Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Back in the Bundle!

You might or might not have gotten what I was hinting at in my last blog post, but now that it's live, I think it's safe to just tell you.

The Bundle of Holding is doing a revival of the Family Friendly Bundle that I participated in last year about this time. This is the Bundle that was active when Wil Wheaton graced the site with his glorious gaze. (In case you didn't get my hint, this is what I was referring to.) It will be available from now until January 2nd, 2015.

Along with Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, there are several other games that you can play with kids (or just kids at heart.)

Happy Birthday, Robot! is a storytelling game in which players create the story of Robot's birthday. But each player only gets so many words to contribute to the story. Not really an RPG, but a fun party or classroom game. There is even advice for teachers on using the game in their lesson plans.

Hero Kids brings the combat and exploration of D&D to kids as young as 4. Cleanly laid out character cards illustrate heroic roles for boys and girls.

Mermaid Adventures takes players on undersea adventures inspired by The Little Mermaid and other fantastical tales. Several types of merfolk are available for play, and the game includes 5 adventures as well as a coloring book!

The Princes' Kingdom describes itself as a "game about children, adults and ideals."  Players take on the role of princes and princesses who travel their parent's kingdom solving problems. On the one hand, they are royalty and have the authority to implement their solutions. On the other hand, the characters (and maybe even their players) are children and have a hard time getting adults to listen to them.

If you beat the average price (set at 13.95 at release, but creeping up), you'll also get the bonus titles. Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is one of these. The others are:

Camp Myth is based on the YA novels of Chris Lewis Carter and puts players in a summer camp for mythical beings. It uses a system similar to the one in Mermaid Adventure (They're from the same publisher), but also offers the opportunity for characters to earn Badges during play.

Project Ninja Panda Taco is about Masterminds who must work to conquer the world with 3 random objects, as well as their long-suffering minion. The description puts me in mind of a simpler, sillier, more kid-friendly version of Fiasco.

School Daze is a game about the ups and downs of high school.It's a very light and loose system that seems geared more towards one-shot or short term play than extended campaigns.

The Zantabulous Zorcerer of Zo is a game that I've previously reviewed on this blog. By joining this offer, it removes the only thing that kept me from whole-hearted recommendation at that time: price. I complained that the print edition was priced higher than I would like. While the PDF version (all of the games offered at Bundle of Holding are downloadable ebooks) sells for $15, which is somewhat better, this offer give you this game as well as every other title here for download for about that price.

The Family Friendly Bundle will be one of 5 Bundles available via the Bundle of Holding on its release day. Check back often! As Judy Garland once said "My! People come and go so quickly here!"

As of this posting, The Indie Initiative Bundle has one more day to go. It's full of really neat games that were seminal to the Indie movement. The only one in the Bundle I've gotten to try out in my gaming career was The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which is a game of competitive storytelling and oneupsmanship that even imaginative non-gamers can enjoy.

2 more days to go to pick up the Dungeon World Bundle. It applies the Apocalypse World engine to old school dungeon crawling. If you pay enough to get the bonus titles, you can get Adventures on Dungeon Planet, which provides support for sword & planet adventures using Dungeon World.

5 days remain on the King Arthur Pendragon Bundle. Make you own knight or lady (or even lady knight) to adventure in the romantic world of King Arthur and earn your place at the Round Table. Bonus title The Great Pendragon Campaign includes over 100 adventures set before, during and after King Arthur's reign, weaving your characters into the vast tapestry that is Arthurian Legend.

Only 6 more days left on the Mutants & Masterminds 2e Bundle. If you love superheroes, this is a great value. The base collection includes not only the main rulebook and a beginners guide, but also a complete setting, from a complete city to patrol as a street-level hero to cosmic locales if you're a bit more Guardians of the Galaxy.

And of course, a portion of the proceeds for each one of these bundles is donated to two charities chosen by the participating publisher. Check each bundle's page to find out which charities your purchase will be supporting.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Happy Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday

First of all, an update on something that I mentioned in my last blog post. Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is now available for sale at Indie Press Revolution. And for those of you who would rather support your Friendly Local Gaming Store this holiday season, IPR also distributes games to stores all across the country and even a little bit beyond.

Also, YourGamesNow ceased operation this month. Both changes have been noted in the ordering links over on the right.

For those shopping via, enter the coupon code WQT32 at checkout and save 35% off your order. Hopefully, your order includes Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, which makes a great gift for the Oz fan or gamer in your life.

I'm not running any special sales myself this year. But that doesn't mean other people aren't. Although I was a bit distracted by other things the week or so before Thanksgiving (Hope you had a great one!) DriveThruRPG held their annual Teach Your Kids to Game sale, which featured AiO as well as a number of other games.

Watch this space during the month of December for something else exciting that other people are doing. Here's a hint:

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Happy Birthday To Me!

Yup. 36 years old as of today.

If it were any other day this month, I'd be trying to save my writing productivity for my NaGaDeMon project. But since it's my birthday, I'll be taking the day off from that. So I've got a few words to spare for the blog. And there are some things to share with you.

First of all, Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road will soon be available from Indie Press Revolution. The main delay at this moment is waiting for them to receive books that I'm having manufactured and shipped to them. If all goes well, everything should be ready to go by Black Friday/Cyber Monday.

Secondly, The Wizard's Magic Bag is almost ready for release. Writing, interior art, and layout are complete. I'm just waiting on cover art right now.

And what is my NaGaDeMon project? Well, it's not Beyond the Deadly Desert, as it's been the last few years. There's only so much I want to say about it right now, because A) It's actually not for me and B) I've made too many overly enthusiastic announcements via this blog and I'd rather wait until it's much closer to completion to make any kind of announcement.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Everyone seems to be talking about John Wick these days. If it's not his big blockbuster movie, it's his latest rant on RPGs.(Not the same guy, but it makes for a good joke) And since it is a rant, it's easy to agree with the broad strokes while still finding the devil in his details.

His core premise seems to be that RPGs are designed to tell stories. And while gamers may use that phrase as an excuse to complain about railroading or excessive focus on drama instead of action, I have little problem with it. Because the "story" in an RPG is about what comes out of play rather than necessarily what the Narrator had in mind when they wrote their notes.

But I do find problems with a number of the things he cites to support his point. His first problematic point is that weapon lists are stupid. Going so far as to include a few film clips, he argues that weapons don't matter if the character is bad-ass enough. Therefore, detailed variations between weapons are stupid because there's no way that your stats for a teacup are going to match what we saw Riddick do with it in the movie.

This argument is flawed for two reasons. Firstly, he's comparing films and games. Since the movie is called Chronicles of Riddick, Vin Diesel's character has an infinite amount of plot protection and access to plot devices. The scene was not intended to challenge the character in any way, but simply to give him a chance to show off.

Secondly, he claims that weapon lists do not help you tell stories. I will admit that there's little dramatic flair to poring over lists of numbers, whether or not those numbers are useful depends on the kind of story you're trying to tell. And if you decide to dismiss weapon lists or other details out of hand, you're actually limiting the kinds of stories you can tell.

Old School D&D, for example, is actually very concerned with logistics. I've once heard it said that if any film genre best approximates the D&D experience, it is the heist film. So knowing precisely what you are carrying and its potential usefulness on your current or next venture is very valuable. You can take a heavier weapon or armor down in to the dungeon with you, but there's the chance that it will slow you down and make it easier for monsters to catch you as well as the possibility that you'll be able to carry less treasure back to the surface with you.

I did not include weapon lists in Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road because weapons were not a big part of the stories I was trying to tell with the game. But to say that such details are not useful in any story is simply false.

Then he trots out the tired old "D&D is not an RPG" argument. Which is both an easy and a hard case to make. It's an easy case because D&D started out as a miniatures wargame and retains many of those features. But it's also a hard case to make since D&D is pretty much the father of the RPG hobby and industry as a whole.

(I'm feeling a desire to go into depth regarding the differences between "dramatic" roleplaying and "practical" roleplaying, but I think I'll save it for another blog post.)

His comments on game balance take a little parsing, but I am largely in agreement. He makes his initial point here clumsily, claiming that balance between players is important in a board game, and then claims that balance between the players is stupid in an RPG. As he goes on, his point does become clearer and this is the part that I agree with.

I'm not as allergic to the term "game balance" as he is, but I think his opinions about spotlight time are spot on. A properly balanced RPG is one that manages spotlight time effectively, giving each character and player time to shine.

I typically don't go as far as John does on removing mechanics that don't appeal to me. When I play a game, I prefer to get the full experience. Only once a rule has proven itself unworkable do I remove it. If the game has a mechanic I don't like, I will typically not run or play that game.

And I do tend to have a problem with people who remove social mechanics in order to "encourage roleplay." Because that sort of thing just creates roadblocks for players who are not smooth talkers, even if they want their character to be one. Social traits also make for an interesting trap for people who think their roleplay skills are all that.

