What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
After Winter Dark Campaign Setting

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Trends in Settings and Storylines

The past few days, I have allowed myself to become immersed in the world of Dragon Age.  Not the pen and paper RPG adaptation but the actual video game itself.  I'm having quite a bit of fun with it too and while the story and setting makes for interesting backdrop, there is really nothing that takes me a back as I explore this realm of fantasy.  The last time I had fun with a video game like this was when I was playing a lot of Guild Wars.  I suppose there is something that draws us to a scenario or setting where doom looks certain but you are part of the few battling against a dark tide of evil.  I mean, the Lord of The Rings is pretty much the same sort of thing isn't it?

Time and time again, we look to explore a darker and grimmer fantasy (or sci-fi) but always with a slim hope of driving the forces of darkness at bay.  The trend I've noticed is that there seems to be more of a focus on a period in history coming to a close and the turmoil that either brings it about or simply is accompanying it.  Or... in a world of darkness, there are points of light represented by small pockets of civilization in a sea of darkness.  While some foolishly ascribe this to WOTC and their setting approach with 4th edition, it is hardly a new concept.  The Wilderlands of High Fantasy can be very much be described in the same way.  The only difference between these concepts and those presented in a game such as Dragon Age, is how unified that 'darkness' seems to be.  Invariably, there is a tendency to steer some games towards the 'epic' storyline.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with that as a backdrop and once in a while, it's perfectly ok to save the world.  Sometimes though, it's nice to allow the heroes to do something for themselves.  Scrounge up some money to setup that inn or tavern they've always dreamed on having.  Fighting to secure some land to set up a farm.  Better yet, what might be some of the challenges they would face given once those goals are met and chaos ends up finding them?  Owning an inn in a region that has become engulfed in war and turmoil?  Imagine, a party of good friends scrounges up a living through adventuring as a sure way to get their dream up and going and retire from that life... only to have events around them suddenly change.  Low levels adventuring to achieve some goals... mid-levels to fight for what they've worked so hard to gain... and possibly one big quest at the end of that character's career if there is a need for that campaign to end with a big finale.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Few Words New Character Classes

I follow a handful of blogs and one of the ones I happen to follow is Save vs Poison.  Just the other day, I read a few comments on Dragon issue 109 (HERE) and I had completely forgotten about one of the feature articles on the magazine dealing with customizing/creating new character classes.  I find this particularly interesting since I just received TLG's Dwellers in the Darkness. an accessory that expands upon the Haunted Highlands by Casey Christofferson.  Now I am a great fan of Casey's work -- both with TLG as well as the work he did with Necromancer Games.  The material he has been doing for the Haunted Highlands series is fantastic with little rules options scattered here and there amongst the scenarios and setting information he writes.  This particular module is the sixth in the series and a third of the material is an assortment of new monsters, items, spells, a racial variant, and a new class.

The new class if the Conjurer and I think it is an interesting concept.  In some ways, it will remind you of the Sorcerer class from D&D 3.x since it has a form of spontaneous casting.  You still have to prepare a selection of spells but of those prepared, you can cast any number of them repeatedly up to the number of allotted spells the character has per day.  In exchange for this increased versatility, the character has a lower spell progression than a regular illusionist and uses the same experience point progression.  Seems reasonable doesn't it?

Unfortunately, the class gets a WHOLE LOT more.

Hitdice is a d6 instead of a d4... BtH is that of a cleric and the spell list used sources both from that of the wizard AND cleric.  The character can wear some armor and has a better weapon selection compared to a regular arcane spellcaster.

As I said, it is an interesting concept -- the reason why the class has access to clerical spells is because of the conjuration magic and the entities (demonic or angelic) they work with.  It looks like a fun and more importantly, a versatile class to play.  However, the reason why the EPP between the classes are varied is a recognition that all classes are not created equal so why try?  A rogue has a quick advancement rate compared to other classes for a reason.  A rogue's survivability in the front line is questionable and unlike the wizard won't have their power increase exponentially as they advance in levels.

