Saturday, July 31, 2010

Greyhawk session #2

Following hot on the heels of our initial session, four of our intrepid adventurers began to establish themselves in the City of Greyhawk, preparing for their eventual excursion into the ruins of Castle Greyhawk itself. Once again we were playing at Mighty Titan Hobbies and Games in Randolph, NJ; a fine store and a great space to game in. The Greyhawk sandbox was in full effect, with a sub-set of the total playing group being active in any given session.

Present were Nalania the cleric of Rudd, Ehrandar the elvish thief, Abo the magic-user, and Theric the paladin. Unfortunately, two new folks who had indicated they were going to play ended up no-showing (doubly unfortunately, because there was a waiting list for this session). But, short-handed though they were, they had secured lodgings at the Cock and Bottle in Greyhawk's River Quarter, and set about getting to know the lay of the land. (I'm using my hand-drawn City of Greyhawk maps; see the "free downloads" section to the right if you'd like to download them for yourself.)

Two priorities presented themselves first up; getting some hirelings to accompany the band into the fabled dungeons, and getting some employment themselves to get some ready coin for living expenses. Theric inquired at the local temple of Pholtus as to the availability of any hirelings, while Ehrandar visited Captan Voran's cousin Beldo, who runs a seedy tavern on the docks called the Rusty Rat. Both were successful; Theric was assured that some likely member of the flock was available and would soon be sent along to the Cock and Bottle, while Beldo agreed to engage the group as collection agents. It seems that the Rhennee tavern-keeper was owed a substantial amount of money, to the tune of a thousand pieces of gold, from one Jondo Vorth, a tinsmith and peddler whose shop was in one of the seeder sections of the River Quarter. For a 15% cut, the party members agreed to collect the debt, and promised to be discreet in the process.

Jondo was found at his humble shop, which obviously was not the digs of someone who would have a thousand gold orbs handy, and when confronted about the debt, eventually agreed to bring the money around to the Cock and Bottle that evening, as long as Theric was there to receive it. He wanted nothing to do with Ehrandar, whose questions had apparently not sat well with the tinsmith. The party agreed and departed, but Ehrandar lingered around the back, hoping to tail Jondo when he left the shop.

While Ehrandar waited by the tinsmith's back door, one Salvomar, a young and eager warrior, called upon Theric at the Cock and Bottle, to present himself and his services, complete with sword and leather armor. The party eagerly took him on, especially as he had come recommended by the priesthood of Pholtus, and bade him wait until they were ready to begin their explorations of the ruins in a couple of days.

Ehrandar, meanwhile, waited until dusk, when the tinsmith left his shop by the back door and made his way to a warehouse near the city walls by the river. With the tinsmith disappearing inside, the elf went around to the back of the building, waiting for him to possibly emerge by that door. However, after a while it became apparent that the tinsmith wasn't coming out that way, and the elf made his way back to the Cock and Bottle. The party quickly made plans for the elf and the mage to check out Jondo's shop while the others awaited him at the inn.

Jondo, none too pleased to be there, turned up at the Cock and Bottle as promised, handing over a small pouch which he said would more than settle the debt with Beldo, and then quickly left. Within the pouch was a small statuette of a frog, made of gold with emeralds for warts; a puzzling, but certainly valuable geegaw. There was one bit of trouble, however; Jondo was presumably on his way back to his shop, where he'd doubtless catch the elf and mage in the act, so to speak!

While all this was going on, not realizing how quickly the encounter in the inn had transpired, Ehrandar attempted to pick the back lock. No luck. Then he climbed the back wall and tried to enter through the second-story window. Also no good. The front door proved similarly proof against his lock-picking skills, to the elf and mage resorted to more primal means of entry. One kicked-in back door later, the two were quickly searching through the shop and living quarters, looking for any sort of clues.

The cleric and paladin rushed through the streets to Jondo's shop, getting there mere minutes ahead of the owner, and finding the back door with the broken stile, they whispered to their companions to come out now, because Jondo was about to return. Reluctantly, the intruders did so, not having found anything.

Not wanting to waste any time, the party repaired to the Rusty Rat right away and presented their prize to the disbelieving Beldo. "A frog?" he asked incredulously. "I send you for money and you bring me frog? Why don't you go someplace and sell frog, then bring me money. Then everybody happy!"

The next morning, the party took Beldo's advice and sought out a jeweler in the Artisan's Quarter, who eventually agreed to pay them 950 golden orbs for the curious golden frog. The price was slightly less than they had been hoping for, but they agreed, and eagerly took the money back to Beldo. He took his 850 in gold, leaving the party with a net gain of 100 g.p. for their troubles. They bought a shield for Salvomar, and told him to be ready to leave on the morrow.

That evening, however, a messenger came from Beldo, asking the party to come to him at the Rusty Rat. Somewhat puzzled, they did so, and were doubly puzzled when Beldo asked why they felt it had been necessary to kill Jondo over the debt. "I thought I said you should be discreet," he added. The party, of course, swore up and down that they had no idea what he was talking about, and he explained that Jondo had been found slain in his shop that morning. Naturally, he just assumed that the party had done it. He wasn't particularly broken up about it, but warned the party to have a good alibi ready for when the constabulary came to investigate. They had been seen with Jondo in the common room of the Cock and Bottle the night before the murder, after all...

