Sunday, March 31, 2013

Thoughts on Campaign Organization

There seem to be two schools of thought regarding how RPG campaigns are organized.

The first holds that the campaign is an extension of a particular group of friends, who get together to share each others' company and for whom the game is a reason to do so. In this conception, "the group" is a coherent whole and "the game" exists to serve its needs and the needs and/or desires of the members of the group. Thus, scheduling, venue, and the choice of game (and the role of game master) is determined by consensus of the group.

The second holds that the campaign is an end unto itself. The individual players assemble for the purpose of playing the game, and thus the roster of players may change from session to session or more gradually over time. This does not preclude some members forming (close) friendships, but such is secondary to the primary goal of playing the game. Thus, scheduling, venue, and the choice of game is determined by the game master, and those participants who are able and willing to play, do so as they will.

This can be a problem when the participants, or a subset of the participants, thinks they are playing one sort of campaign, and others think they're playing another. The sort of campaign should be clear to all from the outset.

DexCon16 Information Now Up

For those of you in or around the New Jersey area and who love a great gaming convention, the information for this year's DexCon convention is now up. DexCon 16 will be held at the same location as in recent years; the Hyatt in Morristown, NJ, from July 3 through 7. DexCon is a fantastic fan-run convention with all sorts of games, from RPGs to LARPs to miniatures to board games to video games.

Folks who want to run games can submit proposals through the website right now, and reduced room rates for the hotel are also available. One of the highlights (for me, anyway) will be an Ogre Macrotures game on Friday afternoon. What's Ogre Macrotures? Imagine a hotel event room taken over by a game of Ogre, with the Ogre itself two feet long...

Oh, and Steve Jackson himself is going to be there to oversee the festivities!

Gonna be a great convention, as always. I'll be running a bunch of Adventure Dark and Deep games, and you can be sure you'll see me at Ogre as well. See you there!

Friday, March 29, 2013

D&D sales now *third* behind Pathfinder and...

ICv2's latest rankings of retail gaming sales is out, and the news is grim indeed for Wizards of the Coast.

Not only are they once again being bested for RPG sales by Pathfinder, but now FFG's Star Wars RPG has apparently overtaken them as well. The Pathfinder thing is old news; they've been beating 4E regularly for quite some time now. The Star Wars thing is new, though, and I think D&D's weakness in the retail sector is driven largely by the perception that 4E is a lame duck, with everyone holding off major buying until 5E (DnD Next) comes out.

Sure, Magic: The Gathering is still undisputed king of collectible card games, and is their cash cow in the same way that Munchkin is for Steve Jackson Games, but D&D is a prestige title and it can't help but be embarrassing for them to be beaten consistently by a company they fired from publishing their D&D house organ...

Overall, though, the picture seems bright for the hobby gaming industry as a whole. Sales are up, new stores are opening, and more people are playing. Which is a good thing, regardless of what they're playing.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Kickstarter Record

It seems that doing a retrospective on one's crowdsourcing history seems to be the meme of the hour, so I thought it might be interesting to go through my own and see how the campaigns I've backed have done. It's not all gaming-related, but most of it is.
So, here's the breakdown:

Out of a total of 15 projects that funded and should have shipped by now, 47% shipped on time, 20% shipped late, and 33% haven't shipped. Now that I look at the math, that's not such an impressive number. One project in three are still in limbo? Yikes. Still, almost half shipped exactly when they said they would, and that does give me some hope.

Review: Keep on the Borderlands

Caution: Spoilers (both of the novel and the module on which it is based)

Next on our list of Greyhawk novels from the early 2000's is Ru Emerson's second title in the series; Keep on the Borderlands. I wasn't a huge fan of her first effort, but was determined to give this one a fair shake. Unfortunately, it's only marginally better than Against the Giants, and suffers from a unique problem as well.

As with the rest of the books in this series, the novel attempts to bring to life the classic D&D module Keep on the Borderlands. Beloved by many (indeed, many players name KotB as their favorite module of all time), the module has players exploring a system of caves stocked with various sorts of humanoids and other perils, very suitable for first-level adventurers, who return to the eponymous Keep to rest, heal, and restock their supplies.

