Saturday, January 20, 2018

War in Europe

At last! The crown jewel in my game collection has arrived.

When I was a kid, SPI's monster game War in Europe was one of my favorite games. We actually played the full campaign game all the way through - my best friend Tom dismantled his model train set in his basement so we'd have a table large enough to fit the maps. It depicts World War II on a regimental/division level (the game comes with 3600 counters), with a 20-mile hex map of Europe that takes nine 22" x 36" maps to show the whole thing. Turns represent a week.

It truly is a monster game.

I got rid of mine some years ago, when I was moving a lot, and decided I wasn't ever going to play these sorts of games again. Like most of my collection lost in that ill-considered decision, I've been slowly rebuilding, and now I finally have the Big One. I got it on eBay for a surprisingly reasonable price (less than the reissue from Victory Games will cost when it's back in print) plus over a dozen erratas, expansions, and so forth. It's even partially unpunched!

The box has a dinged corner, but other than that it looks to be in great shape. I can't wait to play one of the smaller scenarios (the big campaign game will have to wait until I'm able to reclaim the spare bedroom from its status as junk room). Here are some pics of my copy:

And here's a stock photo of what the whole thing looks like with all the maps put together (with a full-sized newspaper for scale):

Friday, January 19, 2018

Are You Going to GaryCon?


This year will mark my first time going to GaryCon. I'll be there hawking my wares as BRW Games, so this will be your opportunity to pick up all the Castle of the Mad Archmage and Adventures Dark and Deep goodness.

Special convention-only thingy: I'll be there with a number of printed versions of products that are usually pdf-only. Like the Necromancer class, the Treasure of Welthorp adventure, etc. These are convention exclusives, and I'm not going to make a lot of 'em. So get 'em while they last. As always, they'll come with pdf versions.

But if you're going to be there, here's what I really wanted to tell you. I'm running games!

I'm also going to be running two games of Castle of the Mad Archmage, using 1st edition AD&D rules (with a few modifications, ahem).

The first session will be on Friday at 7:00. The second session will be Saturday, also at 7:00. I wanted to keep Saturday open to play something myself, but it was not to be.

And yikes, but I'm driving out there and back from New Jersey in one straight, twelve-hour shot each way. shudder

See you there, I hope!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

GURPS Now on RPGNow and DriveThruRPG

For those who are fans of Steve Jackson's GURPS (Generic Universal RolePlay System), good news. SJG has just released a ton of content on RPGNow and DriveThruRPG. Everything's in pdf, but that's what all the kids these days are using. I understand they're adding new titles all the time, so if your favorite book isn't up there yet, it probably will be soon.

Do check it out!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Treasures of the Greyhawk Wars

In the much-maligned Greyhawk Wars game, there are quite a few nuggets of Greyhawk lore to be had. The most are obviously found in the Adventurer's Book, which details the history of the wars and the events leading up to them. But in the game itself there are also some items to be found. I'm going to concentrate on a handful of magic items that don't seem to appear anywhere else. (I should note that Greyhawkery noticed some of these a few year's back, which post I found while researching this article.)
  • Bigby's Bottled Breath: Make 1 free attack (strength 3) on every enemy unit before battle begins.
  • Bowl of Storms: Apply a +2 bonus to the strength of one of your units in a sea battle.
  • Drawmij's Dagger: Cause 1 automatic hit on one enemy unit of your choice during the first round of battle.
  • Dura's Deadly Poison: Flip 1 enemy hero to its activated side. [Essentially this takes the hero, which is a band of adventurers, out of service for 1 turn, which equals an entire year.]
  • The Edge of Corusk: Apply a +1 bonus to the strength of one of your units in battle.
  • Gloves of the Paladin: Heal 1 hit suffered by one of your units.
  • Rary's Bulls-Eye Bow: Cause 1 automatic hit on one enemy unit of your choice during the first round of battle.
Here's how I would stat these items up for 1st edition.