A spirited discussion then ensued as to what the best course of action would be. The circumstantial evidence certainly looked grim; they met with Jondo, then took off immediately after he left the inn, and the next day he was found slain in his shop with a broken rear door. After much discussion it was decided to simply act normally, and continue with their plans to explore the castle ruins the next day. If the police came to them, they'd deal with them honestly, as they really didn't commit the murder.

And so the party made the journey the next day to the castle ruins. I am not using CZ:UW for my own campaign; I'm putting together my own Upper Ruins and Storage Rooms levels for my own use as part of my Castle of the Mad Archmage. Unfortunately, the hour was running late in real-life, and the party was only able to explore a little bit of the Outer Bailey before we had to call the session to a close. The gate house and a few stables got explored, but little more, although a gray bird of prey was seen to alight from one of the gatehouse towers as the party crossed the drawbridge and entered the grounds proper. Doubtless next session the real investigations of the ruins will commence!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Surfeit of Demihumans

I make no bones about being a fan of the Unearthed Arcana book, and one of the ideas behind Adventures Dark and Deep™ is that the additional rules, spells, classes, etc. will be "folded in" to the original rules from the DMG and PH, with the intent of making a seamless whole.

However, one of the things that just sticks in my craw are the enormous number of demihuman sub-races. To be perfectly honest, I'm not a fan of most of the sub-races in the Player's Handbook and Monster Manual. Why would anyone play a "regular" hairfoot halfling when you can play a stout and get infravision and detect sloping passages?

Just look at the plethora of demihuman sub-races:
  • Dwarf, Gray
  • Dwarf, Hill
  • Dwarf, Mountain
  • Elf, Dark (M)
  • Elf, Dark (F)
  • Elf, Gray
  • Elf, Half-
  • Elf, High
  • Elf, Sea
  • Elf, Valley
  • Elf, Wild
  • Elf, Wood
  • Gnome, Deep
  • Gnome, Surface
  • Halfling, Hairfoot
  • Halfling, Stout
  • Halfling, Tallfellow

(I break dark elves into male and female because there are substantive differences between the two.)

But seriously-- do we really need 17 different types of demihumans? Personally, I think there is a place for such diversity, but in the context of specific campaign settings. For example, the valley elf was originally a product of the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting; found, appropriately enough, in the Valley of the Mage. We also have gully dwarves from the Dragonlance setting, and others.

If a given setting has a need for such specialization, I am all in favor of it. But the wholesale porting of such specialties into the generic pool seems a bit of overkill to me. What, pray tell, is the need for wild elves and valley elves, other than a bit of minutae regarding level limits and class availability? Just have a group of elves that don't have clerics among them and call it a day, rather than inventing a whole new sub-race of wild elves.

Personally, I would keep the main demihuman races, include the underdark and aquatic variants, and probably keep it at that. Leave everything else to campaign-specific variation (although the rules would explicitly mention the possibility of such variations, and maybe include an example). Yes, you have to keep sea elves. I mean, they sell prosthetic sea-elf ears for LARPs. C'mon! Prosthetic ears!

Am I alone in this opinion? Do folks find the broad variety of demihuman options to be too much, or a welcome means of introducing variety?

EDIT: Hey! I just realized this is my 300th post. Go me!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

D6 Probabilities

I've been toying around with substituting multiple d6's for percentile dice in some situations, so I naturally needed to know the probabilies of throwing any given number or less with d6's. Here are the numbers, just in case anyone else needs 'em handy:

Roll1d62d63d64d65d6
116.667%----
233.333%2.778%---
350.000%8.333%0.463%--
466.667%16.667%1.852%0.077%-
583.333%27.778%4.630%0.386%0.013%
6100%41.667%9.259%1.157%0.077%
7-58.333%16.204%2.701%0.270%
8-72.222%25.926%5.401%0.720%
9-83.333%37.500%9.722%1.620%
10-91.667%50.000%15.895%3.241%
11-97.222%62.500%23.920%5.877%
12-100%74.074%33.565%9.799%
13--83.796%44.367%15.201%
14--90.741%55.633%22.145%
15--95.370%66.435%30.517%
16--98.148%76.080%39.969%
17--99.537%84.105%50.000%
18--100%90.278%60.031%
19---94.599%69.483%
20---97.299%77.855%
21---98.843%84.799%
22---99.614%90.201%
23---99.923%94.123%
24---100%96.759%
25----98.380%
26----99.280%
27----99.730%
28----99.923%
29----99.987%
30----100%

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Matinee: Rollerball (1975)

I thought I'd start a new series (but no telling how assiduously I'll follow my intent to post one of these every Sunday) on some of the films that influenced me during my more formative years; before and just as I was coming into RPGing. They won't all have direct bearing on my gaming per se, but these are the films I grew up with, at the same time I was learning RPGs.

First up is Rollerball, from 1975. I was around 10 when this started coming on cable, and I watched it every chance I got. The plot is simple; in a future world where corporations run everything, one of the chief forms of entertainment is the sport called rollerball. It's a brutal, fast-paced game where the point is to get a steel ball into a goal while skating (or riding motorcycles) around a track, and smashing an opposing player in the face is tacitly encouraged. Jonathan E (played by James Caan) is the undisputed master of the game, leading every season in scoring, knocking out opposing players, and having a legion of devoted fans.

