Monday, September 30, 2013

Kickstarter Status - Just the Late Ones

Joe K. over at Modern Appendix N reminds me that it might be time to review my backed Kickstarters that are past their promised dates. I won't include KS's that didn't fund, or those that have delivered. Here we go!

Dwimmermount (estimated Apr 2012, 17 months late). For all that I like James M. personally, this remains one of the great cautionary tales of the OSR gaming community. Tavis is giving us regular updates, but progress seems glacial. Current revised estimate April 2014, an even two years after originally promised. I'm a little worried that it's also slowing down Tavis's other KS, Domains at War, which is due next month, was still in layout as of two weeks ago, and for which I don't think there's a revised estimate. So let's hope Tavis's optimism isn't misplaced.

Myth & Magic Players Guide (estimated July 2012, 14 months late). We keep hearing excuses, and the occasional "things are being mailed out", but the only people who ever seem to get the books are folks who know the guy personally. Perhaps he needs to attend Mike Nystul's RPG Academy? Latest word was that a huge bunch of books went out last week. I remain skeptical but willing to be pleasantly surprised.

Champions of Zed (estimated August 2012, 13 months late). There hasn't been an update since July, although backers did get a pdf of the manuscript. No current revised estimate, which is not a good sign.

Cityographer - City Generator and Mapping Software (estimated Oct 2012, 11 months late). There have been monthly updates, but I really expected more progress (alas, Joe has multiple projects going on, and it's obvious that there has been a certain juggling of priorities), and missteps with the art don't seem to be helping. There is a beta version available for backers, which is a good indicator. Current revised estimate December 2013, but I'm not sanguine about it.

Ogre Designers Edition (estimated Nov 2012, 10 months late). There has been steady progress, I've seen the prototype in person, and the shipping containers from China are said to be on our shores as I write this. Current revised estimate November 2013, one year after the original date. They're saying all the right things about "learning from our mistakes", so I might still back the Car Wars Kickstarter when it launches.

Axes and Anvils (estimated Nov 2012, 10 months late). If Dwimmermount is a cautionary tale, Axes and Anvils is the equivalent of a snuff film. Latest update says that Mike Nystul is working again, or maybe he's going to be living out of his car and traveling the country. There's no way to tell which is the right story, and sure as shootin' Mike isn't about to clarify how either scenario affects the project specifically. Current revised estimate when Iran declares Rosh Hashana a national holiday.

Tavern Cards - Playing Cards that Create a Tavern (estimated Apr 2013, 5 months late). Hannah L. has certainly been forthcoming (even to the extent of posting a screencap of her Amazon Payments balance to show that she's been spending money on the project). No actual current revised estimate, but she did say the art would be ready in mid-September, but there was no announcement to that effect, so I'm guessing it didn't happen.

Busty Barbarian Bimbos (estimated Jun 2013, 3 months late). What can I say? I really wasn't expecting a lot out of this one to begin with, so I'm not too broken up by its tardiness. No real current estimate, but the proofs were supposed to be done two weeks ago, and we didn't hear anything, so I'm guessing once again it didn't happen.

Red Dragon Inn 4 (estimated Sep 2013, will be late as of tomorrow). It's at the printer, and expected to ship next month, so that'll be great if/when it happens.

Edit: How could I forget the Myth & Magic Players Guide? It's in there now.

Quote of the Day

“Kickstarter is amazing, but one of the hidden catches is that once you have taken a bunch of people’s money to do a thing, you have to actually do that thing, and not some other thing that you thought up in the meantime.”

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Advancing the Timeline

One of the most contentious issues surrounding old school gaming is the notion of campaign settings where the creator/publisher "advances the timeline". This happened with the most popular TSR/WotC era campaign settings such as Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, and Dragonlance. Other settings, such as Hârn and the Wilderlands Campaign opted to simply hold at a particular time in the setting and keep fleshing it out.

I wonder, though, if there couldn't be a happy medium. Imagine a setting that was detailed at the year 1000, as well as the year 1025. The intervening twenty-five years would be described in detail in adventure modules, wargames, novels, etc. But nothing would happen after that point. Nothing published ever - no way, no how. Everything after the self-imposed endpoint would be in the GMs' hands.