There's a story out there, from John Wick amusingly enough, regarding the playtests for Legend of the Five Rings. One player had such faith in his roleplaying skills that he built his character for combat and got a few extra points for his combat traits by taking social flaws. The opening scene of the adventure required the characters to make a pitch for why they should represent their Clan on this mission of vital importance. Between a lack of investment in social skills and all of his negative social traits, this player failed to roll well enough and his character was not invited along on the adventure.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

RPGaDay #31 Favourite RPG Of All Time

Dammit! You're making me choose! Again! And again, I'm not gonna!

I have a large degree of respect for D&D. Without it, the RPG hobby and industry would not exist. I've played a good amount of it, both 3.x and Old School versions.

I very much like GURPS. As I've mentioned, it's been a big part of my life for a long time. If a campaign presented itself, I would gladly run it again.

I am quite proud of Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. It was my first publication and has been astoundingly well-received by gamers and Oz fans alike. I hope it will not be my last.

I love all the silly little indie games that find one thing to focus on and do that one thing well.

The game I love the most is the one I play with good friends.

That is all.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

RPGaDay #30 Rarest RPG Owned

This would have to be my first printing of the AD&D sourcebook Deities and Demigods. You know, the one with the Cthulhu and Melnibonean pantheons? It turns out that those were still under copyright at the time, so the books had to be recalled and reprinted without the unlicensed material.

You could probably also call Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road
pretty rare. Less than 200 copies are currently in print. Less than 500 total sales. Those numbers can certainly grow (and I hope they do), but they're certainly not a sign of taking the RPG industry by storm.

Friday, August 29, 2014

RPGaDay #29 Most Memorable Encounter

This would have to be Tina.

This was the megadungeon game responsible for both Ted and Kyle. Our halfling rogue got zapped with amnesia out of nowhere and in bursts this pixie who claims to be his wife and mother of his children insisting that he defend her from these intruders (presumably, the rest of the party). If it weren't for some clever roleplay, he might have sneak attacked the lot of us.

Tina eventually became one of our points of contact in the dungeon. If we needed info on anything going on in there, we turned to her. It wasn't until a while later that the DM revealed that Tina had started out as a randomly rolled encounter.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

RPGaDay #28 Scariest Game You've Played

I've already told my Ravenloft story, and that's as scary as I get. I've never played a deliberate horror game. I don't own Call of Cthulhu, though I do have a good selection of World of Darkness material. Never played it though.

I tried to run a NWOD mortals game, but it didn't go too well. There was a supernatural element to the game, but it never achieved anything like horror.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

RPGaDay #27 Game You'd Like To See A New/Improved Edition Of

Not many of those at the moment. Most games on my shelf are either actively supported, or niche enough that they work well enough for their niche and don't need much revising.

A couple of exceptions do exist however.

Star Trek. I would love to see an actively supported Star Trek RPG. I don't know that I'll get it though. The current film franchise is likely to be the dominant paradigm, and that has me somewhat less enthused.

Palladium. Back in the early 80's Palladium Books was an innovator in RPG design. But then the 90's came along and Palladium developed a mega-hit in their Rifts game. The problem with that is they've been milking that mega-hit pretty much ever since. Their other game lines got revised editions simply to make them more compatible with Rifts.

While the mechanics may have been awesome in the 80's and acceptable in the 90's, they're pretty atrocious by modern standards. While they may have beaten D&D to the punch with ascending Armor Class, there are other AD&D tropes that they have stubbornly adhered to. Like different experience tables for each class, and strict skill progressions. And lets not get into comparisons with non-D&D-based systems.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

RPGaDay #26 Coolest Character Sheet

The best character sheet, in my opinion, isn't just one that holds all the information I need about my character. It's one that helps me play the game.

Savage Worlds did something really clever with their character sheet. They put the wound level chart and spell point tracker along the edge of the paper. So instead of marking and erasing stuff that's going to change regularly over the session, you can mark your status by sliding a paperclip down the page.

Monday, August 25, 2014

RPGaDay #25 Favorite RPG That No One Wants To Play

All of them, really.

Because D&D is at the top of nearly everyone's mind when it comes to RPGs, it's the game that nearly everyone plays. It's usually fairly easy to get a D&D game started. But finding people who want to try out some other game is usually tougher.

So let's take a look at some of the games on my shelf that might be a tougher sell than the others.

IronClaw. The main turn-off here is that it's a "furry" RPG. By which I mean that your character options are anthropomorphic animals. But people love making unwarranted assumptions and poo-poo the game on the basis of that one word.

Having actually run the game, I really liked it. It was easy to run, fairly easy to play, and the setting was a very interesting take on pseudo-Europe. And nobody had sex.

I haven't had the opportunity to pick up the latest "Squaring the Circle" edition, but it's on my list.

Tibet. One of the more interesting games from Vajra Enterprises, a company that specializes in interesting subject matter. The setting is Tibet during the 1950's, when the Chinese takeover of the country occurred. But alongside this oppressive reality also exists the supernatural world as the Tibetans believe it to be. Karma is a real thing and can be used to power magical effects.

Between the exoticism of the setting and the brutal reality of the time period, I am not confident in my ability to find a group that can do this game proper justice.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

RPGaDay #24 Most Complicated RPG Owned

This is another one where you're probably expecting me to say GURPS, isn't it? Well, I'm not. And I have a couple of reasons why.

First of all, I think complexity in an RPG is subjective, at least to a degree. No one playing a game needs to know every rule. So no matter how thick an RPG book is nobody needs to know more than a few pages of rules at a time. Some games differ in where they put their complexity. For example, building a first level character in D&D is relatively simple. But as play progresses and the character gets new weapons, spells, powers and abilities, that character becomes more complicated. Since each new rule is introduced one at a time, the player feels that the game remains simple.

GURPS front loads its complexity, requiring you to juggle points and priorities as you build your character. But once the character enters play, the game is actually quite simple. Even if you get into GURPS Vehicles (which is not easy by a long shot), once you've done the cube roots and other obscure math to build a sailboat, you know everything you need to know about that sailboat and never need to do any of that math again.

Secondly, there are a couple games on my shelf that have it beat. I've mentioned Burning Wheel once or twice. That is a game you've really got to play to comprehend. I had to actually build a character to understand how the process worked. And there are functionally 3 different combat systems, as well as an involved social combat system, each with their own intricacies.

Another one worthy of mention is Arduin Eternal, a revival of the classic Arduin RPG. The mechanics are fairly simple. It's moved to percentile roll high, much like Rolemaster (which I do not include because I do not have it in my collection currently). But also like Rolemaster, character creation is a bear. Lots of lists and page flipping.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

RPGaDay #23 Coolest Looking RPG

This one's actually pretty easy. Castle Falkenstein.

While art and layout in RPG books have been continuing to improve over the years, it reached its peak in Castle Falkenstein. The original rulebook is a visual treat. The majority of the book is given over to the story of Tom Olam, who is something of an artist, that includes many drawings and painting supposedly done by him drawing from "life" in a fantastical realm. Every page, even those that are mostly text are clearly mean to be viewed as well as simply read.

While illustrations in modern gaming books are always improving, their inclusion is still just to break up the text. I can't think of any other game that has incorporated the illustrations so well and made them integral to the setting.

Friday, August 22, 2014

RPGaDay #22 Best Secondhand RPG Purchase

Secondhand games. The best friend of the gamer on a budget.

I already spent a post writing about my convention purchasing, which winds up including at least some secondhand vintage games every year. But there are some other things I could mention. Stuff I might not have gotten at a con that still felt like a score.

One item that we picked up in a local used bookstore was The Chronicles of Talislanta. Not strictly an RPG book, it's a travelogue describing the exotic lands of the continent of Talislanta. Although it would later get a full RPG treatment, and a reputation as the "Rasputin of RPGs" this book was the first description of the Talislanta setting. It is also what launched my wife's quest for all things Talislanta. There are a few things we still need, but the gap is closing every year. (Yes, I know I can get everything in PDF from, but I'm a big believer in physical books and the joy of having a thing.)

We also bought the Compleat Arduin at that same book store. While based on David Hargrave's original material, it was revised and compiled by Mark Schynert some time after Hargrave's death. It wasn't until this last year that I realized that Mark Schynert was the same guy who did a lot of the organizing for DunDraCon and I had met him and corresponded with him via email in that capacity. He even ran an Arduin game at DDC this year, but my wife wound up missing out because of her newly discovered allergies.

There are times when I consider the Dream Park RPG to really be my first insight into gaming. Probably about the time I was shopping for the copy of GURPS Horror for the girl who became my wife (I told that story earlier this month), I also found a copy of the Dream Park RPG on the used shelf at the game store. Flipping through it, I wound up reading my first "What is an RPG?" section. And my mind kind of rebelled against the idea that an RPG could be such a simple thing at its core. I didn't buy it that day, but that memory stuck in my brain until I was finally able to find another copy at another used book store. It's been a part of my collection ever since.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

RPGaDay #21 Favorite Licensed RPG

I've got a number of these on my shelf right now. I've got Star Wars and Star Trek. Superhero games licensed by Marvel and DC. Licensed games based on TV shows, like Red Dwarf, Battlestar Galactica, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Games based on book series, like the Dresden Files, GURPS Discworld, and Dream Park. I've even got RPGs that are licensed from other RPGs, with GURPS conversions of the old World of Darkness line, Castle Falkenstein, Deadlands and Blue Planet.