A well played thief is fun and a welcome addition to the party but a badly played one will end up being very dead very quickly.  ;)

Now, while it is true that a game's balance lies largely within the hands of the gamemaster, someone just eyeballing the classes may realize that this new one doesn't sit right.  When compared to a to the wizard or illusionist, this one should probably advance a bit more slowly.  Fortunately, something like this isn't hard to fix.  Bumping the numbers a bit would be a solution or placing greater restrictions on the class would be another.  Restrictions can be easy to do if you decide to restrict access to the clerical spells which could a result of the limited powers of the entities the character deals with.  Exacting certain things such as special favors before granting certain spells could be another easy way to do it and I would recommend a CK think about this before allowing players to use the class.

Of course, I won't fault the writer and he is certainly not the worst offender when it comes to official C&C material.  In my view, that distinction goes to the Portal Keeper in the Tainted Lands.  I don't think that any of these new classes would really cause many problems in C&C much like the multitude of classes that became available for AD&D over the years weren't an issue either.

What is unfortunate is that, while there are (or were) guidelines that were maintained with the creation of the existing classes in the Player's Handbook for C&C, no thought seems to be given to this when putting out new material to support the game.  Some authors probably just take the EPP from the closest existing class.  Guidelines for this was supposed to be published but a product that deals with this sort of thing is yet to materialize.  In the meantime, it looks like we are left to our own devices.  At least we have some multiclassing guidelines presented in the latest printing of the PHB.

What is truly a shame was that there did exist a system that was created by deconstructing the various existing classes and their features.  It is no longer available.  The author of that document removed it due to concerns involving a NDA he signed during the development of Castles & Crusades.  I was fortunate to have looked through this system and, while it wasn't perfect, it is one of the best systems I have seen to create classes for C&C from scratch.  There are parts of the article from Dragon issue 109 that remind me of it too.


Desktop Publishling

I've touched upon the economics of Hobby Publishing in the past (see this ENTRY) and as I continue my quest to build up my fledgling studio, Arcana Creations, expenses do pop up and choices have to be made.  In my case, it sometimes feels like I'm hemorrhaging money though that is more to do with my life in general as opposed to my studio-related costs.

The gaming industry has changed significantly for pen-and-paper based RPGs and with Hobby Publishing on the rise, I do think more people will try their hand at it.  Interestingly enough, one of the seeds was planted back in the mid-80's.  Desktop Publishing became a reality and helped shape how a lot of publishers do various print products today.  What was once inaccessible became within the reach of a larger segment of people.  Of course, back then in the mid-80's, a word-processor was relatively 'vanilla' and simple with what it could do.  Desktop Publishing software helped shape the word processing suites we use today with rudimentary tools to facilitate the inclusion of tables, columns, and pictures.  It also had an impact on web design and layout.

A few of these programs have been around for years and in a couple of cases, practically since the beginning in one form or another.  Why does it have more of an impact now?  Well, the OGL can be largely thanked since it gave third parties a way to largely support the world's most popular game or build up something from it.  PDF-only products have also become more widely accepted since the start of the new millennium.  People recognize the value of the information as opposed to the form that the information takes.  Lastly, computers and software is now much more common and accessible than it has been all those years ago.

One of the leading packages available for layout is by Adobe... a program called Indesign.  It is recognized as a standard among professionals along with many other Adobe programs.  It is unfortunately largely inaccessible to many because of their pricing.  A new computer that can do everything a typical user needs it to do is less expensive than some of these programs.

Well, for someone like me who is very cost conscious, a program like Indesign is a very nice thing to wish for but let's face it -- you can't always get what you want.  You do the best with what you have and one of the key tools I do use is a good wordprocessing suite.  I've become quite satisfied with OpenOffice (open source and FREE) and I've been using it to get a bunch of work done.  While trying to layout a module in it is an exercise in frustration at times, Arcana Creations and Brave Halfling Publishing have managed to do well enough with the few tools at our disposal.  'The Secret of Ronan Skerry' and 'The Ruins of Ramat' were both done with it and everyone who I have spoken with were pleased with the results.  Of course, you need more than just that -- I do use a combination of GIMP and PaintShop Pro for the covers and artwork and just import what I need in.