It is this last part that worries the powers-that-be in the Energy Corporation (which owns the Houston team for which Jonathan plays), and they attempt to force him to retire, so that the game can be restored to its original purpose; "to show the futility of individual effort". Eventually the rules of the game are changed so that it essentially becomes an everyone-tries-to-kill-Jonathan fest. The film ends ambiguously, with Jonathan prevailing against the entire New York team, but with many questions unanswered. Will the Energy Corporation take more direct action against Jonathan? Will his show of defiance spark some sort of revolt against the corporate society?

This is a movie that, despite the action and violence which appealed to my 10-year-old self, is very much a thinking person's film. It raised a lot of questions in my young mind regarding society and economics, summed up by Mr. Bartholomew (played by John Houseman):
"Corporate society takes care of everything. And all it asks of anyone, all it's ever asked of anyone ever, is not to interfere with management decisions."

Heady stuff for a 10-year-old!

The production seems a little dated today (especially the computers and the clothing styles), but the message of the film holds up excellently. There are a lot of great subtle touches. For instance, the names all reflect an implicit sort of caste system that exists within corporate society. There are Executives, and everyone else. Executives are always referred to as Mr. so-and-so. The non-executives are always referred to by their first name (or nickname, in the case of Jonathan's best friend and protégé Moonpie, played by John Beck, who ends up beaten into a coma by the Tokyo team as a warning to Jonathan about what could happen to him if he doesn't do as he's told). Most significantly, Jonathan, by virtue of his star status, occupies a twilight realm between the two castes. He alone is referred to by a first name and last initial.

The scene where Jonathan journeys to Switzerland to get answers to his questions about how corporate society got to be where it is, is fascinating. It turns out that the repository of knowledge, the liquid-computer Zero, is little more than a babbling idiot. The "world's filing cabinet", which the Executives used to use to assist in making their globe-spanning decisions, is incapable of answering the simplest query (and has completely lost all information on the entire 13th century, which makes the chief scientist of the center mourn not for the loss of knowledge, but rather express annoyance at the lack of organization it reveals). Even the Executives don't bother to come any more.

If you look beyond the action and violence of the rollerball game itself, the film is an insightful look into how the mid-1970's envisioned a world run entirely by corporate interests would look.

Friday, July 23, 2010

1 Lord vs. 100 Orcs

So, as you probably know, I've been tinkering with mass combat as of late, and thinking about how it might best be approached for my own campaign (and ADD). I'm particularly drawn to the basic idea of the old Swords and Spells supplement (the last supplement published for 0E, unless you count it as a game unto itself, which is at least implied by the booklet itself). The concept is to simply "scale up" the D&D combat system, using the averages and probabilities to determine damage without rolling dice. There is nothing to say this concept wouldn't work exactly as well with the AD&D combat system.

For example, take the D&D equivalent of the Stamford Bridge; 1 lord (let's call him 10th level, AC 0, 50 hit points, with a long sword +2) facing off against 100 orcs. If you go by the averages, the 10th level fighter loses that battle.

The orcs hit 5% of the time (20 on a d20), and let's be kind and say only 3 of them can attack the lord at any given time. The lord hits 80% of the time (4 or better vs. AC 6). The orcs do an average of 5 hp when they hit, while the lord pretty much kills what he's aiming at. So, he kills 8 orcs per turn, while the orcs do 8 hp per turn. Bearing in mind that it's a little fuzzy because of fractions and such (and doubtless eyes are already glazing over with all the numbers as it is), the orcs will eventually kill their man on turn 7, while the lord will run out of orcs to kill on turn 13. (There are only about a third of the orcs left, an impressive tally to be sure, but that's more than enough left to make a drinking cup out of the lord's skull to present to their chief.)

Nothing says you couldn't apply these principles across the board. Voilà! You have a scalable version of AD&D combat, with a meaningful way of measuring damage between vastly different scaled forces. If the combat tables are built properly, you can even build in the weapon vs. armor type adjustments without having to resort to a separate table. The hard part is working up those average damage tables, and that's not all that hard, really.

Now, what about lower-level characters? I've got something for them, too, that gives them meaningful input into large-scale battles without being given make-work jobs as scouts, monster-killers, or off on their own "defending the one critical hill that will mean victory or defeat for the entire army". But that will come in good time.

A Night at the Cock and Bottle: Tavern Names

I came across this really need English pub name generator, and it inspired me to spend a couple of minutes to put together a handy list of tavern and inn names that I can dip into when I need to name one on the fly. These are all actual names of English pubs (including one that will also be well-known to Greyhawk afficinados), but I picked some that I think will work well in a fantasy campaign. Enjoy!