Although not technically licensed, I've even written my own RPG based on the Oz novels of L. Frank Baum. Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. The only Oz RPG mature enough to not feel the need to be so grown up.


I've been a Star Trek fan for as long as I can remember, so I've got nearly every Star Trek RPG (I've got all the major ones, but I hear there was an obscure one from the 70's that's probably impossible to find these days). My favorite Star Trek RPG would probably be the one from Last Unicorn Games published in the late 90's. The other games do specific parts of the setting better (The FASA RPG does bridge crew well, Prime Directive did "planet stories" in a way that made sense, and the Decipher game had strong starship combat mechanics), but I felt the LUG game line was most competent overall. Nothing really outstanding, but there was no point that I felt they dropped the ball.

Among the non-Star Trek games, my vote has to go to the Dresden Files RPG. I've been a big fan of the book series for some time, and it really shows that this game was created by fans as well. I've read some complaints about the in-character footnotes in the book, but I thought they were a clever way to let Harry Dresden's character come through in the book without making the book specifically about him.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

RPGaDay #20 Will Still Play in 20 Years Time

This one's a toughie.

It's always hard to make 20-year predictions. or even 5- or 10-year predictions. I'm going to start by assuming that my interest in gaming will not have diminished over the next 20 years. I will also assume that my financial situation will have improved so that I can buy more of the games I want and I can go to more cons. Maybe have kids that I can introduce to gaming, but that depends on having the financial ability to support them and convincing my wife.

My overall hope for my gaming career is to branch out and try new things. So what games will I be playing in 20 years? With any luck, games that are less than 20 years old.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

RPGaDay#19 Favorite Published Adventure

Overall, I have little use for published adventures. When I was just starting out, I really leaned on them. The fact that I had purchased adventures was what originally positioned me as DM for whatever friends wanted to play D&D. When I started running other games, one of my first criteria was that it be something that I had adventures for.

The first time I tried writing my own script was for Exalted. Technically, there was a book of adventures for Exalted, but it was really very loosely written and hard to use. Especially when compared to the more detailed adventures that had been written for other games. So even though it was my reason for putting Exalted on my list of games to run, I wound up not using it at all. The amazing thing, at least to my mind, is that my players had a good time using the material that I had written.

I still use published adventures for D&D games. Plots and such come fairly easy to me and D&D, with its rules for encounter balancing and treasure placement, feels like more baggage and work than any other system requires of me when writing an adventure. Combined with the ready availability of adventures for that system in its various incarnations, it is far easier to use a published adventure than to write my own.

But in terms of picking a favorite, I think long-time readers know my picks.

The Castle of the Mad Archmage from BRW Games. Not a single adventure, but an entire campaign worth of things to do.

The Jaded City of Oz, the sample adventure in Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. It doesn't create a sets of hoops to jump through, but instead provides an amusing set of scenarios to explore.

Monday, August 18, 2014

RPGaDay #18 Favorite Game System

You guys probably think I'm going to say GURPS here, don't you?

And it's a fair assessment. GURPS is where I got my start. I've run a lot of GURPS over the years, and the GURPS section of my gaming shelf is second only to my d20/D&D collection (my wife's preferred system).

But is it my favorite system? Yes and no.

One of the things I've learned about myself over the course of my gaming career is that I am a system nut. Even though I have not played every system on my shelf, I have given all of them a thorough read through until I understood the basics of each one. How the game meshed system and setting, how it managed genre emulation, or even how poorly it managed these things.

So there are things I will do in GURPS. There are also things for which GURPS is a terrible fit. And I have enough other systems that are a great fit for those concepts. Though maybe one or two more wouldn't hurt...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

RPGaDay #17 Funniest Game You've Ever Played

There are very few comedy games on my shelf at the moment. A quick survey shows 3: Stuperpowers, Red Dwarf, and Pandemonium: Adventures in Tabloid World. Of the 3, I have only played 1. I recall quite some time ago running a quick one-shot with the sample adventures in the book. It was amusing, but very little sticks in my brain. Other than the fact that someone actually found a use for the power to turn 1 city block into Amish country.

A few years ago at DunDraCon, I got to play in a Spaceballs game, where I got to play Mel Brooks' Yoda-like character of Yogurt. The plot revolved around the fact that Pizza the Hut led a secret life as a stripper at a place called Gals, Guys and Otherwise. His death as described in the original film left not only a leadership gap in his crime ring, but also left certain elements of his (er, her) stripper obligations unresolved.

The system they used felt a little clunky, but workable. It was the GM who really sold the scenario. She really knew her stuff and was able to improvise quite well. A day you can hit a bad guy upside the head with Spaceballs: The Frying Pan is a good day indeed.

The most amusing scenario I've ever run of my own creation would have to be during my Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road playtest. I placed a hidden ninja village in the Munchkin Country. The characters were initially attacked by a group of Kawasaki ninjas, but then got tied up in the conflict between the Foot Clan and the Hand Ninjas. (For the true nerds out there, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics were intended as a parody of Frank Miller's excessive grittiness. The Turtle's origin was tied in to Daredevil's, so the Turtle's enemy the Foot Clan were a mirror to the Hand Ninjas that plagued Daredevil.)

One of my favorite jokes of the scenario was the fact that ninjas were not necessarily masters of stealth. Instead, the people of the village were trained to ignore anyone in ninja pajamas as if they weren't there.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

RPGaDay #16: Game You Wish You Owned

Another big list here. Even though I have the biggest collection of game among all my friends, I still want more.

I'd love to have a copy of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. I have the old Time Lord RPG which covers the classic series, but I would like to have something that covers the new show as well.

There are those who would say I should turn in my nerd card for not having any edition of Call of Cthulhu.

I'd love a mecha RPG with a decent, approachable mech construction system. Any recommendations?

I'm sure there's a lot slipping my mind right now. If you gave me the run of a game store or convention dealer's room with an unlimited budget, I'm sure I would come back with mighty stacks. Probably not everything. I don't think I could break my choosiness habits. But it would be a mighty stack, I'm sure.

Friday, August 15, 2014

RPGaDay #15 Favourite Convention Game

I try to play in at least one game every time I go to DunDraCon. It can be hard to find one, since I am rather choosy. Coupled with the fact that my schedule also gets taken up with running my own game, trying to sit on a few seminars, and having time to cruise the Dealers Room and the Buyer's Bazaar, one is usually all I get.

I generally avoid the D&D games. I generally prefer non-fantasy games and supporting systems that don't get a lot of play or that I haven't tried before. There is one GM who regularly runs GURPS games, so I've tried to get into his games when I can.

Though I must say that my favorite convention game was actually one that I played this year. It was the Mythos Trek game. Although the system was ostensibly Chaosium's Basic Role Playing system, the GM ran the game very loosely. Good, cool, or funny ideas typically had a very good chance of success. Coupled with the GM awarding "Cool Points" good for free rerolls if you could make him laugh, there wasn't a lot of tension regarding whether or not we would succeed at anything we were assigned to do. So most of the game was about exactly how we were going to accomplish our missions. And with all of the sci-fi nerds that signed up for this, we had a lot of fun coming up with ways to reconfigure the deflector array to augment the spin of the graviton matrix and other such silliness.

There was a lot of humor and lots of opportunities to strut my Star Trek geek stuff. Best convention game ever.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

RPGaDay #14 Best Convention Purchase

This one's a toughie. As I've mentioned, I do most of my game shopping at conventions these days.

I could talk about the joys of discovering old GURPS sourcebooks, like the licensed GURPS Conan and GURPS The Prisoner.

Or the times I was able to pick up some bit of new hotness, like Spirit of the Century, Diaspora, or Monsterhearts.

Or the random and vintage, like the original Castle Falkenstein. I've had the GURPS adaptation for years (by the end of this month, you'll probably be sick and tired of me talking about GURPS), but the original rulebook with its card-based rules, and a couple of supplements, were finds in the Buyer's Bazaar.

Along with most of my vintage Talislanta collection. My wife insisted on buying the Fourth edition when it was new (she lovingly calls it "The Big Blue Brick"), but it wasn't until we started shopping at DunDraCon that we found books for the older editions. We even bought the only Tal4 supplement, Midnight Realm, at DDC.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

RPGaDay #13 Most Memorable Character Death

With my own limited opportunities to run a character rather than a campaign, and the issues that cause all campaigns to run shorter than intended, I have only experienced one character death.

He was named Kyle, a Human Cleric of Pelor. This was the first character I played in the megadungeon campaign that led to Ted, Avenger of Kord (I told his story a few days ago). Since it was a megadungeon, I decided I was going to play my character "Old School" style. He got no characterization or backstory at the beginning, but would grow in depth as play progressed and we learned things and made decisions. Also, even though we were playing D&D 3.5, I would put no ranks in the Search or Spot skills, relying on description to make my "search checks."