Bigby's Bottled Breath: This item appears as an ordinary potion bottle with a stopper sealed with an elaborate "B" in wax, but otherwise appears to be empty. If the stopper is loosed, a powerful jet of wind will be loosed for 1 segment, which can be aimed by whomever is holding the bottle. Any creature in a path 5' wide and 20' long must make a saving throw vs. paralyzation or be pushed back 10 feet and take 1d6 hit points of damage.

Bowl of Storms: When filled with sea or fresh water which is then thrown up in the air, this enchanted bowl can be used to summon a fierce but short-lived tempest. The storm will be only 100 yards in diameter, and can be centered anywhere up to a half-mile away. Any ships caught within the storm will take 1d4 points of hull damage and will be blown in a random direction to the perimeter of the storm. The storm will last but 10 minutes, and the bowl can be used only once per week.

Drawmij's Dagger: This weapon is normally treated as a dagger +2. If the wielder is in a position where the only obvious means of escape is blocked by an enemy, however, it will become a dagger +4.

Dura's Deadly Poison: This most potent potion is renowned for its deadly effects. Anyone who ingests a vial of the poison must make a saving throw vs. poison or be slain instantly. Even worse, however, is that within 1d6 rounds, the body itself becomes so toxic that anyone coming into contact with the flesh must themselves make a saving throw vs. poison or also die 1d4 rounds later (although their flesh will not have the same toxic effect on others). It is thus useful for wiping out entire groups, as even an innocent check of a victim's pulse can spell doom.

The Edge of Corusk: This singular blade was created in the heart of the Corusk mountains to aid a Frost Barbarian in a quest to find the Five Blades of Corusk and free the imprisoned god Vatun. That quest failed, but his blade lives on. It is a longsword +3, and can summon an ice storm (as per the spell) once per week. 

Gloves of the Paladin: These enchanted gloves allow the wearer to heal wounds by laying on hands, as if he or she were a paladin. Once per day, the gloves can heal two hit points of damage for every level of the wearer. The wearer must be of Good alignment; if someone of Evil alignment attempts to wear them, that person will take 2d6 hp of damage. Neutral characters simply cannot activate the gloves' magic. They will magically adjust in size to fit anyone from the size of a gnome to an ogre.

Rary's Bulls-Eye Bow: This enchanted shortbow has a normal +2 bonus to hit and to damage, but three times per day, on utterance of the command word (which is engraved on the bow in Baklunish), it will automatically hit one target, as small as a coin, as long as it is within long range. (Note that this cannot be used to inflict more than the usual amount of damage to a creature, instant kills, etc.)

Monday, January 15, 2018

Stretch Goal!

One of my fans has suggested that I set a stretch goal to come out with a print edition of one of my earlier adventures, Bitterbark's Circus. The Circus is a mirthfully malevolent place, and can also be used as an expansion for Castle of the Mad Archmage (Level 11, Area 34, for those keeping track). Up until now, it's only been available in pdf format.

However, if we break $4,500 on the Musicland Kickstarter, making a print version of the adventure will be bumped to the top of the priority list, and will almost certainly be available by the time Musicland is. Backers of this Kickstarter at any level will also receive a coupon for a 25% discount on the print version of Bitterbark's Circus if we hit the stretch goal (and all print versions include the pdf, too!).

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Want ADD Classes? You Got 'Em

I've gotten a bunch of inquiries about putting out stand-alone versions of the new classes and sub-classes in Adventures Dark and Deep:
  • Bard
  • Jester
  • Mystic
  • Mountebank
  • Savant

Well, after a bit of work, that request is now a reality. All of the "new" classes in Adventures Dark and Deep, based on the outlines that Gary Gygax made in various places online and in Dragon Magazine, are now available as stand-alone pdf files.

In those files, you'll find the full class description, as well as every spell available to that class.

