What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
C&C: Classic Monsters (2nd Printing)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Weekend R&R: Whitehack

There are so many 'OSR' attempts to re-create a perfect version of the classic version of Dungeons & Dragons but the definition of what one considers classic or perfect is so subjective.  As such, they just seem to keep coming despite that this is already so much to choose from.  Somehow, I don't think the trend is likely to stop anytime soon either.  Many seem determined to either reinvent to wheel or offer something perceived to be 'better' somehow than what came before it.  The problem with all this sort of development is that sometimes people will miss them.

It wasn't until the second edition of Whitehack, which was released earlier this year, that I took notice.  Whitehack came out originally in 2013 but it was August that I started noticing a few people on social media talking about the new edition that they had just received via the POD service provided by Lulu.  Curious, I do a bit of research and got a bit excited at what people were saying about it.  I was a bit dismayed at the lack of PDF option and more so when people were clamoring for one since the prior edition was released.  Just the same, as I was placing an order on Lulu for something else, I decided to give it a shot and got the least expensive option.  I seriously doubted it would replace my go-to FRPG anyway but I always like fresh and innovative ideas.

I felt let down a bit.

I suppose my disappointment isn't directed at the author in this case.  The reviews gave it more hype than I think was warranted and I think it was because some of the innovations being raved about were already a bit 'old-hat' to me.  For example, the system does not use an itemized skill system and given it's 0e roots, that's hardly surprising but you can effectively get a bonus on that skill roll or task based on the species, vocation, or even affiliation of the character if associated with that particular ability.  One of the examples given in the book is a character with the vocation of 'priest' associated with Charisma doing a check to try and calm a crowd.  Conversely, if the character had the vocation of 'assassin' associated with the same attribute, it really wouldn't help improve that character's odds.  The reason being that a priest would be trained to address groups of people where as an assassin would not.

To a degree, it reminds of Castles & Crusades and its Siege mechanic.  As a system, it doesn't have any skills outside of specific class skills and there will be times where characters will attempt to do something that is not specifically itemized.  A character's archetypes will help define what a character knows or doesn't know very well much like a vocation would.  If this is something that they would be trained to do, and if the associated attribute is a prime attribute, they get a bonus to that check.

The difference is the bonus.  In C&C, this works out to a +6 bonus.  However, Whitehack keeps it simpler and you get what is referred to a 'double positive roll'.  These days, this is more popularly known as the Advantage mechanic (or rather the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic).  You roll two d20 and take the best one.  With Whitehack, this would be the lower of the two rolls as you want to roll equal to or below the relevant attribute score.  With that in mind, there are also circumstances where you would do double negative rolls and take the worse (higher) result.

But while doing this isn't revolutionary (it pre-dates WOTC's use of this sort of mechanic in 5th Edition), it *IS* elegant in its simplicity.  It's also why I have thought of trying out this instead of the +6 bonus in C&C a couple years back.  However, there is a lot of other stuff that is just as elegant in Whitehack as well.

Before we explore other aspects of the game, a few more words need to be devoted to the concept of vocations in the game.  These are NOT actual classes.  There are at it's core just three classes.  The Brave, the Deft, and the Wise which is much like True20 and its three classes -- the Warrior, the Expert, and the Adept.  The vocations are one thing that help refine the archetype and character you are trying to create for yourself.  This feels much more 'free form' and something that one might be more accustomed to seeing in a game like Fate.

Magic is something I was curious at seeing to see how it was implemented as I heard that it was a bit different.  The good news?  Forget spell lists, the ever-familiar Vancian sytems, or even a variant spell point system for the magic!  However, if you are accustomed to a bit of structure in your games, forget about that too.  Interestingly enough, spellcasting taxes a character's hit points and some people will like or hate that.  What's interesting is HOW many hitpoints.  There is no itemized spell list to choose from in this game which means there are also no itemized spell effects that you can read up.  How powerful of an effect and how much it costs / taxes the spellcaster is effectively a negotiation between the player and the DM.  Characters who are part of the Wise class can perform miracles.  These could range from magic to some sort of science and anything in between.  Each level has a number of slots and you effectively create (word) the miracles you can perform (as best related to that character's vocation presumably).  These can be specific or broad but the broader it is, the higher cost it will likely be to perform.  Hit point costs will be anywhere from 1 hp to 14 hp as, once again, negotiated, along with whether a save is needed or not and so on.  Creating magical items also will cost hit points but this loss is permanent.  There is an interesting twist to this though -- characters re-roll all of their HD when they advance a level.