This last bit turned out to be Kyle's undoing. The player who usually played the party rogue was out, so there was no one to play it safe, rolling dice for searching for traps and picking locks. So Kyle readily volunteered for scouting duty.

We encountered a large double door. Our first step was to check whether or not it was locked. Since I had no Search skill, the DM asked me ho I was going to check the door. I said, "I'm going to rattle the knob and see if it opens." The door was unlocked, but it was also the only thing between Kyle and a half-white-dragon cryohydra (one of the things we learned fairly quickly about this dungeon was that there was a white dragon somewhere that really liked to get busy with nearly any other creature it could find), which had manage to hear Kyle rattling his doorknob. So when we opened the door, Kyle took a face full of ice breath. I don't recall if he made his saving through, but it was enough damage to do him in, in any case.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

RPGaDay #12 Old RPG You Still Play/Read

I'm probably going to disappoint a number of people with this one. Since I didn't really start collecting game books with any seriousness until the 21st century, the majority of my collection is from the 90's and 00's.

While running the original Castle of the Mad Archmage, I used OSRIC for my ruleset, but the monster section didn't have all the monsters that were used in the dungeon. Thankfully, I had copies of the original AD&D Monster Manual II and Fiend Folio to help round things out. Now that Joe has Adventures Dark & Deep out and a version of CotMA that uses it, I don't I'll have to look past the AD&D Bestiary for my dungeoneering needs.

In terms of recreational reading, I've been reading in the 90's. I mentioned a little bit ago that I have been contemplating a Star Trek campaign, so I dug out my Last Unicorn Games Star Trek RPG which came out in the very late 90's. To bone up on NPCs, I took a look at GURPS Supporting Cast (I mentioned I had a lot of GURPS books), which is copyright 1993.

Though I did see my wife peeking through the Compleat Arduin the other day, which is also 1993.

Monday, August 11, 2014

RPGaDay #11 Weirdest RPG Owned

I've got a couple of weird ones. It's hard to say exactly which one is the weirdest.

I've mentioned Talislanta before. It's a very non-traditional setting, frequently promoting itself with the tagline "No Elves."

GURPS Fantasy II: The Mad Lands is another one that throws off much of traditional fantasy in favor of weirdness. But in this case, it's a pretty scary weirdness rather than the exotic weirdness of Talislanta. Including Elder Gods based off of Winnie the Pooh and his friends.

Both Rifts and Gamma World scratch any "post apocalyptic gonzo" itch I might have. I've got one of the books from the Second Edition Gamma World, the rulebook for Fourth Edition, as well as the Fifth Edition (Alternity) rulebook. I even have the Omega World issue of Polyhedron.

And then there are the game concepts that are totally out of left field. Like Pandemonium: Adventures in Tabloid World. You play tabloid reporters in a world where you are the only ones willing to tell the truth. The random scenario generator is probably the best bit of the whole thing.

Castle Falkenstein has a number of interesting features, aside from being one of the first Steampunk RPGs. The setting is presented largely via lovingly illustrated game fiction about Tom Olam, a man from the real world who got pulled into a world of magic and pageantry. It's even suggested that the game itself was designed by Olam and played in the setting. Cards are used instead of dice because dice are for gambling, and therefore inappropriate in the setting's high society.

GURPS Illuminati University is a comedy setting featuring a university where anything goes. Sort of a slightly more mature Teenagers From Outer Space. But only slightly. All of GURPS setting and genre books are encouraged for mashing together in truly comedic fashion. There are setting in-jokes for everyone, from Tolkien geeks to Doctor Who fans.

The Ghost Dog Roleplaying Game and Resource Book is probably the oddest thing I've ever come across. Published by Guardians of Order, it naturally uses their Tri-Stat system. Amusingly enough, this is the same system used by all of their anime sourcebooks, like their Sailor Moon RPG (which is also on my shelf).

I've seen the movie that this game is based on, and enjoyed it, but it didn't scream RPG to me. There are no dangling plot threads, or deep, rich setting. The film is heavy on symbolism and metaphor, which are very difficult things to implement in an RPG. And with most of the characters dead at the end of the film, it felt like there were very few places to go with it.

It's not deliberately funny or weird. Just a real odd duck.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

RPGaDay #10 Favorite Tie-in Novel/Game Fiction

I've never really been attracted to the idea of game fiction. Part of the problem is that I'm not a big fantasy reader, and most game fiction is published in that genre. I know there are some sci-fi games out there that might have accompanying game fiction, and I might look those up at some point.

The other problem is the fear that the novel is actually the write-up of someone's home campaign. Between meticulously detailed descriptions that make you hear the dice clattering in your mind, and stuff that worked great at the table, but is boring or anti-climactic when it becomes prose.

I tried to read the Avatar Trilogy (a trilogy of Forgotten Realms tie-in novels), and couldn't make it a third of the way through the first book.

I did find myself enjoying The Worldwound Gambit by Robin Laws. I knew his reputation as a game designer and game writer, but I wasn't sure how he's do at fiction. It turns out he actually did pretty good. I never heard the dice roll, though I was able to identify other game-related elements, like figuring out the classes of each character.

I also made a point of tracking down a novel called Curse of the Shadow Beast by Christine Morgan. It first came to my attention as a bit of GURPS game fiction. It was a novelization of the author's GURPS fantasy campaign. As she was writing, she was afraid that too many GURPS-isms were peaking through, so she sent it to Steve Jackson Games for approval. Steve Jackson was apparently impressed enough that he wrote a foreword to the book praising it. It does not use any GURPS logos or trade dress, probably because it does not use the default GURPS Fantasy setting, Yrth.

And while it was a transcript of a campaign, it avoided most of the fatal flaws of such things. The battle scenes did not receive excessive detail. It also seemed written from the perspective of one of the PCs rather than the GM. The main flaw of the book is that it seems divided into two sections. One is the gaming transcript, which includes a modestly sized adventuring party. The other half focuses on two of the characters and reads like a romance novel.

This first outing apparently resulted in a trilogy. And then another trilogy. The first book made me interested to read the rest, though mostly out of curiosity regarding how she developed as a writer after this.

But other than this, if I read a book that has a game associated with it, it is a book that inspired the game. Even if I pick up the game first.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

RPGaDay #9 Favorite Die/Dice Set

This is my favorite dice set. It's the dice set I've managed to keep together the longest. I actually bought it back at DunDraCon back in 2009. Most of the time, I never expect my dice sets to stay together. Eventually, you drop one somewhere and never get it back. There are always other dice, but now the set is incomplete. Not this one. It's held together for over 5 years now.

I call it my "Emerald City" set. It's got green marbled coloring with gold numbers, so Emerald City seemed like a good name for it. And just in case I needed a backup, I've looked in the Chessex booth at DDC every year, but they never seem to have the right kind of marbling. Green and gold, yes. But just not quite right.

They're currently held, and displayed, in a dice vault which was given to me by my brother this last Christmas. He also got one for my wife. My family is awesome.

I also have a d30 hiding around somewhere that I seem to recall as the first gaming die I ever bought. I had just discovered The Last Grenadier game store in Burbank. Even though I had less than a dollar to my name at the time, I wanted to buy something to compensate for all the time I had spent in there that day. So I glanced over the loose dice and saw a really cool-looking one with 30 sides. I didn't know what it was used for. To be honest, I didn't know what any of them were used for. But it looked cool and it as less than a dollar, so I bought it.

Friday, August 8, 2014

RPGaDay #8: Favorite Character

I'm guessing that this one is asking about my favorite character to have created and played, rather than setting NPCs and background characters.

With all the time I've spent as a GM over the years, the number of characters I've played is rather small. The ones I've been able to play for any length of time is an even smaller list.

Let's start with Konrad. He was the first D&D character I played, back when Third Edition came out. He was a barbarian. The fact that he came out with the name "Konrad the Barbarian" was completely unintentional.

The DM let every character start with a minor magic item, randomly determined. Konrad got a +1 undead bane warhammer. I decided this was a family heirloom and his barbarian tribe was totally into smashing zombies and such.

Then the DM decided to run us through the classic module Ravenloft. One of the features of this module was a fortune telling scene in the beginning that had a number of effects on the events to come. One of these was predicting that one of the party members had the Sunsword needed to kill the powerful vampire lord at the heart of Castle Ravenloft. It turns out that this was Konrad. But since Konrad didn't have a sword, it turns out his warhammer was able to become the prophesied weapon. Just pull this flange and turn that knob and suddenly it's a blazing sword!

Konrad's response to this? "Stupid broken hammer! You made it not hammer anymore!"

And then there was Ted. A friend of mine wanted to try out this megadungeon that he had written, so we got a group together. After my first character in that campaign had died (whose story I will recount later this month), I made Ted, Avenger of Kord.