I see this as being of interest to three different types of people:
Those who are playing one of these classes, and want a handy reference guide at the table. Rather than flipping through the whole Players Manual to get your spells and abilities, it's all in one convenient place.
Those who want to add a particular class to their Old School game. Want to have mountebanks in your Labyrinth Lord game? Now you can, without having to even invest in the whole Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore book.
Those who are curious about Adventures Dark and Deep, but want to get more of a feel for how the game is laid out and rules handled, without having to plunk down a bunch of cash sight unseen.

And the price? Each one is a buck. You want them all? You only pay $4 for five of them. A twenty percent discount.

It's admittedly an experiment, but I know if I was playing the game, having a class-specific mini-handbook would be really convenient.

Here are all the links:

The Bard Class
The Jester Class
The Mystic Class
The Mountebank Class
The Savant Class
The Adventures Dark and Deep Class Bundle (20% discount!)

Personally, the mountebank is my favorite. Which one is yours? Sound off in the comments.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Musicland Kickstarter Update

In response to several inquiries, a new reward level has been added; the Musicland Standard Edition, for those who want to get the book in print, but missed out on the limited edition print version.

This new reward level will include a standard POD version of the book, plus the pdf. You'll need to pay the cost of printing and shipping when you collect your reward from RPGNow / DriveThruRPG. The print cost has been factored into the reward level, and the total will come out to around US$10 plus shipping.

So if you chose the pdf-only version and want to upgrade for only a few bucks more, now's your chance!

You can find the Kickstarter here:

Friday, January 12, 2018

WotC to Require Background Checks

Well this is interesting.

Over at Quest for Fun! there's a new post about a new mandate from Wizards of the Coast, requiring stores that run official WotC events to do background checks on their staff. Here's the relevant text:
As part of our commitment to safe and inclusive spaces, tournament organizers and retailers will be explicitly required to conduct background checks for all staff (as permitted by applicable law). This includes CFB Events' Grand Prix, local store events like Friday Night Magic, and professional events like the Pro Tour and World Magic Cup as well as convention play run by Wizards. 
This is in response to an article that appeared on Milo Yiannopoulos' website, which got a ton of attention (as most things that Milo does tend to do) which stated (in part):
...several such individuals who were convicted on charges of child pornography continued to serve as judges at Wizards sanctioned tournaments, where they held a strong presence among children who participated in the events.
On the face of it, this seems like a good thing, as Erik Tenkar notes:
I give Wizards credit for getting ahead of the narrative in this situation. It can only make gaming a safer environment for all.
However, Gary at Quest for Fun! has a different take:
Don't get me wrong, I think background checks for judges is a good idea. However, being pushed to do checks because one nut job has unfairly and without warrant painted an entire community as criminals, is not the best motivation to do so. So sure, why not. Wizards of the Coast, go ahead and pay the money to background check your judge community.
I think both sides have a fair point. On the one hand, it is a good thing to have background checks for people who are going to have a lot of contact with younger players. On the other hand, it seems unfair for WotC to push the burden of paying for those background checks on the FLGS, whose margins are usually razor-thin as it is, and many of which go out of business on the back of two slow months.

As Gary points out, we haven't heard the last about that particular aspect of the new policy. It's a question of contract law, to be sure, which is an arcane and twisty field if ever there was one. I have no idea of the stores have a case about resisting unfunded mandates.

I hope some sort of solution to the conundrum can be found, or a lot of stores are going to decide the slim margins they make from running Friday Night Magic just aren't worth it, and WotC is faced with a precipitous decline in their player community. That wouldn't do anybody any good.

UPDATE: My wife, a teacher, makes the point that another route would be to make the employees pay for their own background checks, like teachers do with their fingerprints, etc. It's not the worst idea, but I still don't like the thought of forcing a minimum-wage FLGS clerk (or a volunteer judge!) pay a hundred bucks because of this policy.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Why isn't there a Full Magic: the Gathering Setting for Dungeons & Dragons?