One interesting concept introduced in Whitehack is an Auction system for dealing with things like chases or other circumstances where multiple checks might be required (such as gambling).  It's an interesting choice to go with and does streamline the process.  Along with this, the game has other interesting 'quirks' which are sure to charm some gamers out there.  Whitehack certainly has a more 'collaborative' feel to game which is, in part, because of the less rigid or restrictively style it supports.

For all of its charm, the book is also relatively complete.  There is a host of critters to choose from as well as some magical artifacts to quest for.  You've got a small setting and a couple of adventures along with some pre-gens and advice on running your game.  There are even three other 'rare' classes to presented among the various odds and ends.  In short... a little bit of everything and more than enough to be self sufficient.

As far a presentation is concerned, I will say that the overall work is elegant.  The two column layout, table presentation, and the headings and fonts used are all beautiful yet simple.  There are no illustrations in the book but, somehow, you don't feel as if it needs it.  The cover of the book is fantastic as it looks like a regular oldschool notebook and even reminds me of the sort I had in elementary school and high school.   I really like the look.  The writing is clear, concise, and very readable too and, given that the main rules (the player's section) occupies all of 18 pages, quite an accomplishment.  The entirety of the book is 64 pages in a 6x9 format.

However, the work isn't as original or as much of a breath of fresh air as I had hoped for.  I'm not unhappy to have picked it up but I'm irked that such a work was not available as a PDF either.  Frankly, there isn't much of an excuse in my mind for this kind of restriction either.  At $10, it isn't a hefty investment but I don't think the base print-cost would be very high.  It is a work that is built upon the shoulders of others but whose innovations could easily be distilled for other purposes as well.

In the end, it becomes an interesting hack blending the love of OD&D, the OGL, and a couple of great concepts.

As no PDF is available, those interested in picking up Whitehack can do so via Lulu HERE or you can read about it at the source over HERE.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Tools of the Miniature Painter: Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer

A few months back, I was having a terrible time with some of my Games & Gears Ichiban brushes.  They were part of a Kickstarter that I took part in and I was lucky enough to get in on the early birds.  My original review of them were favorable (can be read HERE) but I did run into problems with them after continual use (as I wrote HERE).  I am happy to say that they DO stand behind their product though, and I got a full replacement set and then some. However, in the interim, I did have a chance to try Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer in an attempt to try and fix, or at least improve on some of the issues I had been having.

Up to this point in time, I've been using The Master's Brush Cleaner and Preserver soap which easily did the job.  However the belly of my brush heads on the Ichiban brushes were much thicker than what I had been accustomed to using.  These brushes were nice to paint with but the thicker head could mean that some of my pigments were not getting cleaned out properly and could have been responsible for some of the issues I had been experiencing.  In any event, I didn't have much to lose by trying.  I new replacements were coming but I didn't just want to throw these problem brushes away either.

Well, the first thing I did when I opened to bottle to pour a bit was spill it naturally.  I have a habit of painting over a cutting mat and, cursing my misfortune, I quickly went to the next room to get sufficient paper towels to clean up the mess.  Boy did I get an interesting little surprise.  You see, I've tried cleaning little spots of paint here and there -- sometimes a drop of paint will miss that mat entirely end end up on the table surface instead.  Some of this paint is stubborn to clean up.  When I wiped up the spill off the mat, I had paint that had been there for a couple of years just come off.  Hell, the mat has a printed grid pattern of lines (it is a cutting board afterall), and this came off as well.  I was simply blown away with how well it worked and what it did in a mater of less than 20 seconds.