My initial threat was that my replacement character was going to be a paladin with the Vow of Poverty feat from the Book of Exalted Deeds. Some of the other players are more into optimizing than I am, so there was some discussion about how overpowered the feat was. It actually is pretty powerful, mostly because it requires you to give up on ever getting magic armor and weapons that are pretty much essential for survival at higher levels. But it was suggested that a paladin would be able to get away with it, because paladins, like most fighter classes, are more dependent upon weapons and armor than other classes. So that's when I made my decision.

Though when it finally happened and it was time to roll him up, the rest of the players were unsure if they wanted lawful goodness in the party. So I turned to my back issues of Dragon Magazine and found a variant paladin called an Avenger that was required to be chaotic good rather than lawful good.

I decided on the patron deity of Kord because my previous character, who was a cleric of another deity, had made fun of a small temple of Kord we had discovered in the dungeon. Kord was technically a god of strength and athleticism, but my previous character instead decided that Kord was the god of carnival games. And I chose the name Ted for the character because of the superhero Blue Beetle, who's real name was Ted Kord. I knew the DM was a comic book nerd, and figured I'd try to score some points while I was at it.

Since paladins need a lot of scores high (Strength for hitting, Wisdom for spell-casting, Charisma for healing and turning. Consitution for hit points), I actually had to make some tough calls. One of them was dump-statting Strength. Even though I just said it was pretty core, something had to give. And since the Vow of Poverty feat gave stat bumps among the many other abilities, I figured that would be a kind of cool "character arc." Watching the weakling turn buff as he progressed along the path of Kord.

The funny thing is, even with that terrible Strength score (I don't think he had gotten it above 10 by the time the campaign fell apart), he was an athletic powerhouse. Whenever I had to roll for him to do something physical, it nearly always succeeded.

At one point, we had encountered a spiked floor trap in the dungeon. If you stepped on the wrong tile, spikes would come out of the floor to impale you. But it turned out that the wrong tiles were pretty easy to avoid. So Ted decided that he was going to jump over the entire trapped section of floor in one go. He had no Jump skill, and a Strength penalty. With the distance that needed to be jumped and the distance of any possible running start, I needed to roll a 20 on the 20-sided die. Guess what I rolled?

Another time, Ted was called upon to compete in a triathlon in order to prove the power of his faith and his god. Again, no Strength and no skill, but the dice came to my aid and he won the entire triathlon, gaining a number of converts to his faith.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

RPGaDay #7 Most "Intellectual" RPG Owned

This would probably be my GURPS collection. From the math intensive GURPS Vehicles to the thoroughly researched historical sourcebooks, GURPS is probably one of the most intellectual RPGs out there. I've got over 100 GURPS books on my shelf, both 3e and 4e.

One of the big strengths of GURPS sourcebooks is that they make up as little as possible. Rather than presenting a quasi-historical setting or a mostly historical setting (with added awesome) Steve Jackson Games spends most of the book giving you the straight history in an accessible and game-able way. Only once you've got the facts of the situation do they introduce tweaks to make it more fantastical or pulpy or whatever genre you like.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

RPGaDay #6 Favorite RPG I Never Get To Play

Watch out, because this is a pretty long list. I've got a lot of games on my shelf and most of them have not been played. And since I am pretty much a career GM, I'm not going to complain about not being able to actually play in any of them.

Fate is probably my big one right now. I bought the Dresden Files RPG since I was a fan of the novels. Diaspora is a cool sci-fi implementation of Fate that feels detailed while still keeping things approachable. I picked up the Fate Core rulebook and the System Toolkit at DunDraCon as well as enough Fate dice to make sure my friends had some if they ever wanted to play.

Burning Wheel has been on my list for a long time, but I still haven't been able to give it a try. The rules feel very heavy and dense and flavorful and I want to see how they actually work one of these days.

Spaceship Zero also looks like it would be lots of fun. It's a pulp sci-fi setting with lots of Cthulhu and Mythos references. I'm not as big of a Mythos fan as some people, but I know some people who would probably get a kick out of it. Even without knowing all of that stuff, it's got a great 50's era B-movie feel that I like.

And those are just the games that I've never played. There are a number of games that I have played that I haven't played in far too long and that I recall being quite fun.

D20 Modern was fun. The only problem was that advancement was quite slow. Rather than dungeon crawls with monsters in every room, fights (the primary way to advance in d20) were more sparse and had to be worked into the plot. I think I only had one player make it to level 2, even though I ran that game for a couple of months.

I ran a number of Exalted games back in First edition. I have all but one of the books for that edition. I do have a copy of the Second edition, but I haven't given it a go. There is apparently a Third edition in the works. We'll see if I'm able to pick up on this again.

Another great first edition that seems to have moved on was Cartoon Action Hour. I ran a campaign of first edition using a homebrewed setting that was a lot of fun, as well as my "Transformers: Attack of the Retcons" convention adventure. I even did writeups of the Transformers characters that converted the stats from the back of the toy package into CAH stats. They did a CAH: Season 2, and now I believe they're up to Season 3 now. I'm getting behind on so much stuff!

Maybe I'll dust off my New World of Darkness books and give them a go one more time. Or give the Palladium system the old college try (even though I've never been to college).

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

RPGaDay #5: Most Old School RPG owned

I didn't start gaming until the 21st Century, so I don't have a lot of Old School material. There are some AD&D books on the shelf, but mostly Planescape and monster books. I believe they are my wife's contribution to the collection. She's also the one who wanted to pick up The Compleat Arduin two-volume set and every Talislanta book we can find. So we've got the 1st through 4th editions of that game, as well as a number of supplements.

Also from Bard Games, I've got the Arcanum fantasy roleplaying rules as well as the Bestiary. Unfortunately, we were unable to find the third book in that set, which is a setting book detailing the island of Atlantis. A friend of mine does have that book, but not the others. I think we are now waiting for the other to die or stop gaming so we can pick up the items we're missing to complete the set.

From the OSR, I've got a copy of OSRIC, as well as the Adventures Dark & Deep ruleset. I also have the Castle of the Mad Archmage megadungeon, which led to a nice 3-year-long campaign.

Monday, August 4, 2014

RPGaDay #4 Most Recent RPG Purchase

Unfortunately, my money situation usually means that I do very little game buying over the year. Which is why I make a point of having a sizable "souvenir" budget every year at DunDraCon. So my most recent purchases have already been posted here.

Though my wife is a big Pathfinder fan and insisted that we subscribe to the hardcover rulebooks. She's probably prefer if we took every subscription they offered and got their entire output as it was released, but money is an issue. So we've got the Advanced Class Guide coming in the mail sometime this month.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

#RPGaDay #1-3

The last few months have been kind of a doldrums for me, which is why I haven't been posting regularly. But hopefully, getting back to posting will help me get back to my old self and get some other things moving. So I decided to participate in the RPGaDay blogfest

I'm doing the first 3 posts as 1 today for a couple of reasons. First of all, I'm starting late. Secondly, events did not take place in an orderly fashion, so I think I'd rather present them in chronological order rather than blogfest order.

#3 First RPG purchased

The first RPG book I ever purchased would be GURPS Horror, First edition (Stapled binding, Brom art on the cover) back in 1998. A pretty girl (who later became my wife) had shown me her copy of GURPS Wild Cards and I wanted to get her something nice. When I saw a used copy of GURPS Horror at the local game shop for a price I could afford (3-4 dollars, I want to say), I thought it would make a good gift. They were both GURPS, right?

It wasn't until I presented her with the gift that she explained that she had the Wild Cards book because she was a fan of the novel series. The game book was a good reference to the series and she had no real idea or interest in the precise meaning of the game stats presented for the novel characters. (She did wind up loaning me some of the novels to read. Good stuff.)

I was kind of hooked, though. I had to solve the mystery of exactly what a Strength score was and exactly how this sort of game was played. Over the next year, with whatever I could save up, I wound up getting the GURPS Basic Set (so if this was supposed to be about my first core rulebook or basic set, there you go) and a few other books.

Which leads me to...

#1 First RPG played

Amusingly enough, it was Rolemaster. Looking up GURPS resources on the internet I found a website done by a guy who ran a GURPS game not far from where my girl and I were living back in 1999. He listed an email address, so I dropped him a note. It turns out he had just finished up a GURPS campaign and his players decided they wanted to give Rolemaster a try.

With no real knowledge, but a healthy dose of enthusiasm, I asked if I could join the campaign. He consented, but since I had no clue about the system, he wanted to generate my character before I got there. Apparently, the process of Rolemaster character creation is complex enough that a spreadsheet was used to streamline the process.

The GM decided to do a Rolemaster conversion of the Temple of Elemental Evil.

I seem to recall only a few sessions of that game coming to pass. I think I wound up dropping out because of transportation reasons. I either had to leave early to catch the bus or pay through the nose for a cab after each session.

And now...

#2 First RPG Gamemastered

Since the last 2 covered the years of 1998 and 1999, we now come to the year 2000. The first RPG I ever ran was D&D 3rd edition, which was new out that year.

I bought the books because they were well designed and well priced. I had been in the habit of picking up a $20 GURPS softcover supplement on my pay days, so $20 for a lovely hardcover book was a brilliant deal.

