What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Weekend R&R: The Books of Experimental Might

With the announcement earlier this week that Monte Cook to leave the 'D&D Next' project which caused much on forums and blogs alike, I decided to look back at some of Monte's material.

I have a few of his books and not just ones he specifically worked on for WOTC.  Monte Cook had a profound influence on Third Edition, went on to form Malhavok Press where he might be best known for his Arcana Unearthed (Arcana Evolved) material and his Ptolus setting.  As co-designer of Third Edition, he was naturally well invested into the system.  He played it, he wrote for it, and he had his own house rules.  From this and the interest generated on his own blog when he talked about it, he penned the first 'Book of Experimental Might'.  With the success of the first volume, he penned a second companion volume.  They were initially released in PDF format (and had a softcover print run) but it was subsequently published by Paizo as the 'Collected Book of Experimental Might' in hardback.

Personally, I love books like this.  When I was involved with Third Edition, I didn't care much for the variety of splat books (in hardcover no less!) which rapidly grew with the release of 3.5.  On the other hand, I loved the Unearthed Arcana.  For that matter, I also liked the original Unearthed Arcana despite it's flaws when it was released back in the mid-80's (but we'll leave that for another day).  My love for these sorts of books is why I was immediately attracted to Joseph Bloch's 'A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore' which is coming out later this year.  The list goes on, whether it is old or new, and is also a motivation for my own project, 'The Ballista Rules Companion'.

Cook's 'Collected Book of Experimental Might' is a significant book in the sense that it tries to improve and correct certain aspects of the D&D game. The goal of course was greater playability.  Does he actually succeed?  Well, from my perspective given my gaming preferences (as well as those of some of my other readers), probably not.  But it was a good effort and better than diving towards a 4th Edition!  I'm also certain that the 3rd Edition 'power gamer' would have liked certain aspects of the book (not that I'm encouraging this either).  Looking through the book can give possible insights where some aspects of subsequent games editions were going.

The Bad ... Feats, feats, and more feats.  Different types of feats...  Uberfeats.  Even the name 'uberfeat' may send some power gamers into a frenzy.  The 3rd Edition concept behind feats was not a bad idea and there were certain things about it that were elegant as far as a system was concerned.  The problem is that the list just grew and grew and grew with the publication of new books and somewhere along the way, the concept of balance got tossed out the window.  Even the 'core' Feats in the PHB didn't stack up well against once another.  As an additional, possible flaw with 3rd Edition, many of these were also miniature dependent in terms of combat.

The Good ... Domains and Disciplines.  These are kind of like class abilities.  A cleric as we typically recognize them has an ability to Turn Undead and a Paladin will have Lay on Hands for instance.  In this instance, the characters select a discipline which can become more powerful as the character increases in levels with other associated effects or a new discipline can be learned by sacrificing a Feat slot.  What's great about this is it gives a chance for more differentiation between characters of the same class.

There is also some nifty rules concerning hitpoints and healing... with rules which may remind some of what 4th Edition introduced though not quite the same either.  It also introduces up to 20th level spells -- meaning a 5th level wizard can cast up to 5th level spells as opposed to only 3rd level ones.  Fireball becomes a 6th level spell while Lighning Bolt is 5th level but a spell like Wish is a 20th level one.  Of course, using a vancian system of magic, the number of spells per level is also spread out.  The most 1st level spells you'll gain according to the chart is 3 -- even at 20th level.  Oh... no 0 level spells either though cantips are now part of a Discipline.

Aside from that, there are a few little things like Skills and Feat clarifications as well as a couple of classes but that's about it.  It's not a big book but part of that is the paper stock used I think, it clocks in at just over 140 glossy pages.  Art is nice but nothing stood out for me but the presentation is sharp enough.  But is it worth the price for what you can get out of it?

For the most part, it might not be too difficult to try and shoehorn some of this material for a pre-3rd Edition game though you would need to look out for any power creep from such a modification.  There are some great ideas but ultimately, for most it's probably more trouble than it's worth.  The MSRP of the hardback is $29.99 though you may get it for less (new) if you shop around.  Noble Knight Games has a new copy for $24.95 and a NM copy for a couple bucks less.  In PDF (on RPG Now!), volumes 1 and 2 are $9.00 each but at $18 for the two, you may as well get the bundle which also has an adventure thrown in for the same price.  Given the content, I would be hesitant to recommend the book to any gamer who doesn't play 3rd Edition or a game derived from it such as Pathfinder.  On the other hand, if you like tweaking and exploring different options and don't mind a bit of work, it's decent enough if you can find it for a good price.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Admiration for Small Developers & Publishers

For those who follow my blog (thank you for that), you may have noticed a recent surge of me pointing out a variety of kickstarters I found interesting.  All those efforts I've mentioned, I've also backed to a greater or lesser extent.  It's kind of a fun process actually.  On one hand it's great to build a small community around a project where people commonly share dreams and ideas as well of hopes of getting a project from, in some cases, early stages of conception to completion.  It also provides a means of funding a project without all the necessary capital.  It isn't perfect of course.  Since Kickstarter started back in 2008, there has been issues that have cropped up and I suppose there is still a matter of the product actually coming to fruition even if all the necessary funds have been raised.