In true form, I then looked at the instructions on the bottle just to be on the safe side.  The stuff is labeled as non-hazardous, biodegradable, emitting low vapor.  Sounds perfectly fine and even safe.  The cautionary note on the side of the bottle reads as:
Use a non-plastic container for soaking.  May damage painted, varnished, or plastic surfaces.  Avoid contact with brush handles; finish may be removed.
Good to know.

In any event, I had a small container that I soaked the brushes in question in... overnight.  They seemed better and some of the brushes actually did improve.  I didn't miraculously fix my problems with the brushes but they weren't as bad.  I decided to do the same with my older sable brushes but wasn't as careful.  Some of the handle ended up soaking in the cleaner.  Needless to say, the warning was correct.  I have three brushes that basically have 'bald' spots.  I cleaned them up as best as I could and, while the handles now look a bit 'funky' the brushes themselves are fine.

I even have some game science dice that had some permanent ink or paint applied that was NOT coming off.  They essentially had to be re-inked and I soaked this a bit to help dislodge the unwanted numbering still in place.  It was a bit of work but it did work and fairly well.  Due to the nature of the plastic, exposure to the liquid was kept to a minimum.

In short, it is a great tool for the painter.  I wouldn't say it replaces my brush soap but it's a great way to restore certain brushes after prolonged use to extend the life of your brushes.

Happy Painting!


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Weekend R&R: Yoon-Suin - The Purple Land

Yoon-Suin... the Purple Land.  A short while ago, I had absolutely no clue what this was.  But, it was released earlier this year and I stumbled upon it quite accidentally as I was searching for something else that happened to be game related -- likely some other bit of old-school or indie press material.  I was immediately intrigued and, coming off the relative high of 'A Red & Pleasant Land', I made a note of it and recently ordered a copy.

Upon receiving it, I was somewhat irked and disappointed.  For starters, the book itself is an unusual one but I knew that before I ordered it.  However, given the odd 9x7 choice for the book, I think the layout could have been better.  As a campaign kit, the tables are laid out poorly in some cases and tables do form up a large portion of the book.  Sometimes, the simplest of problems are immediately apparent just by flipping through.  Page 87 for instance has in the Noble House table and under the NPCs column for dice result 1, you have 'Patriarch/Matriarc' with the last 'h' on the next line down albeit also centered.  In the bestiary section, you have another different layout choice being a two column decision for different texts.  One portion is two-thirds the width of the page and the remaining third has other text presenting different but complementary information to what else is on the page.  This isn't a bad idea but this smaller bar of text could have been boxed or at least formatted a bit different in terms of the text itself.  All the text is the same font and size.  Of course, trying to find a good way to place it on the shelf is a whole other challenge with the way it will stick out in both size and very pink color.  I really think a different shade might have worked better given that this book is about the 'purple land' and all.

But that is all cosmetic and a lot of this can be forgiven if one takes the time to actually review the content of the book.  As the reader begins to the the book and go through it with some time and care, it becomes apparent why this book has gotten the praise it has.

The introductory section of the book is written in the guise of a traveler to the Yellow City and the lands surrounding it.  It is an ideal way to deliver a broad overview of what you can expect in this setting and, most importantly, convey a sense of wonder and stir up the imagination -- very important if you are looking to run a new and evocative campaign.  On the whole, it's a decent read that could have used just a tad more polishing (like the rest of the book for that matter).  Thankfully, since this book is meant to be a toolkit, the author also provides step-by-step instructions on how to actually and effectively use the book.  Examples are also given and the beauty is, there is little need to go beyond these examples to realize who brilliant this toolkit is.

I can think of no higher praise than say that this book will give you material to create a fantastic and engaging campaign and, even if Yoon-Suin or the Purple Land isn't your ultimate destination, these ideas could and SHOULD be used in other campaigns or at least be an inspiration. You start off by defining the character's Social Circle: groups, conflicts, and rivalries.  Within these, you have your various NPCs and rumours or hooks concerning them.  Beyond this you have tables for general rumors and hooks, a variety of encounter tables for all he general areas the book covers, and everything from politics to personalities is touched upon.  Personally, starting something like a new campaign, a good network of 'background information and links' can make all the difference.