My first long-term campaign as a player was D&D 3e at about this time. But not all of my D&D-interested friends were playing in that campaign, and some people who were playing were also interested in doing another campaign. But since every campaign needs a DM, that had to be somebody. I think I had started picking up Dungeon Magazine by this time, so I figured I had the resources to DM if nobody else had a brilliant campaign idea.

It was clumsy and awkward and a learning experience for all involved. I've gotten better, but I don't think I'm up with the Greats yet.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Year of Pay What You Want

It was a year ago in June that I first set up Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road as PWYW over on RPGnow and DriveThruRPG. I talked a little about my initial results back then, but what does it look like a year out?

Rather interesting, really. Because in spite of the sort of wacky, crazy experiment that it was, I wound up with a control of sorts. With how OneBookShelf set up their PWYW option, AiO wound up with 2 entries in their catalog: One was a PWYW PDF and the other was a set price PDF with a print option.

So which is better? Well, it depends. My Pay What You Want entry has received far more activity in terms of free downloads and even paying customers (486 people have downloaded it, and 82 people payed anything for it, compared to only 38 customers over the last year who paid for the regular priced product). But overall, the regular priced purchasers brought in more money (PWYW only brought in $219.55 over the year, while regular purchasers paid a total of $259.19)

Because, of course, when people are allowed to set their own price, they will almost invariably set it low. The average price paid over the first year was $2.74, (the product page shows an average price of $2.68 right now) with some paying as low as a penny or a nickel, while one kind and generous customer recently set the high price at $13.98. Factoring in all of the "free" purchases, the average price paid drops to a mere $0.46.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Shaking some things loose

If you haven't noticed yet, you don't have to be on Google+ to comment on this blog anymore. It will still be posted over on my Google+ feed, but it will also allow people who do not worship the glow cloud that is Google to chime in with their supportive comments.

I seem to have overslept L. Frank Baum's birthday, which was last Thursday. He would have been 158. Jared Davis over at the Royal Blog of Oz, did his annual tribute with a performance of one of the Little Wizard Stories, The Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger. It also marked the 4th anniversary of my initial release of Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road over at

My regular gaming group sort of fell apart about 2 months ago. I had two players back out, but since they were transportation for a third player, that meant 3 lost players out of 5. So the two that are remaining are typically not brave enough to keep plundering the deeper dungeons under the Castle of the Mad Archmage at their current strength. And one is only an intermittent player, so that party strength waxes and wanes pretty strongly. I've tried recruiting new players, with limited success. The bad news is that I have not run a session since those players left, but the good news is that I still have something of a game night. Mostly Munchkin and Zombie Dice, with a few other games that we convince each other to try out. I've been threatened with Risk a few times, though that has yet to happen.

Even if the whole thing fully implodes and I never run an session of this campaign again, it will still be the longest campaign I've ever run. It started back in May, 2011. Most campaigns I've run prior to this tended to last 3-4 months. We play through a story arc, a single large-ish villainous plot, then pick up another game, and run another campaign with another story arc, rinse and repeat. I've tried to push past that barrier a couple of times, but it has never worked for me. It's easier to kill the campaign in its prime than watch it wither away.

So what will I do now?

1) Try to keep the campaign going? I could. I could find more players, try to get things started up again. and just keep going. But on the other hand, my impressive shelf of games is not getting the try-outs that it did under my previous habits.

Another problem is that I'm realizing a couple of things that I should have done early on in the campaign, like build out the world beyond the dungeon or restock the dungeon behind them. In the early days of the campaign, I wasn't sure how long it would go on. By the time it became an established thing, other pieces of my life were becoming less established and it became harder to find the energy to do that sort of thing (and a lot of other things, like blog regularly).

2) Run something else? This is something that's been gnawing at me for a while. I've been thinking of a sci-fi game, maybe Star Trek or Diaspora, since the last 3 years have been heavy on fantasy for me. I've also been thinking of Monsterhearts, since one of the things I want to get better at as a GM is "going small," establishing character and setting by getting into those quiet moments when they're not having big awesome adventures. And since Monsterhearts is about being very small and petty, it seems like a good training ground. Or the Dresden Files RPG, since I've been a fan of those books for some time and I've been meaning to give Fate a test drive.

But at the same time, the experience of running a long term game has given me some insight into what is needed to make a long term game successful. Which means a lot more thought and effort than I've put into anything I've done prior. Even the current campaign. And with the life-stupid keeping me down, I'm not sure when I'll be able to get out of that rut.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Questions Answered, Questions Asked

Looking over my last post, I can't help but wonder: Did I just discover a design flaw?

On the one hand, it does all hold to the same logic. Bigger things are easier to hit but harder to damage, and smaller things are harder to hit but easier to damage. But on the other hand, in order to apply that logic consistently, it makes the game rules inconsistent. Certain actions take size modifiers, but other, related actions do not.

I could ignore it. AiO has been on the market for 4 years now and it's only now that this has even come up. I've gotten stronger criticism regarding the magic system (which actually did have a flaw, which I have made the effort to fix). Perhaps all of the people running the game out there haven't done many adventures dealing with creatures and characters with vastly different Sizes. Or perhaps they ignored the rules, or at least their implications. It's a light, loose system, anyway. Ignoring one rule isn't going to break the whole thing.

But if I thought like that, I'd be no better than '90's era White Wolf.

Since 2 maneuvers are impacted and they each work differently, this is going to take 2 fixes.

The change I'm thinking of to fix Painful Strikes is a change I really don't want to make. I really wanted flat, non-twink-able damage values to break combat-focused players out of their comfort zone. Also, as a long-time Game Master, I've lived in fear of having my big bad boss monsters go down in a round or two thanks to lucky damage rolls and critical hits.

But I must be brave, because I must separate attack and damage to allow both of them to have separate influences from Size.

So when a larger character attacks a smaller character, they do Wits damage equal to the Size difference between the two characters (minimum 1). So Jim the Cab-horse (Size 4) would do 2 points of damage if he was kicking a wolf (Size 2), but only 1 point of damage if he was facing off against a Nome (Size 3) or if the Hungry Tiger (Size 4) got a little too hungry.

Optionally, an attack that did more Wits damage than the character had remaining Wits would convert the excess damage into bonuses on a Hit Location roll to see which limb got crushed in the assault. This would, naturally apply only to instances where the attack would do multiple points of Wits damage

Though when a smaller character attacks a larger character, there's a possibility that damage may not happen at all. If your foe is more than one Size larger than you (maybe 2. I haven't quite decided), you will only do your 1 point of Wits damage on a special success. Though since you will be getting a Size bonus to hit, that will increase your chance of special success. Just not as much as your basic chance of success.

In the case of Knockdown attacks, my thought is to have them resisted by Size rather than Athletics. No Size modifier to hit, but your challenge is not hitting, but moving him. I'm half tempted to find some way for Athletics to be a factor (so an Athletics 1, Size 5 giant is more of a pushover than an Athletics 5, Size 5 giant), but I'm not sure how to do it without adding more complicated math. And before you mention it, I don't see a problem with having giants roll against a 5 to Knockdown other giants. It's called the Cube-Square Law.

What do you think? Do you think these fixes would work? Are the problems worth fixing? Have you already fixed them yourself? Do you use any other house rules when playing AiO? Heck, is there something you've wanted to see in AiO that didn't make the cut?

With the combat fixes, as well as the Transmutation hack, I'm half wondering if an AiO Revised should be in the works. I don't think that enough changes really need to be made to make it a Second Edition. Just a Revised.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Size of the Dog in the Fight

Hello everyone. Yes, I'm still here and posting from time to time. And this time, I'm actually going to talk about Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road.

I recently had a conversation over Facebook with a fan of the game who wanted a little clarification on some things. It led to an interesting discussion and I'm going to share some of these clarifications with you all.

The big question that led to the most discussion was "Exactly what is the impact of Size on combat?"

It seems simple, right? Bigger things are easier to hit, so relative Size should add a bonus to hit the bigger thing, or a penalty to hit the smaller thing. I say something exactly like that in the book itself (the example on page 25 of the print version).

But then this fan pointed out that, due to the way the system handles damage, attack and damage are functionally tied together. So when you roll to make a Painful Strike, the roll not only determines whether or not you hit, but if your hit was hard enough to inflict the point of Wits damage. And while it may be easier to hit something that's bigger than you, the Size difference also means that you're going to have a harder time making that impact meaningful.

So Painful Strikes and Knockdowns do not receive modifiers based on the Size difference, but Grapples and Injuring Strikes do receive Size modifiers.

But why?

Because both maneuvers separate the linkage between attack and damage. When you attack with an Injuring Strike, you then make another roll on the Injury Table on page 30, much like making a damage roll in other RPGs. Since the damage roll is separate from the attack roll, and the damage roll receives Size modifiers, it makes sense that Injuring Strike attack rolls receive Size modifiers the other way around. Big things are easier to hit, but harder to damage, while smaller things are harder to hit and easier to damage.