The Crooked Billet
The Old Red Lion
The Globe Inn
The Clarence
The Dolphin
The Hope & Anchor
The Leather Exchange
The Shambles
The King
The Queen Victoria
The Bird in the Hand
The Tally Ho
The Sheet Anchor
The Empress
The Fox
The Lorne
The Turnpike Inn
The Mason's Arms
The White Hart
The Beehive
The Comet
The Queen's Head
The Cricketer's Arms
The Cock and Bottle
The Jolly Farmer
The Swan with Two Necks
The Fleece and Firkin
The Slug and Lettuce
The Green Dragon
The Blue Boar
The Swan
The Dog and Duck
The Bag o'Nails
The Cat and the Fiddle
The Bull and Bush
The Hop Inn
The Leather Bottle
The Blue Anchor
The Copper Kettle
The Red Lion
The Crown
The Three Arrows
The Percy Arms
The Rose and Crown
The Crooked Chimney
The Bull and Mouth
The Cock and Bull
The Dew Drop Inn
The Black Swan
The Goat and Compasses
The Honest Lawyer
The Jolly Taxpayer
The Library
The Nag’s Head
The Nowhere Inn Particular
The Shop
The Pig and Whistle
The Bishop’s Finger
The Axe and Cleaver
The Fisherman’s Arms
The Plough and Harrow
The Propeller
The Royal Oak
The Swan
The Plough
The White Horse
The Bell
The New Inn

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Infantry of the Guilds

Tavis over at The Mule Abides posted a fascinating entry about how, in medieval Krakow, various guilds were charged with maintaining the defense of different towers and gates along the city walls.

This clicked with something that's been sitting in the back of my brain for a while. One of the Minifigs World of Greyhawk miniatures packs was entitled "WOG08 Infantry of the Guilds (6) spears, crossbows - Greyhawk" (I don't have a pic available, but will update both that page and this post if I ever find one). For years I wondered what the heck "infantry of the guilds" might have been. Were they engaged in combat in the very streets of the city? Now it all falls into place.

In time of war, the various guilds of the City of Greyhawk, much like those of the city of Krakow, would be called upon to man the defenses, doubtless in a similar fashion, with each guild being assigned a particular tower, section of wall, and/or gate. This would function as a sort of auxiliary, allowing the regular soldiery to take the field or, during times of siege, run the defenses of the city, with the guild troops as backup.

Among the mysteries of the universe, this certainly is one of the most minor. But I'm glad to have it solved, at least to my satisfaction. Thanks, Tavis!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mass Combat in RPGs

Ah, the thunder of the massed chivalry of Nyrond as it charges across a grassy plain towards the leveled pole-arms of the orc and hobgoblin troops of the Old One, Iuz...

Unfortunately, it almost never happens.

As a wargamer from way back, and a miniatures gamer as well, I yearn for a way to integrate some sort of mass combat into my D&D games. There was Battlesystem in 1985, which was probably better described as a skirmish rule set rather than a mass combat rules set, and a fairly mediocre one at that. Judges Guild had City State Warfare, which was more of a traditional hex-and-counter wargame (and a pretty nifty one, as I recall), but there were no rules that I remember for integrating such combats into an already-existing campaign, or roles for individual PCs.

I know that Grendelwulf has been putting together information for Field of Glory armies based on Gary Gygax's 1980's articles in Dragon magazine, detailing armies and political/military maneuvering in the World of Greyhawk. But the FoG rules are strictly historical, and there are no provisions for either magic or individual "heroic" PCs other than leader-types. It would require some sort of conversion or add-on to work with D&D.

But the real question is, am I alone? Would GW and I be the only ones interested in this? I'm working on mass combat rules for Adventures Dark and Deep™, but my question to you is, would you be interested in something like this in your own campaign? Would you use it? Would you rather see something very abstract, that could handle mass combat with just a few die rolls? Did you use Battlesystem, City State Warfare, Swords & Spells, or something else back in the day? Why or why not? Would it depend on how the PCs themselves were handled? Please feel free to share your thoughts.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Greyhawk session #1

There are some folks who don't enjoy reading campaign journals, and I usually lean on that side of the fence (some, like the Dwimmermount recaps over at Grognardia, are exceptions), but I thought I'd give it a go for the benefit of those who do like these sorts of things.

The game is a sandbox-style one, set in Greyhawk, using AD&D rules (but those might morph over time as more ADD rules come in as "house rules"). Tonight was our first session, set up through meetup.com (look over to the right for the link-- they do seem to be filling up fast!). I'm setting things up with the expectation that the adventurers will vary from session to session from a larger total pool; I'm allowing six players per session for now, and it's first-come, first-served.

The party, consisting of Nalania the cleric of Rudd, Ehrandar the elvish thief, Abo the magic-user, Mongo the half-orc fighter, J the dwaven fighter, and Theric the paladin, found themselves traveling on the southern shore of the Nyr Dyv en route to the city of Greyhawk, drawn by rumors that the fabled nearby ruins were once again filled with treasure and adventure.

Coming upon a Rhennee encampment on the shore, led by captain Voran (a terrific NPC I made up on the spot; larger than life, memorable Gypsy accent, funny and a font of knowledge of dubious origin), the party bargained for passage over the lake rather than the much longer and more dangerous overland route. The bargain was struck and the party was welcomed into the Rhennee camp with feasting, merriment, and gambling.

Just before dawn, however, the camp was attacked by a group of bandits. The attackers took more casualties than they inflicted, though, and ended up breaking and running. One curious thing that was noticed was that the bandits seemed well equipped and organized for "mere bandits". The party left the Rhennee temporarily to go in search of the bandits, managing to capture one of two bandit scouts they encountered (the other being felled in a very clever ambush-the-ambushers arrangement the party set up). A little *ahem* gentle persuasion yielded some information about the bandits and a crude map to the bandit camp.