Of course, using a reliable and dedicated Desktop Publishing program for my layout would save me a lot of time and headaches.  Besides, while what I use now may be more than adequate for for 20 - 24 page module / booklet, a 64 - 128 page project is a completely different beast.  Scribus was one piece of software which was recommended to me a while back.  It is an free and open source alternative to commercial offerings but I never got the 'swing' of it.  Maybe I just wasn't patient enough or maybe it was a factor of not being used to using this sort of software to begin with and not knowing what to do.  It was probably a little of both.

I knew I had to adapt to something better though than what I had been using and I also knew that John Adams of BHP was looking at the same thing.  I had found an interesting program a little while back that seemed to be fraction of the cost of something like Indesign.  While it did a lot and even offered features of an easy-to-use web design program, it seemed to have a little of everything and some of the innovations unique to it turned me off a bit.  John found one called PagePlus by Serif.  At first I was annoyed at the companies website -- apparently there was a free version one could download but it isn't readily available.  Google proves to be your friend and key to getting the SE version to try out.  I gave it a whirl and after stumbling around a bit and doing a brief tutorial (very brief) -- I start figuring out the software and using it.  The price tag... $100 dollars is a bit steep for me these days but after registering the SE version (you basically need to provide some info to get the SE version), I receive an email with a SUBSTANTIAL discount.  Better yet, the company sells older versions of the software (you will need to google this once again since you can't find it on their regular pages).  Version 9 is actually available for only $10 !!  Now, while I prefer many of the newer features in version X4 ... if you have a strict budget and don't like the open source alternative, it's hard to argue AGAINST a mere ten dollars.  For those who might be interested, this offer can be found HERE (it is also where you can get the free SE version to mess around with).

Suffice to say that with either offer (the email offer I received was $50 off), considering the versatility of the program -- well worth the cost.  Once again, you don't need to spend a lot of money to get the tools you need.


Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year + Updates...

Well, 2010 is upon us and as is customary, we all wish that 2010 will be a better year than the last.  2009 was a hard year for many though the past decade was difficult for many.  While I can admit that I thought last year was particularly troubling, there were a couple of highlights.  Brave Halfling Publishing continued to grow despite the tough economy and my own design studio was created.  Brave Halfling Publishing published its first Castles & Crusades module this past year and, we released it into regular distribution late in 2009.  These were the necessary steps that were taken in order to grow and 2010 should be an exiting one for both Arcana Creations and Brave Halfling Publishing.

I continue to get some support with regards to my cat and while the healing process is longer than I would like, she continues to visibly improve.  I finally have the first batch of the sale/fundraiser set up which you can find HERE.  I tried to price them as fairly as I could based on market value and I think the prices are good.  The one thing that some people might hesitate with is the shipping.  Since everything would ship from Canada (and there is no flat-rate media shipping like the States), it'll be a few dollars more than shipping within the US.  If you see something, email me, and I'll try and get a quote as fast as I can.  The good news is that even surface shipping will take less than 2 weeks to get to its destination.

Anyway, these days I'm tying up a few loose ends and I'm trying to get ahead with a few of the upcoming publications due out in early 2010.  These include a module entitled 'Trick on the Tain' as well as 'Victorious'.

Brave Halfling Publishing is also keeping busy and has announced a pre-order for the 'Swords & Wizardry Whitebox' -- this is looking VERY sharp and I encourage any of you who are interested to order a copy.  From the sounds of it, I don't think there has been as much excitement for this sort of boxset since Troll Lord Games released their own C&C white box as a 'proof of concept'.  Keep in mind that TLG did it before there was anything recognized as an 'Old School Renaissance' community.  In short, if you like the notion of an older style of play that captures the original D&D material, or another great rules-lite game, you really can't go wrong with the treatment that BHP is giving this set.  You can read about the announcement HERE.

Anyway, I have a bunch of work I need to get to on the first day of the new year.  To all of you... I wish you a prosperous 2010!