The first half of the novel, on the other hand, is spent fighting bandits (two different bands of bandits? Three? The book is unclear), presumably merely to introduce the character of Blot (later renamed Flerys in a seeming attempt to deliberately confuse the reader), a young girl who had been living with the main group of bandits. The raids into the Caves of Chaos themselves seem almost perfunctory, taking a couple of pages to wipe out each band of humanoids, and then dispatching the priest of Chaos in similarly short order. The pacing is terrible, hearkening back to the earlier book.

That brings up one of the problems with the novel; we don't find out until almost the end that there was, apparently, a steady stream of chaos cultists passing by the Keep on their way to the caves. It's only mentioned in passing, just as the characters are heading into the final cave wherein lies... the temple of chaos. Despite the fact that this is actually highlighted on the back cover blurb of the book, it seems thrown in as an afterthought, when, if it had been mentioned earlier on, might have provided some much-needed narrative glue to hold the thing together. The ending, such as it is, comes abruptly and without any sort of fanfare. Ho-hum, the cleric we haven't seen for the first two-thirds of the novel casts a spell and kills the evil cleric. Done.

The characters are slightly better defined than in Against the Giants. Eddis and M'Baddah seem interesting enough that I wouldn't mind reading more about them, but the remainder of the party (including Emerson's seemingly favorite trope, the mysterious twins with the special bond, just as we saw in the first novel) is pretty forgettable. What makes it worse is that it's painfully obvious that the author is trying to make the rest of the characters stand out, but failing in the attempt.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in this addition to the line of Greyhawk novels is that it isn't a Greyhawk novel at all. Although it has the Greyhawk logo on the cover, there is absolutely nothing to tie the novel to the setting. It is as completely generic as the original module, and while that is one of the module's strengths, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth of a Greyhawk fan looking for material to use in an RPG campaign based on the promise that the novel actually takes place there.

On the whole, a dull read with the same sort of pacing problems that plagued its predecessor, that adds nothing to the Greyhawk milieu. Completest fans of the original module may get something out of it, but it'll take some doing.

I rate it two wizards out of five.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wikipedia is the DMs Friend: 143 Plots to Plunder

I thought I'd start a new, and doubtless to be highly irregular, series on resources from Wikipedia that game masters can use to help with their games. For the first, I'd like to point you to the episode summary for the television show The Adventures of Robin Hood, which aired on the BBC and in the US from 1955-59, and starred Richard Greene.

My wife are watching the show now on DVD (you can get the whole series for under $10 on Amazon!) and while it's often cheesy, it's still a lot of fun and holds up remarkably well if you appreciate it as a product of its time. Richard Greene is one of the better actors I've seen portraying Robin Hood, and the supporting cast is pretty darn good (some of the supporting actors went on to great things on British television - Patrick Troughton, Edward Mulhare, Leo McKern) and Alexander Gauge pretty much defines the role of Friar Tuck. I'd recommend it just as fun television.

There were 143 episodes, and Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of the plots of each. If you're stuck for a plot for your game, you might want to scroll through the list and get some inspiration. For example:
  • Robin & Friar Tuck help a poor serf to enter the Monastery at Whitby. However the young man is forced to flee when the Sheriff has his twin brother thrown into prison on trumped up charges. 
  • When Sir William tries to acquire Tom the Miller's flour mill by underhand means, Robin is soon called in to save the day. 
  • While waiting for a boat to take them back to England, Robin spots Sir Roderick, an emissary of Prince John, disguised as a wine merchant, collecting gold for the Prince. Robin and Tuck contact the French underground via the waitress at the "Black Rabbit" Inn, Michelle, for help in uncovering the plot. Robin & Tuck decide to divert the gold, and a little impersonation is called for. 
  • Lord Guthrie 'steals' his own salt supplies to push the prices up and Robin is blamed. Robin and Little John obtain salt from the coast and Tuck distributes it free until Lord Guthrie's partner, the Sheriff, confiscates it. Another plan is required needing, Roger of Antioch, a "salt diviner". 
  • Robin becomes the latest victim of Sir Hugo DeBask, a lord who arrests travelers through his estate and sets them to work on his lands if they can't pay the fine he imposes at their trial, looking for him Marian also falls into the trap, escape comes from an unexpected quarter.
There are tons more, of course. And as an added bonus, here's the theme song, which fans of Monty Python's Flying Circus might find familiar. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The OSR is nothing new