If you don't like the idea of pre-orders, then there isn't reason to like Kickstarter much either.

What is does do is encourage people who have dreams and the know-how to actually get things out to the public.  It promotes a real 'can-do' attitude which I like to see.

Naturally, the community of small hobby publishers and independent developers have been doing all of that for years -- all you have to do is look towards the OSR community for many examples of people who are carefully constructing their dreams and visions for their fellow gamer.  It's hard to put one's own money on the line to get all the various components put together for a slick and professional looking product.  It's particularly hard if you've got a bunch of other bills to pay and when there isn't much left over after food and rent (or mortgage) are accounted for.  But some of you manage to do it.  Some of you avoid POD and lay down some cash for real print runs -- something I applaud very much!  There are many I could name who do this sort of thing routinely or, at least try to.  But I won't.  I've probably mentioned some in the past and will likely mention some in the future.  If you read my blog, it's likely you follow other blogs who mention some of these creations routinely.

If it wasn't for the small publishers and hobbyists in our community, I think big name publishers would killed have buried this kind of gaming long ago.  Third Edition was a great boon when it first came out but then it reared it's ugly head and devoured much which made up the on-going diversity in rpgs.  The OGL gave rise to a new generation of gaming as well as the OSR.

To all of you that toil on, you have my thanks!  Now... that said, if there was never an OSR, I might have a bit more money in my pocket on a month to month basis!  ;)


Monday, April 23, 2012

Shadow Days

Looks like a cool card game... non-collectible.  On Kickstarter right now with 4 hours to go.  Described as a cross between Magic and D&D.  Simple gameplay mechanic and the core games allows 2-4 players.  Artwork is fantastic!  It's has met it's funding and all stretch goals

Interested or just curious?  Check it out HERE.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Weekend R&R: Gary Gygax's World Builder

With last weekend reminding me of some of the work Gary Gygax had undertaken in his post-TSR days, I started revisiting some of the other books he wrote and put together.  Gygax signed early on to do material with Troll Lord Games and together, they sought to accomplish a variety of goals up to his death in 2008.  These included:

1) Continuing to publish material for Lejendary Adventures.
2) Realize the publication of the infamous Castle
3) Put out a series of books and aides for the development of a 'Gygaxian Style' fantsay campaign.

While they weren't completely successful with all these goals with Gary's passing and subsequent loss of license to produce and sell TriGee licensed material, TLG did end up publishing 7 books in the 'Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds' series.

Gary Gygax's World Builder is actually the second volume in this this series -- the first was "The Canting Crew" which was generally well received.  World Builder on the other hand was a much maligned book but personally, I love it.  It's greatest weakness is that it has difficulty in standing on it's own.  At best, it serves to complement other gaming accessories and supplements with the goal to enrich one's campaign.  You see, ultimately the book is a book of lists and most won't find these at all interesting without some better context.  In fact, the book is perfectly suited for a system that might be 'light' as far as details are concerned.  Nowadays, big production RPGs will have standard list of items, weapons, and armor but won't necessarily go into the sort of details that some gamers will come across simply because they aren't necessarily as well read as others when it comes to something like, medieval warfare is concerned.  Do you know what aketon is or what a burgonet is?  Some people do but most people don't -- World Builder will tell you and even include an illustration!

This book has a section on equipment of all sorts... everything to arm your characters to items you can find at everything from a general store to a tavern or inn and tailor shop.  It has lists of names of currency to foodstuffs to drink.  Transportation is covered as well.  But how do you go about presenting all this stuff in a book?  Well, lists of course.  Detailed lists.  A couple of tables as well to roll up some stuff.

After the section on equipment, there's one dealing with the natural environment... nature and all of that stuff.  More lists and more tables.  Trees, herbs, metals, stones, and fauna.  Weather effects are also covered but the herbs, stones, and metals get very special treatment in this section and an enterprising GM can use this to 'spice up' and add a lot of flavor to the magic they use in their games -- something I've brought up in the past.  This section ends up providing properties and virtues for a variety of things which may remind one of the sorts of things you'll find in "Culpeper's Herbal" or an old Farmer's Almanac or even Agrippa's "Three Books of Occult Philosophy".

The last section of the book gives focus to the sorts of 'acoutrement' you'll have for housing and buildings of all sorts as well as the materials and types of constructions.  There are tables to help you furnish the various types of buildings and dwellings.  Then there are more tables dealing with different aspects of the populace.