The way grapples work, I think it's also fair to allow Size modifiers to apply to them. The roll to grapple is primarily a "to hit" roll. The primary effect of a grapple is Size-based. The grapple follow-up actions (Pin and Throw) are the "damage" effects.

To make things a little clearer, let's throw in some examples. Let's say that Toto (a very cute Size 1 dog) has discovered a Nome scout (Size 3) sizing up Oz for invasion. The Size difference between the two combatants is 2 (3-1).

Toto attempts a Painful Strike, chomping at the Nome's heel. The Nome is bigger than Toto, but Toto's small jaws mean that he'll have a hard time biting hard enough to make the Nome yelp. The two factors cancel out and there is no Size modifier to Toto's attack roll.

The Nome sees that he's been spotted and whips out his diamond-edged sword to chop poor Toto in half with an Injuring Strike! The Nome's attack roll is at -2 because of the relative Size difference, but if he were to hit, he would get +4 on his roll on the Injury Table.

Toto then tries a Knockdown maneuver, running around and between the Nome's legs to try and trip him. Reaching the Nome's legs is not a problem, but upsetting his balance is fairly tricky. No Size modifier.

Worrying that all of this scuffling is going to draw unwanted attention, the Nome then attempts to pick up Toto and run away with him. This is resolved as a grapple. The Nome suffers a -2 penalty to the attack roll due to Size difference. Once successful, the Nome inflicts a -3 penalty (equal to his Size) to all of Toto's Athletics rolls.

Do you have any questions about the setting or the system used in Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Countering the Scry and Fry

While a goodly portion of my gaming life has not necessarily involved dungeons or dragons, I still try to keep up with things in that corner of the hobby. That's where I found this.

For those who don't like following links, the article describes a tactic known as "Scry and fry," in which the players use divination magic to locate the dungeon's "boss" and then cast another spell to teleport the party directly to the "boss battle" without going through the rest of the dungeon.

My initial response was to defend the tactic because 1) it is a valid use of those spells and 2) as I said in my comment on that page, a lot of the negative reaction I saw was DM's trying to require that the players go through their dungeon before getting to the boss battle and it really felt like a parent encouraging their children to eat their lima beans before they get dessert. Though on further reflection, I do understand the idea of players using it as a "cheat code" rather than simply a "fast forward".

While the owner of that blog has suggested that creating dungeons that aren't "lima beans" has gone on his list of future articles, I thought I'd share some thoughts on the subject as well.

First of all, the "scry and fry" tactic makes a number of assumptions that are fairly easy to upset. I think a case could be made that if "scry and fry" actually defeats your dungeon, you are a very lazy dungeon creator.

1) There is a "boss": While antagonism and conflict are important to any story, making your antagonist a single, powerful individual is just one possibility. It could be a group, or even an entire organization. The party could find itself in conflict with the forces of nature. They could fight a prophecy, trying to prevent an event from happening whether or not anybody involved dies.

2) The boss' identity and/or location are known or knowable: Okay, so let's assume that we've decided to make a boss for this story. If we want this boss to be less vulnerable to scrying or other methods of detection, he's got to be a mystery. Maybe the story is a murder mystery and the party can't act against the villain until they know he did it. Maybe the villain has a secret identity like a superhero and the party's magic can't track him when he's being normal. Or maybe he knows enough about magic to have some degree of protection against divinations (this was the primary solution I saw among the DM's who commented on this on Facebook).

In the case of a mystery story, I have little problem with using scry and fry or any other tactic to confront the villain. Since discovering the identity of the villain is the objective of the adventure, the confrontation scene is more resolution than climax in my mind.

3) The destruction of the boss will solve the problem or threat posed by the boss: There are certainly times where this is the case. But not always. Because most of the ways that villains gain power involve building an organization. An evil cult, a thieves guild, what have you. Ultimately, the boss is the capstone of the pyramid, not its base. So if all you do is kill the boss, you have not defeated the organization at all. The infighting among the organization's leadership to determine who sits directly in front of the firehose of money, magical power or whatever that the initial boss created can do damage to the organization as a whole, but everyone involved has a vested interest in making sure that the firehose keeps flowing at firehose pressures as long as possible and only once that fails to happen will the organization fully collapse.

3a) It is actually possible to destroy the boss through main force: This one is just a subheading because it's more of an edge consideration, and can be system-dependent. It could be that the boss is a supernatural creature who can only be defeated by using the Artifact of XYZ or by those who have gone through the Trials of AEIOU, which are somewhere in the dungeon but will be missed by those who teleport past them. Or maybe the boss just has a few more levels than the party and will overpower them since they didn't go through the dungeon and rack up the amount of XP that the DM expected them to.

Advice to DMs: Even after you start tweaking your storylines to counter scry and fry or any other Stupid Player Trick, your players may still try them. Do not go out of your way to thwart your players or kill their characters. Just confront them with the logical repercussions of their actions. Be warned that this can include unintended character deaths.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Your Dream GM/DM Game!

Here’s a wacky game to play. If you could pick any person from all of history to run an RPG for you, who would it be? And what game would you play?
It’s totally okay to fanboy on this. You can have Gary Gygax or Ed Greenwood run your D&D game. You can have Stan Lee run your superhero game (Would it be one of the Marvel licensed RPGs or maybe something like Villains and Vigilantes or Champions?). You can have Stephen Moffat run your Doctor Who game.

But don’t be afraid to get creative. While it may be tempting to want H.P. Lovecraft to run Call of Chthulhu, it might be interesting to think about what he could do to a Deadlands game. Why not have an epic Exalted campaign run by the epic master himself, Ancient Greek poet Homer? How about a Paranoia campaign with Ellen “GLaDOS” McLain as the Computer?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

DDC 2014 Reviews

Fate Core: Despite all the hullaballoo surrounding the Kickstarter for this project, this was my first real opportunity to pick up this material. (I know the PDFs are PWYW, but I'm a lover of physical products whenever possible.) Fate Core is a clear step above previous Fate games I own; It's refined and flexible and robust. I haven't been able to give the System Toolkit a full grok, but it looks pretty powerful on the surface.

And that slim little volume on the top of the stack is Fate Accelerated Edition, which should not be judged on the basis of its size. It is not a stripped down version of Fate, a playable teaser to get you to buy the big book. It is a neat little game in its own right that can support campaigns as easily as one-shots.

Isle of the Unknown: This one was my wife's pick. Intended for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess retro-clone, it's pitched as a setting, but doesn't have a lot of things that would make it a setting. There are those who regard this as a feature, but I don't see it. It's pretty much just a big list of weird things. It might have been more effectively packaged as "exotic & weird random encounter table/s".

Torchbearer: Another fantasy game from the Burning Wheel gang, this one feels like a mid-point between the crunch-heavy, Tolkein-flavor-filled Burning Wheel and the really very light and approachable Mouse Guard RPG. It incorporates classes and levels very loosely, but neither really seeps into gameplay.

GURPS Fantasy II: One of Robin Law's first published works. This has been on my list of GURPS books that I really want, but didn't have for a very long time. It doesn't have many of the traditional fantasy touchstones that the main GURPS Fantasy setting (Yrth) has. It doesn't really have any of them, actually.

In the Mad Lands, magic is chaotic and distrusted. The worship of gods is suspect, because the only gods in the setting are more or less Chthonic Elder Gods (who just happen to be inspired by Winnie the Pooh and his friends). And the monsters are not random magical mutations of known animals, but people who have fallen to terrible fates. The primary focus of a Madlands campaign is survival in a world that is out to kill you.

GURPS Ice Age: Another GURPS classic. A sourcebook for playing in the eras that Creationists insist never happened. Or maybe it's the era that Creationists insist happened, with all of the early species co-existing all at once. There are even stats for a few dinosaurs, so you can run it that way if you want.

Rifts: Picked up a couple of Rifters this year. I find them rather interesting because of how much material is contributed by fans. The Rifts Sourcebook and Conversion Books were from early in the line, so they give me a good view of what early Rifts was like, before things got totally gonzo.

Ninjas & Superspies: It's a mess, but it's a clearly an enthusiastic mess. Mystic martial arts, spy gadgets & vehicles all in one crazy book.

Not pictured

Mutant City Blues: Now for what Robin Laws has been up to lately. One of the hottest things in recent years is the GUMSHOE System, which is intended for use in mystery/investigation RPGs. The primary conceit of the system is that information gathering does not require dice rolls while still letting other things get dicey. While the second edition of the first GUMSHOE game, The Esoterrorists, was on a couple of shelves, the one that grabbed my interested was Mutant City Blues. The game is intended to emulate cop drama shoes in a world where super powers exist.

The key to making this premise workable is the Quade Diagram, which lays out all of the superpowers available in the setting in relation to each other. So if you've got a crime committed by the use of one power, you don't need to know zoology to know what animal powers your suspect has or high end physics to figure out the limits of someone with energy blasts or whatever.