Mongo and J decided to attempt to infiltrate the bandit group, posing as likely recruits and strolling boldly into the camp. A great deal of clever planning was done and obviously paid off almost immediately as they stated their intentions to the bandit lieutenant:
Bandit lieutenant: "Hey, you two were with those river-rats we attacked yesterday!"
J: "Damn!"
(Followed almost immediately by the entire table bursting out laughing for a solid five minutes.)

They still tried to carry through the bluff, though, and managed to pull off the plan, after a fashion, and after having to best Freder, a half-ogre, in unarmed combat. (As an aside, I used this as an opportunity to field-test the ADD unarmed combat rules, and the whole went off smoothly and without a hitch; 20 seconds' explanation and the dice started rolling. None of the agony of grappling and pummeling from days of yore.) The bandits broke camp and were traveling south to the Mistmarsh, and Mongo and J managed to steal a pair of horses and return to the Rhennee camp, arriving about the same time as their companions, who had seen them leave with the bandits.

Greatly impressing captain Voran with their bit of horse-thievery (and having given the river-folk most of what loot they got from the bandits), the party was then transported along the Nyr Dyv, with Voran pointing out the sights along the way; Tenser's castle, the shrine of St. Cuthbert on the Lake (with Theric, dedicated to Pholtus, none too excited about the prospect of his god's rival being so conspicuously represented in the area), the Selintan Gorge, and finally arriving at the quays of the River Quarter in Greyhawk city itself.

This game was an absolute hoot to run. We played at Mighty Titans Hobbies and Games in Randolph, NJ, and it's a terrific space; lots of room, brightly lit, pizza and Thai food next door (and a package goods store!). The players were terrific, with everyone seeming to manage to get input into what they were going to do, and things in the game went in a direction I certainly never anticipated. Can't wait for the next one!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Marketing the OSR, Part 4 of 4: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

To the OSR publishers, I say, don’t limit your target audience by only taking one approach. If all you say about your game is “it’s almost exactly like the LBB’s, but easier to understand”, or “plays just like AD&D back in the early 80’s”, you will necessarily limit your audience. A thousand times moreso if your game is almost only mentioned on OSR blogs, Dragonsfoot, and the Knights & Knaves Alehouse.

Branch out! Explain why your game is a good game without any reference to its pedigree whatsoever. Go forth into the fora frequented by the under-26 set, and make the case why your game is great and they should play it, on its own merits! EnWorld, conventions, IPR, fan forums (for those doing games in a particular genre or with a licensed property); anywhere the gamers are, you should be.

I think you’ll find that you get some new blood playing and talking about your game, and I think that being a Good Thing is something we can all agree on.

Marketing the OSR, Part 3 of 4: Three Target Audiences

Three Target Audiences

There are at least three distinct sorts of people that could conceivably be brought in as OSR players. The first are people who are already gamers, are aware of the differences between the retro-clones and more modern RPGs, and have made a deliberate and informed choice to play the former (and not necessarily exclusively, either; too often the decision is painted as an either-or proposition, when it most definitely doesn’t have to be). For them, a broad comparison between rules is a good thing to get them hooked.

The second are people who are already gamers, are interested in games that are new, and are willing to give a new title a try for the sake of novelty, as long as it isn’t too expensive. The key here is that “new” is a relative term, and just because a given rules framework goes back to the 1970’s doesn’t necessarily mean that someone born in 1990 has ever played such a game themselves (or even knows what they're like). It’s new to them, and they won’t care that it’s “based on the 1974 rules set” or whatever. For them, a clear explanation of the rules, without comparison to others (past or present) is a good thing to get them hooked.

The third are non-gamers. They don’t know, and don’t care, about the historical antecedents of a particular game’s rules. They might not even know the basics of what an RPG is like. The fact that it is a clone of the LBB’s is completely irrelevant to this population; for them, a high-level introduction of what an RPG is, and why it’s fun as a general thing, and why game X is fun in particular, is a good thing to get them hooked.

Those last two, I think, contain an important lesson that is often lost by those creating and promoting OSR games. A lot of people don’t care that a game is part of the OSR. It’s new to them and that’s enough. But even having a good game isn’t enough. You have to get that game out in front of the target audience; let them know it exists, and then help them realize why would want to play it. This is a fundamental truth for any game publisher, and is no less true for OSR publishers.

Marketing the OSR, Part 2 of 4: Innovation

Innovation

It should also be noted that the complaint that the OSR isn’t innovative enough is somewhat missing the point of what the OSR is. Of course the OSR doesn’t go off in bold new directions, exploring the bleeding edge of game design! It’s not supposed to, at least not on a grand scale. By definition, the OSR is a deliberate harkening back to earlier forms, attempting to get new and exciting modes of play out of them. People who are looking for deliberately (I might even go so far as to say self-consciously) new and innovative systems and settings should be looking at Indie Press Revolution and the like. The OSR is what it is, and condemning it for not being what it isn’t, doesn’t make a lot of sense.

That is not to say that the OSR doesn’t innovate; quite the contrary. But its innovation is, for the most part, contained within the boundaries of the older forms. It is variation (sometimes inspired) and expansion (ditto), but it is not plunging into unexplored territory. If it was, it would be something else. And remember, that is not a Bad Thing! Castles & Crusades is a prime example of this; most of the outlines and fundamentals of AD&D are there, but the d20 universal mechanic is an innovation within those broad outlines. Change it too much, though, and it moves outside of the comfort zone.