The book finishes off with some useful appendices which happen to be collections of lists and tables.  All of the book is kind of nifty in this respect and quite good.  Unfortunately, unless the person using the book as a clear and concise idea of what they are doing, more might be needed to help them 'build' and provide guidelines to help them do what they want to do.  In the end, the greatest thing about the book is also the greatest flaw.  Combine this book with other books from the 'Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds' series and you've really have something wonderful as the other books help fill the gaps some may find missing from this singular volume.  Of course, one of the best things about the series is how it is almost completely stat-less.

World Builder is also one of the last books Gygax wrote (in this case, co-wrote with Dan Cross) though 'compiled' might be a better word.  The best book in the series IMO is actually volume 3 entitled 'Living Fantasy' but I really feel that both 'World Builder' and 'Living Fantasy' complement each other far better than as separate entities.  Living Fantasy was the last gaming supplement he actively wrote before he suffered his stroke in 2004.  After the stroke, he took on more of an executive role in overseeing the projects he was involved in.  He didn't actively write the way he did prior to 2004 but guided other writers who worked under him on the various projects he was doing.

Sadly, all of his material is no longer available.  Period.  If interested in any of these works, you'll have to try your luck in the second hand market.  Ebay may be your best bet though Noble Knight Games has a couple of used copies of 'World Builder'.  Despite my love for the book, I cannot recommend NKG in this instance since they want $60-65 for the book.  That said, I did notice that "Living Fantasy" was available there as well and they even have a new copy and it's on sale.  If you don't have *that* book, do yourself a favor and pick it up.  The new price is $17.95 and the NM used price is $15 right now and that's a GREAT buy for a solid book.


William Mallory

William Mallory is the name of the character I am playing in a new campaign started this past Friday by a friend and follow gamer.  It wasn't the character's first appearance as I had played a few adventures with him in the past.  Mind you we are now going back a few years.

Back then, the character was made for a hybrid of D&D 3.5 and C&C which wasn't ideal in my mind.  We used 3.5 as the backbone but dropped the skill system and adopted the task-resolution system from C&C.  But it meant we kept a number of feats (a bunch were stricken off the list -- mainly the miniature dependent and combat tactical oriented ones) as well as the ability mods from the 3.x system.  Likewise, saving throws were using the Fortitude, Reflex, and Will categories but the base bonuses were determined by the best associated ability modifier of pairings making up each (Strength and Constitution to make up Fortitude for example) with relevant prime and level modifier.  Spells were also 3.5 derived.  At the time, I found the situation a bit 'less than elegant'.  I have no real problem with 3.5 and the concepts of Feats were never a big issue for me.  How some were designed and how the game was miniature dependent on the other hand is what caused me to look for other 'D&D options' since there were things about d20 I enjoyed.  Of course, that is what led me to C&C in the first place.  But the reasoning at the time was partially to accommodate a couple of players which were very much still involved with the whole D&D 3.5 scene.  The 3.5 Player's Handbook was somewhat of a security blanket for those players and because my friend knew how to run a fast-paced and dynamic game, I let it slide knowing full well that at least the cumbersome skill system was no longer a concern and Feats were more practical.

That game came to an end due to conflicting schedules and, in the interim period, I ran my own C&C game.  This past Friday was a nice change of pace to be, once again, on the opposite side of the DM's screen.  There was another first in that game -- it was the first time I actually played a character alongside my wife (NPC's just don't count).  So, to make matter easier, I decided to just run my original character (now a 3rd level, human wizard) and focused on helping a couple of newer players get set up.  We were to play a hybrid of the two systems again but as we are finalizing the characters, I realize that the game is now predominantly C&C and really the only holdover from the D&D are the Fortitude, Reflex, and Will saving throw system.  I quickly realize that my character needs to be fixed and updated accordingly.

So, in good player fashion for the first game session, having seen to it that other people had their own characters squared away, I begin working on my character while the game is running.  ;)

Fortunately, the work was simple enough... lowering the attribute modifiers... and selecting anew spells to be memorized.  I notice that the handful of FEATs I've got on my sheet need to be 'eliminated' but it's not like I have very many either... a wizard in 3.5 is not all that different from C&C.  :)

Both games ran well despite how much or little of 3.5 was used and I just had fun playing my reckless and arrogant wizard!  I am happy that C&C is the backbone we are using and the only real deviation is the saving throw system which works.

As far as spells are concerned, I've cast all my first and second level spells and I have only 3 cantrips left memorized.  I am behind enemy lines along with another party member -- having been separated from the party.  I have a crossbow and little else and I'm not a good shot with that thing either.  I'm in for some fun next session but it could end up being very brief.  And I couldn't be happier.


Friday, April 20, 2012

The Banner Saga

Yes... this is another kickstarter but I think I've mentioned it before.  If I haven't, then I meant to.