OSR blogosphere circa 1976
Telecanter, on his excellent Telecanter's Receding Rules blog, puts out a good case that the OSR, as such, is not a collection of people or products so much as it is a collective recognition that RPG rules aren't graven in stone, and innovation, alteration, reconstitution, and the like are to be encouraged and recognized as legitimate.

I have absolutely no issue with his argument or his definition, but I do think it should be stated categorically that this is not a new phenomenon.

Even before there was an RPG hobby, the wargaming community was replete with hobbyists who thought nothing of taking an existing game and folding, spindling, and mutilating it. Witness the plethora of Diplomacy variants that flourished in the 1960's and 1970's, from versions that merely added Asia to the already existing map to versions (including one by Gary Gygax) who placed the game in Middle Earth.

Miniatures wargames were no stranger to this practice, either, and the early 'zines are similarly filled with alternate rules, new rules to add to existing games, and completely new games riffing off of previous work. Some of these amateur efforts were precursors to now-famous professionals within the hobby. But in addition, it was precisely this DIY ethic among the wargaming hobby that led directly to the creation of the RPG hobby itself. Witness Braunstein, Blackmoor, and of course Greyhawk.

Once Dungeons and Dragons was published, this DIY ethic didn't dissipate; indeed, it flourished with a new garden in which to grow. Thus we have Alarums & Excursions, Dungeoneer, White Dwarf, and of course Strategic Review (and later The Dragon), all adding to the still-flourishing 'zines. Thus, when Telecanter says:
"The OSR was more than a bunch of objects.  It was a feeling of power.  It was a license to create.  It was a conversation.  It was about examining our beliefs and revising them.  It was messy and recursive.  There was no end goal."
I see nothing there that doesn't apply to the earliest days of the hobby, when Strategic Review and The Dragon (before the "The" was excised) were filled with new and exciting stuff (not all of it particularly good, of course, but again that applies today as well as it did in 1977) and people passed around huge mimeographs (yeah, mimeographs) of house rules from hand to hand, not to mention new spin-off publications like Chivalry and Sorcery and Arduin intended to "fix" D&D, that effectively were the Carcosas, Vornheims, Teratic Tomes, Labyrinth Lords, and Spellcraft & Swordsplays of their day.

While this DIY spirit never really died, it was severely tamped down by the rise of more professional productions, and the transition of TSR (especially, but not exclusively) from hobby publisher to professional publisher. There were surely variant rules, classes, etc. aplenty floating around in the 1980's, but nothing like the wild and woolly 1970's, and the Mayfair Games lawsuit in 1993 naturally had a chilling effect as well, leaving most players with "official" material, that which they wrote themselves, and little else.

I think what the OSR can most be credited with is a return to that DIY ethos. The availability of desktop publishing, print on demand, and blogs has served as the needed growth medium, and the OGL has been the restraining hand on the weed-whacker that previously cut down any dandelions that dared pop up, that has allowed such a flourishing of new creative material outside the control of "major publishers", and short of a severe new legal crackdown from WotC (which would be both dubious from a legal standpoint as well as self-defeating PR-wise, but is still conceivable), I don't see that ethos going away any time soon.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Adventures Dark and Deep Updates

Players Manual

The pdf is currently available for sale at RPGNow.com. Another set of proofs for the hardcover and softcover versions is currently being printed and should get to me next week sometime. If those pass muster, they should go out to the Kickstarter backers and be available for sale first week in April (or thereabouts).

Game Masters Toolkit

This book will not be Kickstarted; there's enough money in the kitty to take care of it entirely on my end (what's publishing without some risk?) Artist's sketches and final pieces are starting to come in. Edits are about 50% complete. Still shooting for a May release date.