This is an important facet of marketing the OSR because it speaks to one of its fundamental strengths; familiarity. For a segment of the target audience (not by any means the whole of it, as will be mentioned in the next installment), the fact that a game is so much like a previous edition is a selling point in and of itself. It's not necessarily a question of nostalgia (although that's certainly a part of it for some people); if it were, then the "movement" would begin and end with people buying the original rulebooks on eBay or breaking them out of the attic, playing for a bit to recover their lost youth, and fading off again.

What the retro-clones have to offer that segment is familiarity. If I know that I like the broad outlines of how the AD&D game system is built-- classes, Vancian magic, saving throws, fairly abstract combat, etc.-- then I can be pretty sure that a game that is close to AD&D will be something I'll be comfortable with, even if some of the particulars are different. This connects with compatibility; if a product is compatible with a game I already know I like, I'll be more inclined to buy it, because I know at least the basics will be familiar.

Marketing the OSR, Part 1 of 4: Compatibility

Marketing is vital to the growth of any industry, whether it’s done by professionals or amateurs. I’m not a professional marketing person by any stretch, but I do have a few thoughts to share on this particular aspect of our hybrid hobby/industry.

Compatibility

First, it should be noted that the various clones and simulacra are, for the most part, interchangeable not only with one another, but also with the 1970’s/80’s versions of (A)D&D they seek to emulate. This is an important point, but one which seems to be lost in the marketing and informational efforts not only of the new companies producing the material, but TARGA (the hobbyist organization founded to promote the OSR’s efforts in general, and of whose board of directors I am a member) as well.

Someone new coming in and seeing folks talking about OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, Castles & Crusades, Mazes & Minotaurs, Dragons at Dawn, Dark Dungeons, Myth & Magic, Microlite 74, Spellcraft & Swordplay, LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, Adventures Dark and Deep, the LBB’s, Basic D&D, AD&D, etc. etc. etc. is bound to be overwhelmed and confused. Unless they understand that all of those games are basically compatible with one another, and just represent different emphases or expansions of the same basic framework, it will seem like a bewildering mess. But that vital datum seems to be completely lost in and amongst the noise. Those of us who follow (and participate in) the OSR daily are certainly aware of it, but it’s not necessarily obvious to an outsider.

How many more OSRIC modules would be sold if folks were reminded that they could play them with Labyrinth Lord? How many more Swords & Wizardry modules would be sold if more people realized that they could play them with their old AD&D books without batting an eye?

One of the problems with the OSR isn’t competition between a dozen or so rules sets. It’s the perception of competition, driven by the fact that compatibility isn’t emphasized.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More TV Shows That Would Make Awesome RPGs

Last year I posted a quick list of animated television shows I thought would make nifty role-playing games. Well, there are a bunch of live-action TV shows that would also make my "I'd buy that" list. In no particular order...

Planet of the Apes



(I couldn't find a copy of the tv show introduction, but this will do for now.)

As long-time readers will doubtless remember, I'm a huge Planet of the Apes fan in general, but I think the short-lived TV show had a lot of potential for role-playing. There's the inherent conflict between apes and humans (and these humans have at least a semblance of intelligence and culture, as opposed to the first two films). There are ruined civilizations all around, internal politics within the ape society, and they set up some really neat ideas with the possibility of humans who hadn't lost their technology out there somewhere.

Alien Nation



I'm a little surprised that no one has yet made a police procedural game in general (at least that I'm aware of), but Alien Nation gives the added depth of the Newcomers, and all the attendant alien technology, politics, the opportunity to deal with racial themes, etc.

Quantum Leap



Now here's a show that is tailor-made to be made into a one-on-one game. Plagued by not having a lot of players around? This could be the ticket. Or, imagine a whole team of Sam Beckets getting "leaped" each time. Priority #1: find the others...

UFO



I've gotta say, I'm a sucker for the music and vehicles in this show, which I remember from my childhood. The plots write themselves; the aliens have devised a new plot to try to infiltrate Earth. The players are sent in to stop them. This week, you're assigned to SkyDiver 1...

V



This one is almost too easy. Players are a Resistance cell, fighting off the latest depredation of the Visitors. With "Knock out Visitor security guard with your crotch" as a special "called shot", perhaps.

Well, that's my five, and I know there are at least a dozen more I could name. Heck, just from a licensing and marketing standpoint, you could build a horror game around Tales from the Crypt or Freddie's Nightmares, even if it didn't have anything to do with the TV show...

What? You were expecting something from the last 20 years?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

After a longer-than-expected hiatus, my AD&D Greyhawk campaign is getting back into the swing of things on alternate Friday evenings at my FLGS, beginning this Friday. That's in north-central New Jersey (Morris County).

This time around, I'm managing things through the local Meetup.com group, so hopefully I won't have to worry about coordinating everybody else's schedules as well as my own. If you can make it, you RSVP, if you can't you don't. It'll be a sandbox campaign, meaning new people can come in, and regulars are able to miss a session or three and still be able to enjoy the game. There will be plots and Events, of course (dozens of 'em, most likely), but I'm hoping things will turn out like they did in the elder days, with a large pool of players, of whom an ever-changing subset would show up to any given game session.