It's a videogame though and it's best described as an RPG melded with a Turn Based strategy game.  It's Norse themed and uses a classic animation (think animation cells!).  It's made all of it's goals except the very latest stretch goal which is getting closer by the hour.  Oh yeah... we are talking hours folks.  Less than 18.

I only mention it because it looks so damn cool and I figure that some of you might be interested in this.

 Lowest pledge to get you Chapter 1 of the game is $10 DRM free for PC/Mac.

A Pledge of $50 gets you all three Chapters of the game and other stuff (originally it was also just Chapter 1 but the reception of the kickstarter and funding goal was met so quickly they decided to throw in the second and third part of the game).

There's also higher but some of you may not want to go that high.  Check it out if you haven't already and know that the game itself is a done deal.

You can check out their site HERE which also has a link to the Kickstarter.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Networking (Computers)

I hate it.

For the past couple of what ended up being very long evenings, I have playing with the network I have setup in my home.  A few weeks ago, I switched TV providers so that all my communication and digital needs came from the same source and while most things worked well enough, aspects of my home network I had in place (such as the ability to stream from my computer over to my XBox (wirelessly) via my modem and router) were longer working the way they should.  Something was causing connectivity issues for my XBox (it's really the entertainment hub for the household as opposed to just a videogame console) to be spotty at best.  Worse yet, the new setup was blocking all attempts to for it to 'talk' to my PC.  I've also had my network printer effectively 'reboot' my router when turning it on a couple of times.  That was really disturbing.

After several attempts and some research, I found that there was in fact a documented issue with the device which explained, at least in part, my problems.  So I went about to solve this issue by throwing another dedicated router into the mix.  Thankfully I had some backup and a decent router on hand which permitted me to use the modem solely as a modem.

A lot of problems were resolved... original functionality in all cases restored.  I found another minor issue which I can't explain and, despite everything I've done, defies all logic.  After two days, I have decided to live with this new issue and I've decided to use a workaround.

Two days (well evenings).  Not completely gone to waste but I would have rather work on either the 'Hide in Plain Sight' adventure, or do some work on the 'Ballista Rules Companion'.

At least I'm back on the two manuscripts tomorrow.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Weekend R&R: Gary Gygax's Necropolis

I own many adventure modules scattered on more shelves than I sometimes would like to admit.  I do love a good scenario whether they be good or small.  In the past couple of years, these have also decreased dramatically.  Stuff still comes in but I am a lot more discerning with my choices.  At one point, if it was a DCC (Dungeon Crawl Classics) module, I just had to get it and this went on until the release of Castle Whiterock (DCC 51) which was my last DCC purchase.  I have no idea if I will resume buying the line given that I've pre-ordered the DCC Role-Playing Game and, if I do, if I will even bother getting the 4th Edition line of them.  I mention this since I almost decided to write about Castle Whiterock tonight in recognition of a different mega dungeon / campaign which is now over and successfully funded -- that being the Dwimmermount campaign.  When I was going to dig it out of the closet (where I store a couple of bookshelves due to space limitations) I spied a handful of books I hadn't looked through in a while and chose one of these instead.

'Necropolis' is an adventure which could easily serve as a continued setting and will remind you of the sorts of adventures published in the early days of TSR.  In some ways, it reminded me of the 'The Village of Hommlet' and the rest of the material which form the 'Temple of Elemental Evil'.  Fortunately, there just happens to be a village that the players can use as a base of operations to embark from and come back to during the course of the adventures and campaign.  It's a great place for the player characters to meet and interact with a variety of NPCs and may stumble upon the agendas of others.

Unlike the 'The Village of Hommlet' however, 'Gary Gygax's Necropolis' adventure is not for beginning characters.  It's clearly meant for seasoned adventurers and high level play. For this reason, the book seems to mock me at times.  It's just awesome and deadly and begging to be played!  Every time I look at it reminds me how much I want to run it.  Unfortunately, I don't have any active campaigns with characters of sufficient experience to 'put them through the ringer' so to speak.  I have considered taking the material and scaling it down for lower level play but I'm not sure how well that would work out.  That said, I refuse to just allow for characters created at 10+ level to play this campaign.  I much prefer the idea of allowing characters to advance to sufficient level.  Player's become much more invested in their characters and the game as a result.

So... like the various tombs the land of Khemit, it lies it wait until it is opened with purpose!