I saw this post over at the Nerds4LifeBlog, and it got me wondering about something I've contemplated over the years.

Why the Hell hasn't Wizards of the Coast developed a campaign setting (or settings!) based on the implied setting of Magic: The Gathering?

I mean, the stats on the available lore is simply astounding. Over the last 25 years, they've put out cards representing more than 9,000 creatures (which includes NPCs), 1,800 enchantments and 1,500 sorceries (spells), and 1,400 magic items. Plus a whole metric crap-ton of other stuff that seems to be just begging to be turned into D&D stuff.

From a business point of view, it would make an enormous amount of sense. The 5th edition of D&D has an enormously good reputation, and is arguably the most popular version of the game since 1st edition AD&D. The fact that there is an enormously larger customer base for Magic: The Gathering than there is for Dungeons & Dragons would seem to point to the idea of drawing players from the one into the other, to grow the mutual customer base.

In fairness, Wizards did take a step in this direction with Zendikar in 2016, but it was a rather lifeless attempt. Clocking in at 38 pages, it has no class or background options, no magic items, and only three new monsters with stats. There's nothing in the way of maps, discussions of civilized nations, or anything that would actually lend itself towards an ongoing campaign. There are some new race options, which is nice, but the whole thing really comes across like an afterthought, which is reinforced by the fact that it came out as a free pdf, and received very little in the way of marketing.

It's entirely possible that Zendikar was floated as a sort of trial balloon, to see if a fuller treatment might be worth doing. But if that was the intent, the lack of marketing and support kneecapped the effort from the beginning.

I'd be willing to bet that the majority of players of either 5E or MtG even know it exists.

But I do honestly think there's an enormous potential to bring in tens of thousands of Magic: The Gathering players into the D&D sphere, possibly drawing D&D players over to Magic, and boosting sales for both accordingly. But it would need a full-fledged effort, with hardcover books, adventure paths, and the whole nine yards, along with a dual marketing campaign to link such a thing with a really big Magic release with appropriate cards and so forth.

To be honest, I'm surprised it hasn't happened yet in the 20 years the two games were under the same roof. It looks like found money to me. Perhaps they have some secret internal marketing that tells them it would be a waste? I honestly can't see how.

It would work the other way, too; fans of D&D settings (myself included) tend to be completists. Imagine the additional sales of Magic cards if there was a set of Greyhawk, or Ravenloft, or Athas cards to be had. I realize that Magic card sales dwarf anything that a legacy D&D setting could generate, but if you're going to make a new Magic release anyway, would it cost that much to do a drop of research and come out with D&D-appropriate cards? Imagine a Castle Ravenloft land card, or an Iuz creature card. Sales would doubtless increase, and moreso if they did a little research to make them meaningful, at least from a setting background perspective.

I shake my head in bewilderment that this hasn't happened yet.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Pics vs. Description

As part of my project to convert as much Greyhawk material as I can into 5th Edition D&D stats, I've come across a weird anomaly. Two creatures - the Greyhawk Dragon and the Dragonnel - have descriptions that diverge from their images in some sources.

Normally, that might be a minor glitch, not making too much of a difference. But in this case, the discrepancy is actually meaningful, because it will determine whether or not those creatures get claw attacks.

Behold, if you will, the Greyhawk Dragon as it is depicted in the Greyhawk Appendix of the Monstrous Compendium, for 2nd edition AD&D (1990):

You'll note the absence of forelegs in the illustration. But nowhere in the description of the beast is there any sort of recognition of this fact, and their attack stats clearly indicate they have a bite and two claw attacks. That's not consistent with the illustration.

Fast forward, and we see several other illustrations of Greyhawk Dragons that have their forelegs restored:

So I'm left to wonder why either Thomas Baxa or Mark Nelson (who are credited with the interior art, and no indication is given as to which of them did which individual pieces) thought the Greyhawk dragon should look like a wyvern rather than a dragon. Maybe it's just a fluke.