Bestiary

Official final tally of monsters in the Bestiary: 897. Almost everything from the MM, MM2, and FF, plus a ton of new ones (most of which were not included in A Curious Volume). Damn, that's a lot of monsters.

Since this one is going to need *so much* art, I'm going to have to Kickstart it (the writing is 97% complete and will be 100% done before the KS goes live-- I take pride in the fact that I don't KS anything until it's ready for art and editing). Here's how it's going to work:

  • The basic goal of the Kickstarter will be enough to pay for the cover, editing, layout, etc. If we make the goal, the book will come out with only a relative handful of interior monster illustrations. I'll be using some stock art for a couple hundred creature illustrations, which is already paid for and won't need to come out of the KS tally. 
  • Stretch goals will be set up so that each time a stretch goal is hit, another batch of monster illustrations will be paid for. So, for instance (and these are just placeholder numbers; I'm still running the math), for each additional $500 raised beyond the goal, that'll be 35 additional monster illustrations. So if we go $8,500 beyond the goal, each and every one of those 896 creatures will get its own illustration. 

And wouldn't that be AWESOME!?

Shooting for a 2013 release date; might be closer to Christmas than not, simply because of the sheer number of illustrations that are needed. I'm still collecting artists for this, by the way, so if you can do nice b&w line drawings of monsters cheaply and quickly (or know someone who can), please email me at joseph@brwgames.com.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

From Hommlet to Tharizdun, by way of Tsojcanth


Lawrence Schick, in his introduction to module S4 in the WotC reprint volume "Dungeons of Dread", tells us this interesting tidbit about the module and how it fit into Gary Gygax's original conception:
"S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth marked the end of the S series—and rightly so, because despite being based on a gilded-hole dungeon originally designed for a tournament in 1976, its updated version really belonged more to the '80s campaign-setting school of design than to the wild-and-woolly '70s. S1 through S3 were standalone modules that could be easily dropped into any DM's campaign, but Tsojcanth is firmly based in Gary's World of Greyhawk. Indeed, there’s evidence that Gary considered Tsojcanth part of a longer Greyhawk campaign, placing the adventure between T1–T4 The Temple of Elemental Evil and WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. (By this reckoning, The Village of Hommlet, The Temple of Elemental Evil, and Tsojcanth are thus the "lost" WG1 through WG3 modules.) So, Tsojcanth was published in the S series because it got completed out of order, but was too good to delay."
(Thanks to Mortellan for pointing that out on his Greyhawkery blog)

Now, this got me thinking of how, exactly, one might transition from the purported WG2 (Temple of Elemental Evil) to WG3 (Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth). If, as Schick claims (and The Acaeum concurs), they were originally supposed to be part of a larger campaign arc, taking adventurers from Hommlet to the Temple of Elemental Evil to the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and ultimately to the Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, just what was the narrative connection?

Now, some of those connections are relatively easy to explain. The Village of Hommlet was specifically written to lead in to the Temple of Elemental Evil. NPCs and plots are common to both, and they are geographically next to one another. That one's easy.

The narrative connection between the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and the Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun are a little harder to unravel. Certainly the mechanics of the connection are easy enough; the gnomes in one of the side-treks in Lost Caverns direct the adventurers to the Forgotten Temple to clear out a band of pesky norkers. But in a narrative sense, having the Forgotten Temple as the capstone of the campaign arc seems an odd choice. Perhaps-- just perhaps-- a narrative thread might present itself if we pursue the discussion. Let's put that one on hold for the moment.

That still leaves us with the connection between the Temple of Elemental Evil and the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. The module as published isn't much help; the Margrave of Bissel simply summons the PCs and sends them into the Yatil Mountains to find the caverns and loot them. But was there some narrative connection in the original conception as speculated upon by Schick?

I think so, and that connection is Iuz, and two factors point to this as the narrative bridge between the two.