Having never run the adventure, I have read through it on a few occasions simply because of the man that wrote it.  Throughout the work, you have advice and suggestions as well detailed information allowing the DM to run the game smoothly and the entire work serves as a great reminder of what a good and solid 'old school' adventure scenario should be like.  The version I have is the much more accessible d20 version published by Necromancer Games (publisher of the 'Cites of Brass' box set I wrote about in the past) but the first incarnation of the adventure was for the 'Dangerous Journeys RPG'.  While I'm sure that most of my regular readers are aware of what Dangerous Journeys was, for those that don't, suffice to say that GDW was one of the companies hit hard with litigation of the years by TSR due to infringements.  The case was settled out of court and production ceased with TSR acquired all rights to the game.  Unfortunately, I have really no solid knowledge of it and the only version I have laid my eyes on is the Necromancer Games edition.  I am quite pleased with the book... a nice 285 page hardback which is elegantly presented much like the rest of their line of products.  Being d20 and designed with 3rd Edition in mind, the bulk of the stats are at the back in a couple of appendixes and they take up about 60 pages alone.  Add a bunch of spells and items and other various charts and you've got 100 pages of 'support' material to the adventure. There is quite a bit of crunch in this section of the book and given the complete text, as a whole, I do wonder how much smaller it would be if it was made for Labyrinth Lord or Castles & Crusades instead.

The good news though is that it is relatively accessible if you still wanted to get it.  The Necromancer Games version was published a decade ago and you get track one of those though a used (NM-) copy at Noble Knight Games will run you $55 but they've got new ones for $60.  A Dangerous Journeys edition will cost you half that though it will be softcover.  However, of better interest is the $12 PDF at Drivethru RPG if PDFs are your thing.

I still don't know when I will run it but, given that I've got that Dwimmermount hardback shipping my way in a few months, maybe I need to figure out a better way to scale it for a slightly lower party.  Odds are, the adventure will claim the lives of a few characters anyway.  ;)


Friday, April 13, 2012

Kickstarters of Note

I just wanted to highlight a couple of Kickstarters which some people might be interested in before they come to a close.  The funny thing is that I originally intended to do this yesterday afternoon but James

I've pledged at the Beholder level for the Dwimmermount.

The other interesting Kickstarter also ending very soon (less than 72 hours) is Joseph Bloch's, "A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore".  I've been following Joseph's blog on and off for some time now and, if you've seen the material he's done up for the 'Castle of the Mad Archmage' and like it, then you have an idea of the type of stuff you might be in for.  However, this project deals with one aspect I've read in his blog before -- a 2nd Edition AD&D game had Gary Gygax remained at the helm.  Piecing together scraps of information and articles this basically supplies gaming information to effectively plays into that whole 'what-if' angle.  So new ways of doing things and a few classes to spice up or alter your existing AD&D or similarly designed game.  He promises the effort to be very modular which really speaks to me as a gamer and someone who is working on a project where I hope to offer the same sort of thing... modular rules options to use in conjunction with or just instead of a particular game system.  Mine will be called Ballista, but the line that he is doing which includes this Kickstarter is Adventures Dark & Deep.  At some point, the concepts and material will form a larger whole but for now, this singular book sounds fantastic as-is.  Check it out HERE.

Truth to tell, I was really conflicted on what to pledge on this project.  I like physical copies but I found the prices to be a bit steep in terms of tiers.  If you want a softcover, you will have to pledge a minimum of $30 plus shipping.  If this was the price of a 128 page softcover in stores, I'd really carefully consider if I wanted and needed it or not.  It's not unreasonable but it's always a tricky thing about items which are sight-unseen -- especially if they are just a few rules options which I may or may not use.  At $10 for the PDF you can't go wrong though.  On the other hand, the hardcover is a whopping $60.  That really awesome looking, limited edition gold-foil hardcover of DCC RPG was only $70 by comparison but clocks in at 480 pages.

Of course, you can't really compared Goodman Games with Joseph Bloch's Kickstarter and I can understand a higher price for certain independently produced releases but, I knew I couldn't justify the $60 (plus shipping) pledge.  My compromise was the softcover pledge at $30 since I wanted a physical copy for the bookshelf and, given his approach and nature of the project, I felt I couldn't do any less.

Joseph Bloch is also throwing in a bonus -- an adventure which links to the Dwimmermount campaign.  This was unexpected but very nice since I'm sure there is some overlap with people who are pledging for both.

My heartfelt congratulations to the both of them for meeting and exceeding your goals!


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Thing About Adventure Modules

The past few days, I've been thinking more about the subject of adventure modules and considered their uses, the kind of appeal they have, and the ultimate impact they have on our games.  Some of this has been brought on by a couple of blog posts recently such as GROGNARDIA blog.

On a personal level, I appreciate them and I do get quite a bit of use out of them even if a lot of them don't immediately suit my needs.  I like them well enough and an adventure module which is not tied to any particular campaign story arc has a lot more use to me than one that does.  I, like many people who run or have run various campaigns don't necessarily want a huge world-shifting plot which may wind up having far-reaching consequences to your campaign story-arc.  More often than not, if we decide to reach for an adventure module to use, we want to be able to just drop it, use it, and then just move on.  A good adventure module may end up being nothing more than 'filler' and if it does, then that's great news!