If you're interested, please check out the site for the initial game here (you'll need to register for free to be able to RSVP for the game itself):

http://www.meetup.com/Garden-State-Gaming-Society/calendar/14070960/

And who knows? I might just use this as the opportunity to test-drive some of the new classes or rules for Adventures Dark and Deep. It'd be cool to see a mountebank in the game...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

DexCon After Action Report

So, thus ends another DexCon. I consider this to be a great success, no small measure due to the enormous response that the Invasion of the Grognards received. Not only were all four of my AD&D 1E sessions filled up to the point that I was turning away alternates, but the 5 PM Thursday panel on "What is the Old School Revival" had folks showing up (which, for that time slot and the fact that it's a non-game, was a feat in and of itself). The Basic D&D games started slowly but were filled to capacity by Saturday night, and there was interest in Labyrinth Lord as well! This bodes excellently for the idea that there is interest out there for the old school games at conventions. The people just have to know that they're on the schedule (and in the case of the retro-clones, what exactly they are).

My Castle of the Mad Archmage games were a blast as usual, with a mix of repeat players from previous conventions and a wealth of new faces. Tomb of Horrors was an especially fun module to DM; it really does live up to its reputation as a killer dungeon. No one actually died, but both parties ended up getting themselves teleported to the outside of the dungeon stark naked, with all of their equipment ending up in the chamber of the demi-lich.

I'm thinking of running White Plume Mountain next year. :-)

Choice quotes from the weekend:
  • "Doors in this dungeon are just lies." (Talking about ToH.)
  • "I'm borrowing his ten-foot pole."
Also, the dealer's room turned out to provide an unexpected bounty. I got many hundreds of 15mm Ral Partha figures (all in the original packaging) to start putting together my World of Greyhawk miniatures armies for a VERY reasonable price. And to top it all off, another collector gave me several hundred more for free (he had been given them himself, and promised that he'd give them to someone who would use them; when he heard me waxing poetic about my plans for the figures, he offered to give me what he had). So I've got over a thousand figures now; humans, orcs, dwarves, skeletons, and a few oddballs. So my spare time this fall and winter is now accounted for; painting minis!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

New Haven Games Doing 2E "Remake"

New Haven Games is apparently doing a "remake" (as opposed to a "clone") of the AD&D 2nd Edition rules, which they are calling Realms of Eternal Epic. They haven't come out with an official press release announcement yet, but from their forums:
Ro2E is not a clone by definition. In fact, most of the clones have slight dissimilarities for legal reasons. We call it a "remake" because we have retained about 80% of the game, and only SLIGHTLY tweaked the other 20%. That 20% also includes the simple turning-the-rule-on-its-head change. Is it exactly the same game? Probably not. Is it a twin that sort of strayed from the family farm? Probably. See, we had two choices. We could have copied the entire original game or we could have refashioned some of it. From a legal and game development standpoint, we made the right decision. From the opinions of our self-fashioned grognard playtesters, we made the right decision. So, in a nutshell, Ro2E may still be what you're looking for, even if you wanted a pure clone. At least test out the free Starter Set before passing off.
As I've said before, I was a huge 2E fan back in the day, kits and all, even though I've moved back to 1E in more recent years, so this will most definitely be on my radar. It also appears to be very far away from my own concept for Adventures Dark and Deep™, so there shouldn't be any issues with direct competition. This is exciting news, and I know a lot of people have been asking for a "living" version of 2E for a while, now. good luck, New Haven Games!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Land of Black Ice and the Hollow Oerth

"Those who have ventured far into the northlands beyond the Burneal forest tell of a strange phenomenon. Instead of the normal stark white snow and translucent blue-white ice, there is an endless landscape of deep blue-black ice, topped only here and there by normal snowfall. Strange arctic monsters prowl these fields of ebony ice, and the few humans who dwell near the place fear to enter it on account of the beasts and supposedly what lies beyond. Stranger still, they are said to tell of a warmer land beyond the ice where the sun never sets and jungles abound." -- A Guide to the World of Greyhawk, p. 60
Aside from mention of blue bugbears in the Glossography, and a brief mention of the City of the Gods found to the north of Blackmoor, little else is told of the Land of Black Ice in the Gygaxian Greyhawk boxed set and Gazetteer. The implications of the last sentence quoted above are clear; that there is some sort of warm, sun-lit land beyond the ice, possibly within a hollow Oerth itself.

Gygax himself was a bit of a magpie when it came to sources, and was well-read in terms of both fantasy literature and just about everything else. What strikes me, in considering the passage above, is just why would you make the arctic area around a polar hole to a hollow world black? Was that just an inventive twist by Gygax, or might it  have had some sort of other antecedent?

It turns out that the phenomenon of black ice is one that is well-known to arctic explorers, at least as reported by adherents of (real-world) hollow Earth theories.
"The dust in the polar regions, which Nansen speaks of so many times, and which was a source of such annoyance while drifting in the ocean many miles from land, comes from somewhere; it does not grow; it is a commodity without life; cannot reproduce itself; yet it is found in such great quantities that it colors the snow black." - The Phantom of the Poles: Evidence for Hollow Earth, by William Reed, p. 53 (the online transcription has "Hansen", but this must surely be "Nansen" in the original, after Fridthjof Nansen, a Norwegian arctic explorer who wrote the book "Farthest North" about his expedition)
Nansen isn't the only explorer to have mentioned the ice-blackening dust, which has been explained by some as either volcanic dust or pollen from the great lush jungles within the hollow sphere of the Earth. Nansen and others also  recorded that the air was warmer as they approached the pole itself, and unexpected patches of open sea where there should have been solid ice. Other arctic explorers explicitly make mention of red, yellow, and green pollen covering miles of what should be pristine white snow, and that animals such as foxes, seals, and birds seemed to grow more frequent the more north they proceeded.