Such an arrangement would provide a framework for GMs who wanted to start their campaigns in the year 1000 and have a lot of pre-done work in terms of events, plots, characters, etc., enough to last for many campaigns. There would be a ton of background events in motion, plots progressing, characters advancing, dying, etc., to give the GM who didn't want to have to work up all that sort of background something upon which to hang his particular campaign. A built-in framework for years of play.

It would also allow those GMs who didn't want to be constrained with "what's supposed to happen" to have an incredibly detailed recent history from which to draw when determining the course that his or her campaign is going to follow. Nothing preordained, but a lot of arrows in flight which could land in any one of a dozen places, each impacting the other.

This has a couple of benefits that I can see right off the bat. "Location adventures" such as lost cities, haunted ruins, etc. are somewhat "timeline neutral". The "lost city of Poosh" is just as lost in 1000 as it is in 1025, and one could publish it and have it applicable to either type of GM. "Plot-driven adventures" would, in turn, have a set context for the first type of GM and act as historical background for the second.

If you're one of the gamers that loathes the idea of advancing the timeline, you simply start your campaign in 1025, and the timeline never advances beyond what you determine. You just have a ton of detailed recent history to refer to.

If you're one of the gamers that likes the idea of a grand sweeping arc of history, you set your campaign in 1000 and play with all the big events happening in the background, and probably your PCs being involved at one or more crucial events. Your campaign would probably even go off in a different direction, which would be perfectly fine. But you'd have all that other background information to fall back on if you needed it.

Such an arrangement does require a bit of trust between the gamers and the publisher. We've seen examples of such trust being broken in the past (I seem to recall something in the FR Gray Box that said that Cormyr Sembia would never be detailed, leaving it for the GM to define for his own campaign, but that went away very quickly). But as a concept, I think this has possibilities.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

On the Importance of Large-Scale Warfare

Battles between armies were a staple of Medieval Europe, and any fantasy roleplaying setting that doesn't have such things better have a really good explanation for why that's the case.

Whether it's Hastings, or Bosworth Field, or Agincourt, or the Siege of Acre, warfare between armies was an enormously important part of Medieval life. Peace was the exception, not the norm, and the raising of armies, the recruiting of troops, and the subsequent return of those veterans (the survivors, anyway) had an enormous impact on the culture of the time. Any fantasy campaign that is pseudo-medieval in flavor should have the same sort of background; lots of short, furious wars, a few very long, drawn-out conflicts, and lots of serfs drafted into the armies only to be returned in relatively short order to their farms and masters, with tales of far-off places and perhaps some scars (and certainly some stories) to show off.

The World of Greyhawk embraced this view of Europe, doubtless because of Gygax's background as a wargamer and amateur military historian. The original Folio is replete with wars and battles, including the Battle of a Fortnight's Length and of course the Battle of Emridy Meadows, at which the Temple of Elemental Evil was thrown down by the combined forces of Furyondy and Veluna.

Subsequent embellishments of the setting continued the trend. The wonderful "Greyhawk's World" series of articles in Gygax's "From the Sorcerer's Scroll" column detailed army movements, broke down forces by troop type, and generally contributed to the notion that the Flanaess was alive with armies marching across its lands, often maneuvering, sometimes directly clashing, forever raising troops and disbanding armies. Just like Medieval Europe.

I think having such a state of affairs adds immensely to the feel of a setting as being alive. Having some rules system in place to handle such battles, hopefully with the PCs having some meaningful role, is a plus. But even if the PCs are never involved in a single battle themselves, the mere fact that they hear of such things happening in the background, while they are involved in delving into some lost tomb or investigating conspiracies in some decadent city, the fact that such things are happening around them can only add to the perceived vitality of the milieu.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Final D&D Next Public Playtest Packet is Now Available

We knew it was coming, and here it is.