That said, once you've being running a campaign with a group of players long enough, you begin to get to know their likes and dislikes.  I know that, because of my present group, I've had to really cut and gut many an adventure module in order to transform the experience for them into a memorable one.  A year or so ago, I ran 'Assault on Blacktooth Ridge' by TLG (for C&C)... it was much condensed and altered in one section to fit the needs of my campaign and tastes of my players.  In the end, the spirit of it was very much intact but I know that others in the series I plan on running will require a bit more work.  Some adventures are great as written and I've just inserted them without as much as a second thought.  Others required a heck of a lot more work but, in the end, the effort was worth it.  The thing is that, despite my fondness for using adventure modules, of all the ones I do own, I have used less than 10% of them.  I prefer using module as a base simply because they are time savers -- a lot more now than they ever were.  Between m 9-5 job, various obligations, and family, the time I purposely set aside to game is valuable.

Once upon a time, I would have considered modules to be more of an optional purchase than anything else.  I would focus on buying rulebooks and the odd supplement for my gaming but buy a module when I was *really* curious or otherwise drawn to it.  I was also in highschool and had all the time in the world to create my own adventures to use.  I just didn't need someone else to write a module for me.  Consequently, I never bought many of the earlier TSR modules.  That isn't to say I thought they were worthless, there were some I did get and favored as a result such as the 'I Series' -- many of which I bought years ago.  They were just a secondary consideration.  When I look at other gaming lines, I didn't even bother buying anything other than rulebooks.  Circumstances and priorities do change though.

In the past few years, I have become a lot more fond of published adventure scenarios though and some of it is due to the high quality output that certain companies have focused in bringing to market.  I know there are some who think modules have always been a sort of 'cash grab' and, in one sense, they are correct.  Compared to a typical rulebook, an adventure scenario is a lot easier and less expensive to put out.  However, from a business standpoint, it's a terrible model to rely upon.

In a perfect world, the rulebooks could represent a 'razor' -- you put it out at a low price point to encourage sales of your game.  But then you put out an array of adventure modules and rules supplements which cost less to put out but the profit margin ends up being higher.  These would represent the 'blades'.  Multiple modules and supplements specifically tailored to the game bring in a steady flow of income.

Now, in the business of razors and razorblades -- this works wonderfully well and has done so for decades and it's only the electric razor that shifted the scales.  This model works very well if you consider video games consoles and video games -- the Sony Playstation and Microsoft XBox series perfectly reflect this model.  These consoles initially come out as a loss for the manufacturer but the gap is closed by the sale of video games and accessories.  Additionally, they will refine the manufacturing process of the consoles to lower the prices while continuing their sales of games and retain their price point on newer titles.

It just doesn't work for pen and paper based RPGs though.  Once the person buys a rulebook and have dice, they don't need to purchase a single other item.  Unfortunately for adventure modules, you have the additional problems of lack of re-playability with them unless you run the same scenario for a different group of people.  Modules will always work best for new RPGs when people are looking for anything and everything that their new 'favorite' system uses.  If you are looking at the long haul though, you need to stand out from the pack.

The d20 boom and bust brought way too much material to the market when the OGL and D&D 3.x was released.  If we just look at adventure modules, there was still too much.  WOTC was in on the game and put out some decent adventures as well as many other companies.  At first, some people didn't give the Dungeon Crawl Classics more than an odd, quizzical look when they first came on the scene but that rapidly changed.  Goodman Games was in it for the long haul and Necromancer Games also put out some stellar material back then  Their modules and products captured the imagination which is why they've done so well.

It doesn't need to be necessarily 'brilliant' but it needs to stand out.  More importantly perhaps is adaptability of the material.  The DCC adventures did that very well by providing tips to either scale up or scale down the scenario and remain neutral enough to dump it in the GM's own setting if they wished.  At the end of the day, there will always be some people (like me) who will buy adventure modules.  If done right, even if it ends up being a 'meat and potatoes' basic style adventure, it could even become a classic in its own right -- much like many early TSR modules, or the earlier DCC modules which are still sought after today.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Weekend R&R: Empire of the Petal Throne

With the passing of Professor MAR Barker, about a few weeks ago (March 16 to be exact), I decided to correct a serious omission in my gaming collection. I decided to track down and order a copy of "Empire of the Petal Throne".  Unlike the Wilderlands created by the Judges Guild, the writings of Barker and his world of Tekumel was something I was aware of for many years.  EPT was something I knew about and, admittedly knew very little about all at once.  I knew about aspects of the rich history and culture and the language he created for his world but, for whatever reason, I tended to forget about the fact that it takes place thousands of years in our future on a different planet.  In the end, I hadn't made acquiring it much of a priority because of relative scarcity of the material and because it seemed a bit too exotic based on my limited exposure to it.  It wasn't something I could readily find at my local hobby shop and, unless I wanted to try and track down a used copy online, it probably wasn't going to happen.  Interestingly enough, it wasn't till about 5 years ago when I started to actively search out older, OOP gaming books online to pick up things I hadn't gotten when I had the chance years prior.