First, according to the Secret History of the Temple (of Elemental Evil) that the whole elemental evil sect was a ploy concocted by the demon princess Zuggtmoy, and that Iuz came on soon after its inception as an almost-equal partner in the scheme. Iuz is also deeply involved in the attempts to free Zuggtmoy and restore the Temple to its former glory, especially through agents such as Hedrack ("the mouth of Iuz" as he is known) and Barkinar.

Second, the Lost Caverns were of import precisely because they were used as a base by the witch-queen Iggwilv. It is her magical treasures that the Margrave of Bissel wants to keep out of the hands of his enemies in Ket, in particular the Lanthorn. And, of course, Iggwilv is the mother of Iuz.

Now, this is all speculative, but building off Schick's statement that some sort of meta-narrative was originally planned for the series, Iuz becomes the narrative connection between ToEE and LCoT. That connection was never, obviously, written into the modules as published, but we can speculate based on what is there.

We know from ToEE that Iuz is trying to help Zuggtmoy escape imprisonment under the Temple and generally help the Temple itself to rise. From LCoT we know that Iggwilv, the mother of Iuz, was known for her deep knowledge of demons and demonkind, as well as her own stockpiles of magical might.

Perhaps Iuz believes that something his mother had could help free Zuggtmoy. This could be a hitherto-unknown spell in her spellbook, a function of Daoud's Wondrous Lanthorn, the aid of some demon or other extra-planar creature that Iggwilv had in her thrall, etc. The PCs, having (presumably) stopped the initial attempt to free Zuggtmoy in the Temple of Elemental Evil, would then set off to stop the agents of Iuz from getting access to Iggwilv's treasure. In essence, Iuz replaces Ket, and Veluna/Furyondy (perhaps even the kidnapped Prince Thrommel himself) replaces the Margrave of Bissel.

I kinda like the way those pieces fit into what's already there. 

One could also tie it in with a return of Iggwilv, who is looking to assist in Zuggtmoy's return to power and thus use her as a counterweight to the power of her own son, who is naturally more difficult to control as his own temporal power grows. That's similar to what we see in the Gord the Rogue books, by the way, but in this case the Theorparts would be replaced by the various magical devices and so forth left behind in the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. 

As far as the Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun goes, the parallels between Tharizdun and Zuggtmoy, as published, are striking. Both are powerful evil entities that are trapped, with followers attempting to free them without success (Tharizdun's followers having given up, while Zuggtmoy's are still at their labors). If we want to see a narrative connection between ToEE and FToT, perhaps it lies in those very parallels. What if, in a bid to help them free the Demon Queen of Fungi, the followers of Zuggtmoy are looking to get the secret of the Daily Ritual of Awakening, thinking that where it failed with Tharizdun, it might work with Zuggtmoy!? 

Again, just speculation, but those sorts of changes would not be at all difficult to make, and would allow an enterprising GM to turn the modules into the sort of campaign arc that, if Schick's statement is to be believed, was originally intended before the realities of publishing interfered with Gygax's original plan. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Movie News Roundup

Obviously I can't vouch for the veracity of any of this, but here are some interesting tidbits floating around the web concerning some high-profile genre films that are either in production or rumored to be soon.
Movies I'm looking forward to this year:
  • GI Joe: Retaliation (shut up-- I liked the first one) - Mar 28
  • The Lords of Salem - Apr 19
  • Iron Man 3 - May 3
  • Star Trek Into Darkness (not really looking forward to it so much as will dutifully see it to maintain my Trekkie cred) - May 17
  • Monsters University - Jun 21
  • The Wolverine - Jul 26
  • Riddick - Sep 6
  • Ender's Game - Nov 1
  • Thor: The Dark Worlds - Nov 8
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Dec 13

Monday, March 18, 2013

Players Manual Proofs!


Naturally, I just noticed something as soon as I opened up the book. :-/

But it's so small, and nobody seems to have noticed it in the pdf version, that I might just let it go. Certainly doesn't impact the usability of the book at all. 

Petty Gods Update

Wow! Bet you didn't think you'd be seeing a post with that title anytime soon, eh?