All these tables and related lore makes up the majority of the book but the book has a couple other chapters of note that precedes that material.  There is a small chapter on character creation that is suited to the setting as well as a bestiary to compliment it as well.  It should be noted that the book, while not designed for any particular system, will work with any compatible game with a D&D lineage.  This character creation chapter also features a new character class called the Crab-man (a racial class like you would find in Basic D&D).  As for the critters in the monster section, they're just fun and the greatest regret is the lack of art to help conjure an image of these curiosities.

The appendices deserves mention as well.  There are multiple and many which could be readily adapted for other campaigns.  They range from Appendix A through to Appendix N and which ranges from Tea and Opium to poisons and dungeon generation.  The majority of these will just help detail your campaign in Yoon-Suin that much more.

Yoon-Suin, as a campaign toolkit is an interesting piece of work.  There is a lot in there that commands your attention and will inspire the reader to potentially create a memorable campaign.  More importantly, it will help you to create YOUR OWN Yoon-Suin campaign.  It is well put together and logically organized but it is also a series of steps which the GM will need to take to get the most of this tool kit.  It is not however, something you can just pick up and run even through without adequate prep.  It is not a ready-made campaign adventure.

It is a decent book and, while off putting at first glance, has a lot to offer.  It is a diamond in the rough and one worth picking up.  If, like me, you might find a 9x7 landscape a bit awkward to work with, you can just pick up the PDF over HERE on RPGNow (OBS) for $9.24 USD.  However, if you like the feel of a book in your hands, you get get a physical copy from Lulu with their POD services (HERE) for $20.66 USD.

Happy Gaming!


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Mechanics of Magic Items

Two things have brought about today's 'reflective' post:
  1. My recent review on the Cypher System Rulebook by Monte Cook Games (which you can read HERE)
  2. The 'Classic Treasure' stretch goal in the current Classic Monsters Kickstarter (which you can find HERE)
My recent examination of the Cypher System and, in particular how the game places particular importance on what they refer to Cyphers in the game did refresh my memory regarding how we gamed and, in some cases, how we *used* to game. Monte Cook emphasized the importance of giving Cyphers, which are basically 'game changers' that are meant to be used and are very much 'limited' in terms of number of uses.  Basically, the translate into short-term power ups that can give access to abilities or powers that would normally not be available to a given character.

In a Fantasy type game, this could be as simple as a potion that can heal, allow a person to become invisible, or even fly!  Likewise, a Science Fiction type game can do the same things but instead of a potion, it could easily be in the guise of an alien device.

In the end, what they do isn't as important as how they are given out and, more importantly, used.  We forget that, before the trend of a desire for greater character customization in our various roleplaying games, 'customization' came in the form of magic items.  You went down a dungeon, defeated the monster, and sometimes got some treasure.  Aside from anything monetary, some of those were magical items and these helped further customize and define characters.  As someone who was playing earlier editions of D&D, this wasn't ever a problem.  When you consider ever popular video games today, this is very much still a thing and looking towards Diablo, you will find this tried formula still in play.  But somewhere along the way, the plots and motivations became more of a goal than just loot and killing monsters and customization was more about building a character with a history, motivations, and a personality.  Magical gear is always cool -- just not the end game.

However in that shift, how these items were treated changed as well.  Magic should be a bit more special so maybe the decision is made to scale back.  Or the desire to 'save' something for when you really need it when it comes to a potion or scroll.  At which point, these might just end up as a collection of magical a character happens to have.