But no, the artist does exactly the same thing with the dragonnel (a beastie that's common to the Pomarj)!

In this case, the accompanying text even explicitly says the creature should have forelegs: "Their four legs, huge wings, and long tails give them a dragon-like appearance, and from a distance it is easy to mistake a dragonnel for one of its more fearsome cousins."

That the dragonnel should have four legs rather than two is confirmed by the fact that the old Minifigs line had dragonnels, including this "magnus dragonnel" (or "great dragonnel"), which will also be included in my own 5E conversion (the regular dragonnels in the line also have four legs, but this was the clearest picture I could find):

The trouble with this is that a lot of people wouldn't read through the text thoroughly and realize that the picture was in error. They'd just go with whatever the picture in the Monstrous Compendium showed them.

Anyway, I had to dig through this as part of my own 5th Edition Greyhawk conversions, so I thought I'd share.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Let's Read: Greyhawk Adventures (Part 11)

Yes! I am still doing this! Two more sections to go. This time I'm going through Adventures in Greyhawk, a collection of mini-adventures set in various places, and geared towards parties of varying level.

First up is Horse Sense, a zero-level adventure (more about that in part 12 of this series), which could be located just about anywhere. The PCs have to deal with a fire in a stable. Not exactly the stuff of legends, but it is for zero-level characters.

Next we have Beaming Up, also for zero-level characters, who are challenged to raise a 100 pound wooden beam without using their hands (magic only). Geared towards apprentice magic-users, the adventure hinges on getting the proper spell components (for example, mercury for Tenser's Floating Disc) to succeed.

These first two are very generic, as might be expected given that the level of character they're for.

Next is Diver Down, for 4th to 5th level characters, set on any island. The PCs are hired to salvage a shipwreck, but there is more to the assignment than meets the eye. It does feature a seldom-used environment (underwater), but I doubt that any party isn't going to see the twist at the end coming a mile away. Still, it's a serviceable adventure that would have benefited from a map or diagram of the wreck.

Next is The Entrance to the Valley of the Mage, for PCs of 5th to 6th level, set in, well, the Valley of the Mage. There's no plot to speak of, other than "The PCs go into the valley and encounter stuff." While there are some commonalities with the Vale of the Mage adventure module that came out in 1990 (the mage's drow lieutenant Tysiln San, for instance, appears in both and there are of course Valley Elves), this adventure doesn't seem to have a lot in common with the much larger treatment. It almost makes me wonder why they'd try to tackle such a large thing in just a couple of pages.

Next we have The Rescue of Ren, for 3rd to 6th level characters and set in the City of Greyhawk. The PCs are hired to rescue the head of the Trader's Union, Ren o' the Star (who is also detailed earlier in the book). The whole thing is a set up, of course, and since the Trader's Union sends the PCs to the exact place where he's being held, there's little more here than two encounters. The NPCs are fairly well fleshed out, though, and could certainly be used for more interesting fare in the city.

Finally, we have The House of Cards, for any number of PCs of any level, set in Elredd (on the Wild Coast). In my mind, this is a model for what this section should have been; a very detailed, flexible, single encounter area. In this case, it's an inn and gambling den, with a lot of potentially interesting NPCs and stuff that can happen, people that can be hired or interacted with, intersections with the local Thieves' Guild, and so forth. There's no plot, but there are potentially many plots, which makes it ideal for this sort of short-and-sweet treatment.

In all, this is a pretty forgettable chapter, but that last piece really makes up for the lacking parts of the others, in my opinion.

One more to go!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Kickstarter is now live!

The Kickstarter for the new Castle of the Mad Archmage level, Musicland, is now live.

This will be your only opportunity to get a copy of the hand-made and signed print versions of this level. I've never done this before, and might never do this sort of thing again. These will be collector's items indeed. (There's also a pdf version for those who prefer such.)