OSR blogger Gorgonmilk has graciously offered to pick up the layout and editing of James Maliszewski's Petty Gods project. If you were a contributor to the Petty Gods project (art or writing), please hie thyself over to Gorgonmilk's blog and check in. Especially given James's recent troubles, it would be great to see one of his ideas get pushed over the finish line.

TSR Magazines Gone from Internet Archive

As predicted, the online versions of Dragon, Dungeon, and Polyhedron magazines, which had been put up on the Internet Archive website, are now removed. Hope they'll be made available in some other format soon; I'd certainly shell out money for a new disc with pdf copies of the magazines on it.

Curiously, Ares Magazine, the old SPI science-fiction gaming magazine that was picked up by TSR when they bought out SPI, is still available.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Review: Queen of the Demonweb Pits

Caution: Spoilers (both of the novel and the module it's based on)

We come now to the final volume of Paul Kidd's Greyhawk trilogy, following up on White Plume Mountain and Descent into the Depths of the Earth; Queen of the Demonweb Pits. Published in 2001, this novel is a direct follow-up to the previous one, taking place almost immediately after the events of Descent into the Depths of the Earth.

Set in CY 583, we are back with the faerie princess Escalla, the brooding ranger the Justicar, Enid the sphinx, Cinders the sentient hell hound pelt, Polk (now a badger, having been reincarnated by a druid), talking magic sword Benelux, and Henry, a young warrior that the group picked up on their adventures.

The plot revolves around the demon queen Lolth's desire for revenge following her reversal in the Vault of the Drow in the previous adventure. Following his previous pattern, Kidd doesn't provide us with a recital of how a group of PCs might approach the published module; rather, he uses the module as the basis for an entirely new plot, demonstrating yet again the versatility of the old "location based" modules for a game master with imagination. We see the giant steam-driven spider-palace and the titular Demonweb Pits itself, but now in the context of Lolth's invasion of the Flanaess as she gates in a demonic army to sweep through Furyondy.

While the army is ravaging the countryside, our heroes travel to the Abyss to confront and ultimately defeat Lolth on her home ground, while at the same time both Escalla and the Justicar are tracked by a pair of enemies with grudges, brought into the action by Lolth specifically to enact her revenge. Needless to say, the second-stringers are dealt with and Lolth herself is eventually destroyed by falling into a portable hole filled with holy water. All is well, and the Justicar and Escalla are wed, but not after freeing Enid from the afterlife (!) which involves a confrontation with the Egyptian God Thoth (!!).

I've got to say that, although this book was very well done, I simply didn't enjoy it as much as I did the previous two. The sharp edged repartee between the Justicar and Escalla was missing, now that their romance has blossomed, and the change in the dynamics within the group was definitely felt. The novel feels a bit... softer... than the other two. This feeling is not helped by the fact that Lolth, as presented here, seems almost ditzy, and only her indentured handmaiden Morag (a Type V Demon) seems able to keep her focused on anything. (The "overly efficient and lawful demon assistant" is a character that also comes up in Gygax's Gord the Rogue books, as we shall see, in the character of Vuron.)

The final chapter, in which the characters actually infiltrate the afterlife and make a fool out of the God Thoth, seems tacked on, especially since it hand-waves an apparently arduous adventure among the outer planes to find the water from the river Mnemos to restore Enid's memory after being in the river Lethe. Why both with this, when a simple raise dead spell could solve the problem? It feels like Kidd was told to pad out the book so it went past 300 pages.

This book also creates some canon issues. Lolth is dead as of CY 583? There was a major demonic invasion in Furyondy and nobody seems to have noticed? The best sorts of novels are ones that don't describe enormous changes in the setting, especially changes which are contradicted (or not corroborated) by other sources.

Despite my enthusiasm for Kidd as a writer, and for these characters specifically, these faults must bring down my rating for this particular outing, which is unfortunate. I give it three wizards out of five.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review: Arrows of Indra

Arrows of Indra, written by the RPGPundit and published by Bedrock Games, takes the "standard" 0E rules and uses them as the basis for a game of heroic action set in Vedic India. I confess I've been looking forward to this game since I first heard about it as an adjunct for my own Greyhawk campaign, and (full disclosure) was happy to receive a reviewer copy of the pdf.