Applied to the hollow Oerth, the Land of Black Ice could be an enormous field of ice in which volcanic dust and tropical pollens have been trapped over the years, giving the whole a distinctive blue-black hue. The further one delved into the region, the closer one would come to the opening, hundreds of miles across, to the Inner Oerth. Naturally, one would never realize it until the Inner Sun became visible, as the shell of the Oerth provides its own gravity along the "lip" of the opening.

And who knows? Perhaps it is here that the Derro have their flying saucer bases whence they launch their attacks on the "outer" world.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Review: Pathfinder GameMastery Guide

It may seem a bit strange for me to be reviewing a Pathfinder rule book, since, well, I play neither Pathfinder nor D&D 3.x. Still, when I read a brief synopsis of what was in the book I was intrigued, and a perusal at my FLGS tipped the scales.

In short, this is only tangentially a Pathfinder rule book. It is, rather, a book about how to run RPGs, how to improve the RPGs that you already run, and a tool kit for anyone running a fantasy RPG that even remotely resembles any version of D&D. In fact, I am mildly peeved, as the Pathfinder GameMastery Guide is pretty much exactly how I intended to approach the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Game Master's Toolkit. But it's a good kind of peeved, since this is such a good book.

I've not had the chance to read it cover to cover, but as far as I can tell you don't hit any actual Pathfinder game mechanics until page 81, and even then it's few and far between. The book is almost entirely generic in content, and I cannot help but think that's a deliberate (and brilliant) marketing move on Paizo's part. This is a book that will serve any DM or GM well, whether you're playing D&D, Castles & Crusades, Runequest, BFRP, Pathfinder, a retro-clone like LL or S&W, or even something as outré as Call of Cthulhu or the forthcoming LOTFP WFRPG.

The utility of the work is manifest from a brief perusal of the table of contents; "The GM as Host," "Starting Players," "New Players," "Making NPCs unique," "The Role of Rewards," "World Building" (with sections on geography, culture, religion, technology, society types, the planes, etc.), "Elements of Adventure" (with separate sections on dungeon adventures, wilderness, planes, taverns, urban, etc.), a sort of miscellanea dealing with topics as diverse as fortune-telling and drug addiction, and 55+ pages of NPCs (which, while they are the most rules-intensive section of the book, as they give complete stat blocks for the various NPCs described, is still of use if you trim the mechanics and utilize the background). There are random tables galore, which will especially appeal to many in the OSR, with NPC personality traits and secrets, a name generator for adventuring parties, dungeon dressing, shop names and city locations, scenic wilderness spots, and a ton more.

This is a great book for both beginning game masters and old hands; I've been doing this for nearly as long as the hobby has existed, and I found myself glancing through the pages and picking up some good advice on the mechanics of actually scheduling a game and finding players, and being inspired by some of the random table entries. The mechanics are lost upon me, but the real strength and thrust of the book is its system-neutral information, and in that it is a triumph. For $40 bust-out retail ($26 online in various places) it's a good deal and well worth the investment, even for those who aren't playing Pathfinder or 3.x.

I give it a grade of A- overall.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Castle of the Mad Archmage Final Release Now Available!

UPDATE: See this post for news on how you can purchase the new and improved version of the dungeon.

Alternately, it seems like an eternity has passed since I first set out to write my own version of the infamous dungeon ruins "but a league or so from the walls of the city of Greyhawk", or only a couple of weeks. It has been a ton of work, but all of it fun, and boy has it been a wild ride sometimes.

It's taken me 18 months to write the 12 and a half levels that make up the final version of the Castle of the Mad Archmage, and I've recorded more than 1,200 downloads of some of the releases. There's a ton of additional work that I can, and eventually will, get to; side levels (yes, yes, the Black Reservoir among them!), my own stab at the Upper Ruins and the Storage Rooms, pocket universes and demi-planes, and much more. I can say nothing concrete about how I'm going to approach those pieces; certainly the dungeon is fully capable of being played now as-is; there are entrances aplenty into the levels past the first, and of course nothing says an enterprising DM can't simply make his own Level 1 or skip it and say that the stairs from Level 2 just go straight to the surface. Suffice to say that there are plans in the works to bring more of the Castle of the Mad Archmage to light, but at the moment I'd like to take a breather and work on something else.

The module clocks in at around 180 pages, and a bit under 4 MB. My erstwhile cartographer, Joe Bardales, made new versions of all the maps (which helped a bit with the file size) and my indispensable proofreader, Steve Rubin, made the thing a million times more professional than my typo-laden manuscript would have otherwise been. 

As always, if anyone is using the dungeon in actual play, please drop me a line; I'd love to hear how it fares. 

And now, without further delay, I invite you to download the pdf --> HERE <--

EDIT: The previous pdf was missing one of the maps. The link now goes to the corrected pdf. Sorry for the mix-up!

UPDATE: See this post for news on how you can purchase the new and improved version of the dungeon.