But that was then and this is now.  Around 5 years ago, not only did I occasionally utilize eBay to pick up a few things, but I often came into contact with other gaming enthusiasts and found Noble Knight Games.  A couple weeks ago, it just so happened that I had a $20 gift certificate for NKG and I decided to put it to good use.  Of course, I had to do a bit more research on the subject.  I did know someone who had some EPT material which is where I got my first taste years ago but I didn't know what was what and, the simple fact is that there were many different EPT printings and offerings since TSR published the initial print run in 1975.  I was also not sure which version I had even seen all those years ago but I knew I wanted something 'like it'.  Thankfully, I had the internet to help.  In particular, I found the Tekumel site to be invaluable to narrow down what I wanted.  You can check this little resource out HERE.

After checking out the differences and doing other internet searches, I was able to determine that the version I wanted really would love to own was the original TSR box set.  The cover / box art alone is just beautiful.  Reality of course meant different options.  This was *not* the version I had seen and reality of tracking down one of these sets without costing me a fortune made it clear that I needed to keep looking.  I did quickly find out what version I believe I had looked through all those years ago and I believe it was the Gamescience reprints.  I guess that's the thing though, I picked up the Different Worlds reprint of EPT since it was not too expensive and the texts were essentially all reprints of the same ruleset.  After the Different Worlds printing, there was also the Tita's House of Games reprint and my understanding is there are little to no differences with all these different versions.  Now I should point out that the Tita's House of Games material was cheaper *but* having never dealt with them directly nor seeing any updates beyond 2009, I was a bit concerned.  Plus, having shopped at NKG many times before and having a gift certificate, I had enough motivation to not be bothered much by the higher price for the older printing.

What I really like about EPT, flipping through it now as I did years ago, was the D&D angle.  While EPT was billed as it's own game, it is so close to the original D&D pedigree that using it for what I currently play (C&C) would be a synch.  The beauty of EPT is, of course, the setting -- the mechanics are secondary and, being that I am so familiar with D&D type mechanics, it becomes second nature to pick up and use.  Now, while I said 'D&D type', that doesn't mean it's D&D.  If it was D&D, it could have potentially because one of the D&D sourcebooks alongside Greyhawk and Blackmoor.  Instead, it is a system which is clearly derived from D&D -- 6 attributes (Strength, Intelligence, Constitution, Psychic, Dexterity, and Comeliness) using a percentile system.  What's interesting is the skill system that the game also has in place.  Other aspects of the game such as hitdice and armor class are there as well making the game really familiar to D&D veterans.  This is the EPT I wanted and thankfully, if you find it (regardless of the printing) this is what you will get.

Now a few weeks ago, I mentioned Space 1889 and the impact that John Carter has had as far as inspiration is concerned.  Empire of the Petal Throne just continues to fuel it.  Now that I take the time to read the book, I really think I need to get some more and have some fun exploring this exotic setting!

While a used copy might be pricier than one would like, the Tita's House of Games seems to retail around $25.00 if you can find it, or order it from the source, or just wait for Noble Knight Games to carry it once more.  The better bet in my mind is to get the PDF version at $11.00 off of RPG Now! (Drivethru) and print and bind it yourself if need be.


Happy Easter !!

I came across this pic and I couldn't resist.  :)

The days leading up to Easter Weekend has been busy for me since my regular 9-5 involves me working in the payroll department of a Temp Agency and Good Friday meant a shortened work week for the same sort of work load.  Aside from regular commitments with family and friends, today is also my wife's birthday!

My regular Weekend R&R post might not happen today and, if it doesn't, it will be up the next day or so.

In any event, to all my readers (and the wife)... enjoy the day and thanks for reading!


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Return to Shadowrun

Of the various games I've played in over the years (yet never ran) was FASA's Shadowrun.  People I've met either loved it or hated it and I think part of the reason was the magic meets (future) tech angle.  A bastard-child of D&D and Cyberpunk so-to-speak.  Like MERP, it was someone else who introduced me to the game.  Actually, it was the same guy who had introduced me to MERP a year or two before.  D&D was never his 'main' game but I digress.  While I first made a character, I did so with some reservations.  It's probably a good thing I didn't invest too much time in the character as his death was swift.

The experience wasn't in vein since it did give me a better feel for the system and, not wanting to get too attached, I named him the Punisher and drew some of the inspiration from the Marvel character.  The idea was the character was influenced by the old comic book and was ex-Lonestar.  I just didn't think he'd live that long.  Well I was mistaken but had a blast playing a cybered up weapons guy.  A few years after the character was effectively shelved, another friend decided to run a campaign and out of 'retirement' he came.  Lots of fun given that this was during the phase where TSR and AD&D took a break from one another in the mid-90's.