Even the cops get superpowers. The whole "costumed vigilante" thing got discredited fairly quickly early in the super era of the setting, with several notable incidents involving un-expert civilians being allowed into crime scenes and hot situations and flubbing them totally and tragically. So super heroes have been relegated back to the comics, though some comics companies will license the likeness and abilities of "real" superheroes, who mostly do PSAs and mall openings. If you have powers and want to fight crime, you become a cop.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

DunDraPost 2014

Ah, my annual adventure. While it would be nice to go to some of the other conventions out there, whether some of the other gaming cons that people go to (smaller ones like KublaCon or CelestiCon, or even the big grandaddy of them all, GenCon) or finally get to meet some of the very cool Oz people I've interacted with online at WinkieCon, it would take quite a lot of doing to make me give up DunDraCon.

(Sorry about the lack of photos this year.  We brought the camera, but forgot to dig it out for most of the trip.)

As has been our habit of recent years, we talked our friend Mike into coming along. This year, however, he found a girlfriend who wanted to come along. He's had girlfriends before, but this was the first who wanted to spend a gaming con with him. It was a little crowded in the car, with four people and their luggage, but we got along rather well and it was an overall pleasant trip.

After our typical sleepover at Mike's mom's house (which included a playthrough of the Discworld board game, which was quite fun), we headed to the hotel on Friday morning. Although Friday was Valentine's Day, there was little romance going on that night for my wife and me. She wound up falling ill rather suddenly. Even with the most potent cold remedies available at the local Target, she was still miserable and had difficulty breathing.

It wasn't until Saturday that we realized that it was probably allergies rather than some kind of flu bug. We had all of the feathers in our hotel room removed (feather pillows, down comforter) and started treating her with antihistamines and Sunday and Monday were dramatic improvements in her condition and mood. Unfortunately, the game she really wanted to play was on Saturday morning, so she wound up not playing in a game (though she was able to run her scheduled game on Monday morning).

One of the big draws of the convention is the ability to shop for games. There are at least 3 Bay Area games stores offering all of the new hotness, on top of smaller publishers and dealers vying for your business in the Dealer's Room. The only problem is that the Dealer's Room doesn't open until Saturday. This year, they ameliorated this somewhat by offering a Buyer's Bazaar on Friday. The Buyer's Bazaar lets individual gamers sell off the games they don't play anymore. So I got to do some game shopping on Friday and filled out more of my Palladium collection (Due to ethical concerns regarding the company, I only buy Palladium products used.)

Friday was also the day I attended a GMing seminar. Even though I've been a Game Master for many years, I always like learning someone else's perspective. Sometimes they have tricks you haven't heard of or faced problems that you've never had to deal with.

Saturday was the day I got to play a game. And why I signed up to play this game is something of an interesting story. 2 years ago at DunDraCon, I had signed up to play a GURPS game. The scenario was set during WWI and the player characters were pulp hero-style supernatural investigators. I think we were supposed to be investigating a time rift that let dinosaurs come through and eat people, but we ran out of time just as we discovered the vortex. But one of the players in that game made an off-hand Wizard of Oz reference and I happened to have a promotional copy of Adventures in Oz handy, so I handed it to him.

He invited me to play in a game he was running at the con, which actually seemed up my alley (a Chthulhu/ Star Trek mashup), but my schedule did not allow.  (He may have already run his scenario that year and I missed it.) Last year, both of our games overlapped each other, so I couldn't play in his game. I did manage to stop by and autograph the copy of AiO I had given him the previous year. This year, however, my schedule finally allowed me to play, so I made a point of it.

It wound up being a lot of fun. I only caught a few of the Chthulhu Mythos references (Chthulhu didn't actually show up in this one. It was all about Yog-Sothoth this time around), but the Star Trek was flowing fast and furious. He ran the game very loosely, letting players come up with ideas and rolling with them. Including the player who decided to write Making Coffee as a skill on their character sheet. That player actually wound up using that skill in the game.

There were also props aplenty. My character was the science officer of the ship, so I got a toy tricorder to play with (It made all the noises!). There were also lots of ship models, some official, some not. He's a very crafty sort, so there were a number of home-made ships as well. One of his regular jokes after he pulled out a new prop was that he should never be allowed to be bored within easy reach of a hot glue gun.

Sunday was the day I ran my game in the Teen Room. As advertised, it was the Castle of the Mad Archmage using the Adventures Dark & Deep rules. Although I've been running an old-school campaign for quite some time, this was my first experience with these specific rules. Character creation was a little more complicated than what I had done before, mostly because of the expanded options. Most of my players (2 out of 3) opted to play humans rather than wrangle with the number of races and subraces available as well as dodging the potential race/class restrictions.

Once characters were completed, play went very smoothly. Since most of the upper works of the castle were uninhabited, it was mostly exploration without a lot of mechanics. Both of my players at the time (a third joined a little later) particularly enjoyed the Charlotte's Web reference in one of the stables. One of the characters very nearly died once they entered the dungeons proper, victim to a centipede's poisonous bite. (Technically, the character did die, failing a save versus a "save or die" poison. Given the circumstances, I decided to let the character live so play could continue.)

Progress was overall slow in the exploration of the dungeons. Even though I was there for 8 hours, there were only 2 combats, the second occurring as the next group was coming in to use the room, so I began running it auctioneer style. At least part of this was the distract-able nature of teenagers, as well as my willingness to discuss the ins and outs of Doctor Who (like my ability to name every single actor to play the Doctor, my favorite companion, and comparisons of the different theme compositions).

For some reason, the last few years my wife has had her game scheduled for Monday. It's actually kind of irritating, because that means moving out of the hotel room (we always take home more stuff than we bring) and taking care of all the last minute get-in-the-car-and-go details becomes my job. Late departures are also rough on Mike, because all the twisting and turning through the redwoods that is so lovely on the way down becomes far less fun in the dark. Add on the last mad dash through the Dealer's Room to make sure I don't have any money left, and it can be pretty crazy.

We got home about 11:00 Monday night and passed right out.

Next up: My usual review of all the cool things I bought there.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

You Should Be Buying These

Well, the first couple of items are Kickstarters, but I do believe them to be deserving of money.

The first one is Adventures in the Land of Oz, an Oz RPG project from Wicked Studios. It's almost over and might not make its funding goal, but it does look like a good project. As an Oz RPG designer myself, I tend to be rather picky about the projects that I endorse. Oz is not a typical RPG fantasy world and I tend to shudder every time someone tries to make it one.

But this project shows definite promise. It uses a modified version of The Window RPG system, which looks like it could be a good fit. The art that is shown is realistic, rather than either cartoony or grim.

Then we have Tim Brannan's Strange Brew: The Ultimate Witch and Warlock. I only really know Tim from his blog, but one thing that's pretty obvious over there is that he loves his witches. If you love witches and you love Pathfinder, I don't see how you can miss with this one.

Now for a product that's actually out. Joseph Bloch's Castle of the Mad Archmage has finally been released! It comes in three parts, the Map Book (maps of every level of the dungeon), the Adventure Book (The "key" to the maps in the Map Book, with descriptions of all the things to encounter in the megadungeon) and the Illustration Book (a set of illustrations to show your players at various points in the dungeon). You should have all three products for maximum enjoyment. It should be fully useful with just the Map Book and the Adventure Book, but the Illustration book is such a neat idea that I can't see anyone turning it down.

I've been using the original version of the Castle for my home campaign and it has led to over two and a half years of awesome gaming (and we're not done yet). I'm still waiting for my print copies to arrive, but I've got my PDFs and am loving the added details, including 2 new upper levels.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My DunDraCon Plans

Wow, my first post of the year. And it's an interesting one.

First of all, I will be going to DunDraCon, as is my tradition. If anyone is in northern California and has the ability to attend, you are encouraged. It's a fun con, and I'd love to meet my fans.

In an interesting twist, I will not be running "The Jaded City of Oz" this year, for grown ups or for kids. I will instead be running "The Castle of the Mad Archmage," the megadungeon by Joseph Bloch as part of the con's Teen Room. I downloaded it a couple of years ago when it was a fan project, and have been running an Old School campaign focused on it ever since. He is putting a bit more effort into it and turning it into a professional release coming very soon. Depending on when this release happens and my own personal resources, I may run the old version or the new at the con. Either way, I will be running it under Joseph's Adventures Dark & Deep rules. I bought a set of the rulebooks for my birthday a few months back and would very much like to try it out.

But why would I do such a thing? A couple of reasons, actually. Before I submitted a game to the scheduling committee, my wife submitted hers and was rejected on the basis that she had submitted the same adventure for the last 3 years (In truth, she only submitted the same pitch to the committee. It's been a different adventure every year). While they might have a slightly different criteria for publishers or Kids Room games, I didn't want to push it.

So why not write another Oz adventure to run? Well, I am working on another Oz adventure. But it's not quite ready yet, and it was even less so when the deadline for submissions came. So I submitted something that I would be willing to run at a moment's notice. (And it's less of a leap than you might think.)

It's certainly possible that this new adventure will premiere at DunDraCon, in the Open Gaming areas. More news on that as it comes available.
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