dhad
    the warrior Lords of darok
    interplay numbers one through eight.
    Death test
    death test 2
    master of the amulets.
    Orb quest
    Dragons of underearth
    the fury of the Norsemen.
    The Lords of underearth
    Security Station
    Treasure of the Silver Dragon
    Treasure of the Unicorn Gold
Runequest (Chaosium)
    scorpion Hall.
    The snow King's bride
Runequest (Avalon Hill) books 1 through five.
    Adventure book
    city book.
    Daughters of darkness
    dorastor land of doom
    eldarad velocity map book only.

Dangerous journeys (GDW)
    Mythus prime.
    Mythus magick
torg (West End games).
    World book.
    Adventure book
    basic role-playing.
    Future world.
    Super world.
    Magic world.
    Character law and campaign law.
    Arms law and claw law.
    Spell law.
    Future law.
    tech law
    the world of Vog Mur
    the shade of the sinking plane.
    Rolemaster companion.
    Rolemaster companion 2
    space master companion.

The Palladium role-playing game.
The Mechanoid invasion
The Mechanoid invasion book 2. The journey.
The Mechanoid invasion book 3 home world.
Weapons and castles.
Weapons and armour.
Weapons and assassins.
Weapons and castles of the orients.

Battle Lords of the 23rd century (optimus design)
    no man's land planetary Atlas.
    The Galactic underground.
    Lock n load.

Superhero 2044 (game science)
renegade Legion legionnaire (FASA)
alien space (lou Zocchi)
strike team Alpha (lou Zocchi)
fringeworthy (Tri Tac)
    rogue 417
war of the sky cities (FGU)
space Opera, volume 1 (FGU)
space Opera, volume 2 (FGU)
space Opera ground and air equipment (FGU)
space Marines (FGU)
space Opera star sector Atlas one. The Terran sector (FGU)
space Opera martigan belt (FGU)
starships and spaceman (FGU)

Other Suns (FGU)
    book 1 characters and skills.
    Book 2 starships and world building.

Starfleet wars (superior models)
StarRovers (?)
Universe (SPI)
spacefarers guide to planets: Sector 1 (Little Soldier Games)
hero systems rulebook (hero games) number 500
fantasy hero (hero games) number 502
villains and vigilantes (FGU)
enemies hero games.
champions hero games.

Star  empires
Star Probe
space quest

Steve Jackson games.

SHadowrun (7100)
the grimoire (7106)
Street samurai catalog (7104)

dark conspiracy (2100)
New Orleans (2101)
darktek (2102)
heart of darkness (2103)
Hellsgate (2104)
dark races, volume 1 (2106)
among the dead (2107)
proto-dimensions sourcebook, volume 1 (2109)
ice daemon (2111)
PC booster kit (2112)
nightsider (2114)
minion nation (2115)

traveler 2300
    players manual.
    Referees manual.
    The tricolors shadow.
all edition one.
2300 A.D.
    adventures guide
    directors guide
    Energy Curve (1031)
    Kafer Dawn (1032) two copies