But that was years ago... over 15 now.  Lot's of changes happened to Shadowrun over the years.  When I played, 2nd Edition was the latest and greatest (though very close to 1st).  FASA is now long gone and the IP has changed hands and a few more editions have come (and gone).  And while I have some of the older books, the likelihood that I run such a campaign is extremely slim.

Why do I bring it up?  Only because my last hope to even play lies in a new Kickstarter for a turn-based RPG for the PC by one of the original creators of the game!!  If you have fond memories for one reason or another but know that running a pen and paper Shadowrun campaign just isn't your foreseeable future, you can check out the Kickstarter HERE.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Weekend R&R: Middle Earth Role Playing

One of the first RPGs that I was exposed to after my introduction to AD&D was Middle Earth Role Playing. I was reminded of it a few days ago given the games connection to Role Master and the multitude of tables the game supplied -- notably the critical hits and fumbles. It was the subject of the DCC RPG and its own many and various tables which drew comparison to Role Master while chatting with a few fellow gamers the other night. I confess that I never got into Role Master proper but I did get the Role Master Express book when it was released a couple of years back due to the many comparisons some fans made between MERP and this streamlined version.

However, many years ago, someone I had just met made offer to run a campaign with MERP which I agreed to play in. It was just so different compared to the only other RPG I had played and, to top it all, I had yet to read any of the books. My only exposure to the Lord of the Rings was the animated cartoons I had seen as a child. My first character I created for the game was a hobbit and vaguely remembered playing him as I would a thief. I also remembering not being too cautious when playing the character. In fact I decided to go sliding down a shaft but the character stopped a bit too abruptly -- the character ended up with a broken arm. The thing I remember fondly about that? My character ended up with a freakin' broken arm!! That stuff didn't happen in D&D... I mean, the MERP rulebook had rules and tables for that and everything! Not a big deal now by any means but back then, the fact that it was so different to what I got used to was what was so exciting about.

As a system though, having never tried to run any MERP or RM, I did enjoy playing it. It don't remember it being overly complicated but it did necessitate much consultation. Of course, a good set of handouts or GM screen could easily cut down on the problems of running such a game by constantly referring to the book. In that regard, MERP and RMX have fewer tables I believe making it less of a problem to play. I genuinely liked it though but having read through the books a couple of years after I played certainly put the game in a slightly different perspective. It certainly didn't make me appreciate the game any less though. For those curious, the game runs on percentile system and may remind some of the older Runequest material.

Now, I know it isn't everyone's cup of tea -- I've heard alternate names calling the game 'Chart Master' instead of Role Master and for good reason but that won't necessarily make such a game unplayable much like the new DCC RPG will certainly be played despite having a few extra tables. In the end, it's about rolling dice and having some fun. :)

At this point though, Iron Crown Enterprises who is responsible for putting out the Role Master material is still undergoing a period of chaos. Naturally, it lost the Tolkien license years ago so trying to acquire MERP is practically impossible save for used sources. The good news is that it's not too expensive. A first edition rulebook for MERP will run around $15 and up though it is the second printing which seems to be the one sought after coming closer to the $20 - $25 range if you look at Noble Knight Games. The Second Edition of the rulebook is about the same. Sadly, trying to acquire Role Master Express is near impossible unless you are willing to pay the price. What was once something between $5 and $10 (new) about 3 years ago seems to go for around $30 for a used copy. Due to some legal difficulties regarding IP, Role Master Express is no longer available. The only option remaining would be to opt for what is termed Role Master Classic which Role Master Express was to serve as an introduction for anyway. At the moment, the only material readily available (aside from the second hand market) is via PDF though the regular channels (RPGNow) though POD is supposed to be coming soon.

There is a nice legacy to the system but I don't think it will ever be what it once was and used copies are just not getting any cheaper. Hopefully, it will get turned around somewhat so that people can take a look at the system once again and judge it on its own merits.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Busier Weekend Than Usual

Well, today was a good and productive day. I try not to do too much on my weekends and reserve that mainly as 'me time' and this is also when I'll see friends and family. Instead I've decided to stay closer to home but did end up spending chunks of my day on the phone. When I wasn't on the phone, I managed to:

  • Do some general maintenance on the computer and sorted through material.
  • Update the software I use for Arcana Creations; namely what I use for layout and check out the changes from previous versions.
  • Do some editing and layout work for 'Hide In Plain Sight'.
  • Sorted out the design for the new logo for the upcoming products Arcana Creations will be releasing.
  • Revisited the pages the BETA rules for the DCC RPG (and caved and pre-ordered it)
  • Finally started putting my thoughts together for tomorrow's "Weekend R&R" post.

Also had a chance to have some coffee this afternoon with a good friend. It was a day and now it's time for bed.