The final packet of the public playtest is now available for download. This is all we're going to get between now and GenCon (aside from articles on the WotC website, of course), and there seem to be quite a number of substantive changes to the rules that will need to be absorbed and tried out before any meaningful commentary can be made.

There are new classes, like the bard. There are new races, like drow, kender (huh?), tiefling, dragonborn, and warforged (I know that's a thing, but damned if I know what it is). There are huge changes in the way skills are done, and they reverberate throughout the whole packet. Skills are no longer optional, by the by; they've been moved to "core rule" status. And there are now rules for multiclassing.

I've already said that I think this playtest packet is going to be pretty close to the final version. I'm a little trepidatious about the skills being made non-optional, but I want to give the final playtest a thorough run-through before I make any pronouncements.

Also, I note there's still not a peep about any sort of open licensing. I daresay that bodes ill. They're looking more and more like they're going to keep everything proprietary, but I could well be wrong. Six months is plenty of time to come up with an open licensing concept.

Please, WotC. Don't screw this up.

Friday, September 13, 2013

I have a bad feeling about this...

According to Variety  those stand-alone "Star Wars" movies are going to be origin story movies, starting in 2016...
[Disney CFO] Rasulo also noted that one “Star Wars” trilogy film or “origin story film” would also appear on the release schedule each year, starting with the seventh installment in the “Star Wars” saga that J.J. Abrams will direct and Disney releases in 2015.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What do you want in a published megadungeon?

As many of you know, I'll be publishing the Castle of the Mad Archmage megadungeon, which was originally released here as a free pdf in serial format, as a print product.

The idea is to have two books; one for the dungeon key, and another for the maps. I've run the thing enough myself in my home campaigns at at conventions to know that having it all in one book is a royal pain in the ass.

Having poster maps is simply not practical, since you need to have them behind the screen. It's one thing if the players can see that Medegia is southeast of Nyrond because the map of the Flanaess is on the wall of the gaming room; it's another if they can see that there's a secret corridor leading to a series of caverns that they otherwise wouldn't suspect existed.

My question is, what other features do you think would make a published megadungeon really sparkle?

I've already added a lot of new material that wasn't in the free version, and I want to add more. There's stuff on appropriate missions designed to bring the PCs into the dungeon on specific quests, there's tips on how and where to run the dungeon at conventions (not always starting with the surface ruins), each level will have guidelines on restocking and how the various power bases will shift based on likely PC actions, a bazillion rumors to plant, more general advice on how to run a megadungeon (including, for instance, how to handle things when the PCs decide they want to camp in the dungeon overnight), and there's a whole section of rival NPC adventuring parties to use as rivals to the PCs.

My question is, what else would you like to see in a vast, sprawling, megadungeon? What would be useful? What would be a must-have? What would be superfluous? Feel free to think outside the box; battle mats? A book of illustrations? A soundtrack? Set pieces available in miniature terrain? A zillion things I've not thought of? I want your input.

Now's the time. What would make this really stand out? This one was always something near and dear to my heart, and I want to make sure it meets as many expectations as I can. Let's make it awesome.

Never Forget

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

RIP Donald Featherstone (1918-2013)

My own small Featherstone collection
Apparently Donald Featherstone died yesterday of a fall at his home. He was 98 years old.

For those who don't recognize the name, Donald Featherstone is one of the founding figures of modern miniatures wargaming. He wrote more that 40 books on the subject, edited War Game Digest, held the first wargaming convention in the UK, and generally inspired literally generations of gamers. Certainly the fathers of the roleplaying side of the hobby owe him a huge debt.

His books (pictured) were the first I ever bought on the subject of miniatures gaming, at a used bookstore for the princely price of $2 each. I've never met him and never corresponded with him, but I will still miss him.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Wicker Man: The Final Cut


Coming to a theater near you (well, as long as you live in one of a handful of major US cities), the final, definitive cut of the British horror movie masterpiece, The Wicker Man.

This version is similar to the one that restored a lot of the lost footage from the original theatrical release, but with film from a vastly superior print and I believe with a little more extra footage. I'm seriously considering schlepping into New York for this one, and it will definitely be on my Yule list.