Shortest version: I like this game so much that I'll happily plunk down the money for the hard copy version when it becomes available in a few weeks.

There's much here in terms of mechanics that players used to 0E or its descendants will find familiar; there are character classes (priest, priest-shaman, fighter, virakshatriya (a sort of paladin), scout (a sort of ranger), siddhi (magic-user), thief, thugee (assassin), and yogi), character races (the normal fantasy Europe races are not to be found, but we have barbarians, monkey-men, serpent-men, bird-men, and mountain-spirits) with nice bits of Vedic Indian folklore as their bases, and alignment (holy, neutral, and unholy). Nothing feels like a retread of the older material so much as a re-imagining of it because of the new mythological basis, and all is written in a very clear style.

There are new pieces to characters as well, the most significant being caste. It should be unsurprising that caste plays a large role in a game set in a mythological Indian setting, and there are both mechanical (dalits get +1 to CON and -1 to CHA, for instance) and in-game social impacts for each caste; brahmins run the risk of imperiling their family's status if they pursue a career as a warrior, for instance. The importance of family in the setting is strong, and rules for generating one's family are provided to give more background.

Combat is somewhat different than the 0E system, much more in line with modern sensibilities; the basic system is roll+modifiers must beat armor class to hit. There is an extensive section of skills which are linked to each character class; the magical effects of priests and siddhis are treated like the skills of any other class, which certainly makes for a quick, consistent, and easy system for new players.

There are the expected sections of monsters and magic items (both either taken from Indian mythology or Indian-ized versions of familiar D&D examples), but what really sets this work apart is the setting of The Bharata Kingdoms, which is a very gameified and mythologized version of ancient India. For someone like me, whose knowledge of this culture is extremely limited, the presentation of the setting was terrific, familiar enough that I could hang my hat on some things, while at the same time being exotic enough to have a very different feel from most fantasy campaigns. The sections on the Patala Underworld, a sort of cross between the underdark and outer planes, was especially thought-provoking. Rob Conley did the maps, which serve their purpose well and should be easy enough to use during play. There's obviously a lot more in there than can even be mentioned in a brief review, all of it good.

All this is accomplished with what was, for me anyway, just the right amount of foreign terminology and jargon. Too many settings seem to operate under the impression that all it takes to make an exotic setting is to use hundreds of weird names, but that ends up being nothing more than an exercise in frustration for all but the half-dozen die-hard fans who are willing to memorize the glossary. Arrows of Indra avoids that pitfall; a mace is still a mace.

All in all, this is a fantastic game, and for $12.99 for the pdf and $29.99 for the soon-to-be-available softcover (both clocking in at slightly less than 200 pages, with art, maps, and a character sheet) it's a terrific introduction to a lively mythological setting that most people who are used to either Medieval Europe or China/Japan as their default fantasy setting would be well-served to explore. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Game of Thrones Season 2 Recap

Fans of the HBO series "A Game of Thrones" are doubtless acutely aware that season three starts in but three weeks' time. For those who might not have the time to re-watch all of season two before then, HBO has put together this nifty recap. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Purple Pawn 2012 Game Industry Survey

The ever-interesting Purple Pawn has published its 2012 Game Industry Survey of retailers, publishers, and distributors. The link to the actual pdf report is in the above article, but the highlights from my perspective are:

  • Pathfinder is outselling Dungeons & Dragons by a significant margin
  • There are a ton of one-and-two-man game companies out there
  • The larger companies are doing better, as a group, than the smaller ones
  • Distributors are like the Federal Reserve. Seems like they print their own money. :-)
Read the whole survey; it's fascinating stuff.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review: The Temple of Elemental Evil

Caution: Spoilers (both of the novel and the modules it's based on).

Today's bit of Greyhawkiana is the novel The Temple of Elemental Evil, by Thomas M. Reid. Mr. Reid is probably much better known for his novels set in the Forgotten Realms, but this novel, published in 2001, is his first written for TSR before he moved on to the FR.

