Thursday, May 27, 2010

Call for Nitpickery!

The next release of Castle of the Mad Archmage is intended to be the last in the series of free pdf's detailing the "core levels"; levels 2 through 13 of the dungeon complex. I'm hoping to make the next release a definitive one, hoping not to have to put out a supplemental release to address any issues, and thus I send out the call to you, my faithful readers.

Do you have any questions, concerns, nitpicks, problems, inconsistencies, flubs, rules violations, typos, formatting issues, stairs not lining up, names not matching, etc. etc. etc. with the Castle as it currently stands? Steve has done Yeoman's Work catching my mistakes (and Sweet Istus! is he an unsung hero of this project, as our volunteer proofreader, because I just plain can't proof my own work), but a hundred eyes are better than six.

If there's anything that's caught your eye over the last year and a half that you think should be addressed, or at least looked into, I put out the call. Now's the time to let us know! Please respond in the comments, and help put the final polish on the project.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Castle of the Mad Archmage May Release Now Available!

Here there be dragons!

We're coming down to the end of it, and what a level we have for #12. From a simple notation by Gygax that "there were dragons on the twelfth level of the Castle", we have a sampling of evil dragons, their dragon men servants, and a new type of dragon to throw at your jaded players. Plus a bunch of other surprises, just to keep 'em on their toes.

And after this? The Maze. Wherein the final puzzle of the Castle is revealed, and the stalwart heroes who managed to make it that far are rewarded. Or are they?

Download the pdf file containing levels 2-12 (182 pages) --> HERE <--

Is the Endgame its Own Game?

Both my own work on Emprise!™ and today's release of the Dark Dungeons retro-clone of the Rules Cylopedia published via the offices of the OGL (definitely worth a look, btw) have gotten me thinking once again about the Old School Endgame once again.

I can't help but wonder if the "end game", where players end up ruling their own freeholds, running their own thieves' guilds,and establishing their own temples, doesn't deserve its own game.

Now, the Mentzer rules did  a yeoman's job of covering the salient rules, but I would argue that the AD&D PH and DMG did so as well. Siege rules, costs of mercenaries, taxation and tax revolts, it's all there. But it's just not systematized. It's like they just assumed you'd know how to put it together, and use it in a campaign, once the players got to the point where they were recruiting armies and clearing 30-mile hexes of wilderness.

But I'm wondering if it might not be better, from a design point of view, to divorce the "endgame" from the rest of the game, and turn it into a game unto itself. I cite three reasons:
  • People don't really do the endgame nowadays, even though they have the Rules Cyclopedia (and now Dark Dungeons), the DMG, and Mystara to use as source material.
  • Players aren't necessarily going to want to settle down. Just because your magic-user reaches 12th level doesn't mean you're ready to give up the dungeon or wilderness. Hell, in a lot of campaigns, you're just getting started.
  • (A)D&D is a game about young, inexperienced nobodies steadily improving both their personal power and wealth by investigating and looting crumbling ruins and/or slaying villains, which may or may not have some broader impact on the setting at large, on a scale where a single character could realistically command his followers' actions directly.
Now, this does not imply a complete divorce between a character in an (A)D&D campaign and one in a hypothetical Endgame Campaign. Indeed, the rules as written imply a transition from the one to the other, but they do not, I should point out, ever mandate it. The (A)D&D rules allow for player characters to continue grubbing about in the dungeons until they reach 29th level, and more power to 'em.

I can't help but wonder if a sharper delineation between the two states might make the endgame a little more understandable and popular. What if there was a separate game, which was based on what would happen when the 10-15th level player characters from (A)D&D felt their oats and settled down to found their own temples and freeholds? Nothing says you couldn't play both games in the same campaign setting; indeed, it would work better if it was completely compatible. It would have armies, and siege rules, and politics, and trade, and so forth. All the "flyover country" rules in the DMG that gets overlooked (and more).

I don't pretend to have the key to making it work as a separate game, but I think the break (thinking of them as two separate games) might make the endgame a little easier. I could easily see a campaign becoming bifurcated; the players are playing both games at the same time. In the one, they're back to being 1st level schmucks, and in the other, they're playing the 15th level movers-and-shakers, both of which have an overall impact on the other.

But the question is, would separating the two styles of play into separate games matter? Would removing the incongruity of army morale and siege point damage from the DMG make a difference? I lean on the side of "yes", but I'm eager to hear others' opinions.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lulu's Greyhawk Grognard Birthday Sale!

Yes! You read correctly! For just the next two days, if you put in code ROADTRIP305, you will get 20% off your order, up to a maximum of $50, in honor of my birthday tomorrow, and my wife's birthday today! Wasn't that great of

What good is that, you ask? Why, you could use that to buy any number of really awesome OSR games, modules, and supplements! Stuff like:
And much, much, much, much more!

Buy their stuff! Now's you're chance! 20% off! What are you still doing here!? Their prices are INSAAAAAAAAANE!!

UPDATE: For those unfortunate enough not to have grown up in the New York metropolitan area in the 1970's and 80's, I give you a sampling of the manic genius that is the Crazy Eddie commercials. (The store eventually went out of business, the founder arrested for fraud. But the commercials shall live on forever.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Temptation of the White Box

It's at times such as these-- when I'm coming off a hiatus in my own campaign and am looking to start it up again in a couple or three weeks-- that I begin to get sorely tempted by the idea of changing from 1E AD&D, which has been my game of choice for the last decade or so, and naturally when it was still the official version, and going to the LBB's.