Perhaps 'disposable' things should like potions or scrolls and other limited use items be put into play a bit more often.  Yeah... that potion of Spider Climb might be viewed as 'meh' but that wizard in the party with a certain lack of upper body strength and genuine skill for the task at hand could find it useful if you know the next adventure could have some difficult climbing challenges ahead.  Encourage the use of these tools and maybe have an expiration date of some of these things.  Potions could easily have a limited shelf life and when parties find all these potions and some of these are duds due to age, they may react differently when the find a couple that are still good.

As for bigger and more lasting items ... nothing changes there depending on the game you play.  The new edition of D&D now limits enchanted weapons and armor up to +3 items in part because of how the game is  design and scales now as far as the system is concerned.  It is still a concrete way to give the party a bit more to work with by making things a bit easier to hit and damage or making them a bit tougher to hit.

But those special items could be the objective of certain quests themselves if you prefer having magic restricted in your campaign.  With all these years of gaming, it's a special item that can still surprise a player.  It needn't be powerful... just a bit unusual or fun.  Over the years, I have managed to reduce my collection of gaming books but, for my second edition books, besides the core and options books that I have decided to keep (the black ones), I have kept my four volume set of  Encyclopedia Magica because it just collected so many diverse magical items all in one source.  Frankly I should use it more given what I have just written and am thinking about.

Happy Gaming!


Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Case of James M. Ward

James Ward's work is beloved by many gamers as one of the TSR Alumni.  His earliest published work was one he co-authored for the original D&D boxed set, "Gods, Demi-Gods, and Heroes".  More importantly (perhaps), he is known for "Metamorphosis Alpha".  He has been sick on and off the past few years, and recently there have been problems that have sent him back to the hospital.  Health Care is expensive in the States and, even if some of that is covered by some sort of insurance, other bills still have a way of piling up.

Since the latest bit of news has become news, there have been attempts to raise funds from the gaming community to help out Mr. Ward with all his bills to a varying degree of success.  However, there have been two things I have seen that I was displeased with.

1) Not everyone is a fan of Ward, or his work.  The reasons for this do not matter but bashing these charitable efforts or the man himself is just not warranted.

2) I have heard of instances where other small (indie) publishers in the OSR were almost being pressured to give a percentage of sales or simply to give.  That's just not cool even if intentions were good.

But it occurred to me, quite simply, one of the good ways to possibly support Ward and gaming in general.

Thanks to the effort of Goodman Games, there has been a recent resurgence of interest in Metamorphosis Alpha.  They ran a successful Kickstarter last year and another one to expand the quantity of in-print material this year.  This is great news of course but MA isn't just available through Goodman Games or those Kickstarters.

You can get a PDF copy of the over at RPGNow (OBS services) right HERE if you are so inclined.  At at $5.99, it's a great deal and the majority of that money all goes to 'WardCo' -- so potentially speaking, right in his pocket.  If you like that idea, there are other stuff if you look under WardCo, like the 4th edition of MA and a few other inexpensive PDFs supporting MA too.

Already have it or maybe you crave something a little more tangible?  You can get a print-on-demand copy of Metamorphosis Alpha for $14.99 USD over HERE.  Like the RPGNow version, it's got corrections and is cleaned up a bit and since he's the one making it available, he's the one that will be getting a cut from each sale.  So, buy a copy for yourself... better yet... buy multiple copies and give them to other gamers that haven't had the opportunity to pick up a copy.

Most importantly... play the game.

I really do applaud the efforts of some that are directly raising funds and there is nothing wrong with that but, in my mind, buying these PDFS or POD books will put some money in his pocket too with the added benefit of getting people talking and even playing his stuff.

Anyway, it's what I did.  About 3 weeks ago or so, I ordered a copy off of Lulu which now sits along with my Gamma World stuff.  And, for my convenience, I will be grabbing the PDF as well.  The next step will be running a session (hopefully) and, if it goes well, maybe there will be a few more copies ordered off Lulu.

To date the GoFundMe page has raised over $15,000 (the campaign can be found HERE) and that's great.  But in my mind, supporting his work which is why the community has come to care in the first place, is equally as important.  If enough people do this, these sales won't be a small drop in the bucket either and, every dollar counts right?

Happy Gaming!