This novel hews pretty closely to the original classic adventure module written by Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer and published by TSR. A party of adventurers is summoned to the village of Hommlet by the powers-that-be to explore the happenings at the supposedly-abandoned nearby Elemental Temple. The village is attacked by brigands before the expedition can begin, but they soon make their way to the Moat House. I thought that their being attacked by the famous giant frogs near the entrance to the Moat House was a nice touch, and the use of some Temple spies first encountered in Hommlet, who then later pose as fellow explorers of the Moat House was pretty well done.

Lareth, I thought, was under-utilized. Having failed to keep the Moat House safe from the intruders, he hies himself back to the Temple, only to be tortured and maimed by the high priest thereof, Hedrack. Now no longer "the beautiful", Lareth is sent to destroy the intruders with an army of humanoids and a giant, but is himself slain and somehow rises as a shadowy spider-like apparition. Reid takes the casual mention of a connection between Lareth and the demonness Lolth and runs with it, building a whole sub-plot of machinations between Iuz/Zuggtmoy and Lolth, which I found somewhat unnecessary. In the end, Elmo is dead, Zuggtmoy left imprisoned, the Temple itself leveled, and Prince Thrommel freed and off to Chendl to marry the fair Jolene.

I found this book to be... workmanlike. The writing was decent, the characters presented well enough that I could differentiate them from one another (unlike Against the Giants on both counts), but the whole seemed rather a bit lacking in verve. I would have liked to see a lot more of the iconic NPCs from the module; we get our share of Elmo, but Burne and Rufus are on the sidelines, Jaroo is mentioned but never seen, Otis and Y'Dey are absent, etc. Too, I find it difficult to place this novel in the context of Greyhawk canon; the events vis-a-vis the Temple are fairly straightforward, but the very end of the novel mentions a brewing civil war in Veluna that I don't recall happening in other sources.

There's not a lot here that can be added to a campaign; aside from the adventurers themselves, there are no new NPCs of note, no background or plot to pillage for a campaign, and no new ways to utilize the existing module (unlike what we saw with White Plume Mountain or Descent into the Depths of the Earth). Still, it gives a good idea of what a "typical" campaign focused on the Temple would look like, so in that respect it would be a good read for a DM planning on running such a campaign.

I give it three wizards out of five.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

RIP Allan B Calhamer

Yesterday, Allan B. Calhamer passed away at the age of 81. Mr. Calhamer is the inventor of one of the groundbreaking titles in the history of wargaming; the game Diplomacy, which was a favorite of presidents as well as being intimately involved in the early days of the wargaming hobby, in which fertile soil modern RPGs first took root. Gary Gygax published many of the earliest works concerning Dungeons and Dragons in those early Diplomacy 'zines (as well as innumerable Diplomacy variants, such as games that took place in Tolkien's Middle Earth), without which the wargaming community as we know it might never have existed. I know I myself have played Mr. Calhamer's brilliant game hundreds of times, and enjoyed every minute of it, even when I was getting trounced. Truly one of the least-known, but nonetheless influential, founding figures of the gaming hobby has passed.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Riddle...

What has...

  • 254 pages
  • Sixteen character races and sub-races
  • Sixteen character classes
  • Hundreds of spells, including scores of brand-new ones
  • All kinds of cool old-school art
  • A combat system that uses weapon speed, covers unarmed combat, and actually makes sense
...and is three months ahead of schedule?


The pdf version of the Players Manual is now live. Free copies have been sent to all of the $10 and above Kickstarter backers, but anyone who missed the Kickstarter can get theirs now. The hard copy will be available in a week or two, once Lightning Source has approved the files.

Enjoy!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Call For Artists

BRW Games is looking for artists!

If you're an artist who can do old-school style black-and-white line art, please send an email to joseph@brwgames.com with the following:

  • A link to samples of your b&w line art
  • Prices for 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, and full page pieces (plus bulk discounts, if any)
  • How quickly you can produce 1/8 page pieces in batches of 10
  • Your availability between now and the end of April, as well as between May and December
Please spread the word-- this is a great way for beginning artists to get some broad exposure, or for established artists to pull in some work if you've got a little down time.