On the one hand, I know AD&D. I can run it without the books at all if I wanted to. I'm so conversant with the rules, and where I've bent them to my liking (such as with initiative, or taking out psionics) that it's literally no effort for me to run a game.

On the other hand, there's something to be said for the relative simplicity of the white box edition. The trouble is, I'm afraid I'd find myself bringing in enough AD&D material that I do like, such as the expanded spell lists, creatures from the FF and MM2, etc. It might not be worth the effort of running the "white box plus" when I can run "AD&D minus". (There is the "wow factor" of running a game at a convention, and seeing the jaws hit the floor when I have the white box out on the table, but honestly, I get enough of that just having a 1E DMG and goldenrod character sheets on the table...)

Plus, I don't find myself as a huge fan of the demihuman-as-class concept. Heresy to some, I know, but the whole point of this post is personal preference. I can dump it very easily by just using material from Greyhawk, Eldritch Wizardry, or Blackmoor, but then we get into "why not just play AD&D?" territory again.

Can anyone come up with any compelling reasons to run "LBB plus" as opposed to "AD&D minus"?

Adventures in Oz

I'm not sure that it's anything close to an OSR game in terms of mechanics, but for some reason F. Douglas Wall's new Adventures in Oz RPG just caught my imagination. Perhaps it's because I'm developing quite a collection of kids-oriented RPGs (this one is said to be suitable for gamers of all ages), but I'm very much looking forward to reading this new release. I've read through his blog posts on the design process and it seems like he's combined a lot of thoughtful design with an obvious love (perhaps "obsession" is the correct word) with the original source material.

His blog is now linked over to the left, and there's a lot of neat stuff in there, not just RPG, but related to the original Oz books (which, a quick flip of the DMG reveals, were not in Appendix N as I had originally thought) and a lot of other related topics. I think it's worth a look.

Monday, May 17, 2010

"Tales of an Ancient Empire" Trailer!

Two of the most influential swords-and-sorcery films when I was growing up were Hawk the Slayer and The Sword and the Sorcerer. They were perfect fodder for my D&D-soaked brain, and Cinemax and HBO showed them with enough frequency that I can still recite parts of them by memory today. And more than a few of my campaigns had a River Shale, too. Last year, I mentioned that sequels were in the works for both films, and now we've got an honest-to-goodness trailer for Tales of an Ancient Empire, the long-awaited sequel to The Sword and the Sorcerer!

Kevin Sorbo! Vampires! Decapitations! This could suck (but as vampire-swords-and-sorcery movies go, could it even approach the awfulness of Bloodrayne II?), but it might be a fun ride. Time shall tell.

The "Soft Takeoff" Singularity

Many venerable and excellent games such as Metamorphoses: Alpha, Gamma World, the Morrow Project, and even Twilight: 2000 are set in a post-apocalypic world. So, too, television shows and films such as Arc II, Logan's Run, or Earth II. By definition, these all posit a devastating cataclysm of some sort, usually a war or man-made ecological catastrophe.

In Transhumanist terms, such a devastating war would be termed a singularity. Singularity in this context is a term coined by science fiction author Vernor Vinge, to describe an event in the future beyond which it is impossible to predict anything about society, history, technology, etc. Usually, the term is used in conjunction with the development of artificial intelligence, nanoassembler technology, etc., but a nuclear war would fulfill the definition just as well.

These are what are known as "hard takeoff" singularities. They happen suddenly and jarringly, with little or no warning. You don't know it's coming until you see the radar tracks of the missiles arcing over the polar ice cap, or until the supercomputer announces that "Action will be taken" unless its demands are met...

There is another sort of singularity, however, that I think would make for a spiffy campaign setting for this sort of game. This is the "soft takeoff" singularity. This is the singularity that takes its time coming; it may even be consciously planned as a singularity, but need not be. And it might not necessarily be a move "up".

What brings me to this topic is a re-read of two excellent books from my college days; Phaid the Gambler and Citizen Phaid by Mick Farren. These books are set, as many such books are, an indeterminant number of years in the future, where all knowledge of our modern world is lost, and what high technology there is, is left over from a golden era in the past. There's weather control, but it's out of control, leaving alternating bands of scorching desert and icey wastes. There are androids, and blasters, and the like, but nobody knows how to build them, and precious few remember how to repair them. It's not savagery; there are cars, and trains, and nightclubs. But it's all so very... tired. Civilization is winding down, and everyone can feel it.

But the world they describe is not the result of a war. Rather, it's the tail end of a long, slow decline in human civilization. And what brought about this decline from an apex of technological grandeur? (Highlight to reveal invisotext spoilers) All the best and brightest people left Earth for the stars, and are now only remembered in half-mythological terms as "Lords". Those who were left behind, the second-rate folks who didn't have the drive to innovate and create, gradually lost their knowledge as a result of laziness and complacency as much as anything else. I think this would make an awesome background for a campaign, perhaps focused on restoring human civilization to something approaching its zenith.

Just a thought for those who like post-apocalypic games, but might want to shake up the nature of the apocalypse. I'm thinking Gama World with large, functioning cities, a transportation infrastructure, and the like. Could be neat!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Son of the thing that ate yet more Minifigs Pics

Just a quick update; I've loaded a bunch of new photos to the Minifigs Greyhawk Miniatures page. More amazons, Valley Elves, a nasty looking giant spider, and more!

Sorry I've not been more actively posting; as you can see over to the right, I've been toiling away at Castle of the Mad Archmage. Level 12 coming soon!